NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Four: “He That Believeth In Me”

Air Date: 04/04/2008

Director: Michael Rymer

Writers: Bradley Thompson & David Weddle

Synopsis: After a miraculous escape from disaster, the Fleet and its leadership reckon with the return of Starbuck and her claims to have found Earth. Baltar becomes the subject of religious adoration.

Review

I did it Boss. I found Earth.

It feels a little strange to be going full steam ahead with my thoughts on Season Four, just a few weeks after finishing Season Three. Back in 2007/08 we had to wait a full 13 months between “Crossroads (Part Two)” and “He That Believeth In Me”, and that was a torturous wait even with Razor in the middle of it. But here we are anyway. The season opener had to resolve a lot of things and set even more up, and “He That Believeth In Me” begins a serialised process to Season Four, that will see little in the way of standalone stories.

The first thing is an opening crisis of huge magnitude. The battle that rages in the Ionian Nebula is one of the more under-appreciated set-pieces of BSG I sometimes find, stuck as it is right at the very start of the episode, and coming amidst some really powerful character-driven stuff inside Galactica. It’s really good stuff, a spectacular opening to a season that, as I recall, won’t scrimp on coming up with spectacular sequences on numerous occasions. There’s a moment when Anders first enters the fray where we get a sort of panoramic view of all that is happening outside Galactica, with missiles streaking, fighters engaging and flak screens all-encompassing, and it never fails to catch the eye.

But the episode does well in inter-weaving all of this with some more personal material. We have Roslin and Adama at cross purposes over the re-appearance of Starbuck, with the President in the unfamiliar role of being the one employing logic; we have Tigh having a nightmarish vision of what he could be capable of as a Cylon that is probably one of the biggest fake-outs in the show’s run; and we have Anders out in the middle of everything, unsure of himself until he inadvertently becomes the means of an unlikely salvation for the human race he is no longer technically a part of. It’s chaotic but also hugely captivating. Therefore it’s more than just CGI explosions, it’s what BSG has always been: the suitable marriage of narrative with action, in a way that had never really been carried off before to this sort of level in either case. As opening set-pieces and as cliffhanger resolutions go it’s a hell of a thing, and I would be confident enough in its excellence to say it’s actually the best opening of any season of BSG.

Starbuck’s return is obviously the main event of the episode and for the moment at least the writers have been able to keep the train on the tracks, even if a degree of wobbling is evident. What could have been a fairly tired plot of “Is Starbuck a Cylon?” is largely thrown out fairly early but unanswered questions abound. Not least is where exactly the Viper she is flying came from. It’s a brand new model, and if there’s one thing that has been common with all of the Head Six, Head Baltar and weird Angel of Death Leoben stuff from “Maelstrom”, it’s that the interjections from higher powers have been intangible, and in most cases with at least an avenue of being able to explain it away as coincidence. This is different. Are we to believe that God with a capital “G” has created this device for Starbuck to fly? Or is Occum’s Razor the easier choice, and is this part of some Cylon trick?

An interesting dynamic is set-up for the episode where it is Roslin arguing against Starbuck as a prophet. It’s hard to know where the President is coming from exactly, as this turn to cold, hard logic is a bit unusual for her. It’s tempting to see in it some manner of jealously, even if it is subconscious, with Roslin’s role as the “dying leader” in danger of being supplanted by someone that already died. It’s been a rough time for Roslin really, and it can almost be easy in this episode to forget the fact that she is once again seriously ill, which can’t be discounted either. This is the kind of sign that the Roslin from Season One or Two would have taken as a cast iron divine intervention, but now she’s turning away from it. What gives? Is Roslin herself turning from that path?

If she is, she’s not alone. Starbuck insists the Fleet is now going the wrong way, and manifests physical pain whenever Galactica jumps. Leaving aside the fact that it isn’t clear that the Fleet actually has a clear direction they are aiming for right now, this is a cool little wrinkle to add to the Starbuck plot, and helps to explain the level of desperation she is feeling. It’s the only way to explain her willingness to assault Marines and hold the President at gunpoint, unless of course she is some manner of Cylon agent. But the truth is that, even with the benefit of hindsight, that seems like too easy a way out. The episode ends on that cliffhanger, and while you never really think Thrace is going to pull that trigger, “He That Believeth In Me” does a good job of working the character up to the kind of frenzy where the circumstances are believable.

