Congratulate me for I am no longer a disgrace. I call myself a fan of science fiction, but until recently I had never seen a single episode of Battlestar Galactica. I know. How dare I? For years, I would hear people say things like “Cylon” and “Pythia” and “You are the harbinger of death, Kara Thrace” and I would have no idea what they were talking about. Fortunately, the situation has now been remedied, and after some diligent binging, I have seen the complete re-imagined series. (But not yet the original—worth it?) Battlestar Galactica truly is the perfect show for binge viewing because it is so all-consuming in its thoroughly inventive world. It is dark and desperate, yet hopeful, complex and fully realized, yet ambiguous, and altogether ripe for obsession. I finally understand what all the hoopla and “So say we all”-ing is about.
I now feel part of this family. I have composed an interpretive dance to the opening theme like a good, responsible fan (don’t pretend you haven’t), and I’m ready to share in our collective belief that Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell are beautiful spirits descended from an acting utopia who deserve all the Emmys. Being somewhat exempted from the fandom because I waited years to watch, however, I’m largely ignorant to the general fan reaction to various episodes and characters. For instance, do others find Lee Adama as infuriating as I find him? Let’s hope so. Controversial statement alert: I would also rank both Helo and Anders above Lee on the official BSG Character Hotness Scale. Discuss.
Will my episode ranking be similarly controversial? Let’s find out.
5. “Revelations” – Season 4
In “Revelations,” the identities of the Final Five are at the crux of a tense standoff between Galactica and the Cylons, each side desperate for the path to Earth that the Final Five possess.
When the long-simmering secret of their identities is finally revealed to Admiral Adama, it provokes one of the show’s more stirring scenes as he breaks down in his bathroom, fragile, completely devastated, and powerless. His world, and mirror, are shattered. (Yay symbolism!) The rest of the episode is then an exercise in profound, near-mental-illness-inducing emotional shifts as the discovery of the path to Earth puts all that tension and bathroom crying on hold to be replaced by immense relief.
The ship is suddenly all serene music, inspiring speeches, and better kinds of crying. Lee even turns into a stripper and flings his jacket into the crowd. Everyone is downright happy. A little too happy, if you know what I mean, and Battlestar does. Not only is there still half a season to go, but the show revels in moody bleakness and is most successful at its darkest. Obviously, this joy must die.
And die it does in the most magnificently desolate and deflating reveal in the series, a spectacular contrast to the previous delight as the crew silently surveys a dreary, ruined wasteland.
4. Kobol’s Last Gleaming, Part 2 – Season 1
Battlestar Galactica consistently nails the art of the season finale by delivering floods of action and cliffhangers, and this conclusion to the first season is one unrelentingly brilliant wave of drama after another.
President Roslin and Wise Prophecy Lady are firm in their belief that the Arrow of Apollo holds the key to finding Earth, so Roslin commissions Kara to retrieve it from Caprica, resulting in a truly badass kickboxing fight between her and a menacing Six. Meanwhile, Adama is equally firm in his own belief that the president is a big, raving, drugged-up cuckoo pants and threatens to stage a military coup against her. The conflicting agendas and destinies in this episode establish so much of the choices to come as Adama and Roslin wrangle over what’s best for the future of humanity, Boomer is physically confronted with the truth of her identity by a creeptastic parade of naked versions of herself, and Baltar’s mental Six begins to reveal the prophecy of the opera house.
What’s truly memorable about this episode, however, is the shocking final moment. Battlestar is always willing to upset the few constants we had come to rely on, and when Boomer arrives in the CIC fresh off the glory of her mission and suddenly lifts up that gun, everything changes.
3. “Flesh and Bone” – Season 1
You can have your Sixes and your Eights. Leoben is my favorite Cylon. He is the creepiest, most cunning, and most enigmatic of his people, the great master of the Cylons’ most dangerous weapon: provoking fear and mistrust among the fleet.
In “Flesh and Bone,” a Leoben copy is captured, and Roslin orders him to be interrogated. What follows is one of the most intense sequences of the series, both mentally and physically, as Kara questions then tortures Leoben while they spar about the nuclear warhead he claims to have hidden in the fleet as well as faith and the nature of humanity.
As Leoben reveals how much he knows about both Kara’s background and the humans’ future, he provides a gripping teaser to the importance of destiny and prophecy in the series, and he begins the slow march toward Kara’s realization of the larger part she must play. Their interplay also illustrates the two competing sides to Kara that make her such a captivating character: she is cold and brutal in her willingness to torture him but fragile and lost in her need to hear the answers about her destiny he seems to have. The conflict with Leoben also provides an interesting early glimpse at Roslin’s pragmatic ruthlessness as she has no qualms about sending him out the airlock after he cooperates.
Next page… The top 2 BSG episodes… and the #1 Worst.