In the first episode of the first season of Battlestar Galactica, the Cylon force relentlessly pursues the remaining survivors by ambushing them every 33 minutes. As the strain builds up on the survivors, Roslin, Adama, Lee, and Starbuck all have to make a difficult decision. Also BEST SEASON OPENER EVER?!?!?!? If you’re intrigued, then it’s time for Mark to watch Battlestar Galactica.
I am a tad worried about pacing at this point, but for the time being, I am enamored. I’m not quite ready to announce my love of Battlestar Galactic quite yet, as it’ll probably take a full season for me to get fully into this, but the ride I’ve been on so far is immensely enjoyable and entertaining.
Right from the first moments of “33,” which picks up just a few days from the end of the miniseries, it’s clear just how serialized BSG is going to be. The writers don’t ignore the ramifications of the end of the miniseries’s story, and we’re dropped into a situation of exhausting terror: The Cylons followed the survivors out of the galaxy and every thirty-three minutes, they ambush them just before the ships are able to make a jump to a new location. The entire format and function of this episode lends itself to some of the worst tension I’ve ever felt. And I don’t mean this in a negative way, but halfway through “33,” even I was tired.
Much must be said about the acting and make-up work done on the actors and actresses throughout the episode. It sold the exhaustion to me. Look, I’ll just be upfront about it: These characters look absolutely awful throughout “33.” They’re all clearly tired beyond comprehension, their eyes bloodshot from lack of sleep, sweat building on their foreheads and their cheeks losing color. Tigh’s stubble is closely approaching beard status, and Starbuck is literally falling asleep on the job. A good story is certainly important, but the actors and actresses on this show take the tremendous story, and they give it a life of its own.
There are more difficult decisions to be made in order to guarantee the survival of the human race, but I found myself drawn more to the story of Gaius Baltar. I still don’t necessarily like him as a person, but he’s already getting the most fascinating story of them all. I don’t think I really need a reason why Six keeps appearing to him, though I can’t deny I’m a bit intrigued by the concept. Six helps Baltar. Sort of? But now the issue of faith becomes much more blatant than before. The Cylons seem to believe in some sort of God (capitalized, I assume) that resembles the Abrahamic God in our world. (Though I admit there’s no reference to Christ at all.) The humans worship the gods of Kobol, so their religion is polytheistic. (Is that image all the fighters touch of one of the gods of Kobol? That’s rhetorical, by the way.)
I don’t imagine that a clash between these two religions will be ignored, but for now, they exist separate from one another. The survivors mostly likely are ignorant of such a faith, since the Cylons have been absent from their lives for so long. “33” serves more to add a mysterious introduction to the idea that God is ruling the lives of everyone in existence, and that disobeying God has harmful and negative ramifications. It’s hard to ignore what happens here: Six seems to be telling the truth. I wasn’t surprised that Baltar is a scientist who is also an atheist. And there’s no sense discussing it in terms of science and religion coming together at this point. I know atheist scientists and religious scientists. (More of the former, but that’s another discussion to have!) Baltar resists what Six tells him during his “visions” because they don’t fit his version of logic. In that sense, he’s an atheist that’s familiar to me. I relate to it somewhat, but perhaps not entirely. I do reach out and try to understand the world with my own personal logic, and I certainly feel that the world is full of absurdity.
So when Six tries to tell Baltar that God is watching them, and specifically punishing him for his sins, he can’t believe it. It’s an absurd notion, one detached from his understanding of the world. I like what he says about it: Random chance would eventually bring about an unbearable sense of coincidence, and it’s no reason to ascribe it to a god. Why would God protect Baltar by eliminating the ship Dr. Amarak was onboard, ending 1,300+ lives in the process? Doesn’t that seem like a bit of an overkill?
But Six insists. She persists. And in the face of some good fortune, Baltar denies the existence of God directly to Six. And the Olympic Carrier, holding Dr. Amarak, re-appears. The one person who might be able to expose Baltar for his complicity in the Cylon plan is back.
