And so finally, the Sci-Fi Channel quits playing ceaseless, self-obsessed ratings games with their most ardent viewers and delivers the second half of Battlestar Galactica's final season, a year since it was actually made. The wait has been absolutely perilous: between the end of the third season and the start of part one of the fourth, there was an agonising ten month gap and then, ten episodes in, the bastards cut our viewing enjoyment short for another ten months. The wait has been so great that, arguably, the weight of expectation on these final instalments is too much to bear. Can the production staff deliver the goods? Will they answer all the outstanding questions they've left dangling for the past four years? Will we get a regrettable happy ever after or a more satisfying, and realistic, emotional and physical bloodbath? From the trajectory that the narrative begins to take in 'Sometimes A Great Notion', it looks like the latter is far likelier. No question about it folks, this is damn tough viewing. If you like your characters to be one dimensional black and white ciphers, turn away now. If you want to see everyone picking up the pieces, holding hands and 'getting on', I really don't think the remainder of this season is going to be for you. You see, things have gone completely and utterly **** up. The Universe is fracked. There's no hope. We're all going to Hell in a hand basket and the best we can do to blot out the pain is give in to the illnesses already ravaging us (Roslin), drink ourselves into oblivion (Adama) or shoot ourselves in the head and have done with it (Dee). Jesus Christ, this is depressing stuff. The rock that the Galactica crew's hopes have been pinned on since she first uttered the word 'Earth' in the pilot is now burning the prophecies that formed the backbone of her beliefs and ain't taking anyone's calls. When your President's given up the ghost, you know you're in trouble. Kudos to Mary McDonnell for giving a superb performance throughout: she's particularly excellent when she confronts the Galactica crew (and the fleet) immediately upon her return from the nuked Earth. All it takes is a stuttered sigh and a whispered 'get me out of here' and the emotional effect is magnified twentyfold. Then there's the other major authority figure, the Old Man, who goes completely off the rails after one of his crew tops herself and has an alcohol-fuelled 'heart to heart' with Sol, which ends with him getting the XO to point a gun to his head, goading him on to pulling the trigger. Not easy stuff to watch but it's effortlessly brilliant all the same. You feel every nuance of these characters' pain and that's no small feat. The successful combination of superb dialogue and out-of-this-world performance really cannot be understated: someone give Bradley Thompson, David Weddle, Edward James Almos and Michael Hogan all the awards the world can muster. Now. And spare a thought for Kandyse McClure who manages to pull the wool over the eyes of every single one of us in depicting Dee's final moments. Granted, this is as much to do with the scripting as anything else but she's magnificent anyway. The fateful moment where she pulls the trigger is among the best, and most shocking, in the show's history. I'm still not sure I've quite recovered.
Some have accused 'Sometimes A Great Notion' of being slow to start; I couldn't disagree more. The narrative movement certainly isn't fast paced but that's hardly the point. This episode is about the repercussions of having all of your hopes and beliefs completely and utterly obliterated in an instant. Time is therefore needed to take stock of the situation (the opening ten minutes), work through the pain (the next thirty) and come to some form of conclusion (last five). The considered narratalogical structure, to this writer, is exactly what is needed. And in any case, amongst all of the emotional trauma, we discover that the 13th tribe were all Cylons (didn't see that one coming), that the final five lived on Earth in its last days, that Starbuck's Viper is on Earth with Starbuck's body in it (how is THAT one possible?) and, possibly, the identity of the final Cylon. If it is Tigh's ex-wife, I'm happy. It could be a red herring, of course, but time will tell. So yeah, a pretty darn packed hour, all things considered. And when you combine these revelations with the unquestionable strength of the character-led material, you have an absolute corker of an episode. As if any further evidence were needed that Battlestar Galactica is the best science fiction show on TV, here it is in one bitter, twisted, difficult package. Watch and weep.