Battlestar Galactica: He That Believeth In Me
B+

Battlestar Galactica: He That Believeth In Me

B+

Battlestar Galactica

He That Believeth In Me

Season 4, Episode 1

It's been a year since a new episode of Battlestar Galactica - not counting the Razor mini-movie - and believe me, I've used that time well. I listened to law professors grilling BSG honchos Ronald D. Moore and David Eick about politics and the fleet economy. I took correspondence courses in binary public policy and feminist readings of android erotica. And The Wire went kaput - making this the smartest show left standing, super-hott killer robots and all.

But somehow, I don't think all the time I spent hitting the books will do me much good, because the show is headed toward some strange mojo. Since the first season, the show has had a mystical and religious component that has yet to be explained. Where do all these prophecies keep coming from? Does Gaius Baltar really get orders from God? What's with the opera house?

In every other part of the show, Moore and crew have laid their cards on the table. We already know about the humans: they're flawed and venal but when push comes to shove, they err on the side of justice. We've spent time on a Cylon base ship, so we know more about what makes them tick: traumatic resurrections, inter-model tensions, and naked tai chi. But that still leaves the God stuff. As Moore said in our interview last year, there has to be a payoff for the visions and the prophecies. And they've got their work cut out for them.

So let's catch up - because that's what this episode's all about. Last time, we left off with a dramatic cliffhanger: four of our cast favorites were discovered to be Cylons: Colonel Tigh, Chief Petty Officer Tyrol, jock star and Starbuck hubby Sam Anders, and ... that creepy woman who works for President Roslin. And they're not just any Cylons; they're members of the Final Five, an enigmatic set of earlier models that even the regular Cylons can't even talk about. Presumably, we're going to spend the season learning what it means to be a Final Fiver and what part they play in the big picture. But for now, the four of them are basically still freaking out.

The best freak-out comes from Anders, who's on his first major combat flight, grappling with his identity crisis and the fact that everyone in space is shooting at him. When he comes face to face with a Cylon, there's a flash of recognition, a signal is passed, and Anders gives us an "oh my God, she's taking her t-shirt off" look of awe as the Cylons cut the battle short and retreat. We may not know what it means to be a Final Fiver, but it certainly comes in handy when you need a deux ex machina.

And then there's Starbuck. As you recall, last year she blew herself to smithereens - only to show up two months later, flying alongside Apollo without so much as a black eye, claiming she's made it all the way to Earth and back. That was the cliffhanger. Now that she's back, we discover she has no idea what happened to her. She thinks she's only been gone for a few hours, and her Viper is not only intact, it's brand spanking new, as if it's never been flown. Naturally, noone trusts her, and they'll trust her even less after she storms into the President's office and tells her at gun point to change course for Earth. Whoops!

Somehow I'm guessing they'll explain that away, but Starbucks' mysterious return is a harder sell. We already have a few possible explanations - maybe she's a Cylon; maybe she was cloned by Cylons - but somehow, those seem too obvious. Here's hoping Moore has something really good to pull out of his hat on this one.

Most of the returning characters are pretty true to type. Apollo, the would-be hero on an anti-heroic show, is still kinda dull. President Roslin and Admiral Adama are still the mom and dad – and she's shacking up in his quarters, though they have yet to give us the on-camera canoodling that's been so cute in the past. But the most welcome returning character has to be Baltar.

Since he first accidentally betrayed his entire species, Baltar's played every role in the book: the mad scientist, the puppet dictator, the prisoner of war, and Saddam Hussein on trial for his life - all while sleeping with a ton of adoring women, only one of whom's in his imagination. So what next? Naturally he becomes the leader of a cult, filled with women who can't stop pawing him or bringing him their dying children to save. Which he does.

While some of the show's other mumbo jumbo may or may not pay off, I'll never get sick of the way that Baltar lucks his way through every single problem, even when he's actually trying to get killed. At the same time, the idea that Baltar has become, not just a cult leader, but a Christ-like figure who's introducing monotheism to a race of idolators is like, wow. In the first season, it always seemed like the Cylon's worship of a single God wasn't just an alternative to the humans' polytheism; it was a signal from the writers that the Cylons really were more advanced. The idea that this show could parallel the rise of Christianity as boldly as it took on Iraq a couple years ago is intriguing. But if that doesn't do it for you? James Callis' performance tonight - from hammy, sarcastic snob to fervent would-be messiah - is its own reward.

While a lot of the high concept philosophical stuff remains vague, Moore gives us a neat take on Cylon-Human relations: when Starbuck comes back from the dead, it may prove she's a Cylon. But would that matter? As Apollo puts it to his father, "What if Zack had come back to us in that Viper? If my brother had climbed out of that cockpit? Would it matter if he were a Cylon? If he always had been? When all is said and done, would that change how we really feel about him?" It shows how deftly Moore and his team can explore the love/genocide relationship between humans and Cylons, and how they might come around to accepting each other as equal life forms with a right to survive.

Either that, or Apollo's trying to tell his dad that Zack was gay.

Grade: B+

Stray Observations:

- Is it just me, or do the Cylon ships bleed a lot this season?

- When Baltar and one of his cultists are ambushed in the head, and they show the woman's feet hanging off the ground, I couldn't help but notice - those are nice shoes! I'll bet the early Christians didn't sport sandals that posh.

- In an interview with EW, Ronald D. Moore already blew one of his biggest secrets by dropping a major clue about the identity of the last Cylon. While he hasn't given away a name, I would probably have more fun this season if I hadn't read about it. So let's keep things spoiler free here.

More TV Club