Battlestar Galactica

Season 4 Episode 5

The Road Less Traveled (1)

Aired Friday 10:00 PM May 02, 2008 on Syfy

Episode Fan Reviews (20)

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  • Tensions mount

    "I shall be telling this with a sigh
    Somewhere ages and ages hence:
    two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference."

    - Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken (1916)

    The threads begin to come together in this, the first part of a two-episode arc. Personal journeys finally start to meld with the broader series arc. Once again we are concerned with individuals - specifically Baltar, Tyrol and Thrace, but their search for identity is now merging with that second greatest driving-force in the human psyche - the need to understand.

    And yes, Tyrol is a Cylon, but that does not make his need to understand any less meaningful than either Baltar's or Kara Thrace's.

    As the first of a two-part arc, this story is a tough one to summarize or dissect. Until the second half has aired, one has no way of knowing on which side the coin will fall. However, there is a clue in the title: the quote from Robert Frost's poem (frequently and incorrectly called "The road less traveled" after this most famous of its lines). On the surface, there is the obvious interpretation, as stated in the final two lines:

    "I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference."

    Which stand as a declaration of the importance of independence and personal freedom: that in making a difficult decision and following it through, then one achieves a greater reward / satisfaction. However, beneath this interpretation lies another, more meaningful declaration, one evident to the poem as a whole, which suggests that once one takes a certain road, there is no turning back; although one might change paths later on, they still cannot change what has happened in the past(1).

    Thus, the poem tells us, choice is very important, and is a thing to be considered very carefully. Certainly, this story works on both levels of interpretation.

    Taking the first, more simplistic interpretation, one can see that Thrace, Tyrol and Baltar are now traveling along roads that are "less traveled" (harder) for a range of individual factors (e.g. Baltar facing further physical persecution; Thrace having to work in the face of an unsupportive crew and driven by an almost insane obsession, etc) - the "reward" for each of them at the end of their journeys is that much greater (Tyrol: vindication of his human identity; Thrace vindication of her single-minded obsession with Earth; Baltar, redemption for his past acts).

    But put this to one side, and one can see the deeper interpretation - than no matter which path one chooses, we can never change (or make up for) what has happened in the past - also has bearing through this episode, and gives potentially greater depth to the unfolding story:

    - While Tyrol's humanity may yet triumph in the face of Tory's malicious whispering and his own self-doubt, he'll never be free of the regrets he has around Cally and Boomer

    - While Baltar may have a new life "of truth" and found a way to publicly wash himself of his sins of the past, he will never achieve true absolution

    - While Kara might ultimately find Earth and lead the Colonials there, she will never fully escape the fact that her life has been pre-ordained from the outset as foretold by Leoben - and by extension, we the audience would do well not to forget the ominous warning given by the "first" hybrid in Razor: that there will be a terrible price to pay for following Thrace's lead.

    This latter interpretation also has resonance for the development of the other players we see in this story:

    - Tory: the idea that one can never make up for the decisions / acts of the past, no matter what future course one takes (or in her case, however she chooses to dress it up (acting within the will of God)) - the fact that she killed Cally will remain hanging over her and threaten her future. - Leoben: that whatever he does now to aide Kara, the passed (and particularly his revelation to her that her life is pre-ordained) will return to haunt - perhaps destroy him once and for all in the future.

    - Tigh that again, no matter how he tries to deny it; no matter where he looks for answers that bring together his real identity with the death of his wife as a Cylon collaborator - he will never be free of the fact that she died at his insistence and at his hands...

    So what does the episode tell us?

    Within the episode, we finally see the spark that once made Tyrol who he is resurface. Yes, he is still struggling to understand himself and come to terms with his loss - but he is finally questioning the circumstances surrounding Cally's "accident". AS this reviewer stated while reviewing "Escape Velocity", it is rather surprising that the questions Tyrol is beginning to ask now should have been asked a lot earlier by other, more rational minds (like Adama). Certainly it is enough to have Tory worried, visiting him in the launch tube as she does. Clearly she hopes to try and get him to stop his questioning of the circumstances around Cally's death (as such questions would eventually circle back to her). However, her confrontation serves as a subtle underscoring of the deeper meaning to Frost's poem. For where Frost suggests that no matter what paths we chose in the lift ahead, we can never change the things we've done in the past, Tory states (in a tone suggestive that she is also trying to convince herself) that, "Whatever has gone before, whatever I have done, it doesn't matter. We can still change..."

