Friday, March 20, 2009

Battlestar Galactica: My favorite episodes

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.


Anonymous said...

I thought the scene where Tigh and Roslin debate the ethics of suicide bombing seemed a bit too heavy handed and ripped from the headlines, a la "Law & Order: New Caprica." Otherwise, though, great list.

I can remember watching "33 Minutes" first to decide if I should watch the series and/or go back and rent the mini-series. An iffy proposition at that time since it aired on a network that would later show "Mansquito." Glad I did.

Unknown said...


Alan Sepinwall said...

Typo. Fixed.

Jim said...

Given the three week battle that my friend Billy and I went through to make Our List, I totally forgive the cheat to get more episodes in. Especially when I read through your list and nod my head in agreement the whole way through.

Anonymous said...

So, the series finale doesn't make this list, Alan? Considerig how great ith as to be to make up for a lot of this past season suckage (everything after hte coup 2 parter), that doesn't bode well for tonight.

Alan Sepinwall said...

No, I just didn't factor in the finale since it hasn't aired yet. Were this list running next week, it might be different.

Anonymous said...

All excellent choices, but "Downloaded" would definitely be on my list. I had been waiting to see Boomer and Caprica Six again for the longest time, and seeing that Six has her own ChipGaius much like Gaius has a ChipSix was just the whipped cream on top of a delicious sundae.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for clarifying, Alan. I'm holding out a lot of hope for tonight. I WANT it to be the greatest ep ever, but i still fear it won't be. THE SHIELD ending is just too hard to beat.

Myles said...

Three things:

The one piece of good news: "Hub" actually aired AFTER the Emmy submission deadline, so McDonnell could totally submit it.

Making these lists are inherently problematic: I was tempted to do my own, and ending up recording a podcast with my brother instead - it gives me an excuse to not try to cover every single episode. As it is, I looked at this list and spent most of my time focused on what I felt was missing, and that's kind of unfair to the whole point of the list.

However, I am EXTREMELY pleased to see Dirty Hands on this list - that section of Season Three is often lumped in together as some sort of fundamental failure, but Dirty Hands really affected me when it aired and I'm glad to see it get some love.

Anonymous said...

Excellent list. I would also have to include “Unfinished Business”. Granted people have voiced legitimate concerns about the accuracy of the fight scenes. But the moment when Lee finds out that Starbuck and Anders have married and he starts walking (staggering) towards them to Bear McCreary’s elegiac score – man! My gut starts wrenching and memories of my own bad decisions start surfacing. No one does profundity like Battlestar.

Good Dog said...

RE: "Occupation," "Precipice," "Exodus, Pt. 1 & 2" and "Collaborators"

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.

Absolutely. The past couple weeks I’ve had the DVDs down off the shelf to rewatch the show, starting with the miniseries, and can’t wait to reach that sweet spot.

When it comes to the second part of Exodus, the two sequences that really do it for me, are Lee saying “Thank you” to the Pegasus as he prepares to abandon ship and Tigh’s husky whisper, “Not all of them,” when he is reunited with Adama.

That last one gets me every time.

Carolyn said...

These are all good 'uns.

"Unfinished Business" and "Downloaded are my all-time top two. But narrowing it down further than that would basically wind up with me listing every episode! :)

Anonymous said...

No love for "Downloaded"? I still get annoyed that the series didn't go more in the direction that Downloaded indicated with Boomer and instead chose to make her crazy Cylon who only occasionally shows up to screw something up for everyone (guess who went from ecstatic to as soul-crushed as Tyrol over the course of "Someone to Watch Over Me"). I still remember watching "Downloaded" for the first time and seeing her wake up resurrected, freaking out, and then wondering how it didn't occur to me that this would happen. I'd probably rank "Downloaded" #2 of the series for me, right after "33", which seems to be the perennial favorite.

Also I would probably include "Kobol's Last Gleaming", and I figure most other fans would as well - any particular reasons you excluded it, or was it just a too many choices of the series?

And as for Battlestar's many Emmy snubs, it only proves just how stupid the Emmy's are, as if any was needed. This goes down, I think, as their second-biggest collective mistake of all time, after their jaw-dropping ignorance of The Wire. In any case if I was in charge McDonnell and Olmos would OBVIOUSLY pick up their respective awards, and I would also hand out some to Aaron Douglas (so incredible this season, jesus), Tricia Helfer (how many roles has she played convincingly by now? fifty? sixty?), and give out nominations to Sackhoff, Penikett, and Hogan (sorry guys, everybody can't win). And of course, I would give an Outstanding Drama Series nomination as a whole, although this past season hasn't been the best television around thanks to Lost and some lesser episodes for Battlestar.

