Retrospective Review: ‘Battlestar Galactica’ Season 3
Every show has that one season that rocks the boat, shaking up the plot, its characters, and the themes, creating a new era in the show’s evolution. The third season of Battlestar Galactica is the season where everything changes for both human and Cylon as the fleet recovers from the Cylon occupation of New Caprica, the place President Gaius Baltar (James Callis) proclaimed would be their new home. Season 3 is not only where the human population must rise above the atrocities of New Caprica, but also the Cylon community is presented with conflict they never expected as they become more human. Along with the different factions evolving, we are also faced with a few major character deaths and the reveal of four of the Final Five Cylons, so it’s a key season.
We have moved far away from the feel that was established in the first two seasons of Battlestar and the show has completely evolved into something darker, and with the darker tone come episodes that give us goose bumps, make us gasp, and make us cry. Even if there are a couple episodes that are episodic and felt less than impressive when watching it from week to week, they fit in brilliantly without the week wait. Ron Moore continues to lace every episode with very relevant themes that speak to us as the audience and resonate within our modern world, and it makes the third season of Battlestar the strongest of the series.
Due to the absence of a mid season break, Battlestar Season 3 has a very clear story arc running through the 20 episode season. Ron Moore used a very recognizable three act structure to break up the third season as we pick up the story four months into the Cylon occupation of New Caprica, and it is a bleak and dismal situation humanity is in. Act 1 encompasses the occupation, exodus, and the majority of the healing process that humanity endures upon their return to life in space, and during this first act we witness both the best and worst of human and Cylon. The occupation and immediate events after the exodus are the worst for the human fleet, but the Cylons must also deal with an anomaly within their own ranks as the lines between human and machine begin to blur on the back of one Cylon model.
Those arguably on the worst side of humanity in the days before the exodus of New Caprica are the insurgents/rebels led by the maimed Saul Tigh (Michael Hogan) as he institutes the use of suicide bombers as the rebellion’s main tool against the Cylons despite the ethical implications. His anger at the Cylons leads him to look for souls willing to lay down their lives in the name of freedom, and as the audience, the issue begins to become complicated. Moore uses an issue so ingrained within our modern culture as a barbaric practice to put his heroes at odds with each other as well as their adversaries and to unequivocally illustrate the point that in war there are no winners and losers. However, it is also a way for us to see very clearly the stark differences between the salty, bitter Saul Tigh and Admiral Adama (Edward James Olmos), and it creates a rift between the two that lasts through Act 1.
The Cylon/Baltar administration is a prime example of the best and worst of humanity working against each other. As the Cylon’s political puppet, Baltar loses his humanity one decree at a time, barely being able to live with the choice he has made as he signs his name while crying about the implications later. Within the administration that has brought humanity to its knees comes one example of the best of humanity in Felix Gaeta (Alessandro Juliani). Gaeta, as secretary to President Baltar, is using his access to government information to pass said information secretly to the insurgents, his only contact privy to the specifics of his info drops being Chief Tyrol (Aaron Douglas). Baltar, however, is not completely defeated, and in one of James Callis’ strongest scenes, refuses to sign an execution order, but through coercion and because of his cowardice, he signs it, displaying his humanity as he withdraws into himself through guilt.
The Cylons, during the occupation, act exactly as we would expect them to with one exception: Sharon “Athena” Agathon (Grace Park). During her time on Galactica, she becomes a newly minted officer, and volunteers to begin the rescue effort of humanity, putting her toe to toe against her old brothers and sisters. She shows unbelievable strength as she carries out her mission and proves once and for all that she is yet the beginning of the Cylons’ evolution. A very crucial part of that evolution begins to take shape when Athena has to kill D’Anna (Lucy Lawless), and during her resurrection process, the Cylon does something no other Cylon has done before: she dreams. It has such a profound impact upon her that it shapes her storyline for the rest of the show.