Another personal clash gets comparatively little time. The schism between Adama and his son at the conclusion of Season Three was one of the final arc’s most powerful elements, but here the writers choose to finagle their way towards a reconciliation, one that I feel is far too rushed. Adama and Apollo didn’t just have an argument, Lee quit with his father calling him a liar and coward in “Crossroads (Part Two)”, then they were at each others throats during the trial. Are we to accept that the power of Apollo’s speech in “Crossroads (Part Two)” has been enough to heal this rift? That seems convenient to me, even if Adama is awkward enough in his attempted reconciliation, sitting at a distance and rarely looking his son in the eye. It seems like the production team want to move past this plotline, but not past Apollo outside of the military as a future thread. I can understand this, but the Adama family drama had more road to run. That gets unceremoniously cut off here, which is regrettable. An Apollo who goes into public service with a grudge against the Admiral would have been a nice bit of spice to add to what will be a turbulent relationship with the President going forward.

Another plot line that gets surprisingly short shrift is that of the four recently revealed Cylons. After some truly excellent scenes in the episodes’ prologue things get fairly relaxed, with just one scene of the four together where nothing is really forwarded or resolved from the end of “Crossroads (Part Two)”. A dominant plot, as I recall, for the first half of Season Four will be a recurring debate on if/when any of the four here decide to reveal themselves, but it seems we will have to wait an episode for that to really get going. As it is it is pretty much a case of as you were, with the episode blowing its load with these characters very early on. Instead of anything more concrete, the episode chooses to make a number of slightly ridiculous nods in its script to the secret the four are hiding, some of which I elaborate on below.

The Adama family drama and the four of Five are largely shafted for screen-time in pursuit of what is at least a very interesting development for Gaius Baltar, albeit it is one that comes with a lot of questions. He’s brought into this cult, identifiable for mostly three things: their commitment to a monotheistic viewpoint, their devotion to Baltar himself and an apparent free love philosophy that works out pretty well for one of the only men in the room. One has to ask where did this all come from: the explanation of their living arrangements is strange enough (see below) but it seems very odd that an entity of this size could exist, seemingly for a while now, and never be brought up until that brief scene with Keegan Connor Tracey’s Jeanne in “Crossroads (Part One)”. One suspects there may be some manner of connection to Gina and her work behind the scenes in support of Baltar in Season Two episodes like “Epiphanies”, or maybe I am just connecting dots myself there. Then again how else would Baltar come to be a figure of worship? Just on the back of his Marxist teachings from “Dirty Hands”?

Still, it’s interesting stuff. We’ve gotten so used to seeing Colonial society as one with a quasi-Greek/Roman pantheon (or atheism), that it comes as a bit of a shock to see people who have a totally different belief system, one that conforms to that which the Cylons believe. But of course it fits: how could a society this large have only one religious system? This gives us a chance to learn a little bit more about this faith of the “One True God” and I suppose the impression is of something that must be considered deviant to the Colonials at large: a religion that emphasises alternative means of giving praise, of a deity that forgives without preconditions, who is contactable through direct prayer instead of through oracles and of a religious counter-culture that emphases sexual liberation and freedom, maybe even as a direct part of worship. Which is not to say that the Colonials are prudes, but what’s going on in this compartment is something else.

That it has fallen to Baltar to act as a cipher is a delicious plot twist: out of the fryer and into the frying pan so to speak. It’s a role that he is initially very uncomfortable with, but that’s probably just because of the changed circumstances: it doesn’t take him too long to adjust, both to the free love and to being a proclaimed prophet. For reasons that still aren’t clear these worshipers seem to view Baltar as having some manner of divine power, or at least a connection to the divine that others do not have: for someone as essentially ego-driven as Batar, this is mana from heaven. He no longer needs to act the ladies man, or impress people through his intelligence, because these people already think he is seated at the right hand of the father. Baltar as a con artist seems happy to accept gratification in this manner.

