After an up-and-down Season 3 -- for me, the jury's still out on whether knowing what the Cylons think is a good narrative strategy -- Battlestar Galactica wrapped up with a good collection of forward-moving plot threads: the path to Earth mostly set; a possibly compliant Six on board Galactica and mind-melding with President Roslin; and no more hotshot pilot Starbuck to storm the dangerous skies. Then, a killer final 15 minutes that revealed four of the final five Cylons (Saul frakkin' Tigh!); a massive Cylon attack; and the resurrection of Starbuck, who calmly told Lee: "I've been to Earth.”
Before the season 4 opener, I watched the last 15 minutes of Season 3 again: The revelation of the four Cylons was such a great piece of drama. "Not after all these years ...," says Sam. Chief, always sturdy, practical, lays it out: "It's true, we're Cylon and we have been from the start.”
The kicker was less who was a Cylon -- obviously the final five are going to be people we know -- and by default they've got to be on Galactica. There's no narrative oomph in having them be random extras (like the old Star Trek ploy where if you'd never seen a character before, he would be dead by the third segment).
No, the intrigue is less about who, than how they came about and what now? Does Cylon Tigh predate the first wars? If they've always been Cylons, what about their anti-Cylon credibility -- all four were key personnel and instrumental in the New Caprica resistance? Was that also pre-ordained?
And going forward, how will the new self-aware Cylons manage aboard Galactica? Can they pass? Will they go killer? And could there be more than 12? Could there be dozens, hundreds? Or even everybody?
Clearly grist for Season 4, and we'll have to be patient for answers. But it seems that after three seasons of weaving today's geo-politics through the storyline, that BSG's extra-narrative focus this season will be on the very nature of humanity.
Is a "good” Cylon like Sam or Chief worthy of full consideration? Cylon Sharon, after all, has been only grudgingly accepted. When Adama and Lee have a strained talk, Lee, speaking of his dead brother but obviously thinking of the returned Starbuck who seems Cylonish now, asks hypothetically: "Would it matter if he was a Cylon? Would that change how we felt about him?” (I loved how Adama said virtually nothing in this scene, where Lee once again defies and disappoints him; it was all Olmos' defeated body language.)
This storyline isn't without its real-world corollary, of course -- the classic "other” dilemma, people that the majority have deemed the same-but-different whether it's illegal aliens, Muslims who aren't terrorists, or even the neighbor who votes differently.
Starbuck, of course, came back. I knew she would -- not just because she's the escape-from-death type, but because the show needs her sort of character. There are a lot of committed folks in the BSG universe, but only Starbuck fulfills that walk-the-edge, cowboy, risk-taker role that viewers love to identify with. (Others, like Roslin and both Adamas, gamble with risky decisions, but with much more calculation.)
I "bought” Starbuck's death last season -- even sniffled when they put her photo up on the memorial wall -- but definitely noted her absence in the plot.
But no worries -- she's back, and freakin' out! That's good: She's a good polarizing character, the sort you would be frustrated working with, but then, you're forced to admit that behind all the rule-busting and arrogance and advantages (Adama's pet), she gets it done, and you wouldn't or couldn't.
I'm also hyped for the pitting of Starbuck against Roslin. On the surface, each is headed to earth in a different direction, and at least one, or possibly both, is wrong. But it's the head-butting of the show's two strongest-willed characters, both battle-seasoned, hardened women who nonetheless operate with a heightened extra-sensitivity (Roslin's spirituality, Starbuck's "destiny”).
Also clearly on the examination table this season is religion, a perennial BSG bit of subtext. Moving Baltar into the nutjob cult feels a trifle comedic, and risks being one-note, so I hope he's released to gen-pop soon. (Plus, we know his Cylon test can work.)
But monotheism (which the Cylons advocate) and which Baltar is now trying out with the cult vs. the standard multi-gods creed will evidently be added to the divisions on board the Galactica and likely over on the Cylon ship too.
And the final Cylon? We're running out of folks it could be. The red herrings are piling up around Starbuck and Roslin, but who knows?