Battlestar Galactica: The Final Season Review

And so Battlestar Galactica draws to a close. It may not end in a chaotic and fevered episode in which fires burn, the beast emerges from a pit and the godless are marked with 666 but that's not to dilute the impact that religion has had on Battlestar Galactica. Its flood was the destruction of Caprica and the rest of the twelve colonies. Its ark is a ragtag collection of spaceships and its Noah is Admiral Adama. Or its exodus is to the promised land that is Earth and Adama is its Moses. Its Paul of Tarsus is Saul Tigh, the Galactica's XO who is literally blinded in one eye while its Judas is Gaius Baltar. It may even have a Christ in Kara Thrace, who returns from apparent death to lead the fleet to Earth but who, it is said, will also be the one to lead it to destruction. Angels walk amongst the crew, promises are made by the dying to see their loved ones on, '...the other side" while the Cylons not only believe in resurrection but have constructed a ship for that very purpose.

For three series, such religious allegories played out in the background of Battlestar Galactica. They were there if the audience so looked but so too were parallels to the war in Iraq, with the humans (and heroes of the show) reduced to violence, murder and acts of terrorism to survive on New Caprica. The Cylons may have committed genocide but only after centuries of being enslaved by humanity, while the fleet, on the run, turned to torture, rape and murder to extract information from the Cylons. Action was always present, be it in the dogfights of the early part of the series, the standoffs being capital ships that came with the arrival of Pegasus or Galactica dropping through the atmosphere to extract its crew from New Caprica. And there were the human stories of love affairs, of ambition, of parenthood, of revenge and of identity. The Final Season of Battlestar Galactica pays homage to these individual strands. Not everyone will be happy.

This final series - which is, it could be argued, only the second half of Season Four - comes in three parts. It begins with the fleet on an Earth that was, by its high background radiation, once ravaged by a nuclear war. Its cities lie in ruins and are lifeless and while the fleet plans to take to the stars once again, this Earth provokes memories for those Cylons on Galactica. For these new allies, these memories are like ghosts but Kara Thrace finds a body in a crashed Viper wearing her own bloodstained dog tags. The second part of the season concerns the growing bond between Cylons and humans and how this alliance proves to be one allegiance too far for Felix Gaeta and Tom Zarek (Richard Hatch) who, aided and assisted by marines sympathetic to their cause, lead a rebellion that sees them take over Galactica's CIC. Finally, and with the rebellion quelled, Battlestar Galactica comes to an end with a search for a planet to live on in peace, a home found and the war with the Cylons at an end.

The presence of Quantum Leap's Dean Stockwell no longer seems like mere coincidence in this season of Battlestar Galactica. Almost toppling over with the weight of its flashbacks and its glimpses of the future, Stockwell ought to have emptied his pocket of his makeshift mobile phone and dialled up both Ziggy and Sam Beckett. Needless to say, the audience for Battlestar Galactica would do well to pay close attention not only to each episode but to the recaps that precede them. Indeed, it would do well to prepare for this season by revisiting earlier ones, even Razor for its reveal of Kara Thrace as the harbinger of death.

As the final season, a lot rests on this season's shoulders and, to an extent, it doesn't disappoint. The episodes move quickly along, not least with the breaking down of the season arc into the finding of one Earth, the mutiny within the fleet, a final battle with the Cylon armies and the search for a home in a ship that is crumbling with each faster-than-light jump. The dogfights amongst the space cruisers, which have been a highlight of the series and doubtless drew in much of the audience in the show's earliest days are still present, though perhaps in smaller numbers than they were previously. However, there are just as many shootouts in the corridors of Galactica, as many plays for control of the fleet and as much drinking, gambling and, in the show's own word, frakking as previous seasons. Only this time around, Gaius Baltar, Kara Thrace and Saul and Ellen Tigh, who were responsible for much of the show's action in the past, are concerned with drawing their stories and that of Galactica to a close.

Unlike the Baltar of the original Battlestar Galactica, who hightailed it out of the fleet as soon as his treachery was discovered, Gaius Baltar has been at the heart of this show from the beginning. It was his love for Caprica Six that betrayed humanity. Baltar was the puppet president installed by the Cylon command on New Caprica, for which he was tried but acquitted of treason. As the crew make one last stand in defence of the fleet, even Gaius takes up arms, fighting alongside Six against the Cylons. And it is Baltar, rejecting the polytheism of humanity and turning instead to the monotheism of the Cylons, who does much to explain the fleet's passage through space as the work of angels.

Just as a belief in God requires an act of faith, so too does putting one's trust in producers Moore and Eick to resolve the story of Battlestar Galactica. All Along The Watchtower is reprised as Kara Thrace remembers playing it alongside her father as a young girl. A musician, who mysteriously vanishes when Thrace's playing is interrupted, encourages her to play it once more, while Thrace attempts to find meaning in the musical notes. Six continues to haunt Baltar, not only in his memories of the time before the fall but also the glamorous Six from Caprica and the world weary Six from the fleet, all of whom remind Baltar to, "Trust in God’s plan for you." Hera, the child born out of the relationship between Helo and Athena, is described by both the Cylons and humans as the saviour of both their respective races not unlike the messiah has been claimed by several of the world's religions. Prophecies are deciphered, memories are found to have echoes in the present and angels walk the corridors of Galactica. And in acknowledging the ability of Hera to project a world away from the present, much of the three part finale takes place in a fantasy world created by Hera.