Our interactions with the Cylons throughout the rest of Act 1 are made equally interesting as not only does D’Anna begin behaving very un-Cylon like in pursuit of her dreams’ meaning, but also, due to Baltar’s guest/prisoner presence aboard their Basestar, we are introduced to the Cylon way of life. After 2 seasons we are finally put into the middle of the Cylon operations, the ships that have been dogging humanity since their destruction, and we are shown what makes Cylons tick. Placing a human into the Cylon world, forcing him to live more than half the season among “the enemy” also allows us access to The Hybrid, the beating heart of the Basestar and an incredibly important character. One of the most influential episodes during our time with the Cylon Basestar involves the machines having to put down a whole ship of their own people because of illness, showing Baltar and us that the Cylons are not infallible, and that they have fears and weaknesses just as humans do. It’s a really good way to introduce how the Cylons live, work, and feel moving forward into the next season.
Upon the human exodus from New Caprica, adjusting to their nomadic lifestyle again merges with the want for revenge, and in interrum President Tom Zarek (Richard Hatch) another ruthless side to humanity is displayed when – before Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell) can be sworn in again – he gives judicial powers to a small tribunal tasked with executing those who colluded with the Cylons. Even with the human population dwindling due to the debacle of New Caprica, Zarek and his squad are determined that justice will be served even if execution without due process doesn’t sit right. The episode with the tribunal introduces more forcefully the darker direction that Battlestar Season 3 is headed in as humanity faces one disappointment for happiness after another, and we know we are in for one hell of a season.
The rest of Act 1 for humanity focuses completely on healing the wounds of New Caprica, and no one feels more bitter and destroyed than Saul Tigh and Kara Thrace (Katee Sackhoff). They find solace in drink and sewing unrest, Tigh still reeling from having to execute his wife, Ellen (Kate Vernon) for betraying the insurgents. Kara’s hurt revolves around her time as prisoner to Leoben (Callum Keith Rennie) and her struggle to save her marriage to Sam (Michael Trucco) while also fighting her still fresh feelings for Lee (Jamie Bamber). Two souls destroyed even before the holocaust are even more broken, but they are each given a fresh start as Act 1 comes to an end with “Unfinished Business” as the whole crew, including those on Galactica during the four long months, are given the chance to beat the crap out of each other and heal.
The whole of Act 1 in Battlestar Season 3 is incredibly strong and does exactly what the first act of a story should do: it sets the tone for the rest of the season while introducing stories that will shape the events going forward. The time spent healing from New Caprica is a long, violent process, and we are more than happy to move forward from it.
In Act 2, the Galactica continues on its treacherous path to find Earth, and along the way the fleet is faced with death, an evolving Cylon race, and the return of one of its most despised sons. The main thing that comes into play during the seven episodes that make up Act 2 is how much the Cylons – D’Anna in particular – are becoming more human. Throughout the course of the first two seasons, the Cylons prided themselves on being uniform, each model moving as one to make a whole people, and the trend was broken when Caprica 6 (Tricia Helfer) and Boomer became celebrities, but D’Anna and the pursuit of her dreams push the uniformity of Cylon culture to the brink. She begins committing suicide to see her visions more clearly, and when both the Cylons and the humans are within grasp of the next road sign to Earth, she risks her fleet’s safety to carry out her plan. D’Anna, besides Athena, is the first real sign of how much Cylons are still very much like humanity even if they are determined that they are not. The Cylon path relating to their rogue sister is cemented when they decide to discontinue her line of model, effectively putting her consciousness in a box for the rest of their lives.
With the humans, their continued road to Earth is even more fraught with difficulty laced with clues of what’s to come that we only see upon a repeat viewing of the series. Kara deals with a death amongst her pilots when Kat (Luciana Carro) bravely sacrifices herself for the fleet, and Lee and Kara realize that their feelings for each other can only lead to destruction for both of them. Act 2 is also the section of Season 3 where the two weakest episodes of the season have the fleet battling fatal racism and the consequences of the dwindling population aboard the labor ships. Though Act 2 has some great performances by the cast, especially Sackhoff, Tahmoh Penikett as Helo, and Aaron Douglas, it serves to push the fleet closer to Earth, deliver Baltar back into humanity’s hands, and introduce the shadows of the Final Five Cylons through the rogue D’Anna. It does a great job, but as the fleet draws closer – they hope – to Earth, the stakes rise in Act 3 completing the season with one of the greatest endings ever conceived on television.
