NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Four: “Islanded In A Stream Of Stars”

We’re abandoning ship

Air Date: 06/03/2009

Director: Edward James Olmos

Writer: Michael Taylor

Synopsis: In the aftermath of the damage inflicted by Boomer, the crew of Galactica struggle to keep the ship viable. Adama considers the future of the military and a potential rescue mission for Hera. Starbuck tries to find answers about who and what she is.

Review

“Islanded In A Stream Of Stars”, aside from being a mouthful of a title, is a strange episode, a real hodgepodge of ideas and plots, jumping between narrative and character and back again so much it’s easy to feel it a bit of a mess. Death is a throughline, and the meditation presented on that isn’t terrible, but the approaches per sub-plot are so different that it’s hard to feel that are connected properly. A lot has to get done here, ahead of the coming finale, and the episode tries to squeeze it all in, with less than 100% success. I still like the episode overall, but by now BSG, rather like the titular ship, is really straining under the weight of everything it is trying to accomplish, and might breakdown any second.

Galactica itself is in many ways the main focus of the episode. The ship is coming apart in the aftermath of “Someone To Watch Over Me”, and in more ways than one. Physically the tears, rents, holes, faulty wiring and instability has become so obvious that the ship’s status as being at the end of the road is now being openly talked about by crew. Following the latest disaster of its structural integrity in the beginning, a member of the deck crew is able to say that she has a “90% chance” of having only “five jumps left”, basically nothing in the grand cosmic level that we are playing on. And in a situation where FTL is required to find a new home, that makes Galactica more of a liability than anything else. This slow and gradual death is not what anyone would want for her.

But the ship is coming apart in a more figurative way as well. Members of the crew, and not just in the divide between human and Cylon, are at each others throats. The civilian Fleet, and its new government, are happy to devolve into the role of vultures tearing apart the carcass of Galactica for spare parts before Adama is even done with her, very quick to dismiss the ship as a lost cause (in fairness we haven’t really heard much from the civilian Fleet recently, not since “Sine Qua Non” really). Numerous individual characters are at sea aboard her, whether it is Adama wrestling with the decision of what to do with the ship, Helo and Athena lost in their despair and grief, Starbuck in her inability to understand what she is, or Baltar in the middle of another grand theological debate. That sense of sadness and melancholy permeates large parts of “Islanded In A Stream Of Stars”, the first episode where it really feels as if BSG is heading towards an ending.

But then in some other ways, everything is also coming together. At the beginning of the episode human and Cylon argue about repairs, but then the same Cylon saves the same human from death. Tigh is embraced as a father of the Cylon race by an Eight, an experience that moves him to a certain degree. Both sides of the divide on ship hold their own funeral ceremonies, and it’s impossible not to be struck by the similarities. In essence, the alliance is now maturing into something more than just a brief union of coincidence, and into the blended environment that was spoken about in “Deadlock”. In amidst all of the drudgery, the despair and the anguish over Galactica, there is hope also.

Roslin, whose deterioration ties in to that of the ship, perhaps puts it best when she talks about the meaning of home, and how the term is much more nebulous than we might realise. Home is not a place, it’s a feeling: the sentiment is undoubtedly trite, but if Roslin can find the first real home of her existence onboard Galactica, then it is possible that the humans and Cylons of the Fleet can also find a home in circumstances they are unused to. For the military, that might well have to be the rebel basestar, but it possible. Galactica is not the be all and end all of existence in the Fleet. It is the little moments of cooperation and reconciliation that pave the way for a greater unity, one that is going to be a requirement in the days to come.

And there is still some degree of hope for Galactica. Anders essentially fuses with the ship in some way, helped by the Cylon tech now buried inside her, and if we can accept that Anders is more than the braindead individual he was left as at the end of “No Exit”, then we might also accept that his link to the Galactica might mean a way for her to continue on, even if that continuing on is only to perform one last great service for the Fleet. Even first time viewers will know that Galactica is not just going to be left behind, and with the strength of the Cylon alliance and the ability potentially imported by the merging of Galactica with Sam, there’s potential there for more than just five jumps and a mothballing.

From a more character focused perspective, the person I tend to focus on the most in this episode is Adama. At the beginning, he gives a very stern summation of his current feelings towards the idea of “destiny”, which has left he and his crew in one of their most precarious positions: his anger is palpable, but of course it isn’t just to do with the Cycle and all that comes with it. Roslin sums it up nicely when she suggests Adama is upset because two of his women are about to leave him: Roslin herself, who has taken a turn for the worse, and Galactica.