    Putting these words against the wider context of the poem as a whole and one cannot help but respond to Tory with a resounding, "WRONG!"

    And within those words of hers, please notice the tacit admission of guilt about Cally's death, "....whatever I have done...." These are words that are going to come back to haunt Tory - and possibly be her undoing at Tyrol's hands. Elsewhere, Baltar continues to preach, and we discover that Tory is indeed influencing Roslyn's decisions (a question this reviewer raised when looking at "Escape Velocity"). In Baltar's case, Tory is apparently ensuring he remains free to continue preaching to the "fringes". Within his sermons we again see resonance with Frost's poem; but again, his reasoning is flawed when compared to Frost's message. Baltar suggests that looking at the past is bad; this it restricts people from achieving their full potential; and it is by looking to the future we can effectively undo - change - our individual and collective past. Thus he stands at odds with Frost's meaning. Yet within this, Baltar does have moments of great compassion - and one of these stands as perhaps the pivotal moment for both him and Tyrol in this episode: when Baltar visits Tyrol in his cabin.

    Here we see Baltar, for the first time, express full and true remorse for his actions; in doing so he not only demonstrates he is now sincere in his beliefs, he also potentially moved Tyrol closer to resolving his own internal conflict. The only real question in this regard is with that resolution will move Tyrol further back towards his underpinning humanity - or closer to Tory's cold and dispassionate actions. Personally, and given Tyrol's actions as the episode opens, I suspect the former.

    And notice how this meeting in Tyrol's cabin stands in marked contrast to another, similar meeting he held with someone not that far removed from Tyrol: Boomer. Back then, Baltar's actions were driven by his need for self preservation and resulted (as he knew they would) in Boomer attempting to take her own life. Here, despite the pistol lying on Tyrol's stomach, Baltar achieves the opposite. He saves a life and in doing so gives credence to the changes he is undergoing. Even so, one cannot escape the feeling that the shadows cast by Baltar's past misdeeds are so great in size, he is never truly going to step out from them...

    In this regard, his sermons and actions resonate nicely with his continued Christ-like development. Last week the angry visit to the temple, this week the speaking in "parables"....But again, we all know where Christ initially ended up because of his preaching and his belief....

    And catch the subtle poke at the feeding of the 5,000 from the New Testament, as a group of Baltar's followers walk the corridors of Galactica carrying baskets of food and framed by the words:

    "Do you think we have enough?"
    "It doesn't matter; they're not coming to be fed..."

    Elsewhere, Thrace continues to unravel as she takes her road less traveled. She has a crew near to mutiny, she is living the life of a recluse, she has more conversations with herself than anyone else....and yet she, alone of everyone in this episode, gives the truest reflection of Frost's underpinning meaning in his poem.

    Despite the fact she seems to be tottering on the edge of a breakdown, it is fair to say that all of the events that have shaped her through the series are now the driving forces behind her actions here. In effect: she is allowing herself to be shaped by her past - consciously or not.

    In pushing for Earth, she is echoing Roslyn's determination in the face of opposition from the likes of Adama during the search for Kobol. The only real difference here is that - in keeping with everything else about Starbuck, she cannot do it by half - she has thrown herself into it full-bore and without regard for other people's perceptions of her, or any real understanding of the possible repercussions of her actions. It is for this reason that I say to all of those who keep denouncing her actions as "out of character" to go back and watch the series'll find that right now, Kara Thrace (despite Leoben's statement to the contrary) is fundamentally the same as she was at the start of the series - more desperate, obsessed and confused, yes - but still the same person. Helo and the crew of the Demetrius are liable to find out, because, at the end of the day, there will be a rescue of Leoben's fellow Cylons and Thrace will be vindicated in her search for Earth....for better or for worse....

    ...all we need is for "Faith" to show us how in particular the Cylons and humans will cement their truce, and how the themes established in this episode will continue to draw all the disparate arcs and threads together. Further questions to be resolved:

    - Why is it that a humble raider can sense, across a distance of at least tens of metres, Anders is a Cylon ("He That Believeth...") yet neither Six ("Escape Velocity"), Valerii ("He That Believeth...", "Six of One", "The Ties that Bind") and Leoben ("The Road...") are incapable of sensing Tigh and / or Anders are one of their own, even when in direct contact with them (Six's beating of Tigh, Anders' and Leoben's confrontations)? (1) This interpretation is potentially the more correct when one consider's Frost's friendship with Edward Thomas, as discussed in 'On "The Road Not Taken"', by William H. Pritchard. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Department of English.
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