You said you liked these more recent episodes more than most fans. For me, a lot of the quality of these past episodes will be made or broken based on how well the finale wraps things up. If Ron Moore proves that he really only does need those two alloted hours tonight to do everything satisfactorily, then fine. To me it seems impossible, but then, it would be foolish to question the guys that did the previous finales of the show. That said, I wish the show had invested itself more in making the episodes more serialized instead of doing a few standalone episodes and then doing all plot ones. Sure, "No Exit" was thrilling the first time, but it's all exposition, so I don't know how well it and Cavil's demented supernova rantings will hold up on repeated viewings.

Really the episode I was most disappointed with was last week's start to Daybreak, which just left me cold when I wanted to be super-excited.

Also am I in the minority when I say I really didn't like Unfinished Business? It seems to pop up a lot on "favorites" lists but that episode, and the subsequent Lee/Kara/Anders/Dualla love square, just left me exasperated and annoyed.

Raz Cunningham said...

I really, really loved "Lay Down Your Burdens". For me, its what put the show over the top on my list.

Anonymous said...

All wonderful choices, Alan. I also have a soft spot for another than hasn't been mentioned: Home, Parts I and II, but especially Part II.

Anonymous said...

Excellent choices, but no love for "Escape Velocity"? That's my favorite non-finale or premiere episode. Baltar's speech at the end of the episode, Tyrol begging to get fired, Cally's funeral service, Roslin informing Baltar that she's not gonna put up with him for much longer...front-to-back good stuff. Of course I think you touched on the rest of my top 5 though.

Pamela Jaye said...

my DVR also says it's 2:11 (so i'm guessing I have th right one. my roomie has two jobs today so i'm deputized to record. is tonight's the "famous" Dollhouse ep? House being on at 8 has screwed up my expectations of what time shows are on...

(I heard it was snowing again. can we borrow some? it hasn't rained in forever and every morning my eyes are stuck shut from the pollen which is never going to go away.)

Anonymous said...

Downloaded is an easy pick for my favorite; I loved the show before then, but I really fell in love with it in this ep. and it was cemented in my top 3 or 5 of all time. It's magic.

I remember Unfinished Business being uber-controversial amongst fan at the time, with equal parts love and hate poured in, and though I hate the Quadrangle of Doom as much as anyone else, that episode is absolutely lyrical and beautiful and has a series highlight for Jamie Bamber. (His drunken stumble was perhaps a bit unintentionally amusing in Taking A Break..., but it's heartbreaking here). But to the poster that asked, you are definitely not alone: lotta hate for this one on the other side. Which, to be fair, I could get. It's a boxing episode, fercryinoutloud. It still manages, for me, to be the one sports-focused "filler" (it really isn't) episode in all of television that actually works the way it's supposed to, and how.

I tried figuring out a top ten, and the usual suspects (plus Resurrection Ship pt. II - watch it again post-Razor, and Cain's death is much more wrenching) showed up, so I narrowed it down to five personal faves: the aforementioned two, plus Exodus Pt. II, Occupation/Precipice*, and The Hub. Guess What's Coming To Dinner? could easily stand in for the latter, though - I'm a huge season 4 fan, too, and it's really tough to pick as it might be my favorite season of the bunch.

I have to mention it, though. I think I'm the one fan who isn't head-over-heels for 33 - granted, it is a fine episode, but it's not even the best of season 1 for me. (That would be Kobol's Last Gleaming, which definitely does not get enough love.) Maybe it's because I was confused as all hell when watching it the first time, having a) not seen the mini and thus b) no idea what the show was about beyond the basic premise, but on subsequent viewings it seems to me a great episode, not a transcendent one.

*These two are soulmates and I will not split them apart, not even if it's cheating. Will not!

Nicole said...

I am in agreement with this list. To echo earlier comments though, I am disappointed that there have never been any acting nominations for this show. At the very least Mary McDonnell and Edward James Olmos, who both were well recognized in movies and television prior to this, should have had at least one nomination prior to this. I also don't hold out any hope that it will happen for the last year. Sci-fi or Syfy, is just to "nerdy" for the masses.

btw - did you catch Colbert's skit about this name change on Wednesday? Apparently he has had a long standing vendetta against the hard c.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy your blog, Alan, but just to mark the special occasion of the series finale, do you think you could *not* use the phrase "rag-tag fleet" just this once? Because I swear you use it every single BSG column.

