In the tenth episode of the first season of Battlestar Galactica, dwindling fuel reserves inspire the Galactica crew to make a risky (and potentially disastrous) decision to go after the Cylons directly. In the process, Baltar and Roslin unknowingly become at odds with one another. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Battlestar Galactica.
Well, all that well-placed humor is gone, and in its place is one goddamn tense forty-five minutes. Even before the bulk of the story is underway, we’re giving a cold open that is remarkably frightening. (And I imagine if you have a deep fear or phobia of snakes, you probably sobbed yourself to sleep that night you first watched this.) Roslin is now experiencing hallucinations, much like Baltar (OH GOD I LOVE THE PARALLELS ALREADY), that are incredibly distracting to her present state. While trying to update the fleet’s remaining journalists/officials on the state of the fuel reserves, she begins to see snakes covering her podium. The image is creepy enough, and it’s even more uncomfortable because no one else can see them. But now Roslin freezes, like Baltar does, and the crowd stares on in confusion. It’s a disaster, to put it lightly, and it’s only a matter of time before someone starts to spread the idea that Roslin is sick with something. Also, seriously? That part where she has to slowly remove her hands from under the snakes made me want to curl in a ball in bed and never come out. Good god.
While Vipers are out scanning for any possible tylium to process for fuel, Roslin, on the other hand, goes to see the fleet’s priest, Elosha. I’m getting the sense that Roslin might be spiritual or religious in some part, as I’m not sure why she’d choose a priest to speak to about her chamalla hallucinations over her doctor. Unless, that is, she believes that this sort of counsel will help her.
I’m ready to state that I’m endlessly excited for the way that this show is portraying religion, too. (I’ll get to Baltar towards the end.) We have two known faiths, and I also think that there are probably some non-believers on board who haven’t once said anything about the gods or God. (Adama, Gaeta, Dualla, and Lee all come to mind, and Adama in particular doesn’t strike me as a very spiritual person.) Yet just the existence of the religions is interesting enough, and that’s why I was totally blown away by Elosha’s reveal: Roslin’s life appears to match an ancient Pythian prophecy regarding the exodus mankind. Hell, even I can’t ignore how well it fits. Roslin saw two and ten snakes, is leading the remaining survivors to earth, and–most crucial of them all–is herself dying.
To be honest, I’m generally not a fan of the concept of prophecy being used in fiction all that much. I don’t dislike it, but it generally pigeonholes stories into this weird, deterministic character arc. (It’s actually why I like the use of this in the Harry Potter books because the main prophecy involves a choice on the part of one villain who…oh, I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t read it. But you get what I mean!) So I was surprised by how much I liked the idea that this Secretary of Education came upon the job as president, and is now possibly part of something larger. It’s scary to think that she might not survive the trip, but could it be that the prophecy is just mere coincidence? Will Roslin choose to act on it anyway?
Given those kind of questions (and given how massively huge this reveal is), I was then a bit bewildered that it’s seemingly not brought up again. We spend no time with Roslin as she contemplates what this means to her life, and the episode begins to focus on other characters, especially Lee and Baltar. Starbuck, still in rehabilitation for her leg, assists Tigh, Lee, and Adama with plans to steal tylium from under a Cylon base that Boomer and Crashdown discovered on a floating asteroid. In a way, I almost feel that there’s a meta subtext to “The Hand of God,” in that the writers are acknowledging that the fleet cannot simply be written as constantly fleeing forever, that the concept could become distractingly stale rather quickly. For the characters, Adama vocalizes the need to confront the Cylons plainly: it’s time that they finally stood up the schoolyard bullying who is tormenting them every day.
In addition to this, the story between Helo and Boomer on Caprica is rapidly progressing towards a point that also needs to be acknowledged: Helo has to figure out that Boomer is a Cylon. There’s only so much the writers can do to drag out the story, so it’s nice to see that they’re taking steps to bring the issue up. First of all, clearly Boomer is pregant. Why else would a Cylon human throw up? GREAT. Cylon babies are on their way!
I didn’t find this as pressing as Helo’s discovery that the woman Boomer clearly killed is now leading a group of Cylons. We know that Caprica Boomer is self-aware of who she is, so is she finally just going to tell him what’s going on? I actually think she’ll find a way to tell him that Cylons look like human, but she’ll keep her own identity a secret and try to keep her relationship with Helo. Which….is going to be a problem, I imagine.
Back on the Galactica, the fuel raiding plan presents problems for Baltar, Lee, and Starbuck, though for entirely different reasons. Starbuck, on the one hand, is not used to being left behind, to submitting her ego to commanding a fleet from the CIC. Adama prevents her from taking flight, despite her dogged insistence, in a particularly agonizing scene in which he uses a leg press machine to demonstrate that she’s not ready for flight. Even Starbuck has to admit that the Commander is correct, but you can see how much it pains her. Yet it’s not just about being in pain, either; she is simply inexperienced at leading from a distance, and throughout “The Hand of God,” we see just how awkward everything is for her. She’s physically uncomfortable, shuffling about the room as if she has no purpose.
