Battlestar Galactica – “Islanded in a Stream of Stars”

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“Islanded in a Stream of Stars”

March 6th, 2009

“You know sometimes I wonder what “home” is. Is it an actual place? Or is it some kind of longing for something, some kind of connection?”

The entirety of Battlestar Galactica has been about a search for a new home. From the end of the miniseries, when Commander William Adama told everyone that they had a map to a new home called Earth, there was always a preoccupation with finding someplace to settle, someplace to rebuild what they had before, somewhere to plant the roots that had been so violently uprooted by the Cylon attack. But from the very first moments of ’33,’ it became very clear that this wasn’t going to be a simple journey, and at every point where they felt like they had found home (In season 2’s visit to Kobol, appropriately titled “Home,” or on New Caprica at the start of Season 3) it was taken away from them by some cruel reality from their past.

But every character on the show has nonetheless remained buoyed by something, some sort of vision or location which connects them to something imaginary yet more real than anything they were experiencing. It’s almost a metaphor for the show itself: even with all of its spaceships and explosions and epic battles, the show has found grounding in human emotions and human relationships in the same way that its characters, faced with the surreality of their years of struggle, return to that which offers the most peace with themselves. We saw our first direct example of this last week, wherein Boomer had actually built a home for her and Tyrol that, when she was sad, she would go to in order to get away from it all.

Moving this into the realm of Cylon projection is reflective in the fact that the search for a home has become even more complicated when you include the Cylon side of this equation – they too had their initial home destroyed by some unknown force, and were forced into a bitter search for purpose. And they too thought they had found the answers, whether it was the Colony revealed in this episode (where the Final Five built the Other Eight Models) or Caprica and Boomer’s plan to settle the Cylons on New Caprica with humanity. But for whatever reason, fate and destiny never led them to the point where either Cylons or humans were able to find a home that was their own, that brought them not just complicated questions or theories but rather something approaching the peace that only the imagination could create.

While the second half of this season has had a number of episodes which serve as a clearing of the air in an effort to make distinct the themes the show is looking to delve into in the two-part finale to come in the weeks ahead, this one is the one that is most broad-reaching: whether it is Adama’s realization that his search for Home never really even started, or how the principles of fatherhood drive both Helo and Tigh into very different perspectives of what makes a place or home, or how Laura Roslin has always held onto her own dream-like projection, or eventually how someone like Kara Thrace acknowledges that she’ll never quite be home until she accepts just who she is. The only thing that ties everything together is that, for all but one of them, none of their conceptions of “home” have anything to do with Caprica and its ruins, Kobol and its gods, or even Earth and its destruction.

They’ve been “Islanded in a Stream of Stars” since the attack began, but the island meant something different to every single one of them; the problem has not been that their actual location or condition have been wrong, but rather that the various different secondary realities have been in conflict. Now, as we move closer to our conclusion, the people aboard Galactica are starting to rise to the occasion, finding in themselves not just their place of peace but also the self-awareness necessary to either let go of their inhibitions or accept that their vision of home might not be what they’ve been searching for all along.

And the result is an emotionally powerful penultimate episode of a series that, having always been about a search for home, has at the very least found itself one in the annals of television history.

That is, without a doubt, one of the most lengthy introductions I’ve written to an episode review, but the episode spoke in those terms: there was nothing here that felt like it wasn’t connecting to some of these ideas of breaks between reality and one’s mind, reflections on what and where we identify with. Almost every character got their moment of reflection on the subject: while there were some characters who certainly got to play less of a role (Lee, as an example), and there are others whose roles remain perhaps a little bit too active as opposed to reactive (Baltar), for the most part we saw a phenomenon that was hitting everyone who remains at that point of confusion, that point of needing guidance.

The only characters who don’t are those who have gone through something profound, like Ellen – she is the one who, at this point, still believes in destiny, and who pushes for the fleet to rush after Hera as soon as possible. It’s the only option in her mind, primarily because she has settled on her goal: she wants to go back to that point where she last found peace, when it seemed as if working with the Centurions was going to bring them together in a new home where progress would lead to the end of bitter conflict. Perhaps it was the nature of resurrection, which clearly changed part of if not all of Ellen’s personality, but she is the most sure of herself because it was all part of her design: she helped rebuild resurrection, and she feels that now she has the clarity with which to rebuild an entire race’s identity.

