Air Date: 15/11/2004
Director: Sergio Mimica-Gezzan
Writer: Carla Robinson
Synopsis: While Starbuck fights for survival on the surface of the moon, Adama and his son defy pressure from all sides to maintain a risky search operation. Helo and Sharon run into trouble on Caprica.
Given that this is the second part of a story that began in “Act Of Contrition”, you would think that this would be another Starbuck show, but not really. Her part in “You Can’t Go Home Again” is actually relatively minor, a fairly simple survival story. It’s kind of the “B” plot of the episode actually, though not in a bad way: we get to see Kara, Castaway-like, using her wits, intelligence and courage to find a way to both not die on the hostile moon, but to figure out a very unlikely way off of it. Parts of this plot-line strain credibility – see below – but I’ll admit there is a certain bizarre fascination in seeing Starbuck avoid death in this environment, discover her downed enemy, figure out the gooey controls of the dead Raider, before actually flying it back to safety. Oh, and in the larger subtext of the overall show, I’m sure that you can read all sorts of stuff into the idea of a human appropriating a machine/Cylon for their own uses.
But despite how well-directed and at times thrilling this aspect of the episode is, in the end “You Can’t Go Home Again” really isn’t Starbuck’s story, we just sort of cut back to her now and again as a matter of course, as she fulfills the last part of the arc largely set-up in “Act Of Contrition”. There, she had actually hit the required moments of character growth and narrative completion that you would expect, this is more visceral kinetic entertainment. We could view it, in symbolic terms, as a final penance of sorts I suppose, but that’s about it.
The real focus of the episode is of course Adama and son, who essentially have Starbuck’s guilt over what happened with Zak transferred to them, and then begin acting out and projecting just as she had in “Act Of Contrition”. It could come as as ridiculous and petty if played in the wrong way, but I think that Olmos and Bamber make it work, getting across that their behavior is a mixture of genuine fear of losing Thrace mixed with a residual lack of closure over their dead son/brother. With that in mind it is easier to believe Adama’s sudden, unexpected losses of temper, and Apollo’s willingness to put the entire human race in danger to better the odds of finding Starbuck.
The similarities with Starbuck in the previous episode are clear: just as the nuggets become collateral damage to her unresolved trauma, so do Gaeta, Tigh and Roslin come afoul of the Adama family’s single-minded refusal to give up on Thrace. Some might cry foul at the lack of logic being displayed by either man, but for me it’s what makes the entire episode: the Commander doing whatever he has to do to save a surrogate daughter, the Captain doing whatever he can to save a woman he loves, at least in some way, and damn the consequences. Both come out of the experience as characters who have demonstrated a new aspect of themselves, of flaws, and that is important for the show.
Their final words to Starbuck in “Act Of Contrition” must be ringing in their ears pretty loudly, but “You Can’t Go Home Again” allows a nice build-up to the two finally having a collective realisation that they have gone too far with the rescue effort, and that they’ve let what happened with Zak influence their judgement. Neither Adama or Apollo could save Zak, now they have a desperate, overriding need to save Starbuck. It takes Laura Roslin, who was conspicuously absent from the last episode, to be the needed voice of reason, with a little unexpected help from Colonel Tigh. Both of those characters briefly assume the mantle of ultimate responsibility in the Fleet, seeing that what is occurring is far from alright. And the two guilty parties, in their heart of hearts, release this two. The scene where Adama hangs up on Roslin after discussing the situation all too briefly is one of favourites of this episode, because even the Commander realises in the act of hanging up that what he’s doing is not OK.
