Battlestar Galactica – “The Road Less Traveled”

“The Road Less Traveled”

May 2nd, 2008

After last week threw us into the psychological and religious conflict brewing on Galactica, it’s natural that this takes a back seat to the plots we really want to see: Starbuck’s struggles to find Earth and the Cylon’s internal conflict. We’re thrown right into the action this time around, with Mark Verheiden’s script starting with a definitive revelation for the Demetrius.

That was what was lacking last week, as to an extent “Escape Velocity” seems unnecessary by comparison: here, we get the kinds of reactions that we expected to find last week but didn’t. We get a glimpse of Baltar, and one that perhaps didn’t need such an extracted investigation as we saw last week. Similarly, did we really need last week’s events to explain Tyrol shaving his head and obsessing over his wife’s death? I liked last week’s episode alright, but it feels as if it was a lot of exposition without much comparative value.

Last week felt totally wrong when it comes to the central conceit of the season: the blurring of the line between human and Cylon is integral to defining the series moving forward, and this week we return to the concepts of shared destiny and identity within the context of the series. The result is a sharper episode, one that feels like we are, indeed, traveling down a particular road as the two storylines missing last week coincide.

I missed Leoben, no question – philosophizing Leoben is one of the best elements the series has seen, and from his first interactions with Starbuck in the first season (Hell, even he and Adama in the miniseries) he has been the strongest at human/Cylon interaction. Here, he is floating in space after Starbuck finally goes out on a Viper trip for the first time in their two month journey, and then he is on board the ship trying to speak sense into those who will listen.

Those people, of course, are Anders and Starbuck, those questioning their identity and their future enough to be willing to listen to his talk of Earth and, more interestingly, his concept of a truce between human and his faction of Cylons (The Sharons, the Sixes and likely the D’Annas). Anders hears this plan, and suddenly he goes from total skeptic to interested party – something clicks in side of him that could in some way justify his personal crisis: if humans and Cylons can create a military partnership, saving the Baseship that has Natalie on it by allowing it to join the fleet, he can see hope for his own integration into this world.

As someone who is fascinated by the characterization of the final four from an identity perspective, I am giddy over this development – it’s a great way to realize the fears that exist within them in a way that brings them to the surface while not being blatant and open with them. All of their individual struggles are where the show’s heart lies right now, and I would challenge anyone who claims it doesn’t count as plot movement: as they start to find their calling, whether it is Tory believing that they are the answer to Baltar’s call for salvation or Tigh’s discussions with Caprica Six, we start to move towards how their own decisions will reflect broader fleet developments.

For Tyrol, this results in a lot of anger towards Baltar, which is justifiable considering that Baltar attempts to co-opt Cally’s death for the purpose of his religious speeches. This, really, is what we thought last week’s reaction would be – a near-suicidal Tyrol, full of rage and anger and self-hate. It’s the same type of reaction, to an extent, that Kara has when she realizes how her identity crisis searching for Earth might have cost Sergeant Lethias her life – was it her fault? Her reaction, however, is not to just play it safe: it’s to ignore the more logical course of action in favour of the one that she feels is right, that is her destiny.

We’re beyond the point where there is a concept of the right decision: as Roslin said last week, sometimes what is right is downright idealistic, but right now I’m not sure that right even exists. These characters, especially, have no ability to define their concepts of good and evil, or right and wrong, within their current situations: their uncertainty is broadening, just as Baltar is presenting a new belief system that threatens to spread their confusion to everyone else around them. I thought last week’s episode felt a bit unnecessary, but it actually made this point much clearer and more valuable in this episode as a result.

This was particularly clear in the conversations between Baltar and Tyrol, a pairing that we’ve never gotten to see. Admittedly, James Callis carries a lot of weight compared to the stoic Douglas, but there is something about these two characters interacting that just feels right at this point in time. Baltar is not evil, or vindictive, here – he believes what he is saying, and I am not even close to being sure of whether or not his motives or his beliefs are the right choice in this instance.

And he does need to make a choice, or find a belief – it is intriguing that in their struggle for self-identification, we are seeing “The Four” turn to opposite sides. Tigh and Anders are falling into the beliefs in Cylon/Human cooperation, finding purpose and solace in the words of Leoben and Caprica Six. On the other side of the coin, we have Tory and Tyrol who are aligning with Baltar’s belief in a Cylon god, of concepts of salvation and glory. That division is increasingly odd, and I have to wonder whether it will be echoed once these two sides converge. Are the Four sub-consciously dividing within the Cylon Civil War through their actions here? Or would you argue that Baltar’s God and the cause of Natalie and Leoben are one and the same?

It is questions like this that, more than anything else, make this episode quite good – there isn’t much plot movement in the traditional sense here, as the Demetrius story only goes so far and we never get to see the Baseship side of the story, but yet I feel like a lot of things have crystallized – we end on the note of mutiny, and our first official “To Be Continued” of the season, but I’m left more with a lot of questions about these characters and about their motivations.

The crew of the Demetrius is particularly interesting: Helo’s struggles to ignore orders in favour of believing Leoben is fairly distant, but what about Athena? She’s a Cylon, for frak’s sake, but we realize just how far she has disconnected from that reality when her skepticism is even stronger. Although Helo refuses to accept violent subordination, he is willing to follow military code. Anders, meanwhile, is drawn in for reasons that only we are aware of, which creates further drama for how this mutiny goes down.

So, while I’m disappointed that we didn’t at least get to see Natalie and the Baseship, we did learn what happened to them, how the Demtrius is reacting, and also how these things will eventually come to play an important role in the future of this fleet and the series. Even if we didn’t get definitive answers, we most certainly got a few signposts to the future ahead. I am most looking forward to it.

Cultural Observations

  • I remember internet chatter deciding that Hot Dog was the only Viper pilot left on Galactica…but apparently there’s no one but Racetrack, as he is most certainly on the Demetrius.
  • I’m crushed that we lost Sergeant Lethias, the Marine who we have seen a lot of throughout the seasons. It seemed a cheap way for her to die, considering how much she has been through, but I guess that it does create a human consequence to interacting with the Leoben to create further drama.
  • I was going to not watch the preview, but it came on too quickly and then looked too exciting for me to stop. Needless to say the second half looks pretty fantastic, particularly the final scene we see. It does spoil a few things about how our cliffhanger continues, but I’m willing to let them go considering the other contents.

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