But she hasn’t seen or experienced, in this body, the kinds of things that her husband has. To her, Galactica is a means to an end, a little model sitting on the map in CiC being moved around by Hera, the only thing that should be motivating its captain in her eyes. That opening flash of sorts, showing Hera navigating the toy Galactica into a sea of Cylon forces, was a powerful scene that didn’t really connect until I began to understand Ellen’s point of view. Tigh, by comparison, feels his loyalty is to the ship itself and the people he’s served with: it may seem reductive that he’s still dealing with the same identity issues he was handling eighteen episodes ago when the season began, but Ellen’s return and the recent death of his son has only complicated things. Liam’s death sends him in two entirely different directions: he has lost his most personal connection to the future of the Cylon race on the one hand, but on the other he has gained a whole new perspective on fatherhood, one that Ellen tries to tap into when she refers to all of the Cylons in existence as their millions of children.

Michael Hogan was one actor who was given a lot to work with in the episode, in particular the referred to scene with Ellen as well as his scene with a dying Eight, wherein the Sharon speaks of the Privilege of being greeted on her deathbed by her father. Hogan’s left eye did most of the heavy-lifting in this scene, as he deals with the very premise of fatherhood, but the scene with Ellen that followed was desperation, digging under the couch to see if there’s any liquor that his previous desperate searches didn’t turn up. Tigh thought he had found home with Caprica and Liam, until destiny or something else entirely got in the way: now, he’s searching for another island, and while Ellen may be there as some form of support Tigh can’t help but relate to the dying Galactica, and feel as if his search isn’t so simple as one person. Tigh also raises the question about whether there’s a sort of grandfather clause to the principle: Ellen asserts that she is his true home because they were together 2000 years ago, but Tigh contests the notion quite reasonably: if he doesn’t truly remember those moments and only has bits of pieces to put it all together, can he really go there as easily as Ellen, just project this reality he doesn’t remember living?

The idea of projection, though, does raise some questions: considering that he apparently projected (or did something) to see Caprica as Ellen during their sexual trysts, is there not something to be said for Ellen being his home? I won’t contend that isn’t going to be his ultimate discovery, but I think that the show can’t jump to that conclusion (as it sort of does later in the episode with another couple, but we’ll get to that in time). One of the things that we know about Tigh, and the rest of the final Cylon models, is that there is something that runs deeper in them as it relates to these questions, and the speed at which they reconnect with their Cylon identity has always been in question. Where the show has been less subtle about this (Tori suddenly gaining super-strength with Cally, Tyrol off-screen deciding that he would be willing to abandon humanity only weeks after stopping its mutiny and organizing to save Galactica), it has felt like a cheap tool. Here, though, it feels as it should, the question of home being complicated by a sense of identity which in and of itself is anything but clear. If you don’t know who you are, how can you know where home is, especially when both humans and Cylons have different perspectives on where or what that constitutes? Or do they? That’s a question for later.

The season’s other major question of identity, meanwhile, has been Kara Thrace, who in this episode goes through a fairly substantial transformation in the wake of last week’s visit from her father and the realization that this whole destiny thing might mean something after all. In that first meeting with Adama, she elides her real question of her identity: that moment with Leoben on Earth, as they discover the remains of her Viper and her charred body with dogtags still intact, remains a mystery, shrouded in favour of the less personal but maybe more meaningful discovery that Hera, Starbuck and Tigh are all hearing the same song. The Watchtower connection continues into the episode – when the Eight dies holding Tigh’s hand, for example, she says that there’s too much confusion, and I was just waiting for Tigh to break out “I can’t get no relief.” The song is the undercurrent to something deeper, and no doubt Starbuck’s discovery of her father having taught her that song holds some value.

But Starbuck can’t really understand that if she doesn’t first try to understand herself. When she hears Baltar talking on the Wireless about Angels, as he re-enters our narrative in probably his most substantial (Read: interesting) contribution of this half season, she sees him as an answer: someone who based on his language (and based on our knowledge of the existence of Head Six) understand what she’s gone through and even has the scientific knowledge and resources to prove her story. It is not exactly clear what she wants the endgame to be here, but in that moment of desperation (so lovingly depicted as Starbuck uses the bathroom in an open stall as Baltar shaves) you see in her that playful Starbuck spirit trying to put on an act to hide her true frustrations. She’s trying to be sarcastic, trying to play this off as a move of confidence, a baring of teeth, and yet she’s placing in Baltar’s hands the dilemma that she has been struggling with, hoping that in telling someone she would be able to transfer her problem, transfer that search for identity.

