Now that I’ve been through all the Joss Whedon shows that I’m going to do, I think it’s time to move on to this. I remember watching and enjoying the original series when I was much younger and I can’t remember what drew me to this rebooted version. I wasn’t a massive fan of the original show; I remembered the characters and various scenes and ideas (and the irritating kid with his dog) but it wasn’t a major touchstone for me in the way that Star Trek or Star Wars was. I think, after watching Firefly, my appetite was whetted for some more time in space. I bought the box set of season 1, stuck it on and it was only a couple of minutes in that I realised that I’d missed an entire chunk. I had to then wait a couple of days before the mini-series arrived in the post.
Wow, what a series. I never expected to find what I did in Ronald D Moore and David Eick’s reimagining. I was gripped from pretty early on and it produced some of the most thrilling, character-driven, politically charged and relevant content that I can remember seeing in the realms of science fiction. The brilliantly developed arc of the series, along with its fantastic casting which showcased the talents of so many of its lead actors (Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, Katee Sackhoff, James Callis, Grace Park and Jamie Bamber but they’re just the tip of the iceberg), led to a wonderfully realised story with a fine sense of closure at its conclusion. There are heroes and villains who can change places at the drop of a hat, there are gorgeous spaceships, well-developed lore, subtle nods to the original source material, a knock-out soundtrack by Bear McCreary. Most of all, there is genuine peril, there are mistakes, consequences and a gritty sensibility that allows the suspension of disbelief. There are deep questions about religion, war, politics and relationships that raise this show to a whole new level.
There is so much to love about this series. Most of all, it’s the writing and the acting that makes it so much more. I can’t praise it highly enough. It quickly became one of my favourite things on television ever. So, here are my top 10 episodes from the four season run.
10 – (1:12,1:13) Kobol’s Last Gleaming (Parts 1 and 2)
A great opening with Lee and his father sparring intercut with other main players in the midst of their own problems accompanied by ‘Passacaglia’ sets up this marvellous two-parter which really expands the mythology of the show. Besides introducing the mythical planet of Kobol, there is Kara’s excursion to Caprica, Adama’s attempt to remove Roslin from the presidency which is foiled by his own son and also Boomer’s ultimate betrayal. There is also the cryptic and haunting vision of the Opera House on Kobol which lays clues for the rest of the series.
9 – (1:5) You Can’t Go Home Again
Starbuck is stranded on a moon with a poisonous atmosphere, doomed to die without the chance of reconciling with her surrogate father, Commander Adama. Meanwhile, he searches the moon for her obsessively, ignoring the logical pleas of his subordinates. I love this episode because it really builds on the relationship between the two characters which is so essential to so much of the series. There’s a doubly touching part where Lee asks what he would do if it were him down on the moon. His father says that they would never leave. This is still pretty early on in the series and I love the way we’re already so invested in the characters and their stories. We also see Roslin and Baltar and their different approaches to the situation. Mary McDonnell does great work as usual, trying to talk sense to the two obsessed men. Really, this episode belongs to Edward James Olmos, though. To see him and Starbuck reconcile at the end is a lovely moment.
8 – (2:10,2:11,2:12) Pegasus, Resurrection Ship (Parts 1 and 2)
The introduction of another Battlestar and Adama’s superior officer in the form of Michelle Forbes’ brilliant Admiral Cain throw a major spanner in the works. What should have been an immense boost turns into a crushing blow as this new ship brings with it a whole load of baggage. Pegasus is like a mirror image of Galactica where all the decisions have been made differently. Military rule has taken its toll and without the checks and balances of a civilian government and atrocities have occurred. There is so much moral ambiguity and both Commander’s actions are right in a Crimson Tide sort of way. Cain is an Ahab-style figure, consumed by her pursuit of the Cylons and it’s easy to see how Adama might have turned out the exact same way without the civilising influence of Laura Roslin. Alongside all this, we also see the Gina 6 character and her brilliant scenes with Baltar. Tricia Helfer and James Callis deserve a lot of credit for making these parts so effective. Can we really feel sympathy for the devil? This three part story explores that question and more brilliantly.
7 – (4:10) Revelations
I honestly thought this was the end of the whole series. When I bought the box set for season 4, I had no idea that it went on beyond this episode. I know that sounds dumb but I had heard nothing about any new episodes and just thought it was a product of the writer’s strike or something. I remember thinking, “Well, that was a downbeat ending. Did we even find out who the last Cylon was or are we meant to just assume that it was Starbuck?” I wasn’t unhappy with it. It has so much tension and a great cliffhanger. Adama finding out that his best friend is actually a Cylon and his reactions to that are priceless television. Olmos puts in another great performance in this episode, as does James Callis. The final scene of the various parties and their reactions to the desolation around them on ‘Earth’ is a fantastic way to end. Great episode.
