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Illustration for article titled iBattlestar Galactica/i: Faith
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In all the talk about the old, Zeus-led belief system of the human fleet on Battlestar Galactica, nobody's explained their take on the afterlife - whether it's a Hades-like dumping ground, or a cycle of reincarnation, or just nothingness: you die, you're Caprican wormfood. Tonight's episode dwells on death, and while we don't know what it used to mean for the humans, we learn what Baltar's been preaching - via a crackly transistor radio: there's a metaphor of a river, between this world and the next. And God can lead us into the next, where we feel love, rejoin our families, and find comfort after a crappy few years in a dying fleet, floating out in space.

Tonight's episode starts and ends on some pretty conventional action scenes - from the shoot-out and the time limit gimmick at the beginning, to the predictable yet gangbusters ending. But in between, got one of the most meditative, mysterious, and beautiful episodes of the series.

The basic story elements were simple: Starbuck led a small crew to a damaged Cylon base ship, where they start to negotiate a truce with the losing side of the Cylon Civil War. While they're there, they get their next big clue from the Hybrid: the Three Model (Lucy Lawless) model can lead them to the Final Five - and the Final Five supposedly can lead them to Earth, where they'll finally reunite with the Thirteenth Tribe of humans.

This would be a little too convenient if it weren't for Anders, an actual Final Fiver, wearing an expression of total panic as he realizes that 1. if they get their hands on a Three, she can out him; and 2. he doesn't have clue one where to find Earth - so the conversation could get awkward.

But first things first. Anders has many sketchy moments tonight. He finally starts to crack, thanks to the mutiny against Starbuck, followed by his sudden chance to explore an actual Cylon base ship. When he isn't trying to interface with its computers or cradle a dying Eight in his arms, he's waving guns around and shooting Gaeta in the leg. It's nice to see him crack, and even better how well these moments supported the sudden violence and quiet deaths throughout the hour.

The b-story has far fewer fireworks. We see Roslin in the sick bay, recovering from chemotherapy and passing the time by talking with another, far sicker cancer patient - a woman who's been converted to Baltar's religion. The scenes in the sick bay are morbid and uncomfortably close to a real sick bay. Roslin's new pal has a crackly transistor radio that transmits Baltar's preachings like a crazy murmer, behind the dispassionate beeps of all the medical devices wired onto her.

At the same time, most of the characters who died tonight find comfort before they go - whether it's the Eight who's held by Anders, the Six who's executed - but also, put out of her misery - by her sister Six, or the patient Roslin spends time with, who believes in a new-fangled afterlife and gladly shares it with her. Roslin's not much of a believer in the old colonial gods, but she's never put a name to the prophecies that have led her throughout the series; maybe this is the first time she's ever really thought about the afterlife, and tried not to be afraid of it.

The most elegaic scene comes when Starbuck and her gang blip over to the site of the Cylon massacre. They see the wrecked base stars that were blown up earlier by Brother Cavil, leaving dead Raiders and wrecked ships and exploding ordnance and most of all, bloody metal floating in space. As they move through this graveyard, a sight takes their breath away - a giant gaseous planet, and a Cylon ship flying beside it, leaving a trail like the comet in Starbuck's visions. The show rarely gives us this kind of view on space. The place is beautiful.

Time to speculate: what does all this talk about death mean? It seems that the humans' journey - and the Cylons' - can't be as simple as just finding Earth, landing the ships, and pitching the pup tents. Both races are about to experience a transition, of a spiritual kind. Starbuck may be the "harbinger of death," as the Hybrids keep saying, but maybe death is the transition. Thinking about it gave me a sense of what the humans might feel, as they sit huddled around their own $5 radios, listening to Baltar's preaching, and wondering if they'll see Earth - or if their kids' kids will find it for them. There is a river to cross, between this world and a better one. And if they believe, they'll find solace.

Or maybe life's like the base ship, when Athena pulls the plug on its Hybrid: there's a noise, and the lights just go out.

Grade: A

Stray Observations:

- For reference, here's the Hybrid's prophecy: a dying leader will know the truth of the Opera House; the missing three will give you the five who have come from the home of the thirteenth; and Kara is the harbinger of death. Discuss.

- It was bad enough a couple weeks ago when the set designers stuck a reference to the Enterprise in one of the tensest scenes of the show. But I'm less impressed by their habit of introducing some member of the crew at the start of the show, only to kill her by the end. Don't they know the Red Shirt is one of the oldest cliches in the book?

- When one six model resorts to killing another to break an impasse - because noone else could legitimately do it - it reminded me eerily of Peggy Noonan's column today on how to get Hillary out of the race. Does she get screeners?

- At the start of the season, Starbuck had a strong gut impulse on how to find Earth. Last week, we learned she's losing it; now, she's switched to hunting down the Final Five for clues. Here's a question: does anyone think she really has any clue how to find Earth? I guess I've assumed all along that she'd be the one who leads them, even though 90% of the way there, everyone would think she's a fruitcake. But now I'm starting to have real doubts. Who's closest to the right path - Baltar? Roslin? Starbuck? All three? Or will any of these people who have a line to the beyond turn out to be disastrously misled? I can't tell what would be the most satisfying.


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