Avert your eyes if you haven’t seen it yet!
Reading over some of the fan sites, especially the official forum, it’s amazing to see the stark division of opinion on the episode, with about half loving it and half really, really hating it. There’s also a lot of discussion of the motivation for making such a radical move, with some pointing to the falling ratings of the second season episodes.
I grant that some of the second season was weaker than the first season. Even episodes that I thought were dealing with dramatically and situationally important issues (such as the growth of a black market) were developed in a weak fashion, or in a way that smacked a little too much of normal episodic television where characters have major dramatic crises that then seem to disappear in later episodes, or are developed inconsistently in various ways. That goes also for some of the ways that the second season tried to complicate the overall dramatic situation. Rather than a progressively greater reveal of the “Cylon plan”, we got some contradictory information that begins to suggest that the writers have no idea what the “Cylon plan” actually is, always a bad sign on a show that depends on suggesting deep designs underneath the apparent exterior of events. Or, to mention the black market again, we got shows that suggested one thing about the evolving situation of the fleet (scarcity growing, desperation growing) that was contradicted by the casualness with which the central characters consumed various luxuries. It would be perfectly consistent with the show’s mood to suggest that the military and political leadership are elites and behaving as such, but there wasn’t always a consistent tone as far as that went.
But I thought the season finale was spectacular, both for its daring and for showing again some pretty deep thinking about the dramatic setting and the dramatic situation of the characters. Some of the fans are screaming that Admiral Adama wouldn’t have allowed Baltar’s election, or wouldn’t have allowed the deterioration of the Battlestars in orbit around New Caprica. I think that makes perfect sense, because that’s the lesson that this character learned in earlier episodes (that there are limits to his abilities to make events come out the way he wants them, and that the human race has to collectively earn its own salvation or future).
Now as for how they’re going to get out of this situation, and where it’s going to go next, I have a couple of speculations. I’d love to see the writers follow up on the episode just before the 2-part finale which introduced a division of opinion within the Cylon culture and tie that to a greater reveal of the “Cylon plan”. My thought has always been that what the humans of the 12 Colonies might discover is that they’re not human at all, but simply an older generation of synthetics created by the “Gods of Kobol”, that the Gods of Kobol are the original synthetics created by the original human race, and that the original human race are the folks who now live on Earth. This would really complicate the Frankenstein narrative that the show is always poised on the edge of by unsettling anyone’s claim to “original” humanity. It would be more about everyone’s contentious claims to self-determination.
But even if this intuition or suggestion is way off-base, I can see one major way for the writers to resolve the situation on New Caprica within 3-5 episodes, which is what they’ve promised, without forcing the Adamas to come up with some improbable kind of military miracle. Namely, the outbreak of a Cylon civil war. What if the Cylons who’ve occupied New Caprica are the enemies of the “war heroes” faction that wants peace with humanity, and whose occupation of New Caprica pushes the debate within Cylon society past the breaking point? Then we could see a really interesting scenario where a joint Cylon-Battlestar fleet saves the New Capricans but where they have to flee from a stronger majority force of Cylons who have won out at home. Then you could have all sorts of layers of danger and treachery in the new fleet–Cylons infiltrating Cylons infiltrating humans infiltrating Cylons. The need to know when to trust and when to betray, when to fight and when to negotiate. Both sides withholding vital information from one another. Baltar could actually be over on the Cylon fleet without becoming a sort of Calicos-style villain sitting up in a chair plotting humanity’s destruction. And so on.
Anyway, for my money, it was a really gutsy, fascinating, unexpected episode. I’m not quite clear on why the people who hate the episode with a passion like the show: I suspect what they’re looking for in the program is a grittier “Space Above and Beyond”, which just seems to sell the program’s potential short.