UPDATE March 2009: This post covers the mid-season finale. For my thoughts on the answers given (and further questions raised) by the series finale, go here.
This week’s Battlestar Galactica mid-season “finale” was one of the most fascinating in the whole series. Though I still think last week’s episode, “The Hub,” was better, this one raised the more interesting questions (do I need to say spoiler warning?).
In last week’s episode the humans and rebel Cylons rescued the resurrected Three/D’Anna who knows the identities of the Final Five Cylons. On the rebel Basestar she tells President Roslin that she will only reveal them once she is safely with the human fleet. This week, they return to the fleet and D’Anna turns the tables on them. Revealing that only four of the Final Five are in the (human?) fleet, but not giving away their identities, she offers the Four to join her on the Basestar, warning that Roslin and the rest will remain captives until then. Not unexpectedly, Tory immediately accepts the offer, reveals her true identity to Roslin and coldly declares that she won't follow her orders any longer.
As if to prove she’s serious, the Cylons then airlock one of the Colonials and insist that they will continue to kill one hostage every 15 minutes until all four Cylons are handed over. In response, the Colonials gear up for a rescue mission and consider destroying the Basestar (including all the human hostages) if it should fail. The Cylons in turn respond by preparing to nuke the civilian fleet. All of which raises an acute question: How much sacrifice is worth the hope of reaching Earth? Both humans and Cylons seem willing, if necessary, to sacrifice a great many lives to accomplish that goal.
In the midst of all this, the Four begin hearing music again (as at the end of Season Three, when they first discovered they were Cylons), and this time it leads the three left on Galactica to the Viper in which Kara Thrace returned from earth (again, from the end of Season Three; as you can see, they are finally tying up some of the many storylines introduced in that episode). Not seeing what significance the Viper could have, Sam Anders and Galen Tyrol decide to enlist Kara’s help, while Colonel Tigh decides that the time has come to reveal his identity to Admiral Adama. Thus, while the rest of the human and Cylon leaders consider sacrificing thousands of others to ensure their own path to Earth, Tigh takes the truly noble course and sacrifices himself to prevent such bloodshed. Adama’s devastated reaction to the news that his oldest and best friend is actually a Cylon is predictable (at least he didn’t wreck his model ship again!), but well-acted and moving, and before Tigh finds himself in an airlock while Lee Adama (acting as President in Roslin’s absence) threatens D’Anna with his execution if she won’t release her hostages.
In the end, of course, Tigh is not sacrificed. At the last moment Kara discovers that the Viper to which they led her was receiving a transmission which pointed to Earth. With the Four now known and the way to earth revealed, the humans and Cylons reach a tentative peace, the hostages are returned, and they all together jump to “Earth.” After much celebrating, the episode ends with a brilliant final pan: Beginning with Adama finally picking up “that first fist full of earth,” a Geiger counter suddenly chirps to life, as the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust are slowly revealed, including what appears to be an overturned car, the ruins of various stone and metal buildings (one of them looking like a cross, another perhaps being the Temple of Aurora discussed at beginning of the episode), and a collapsed bridge that looks suspiciously like the Brooklyn Bridge.
This Planet of the Apes-style twist leaves us with plenty of questions, the most basic being, Is this Earth? Though it seems plausible (Gaeta did say the constellations “matched,” whatever that means), there are several things that make me suspect that all may not be as it appears. First, it is odd that when they discover the bearing provided by the Viper, it’s said that they will need to “adjust” their trajectory as they go, but they only seem to jump once. Second, when they are shown above the planet, no recognizable continents are shown (as North America was at the end of Season Three), nor is the moon visible. Third, did not Pythia’s prophecy say that the dying leader would not herself live to see the new world? Yet Roslin (the clear candidate for this role) is shown on the ground here. Fourth, when Kara returned at the end of Season Three, she said she had been to Earth and it was “beautiful,” and this planet certainly is not (it’s even worse than New Caprica), which either means this isn’t Earth, or something drastic has changed since she was there. Finally, in the original Battlestar Galactica, the humans are shown to reach a planet that they believe is Earth, only to discover that it is in fact Terra, yet another human colony. In the original, Terra had itself been on the brink of nuclear war, which was only avoided through the intervention of the Galactica. It would not seem too much a stretch, then, to think that this “re-imaging” of the series might explore a similar possibility, with the twist that the war has already occurred.
Whether this is Earth or not, I suspect that when the series returns we will discover that there is more to this planet than it now appears. Perhaps they will find survivors, or some sort of beacon, or maybe even the final Cylon. If this is Earth, though, there are even more perplexing questions to answer, especially What happened? One possibility might be that the non-rebel Cylons somehow reached Earth first and are responsible for destroying it. Another is that Kara herself somehow caused this to happen when she was here before. Still another is that Earth was destroyed long ago by their own version of the Cylons (of whom the Final Five might be a remnant). As Pythia said, “All this has happened before. All this will happen again.” On that possibility, there is Kara’s (possibly prophetic) comment at the beginning of this episode that “the parents have to die for the children to reach their full potential;” is this perhaps a hint that the search for Earth might itself be getting in the way of their true destiny? In the end, will this crop of humans and Cylons together have to restart the cycle? Who knows, but I can’t believe we’ll have to wait until 2009 to find out!