Perhaps dismissed as mere science fiction, with robots, odd-shaped paper and made-up words, Battlestar Galactica has used this freedom to ask questions fundamental to what we are as people. These are questions of freedom, of what it is to be human and of the right to life and the right to take it. It shouldn't be at all surprising to see that, by its end, Battlestar Galactica threads in the origin of man, life after death and the existence of God. Without giving away quite how it answers these questions, Battlestar Galactica ends satisfyingly with several surprises, credit paid to characters who developed out of what were initially very minor roles and so memorable a conclusion that it will be talked about for a long time to come. It's not quite the ending of St Elsewhere, which was so leftfield a closing that no one could have foreseen it, but Battlestar Galactica ends in remarkable fashion. Not all its questions are answered but such was the way of the show.

A final coda suggests that Baltar and Six are themselves angels, while there is a suggestion that it is the fate of humankind to repeat the events of the series through its evolution. Mankind not only rejects God but becomes gods, building likenesses of itself in robotic form, which then rebel. Like a echo that sounds out through millions of years, All Along The Watchtower plays out on a radio long after the events of the series.

Battlestar Galactica has usually looked outstanding on DVD and often nothing less than excellent. The NTSC releases have usually pipped the PAL versions in terms of picture quality, with the former being that bit sharper than the latter, but this Region 2 release isn't at all bad. Its production lends Battlestar Galactica a level of quality that most television shows can only dream of. The special effects and sheer sense of scale are a match for any theatrical release, with the dogfights between the Cylons and the fleet or the Galactica charging a Cylon capital ship setting a new standard for small-screen science-fiction. The actual DVD presentation offers an anamorphically-enhanced 1.78:1 picture, which is clean, reasonably sharp and provides plenty of detail in the image. The colour is muted on the scenes onboard Galactica and red and black on the Cylon baseship but pick up during the flashback scenes set on Caprica. This is deliberate throughout the set. Otherwise, there are no faults in the source material and almost a seamless blending of live action and CG effects. Similarly, the Dolby Digital 5.1 sounds as good as it has done before on previous releases, particularly in Galactica's rescue of Hera, in the versions of All Along The Watchtower that accompany scenes of revelation or the creaks and groaning that are let out of Galactica after its final FTL jump. However, the series is of a very high standard throughout, with the DD5.1 edging the DD2.0 stereo track. Finally, there are English subtitles on all episodes, bonus features and deleted scenes.

Having sat through many a Region 2 Battlestar Galactica that offered nothing more than a Playback trailer, its good to see that Universal UK has made some effort to catch up with the DVD releases from their colleagues in the US. Well, we still get the Playback trailer but alongside the individual episodes, there are Deleted Scenes for almost all those included in this set. A Disquiet Follows my Soul and Islanded in a Stream of Stars are the exceptions. These last from a few minutes to just short of ten and while very little is revealed in them that is not included in the broadcast versions of the episodes, they flesh out certain scenes cut short for television.

We also get the Podcast Commentaries on this release, albeit not for every episode in the season. Disc 1 does well for commentaries, with Ronald D Moore having recorded one for all four episodes on the disc (and who is intermittently joined by Mrs Ron for A Disquiet Follows my Soul) but disc 2 only gets one for No Exit while the three-part season finale gets none. It's no shame that Moore is on his own for these tracks as few could keep up with the series producer. Moore is often honest as regards his show, calling out those scenes that let it down and explaining those that might need a second or third watch. He backfills on the plotting and, showing a true grasp of Battlestar Galactica, reveals how scenes in this series reference those of earlier seasons. Most of all, though, these commentaries are both interesting and entertaining with Moore revealing that he still has a fan's eye for what makes Battlestar Galactica so good. Granted, he does tend to rush through his commentaries but listen carefully, or listen a second time, and even minor incidents, which would probably be lost were it not for these tracks, are revealed.

Having finished with those extras specific to each episode, the fourth disc in the set contains bonus material that covers the entire series. This begins with a Sneak Peek at Caprica (1m32s), the new series from Moore and the Battlestar Galactica production team. This is followed by David Eick's Video Blogs, which are a series of short features that reveal the making of this final series from those on the inside. These episodes, all of which last about four minutes or thereabouts, take in the writing of the show, Ronald D Moore's directing debut on the show, how Richard Hatch found parity and symmetry in his making twenty-two episodes of both the original series and the remake and everyone's favourite Battlestar Galactica moment. The Evolution of a Cue () sees composer Bear McCreary talk about the use of music in the film while an Unrated Version of A Disquiet Follows My Soul (50m54s) is included, which runs slightly longer more than the broadcast version, though not by very much. For anyone who has made it this far and still has questions, which will probably be most of the audience, What the Frak is Going on with Battlestar Galactica (8m17s) provides a very quick recap of the entire series. Finally, there is a trailer for Anvil (2m04s).

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