Which leads into the dramatic climax of the episode, which comes from a direct threat to Baltar, through Conor, and a more metaphysical one, in that he is called upon to lay hands on a dying boy and save him. Both plots reach fulfilment in the same scenes, as Baltar makes what appears to be a heartfelt prayer for God to take him and spare the boy, and then is put in mortal danger. Head Six asks him if he meant it, Baltar assents. He’s saved, and so is the boy, miraculously. What are we to take from this? The temptation is to believe that Baltar is merely hedging his bets: expressing faith in the One True God to appease the expectations of this cult, and maybe doing whatever Head Six wants him to so, not unlike the way he has acted previously, in episodes like “The Hand Of God”. And then, with a knife at his throat, he doubles down in the knowledge that such expressions of faith have saved him before (like, say, “33”). I suppose what I am getting at is the idea that Baltar buys into some manner of supernatural force being present in his life that can be an ally or a enemy, but may not buy into the idea of it being God with a capital “G” that he is a servant of. Or maybe Baltar really has had a true “Come To Jesus” moment. At this point it is genuinely hard to tell with him, which is as it should be really.

I want to close on a more general point about the state of things in “He That Believeth In Me”, and the true beginning of what I think will be one of the key themes of Season Four. We’ve seen bits and pieces of it before, in episodes like “A Day In The Life”, “The Woman King” and “Dirty Hands”, but here it really is a clear undercurrent to nearly everything. We can only call it the breakdown, of societal structures, of military discipline and of the cohesion of the Fleet. Even as we see various ships showing scars and missing elements after the opening, a more subtle disintegration is occurring.

Take Gaeta’s brief role in this episode. We last saw him committing perjury in “Crossroads (Part Two)” after previously witnessing him attempt to assassinate Baltar in “Taking A Break From All Your Worries”. We know that he is a changed man, whose moral compass has seen a fundamental change. Here, we see an extension of this, where he treats Starbuck with a disdain that is a far cry from the guy who seemed to be buying into prophecy in “The Eye Of Jupiter”. And we must remember that it is more than just scorn at the idea that Starbuck has been to Earth and come back to tell the tale, he’s treating what is a superior officer with a total lack of respect, and in the middle of the CIC. The seeds that will lead to his role in the latter half of the season are beginning to sprout.

And he isn’t the only one. Adama can’t bring himself to trust Starbuck, Roslin seems to have little time for prophetic events, Starbuck holds a gun to the President’s head, a whole section of the ship has been taken over by what we have to call a sex cult and an attempted murder takes place within Galactica with nobody around to intervene. Bit by bit, incident by incident, we see things slipping. And it has become clear, to the viewer anyway, that it is not going to take too much more for it all to come crashing down. We will get there.

 Probably best to be hated by everyone than loved by this lot.

Notes

-The title is from the Gospels, John 11:25: “Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live”. It fits with the issues of belief and resurrection the episode explores.

-We have a new opening crawl: “Twelve Cylon models. Seven are known. Four live in secret. One will be revealed.” From the off Season Four is leaning in hard to the plot point of “the Fifth”.

-Love Apollo’s opening line here as he contemplates Starbuck’s return: “Nah”. It’s a real “That’s it, I’m outta here” kind of thing.

-In amidst this shattering change of circumstances for the characters of the show, it almost comes as a surprise as we are brought back to the enormous Cylon force about to descend on the Fleet. I mean, this is as bad as things have been in terms of immediate peril.

-Love that blood splatter from the Raider on the window of Starbuck’s Viper. Why the hell not?

-Oh, the “Never felt better” moment, which long-term readers will know is the inspiration for the name of this site. Hell of a scene too, that for a split-second has you actually thinking Tigh has assassinated Adama.

-Baltar’s cult have situated themselves in “an unused compartment” and I have to call bullshit on that. Galactica is chronically over-crowded as we’ve seen evidence of in numerous episodes, not least “Torn”, “Taking A Break From All Your Worries” and “The Woman King”. Would this section of the ship really be unused in those circumstances, or be allowed to be the hole of a cult that has seemingly avoided detection?

-The Pixus, a ship that appears to be of the same class as the Olympic Carrier, goes up here and that is a bit off a hammer blow. It reminded me of the joy in seeing every ship jumping out of New Caprica in “Exodus (Part Two)”, in that even this singular loss is a devastating hit to humanity’s survival.

-Adama doesn’t hesitate to sacrifice his own vessel to protect the Fleet, ordering his guns to focus on destroying the missiles headed for the civilian ships. Coming on the heels of Razor, it again makes the point of how different he is to Cain.

