Battlestar Galactica Revisited: 2.19 Lay Down Your Burdens Part 1
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 head towards the end of season two with the first of the closing two-part story Lay Down Your Burdens...
Like previous two-parters Kobol's Last Gleaming and Home before it, the first half of season two finale Lay Down Your Burdens Part 1 is very much a slow burn set up for much bigger things to come in the second half. The pieces are carefully laid out. The introduction of Dean Stockwell as Brother Cavil, Starbuck leading a fleet of raptors to rescue those stranded on Caprica, the presidential elections and the discovery of a habitable planet protected by a strange nebula.
There's a recurring narrative thread running between this finale and season one, with a dazzling pre-titles sequence that flits between multiple characters and setting the stage for events to come. Chief Tyrol's struggles are the most harrowing, the trauma of everything that happened with Sharon, Pegasus and the pressure of the job finally breaking him. It feels a little sudden perhaps, to go from functioning to broken, but then mental health issues often work that way, with those suffering hiding it from others until they can no longer cope. The issue perhaps is in how it is seemingly resolved by the end of the episode, which does more to introduce Stockwell's mysterious new character. The violent attack on Callie is brutal, made more awkward by the relationship between her and the chief by the season's end. As for the fear that he might be a Cylon? It seems a cruel joke given what happens towards the end of the show's run.
Starbuck is given a lot of purpose here, commanding the rescue fleet. For the moment, her insecurities and insubordination are a thing of the past and its great to see her in command this way. The return to Caprica is a long time coming and her reunion with Anders is a great moment, even if it all quickly turns to chaos as the Cylons attack. Is the ground assault on Caprica an effective cliff-hanger for the finale? Maybe. There is a sense that we're only part way through an extended episode, given how suddenly the credits start to roll.
Racetrack's error, going off course the moment the rescue fleet leaves Galactica, leads to the biggest surprise of the finale, a planet that can sustain life. After the nine months of running, and the idea of a nebula to scramble sensors and protect them from the Cylons, the planet that will become New Caprica becomes a tangible hope for the surviving remnants of humanity, one that Baltar quickly uses to his advantage.
With Roslin still soaring ahead in the polls, the idea that she could be defeated by Baltar goes from unthinkable to likely as the episode progresses. A sense of dread permeates the episode, that will only increase in the finale. As with the decsion to illegalise abortion in The Captain's Hand, Baltar pits himself in opposition to Rolsin, not because he believes it is right but because he knows it will win him votes. He doesn't want to lead. He doesn't want to make hard decisions. He just wants power. There's an unsettling theme around elections and propaganda here that feels close to Trump, Brexit and other very real life events that happened in the wake of Battlestar Galactica, and will only increase as the election comes to a head in the finale.
Lay Down Your Burdens Part 1 is something of a slow burn; there are no big stand out moments, but it does an excellent job of setting up the game changing season two finale.