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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 II", which originally aired on April 1st of 2005.
Previously on Battlestar Galactica: A team is sent to investigate what is believed to be the planet Kobol, but they’re shot down by the Cylons. Starbuck steals the captured Cylon Raider, taking it to Caprica on President Roslin’s request.
Relationships are fickle by nature, and throughout Battlestar Galactica’s run we’ll see characters make and break alliances many times. The military-government partnership between Commander William Adama and President Laura Roslin has for the most part been an amicable one, although the President’s recent embrace of faith-based leadership hasn’t been endorsed by the always-practical Adama. What the man in charge of the Galactica values more than anything is loyalty, and as we saw in the previous episode Roslin deceived him by asking Starbuck to steal the Cylon Raider. Not only did this rob Adama of a valuable military asset right before it was to be used in an attack, but it was a double-betrayal because of the involvement of his favorite pilot and surrogate daughter.
The knife wound in his back inspires Adama to call for Roslin’s resignation, a request she promptly refuses. We’ve seen this standoff coming for a few episodes now, a contemporary take on the tangible-versus-faith narrative that has been around since people first began telling stories. Both of these leaders feel their approach to saving humanity is the correct one, stubbornly refusing to consider the possibility that true salvation might require compromise. And is that not an accurate metaphor for real life? All too often we put our beliefs at war with proven facts, society seems obsessed with making putting them at odds with each other. The truth is that human beings are far too complicated for this to be a binary issue, we are simultaneously logical and illogical creatures that swim in an ocean of gray instead of being imprisoned behind borders colored black and white. The characters of Battlestar Galactica haven’t accepted this concept though, with neither Adama or Roslin willing to concede.
Adama informs the President that he is using his military strength to remove her from office, and she responds by letting him know that the media is present and recording everything. Adama understands the influence of the press and immediately hangs up, showing us just how much power Roslin possesses. Her ship Colonial One might not have any guns or bombs, but words captured and broadcast to the rest of the fleet can be just as dangerous as a bullet, a fact that Adama isn’t blind to.
Roslin and Adama are now two out-of-control trains speeding towards each other, racing to a collision point where control of the fleet sits as a prize to be fought over. The reality that neither is willing to acknowledge is that the survivors need BOTH a political and military presence, that if either one were to acquire total power over the fleet any hope that humanity would survive, let alone thrive, would be extinguished. But Adama remains ignorant of this, and after having Gaeta jam all communications to and from Colonial One he orders Tigh and Lee to lead a strike team to arrest Roslin, hoping that the mere threat of imprisonment will be enough to make the President step down. These two characters are now engaged in a high-stakes game of chicken, each hoping that the other will be the first to swerve.
After Roslin once again refuses to relinquish the presidency the strike team attacks, with the situation culminating in a standoff between the marines and Roslin’s security team. For a moment it appears that Tigh has the upper hand, but he’s once-again disrespected by a subordinate when Lee realizes the insanity of the situation and turns on his fellow soldiers. From the show’s earliest episodes there’s been a tug-of-war match being fought over Lee’s loyalty, a battle waged between Roslin, who he agrees with ideologically, and his often-dismissive father.
While all this is playing out Adama decides to go through with the original plan of depositing a nuke in the Cylon Basestar over Kobol, asking Boomer to go in Starbuck’s place. They’re able to use a Cylon transponder to successfully cloak a Raptor, allowing Boomer to guide it deep inside the enemy ship. Due to a malfunction Boomer is forced to exit the Raptor in order to manually place and arm it, and while doing so she encounters a seemingly-endless stream of fellow Sharon Valeriis, which validate her worst fear. She is indeed a Cylon, a blissfully-unaware traitor to her fellow men and women. This doesn’t prevent her from completing her mission, and as she speeds away the Basestar goes up in a gigantic explosion.
Back at the fleet there are mixed-emotions, as word of Boomer’s success is juxtaposed with Roslin being placed in Galactica’s brig. Lee’s imprisonment for mutiny is put on hold so he’s present to witness Boomer’s return, where his father uses some carefully-chosen words to dress down his son for his disloyalty. He speaks of Boomer’s ability to overcome any misgivings she might have had, but it turns out she has just been saving her betrayal for the proper moment. She accepts the hand he offers, and with her other pulls her pistol and delivers two shots to Adama’s chest. While his son and the rest of the ship’s command watch Adama falls to the command table, which is quickly painted red with his blood.
The episode also visits Kobol for a short update on the survivors of last week’s Raptor crash. Crashdown is the highest-ranking military member so he takes command, although we get the impression that he’s in over his head. This isn’t lost on Chief Tyrol, who appears visibly concerned that they’re not only stranded on a foreign planet, but also being led by someone that isn’t mentally-prepared for the role. But the most-interesting story thread that happens here involves Baltar and Internal Six, as they take a metaphysical journey into what could be either Kobol’s past or a future that hasn’t yet happened. In a dreamlike state they visit the same opera house from Roslin’s visions, where they find a crib containing a baby. We’ve heard “all this has happened before and will happen again” several times on the show, and now we’re seeing the physical manifestation of that motif. The fact that Baltar is experiencing the same foresight as the President makes it easy to question her imprisonment, as it would appear her faith has been validated.
Despite all that the episode has already done, the show runners still find time to take us back to Caprica where Starbuck has arrived at the Delphi Museum. It doesn’t take her long to find the Arrow of Apollo, but extracting it proves difficult as a Six arrives on the scene. The two fight, providing the audience some insight into just how strong and fast the Cylons are, with Starbuck eventually killing the robot. In a bit of eye-rolling convenience Helo and Sharon just happen to be in the same area, but the revelations that ensue make it easy to overlook this rare nugget of weak storytelling. Starbuck becomes aware that this Sharon, as well as the one she knows in the fleet, are Cylons, and that this particular one is pregnant with Helo’s child.
The second chapter of “Kobol’s Last Gleaming” makes the most of the outstanding setups that the first half handed it. These episodes serve as a great way to end Battlestar Galactica’s opening season, which was a nearly-flawless exercise in storytelling. We’re left with so many delicious cliffhangers here with Adama’s fate in question, Roslin’s political career hanging in the balance, and of course the fact that a Cylon and a human have apparently conceived a child together. A good season finale needs to provide a bit of closure while also filling the audience with anticipation, and both missions are accomplished here.