-The next civilian ship to take a hit is the Zephyr, which last had a role in the show in that its ballot boxes were the ones that got replaced during Tigh and Foster’s election scam in “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part Two)”. It survives at least.

-I can’t find the music that plays for this battle, I don’t think it was placed as its own separate arrangement, but it’s another Bear McCreary tour de force.

-The Astral Queen, seen here for the first time in a while, takes a hit a big hit to its saucer section as we fly through the carnage, but survives.

-The Raider facing Sam really stares at him, with its moving light becoming suddenly stationary. I think this is the only time we see such a thing in the show’s run.

-Of course, this raises the question as to how this hasn’t happened before. Sam’s been face-to-face with Centurions before, in “The Farm”, “Downloaded”, “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part One)” and “Rapture”. Is the identification of him as a Cylon only possible if he has been “activated”? How does that work?

-Tigh doesn’t mince words about how close humanity just came to extinction: “They had us. Game over”. It’s not the first time he’s used such language, describing a potential failure of the operation in “The Hand Of God” as “End of game”.

-The count is down 1’701 from the last one given, in “The Son Also Rises”. This takes into account losses in the opening battle from the Pixus, Astral Queen and Zephyr, and constitutes the steepest non-New Caprica related drop in the run of the series. Tigh, Tyrol, Foster and Anders should also be included in this drop and presumably Starbuck bumps it back up by one.

-It takes two seconds for you to realise that the cult seems to be 99% young, attractive women, with most giving Baltar what I would describe as “come hither” looks (I could use a more vulgar expression, Wedding Crashers-style). I hope this gets explained later.

-The music here, that we’ll be hearing again a lot this season, is “The Cult Of Baltar”. It’s a twangy, exotic piece, with more than a few ties to the music that dominated the end of Season Three.

-Interesting that the Old English lyrics refer to Gaius Baltar as a “divine saviour” and reference both the words “By your command” and “So Say We All”.

-I love that shrine to Baltar, complete with what I have to assume are flashing Christmas (Saturnalia?) LED lights.

-Jamie Callis gets some great comedy lines in this episode, and none better than his “…Right” in this moment as he contemplates what he is seeing.

-The question should be asked as to why Starbuck is not immediately arrested upon landing on Galactica. The only logical explanation here is that she’s a Cylon after all.

-It’s confirmed that it has been two months since “Maelstrom”. The flow of time in this show can be hard to pin down sometimes, if you’d told me a week had passed I’d probably buy that too.

-Love that shot of the Zephyr undergoing repairs. The Fleet lost one ship, and while the others are hurt they are salvageable.

-More comedy gold from Baltar, as he tells Jeanne he’s praying for her son then asks “What’s the gameplan?” for getting him off the ship. I like the more cynical cult member telling him no other ship would have him.

-Baltar reflects on his state: “From President of the Colonies to King of fools”. But he’s in a better position than he was 24 hours ago, as Head Six reminds him.

-As he interacts with “Tracey”, with her real intentions fairly obvious, Baltar instructs her on worship of the One True God, but he’s only the mouthpiece of the real prophet really: Head Six.

-“Can you feel God’s presence?” Tracey asks as she assists Baltar in feeling her up. “You know what, I think I can”. Is this the most comedic Baltar has been since “Six Degrees Of Separation”?

-Starbuck’s fuzzy images of Earth don’t give us much in the way of details that we didn’t see at the end of “Crossroads (Part Two)”: blue oceans, green land, no obvious sigs of civilisation,

-Here’s a question: why is Apollo in this briefing? He’s just a civilian now, and would hardly be in Roslin’s good books.

-It’s somewhat ironic that it is Tigh to pour scorn on the idea of Cylon detection. Why would he even go there?

-“Could be Cylons right here and we wouldn’t know it”. Come on now.

-Sex with lots of willing women is one thing, but Baltar is hit with some cold hard reality when confronted by Jeanne’s dying son. There’s this awful dawning realisation that is expected to do something about this.

-It hits a little hard, Jeanne’s suggestion that “God doesn’t want him to live”. She seems accepting of this, indicating a belief in a cruel Old Testament figure.

-The four confirm that the Music is gone, indicating that it was connected to the Ionian Nebula and their “activation”.

-The gun Tigh slams down on the table seems to be a pretty clear indication that the status quo will remain for the four. It’s that or a bullet.