To an extent, she succeeds – Baltar is just as desperate for a purpose, or a home, as Starbuck is, and while he seems to have accepted the existence of Head Six as an angel he still isn’t content. I really do hope that we get something deeper than “Angel” to describe that Starbuck and Baltar have experienced in the past, because it’s too connected with our principles of heaven as compared to those of the characters in the show itself. What the episode was missing for Baltar was a connection that I made fairly quickly and that was almost implied in that final speech after the funeral. As he reveals to all that Kara Thrace did die, and that she has nonetheless returned to them because she stared death in the face and refused to stay dead, he should be thinking back to the moment on Earth wherein he stood in that house, and where Head Six came to him and told him that she would protect him. The next we see of Gaius Baltar, he is stumbling out of a field directly where the one Raptor capable of getting him to safety is located. Starbuck, meanwhile, disappeared after staring death in the face and showed up in the nebula just as Galactica arrived there. It doesn’t sound like a coincidence to me.

But accepting it all as fate doesn’t help Kara Thrace: as soon as she transferred it to Baltar, she tried to end Anders’ life in a way to keep him from living in some kind of limbo, never sure whether his reality exists in the real world or in the brain waves coursing through him. Of course, Anders immediately wakes up as a full-fledge hybrid, grabbing her arm and spouting the nonsense that we’re used to. The only thing that we truly understand, though, is the return of the familiar refrain: “Kara Thrace, you are the harbinger of death.” However, placed in the context of what has happened to both Starbuck and Baltar, perhaps this now means that death is not the end for them, and that death is just a chance for rebirth, for a new sort of resurrection that no one understands. It’s a complicated idea, and it’s one that has literally driven Kara mad all season. By episode’s end, though, she’s resolved it: she has accepted that she is now someone different, accepts that Sam has turned into someone different (and someone who doesn’t deserve to be unplugged, regardless of the potential complications with his hybrid-esque control of the FTL drive), and feels as if she can move forward as a result.

As for Baltar, we’re still not really sure where he’s going – him being in control of the fleet’s supply of food and civilian goods didn’t play a role in thsi episode, so that doesn’t seem like it is an ultimate path, and he did deserve that slap from Starbuck for ending a funeral with such a grand pronouncement. Regardless, he is a believer in something again, a dangerous but fruitful position for the character. What he does with this knowledge, though, is the real question: will he apply it to his own position, or is he content to try to turn it into some sort of cult-like suicide pact? I don’t think the show can really head down that path without taking the character to a place a bit too dark for his base existence as a total coward, but at the same time he needs to go somewhere: he’s spend too much of the second half of the season either off-screen, in a lab, or in a state of disillusionment. His search for home feels like it is just beginning tonight, and with only the final two episodes to make his discoveries I’m not sure he’ll find it.

But that’s not stopping someone like Helo, who joins Laura Roslin in the category of those who aren’t worried about their own morality, although for fundamentally different reasons. Helo wants he and Athena, who is revisiting the Opera House and quite justifiably breaking down, to go after Hera and Boomer, in what Adama rightfully calls a suicide mission: even if they find her, they’d be running into a Cylon stronghold. But Helo doesn’t care: she so defines his existence, so keeps it whole and makes it what it is, that he can’t imagine home without her. He can’t imagine any place, without Hera, where he could feel at peace. Helo only gets a few scenes, but Tahmoh Penikett brings to life a man who feels responsible for his child’s abduction, and he nails the few scenes he gets. He is a man who doesn’t care if he lives or dies because, in the present, there is no longer the person he lived for most.

For Laura Roslin, though, she’s at the opposite end of the spectrum: her mortality has been threatening for some time, and after falling at the end of last week’s episode she is returned to her hospital bed and thinking about the concept of home. It is is Roslin’s speech that we get the most direct statement about home in the entire episode:

“You know sometimes I wonder what “home” is. Is it an actual place? Or is it some kind of longing for something, some kind of connection? You know, I spent my whole life on Caprica; I was born in one house, and then I moved to another. And then…this. And then now. I don’t think I’ve ever felt truly at home until these last few months, here with you.”

For her, she’s at peace with her own sense of home: it’s with Adama, it’s that place wherein she feels the most connected with the image of the cabin in the mountains, with the clear stream of flowing water, the place they thought of that day as they sat under the sun and stars of New Caprica. She connects to it as if it is a Cylon projection, a feeling that she brings up when she needs to feel connected. It is no coincidence, perhaps, that the closer she gets to death the more clear these types of things become, and perhaps she too could join Starbuck and Baltar as those who have faced death and lived to tell the tale. Regardless, her search for home was over once she and Adama shacked up, to put it bluntly, but she cares about how others will do the same; her speech to Bill is less about her own struggles and more about his own.

