In the fifth episode of the first season of Battlestar Galactica, Starbuck is determined to find a way home after crashing on an oxygen-less moon. Meanwhile, the search party (led by Adama and Lee) comes into conflict with the greater needs of the entire fleet. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Battlestar Galactica.
It’s like this show is just one giant book, and we’re just being given the various chapters, one at a time. I don’t think that’s solely because of how serialized the show is, but so much of what we’re seeing here is intensely personal. Amidst all of the action and suspense, these are uniquely intimate character studies on the screen. They’re padded in a rapidly-progressing plot, but it’s right there.
After Adama and Starbuck’s relationship deteriorates quickly upon her reveal about Zak near the end of “Act of Contrition,” I came to adore how much the story in “You Can’t Go Home Again,” also represented the struggle for Starbuck to find her place again, both literally and figuratively. In addition to that, contrary to what I anticipated, this is also a great chance for us to see sets that aren’t inside of spaceships. To be honest, I thought a lot of the show would exist solely on board the Galactica, yet the Caprica and windy moon sets add a much-appreciated variance to the story.
Picking up right from the end of “Act of Contrition,” there are three stories intertwined in the narrative. It wasn’t spelled out for us, and I enjoyed the parallel between Helo and Starbuck. Both of them are stranded on celestial bodies, seemingly alone when it comes to other humans, but threatened by the presence of Cylons. Even more fascinating is the fact that Starbuck is on a moon that’s unfamiliar to her, yet Helo is just as terrified, and he’s on a very familiar planet that suddenly feels strange and bizarre.
The similarities do end there, though, because faces a very real and horrifying Cylon attack. And seriously, never in my entire life have I ever thought a toaster could be used as a method to generate terror, but THERE IT IS. A toaster!!!!! I made toast for breakfast this morning, and all I could think about was a Cylon lurking around the corner. But I unfortunately must continue to confess my confusion. I don’t get what the Cylons are doing with Helo. Are they just playing mind games with him? Why go after him and take CylonBoomer away from him? Why even keep him alive? I’m sure there are clues that I’m not seeing, but I can’t figure them out at all. I’m beginning to think I’m simply being deceived, that Helo possesses something the Cylons want, but I just don’t know what it is yet. WHY DO THEY KEEP TEASING HIM SO.
Back on the Galactica, Adama and Lee leapt into action to set forth a plan to try and locate Starbuck, who is busy struggling to survive on the moon’s surface. What starts off as a normal–if intensive–process quickly becomes something else, though. It seemed obvious that the structure of this episode would involve Starbuck’s difficulty in getting off of that moon, and the scramble to locate her on the part of the fleet. The fleet hadn’t even determined that she’d crashed, let alone was crawling in the dirt after busting her knee. (I KNOW IT’S ACTING BUT THAT LOOKED SO PAINFUL!!!!) Instead, what unfolds on screen is a combination of guilt and duty colliding in a disturbing manifestation.
But before I get into the heavy emotional toll of Adama and Lee’s actions, I really just want to talk about how cool “You Can’t Go Home Again” is. I suppose that there was nothing preventing me from thinking otherwise, but I’d just assumed that the Cylon raiders were flown by Cylons. RIGHT? I mean, what other evidence did I have to the contrary? I didn’t even think it was the Cylon humans, just the robotic-like forms of those beings piloting the ships, simply not giving a fuck because they’re Cylons. They’re the honey badgers of space, basically.
My first clue that something was wrong about this pre-conceived notion was when Starbuck walked up to the crashed Raider ship and saw the hole that she blasted in the hull…and there was blood coming out of it. Oh. Okay. So….it was a human Cylon inside? Oh god WHAT IS GOING ON. And when she finally finds the button that opens the ship from the bottom….wait a second. Why is there a button on the outside? So that Cylons can….release waste? Do Cylons poop?
Clearly I am asking the right questions.
So let’s just discuss the bio-mechanical nature of the Cylon raider ship. It feels very Alien to me, which is about the best compliment I could give to whomever designed this and made it happen. Of course, other ships are probably flown by pilots who aren’t biologically wired into the entire thing, but I don’t care. This was fantastic. The inherent grossness of it all isn’t ignored either. As Starbuck climbs into the ship, we hear the sounds of flesh being torn apart, and see unknown bodily fluids that look like a mixture of blood and mucus. I love that the Cylon being inside is so destroyed that you can’t even picture what it originally looked like.
For Starbuck, this is really about adapting herself to a strange situation and doing what she can to survive. From trying to locate some source of oxygen, to using her training as a pilot to find the very basic flight tools to get the raider off of the ground, Starbuck doesn’t concern herself with being comfortable in the slightest. She knows she doesn’t have much time left before she either stops breathing (in the case of finding an oxygen line) or she is left behind or lost.