Of course the episode then becomes about reconciliation in its final act. Between the military and the civil parts of the Fleet, the conflict between Adama and Roslin healed, however briefly. Between Adama and Tigh, the strength of their friendship and mutal respect enough to mend the spat they have undergone. Between Adama and Apollo over Zak, an aching loss that defined much of their pre-show relationship that we haven’t seen, but may now have the chance to be put to rest. Between Apollo and Starbuck, symbolised nicely in formation flight. And, most crucially, between Adama and Starbuck. The last relationship is repaired, with an unspoken understanding that, whatever happened with Zak, the possibility of losing Starbuck outweighed any anger the Commander felt. Starbuck has more than paid for her previous sin, now it is time to take stock of whats left and move forward. Many of the other reconciliations mentioned also happen without overt acknowledgement: where “Act Of Contrition” constantly felt like it was spelling things out for the viewer, “You Can’t Go Home Again” has a bit more faith in their ability to grasp what they are seeing without study aids. A major exception, in a positive sense, are the two Adama’s of course, and Adama’s line to his son about how he would never leave him behind if the situation was reversed is one of the most powerful of the series so far.
That leaves just Cylon-occupied Caprica, where a static plot-line gets a bit of a jump start. The intrigue in the Sharon/Helo stuff comes mostly from the continued manipulation that we have mentioned before. It really is done marvelously well here, with Grace Park’s perfectly-delivered musings on what they should do if they are the “only people left in the world”. Add in the fact that she is dangling a bare leg out of her hammock in a manner that’s just enough to draw the eye but not enough that it’s a blatant come-on, and you have yourself the perfect honey trap for someone like Helo, already infatuated with Sharon and presumably not needing much more of a push. Perhaps less good is the fridge logic that the sudden gunfight with the Centurions in the restaurant introduces to the equation: surely Helo is smart enough that he will wonder how he was left alive after being knocked out. But these scenes are a much-needed jolt to a side-narrative that’s been, as stated before, mostly spinning its wheels for a few episodes, and it’s welcome. Indeed, this whole episode is welcome: after a couple of efforts in a row that were not so impressive, BSG seems to be back on a much firmer course.
-The title of the episode comes from a book by Thomas Wolfe, concerning a fledgling author who finds himself the subject of hostility from his home town when he writes a successful novel about its inhabitants. The book is about disillusionment and the perils of nostalgia, and given the events of this episode, I don’t think it actually fits very well as a title.
-One of the opening scenes prompted me to remember that Hot Dog is played by Bodie Olmos, son of Edward James. I can’t remember if they have any other scenes together. As I recall the character is meant to already be military, and was just randomly on one of the ships that survived the Cylon attack.
-The opening on the moon, where a prone Starbuck is getting dragged along, was a clever one in creating that momentary rise in tension, as it isn’t really clear what, or who, is dragging her. I’m sure I’m not the only one who assumed it was some manner of Cylon at first.
-I won’t harp on the topic, but the effects aren’t great in “You Can’t Go Home Again”, and that starts with the moon, that the CGI team struggles to make windswept and low visibility in an effective manner.
-A brilliant sign of Adama’s immediate desperation to save Starbuck, if you were paying attention in “Water”: when Gaeta brings some details about Starbuck’s location that are vague owing to the lack of information, his response is “Time to start guessing”. That was something he seemed annoyed about previously, when Roslin asked Gaeta to take a guess at something. Now, he’s happy to grasp at the straws.
-Speaking of Gaeta, he describes Cylon’s scouting out planets for the Fleet as like watching “watering holes in the desert”. I don’t know why that struck me this time, perhaps because I would associate such a phrase with the real-life Earth’s wild west genre, and not this universe. Of course, lots of planets can have deserts.
-I do love the pronunciation of “Mark One Eyeball” in that same scene, said with a mixture of surprise and slight disdain. It’s a real term used informally in militaries too, to refer to conducting a visual inspection with just your own senses.
-I haven’t talked about “frak” yet. I always liked BSG’s efforts to undercut the censors with a made up curse word, and “You Can’t Go Home Again” is the first episode where its reality as a profanity really comes across. When Adama pronounces “Frak the odds” to the President, everyone is momentarily shocked, as well they should be.
-We’re back, after an episode of a break, to Head Six playing demented parlour games with Baltar, with a very sexual tinge. Here, she licks his fingers as a warning over how many days the Fleet has before the Cylon’s find them. The mixing of sex with threat calls back to the way sex was used in “Act Of Contrition”, but here it is decidedly more unnerving.
