Battlestar Galactica Revisited: 1.10 The Hand of God
Ronald D Moore's re imagining of the 1970's sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica set a gold standard, both for sci-fi and TV reboots. The darker, grittier re imagining, that saw a fleet of human ships fleeing the dreaded Cylons in search of Earth, won a whole host of awards and critical acclaims over its seven-year run. With the series looking to go through another quasi-reboot under show-runner Michael Lesslie, we look back at the first reboot that defined the early days of twenty-first century television. This time, Adama takes the fight to the Cylons in late season one episode The Hand of God.
The tenth episode of Battlestar Galactica's first season raises the stakes; with fuel supplies almost spent and tensions running high, the discovery of unrefined fuel on a Cylon base sees Commander Adam take the fight to the enemy in a high-stakes gamble to save the fleet. Hand of God almost feels like a season finale, packed with a big action set piece and some intriguing revelations. As a loose remake of the original series finale of the same name, it also feels like the point when the remake wraps up being a remake and moves onto a new story beyond.
The phrase 'all this has happened before and all this will happen again' is significant here, with the discovery that ancient scrolls prophesies the events taking place in this episode, from the serpents ten and two, to Roslin the dying leader, who will not live to see her people find their new home. On retrospect there are also moments in The Hand of God that will have huge significance later on; Cylon Sharon's sudden sickness on occupied Caprica sets up a massive narrative thread running through the rest of the series.
Of course, The Hand of God isn't a season finale, but it is the most thrilling episode since season opener 33. There have been skirmishes with the enemy since then, but only fleetingly; if the fleet was under attack every episode, there would be no chance of humanity surviving this long. It makes the showdown this episode all the more dramatic. Galactica and the fleet have survived because they have been out of reach of the enemy. Taking on a heavily armed base to get the fuel supplies they so critically need, shows just how desperate and high stakes the ensuing battle is.
It's a strong episode for Adama, Apollo and Starbuck as they show off their military skills and training. Starbuck's out the box thinking allows for plenty of surprises, while Apollo proves himself as much a crack shot pilot as Starbuck, in one particularly daring sequence as he flies into the heart of the Cylon base during the climax of the episode. There's some great conflict between Apollo and Tigh, the strengthening of the bond between Apollo and his father and more unspoken tension between Adama and Roslin. She understands the need for the mission, but that the distrust is still bubbling under the surface. The added tension of her own Kamala extract-induced hallucinations only add to the stakes of the episode.
After a strong build up, the attack on the Cylon base doesn't disappoint. It doesn't come without cost and as pilots start dyingand the Cylon raiders turn their attention to Galactica, there really is a sense that the hopes of defeating the enemy and getting the fuel they so desperately need is all going to come to nothing. Which is when The Hand of God plays its biggest hand, as Starbuck's out the box thinking reveals the secret second wave of Vipers, lead by Apollo. It's a terrific moment. Of course, even when Apollo does a Starbuck and flies into the heart of the base, there is the underlying tension that the target is fake - Baltar's guess about the one weakness in the Cylon base is another wild card that could see everything come crashing down. And yet - as the title suggests - was there any doubt? The ambiguous nature of Six and the Cylon plan makes everything unpredictable.
The Hand of God ends with the win the fleet so desperately needs. But with three more episodes to come, the happy ending is just the calm before the storm. It is a testament to how strong the first season of Battlestar Galactica is, that it can knock it out the park with the episode like this and still leave plenty back for the finale.