It’s hard to underestimate just how much Galactica means to Adama. It’s his command, his home, his family. For the better part of four years now being the CO of the ship has been an enormous part of his identity, and even if that role took an enormous blow during the events of “The Oath” and “Blood On The Scales” it’s still who he is. He was reluctant to let the Cylons attempt to save the ship with their resin, and acquiesced out of sheer desperation, but his unease with the situation has been evident ever since that decision was made.

It’s Roslin who probably does the most to get through to Adama. He’s certainly not going to hear what he needs to hear from Tigh, who is still mired in a depressed state with only Ellen for company. He does hear it from Helo, but in such an angry fashion that it is easy to dismiss. It’s Roslin who has to step up, which is not an easy thing when she really is facing into the final stretch of her own existence now. She acknowledges that Adama may love Galactica more than he loves her, but he is going to lose both of them: all that is left for Adama is to decide the manner in which he is going to lose the ship. Home is a word: the feeling that we ascribe to it can be applied to whatever place we feel it is right to ascribe it to. Roslin has found herself able to do that with Galactica, because of Adama: now Adama needs to prepare himself to say it for somewhere else. Adama has always been in a degree of denial about Roslin’s illness, and that’s being replicated with Galactica: I suppose it is fitting and proper that it is she who squares the circle in Adama’s mind and gets him to come to his senses.

In closing scenes that perhaps get a bit too dramatic and call back a bit too much to the breakdown that we saw in “Revelations”, Adama practically attacks the wall in his quarters with white paint, but there is no whitewashing the reality of what is happening to Galactica away. We can easily imagine that his desperation in this moment is a reflection of Roslin’s imminent death too. He has this moment of weakness, and then Adama makes his decision. Galactica will be decommissioned. Tigh is stunned to hear the call, but also readily accepts it once the decision is made. That’s how bad things have gotten. Galactica and Roslin are both heading towards their finales, and those close to them have accepted that. All that remains is just what that finale is going to look like exactly.

After the experience with whatever exactly the Piano Man was in “Someone To Watch Over Me” Starbuck has roused herself somewhat from the malaise that has effected her since “Sometimes A Great Notion”, and seems set on taking more pro-active action to discover what it is she is back in existence to do. The first step is seemingly with Sam, with Starbuck deciding that she has seen enough of him in his current state. Her choice to pull a gun on him is a little shocking, and I think ties into my feelings of unevenness that I think “Islanded In A Stream Of Stars” has: this kind of moment is something you spend at least a whole episode building up to, not a few minutes and one short monologue. Thrace wants to remember her husband as he was, and not as he is now, a strange amalgam of biological and technological, but he takes that decision out of her hands by suddenly speaking and demonstrating a sentience we did not think was possible. Kara is seemingly barking up the wrong tree in all this: in trying to come to a conclusion on Anders, she might think she can head towards a conclusion on herself, but that is not how these things really work.

Take two then, and the lucky contestant for the second round is one Gaius Baltar. Having heard the would-be messiah wax lyrical about angels taking on the form of “nearest and dearest” she decides to push him a little bit, and then hands over the means to determining her fate to him in the form of the dog tags she took off her own corpse in “Sometimes A Great Notion”. I’m not really sure what it is Thrace is really pursuing here: she already knows what she found down on Earth, does she really need Baltar to confirm it for her? Does she think that might have been some kind of strange hallucination? It’s a bad decision anyway, feeding into Baltar’s assumed role of an all-knowing power with his finger on the pulse of the divine (more on that in a sec).

Getting outed by Baltar seems to give Starbuck a new perspective on things, and she goes back to Anders again. She compares their respective states, and decides that she must accept that the old version of her, the one that blew up in “Maelstrom” is gone for good, just as the old Sam is gone for good. All that’s left is to move forward, and find the direction that the Piano Man indicated she still had. That has something to do with the Music. Reconciled with her existence as some form of living waymarker, and willing to further accept Anders’ similar role, Starbuck commits to figuring it all out with him, no more flashy, dramatic dealing out of finality involved. We’ve seen a lot of peaks and valleys with Starbuck down the years, and moments of healing – like, say, in “You Can’t Go Home Again” or “Scar” – that ended up being false ones. Here, we can only hope that this commitment to looking ahead instead of looking back will finally bring Starbuck, and Sam I suppose, some measure of peace.