It’s the same realization that Boomer has struggled with more or less since the beginning of the series. She, also, is one person who tried to confront death once, and yet her failured let to her ultimate downfall, as she resurrected not after having resolved her relationship with humanity enough to keep from causing the people she loved harm, but rather after shooting Adama and being treated as a traitor by those she once lived amongst as one of their own. But now she finds herself following orders, the orders of a man who she shacked up with and who she has followed in a complicated plan to control the destiny of the Cylon race. And yet, like any television character who is forced to take care of a small child for any extended period of time, something changes in Boomer as the episode goes on, and as she realizes that Hera is, in fact, quite different.

Or, more accurately, how she isn’t different at all: this isn’t just a science experiment that Cavil can poke and prod in order to discover what made her existence possible, but someone who is able to travel into Boomer’s projected house and jump on the bed intended for Boomer’s own daughter, one day. It’s a wakeup call for Boomer, and one that continues the character’s rather strange road to redemption. Just last week we were cursing her, but it was all based on the answer to the question of how sincere she was being with Chief: was she exaggerating an existing feeling to play to his emotions, or just making it up as part of some grand scheme. This episode, of course, indicates the former: what she was using was based in real emotions, and any doubts about whether she was continuing a grand charade with Hera withered away as soon as she realized Hera was the daughter she never had, but also the daughter that someone does have.

So in those final moments aboard the Colony, after she reluctantly passes Hera off to Cavil who assures her that nothing is going to happen, Boomer breaks down – she is no longer part of Cavil’s search for progress, but rather has found again that part of her which identifies with the principles of home. Hera is something that would make her projection a reality, or at least could make it a reality, but she is also real herself: when you find something which could be home, which Hera could represent for both humans and Cylons, the kind of research that Cavil intends is no way to treat it. Grace Park was amazing in this episode, playing both the blank Eights fixing Galactica or visiting Sam and as Athena in her brief scene of total anguish, but as Boomer you get a character with more history than any other Eight, and with just the right amount of hesitation and regret in those final moments.

Hesitation and regret bring us to the episode’s true star, in two ways. First off, Edward James Olmos directs his final episode of Battlestar Galactica, a role that I wasn’t aware for some time that he could play but that, eventually became yet another feather in his cap. The direction in this episode, from the various workers being sucked out of Galactica’s hull or in those moments of reflection for pretty much every single character, the episode felt cohesive and yet diverse under his fine work. One can never be entirely sure to what degree having an actor behind the camera will help, but when this cast respects Olmos as much as it does you get the feeling that everyone wanted to do their best; combine with the series coming to a close, and the performances in this one were just that notch above the usual greatness.

Olmos himself, though, clearly felt like there was an onus on him to personally deliver a stunning performance. For the most part, Adama is stoic throughout the episode: faced early on with the concept of destiny, he says that he’s done with destiny. He’s tired of all of it, and he’s just going to focus on the present. The thing is, this isn’t a change for him: going back to the very beginning, he used mythology and destiny to appeal to the people, while for him he was in many ways already home. After the death of his son, one gets the feeling that the aging Galactica was already his home, the place where he was going to rest his head – when it died, so would a part of him, and its sudden thrust into this stunning journey was a journey of a man and his ship, both feeling as if their best days were behind them and yet fully capable of sustaining the damage.

He was, in many ways, an island in a stream of stars, always finding himself on Galactica something safe: when Roslin ran off to Kobol chasing mythology, he stayed behind with his ship first, before later realizing his people needed to be together and that his own sense of home wouldn’t work for them. When everyone else moved down to New Caprica, he had no intention of abandoning his ship, but realized with time that the more people who abandoned it the more he realized that the true value of Galactica was in its people as much as its hull. All along the line, Adama has been treating Galactica as his home, and when Roslin asserts that he loves it more than her you know it’s true, but that it can’t always be true.

No Adama Breakdown will ever match the one directly after he discovered that Tigh was a Cylon, or the moment after Starbuck’s death where he smashes his beloved ship model, but this one enters into that category at the very least. Returning to his under construction quarters, falling apart and in mid-repair, after a trip to view the current repairs being done, Adama picks up a paint brush and begins painting the wall. Slowly, but surely, the pace quickens, until he is throwing paint off the brush, then the entire tray, at the wall. He then collapses, falling to the ground and sobbing uncontrollably – he realizes that no coat of paint will change the facts, and that he has to start a new search for home.

