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Author's Note: Having grown tired of what's currently available on TV I've decided to rewatch some of my all time favorite shows. I'm limiting myself to one episode per week in order to experience the storytelling as it was originally intended, which hopefully will preserve the thrill of having to wait a week to see what happens next. This article covers the Battlestar Galactica episode "Kobol’s Last Gleaming, Part I", which originally aired on March 25th of 2005.
Previously on Battlestar Galactica: Colonial President Laura Roslin has terminal cancer and is taking alternative medicine to treat it, which have been delivering visions to her. Starbuck captures a Cylon Raider, using it to return to the fleet. The survivors continue to look for a new planet to settle on, hoping to rebuilt their society after the devastating Cylon attack.
Well-done season finales are a one-two punch experience, the penultimate episode being just as important as the one that wraps the season up. Battlestar Galactica offers up a two-part finale, a nice bookend to the season given it opened with a pair of movies that did a effective job of introducing the many characters needed to tell such a grand story. The first half of “Kobol’s Last Gleaming” not only sets up important narrative dominoes that will be knocked down next week, it expands upon several important themes that have been introduced over the course of Battlestar’s inaugural season.
The episode opens with newly-elected Vice President Baltar finally getting Starbuck in bed, something he’s coveted from the moment they met. Baltar is a well-known womanizer, an external manifestation of his own insecurities, completely unable to form emotional attachment to any woman other than the imaginary Cylon female that resides in his own head. Despite being the smartest man left alive Baltar’s ego is in constant need of validation, and when Starbuck calls out Lee Adama’s name during their lovemaking we can see how much the slip up hurts him. But it’s hard to sympathize with Gaius, a man who invests little effort into any relationship other than the one he has with Internal Six.
Their intimacy is beautifully cross-cut with a sparring match between the two Adamas, as father and son swap blows in the boxing ring. This scene is far more about Lee than it is about the Commander, as his inadequacies are externalized when a right cross from his father puts him on the floor. Lee admires his father but fears that he will become him, he’s exchanging punches with his own future more than his dad. The two characters have been forced to put their emotional issues with each other aside due to the humanity’s dire situation, but such powerful feelings can only stay buried for so long.
The scene serves as a trailer of sorts for all the future conflict they will have with one another as they search for what it means to be father and son. The heartbeat of their disconnect is the unresolved issues they have surrounding Zak Adama’s untimely death, a tragedy that Starbuck had a direct hand in causing. The three characters form a unique triangle: Starbuck clearly views the senior Adama as a father figure while Lee is obviously in love with her, forming an emotionally incestuous relationship that will cause him much pain and hardship as the Battlestar saga unfolds. Later in the episode Lee will confront Starbuck about sleeping with Baltar, opening a rift between the two that eventually devolves into a physical altercation reminiscent of the one Lee just had with his father.
Meanwhile, President Roslin discovers that her cancer is not only terminal, but that it’s chewing through her body at a far faster rate than anyone anticipated. The aggressive disease has spread to her lymph nodes, giving her an estimated six months to live. When we first met Laura Roslin back in the miniseries she was a by-the-book politician, the very nature of her title as Secretary of Education would imply a pragmatic world view which is supported by the decisions she makes early in the show’s run. But the combination of coming to terms with her own mortality and the use of the hallucinogenic Chamalla has caused a spiritual awakening in Roslin, opening her eyes to the belief that faith is humanity’s most valuable remaining resource.
The fleet receives some good news when a habitable planet is discovered by what has become the A-team when it comes to scouting: Boomer and Crashdown. You’ll recall that this was the Raptor crew that saved the fleet by finding a planet full of water after a terrorist attack (carried out by Boomer) severely diminished their supply. The practical Adama orders a scout team dispatched, believing that they’ve found their new home world. But President Roslin believes they’ve simply discovered Kobol, which the scriptures indicate is just a rest stop on the way to Earth. Her visions have led her to believe that they need to send someone back to Caprica to recover the Arrow of Apollo, which will grant them access to the Tomb of Athena (I love the show’s ever-increasing usage of Greek mythology), which will point the way to their final destination. Adama quickly tires of what he considers to be nonsense, and denies Roslin’s request to allow Starbuck to take the Cylon Raider to get the Arrow. It was just one episode ago that these two characters were dancing at the Colonial Day celebration, with perhaps a hint of a romance blooming. But the relationship is splintering over their philosophical differences before it can reach its full potential, a physical example of the science versus faith motif that Battlestar utilizes so effectively.
Boomer continues to suffer an extensional crisis as she can’t shake the belief that she’s a secret Cylon agent, which of course the audience knows is true. Even though we’re aware that she’s played a role in many deaths and hardships for the remaining humans, it’s hard not to sympathize with her as she sits in her bunk contemplating suicide. There’s nothing Boomer fears more than the possibility that she’s an enemy to the people she’s sworn to protect, making her such a beautifully-tragic character. A conversation with Baltar is enough to spill Boomer over the edge and she finally pulls the trigger, although she fails to deliver a fatal blow to herself. Perhaps Cylons are prevented by their programming from committing suicide, which is a fascinating concept when you consider the strong religious preaching we’ve seen Internal Six deliver. What does it say about humanity when our mechanical creations have embraced faith while we’ve put all our trust in science?
The episode’s climax sees everything fall apart for Commander Adama, starting with the scout party’s disaster trip to Kobol. Three Raptors are dispatched, one with Gaius Baltar and Chief Tyrol aboard, but when they jump to their potential new home they find it has been overtaken by the Cylons. A Basestar now orbits Kobol with a full compliment of Raiders to support it, and the Raptor party is quickly reduced to two. The Raptor carrying Baltar and Tyrol suffer damage, forcing Crashdown to make an emergency landing on the planet’s surface. The third Raptor is able to jump back to Galactica to inform the fleet of this latest setback.
Fleet Command immediately gets to work on a rescue, with Starbuck once again using her creativity to come up with a plan where the Raider would be fitted with a nuclear bomb and then flown into the Basestar. Starbuck openly disrespect Lee in the chain of command by not passing this idea through him, further fueling their now openly-antagonistic feud. Roslin catches wind of the plan and makes a plea with Starbuck that the Raider would be better-served by her taking it to get the Arrow, but Starbuck’s loyalty to Commander Adama holds strong until Roslin reveals that he lied about knowing Earth’s location. This was, of course, a sin Adama committed with the best of intentions, he simply wanted to instill a sense of hope in the survivors after the tragic events seen in the miniseries. But for Starbuck, who views Adama not only as a surrogate father but as the honest, practical man she’s never had in her life, this is the ultimate betrayal. She takes the Raider on a navigational test, and without telling anyone her intentions she jumps to Caprica on Roslin’s quest.
We don’t spend a lot of time on Caprica this week, although the events that happen there are important. Helo, now aware that Sharon is a Cylon, remains on the run, eventually encountering his former lover. He shoots her out of anger and betrayal, but only manages to wound her in the shoulder. This affords him the opportunity to kill her but he passes up the chance, claiming that he needs her to escape the planet. But we can see in his eyes that it’s more complicated than that, despite knowing that Sharon is not human Helo is still in love with her, and we all know how powerful and dangerous true love can be.