In my review of the penultimate episode of "Battlestar Galactica," I mentioned that I was having trouble with my list of the 10 best episodes of the series, and opened the floor to suggestions. So many of you offered up your own favorite episodes, and defended your choices so passionately, that I was half-tempted to not even bother with my own list. But a promise is a promise, and since I already have my finale review written and ready to post mere moments after the episode ends -- and, word of warning, Sci Fi says it's going to run about two hours and 11 minutes, so set your recordings accordingly -- I need an excuse to write a little more about "BSG" before it's gone.
In the end, I couldn't restrict myself to 10 hours of the show, and since it's my list, I can play by any rules I want. In some cases, I combined two-parters (or, in the case of the New Caprica arc, what was essentially a five-parter), but we're still well above the 10-hour mark. So be it. After the jump, my choices, and if your own favorite isn't on there, it's only because I couldn't do a 40-plus episode list or I wouldn't get anything else done this week....
"33": The miniseries was cool, but "33" -- the regular series' first episode, in which the fleet battled fatigue while having to jump from the Cylons every 33 minutes -- was the episode that made it clear Ron Moore and company were really going to dazzle. The claustrophobia and sense of exhaustion and paranoia were palpable, and the fact that Lee and Kara went through with destroying the Olympic Carrier showed that the series was playing for keeps.
"Flesh and Bone": The first and one of the strongest episodes of the series to make you question which side you're supposed to be pulling for. Kara tortures Leoben trying to find what turns out to be a non-existent bomb, and Laura has him thrown out an airlock, as we start to realize that "the schoolteacher" is even more hardcore about defense over civil liberties than Adama.
"Flight of the Phoenix": The show struggled a lot with its self-contained episodes in the middle seasons, but this was a winner. Chief Tyrol, determined to make something good happen after months on end of depressing news, tries to build a new Viper from scratch, and in the process gives the rest of the Galactica crew a cause, half-frivolous and half-practical, to rally around.
"Pegasus": There but for the grace of the gods could have gone Bill Adama, as the rag-tag fleet reunites with the only other surviving battlestar, and we discover how things might have gone if Adama didn't have Roslin yelling at him all the time about the rights of the civilian ships. Just a gut-wrencher from start to finish, and the scene where the two XO's get drunk and Jack Fisk tells Tigh what Admiral Cain (Michelle Forbes, perfect) has been up to all these months is so vivid that it made much of "Battlestar Galactica: Razor" feel unnecessary to me.
"Scar": Another great self-contained show, and one of the best showcases Katee Sackhoff ever got, as we spend an entire hour just living with the Viper pilots and getting a better sense of the emotional toll of war without end for the toughest warrior of them all.
"Lay Down Your Burdens, Part 2": People mostly remember the last half-hour, with the mind-blowing time jump to one year after the New Caprica settlement, but the rest of the show has plenty to recommend it, notably Laura begging Adama to let her steal the election, and the creepy/tragic Baltar/Gina sex scene.
"Occupation," "Precipice," "Exodus, Pt. 1 & 2" and "Collaborators": In many ways, the New Caprica arc (and I count "Collaborators" as part of that) was the highpoint of the series, from an emotional and technical standpoint. Never has the show touched a present day nerve as strongly as when Tigh and Roslin debated suicide bombing. Never (with the possible exception of the finale, about which I'll stay mum till tonight) has there been a moment as jaw-droppingly cool as Galactica jumping into the atmosphere and falling like a rock so it could launch its Vipers away from the gauntlet of the Cylon baseships, and the last-minute arrival of Pegasus may rank a close second on the wicked awesome scale. The stakes have rarely seemed higher, the line between the good guys and bad guys rarely blurrier, and the performances rarely better. If I had to explain the brilliance of the show to a doubting novice, I'd sit them down in front of these five episodes.
"Dirty Hands": Where "Black Market," the previous attempt to illustrate what life was like in the rag-tag fleet if you weren't the president or a hot-shot fighter jock, was one of the series' low points (though I still like Bill Duke's performance as the lead marketeer), "Dirty Hands" managed to show what a terrible journey this has been for so many while still feeling like part of the larger whole. I still have some issues with the idea that Baltar, so soon after the New Caprica fiasco, would be accepted by the fleet's underclass as a political champion, but James Callis and Aaron Douglas are so good throughout that I can let it go after all this time.
"Crossroads, Part 2": So many great moments: Lee's monologue about humanity becoming a gang. Saul Tigh declaring that he considers himself a man and not a machine, no matter what the song may be telling him. Laura giving Baltar the death stare in a scene where Mary McDonnell isn't even being shot in focus. And, of course, the hypnotic brilliance of Bear McCreary's reinvented "All Along the Watchtower." After this episode, there was no turning back from the end of the series.
"The Ties That Bind": I know I've been a bigger fan of this final season than many. I was the same way with the final half-season of "The Sopranos." In both cases, the pace slowed down, but the sense of impending doom, and our understanding of the characters, only got amplified as we headed toward the finish line. I could easily fill half this list with episodes from the two halves of season four, but I'll limit it to just a handful, starting with this dread-soaked spotlight on Cally. She's a character I could never stand, and whose death I openly rooted for a few times, but "The Ties That Bind" did such a good job of putting me inside her head that I felt very bad for her when Tory blew her out the airlock.
"Hub": Aka "Mary McDonnell rules you all, and shame on the damn Emmy voters for not noticing." The Cylon resurrection hub gets destroyed, but it's treated as a funeral and not a stirring victory. Laura finally gets Baltar to confess to his role in the genocide, but eventually chooses forgiveness over revenge. And, in the end, Laura Roslin finally gets her man. "About time." Damn right.
"Revelations": Even if it had ended right before the fleet arrived at the irradiated Earth, this one was so overflowing with other brilliant moments -- Adama's reaction to Tigh being a Cylon, Lee finally becoming a man, Tigh offering to sacrifice himself to foil D'Anna's plans -- that it would probably make this list, anyway. But that last five minutes -- the majestic, celebratory arrival in Earth orbit, followed by the nasty gut punch of landing on the planet below -- are astonishing.
"The Oath" & "Blood on the Scales": If I was being stricter about the 10-episode count, I'd probably restrict this one simply to "Blood on the Scales," which I felt was the stronger half of the coup mini-arc. But together they're packed with pure action, mixed with some great character beats (particularly for Gaeta) and some thoughtful debate between Gaeta and Zarek about the nature of a coup.
Anyway, that's what I chose. Feel free to harangue me in the comments, or else wait until the finale ends tonight and come back to comment then. Do not use this or any other post as a venue for discussing the finale as it airs.