The strangest part of the episode might be the material dedicated to Baltar, and in truth he might suffer the most from the large amount of cut material I will review in the extended edition of this episode next week. He has an awkward interaction with Caprica Six near the beginning, one where his past examples of faithlessness and general aura of untrustworthiness prevent him from making any kind of real emotional connection. It seems very late in the day to be putting these two back inside each other’s orbits, though I did appreciate the sense of weight to this interaction, of two people who have been through so much to the point where any meaningful chance for the two to have some manner of relationship, even one based on an expression of sympathy, seems lost.

But then the episode abandons this potentially quite interesting plotline in favour of putting Baltar into the realm of “Starbuck’s Destiny”. Thrace is taken by Baltar’s pronouncements on angels, and lets him have the chance to examine blood from her charred Earthbound corpse. Baltar duly does some study, and discovers said blood does come from necrotic flesh. Just why Starbuck would so this, and trust Baltar of all people with this secret, is beyond me. She perhaps thinks that his apparent interaction with “angels” might be an avenue for her to explore regards discovering what she is, but this is Baltar: the man never willingly walked by an opportunity to boost his own power, popularity and ego.

Hence this extremely odd scene near the conclusion. It isn’t that I don’t get what is happening: Baltar decides that Thrace’s existence serves his ends and his faith, and is willing to publicly pronounce the details in order to get what he needs. Starbuck is upset about this. All well and good. Bu the framing of it is something I have always found strange: the manner in which Baltar decides the aftermath of a funeral is the best time and place to do this; the fact that he is allowed to waffle on for so long without anyone intervening; Starbuck’s oddly restrained reaction (see below) and the sense that Callis isn’t quite sure what he wants to get across from the character in this moment, with Baltar exhibiting different shades of pompousness but also regret. I’ll be interested to see if the extended cut can make more sense of all of this, but for now I find Baltar’s part of “Islanded In A Stream Of Stars” hard to fully grasp.

The last plot of the episode to talk about is far and away from Galactica, adding to the uneven feel of “Islanded In A Stream Of Stars”. Boomer flees with Hera, and even while Hera’s actual mother goes into some kind of grief-stricken paralysis – an under explored plot, but I understand we’ll see more of it next time – the other Eight has to deal with the reality of what she has done.

The first reaction is frustration and anger. Leaving Tyrol behind, knowing the retribution he is likely to face, feeds into it of course, but we have been here before with Boomer and Hera. Boomer threatened to break her neck in “Rapture”, fed up with being saddled with a child that was not hers, and she isn’t all that far from such a position here either. But Hera breaks through the angry façade that encapsulates Boomer, and before you can say “regrets”, Boomer is clearly starting to have second thoughts about all this. Hera is more than just a MacGuffin, she’s a person, and when she demonstrates her ability to project, she shows Boomer that she is more of a Cylon than Boomer might have given her credit for.

In something of a warped moment Boomer draws Hera into her own projections, and Hera almost takes over from the imaginary child that featured in the home she shared with Tyrol. In essence, Boomer tries to make Hera her daughter, and if the act was initially done as a means of subduing a captive, it quickly becomes apparent that there is a greater emotional resonance to it. We’ve seen what Boomer wants in “Someone To Watch Over Me”: a life with someone she loves, a home and a family. We’ve seen her method of striking out at those who already have such things while wearing her face. Here, we see her efforts to merge those two extremes: creating a fantasy world where she replaces Athena as Hera’s mother. The act does not speak well of her of course, but allows for the possibility of a future redemption, indicated in her obviously queasy feelings when handing Hera over to Cavil. A lot of coming together around Hera Agathon, as we barrel towards the endpoint for BSG.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt truly at home until these last few months here with you.

Notes

-The title is a quotation from the Henry Beston book The Outermost House: “For a moment of night we have a glimpse of ourselves and of our world islanded in its stream of stars— pilgrims of mortality, voyaging between horizons across eternal seas of space and time.”

-Olmos back behind the camera for the third time, and a replacement for Frank Darabont of all people, who was down to direct this one before a scheduling problem.

-The models in the mission room make a welcome return with Hera using them for the proper purpose. I suppose we might see some foreshadowing of the finale in her smashing a Cylon vessel with Galactica.

