"Battlestar Galactica" spoilers coming up just as soon as I find a comfy bathrobe to wear...
At this late date in the lifespan of "Battlestar Galactica," what superlatives are left to describe the work of Mary McDonnell? How can I praise this performance week after week, season after season, and capture how much better it keeps getting without sounding like a sycophantic broken record?
Here's the best I've got, really: if this were baseball, I'd start suspecting her of using steroids or HGH, because in recent weeks she's gone from late '90s Barry Bonds (consistently brilliant, but in a way that almost makes you take her for granted) to early '00s Barry Bonds (jaw-droppingly, insanely, don't-dare-change-the-channel amazing). Mary's head is still the same size, but somehow, she's found a way to take her game to a new level of late. I am so grateful that we get to watch her play this character.
It helps, of course, to have great material on the page, and Laura Roslin's recent character arc has given her plenty to play and lots of dark places to go. But even the recent scripts for her pale in comparison to the sequence tonight with Laura tending to a wounded Baltar, who, with the benefit of some groovy drugs, decides to finally confess to Laura what she's long believed: that he played a major role in the Cylon genocide of humanity. Now, we know, as Baltar tries to explain here, that he was just an unsuspecting dupe -- really, the only sin Baltar has committed in the run of the series where you can 100% blame him for consciously doing a horrible thing was in giving the nuke to Gina -- but Laura doesn't care about that. She has always distrusted this man and grew to despise him after he won the election and put humanity on the road to the Cylon occupation of New Caprica (and she doesn't even know that the Gina/nuke thing is the only reason the Cylons found them), and now, as she's so close to death's door that she can actually see her deathbed (or her imagination of what it might look like), Baltar's giving her a mother-frakking confession of all that she's suspected, all while blithely claiming that none of it was his fault, he was an instrument of God's will, God made everybody perfect, blah blah blah... can you blame her, in that moment, for wanting to rip away the bandages and let the bastard bleed out?
Laura's talked quite a bit in recent episodes -- including in a scene with Baltar -- about how, with her death approaching, she's had to strip away all of her own humanity and ethical standards and just focus on what she feels is best for the fleet. She was making herself every bit the machine she believes the Cylons to be, all in an attempt to save humanity from them. (And at a time when the Cylon rebels, in plotting to destroy the Resurrection Hub, have been trying to make themselves as human as possible.) Letting Baltar bleed to death was perhaps that attitude taken to its logical end: how can Laura allow the fleet to go on with this evil trickster alive and her dead? But, with some guidance from Head Elosha (or from her own subconscious), Laura finally recognized the futility of that approach, and in doing so not only decided to spare Baltar, but finally realized it was okay to confront her feelings for Bill Adama...
...which, in turn, led to the beautiful, spare, reunion between those old star-crossed lovers, in which very little was said and yet everything was conveyed. Roslin may not have found the way to Earth just yet, but she's found the way back to being a part of the race she's trying to save. She may, like Moses, still die before her people reach the promised land, but at least now she'll have a true companion for the remainder of her journey.
The rest of the episode was almost as exceptional as McDonnell, though I have one quibble that I'll get out of the way quickly so we can get back to appreciating the rest. Ron Moore, in one of the few and far between podcasts this season, said that there was originally going to be a decent amount of material about the Centurions dealing with their newfound independence, but that virtually all of it got cut because there were too many other storylines going on this year. And because of that, Baltar chatting up a Centurion and trying to stir the pot felt fairly random. I know Baltar now considers himself an instrument of God and what-not, and he's actually right on that the skinjobs used to treat the Centurions as slaves, but it still came out of left field and -- unless each Centurion has wi-fi and is constantly communicating with every other Centurion -- was mainly an excuse for Baltar to be doing something right before he got blown up real good. In the midst of an episode where everything else flowed so well, that sequence was a distraction.
But back to the brilliance (much of it from the keyboard of Jane Espenson). Helo's uneasy relationship with the Athena-stalking Sharon was as fascinating as it was awkward. If she looks exactly like his wife, acts exactly like his wife and -- unlike, say, an identical twin -- has virtually all the same memories as his wife, is that cheating if he does anything with her? And it was great seeing bits of Athena creep into this Sharon, the way she was able to calm down the human pilots by speaking their language ("in the soup"), or how she believed the humans would finally play fair because that's how Athena would view it, or how she called Helo "Karl" to snap him out of his reverie while looking at all the Cylon bodies that would never get a consciousness uploaded into them. And I loved Roslin's line about how Helo married one Sharon, not the entire production line.
The attack on the Hub was yet another example of Gary Hutzel's team topping themselves throughout this season. As drawn by them and directed by Paul Edwards, it was detailed and gorgeous and somber all at the same time. This was, essentially, humanity returning the genocide favor to the Cylons -- albeit with a fair amount of assistance from a Cylon faction -- and it shouldn't have been a kick-ass sequence. It should have felt as funereal as it did.
I've been waiting all season for D'Anna to get unboxed, and Lucy Lawless' return proved worth the wait, between her casually snapping Brother Cavil's neck while still in her resurrection bath, or her snarking on all sides of the Cylon/human alliance once she was free of the Hub. I knew she wouldn't give up the names of the Final Five that easily, but it'll be interesting to see what kind of contact she has with Tigh or Anders or the rest once she's back with the fleet.
And what of the rest of the Cylons? Did D'Anna kill the last Cavil, or are there still others out there, hanging out with the remaining Dorals and Simons? Boomer obviously had time to get away (in between her escape and Helo and the Sharon finding D'Anna, D'Anna had to time to towel off and put on a robe), but is she off with the other survivors (if there are any) of the Cavil faction, did she try to slip on board the rebel Baseship, or is she just tooling around the universe by herself, ready to cause trouble wherever and whenever she feels like it? And how can she respect herself in the morning for not being the one to snap Cavil's neck the second after he called her "my pet Eight"?
As always, a reminder: do not in any way attempt to discuss anything glimpsed in the previews for next week's episode. Sci Fi is doing a consistently horrible job at protecting secrets with those things, and those of us who have been wise enough to turn off our TVs as soon as the executive producer credit appears don't want to know anything. I don't care if you're specific or vague; if I see a comment with any discussion of the previews, it's getting deleted, even if the rest of said comment is brimming with wonderful insights about this episode.
What did everybody else think?