In one of the strongest run ups to a season finale, Act 3 is all about the trial of Gaius Baltar for crimes against humanity on New Caprica, but before the show takes us there, it deals us one more blow, and it’s a big one. In a sudden flash of fire and inexplicable visions, Kara Thrace dies, the moment cementing itself as the most shocking death of the whole series. Her death sets several things in motion as the fleet attempts to move on with out her, the biggest fall out being Lee’s existential weighing of his priorities, eventually pushing him into defending Baltar at his trial. It is also the point that the season addresses the destiny that Kara is meant to have as stated by Leoben in Season 1.
The trial is the big event that finishes out the series, and it comes along with a new, fantastic character, Romo Lampkin played brilliantly by Mark Sheppard. Over the two episodes in which the trial takes place – “Crossroads Parts 1 & 2” – a lot is shown about how far humanity is beginning to devolve into a bloodthirsty mob with Laura Roslin leading the charge. The also reveals how far Lee is willing to push for justice as another big blow is dealt to the fleet with Roslin confirming her new cancer diagnosis, but it is how the trial ends that is truly attention grabbing. Jamie Bamber gives an absolutely brilliant performance with his speech about justice, forgiveness, and the broken legal system, a moment that still sends goose bumps up the arms.
Season 3 of Battlestar is not done with us yet, as four crewmembers begin acting strangely and hearing disembodied music. The Galactica reaches a new road sign on the way to Earth, and when they do, not only are the Cylons waiting for them, but secretly Saul Tigh, Sam Anders, Galen Tyrol, and Tory Foster (Rekha Sharma) converge on each other, realizing that they are Cylons. As the battle between human and Cylon begins in the nebula, the four continue on to their posts, determined to remain as normal as possible. Lee joins the Vipers in the fight but is distracted by an unmarked ship that is playing hide and seek with him. When he finally catches it, Kara Thrace is staring back at him assuring him that she knows the way to Earth, the whole sequence enhanced chillingly by a rock cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”.
The ending of Battlestar Season 3 harkens back to the shock factor we associate with the ending of Season 1, and it completely rocks everything we thought was going to be true going forward with the series. Looking back, Season 3 is one that works to fully push humanity and the Cylons into new realms, evolving not only the main characters of each side, but also our perceptions of each faction. Humans become much more about revenge clouded in justice while the Cylons begin looking towards their origins and what makes them special, a very human thing to explore. For the first time, the machines also display fear of the unknown or forbidden, making them more and more human as they silence D’Anna and her “dangerous” ideas to keep their now fragile way of life intact. Moore knows how to move a show, its ideas, origins, and characters forward with brilliant precision, shown deftly as he creates human traits within his machine race, which leads smoothly into where they go in Season 4.
This season is filled to the brim with fantastic performances, and Michael Hogan, Jamie Bamber, and Katee Sackhoff are some of the top performers this time around as they all face the changes their characters go through head on. Tigh is beginning to become more than a bitter drunk as both traits pick up new meaning after New Caprica, and Hogan portrays the man’s ideals being thrown out the window upon his Cylon revelation with brilliant ease. Bamber has a massive change to go through as Lee begins his transition from CAG to civilian, and Sackhoff’s Starbuck never fully recovers from being held prisoner by Leoben, but it is again James Callis as Gaius Baltar who is the acting master of Season 3. He continues to give Baltar this endearing humor mixed perfectly with self-aggrandizing ego that makes him one of the slimiest yet most interesting characters on the show. He is the strongest when Baltar is faced with his imminent death and he portrays his guilt with such power through his voice and eyes, but he is able to turn the tables to humorous confidence when he is acquitted at his trial as though he knew it was going to happen. Callis is continuously strong and a joy to watch.