6 – (4:19,4:20) Daybreak (Parts 1,2 and 3)
All the loose ends are tied up, all the chickens come home to roost and all the protagonists find some closure over the final movements of the series’ four season run. There is so much to love in this final story. When Kara punches in the co-ordinates, it feels like a perfect piece of storytelling has been executed. When I was planning my novel, The Ardenna Crossing, I thought about how the complete arc of this series had been planned and thought out meticulously so that things would fit into place. I loved the way things worked out, from drawing a line down the hangar deck to the last twenty minutes or so, exploring the stone age Earth. Lots of excitement, lots of drama and a perfect end to the show.
5 – (3:19,3:20) Crossroads (Parts 1 and 2)
Battlestar Galactica goes all courtroom drama in the third season finale. The trial of Gaius Baltar takes centre stage and everything revolves around that, from the dynamic between Lee and his father to all the people angling to grind their own axes or scramble for position. The fleet is pretty much drifting and there is no sign that they are actually going to find Earth. The rules that they have been living by all this time have been broken and bent out of all recognition and Jamie Bamber puts in a great performance as he illustrates this to the courtroom. Throughout, we get the refrain of ‘All Along The Watchtower’ which leads us to the discovery of four of the remaining Cylon models in a big reveal in the closing moments. The best of the episode is left until the very end when Lee gets on his flight gear in the middle of battle, heads out against orders and discovers the returned Starbuck in the Nebula. We then get an extreme zoom out to see the whole galaxy, then we zoom back in again to a place not that far away where we see, floating peacefully in the night sky, what can only be our own Earth. Bang! What a cliffhanger on which to end. This is up there with my favourite cliffhangers of all time (top 3 with Twin Peaks: Season 2 and Lost: Season 3). We are finally let in on the secret that there is actually an Earth out there in the universe. Beautiful ending with perfect soundtrack and a fitting way to round off a great season.
4 – The mini-series
It’s a really great mix of homage to the original show and the beginning of a bold, new vision. Characters are introduced carefully and we build up a real bond with them over the running time of this. The real stand out performances come from James Callis, Mary McDonnell and Edward James Olmos as they put a marker down for what we can expect from them over the next four years. The latter two really do make a splendid pair of leads, especially in their first few prickly encounters as they size each other up. The setup of the mythology of the series is done subtly yet purposefully and Adama’s speech at the end seals the deal. “So say we all!” Loads of that was improvised, apparently.
3 – (1:1) 33
This was the perfect way to kick off the show after the success of the mini series. We are plunged straight into the crew’s desperate struggle to avoid detection by the Cylons. Everywhere they go, they are discovered quickly by their pursuers. The actors do a phenomenal job of portraying the effects of sleep deprivation and the frayed nerves and poor decision making that come with this. It’s a really dark episode which has, at its centre, the destruction of the Olympic Carrier which may or may not have over a thousand civilians aboard. It’s an early indicator of the serious tone of the show and a brilliant opener.
2 – (4:13,4:14) The Oath and Blood on the Scales
I’m taking these two episodes as a two-parter. There’s no way to really separate them. This is the mutiny storyline, led by Gaeta and Zarek. I love it because it shows the best and worst of people. It’s what the series does so well. There’s barely a second wasted in either episode as things rattle along at a break neck pace. Thus far in the show, every time a trusted character has put a foot wrong, they have been understood and forgiven. As we move closer to the end of the series, this is no longer something that can be taken for granted. As Adama puts it, “If you do this, there will be no forgiveness, no amnesty.” This is a thrilling and tragic story that ends the unfortunate arc of Lt Gaeta.
1 – (3:3,3:4) Exodus (Parts 1 and 2)
Nothing can match the drama and excitement of this two-part belter in Season 3. This has everything that is great about this series, The small, human drama, the epic space battles, the pathos, the heroism, sacrifice, everything. It’s a really stunning piece of television that sits among the most moving and exciting I’ve ever seen. The sight of Galactica jumping into the New Caprica atmosphere (pictured above) gets me every time. the sight of Pegasus as she moves into view chasing down the besieged ship later on is another bit that gets me punching the air. Aside from all this, though, there is so much else going on. Baltar clinging on in Colonial One, Tigh dealing with his collaborating wife and Starbuck… Katee Sackhoff does stellar work here with her ‘daughter’. There’s a heartbreaking moment at the end when she brings the little girl back on board only for her real mother to pick her up and carry her off. Her illusion is shattered and she does a brilliant job putting that across. This is my unquestioned number 1 episode. I’d also say that ‘Storming New Caprica’ by Bear McCreary is one of the best pieces of music in the whole show, beaten only by ‘Passacaglia’ and ‘The Shape of Things to Come’.
So, those are my top 10 Battlestar Galactica episodes. Thanks very much for reading. The best thing about this show is that it’s not about pew-pew space battles, although they have their place. It’s about real human drama, which is what the best science fiction is really all about.
You can check out some of my other lists here: