RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Battlestar Galactica: “The Hand of God” (Story 17, Series Finale)

Republibot 3.0
Republibot 3.0's picture

I’m tired. I’m a worn out kind of tired. I’m not sure why. The rest of these Galactica reviews were done months ago, but the wind went out of my sails after “Experiment in Terra.” That was a good enough episode, so we can’t blame it on that. “Take the Celestra” should have been a good episode, but coming on the big conclusion to the ’Terra’ arc, it felt like the train had lost an axle, you know? And here we are with the surprisingly glum, slow, and lifeless season/series finale.

BEHIND THE SCENES

As we’ve discussed at length elsewhere, and as has been common knowledge since Fantastic Films first ran their expose in 1981, Battlestar Galactica was born to die. In the wake of Star Wars, it was intended as a loss leader, a high profile spectacle to draw people ABC, and then quickly die once viewers had grown attached to ABC’s preferred staple of cheap sitcoms like “Happy Days” and “Mork and Mindy.” Unfortunately, it ended up being a success, and a far more successful success than the network could afford at about a million dollars to the hour (That’s about $3.5 million in today’s money). Rather than cancel it outright, the network decided to just gerrymander the show all around the schedule - to this day it remains the third-most screwed-with show, schedule-wise, in TV history - knowing that would kill the ratings, and justify cancellation.

How much of this series creator/producer Glen Larsen was aware of is unclear, but he knew that that budget was a primary concern for the network, and he seemed to think that if he could bring that down, he could probably wrangle a second year. The first order of business was to cut down the sprawling cast - kill off Wilker and Salik, and have Boomer and Cassie take over their roles, get rid of Baltar, get rid of Boxey, make it more of a straight-ahead space war show with less supernatural hoo-hah, bring back the Cylons, etc. The show was bleeding ratings by this point, and he put together a pitch, basically, for how the second season would differ from the first, and presented it to the network. The show was bleeding ratings by this point, and it wasn’t uncommon to go two or three weeks without a new episode. Then, he filmed “The Hand of God,” which, in a lot of ways, is a second pilot for the series.

Of course he never had a shot. ABC wanted the show dead. They announced the series had been cancelled prior to the airing of “Take the Celestra,” and that was that.

PLAY BY PLAY

Starbuck, Apollo, Cassie, and Sheba make their way through the VERY NOISY corridors of the engineering section of the Galactica, and arrive at a glass bubble above the engines. Apollo explains that it’s a “Celestial Globe,” used by the ships’ navigators half a millennium ago, when the ship was new, in order to confirm computer information. There used to be a lot of these things, but over time, they’ve been removed, replaced, or simply blown up. This is the last one, and Apollo doubts anyone’s been there in a century, or remembers it apart from him.

While in there, they receive a signal of the Apollo II lunar landing. They go and wake Boomer up, and he parades around in his underwear for a bit to give the ladies a little beefcake. Then they all go to Dr. Wilker’s lab to try and clean up the signal. He can’t do much with it, but he says it could either be really ancient and from far away, or it could be, you know, really new and nearby. Well, thanks for nothing, Boomer. They go talk to Adama on the bridge, and he agrees they should go check it out. (Why the heck is everyone on the bridge? Tigh? Adama? Omega? I thought this was supposed to be late at night?)

Sheba, Starbuck, and Apollo do recon, in a solar system en rout, and find a Cylon base ship, first one we’ve seen in five or six episodes. They beat a hasty retreat before they’re noticed, and Adama reasons the signal was simply a lure for a trap. Since the Cylons don’t know they’re there, Adama decides to attack them by surprise. Apollo comes up with a crazy plan to sneak aboard the Base Ship using Baltar’s Cylon fighter, and disable their scanners from within. Adama makes a deal with Baltar for information: They’ll maroon the traitor on a habitable world, with food, supplies, and a short-range radio in exchange for info. He agrees, and is uncharacteristically specific and helpful. “If they die, I die too,” he says. Boomer cobbles together an ID transmitter for Starbuck and Apollo, which will make their Raider appear red on colonial scanners. This way they won’t get blown up by their own forces.

After a long, tedious, and unevenly acted series of scenes in which the girls confess their feelings to Starbuck and Apollo, they launch the mission, and we’re treated to a really cool never-before-seen special effect of a squadron of Raiders landing on a base ship. Our boys sneak out, make their way to the control room with little incident, plant bombs, blow it up, and escape. Alas, in the process, they drop the dealie Boomer gave them, so they’re screwed. Just the same, they fly away just as the Galactica starts wailing on the Base ship. It blows up.

The surviving Raiders make suicide attacks on the Galactica, but are shot down. Baltar’s old ship is in danger of getting shot down as well, but Starbuck flies erratically enough that everyone knows its him, and they land without incident. Afterwards, back in the Celestial Dome, Apollo and Starbuck grouse over the destruction of Dr. Wilker’s lab, and the loss of the signal they’d taped earlier. They talk a bit, then leave, just as - unseen - we see the Lunar Module Eagle land on the earth’s moon.

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

Directed by Donald Belisario, this is one glum, dark, gloomy, slow episode. The tone is way off, the lighting is awful, and the shot composition is generally poor. There’s a half-hearted attempt to change the uniforms, too, with the guys running around with their shirts untucked for a few scenes. The whole show feels different. For all the action, there’s no swashbucking, no joie de vivre, no excitement, it’s all a death march. Ok, fine, so it’s a walk to the gallows: there’s a lot of drama in that, they should get some mileage from it, right? But no: There’s no drama here, either.

Oh, sure, there’s a lot of talk, talk, talk about feelings and love in a sequence that freakin’ goes on forever - this is a very talky episode - but there’s nothing more intense than a daytime soap, nothing to get worked up over.

Acting is a little uneven here and there, but generally above average. Adama’s “I’m tired of running” scene with Tigh plays out contrived and weak, and Cassie’s “Yelling at Starbuck because he takes too many risks” is probably her worst scene in the entire run of the series (She’s generally pretty good), but it gets a great comeback from Starbuck (“I just don’t see any point in dwelling on things that could go wrong. It’s an awful way to live.”). Sheeba’s sequence with Apollo where she confesses her love for him and her concern over his continually taking suicide missions, is unquestionably the best darn thing she ever did in the run of this series, and while she’s not a great actress by any stretch, actually giving her something human to do here really paid off. Adama has a great wordless scene with Baltar, where he contemplates shaking the devil’s hand for a long time before he actually does it, and you know what’s going on behind his eyes: “Can I do this, and still keep my soul?” It’s a nice reversal of their first scene together on Kobol, when Adama tried to strangle the guy. Apollo seems a bit smarter and more intense in this ep. Though they’re not really given much to do, Jolly and Boomer both seem actively nervous while waiting for the big fight in the end.

Most of the also-rans are absent in this episode. Boxey, Athena, Drs Wilker and Salik, and all the other pilots, excepting Jolly, are absent. Obviously this was intended to show how the series could have functioned with a smaller cast. Had it been renewed, Athena, Salik, Wilker, Sheba, and all the other also-rans would have been killed off in the second season opener (“The Return of the Pegasus”). Athena (Recast) would take Tigh’s job, Boomer would take Wilker’s job as scientist, Cassie would take Salik’s job as doctor, and Boxey would be shipped off to the Boarding School Barge. None of this makes much sense, but you can see thinks snaking in that direction here. I mean, we’ve specifically showed that Boomer doesn’t understand computers in previous episodes. (Though to be fair, he says all he can do here is clean up the audio on the signal, he’ll need Wilker and his computers to fix the video)

Despite all the hoo-hah about cutting costs - evidently mostly in the light bulb department, this is a DARK hour - this was a pretty expensive episode: We’ve got one new set, a fairly elaborate miniature, an on-location shoot, and one impressive new special effect. I’m sure they came in over-budget. If ABC was considering saving the show if it could be made cheaply - which I don’t for a minute believe - then it’s obvious that Larsen’s whole “Smaller cast” thing was misguided: the real expense here is the visuals, not the people.

We get a pretty neat miniature of the hangar bay interiors of a Base Ship. This looks a lot like the inside of the Starbase from Star Trek III actually, in general layout. We learn a lot about Base Ships in this ep, too: All decks are connected by a central core. The control room is at the bottom (Despite the fact that that’s where the engines are, and despite the fact that you can clearly see the Imperious Leader’s throne room on the top of the model). Fighters land in bays around the core of the ship, between the upper and lower saucers, and launch from the saucers themselves. Base Ships carry 300 fighters, 100 anti-aircraft lasers, and two “Megapulsars.”

The Galactica has 150 vipers in this episode, though 3 get blown up in the battle. That means they got somewhere near 80 or 90 from the Pegasus, unless, of course, they have the capability of building new ones. Man oh man, after all that buildup, yet another canned stock-footage battle is disappointing.

Where’s Bojay and Greenbean? Both got a name check in the previous episode, but they ain’t here. We do, however, get some stock footage of the little trolleys the pilots ride to the hangar bays, unseen for half a season.

The Galactica is really old, and Apollo implies it’s been in his family all that time. Starbuck mentions “Sublight” in connection with the time the Galactica was built. Were ships vastly slower-than-light in the first half of the war? That might explain the familial descent of command. If a mission takes a hundred years, the crew that comes back won’t be the one that left. A caste/nobility system might be warranted.

The whole “Recon” sequence - which is impressive - was actually filmed for “War of the Gods, Part 1,” but that episode was running way long, so they cut it. It ended up here. There was some debate amongst my friends in the late 70s/early 80s about the abrupt ending of the series here. A lot of my friends believed the series ended here because the solar system the battle took place in was our own, and that they discovered us in July of ‘69. Not true: they make it clear that the solar system has only five planets, none habitable.

Everyone seems to have forgotten the Ship of Lights’ directions to earth.

Man, Baltar’s got an outrageously bad toupee here. It’s like they’re not even trying to hid it.

The Base Ship miniature used for the briefing is the same one used for the special effects shots.

Baltar’s fighter is really big on the inside. Are they all like this, or was his customized for carrying the brass?

Continuity porn: Direct reference is made to Serina’s death, Starbuck’s captivity on a base ship, Cain’s attack on three base ships, and - surprisingly - Apollo’s desire to be an explorer rather than a fighter. This last hasn’t been touched on since the first half hour of the first episode. Wow! Oddly, Sheba says that she and Apollo have been at each other’s throats since they met. Not really true. They didn’t like each other in “The Living Legend,” but they’ve gotten along swimmingly since then.

The “Central Core” they crawl through is Skylab. No, really. It’s a full-size mockup of Skylab at the Johnson Space Flight Center in Houston, Texas.

The engine room being so noisy you need to wear ear protection was a nice touch.

They use military time - “The officers’ club will be open until eighteen hundred” - for the only time ever here. This implies a 24 hour clock, as opposed to the decimal time implied elsewhere in the series.

Starbuck, Apollo, and Boomer do a three-way handshake here that’s pretty cool. Also pretty cool: Both Starbuck and Apollo are each wearing *two* pistols when they board the base ship. At one point, Apollo is covering Starbuck, with two guns drawn, one pointing forward, one pointing aft, and looking nervous. It is, far and away, the coolest Richard Hatch has ever seemed in his entire life. Wow.

Starbuck openly looks up Cassie’s skirt while she’s climbing up a latter, then leers into the camera. That’s unexpectedly smarmy for this show.

The colonies appear to have FTL communications, if not FTL ships (this last remains debatable). They no longer use “Gamma Frequencies,” which would appear to mean simple old radio.

Since this episode aired in April 1979, it follows that the Galactica can not possibly be more than 9 light years and nine light months from earth. They go out of their way to hedge their bets on this, though, *and* they completely ignore this when “Galactica 1980” airs, since that takes place “Thirty years later.”

The title comes from Apollo feeling as though he’s “Riding in the Hand of God” when he’s in the celestial Dome. This episode was more-or-less remade as an episode of the Ronald D. Moore Galactica. My theory on that is that he felt - as of that episode in season 1 - that he was leaving the original show’s storylines behind and going off in his own direction.

COLONIALISMS:

Felgercarb = Crap or, more likely, a ruder word for ‘crap.’
Centon = minute, also an hour
Micron = also a minute

OUTTAKES AND ADDITIONAL SCENES:

Nothing significant. An extra line here and there, and a lot of B-roll footage of scenes we’ve already seen, but from different angles. One exterior shot of the Celestial Dome from the opening, minus the matte effects, clearly cut because the effects were too expensive or time consuming to use.

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE?

No reason not to. Basically, in the end, it feels like an episode of Baa Baa Black Sheep.

NOTES:

And that’s that. It ends not with a bang but with a whimper, and a somewhat muffled one at that. We’ll be back to discuss what we’ve learned.

We will NOT be covering “Galactica: 1980”

Tags: