Battlestar Galactica: The Road Less Traveled
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Battlestar Galactica: The Road Less Traveled

B-

Battlestar Galactica

The Road Less Traveled

Season 4, Episode 5

I like a show with strong female characters. I don't say that to try to score feminist cred or apply for my NOW "He Gets It" award. I'm just selfish: I think leading ladies who stick to the wings are dull. The days of seeing the strong men win the war while the weak women patch up their scratches and mop up their blood are far in the past. That shit was done long before Joss Whedon, or Kill Bill.

On the other hand, I also like sane female characters. Battlestar Galactica has a record of creating women who could hold their own - which is to say, they weren't any weaker or nuttier or more error-prone than any of the guys. But this season, the women aren't just tough: they're batshit crazy. And they're taking it out on the rest of the cast.

I differed from a lot of y'all in loving last week's episode. Maybe it's the Norwegian in me, but I dig slow-burning, internalized drama where people just fret and obsess for an hour and nothing blows up. But let's be clear: the men, like Tyrol and Tigh and to some extent Baltar, think crazy thoughts and swallow ridiculous regrets, but they've always muscled through in the past. I have a lot less faith that Tory Foster's behavior is anything but straight-up self-delusion.

And then there's Starbuck. Tonight's episode takes us back to the Dreidus, where Starbuck, who's supposed to be leading us to Earth, is still finger-painting, losing sleep, and sending her crew back and forth over the same ground while she guesstimates what to do next. We're only a couple days from the end of her mission, at which point she's supposed to give up and rendezvous with the rest of the fleet. And her crew's morale could not be lower.

At the start of the season, Starbuck felt a weird tug that was pointing her to earth; that impulse - she refers to it as "the sound" (maybe the sound of Blonde on Blonde?) - has been gone for a while, and so she's adrift. And tonight she's also thrown for a loop by the return of her arty weirdo kidnapper, Leoben (Cylon Model Number 2), who totally gets her and believes in her destiny and thinks she's dead on about everything - and also, wants to use her to form an alliance between the human fleet and his side of the Cylon civil war. You know how it is: Oh babe, you're great, you're like a magical winged Goddess, and by the way, can you spot me twenty bucks?

Starbuck believes Leoben, until an accident on his damaged Raider winds up killing Sgt. Mathias. Losing a member of her crew seems to snap Starbuck to attention and remind her that she has a responsibility to lead. The old Starbuck almost comes back to us: angry, maverick, but in the end, a creature of the military and a dependable hero.

But then we find out that she still believes Leoben. She wants to parlay with the Cylons, and she has to meet their Hybrid, who can help her out with this destiny thing. And that's when her crew decides to mutiny.

Several things about this storyline ring false for me. First, I still don't get what Adama was thinking when he sent her on this mission. Starbuck reminds everyone that he told her to trust her instincts. But if Adama wanted her to fly on her gut, why did he send her with the absolute best and most professional people in the fleet? Helo, Athena, Gaeta, Hot Dog ... you could assume he expected them to keep her in line if she got too weird. I'd be shocked if that wasn't the plan.

And by the way, Athena. She plays Lady MacBeth this week, goading Helo as the second-in-command to disobey Starbuck and get them back to the fleet. But forgetting the fact that Athena is becoming yet another paper thin female character, she's one of the least likely crew members to suggest a mutiny. She's a Cylon skinjob who was trusted by Adama and promoted into the regular fleet. If anyone's going to think subversively, it should be Gaeta - not someone who's always gone to pains to prove she'll obey orders.

Helo is the only compelling character on the ship. I always like the episodes where Helo has to make a tough call, because of all the characters - and I think Moore has said this - Helo's the one who loves the uniform, and respects his duty and his superiors. He may not intellectualize his dilemmas like say, Apollo, but he confronts them with great emotional honesty. When Helo finally turns against Starbuck and kicks off the mutiny, it's one of his best moments in the series. And the mutiny gives us our cliffhanger for next week.

But before we go, back to the b-story, where Tyrol is still bummed about losing Cally, and Baltar is still a Messiah. Tonight we find out that Baltar's also a radio preacher, with a series of pirate broadcasts going out to the whole fleet and a series of petitioners coming to him with their problems. I got a big laugh when one woman, who lost her family in the initial Cylon attack, starts lashing out - blaming the corporations, the politicans, and pretty much everyone in charge, but most of all, "the Gods" who let the war happen. This line of thinking could be really helpful to, say, President Bush. "Y'know, I took all my instructions on this Iraq thing directly from God. And boy, did he walk me into a goatscrew."

The show hasn't spent much time elaborating on Baltar's new religion. In his big speech last week, his declaration that we are forgiven because we're "perfect" is a nice contrast to Christianity, where we're forgiven in spite of our sins; we're imperfect and strive for salvation, where Baltar's flock are just super, but they need a pep talk now and again to keep them going. Last week's episode suggested that Baltar's creed is just one way for the characters to overcome their guilt and their sins, basically by ignoring them - switching them off, the way people believe that Cylons and other machines can just switch off their feelings, their guilt, and even their brains. "I have committed unconscionable crimes," Baltar tells Tyrol (in a well-acted scene between the two). "And I have been offered one last chance at redemption. Because I chose to accept my fate, not fight it anymore."

Of course, Baltar is a special kind of fool. Fate just keeps setting his path and yanking him down it no matter what he does. Finally, this season, he's stopped fighting it. So are the other people who are deluding themselves - people like the grieving Tyrol, or the wacky Tory - also fools? And as we get into the homestretch, are they going to try to hold back the fleet somehow? Or, in a nod to Watchmen, is the joke going to be on everyone?

Starbuck gave a great eulogy for Sgt. Mathias tonight, and echoed something Adama told Roslin in their big blow-up a few weeks ago. "In this war, people die and it is just stupid. It's an accident, there's no nobility to it … they're just gone." She's poised right between believing in a mystical destiny, and believing in nothing at all. I'm guessing before this is done she'll land on one side or the other - and when she does, I hope it's because she reached an honest, believable conclusion. 'Cause this season, for her, it would be a first.

Grade: B-

- Baltar's biggest laugh line came courtesy of little baby Nicky: I cracked up when Tyrol switched off Baltar's broadcast, only to hear his kid start crying until he turned it back on again.

- We should all agree never to watch the teaser for next week's episode. They consistently blow the biggest moments from the final scenes of the upcoming episodes. And yes, a lot of us have picked up some spoilers, or read something key about the "Last Supper" photo - but actually watching a critical moment a week before you're supposed to is a major bummer.

- One last gripe about the Demetrius storyline: it's hard to believe the show would throw around a concept like mutiny without a bigger build-up. Anyone who's listened to Ronald D. Moore's podcast (which is back, by the way), knows what a total nut he is for naval tradition. I remember a podcast from the second season where he went on and on about the centuries-old tradition of parole for captured officers and why Apollo would be honor-bound to perform certain functions and on and on and on. And now this becomes The Caine Mutiny in the space of three episodes? Again: I don't buy it.

- And big, big thanks again to Josh Modell for covering the show last week.

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