-Caprica Six claims she has been programmed never to think about the Final Five, but Roslin quickly points out the myriad of ways this makes no sense. And it doesn’t. “Don’t think about elephants” springs to mind.

-She goes further and suggests she “can feel” the Final Five nearby. But how can we trust that she is telling the truth? If she can feel them, why not Athena?

-Oh, the sarcasm radiating off of Gaeta’s “Like you claimed you saw”. He’s slipping more and more.

-Kara’s “feeling” is a little hard to understand really, it’s another level of supernatural interference with humanity, to actively punish an instrument with physical pain for unintentionally rejecting the path.

-“We’re going the wrong way” becomes a bit of a motto for Starbuck in these early episodes as I recall, enough that it was practically a bad joke by the time it stopped.

-Adama is starting to lose it a bit with all of these supernatural goings on pulling in different directions: “What do you want me to do? You want me to go to Laura Roslin? Tell her, “Forget Pythia and the Eye of Jupiter, because Kara has some feeling about where Earth is?”

-Starbuck’s pitch to Adama is heartfelt and heavy with emotion, which makes Adama’s rejection all the more devastating. He’s just not in a position to hear her right now.

-It is not especially healthy, you have to imagine, Apollo sitting there and watching Starbuck die over and over again.

-Apollo notes that Roslin has been staying in Adama’s quarters. He doesn’t go further than that, but the way he says it makes clear that this is considered more and more unusual.

-The pips are another totem, but it’s telling that Adama doesn’t hand them to Apollo, he puts them down and invites his son to take them. What’s the term? “Drachenfutter”?

-Apollo says that he resigned his commission “for the wrong reasons”, presumably as a dig at his father, but the decision is the right one. What were his reasons then?

-Apollo goes on to say that it’s time for him to move on, which seems strange to me: this is one of the highest ranking officers left, with key skills related to Vipers and command. I didn’t think it would be OK for him to just “move on”.

-Apollo’s point about Adama’s feelings towards Starbuck is a potent one, and points to a lessening divide between human and Cylon. If it was Zak Adama, Adama would probably just be overjoyed to see him.

-Baltar’s prayer seems fairly heartfelt, but the performative aspect of it is difficult to wave away. There’s an audience here, and Baltar loves an audience.

-I like that Paulla is a more cynical member of the cult, more practical, who isn’t entirely enamoured with Baltar just yet. They all will though.

BSG has always used hair cuts as symbolic when it comes to Adama, now it does the same for Baltar. The beard that has marked him since Season Three is gone. He’s in a new role now.

-Conor and his son was brought up in “Collaborators” as a reasoning behind the man’s unquenchable anger, and it hasn’t abated. Seeing Baltar escape justice has probably only made it worse.

-I really do think that Baltar’s “Take my life” plea is a calculated risk. He’s never been so far that he was willing to take his own life, not even on New Caprica, and his efforts to simulate death in the brig were based largely on the expectation he could find out if he was a Cylon or not.

-I love the look on Conor’s face in this moment: just sheer uncertainty and confusion. It’s about the last thing he expected Baltar to say.

-Here’s a macarbe scene: Starbuck contemplating her own place on the memorial wall. She got put where she wanted to be at least.

-Sam clumsily attempts to craft a picture of him being in love with Starbuck even if she found out she is a Cylon. Her reply is another bit of blunt foreshadowing: …if I found out that you were a Cylon, I would put a bullet between your eyes”.

-Galactica’s Marines aren’t covered in glory by the end of this episode, getting punked twice by Starbuck in the space of a few minutes. Some slipping standards there too?

-Starbuck just smashes Sam with her pistol butt, I think we can consider that marriage decisively terminated.

-Will Starbuck pull the trigger on the President? Of course not, but I have seen worse finales.

Overall Verdict: There are a few elements of “He That Believeth In Me” that are a bit underbaked: the Adama family drama, the Final Five and Roslin’s turn on the supernatural. But the rest of it is very strong, especially the opening crisis and those elements dedicated to Baltar’s unique change of circumstances. It’s not the very best season opener in BSG history – I suppose that has to be “33” – but as a set-up for a season that is traditionally viewed in somewhat dim terms, it’s a good start. For now, at least, BSG is going the right way.

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6 Responses to NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Four: “He That Believeth In Me”

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