Battlestar Galactica Revisited: 2.17 The Captain's Hand
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 our look back at season two with The Captain's Hand...
Battlestar Galactica never quite knew what to do with the Battlestar Pegasus after the death of Admiral Cain. There is never an attempt to integrate new colonial officers into the main or recurring cast. The closest the show came was Graham Beckel's Commander Jack Fisk, the conflicted first officer to Cain, who quickly came across as tortured by the actions of his superior officer. However, any potential is soon squandered with his sudden corruption and murder in the nadir of season two, Black Market.
With no other officers to call upon, John Heard makes his one and only appearance as Commander Barry Garner, only to be disposed of by the end of The Captain's Hand. Interestingly, the Pegasus will fade largely into the background before ultimately being disposed of early in season three. This is a show about Galactica after all and despite the Pegasus being a superior vessel, the episodes following Resurrection Ship Part 2 didn't show Adama transferring his command to that ship. It will also be second place, no matter how powerful it actually is.
The Captain's Hand is the only real episode to deal with what happens to the Pegasus after the death of Cain. A 'previously on Battlestar Galactica' airs a clip where Admiral Adama decides to promote chief engineer Garner, despite that clip not actually appearing in previous episodes. Certainly an appearance by Garner in the previous three episodes would have helped the narrative of this story, rather than making him a footnote. It's hard to feel for his heroic sacrifice when all we've had is a handful of scenes showing him being hopelessly out of his death, ignoring the admiral's orders and being aggressive to Starbuck. At least Fisk's murder resonated a little given his role in the Pegasus trilogy.
This late season episode sees Lee 'Apollo' Adama promoted to Major and first officer onboard the Pegasus, just as two of the ship's raptors vanish in search of a fake distress signal. Lee sits awkwardly in the command structure, a feeling that will increase in subsequent episodes. He's a little too nice and too at ease being a fighter to really command others, making his eventual promotion again to commander of the Pegasus somewhat ironic.
At least he is better than Garner. Heard makes a strong impression in the role, but it is clear the commander is best suited for his previous role as chief engineer than making life and death decisions. His hostility towards Starbuck feels forced; yes she can be abrasive and isn't afraid to stand up to her superiors, but we haven't seen anything of Garner to endear the audience towards his position. Garner's desperation to be right is ultimately undoing, refusing to listen to Starbucks's suggestion that the distress signal is a trap and then ultimately refusing direct orders in his attempts to do what he believes is the right thing.
The Cylon trap itself is an intense experience, the Pegasus discovering the dead crew of the two missing raptors before being attacked by three base stars. The chaos of the ensuing battle, as Starbuck leads the raptors against the Cylon raiders while nuclear missiles hit the Pegasus, makes for a spectacular sequence. Garner abandoning his post, leaving Lee in charge, feels true to what we know about the character, ultimately saving the ship at the cost of his own life; it just would have had more impact if we had got to know Garner longer. The desperation as Lee takes command is palatable, as he slowly but surely channels his father and helps get the Pegasus to safety. The sequence is as thrilling as the attack on the Resurrection Ship earlier that season.
The sub plot involving in the pregnant young Geminon woman really taps into the moral and social dilemmas that Battlestar Galactica has done so well. As a fiercer defender of women's rights, Laura Roslin takes a dangerous path as she comes to the realisation that to ensure the continuation of humanity, she has to make abortion illegal. The right to abortion is a topic that continue to resonates to this very day, another reason why Battlestar Galactica feels timeless. In the trappings of a post-apocalyptic event like the Cylon attack on the twelve colonies, the preservation of all life is essential, and the inner struggle of Roslin is how she balances that survival while maintaining the very human rights the survivors live for.
Baltar's manipulation of Roslin cuts deep. After giving her the grim prognosis that the human race is at risk of dying out, fuelling her controversial decision to ban abortions, his announcement that he opposes her - and that he will run against her - is as shocking as it is ruthless. Six applauding Baltar after a stunned Roslin leaves the news conference is the culmination of a villainous masterstroke that will have huge consequences for everyone involved in the episodes ahead.
While poor Billy gets a brief mention from Roslin this episode - Anastasia Dualla has already moved forward in her relationship with Lee - his replacement makes her debut this week. Rekha Sharma makes an instant impression as Roslin's new political advisor Tory Foster, a character that will have an important role to play in the rest of the series.
The Captain's Hand is an episode that shakes up the status quo, with Lee now in command of the Pegasus and Roslin on the backfoot to Baltar's political ambitions. It's a shame that the lack of development of new Pegasus characters makes Garner's act over the episode far less impactful, but it is a solid late season episode both in character development and the action stakes. There was been something of a drop in momentum after the cataclysmic Pegasus mid-season trilogy, but with The Captain's Hand the race is back on to one hell of a season finale...