Lee himself is not the least bit excited to be taking command, knowing that if there is any pilot who could lead a suicide mission to destroy a Cylon base, it’s Starbuck who has the creative talent, not him. He is just out of his element as she is, confused as to how he’s supposed to step into her shoes when everyone around him suggests that Starbuck is the best pilot for the job, not him. I was happy to see Adama step up to comfort his son, and in a way that is genuine and affectionate. It may seem like nothing to have Adama state so directly that he believes in Lee simply because his son, but you have to remember how distant they were for two years, and how Adama took that fact for granted. Sometimes, acknowledging things outright can be more powerful than flowery statements of love.
Baltar, out of everyone who suddenly is conflicted by the plan to attack the Cylon base, has the most precarious position. It seems his “conversion” isn’t quite complete, and when he’s called on to give the fighters the best location to bomb, he doesn’t know. Worse, Six doesn’t know either, telling him to open his heart to God, and God will give the answer. I don’t think that Baltar believed the concept at all, despite that giving in to God had worked so well for him. Taking a step back from this, it is kind of an absurd notion: God has the power to give Baltar the right location, but he’s just going to wait until Baltar gives him something back? So the entirety of the human race depends on this one dude, and that’s a totally fair thing for the rest of humanity? Sorry, I’d be pretty pissed if I died, went to the pearly gates, and discovered that I died because some other dude failed one of God’s tests. You can see that even Baltar thinks this is a bit much, but he gives it a try. He names a place, but does so at random. God said nothing to him. Six assures him that God speaks through other means.
YEAH, OKAY, COULD HE JUST SPEAK UP? I’d be a lot more comforted by that.
But there’s nothing here to comfort us! Because the second that this mission is put into motion, we are given about fifteen minutes straight of nail-biting terror. Starbucks plan to use decoys to draw the Cylons away from their base is good, but it’s not fantastic, especially since there’s no real recourse if the plan is spotted. And good fucking god, everything goes to shit so fast. The Cylons do take the bait, but this was under the hope that the Cylons would send the bulk of their ships to go after the mining ships. Unfortunately, the base releases reserve ships–FIFTY OF THEM–towards the Galactica, which now has nothing to protect itself. All the Vipers have been deployed.
God, it is just so awful. The writers do not avoid this, as the screams of dying pilots fill the room, and Starbuck, Baltar, and Roslin are all clearly upset by this. Starbuck feels responsible, since she devised the plan. Baltar is terrified that even if the plan does work, he provided the wrong information. Roslin has never properly experienced a mission like this, and the fate of the rest of the survivors will be decided in the next few minutes.
And in the face of imminent doom, Adama instructs Dualla to relay a message to Lee: the back door is open. Revealing that they did have a contingent plan, we find out that the decoys are anything but: they’re hiding another fleet of Viper fighters. OH SHIT YEAH. Oh, misdirection, I never saw you.
I don’t even really have anything insightful to say about Lee’s flight down to the asteroid. It’s frightening, especially as pilots begin to perish, but mostly it’s just FUCKING COOL. From the visual reference to Star Wars when Lee enters the mining tunnels (IT TOTALLY IS, RIGHT???), to the magnificent special effects that make this all look so real, it’s just fun to watch. I don’t need to say anything deep about it, do I?
Well, I suppose there is a huge point to be made here, one I’m glad that appears. The humans have finally won a battle. Starbuck and Lee are both relieved that they could actually pull this whole thing off. Baltar is happy to find out his guess was right, and Roslin is overjoyed that they are alive and with fuel. Honestly, this group just hasn’t had a victory like this against the Cylons, and it was something they truly needed. I know that I love the doom and gloom more than most things, but every so often, I’m perfectly fine with a little bit of joy, too!
Yet I couldn’t ignore the fact that I had no idea why this episode was called, “The Hand of God.” There was a bit of talk of God earlier, but, like the Roslin plot, it seemed to be left to the side. In truth, I was merely unprepared until the end of time. Spawned by a conversation with Six about the logistics of how he pulled off guessing the correct location, Baltar comes to realize his life fits the prophecy of Pythia. The very same prophecy that fits Roslin’s life. The once-atheist Baltar now declares himself an instrument of God and, unknowing to him, sets himself up against President Roslin, who may very well be the hand of God as well.
UM FUCK YES. THIS IS AWESOME. oh my god are these two going to come into conflict soon???? OH THIS IS JUST SPECTACULAR I LOVE THIS TWIST FOREVER.