It’s a tricky situation, isn’t it? Of course, my mind would naturally claim coincidence, but Baltar is in a bit more of a desperate situation than I am. I’m just watching this. He’s about to be exposed. Is God real? Is what Six tells him the truth? Is he really being punished for his actions? Does being punished mean others must suffer for one’s mistakes, too? I don’t know what the writers are planning for this plotline, but I’m totally enamored by it. Because even aside from Baltar’s part in all of this, this episode is just as riveting and exciting. The re-appearance of the Olympic Carrier is yet another instance where multiple characters are forced with an uncomfortable reality. Why was the ship so late to make the jump, and, more important than that, WHY DID THE CYLONS ALLOW THE SHIP TO SURVIVE FOR SO LONG? Adama instantly recognizes what a problem this ship presents. The Cylons have been shown to be completely ruthless and without a shred of mercy. If all of the ships jumped but this one, it stands to reason that they would have destroyed it in a second.
Yet there it is, floating in space. And the crew seems to be fine, according to whomever radios them.
HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE? I thought to myself. It has to be a trap, right? Here is what works so brilliantly about this episode: This same event means different things to each of the characters. The return of the Olympic Carrier is Baltar’s figurative (and possibly literal) death sentence. It’s a sign of impending doom for Commander Adama. It’s initially a force of hope for President Roslin, but then a source of guilt and terror when she must ultimately decide what to do with it. And for Starbuck and Lee, the Olympic Carrier will soon be a victim of the fire power, of the clash between personal morality and military duty.
In short, this ship brings out the worst fears in each of our characters. It’s a subtle message, but it’s there. Roslin struggles with an ever-shrinking populace, and the prospect of being able to count those 1,344 souls in the population tally means so much to her. She takes it personally when another life is lost, and you can see how much it hurts her to adjust the count and drop it below fifty thousand. I’m interested to see how the show will explore this side of Roslin as a president, especially since I’m the kind of person to take things personally when it’s probably impractical to do so.
But it’s still Baltar’s story line that holds my interest the most. As it is discovered that the Olympic Carrier is non-responsive and carrying nuclear devices, the bulk of the tensions rests on Baltar’s decision. Using the man’s desperation, Six feeds him the idea that only a true repentance will stop the oncoming disaster. The ship holds the man that will bring him down, and if he is to survive, he must repent in order to save everything. So which side does that place Baltar on? Does Six genuinely believe that Baltar will continue to aid the Cylons? Hell, does Baltar himself believe this? Did he genuinely believe that God would save him if he repented?
I have to respect the writers for taking all of these questions and then REFUSING TO ANSWER THEM. At the end of “33,” we still are no closer to learning if the Cylon God is indeed real. We don’t know if there were 1,344 survivors on board the Olympic Carrier. We don’t know if they were all killed before the jump, and the Cylons sent an empty ship. All we got was a glimpse in the windows and it seemed that there was no one aboard. But did anyone know for sure? Were 1,344 lives lost when Starbuck and Lee fired upon the Olympic Carrier?
“33” doesn’t concern itself with that. Instead, we’re left with people broken and exhausted by the Cylon ambushes who will forever have to live with the idea that they just killed off 2% of the remaining human population. They don’t know that the ship might have been empty, and it doesn’t matter. They’ll live their lives knowing it probably happened anyway.
At the very least, though, there is one final beacon of hope, and one that hits President Roslin rather hard. Amidst all of the fighting and the terror and the chasing, a child was born. The human race just added a single member to their ranks.
And Roslin will take any joy that she can get from this.
- So I didn’t fit it into my narrative above, therefore we must talk about it now: I never thought we’d see Helo ever again. When “33” flashed to Caprica and we saw him running through the forest, sick with radiation poisoning, my first thought was, “Is this a dream sequence of Boomer’s?” Then I thought: “Can Cylons even dream?” Then I started thinking about Phillip K. Dick and got distracted. Anyway, when Six appeared in the forest, I leapt from my seat on the couch and just yelled at my television. (I swear, I either have to be the most entertaining or the most irritating person to watch TV with.) Seriously, how creepy was that? The fact that Six was wearing white made it all the more unsettling. AND THEN BOOMER CYLON SHOWS UP TO SAVE HIM. oh god OH GOD THIS IS SO AWFUL. I don’t like this oh god.
- How great/hilarious was Starbucks angry rant to Lee that devolved into laughter? Probably my favorite part of the whole episode.
- Can Cylons even have children? Are they fully functional humans as well as Cylons?
- HOW GOOD WAS THIS PREMIERE????