In a season full of strong episodes that deal with so much change and issues that speak to the audience as powerfully as they do, it is incredibly difficult to choose the strongest of the bunch. Because of its well-executed story, the brilliant ending a mix of surprises and elements in tune with each other, and the quality of the performances, the final episode, “Crossroads Part 2” stands out above the rest. It challenged the characters to look at themselves and ask which one of them was perfect, fit to be absolved of all sins over all others, and it drew the explosive season to a very fitting end. The revelation of four of the Final Five was dealt with perfectly, not too obvious but with enough clues to make us wonder, coupled with Kara Thrace’s return and the perfect injection of the “All Along the Watchtower” cover made it very dramatic.
There is another contender for best episode of the season, and it is also one of the darkest: “Collaborators”. This is another episode where we witness some of the worst that humanity has to offer as the tribunal set up by Zarek decides who lives and who dies out of the list of humans who collaborated with their Cylon oppressors. Within the group there is dissent as justice is called for when others only see cold-blooded revenge, and little is considered of the situation these humans were put into when collaboration was done. Even one of Chief Tyrol’s own deckhands, Jammer (Dominic Zamprogna) is executed without trial despite saving Tyrol’s wife, Cally (Nicki Clyne) from the Cylons’ firing squad. It isn’t until Felix Gaeta proves that he was the insurgents’ inside source that the group realizes there is more to each instance of collaboration that they don’t know about. The “Exodus” episodes and “Collaborators” is where Aaron Douglas begins to really show his teeth with Tyrol, and he becomes not only a major player within the story, but he is a commanding presence. His prowess only grows as the season goes on, and he is fantastic in his role.
One of the things Season 3 does really well besides move the story along is displaying the rough side of politics more clearly than even in the first two seasons. Baltar is the catalyst for this issue being presented, his time behind closed doors as the Cylons’ puppet having no witnesses, leaving the people of New Caprica oblivious to the ways he tried to save them and how he did actually save their lives by not fighting the Cylons. The backroom dealings during the most difficult time of his presidency are only for him and the public only see what came of them: death and tyranny. But we as the audience saw everything, and though Baltar at his heart is a self-loving coward who only wants to know what is in it for him, Callis and Moore inject the right amounts of humanity in exactly the right way to prove to us that he is not heartless. This separation between what we as the public see and what we really know of our politicians and the decisions they make is incredibly relevant today, and Moore once again brings an issue to light in a very powerful way that speaks volumes.
As well as moving the story of Battlestar Galactica forward very smoothly and in the only logical direction the series could go after the end of Season 2, Season 3 is also the darkest season within an already quite bleak show. Through gripping, dark stories, themes, and character deaths, Season 3 manages to grab our attentions as the humans struggle with their losses – home, people, and dignity – and become much harder to sympathize with considering they are now far more than only the victims of the Cylon holocaust. They begin to turn on each other, blame each other, and we see a side of our human heroes that is less than pleasant but has been in the making since they were stranded in space. The Cylons, after the occupation, become incredibly interesting as a group, Season 3 evolving them away from the heartless villains they were to begin with, keeping us engaged with them as characters. They needed to become something more than the autonomous bad guys of the show, and in making them more human, that evolution not only begins, but also opens up the doors for much more to come. Finally, Season 3 had character evolutions and deaths far beyond what the first two did, the biggest of all relating to four of the Final Five Cylons being discovered. Revealing them to be characters we have come to know very well is brilliant, and it makes us re-evaluate everything we know about them, who they are to us, and how we feel about them now. Though we feel like we have lost a piece of our characters by making them Cylons, with how the Cylons as a species are evolving, it may not be the end of the world. Season 3 pulls no punches, and the story is moved along perfectly as everything begins to change for the two fleets.(4.5 / 5)
(Photos copyright: NBC Universal Television, David Eick Productions)