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Battlestar Galactica: Revelations

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Here was my pet theory on how the season - okay, the mid-season - finale would go: the Fleet finds Earth. They made it! They come into orbit and land the planes. But they're not in the ancient past or the far, far future: they touch down in Hollywood, the year 2008! The crowds go wild! The networks air round-the-clock footage of Adama and Roslin stepping out of the lander. Crowds swarm and beg to shake hands with Starbuck and Baltar. Ryan Seacrest naturally is on the scene. And in a genius move of convergence media, one hundred real-life fans get to flood the set to pretend to welcome our alien brethren to their new home. Fabulous!

The reality's a little different, of course. But we'll get to that.

Ron Moore has often said that he likes to confuse the audience about what's right or wrong. We should jump between approval and disapproval: we learn to understand the Cylons, in spite of that whole "killing most of humanity" thing, and we criticize the humans when they break their own laws or go against their word. Looking back on this season, one of the biggest storylines was the struggle of the humans and the Cylons to form a true alliance. We watched each side trick and cheat the other. The Cylons grew more and more likeable - at least, until D'Anna came back to kick their asses in line. Laura Roslin grew more and more cynical - at least, until she found true love (and spared Baltar's life). And a couple major battles were averted at the last minute by the First Four of the Final Five Cylons.

But in the end, everyone hammered out a deal. D'Anna, now the leader of the Cylons, visits the human fleet. She's taken half their Viper Pilots and President Roslin hostage, and will steadily kill them all until the humans give up the their Final Fivers. They're at an impasse, and President Lee Adama - who wears the pinstriped suit of authority with panache, by the way - is ready to start tossing Cylons out an airlock, until, in a last-second save, Starbuck runs in and stops the execution. See, we just got another mystical clue: Tigh and the rest are picking up a new signal, this time from Starbuck's Viper. It turns out that the Viper is picking up a beacon that will lead them all the way to Earth. And it wasn't until Tigh, Anders and Tyrol led her back to the ship that she could find the clue.

At first I thought that this was awfully contrived. All season, we've had to go through a big long scavenger hunt: Starbuck had to find the one surviving rebel baseship, and talk to the hybrid, and retrieve D'Anna, and root out the Four, and I mean, c'mon: why the hell didn't the Viper just start blipping in the first minutes of episode one, when Starbuck showed up back at the fleet? But her explanation makes perfect sense: "It seems to want us to find Earth with the Cylons."

And that's what they do. But not before some of the central characters break our hearts some more. When Colonel Tigh first discovered he was a Cylon, he swore to live like the man he'd always been. Tonight, Tigh proved it: he surrenders himself to Adama, and when Adama sends him to the airlock - to be bargained with and probably, killed - he stands there like a soldier, and urges Lee Apollo to turn the key and shoot him away. Tigh also gives up Tyrol and Anders, but you can't blame him: coming clean could help end the crisis. By the end he looks pretty broken. His career is probably precarious. But he never wavered from his convictions. And hey - he's having a kid with Caprica Six. Who wouldn't want to change diapers at his age?

Then there's Bill Adama, back in the Admiral's seat and totally destroyed. His XO and his friend of 30 years turns out to be a Cylon - and let's not forget that as much as we like Athena, and maybe even Caprica Six, and Leoben's kinda funny sometimes, and so on - blowing up Cylons has been the cause of his life. Half of Adama's entire life is now a lie. Olmos' breakdown is devastating, and at this stage, he may never really pick up the pieces.

Like I said earlier, President Apollo is fantastic - tough and decisive, but capable of the kind of diplomacy-by-epiphany that his dad is so good at. After spending most of the episode locking horns with D'Anna, by the end he's offered her a deal: to just stop fighting and be friends. We're laying down our arms, freeing our Cylons and offering you a way to Earth - if you agree to come with us. D'Anna takes the deal, and away they go.

And sure enough, they end the hour by ending their journey and jumping into orbit around Earth. We get an amazing montage of hope and celebration, from the cheering pilots, to the lumpenproles, to the memorial wall of photos of the people who couldn't make it. The planet looks beautiful from space. And then they land.

And now we have the ultimate cliffhanger: the humans and Cylons are on Earth. Adama gets to hold the first handful of dirt - but someone with what looks like a Geiger counter is probing it, and it sounds radioactive. All the characters, human and Cylon, walk through a colorless set like they're in an Annie Liebowitz Vanity Fair cover. And everything's in ruins. The place has been blown to hell.

See you in 2009!

Grade: A

Stray observations:

- Thank God Earth wasn't devastated by an environmental crisis or global warming, 'cause I was not ready to see Al Gore as the twelfth Cylon.

- This was another week without any battles - but how about that horrifying shot of the little guy flying out an airlock?

- What do you think happened to the other three Cylon models - the surviving Cavils, the tour guide, and the African-American gynecologist? A showdown seems inevitable - but personally, I don't mind if we never see them again.

- If you're a Baltar fan, don't miss the interview with James Callis that ran today. One of the most interesting things we discussed was Baltar's religious beliefs - and after all the speculation and analysis and debates about monotheism vs. polytheism, it sounds like they've mostly been blowing smoke up our asses. And Baltar's not so much Jesus, as Jim Jones. But I still like what he's done with the role this season: he may not believe everything he says, but he has grown as a character because of it.

- Callis did not give up the identity of the last Cylon. (But maybe I know the identity of John McCain's VP pick. Any takers? … Anyone? Okay, never mind.) We did learn tonight, however, that the last Cylon is not on the fleet - or at least, D'Anna doesn't think it is. The Billy and Kendra Shaw theories are starting to look better …

- I'm as gullible as anybody about reading things into the show - even though, in my experience, Battlestar doesn't really leave a lot of clues around. Ron Moore tells us what he wants to tell us in his own damn time, and if you're going to sit there puzzling over stray comments, or wondering why Tigh was seen wearing Admiral's pips when he's only a Colonel, well, that's your time to waste. (By the way, the Tigh thing was a wardrobe mistake.) But that said: In one of the first scenes, we see Lee Adama standing in his father's quarters, talking to Starbuck and wondering whether he'll ever see his dad again. Starbuck replies, "Children are born to replace their parents. For children to reach their full potential, their parents have to die." I'd love for that that mean something - to pick up on the theme of the Cylons being the children of man, or of Hera and Nicky and Six-Tigh Jr. being the first hybrids. But it also sums up what's happening to Adama and Roslin: they were the mom and dad of the show, but in their own ways they're getting sentimental, and vulnerable, and basically, winding down. I just hope they don't trust Starbuck with anything. I hear she's nuts.

- And that's a wrap for my coverage of Battlestar this season. We'll be back in 2009 with the back half of the season, which is apparently going to run for 11 episodes. I'll be back on the killer robot beat with Terminator. It ain't as brainy, but stuff blows up, and we have a lot of fun criticizing the continuity - so be sure to come back for that. And as for BSG … well, we have plenty of time to speculate: what's up with Earth?