Speaking of series that blur the line between science fiction and “real” stories: this week’s episode of “Battlestar Galactica” hit me like a ton of space-bricks. It’s called “Faith” and the rest is spoilers and you’re gonna have to give me a second because I think there’s something in my eye…
I was already annoyed with the episode even before the opening credits started, because its episodic television underwear was showing. Characters were doing stuff not because it made sense, but because the writers needed them to go from here to there and squeeze a cliffhanger in the middle. So there’s a big standoff with everybody yelling at each other and pointing guns and I was hoping that somebody would just shoot already. And then they did, and it wasn’t as cool as I’d been hoping for.
But then it all started to kick in, and they tapped right into the section of my brain that can have me bawling at a TV show. I can make a list of all the parts that made me gasp and/or tear up and/or were intensely creepy:
- Showing an FTL jump from the cockpit
- Jumping right into the middle of the semi-organic Basestar wreckage
- Starbuck finally seeing the gas giant and “comet” from her vision
- Six’s violent attack, and the crew member trying to talk and take a few steps before falling down dead
- Roslin’s description of her mother’s (or her own) fear of death
- The hybrid’s long sustained scream as she was about to be unplugged
- Emily Cancerpatient running to her family on the shore
- Adama telling Roslin that she’s the one who gave him faith in finding Earth
This is the only episode of “Battlestar Galactica” that’s really moved me like this — going from genuinely scary (that scene with the hybrid really creeped me out, reminding me of the scene in Miller’s Crossing where the Dane gets attacked), to genuinely moving without being maudlin. It’s the potential of the whole series that’s always been hinted at, but in my opinion was never quite achieved.
“The X-Files” tried to hit on the same themes of death and purpose and faith and belief, struggling to be more than just genre television, but ultimately imploding from the mass of its gimmicks. It almost never worked; Scully’s cancer was more tedious than moving, and many of the episodes managed to be good but not all that deep or meaningful.
A lot of “Battlestar” has the same problem, actually: whenever they try to be relevant, it seems like ham-fisted allegory or a clumsy attempt to shoehorn “meaning” into a sci-fi/action show plot. (Worse is when they try to shove “shades of gray” into a situation that hasn’t earned it.) The characters and stories are strong enough that it’s usually good television, but I always feel like I’m giving them credit for being intelligent enough to make an effort, not that it’s made me genuinely feel like they want me to feel.
All of the scenes with Roslin and Emily Cancerpatient totally worked for me, though, even though their version of the afterlife wasn’t all that original. (And they were especially moving performances when compared to Gaeta’s “don’t let them take my leg” stuff, which just struck me as fake drama coming out of nowhere). And what was genius was finding a way to have it not be just a standalone episode, but fit in with all the themes of the series — the search for Earth, the Cylons’ questioning their existence, and all the characters trying to figure out their purpose, their individuality, and their identity.
Plus, apparently there’s going to be a Cylon Basestar in the Colonial fleet now. That’s kind of cool, right? And Lucy Lawless is coming back!
And if anybody was wondering like I was, but didn’t feel like looking back through the end credits: the other cancer patient was played by Nana Visitor from “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.”