-In terms of minor props, I do love Starbuck’s oxygen stick, used to check if the moon has a breathable atmosphere. I have no idea if those are real devices, but even if so, it’s neat to have them here as something a downed Viper pilot would need to have in any survival kit.
-Love, love love Sharon’s “Unless you can think of a reason to stay?” line to Helo, half a joke/half an invitation, as she continues that very subtle manipulation of him, trying to tell him what he wants to hear. Such a good delivery from Park too.
-Helo watching the Centurion walk by the glazed glass had serious “Raptors in the restaurant” from Jurassic Park vibes. Also, yes, I get the toaster reference.
-We have to talk about those Centurion effects though. They’re really bad, looking very unnatural in the real environment of the restaurant. Some kind of practical animatronic would have been better, even in a guy in a suit like in the original series, but I imagine BSG was probably at the limit of its budget anyway.
-The question in my mind about that whole scene was whether the Centurions showed up only on Sharon’s order, after Helo did not prove immediately amenable to her suggestion to stay. Or was it always the plan?
-Watching for the first time then and watching now, I’m always surprised that Starbuck’s initial reaction to the clearly bleeding Cylon Raider is to not comment on it all, yet she’s surprised when she opens the thing up and see’s that it’s biological.
-But of course, another instance in that scene of “Are you alive?”
-It’s frightening seeing Adama blow his top for the first time, not counting that fatal fistfight with Leoben in the Miniseries. It’s a mark of how similar they are that Apollo follows him later, both of them exploding at people perceived as getting in their way.
-Appropriate use of a Dutch angle as Helo goes looking for Sharon. It’s such a oft-criticised technique, but when used sparingly it’s useful at getting across disorientation in characters.
-“We don’t leave people behind” says Apollo, all full of self-righteous military bravado. Roslin isn’t having any of it: “We have left people behind” she says straight away. And she’s dead right. You can tell that her anger over the whole situation might come as much from the disrespect being shown to those people that were left behind as anything else.
-Interesting stuff for Tigh in this episode. His comments to Adama about how much they put into the search and then the idiocy of pulling the CAP are right, but he’s wrong to confront the Commander about it in public. In that regard, I actually think it’s correct for Adama to relieve him, albeit it’s complicated. Later he tattles to a certain extent to Roslin, which surprised me: Tigh isn’t the kind of character who will typically side with the President over Adama.
-Starbuck, getting ready to go to space, plugs the hole in the Raider with her pilot uniform. Hardly a vacuum seal…
-Roslin lays down the law to the Adama’s, and her edicts are followed. There have been numerous examples of Roslin making hard choices thus far, but this is the first time for me she looks, to use the expression, traditionally Presidential.
-Geneuinly touching moment when Apollo wonders what would happen if it were him on the moon. Adama shuts off such “What ifs” straight away: “If it were you, we’d never leave”. You believe it too.
-Another fridge logic query: how does Starbuck find the Fleet? There’s no read-outs or DRADIS for her to use on the Raider, and space is a big place.
-In response to Gaeta saying the Fleet can jump in 45 seconds, both Adama and Tigh say “This’ll be over in 45 seconds”: they are back on the same page very quick.
-Man, Starbuck sure must have had a lot of tape to write “STAR BUCK” on the bottom of the Raider. But I suppose it makes sense for that kind of stuff to be available in a survival kit.
-This two-parter started with a moment of joy, and it ends with one too, with the CIC exploding into cheers when Starbuck is confirmed alive. It’s good to see, a cathartic pay-off to the larger action.
Overall Verdict: “You Can’t Go Home Again” is a welcome return to form after a few slightly iffy episodes, with satisfying human-driven story-telling at its core. A decent arc for Starbuck and the Adama’s has been rounded off, and some additional hooks for the future have been left dangling in the right manner. We go from here into a series of more once-off stories, but BSG has set itself up well.
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