Friday's episode of Battlestar Galactica — the last we'll be seeing of the humans-and-cyborgs psychodrama until next year — was called Revelations. The episode lived up to its name, which was a relief after an entire season holding our breaths waiting for certain dark robo-secrets to come to light. Oftentimes when a show gives us the big reveal, there's a letdown. Not so with Friday's episode, which gave us a brief, dreamlike glimpse of something all the characters have sought for nearly the entire show. And that glimpse was both sorrowful and fascinating, if not entirely unexpected. Spoilers ahead!
There were a lot of great moments in this episode, written by former Deep Space 9 scribes Bradley Thompson and David Weddle, and the action came fast and intense. Moments after Adama arrives back on Galactica with cylon D'Anna, the careful house of cards that the sleeper agent cylons have built begins to tumble down. D'Anna knows exactly who the final five are, and as she steps off the shuttle she stares meaningfully at at the four we already know about. Without giving away what she knows, she announces that the four should feel free to come be with their people on the Base Ship. Until those four are on board the Base Ship, D'Anna says she'll continue holding the President, Baltar, and several pilots hostage.
Foster takes the bait first, feigning that she wants to go to the Base Ship to deliver the President's medication. But once she arrives, she tells Roslin off in a chilling speech and clearly wants nothing more to do with humanity.
Meanwhile, Tigh decides to take the high road and finally confesses his cylon status to Adama. Realizing his lifelong friend has been the enemy all along, Adama has a kind of mini-breakdown which is genuinely scary. After guzzling alcohol and punching his fists bloody on a mirror, the Admiral wails in his son Lee's arms until Lee takes matters into his own hands. And by "hands" I mean the airlock, where Tigh has probably wanted to go more times than we can count.
One of the major themes in this episode is how much the humans are willing to sacrifice to get to Earth. Because the prophesies have said that the final five cylons have been to Earth and know where it is, the humans want to hold on to those cylons until they've got the coordinates of the planet they hope to make their new home. Before Adama leaves the Base Ship, Roslin makes him promise that he'll blow up the entire Base Ship rather than hand over the cylons. And as Tigh stands trembling in the airlock, Lee is ready to sacrifice his father's greatest friend to convince D'Anna to release her human hostages.
We know the cylons want the final five for more complicated reasons than the humans do — the five hold religious significance to them, as well as the key to Earth. (Making all of this more complicated is the fact that D'Anna says there are only four of the final five in the fleet, leaving some to speculate that the fifth cylon is dead or was never in the fleet — though the imprisoned Six told Roslin that she could "sense" the final five nearby.)
Before Lee can make any sacrifices, however, Starbuck discovers that the Viper she drove home from her still-unexplained journey to Earth now contains the coordinates to the planet they've been searching for all this time. The coordinates show up on its instrument panels after Anders, Tyrol and Tigh feel a strange compulsion to visit the ship and drag Starbuck along. After she gets over her shock that Anders is a cylon, she realizes the humans got what they wanted from the final three — and in a dramatic scene, she races to the airlock to stay Tigh's execution and begin the weird process of forging a true alliance between the humans and rebel cylons.
Though the two groups make an uneasy peace, and the humans share Earth's coordinates with the Cylons, it's hard to forget the ruthlessness the humans have displayed in this episode. Roslin was willing to sacrifice not just herself but all the other human hostages on the Base Ship. And Lee was clearly prepared to toss all the stealth cylons — people who had been his friends and allies — out the airlock. Could any planet, any homeland, be worth such brutal sacrifices?
As the fleet prepares to jump to Earth, we see everyone celebrating: Lee practically rips off his shirt with joy, and Roslin and Adama almost make out. (Sadly, we don't get to see Romo dancing with his imaginary cat.) It's hard to understand why everybody is so psyched when they all remember so vividly how awful it was last time they tried to settle on a planet with Cylons. What makes them think Earth will be different from New Caprica? Or even from Caprica itself?
When we arrive at Earth, those dark questions seem retroactively to be the only ones we should have been asking all along. The gorgeous blue planet is right where the Viper's coordinates said it would be, and as the landers tear through foamy white clouds, I said a little chant to myself: Please don't make this lame. Don't make it be the 1980s, or the cro-magnon/Neanderthal era, or the Roman Empire. Don't make it be not really Earth, or a cliffhanger where we have to wait 8 months to find out whether Adama ever gets to touch Earth's soil.
I got my last wish first. Via grainy "alien world" cam, we see Adama dig into the sand of a beach . . . only to see it crumble between his fingers as a Geiger counter registers that it contains massive radiation. The landing crew is surrounded by the burned, weather-beaten ruins of what looks like it was once a city on the ocean. It's hard not to think the place is supposed to be New York, given that the place is so clearly intended to evoke that last moment from Planet of the Apes where we see the Statue of Liberty and realize humanity destroyed itself long ago.
The Earth the fleet finds is so unexpectedly depressing that the scene was a pure, tragic pleasure to watch. It also remained true to the heart of the show, which is at its core deeply dystopian and apocalyptic. This is not a show about happy reconciliation and exploration. It's about the shattered ruins of a species that has warred and slaved itself into an evolutionary corner. Battlestar Galactica forces us to look at how potentially ugly the future could get, and I'm glad show creators Ron Moore and David Eick weren't afraid to keep horrifying us.
Of course the discovery of the radioactive dirtball that is Earth is just setup for the show's final season, so eventually I'm sure we'll see a light in what appears completely nightmarish now. Already, we can begin asking intriguing questions. And no, I don't mean "who is the fifth cylon," which I could frankly care less about at this point. I mean the big questions, such as why we've been told repeatedly (by various semi-religious figures) that "all of this has happened before." Did the Earth humans create a bunch of cylons who bombed the crap out of them, jump-starting the exodus that led to the founding of the twelve colonies? Are the final five (or four, or whatever) descended from those original, Earth-bombing cylons?
More intriguing still: Who are we going to find on Earth? Because I'm sure the planet isn't empty.
You'll have to wait until the "first quarter" of 2009 to find out. But you know what? I don't feel as ripped off by that as I thought I would. The season concluded on a satisfying note — if that "arrival on Earth" scene had happened in a movie, I would have considered it a helluva great ending. Since this is TV, I can say it gave good cliffhanger, leaving me with really big questions that I won't easily forget about in the intervening months (especially since Moore and Co. have promised at least one TV movie before the year's end). This was season ender truly worthy of the promise BSG offered when I first watched the miniseries and thought, "Holy shit this show is too awesome for TV."