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Throwback Thursday - Battlestar Galactica - 33

Throwback Thursday is a weekly article in which we look back at our favorite TV episodes from the past.

Starting Battlestar Galactica again after all these years – since I first watched the show even coming late to it in 2014 feels something of a homecoming – it’s the first show that I watched on Netflix that wasn’t an original back when it was on Netflix in the UK, now streaming on Peacock through Now/Sky – and it drew me in and kept me there right from the start. This was after of course – after I watched 33 on a re-run on UK television channel hopping and coming across a pilot episode that began with a “previously on” – I only found out during the ad breaks that there was a mini-series prior; but that didn’t matter, by then I was hooked – drawn in and couldn’t tear my eyes away from it. 33 may be the quickest a show has ever straight-up grabbed my attention.

Introducing us to the last remnants of humanity, Battlestar Galactica picks up from where we left off by focusing on a 33 minute rotational cycle that the crew and everyone on board have been battling for 5 days. Every 33 minutes the Cylons jump and find them no matter where they go – it turns out that they have spies on the Olympic Carrier that are tracking them – but the constant unrelenting pressure is getting to the crew. Tension between crewmembers is threatening to boil over at the slightest of things; hotshot pilot Kara Thrace – Starbuck – tells Lee Adama – the Admiral’s son – that he should no longer be treating his fellow pilots as friends; but telling them what to do – so that when Kara refuses to take meds, she should be ordered into taking them anyway. The show manages to keep the tension high whilst introducing – or re-introducing these small character moments that help make the ensemble relatable as we see them crack under pressure. It’s a tactic that shows like Succession have employed since – introduce us by showing the characters on the brink of destruction and watching them how they thrive in a crisis; and it tells you a lot about them. For the last remnants of humanity, the crisis is a little bit different than the Roys but the stakes are still there. When you look into Kara, Tyrol or Cally’s eyes you know that they’ve gone 130 straight hours without sleep – and it shows. Only Sharon seems to be handling it better than everyone else: Kara jokes that she’s a Cylon – and if there was ever a bit of harmless foreshadowing there – that soon becomes apparent later on.

Laura Roslin was thrust into power in the wake of being a designated survivor – the highest ranking government official left. Mary McDonnell is just such a joy to watch over the course of this series – and she makes the hard choices from the get go even when Baltar doesn’t think she will – to destroy the Olympic Carrier. Much of the moral dilemma is focused on that ship – 1,000+ souls on board – do they let them arrive when one Doctor on board claims he has knowledge of a traitor? Or do they blow them up when there are nukes on board – and oh – the Cylons have just appeared out of nowhere again seconds after the Carrier arrived? Battlestar establishes itself from the get go as a show that isn’t afraid to make the hard choices; and it watches us watch these characters react to them. Religion vs. science is also a hotly contested debate that runs not just through this pilot but throughout the series - presented in its simplist form as a discussion between Baltar and Six, acting as observers at the heart of it all.

The makeshift memorials turn a simple scene into a poignant one – reflections of the aftermath of the chaos and how it has shaped these characters. They’ve lost everything that they know – their whole worlds – and can’t return to them. They’re in space knowing that they’re alone – outnumbered and if they fail – if they make one mistake – then that’s it for humanity. Battlestar humanises these characters by having them make those mistakes and even when Adama makes it clear: “we make mistakes, people die. There aren’t many of us left” - the show is presented in a sombre, serious but not deathly way – sparing time for some gallows humour.

Much of Gaius Baltar’s duplicity is discovered from the get go and it tells you – just as it does tell you about everyone else – who he is as a character. A cockroach self-preservationist; whose desire to survive was enhanced by Six’s manipulations and led to humanity’s destruction – his reaction is not one of joy that they might work out a way that can stop the Cylons but a way to clear his name – even if that means killing Dr. Amarak and everyone on board the Olympic Carrier. It’s already turned up late to the rest of the fleet on the latest jump – pointed out by Dualla, who can’t account for it – and there’s a small but short-lived show of relief when 1,345 people show up having escaped the Cylons. But questions are clear: why did the Cylons let them go? How could a civilian ship have pulled it off?

It's amazing watching Battlestar Galactica looking back on it – knowing what happens for the second time, knowing where it goes. There are hints – it’s hard not to work out that it’s clear that Sharon is a Cylon from the get go, trying to cover it by shooting another Six especially after the revelation that Cylons can look like humans now – the opening credits and their memorable theme tune tell you instantly that the Cylons have a plan – and it probably involves Helo, a fan-favourite character who was originally supposed to be killed off early on. But it’s also so good to look back and see that every actor in this show has had such good careers since – every name feels recognisable, it’s a whole wealth of familiar faces that showcases the series’ impact. This cast is just perfect here – and they all fit into their roles like they were born to play them. If Esmail’s series does end up recasting – it’ll be a tall order for anyone to fill these characters’ shoes – not that Battlestar hasn’t done it once already.

Despite the darkness of it all – 33 ends on a glimmer of hope much like the mini-series – whilst that was a general mission statement – they’re going to find Earth – this feels like a reminder of what they’re all fighting for. Watching Mary McDonnell’s reaction at the end is a joy – and it feels completely earned when the headcount is increased – if only by one.

With Sam Esmail’s hotly-anticipated series in the works now feels like the perfect time to go back to Battlestar and revisit just what made it great. Ronald D. Moore may be making waves with For All Mankind, but this is – and always will be probably; my favourite show of his. It’s going to be a joy to revisit this over the coming months and I’m looking forward to every minute.

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