Battlestar Galactica Revisited: 2.02 Valley of Darkness
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. We continue into season two with Valley of Darkness
After the relative episodic nature of season one, the second weaves a much more long-form narrative; the chaos of the season one finale Kobol's Last Gleaming and season two opener Scattered, continues into one of the show's finest episodes yet, Valley of Darkness. And there is no sign of the dangling plot threads being wrapped up either. Despite all the drama unfolding in this episode, nothing has really changed by the end; Starbuck is still on Caprica with Helo, the Raptor crew are still stranded on Kobol, Roslin is still under arrest, Adama is still in charge and Tigh is hopelessly out of his depth.
The Cylon boarding party teased at the end of Scattered creates a significant threat to the crew of Galactica as the corridors of the ship turn into a bloodbath. It's great to finally see the robots unleashed, slashing with their knife-like hands and hunting down the crew like animals. Roslin, Billy and Dualla are thrown into the mix, roaming the corridors while Apollo leads a daring raid against an enemy that is trying to flush out the crew and turn the ship's weapons on the fleet.
It all makes for some tense, claustrophobic drama and director Michael Rymer makes the most out of the standard set; low lightning and narrow shots - the sounds of gunfire and screams of dying men around the corner makes what is largely a bottle episode into a thrilling action set piece. The final stand off is pretty spectacular too, with Apollo launching the explosive at the Cylon as it leaps over him. There's even some moments of dry comedy to lift the tension - Dualla pointing out the gun in Billy's trousers does not have the safety catch on makes for an awkward, funny moment.
The return of the Cylon virus, infecting the ship and cutting power also ramps up the tension. There is a sense that the crew are under attack from all angles, an unseen enemy out to kill them. Even amid the fleet, Galactica is stranded; Doc Cottle still remains off-ship, unable to help Adama. Tigh remains a desperate figure, trying to stay calm against overwhelming odds. Apollo calling him out as not to fit to serve the uniform is as unfortunate as it is right.
Elsewhere in the episode, the action and tension is broken up by some gentler character beats. The frustration and loss Tyrol and Callie feel as they arrive too late to save the injured crewman makes the death of Tarn last episode all the more tragic. The sense of desperation as the crew remains stranded in hostile territory remains palatable throughout the episode. The Cylons are never seen, but the threat is always there.
Gaius gets a little more to do this week, experiencing the vision Adama coming to his rescue and then drowning the half-human, half-Cylon child he is pledged to protect. It's a disturbing sequence, making the human commander an even greater monster in Gaius's eyes than the Cylons. Gaius Baltar really has thrown his lot in with the enemy at this point.
On Caprica, we get a glimpse at Starbuck's life as she takes Helo to her old apartment. Keen-eyed viewers will notice the paining on the wall which has huge significance for her in season three. Seeing her life of art and music - inherited from her father - is an interesting contrast to the cigar-smoking, battle-hardened pilot she portrays herself to the world. Katee Sackhoff delivers a mesmerising speech to Helo about how everyone wants to get back what they lost and all she wants to do is fight. She is a person perfectly suited for the situation humanity has found itself in. The use of Phillip Glass's Metamorphosis really elevates the episode - both in Starbuck's confession to Helo and the episode's climax. There are moments throughout Battlestar Galactica when the music captures the mood perfectly and this is one of those examples.
Valley of Darkness has a terrific blend of character exploration and tense, action-packed tension, continuing on from the events of Scattered, with little resolution other than the defeat of the Cylon boarding party. It may not be as well remembered as much as bigger 'event' episodes, but there is plenty to enjoy here. Season two is firing on all cylinders at this point.