And we leave the episode on that note, Adama and Tigh toasting Galactica, the wonderful old lady who has done so much for these characters and the show. As everyone is searching for their own sense of home, all of them have at least once found something approximating that within Galactica, or at least owe to the ship and its survival their lives and their opportunities. While it seems as if Adama has some plans on how he plans on decommissioning the ship (my guess would be Pegasus-style, but this is just my initial gut reaction), it could well end up its own island, abandoned, in the vast emptiness of space. I feel as if even this would be fitting, because it would allow Adama to do what he needs to do: to say goodbye knowing that it is still out there somewhere, a place where he can return to whenever he needs to.

That’s ultimately the kind of episode that Michael Taylor has constructed: as this post demonstrated, it brought back a lot of memories from the show’s past, and felt so in tune with that history that it puts us in the perfect place going into the finale. That finale is still a bit of a mystery in many ways, but there’s one thing we know: that at least one character, the show’s biggest and most larger than life, won’t be lasting until the bitter end. I have a bit more faith, though, that destiny has a more complex, and potentially positive, fate in store for the rest of them.

Cultural Observations

  • This episode was superlative overall, but it was missing one key factor: we got to see Helo and Athena’s reactions to Hera’s abduction, but we saw last week that Tyrol was going to hold himself responsible, and yet he was totally absent in this episode. Mo Ryan’s interview with Taylor (and co-executive producer Michael Angeli) indicates that Tyrol put himself in the brig, but the scene was cut – I can only hope that the finale will deal with this more directly, but in an episode that dealt with so many other characters it felt really strange not to get some sense of how his guilt transpired.
  • Lee Adama, meanwhile, has been without purpose for a long time, here getting the scene as he stands up for his father to the ship’s captains (remember them? Yeah, they’re still around) as they attempt to auction of the various parts of Galactica in some sort of lottery. One wants the FTL, one wants the CO2 scrubbers, and it’s pretty well one big foreclosure auction waiting to happen for them. I thought that the scene felt a bit less subtle than the rest of the episode, mainly because we didn’t really need to see that some of the other people in the fleet don’t view Galactica as their home as Lee or Adama would. If the scene had dealt more with the fact that they, like Adama, view their ships as their own homes, their desperation would have seemed less like greed and more like, well, desperation, and I think there could have been more depth there.
  • Lee’s other scene of the episode, with Kara, was the moment that seems to indicate the show might put them together in the end after all. I don’t know how I feel about this: on the one hand I’m probably reading more into their touching little moment than was actually there, more a moment of friendship and commitment than anything else, but if there was no romantic purpose Adama would have been the one telling her this. There’s just so much baggage there that I was almost too distracted to capture the poignant moment of Kara returning her picture to the memory wall, in between Kat and Dee.
  • The Opera House footage is all the old stuff, intercut with the episode: I’m curious to see if we’ll get any new visions as the series continues.
  • Mo’s interview also notes that there’s a new actress playing Hera, which makes it a very good piece of casting in terms of likeness and in talent: she really nailed the parts of this episode she needed to nail, and her interactions with Boomer were high on the scale of child acting.
  • As you may have noticed, this review is a little bit late, and as a result enormously long (considering it overcompensating, I guess). For more concise, and timely reactions, here’s some more reviews (which I will read once it’s no longer 5:30am):
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7 Comments

Filed under Battlestar Galactica

7 responses to “Battlestar Galactica – “Islanded in a Stream of Stars”

  1. Great recap, as always. Even when I don’t like an episode, it’s great to read about it from the point of view of those (like you and Mo Ryan) who did — and who can explain exactly why it worked for them. If I don’t enjoy the show, you at least can get me to appreciate it.

    I stopped liking BSG about two seasons ago, but I still love reading about it and discussing it, if that makes any sense. (I felt the same way about a few seasons of Lost, as well.)

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  4. Great review. Once again, you are able to put into words things that I can only grasp and fumble around. Like, guh! guh! But I want to say this! And then you did. This show is going to kill me dead tonight, and next week. I think it was Mo Ryan last week who said that she feared the finale. I totally know how she feels.

    I’m going to miss this show like nobody’s business.

  5. I’m only now catching up on the episodes I missed and I had to come and read your analysis. Wow. As always, I’m impressed. You really managed to put into words everything I was thinking as I watched this episode… and then some!

    I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to steal the quote you used in the beginning of your text and use it for my review too. And I’m also going to keep refering back to your text, in the hopes that my readers will drop by and read your review.

  6. Pingback: Battlestar Galactica: 4×18 - Islanded in a Stream Of Stars (Sci-Fi Channel) | TV Dependente

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