As joyous as Starbuck’s escape is (and it really is a treat to watch it), the entire story is contrasted with the unfortunately decisions the fleet has to make in their search for Starbuck. I mentioned before that Adama orders the Vipers out to search for Starbuck, and even Roslin offers up the rest of the fleet to search space for her. I was shocked by how quickly this all fell apart, though. The Viper ships are first unable to stand the atmosphere of the moon they believed Starbuck was on, and because so many of them are damaged due to mechanical problems, the area that’s been searched is frighteningly small. On top of that, because the nature of the fleet being essentially “stranded” in space, they’re restricted by logistics: the fuel reserves for the fighters are being drained.
I’m impressed just how present this concept is, by the way, and I think that it’s at heart about why “You Can’t Go Home Again” works so well. The various writers who have penned all of the episodes of season one so far have not let us forget that these people are floating in the middle of nowhere. They have no home. They have nowhere to set their feet down. They have limited supplies. (Some of those were just destroyed in “Water,” too.) So while the story of Adama and Lee’s dedication to finding Starbuck has a very real emotional base to it, we are not allowed to ignore that there are just over 47,000 humans left in all existence. In order to survive, they have to ration everything, and they have to keep these numbers in their minds. It’s not a matter of risking a few to save one. By risking the fleet in any way, they are risking the continuation of their species.
I mean, the number 47,000 is inconceivable to me. I live in a city with a population of 390,000 people. (As of last year.) I can’t imagine that number comprising every human being ever. That’s what makes this so difficult to watch. Once Roslin learns just how much is being “wasted” (in her opinion) in order to locate Starbuck, how could she continue to allow Adama and Lee to risk the entire fleet for one soldier?
Given what happened between Starbuck and Adama at the end of “Act of Contrition,” and knowing that Lee might also feel guilt at revealing what Starbuck had done for Zak two years earlier, it’s easy to paint both of these men’s actions as uniquely personal, especially in a distracting way. Even Roslin is able to point this out: They left behind over 1,300 people before, so why can’t they leave one soldier behind this time? When Tigh questions the point of searching for Starbuck after her air has clearly run out, both Lee and Adama overreact to having their decisions called into legitimacy. And I’m sure that’s something all of you have experienced at one point, especially when you truly believe that you are right about something. It hurts to be told you are wrong, and it hurts to have to cast aside one’s pride, especially if it concerns a loved one.
God, it is just gutting to have to watch these characters not only admit defeat, but face the fact that this defeat means losing someone they deeply care about. And seriously, what were Adama’s last words to Starbuck? A thinly-veiled threat at violence, and a rejection of everything she’d done for that man since joining the Galactica. It’s a testament to how well this is written AND acted that even though we know that Starbuck is alive, I couldn’t help but feel dejected as the crew prepared to make the jump and leave her behind.
To be fair, though, I worried that the episode title was ultimately a reference to the end of this episode, that as Starbuck brilliantly learned how to fly the raider, she would be unable to return home in the current state that she was in. Without a method to communicate with the Galactica, how on earth could she approach them without being blown to pieces? For an episode so intense and dark, I gotta say: I love how victorious the ending to “You Can’t Go Home Again” feels. I don’t feel ashamed for feeling that way, either. Starbuck just went through arguably one of the most difficult experiences of her entire life (AND EW SHE GOT CYLON GUNK IN HER MOUTH FROM THE OXYGEN TUBE EW) and it only fits that her return home is through a method that is boisterous, ridiculous, and over-the-top.
For me, though, my favorite moment is right at the end, and this story was inevitably leading to the second half of the confrontation between Adama and Starbuck. Injured and bed-ridden, she looks upon Adama not with a look of fury or fear, but of vulnerable desire, hoping so dearly that this man’s previous parting words were not meant truthfully. Unlike Starbuck, Commander Adama is much more reserved about how he expresses himself, which is why his actions are so jarring in this episode. So while he doesn’t come right out and say it, I felt there was an implicit acceptance (and maybe a smidgeon of an apology) in his congratulation of her performance that day. And even if it is a happy moment, it broke my heart to see Starbuck’s face curl up with tears. Maybe it’s because she genuinely thought she was going to die that day, or, even worse, she’d survive it all and still not have the love of Adama on her side. Her character was written in “You Can’t Go Home Again” to expose a remarkably tender and insecure side to her, which also didn’t ignore how tough she is as a person. It’s my hope that the three people most affected by Zak can begin to truly heal after all of this.