Alan Sepinwall said...

What do you have against the rag-tag fleet, anonymous poster? I love the rag-tag fleet? I'm naming my new fish Rat-Tag Fleet. If I had a band, it would be Rag-Tag Fleet. My IM avatar is the rag-tag fleet. I love the rag-tag fleet. I love everything about the rag-tag fleet. I love the way the phrase "rag-tag fleet" flows off the tongue, or the way the words "rag-tag fleet" feel on the keyboard. I would compose a poem about the rag-tag fleet if I wasn't busy going to the DMV to get a vanity license plate reading "RGTGFLT."

Yours truly in loving the rag-tag fleet,
Alan "rag-tag fleet-lover" Sepinwall

BF said...

No Gaeta singing in "Guess what's coming to dinner", no peace!

Anonymous said...

I also think "Downloaded" was one of the best episodes ever. It perfectly encapsulated one of the major themes of this show: what it means to be a creature with empathy, regret, etc.

Also, while not a particular episode and not as metaphysically interesting as "Downloaded", the arc with a crew trapped on Kobol during the early parts of season 2 was a great showcase for Tyrol.

And if we're looking for a great Starbuck showcase, how about "You Can't Go Home Again" all the way back in season 1. Sackhoff talked to herself for most of the episode and still gripped my interest.

Anonymous said...

"33," man. It was like, "Wow, they really are serious about this."

Anonymous said...

Hey, what about a "Worst of..." list? As much as I love this show, it was more uneven than its contemporaries.

- "Bastille Day" - always liked the Zarek character, never liked Hatched
- "The Farm" - one of the worst Starbuck showcases. They also implied this would have some major impact down the road which it didn't (unless something happens in the last episode).
- "Scar" (sorry, Alan, I hated this episode)
- "The Captain's Hand" - typified this series' weakpoint: self-contained episodes where characters are introduced and killed off within an hour.
- "Hero" - see "The Captain's Hand," only more boring.
- "The Woman King" - sucked

Anonymous said...

What to say regarding my favorite episodes about this "rag tag fleet"?
I have seen many critical comments about the final season, or uneven episodes, or general displeasure with character arcs.

But if you still care enough to comment, doesn't that say something?

My favorite episode is: all of them.
The work, taken as a whole, will stand the test of time and will be regarded as a brave and unique thing of dark beauty.
Regradless of the destination, I have so enjoyed the journey. So say we all.

Anonymous said...

Um, regardless. Regradless is a made up word. Like frak.

Anonymous said...

How can any worst-of list not begin with Black Market?

(Also, yeah I really disliked Scar. Almost as much as Black Market!)

Unknown said...

I would add Rapture to the list. The teaser scene of Helo shooting Athena is one of the most brutal things I've seen on this show. D'Anna's vision of the Final Five and subsequent boxing is also so well acted by Lucy Lawless.

Also, I just want to say thanks Alan for all these great recaps! I'll definitely be coming here tonight to read your thoughts on the finale, if I'm not too emotionally destroyed by it :)

The Bgt said...

Good list!
I would only add Kobol last Gleaming, Act Of Contrition and Downloaded.

I think the biggest reason for the Emmys snob or the popularity this show deserved and never really got, was ..its own name.

"Battlestar Galactica".
I was refusing to even watch it cause ermm of the original series, "who wants to see a new version of that"?.

Only when a good friend saw "33" and ecstatic praised it I gave it a chance. And I never regret it.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe no one has added one of my (and Maureen Ryan's) favourites: Hand of God.

Great season 1 ep right up there with 33 and Kobol's Last Gleaming.

bakija said...

Something I find wildly interesting about this list--the "New Caprica/Occupation" arc is what Alan points to as a (the?) high point of the series. Which I completely agree with. But from my experience, that is also the point at which people who stopped watching/gave up on the show, gave up and stopped watching.

The first season or two were something that a lot of people really liked as an action/military show. And when they hit New Caprica and the show became a lot more focused on characters and social issues, these viewers got mad and left.

Unknown said...

Crossroads Part 2 was phenomenal. Probably my all-time favorite.

antred said...

I also loved the episodes that had major characters of the show on the surface of 2 planets (occupied Caprica and the rediscovered Kobol). The chaotic situation in the fleet at the end of season 1 and beginning of season 2 plus the introduction of the entire Opera House theme made for some of the most captivating episodes of the show, not to mention the awesome cliff hanger that was the season 1 finale!