-An interesting early look at dissension in the ranks that we haven’t seen before, with a Six going toe-to-toe with a Colonial in a very snarky manner.

-We get a bit more info on “the Colony”, first mentioned in “No Exit”, in this early scene. It seems to be the main Cylon laboratory, and maybe a de facto capital of sorts.

-You gotta love Sackoff’s pitch perfect performance as Starbuck tries to explain to Adama the nature of what has happened with the Music: she knows how ridiculous it all sounds, and knows the Admiral isn’t going to be receptive, and her awkwardness reflects that.

-Adama’s response is so good, a potent rejection of destiny, that I feel like I just have to repeat it here in full: “I’ve had it up to here with destiny, prophecy, with God or the Gods. Look where it’s left us: the ass end of nowhere; nearly half of our people are gone; Earth, a worthless cinder; and I can’t even walk down the halls of my ship without wondering if I’m gonna catch a bullet for getting us into this mess.”

-The aftermath of “Someone To Watch Over Me” for the Agathon marriage doesn’t get much focus here, but we do get Helo’s fraught efforts to speak to his wife: “Look at me…look at me…you hate me don’t you?”

-And we’re back to the shared visions. I really don’t like the way the show bounces in and out of this plot device, it honestly makes it all seem like a time filler.

-Some dire visual effects for the scene with the vacuum into space. Obviously the show is saving up for the finale, but they could have done better than this.

-The sacrifice of this Six is very important, as it ties the commitment of the Cylons to the maintenance of Galactica. At least one of them can now be said to have died in the process of trying to repair the ship.

-The count is down 35, presumably all victims of Boomer’s FTL attack in “Someone To Watch Over Me”. The Cylon dead are presumably not counted.

-The Leobens are apparently referring to the most recent damage to Galactica as “the proverbial straw” which is a little callous really.

-Our first, and indeed only as I recall, look at the “Quorum of Ships Captains” in this episode. It was a noble idea, but the downside is that instead of a dozen voices, Apollo has to deal with several dozens.

-“Some people, and I use the term loosely…” I suppose it is good to be reminded that acceptance of the Cylon alliance only goes so far.

-The Quorum starts picking over the carcass of Galactica very fast, starting with Fenner, last seen in “Dirty Hands”. I think this reflects the constant antipathy of the civilian Fleet towards the military to some degree.

-I absolutely love Bamber’s delivery of Apollo’s response to the question of what Gaius Baltar thinks of all this: “Gaius Baltar!?”

-Baltar declares that the angels he has seen appear “in the guise of those nearest and dearest to us”. That tracks for Head Six, but of course there is also Head Baltar. The ego is never too far distant with this guy is it?

-Baltar seems genuinely hurt when his offer of support to Caprica Six is interpreted as an offer to join his “harem”: “That’s not what I….” is all he is able to get out before he seems to decide there’s no point going on. A reconciliation between these two seems far off.

-Caprica herself sums this all up by casting doubt on Baltar’s religiosity compared to her own experiences: “You haven’t changed, I have”.

-Not unlike the way in which a dying Eight reached out to Anders in “Faith”, another reaches out to Tigh in this episode, thanking him for giving her the chance to “meet my father before I die”.

-And of course the Eight’s final words are “…too much confusion” which seems a little on the nose.

-Boomer goes to threatening Hera very quickly, and we’re right back to “Rapture” when their previous relationship could charitably be described as “fractious”.

-Tigh is unequivocal about what he considers his “family”: Adama and the crew of Galactica. In the aftermath of “Deadlock” he’s rejecting anything to do with his Cylon nature.

-Ellen’s pitch to Tigh is in stark contrast to where she stood in “Deadlock”, and thank the Gods for that, huh? Now she’s all about rescuing Hera, who represents the only real future for the Cylons.

-A little trite, Ellen’s response to Tigh’s insistence that his no more living children after the death of Liam: “You’re wrong Saul. You have millions”. Are there really millions of Cylons left?

-I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised that Hera can project. I suppose the surprise is more that a child is capable of it.

-Baltar takes the time to shave, which has always had a deeper meaning in BSG. Perhaps here it symbolises his continuing efforts to be more than the conman in charge of a Cult.

-Worth a laugh, Baltar’s deadpan admittance that he sees angels with “alarming regularity” as he glances at Head Six.

-Very Matrix-like, the red symbols trailing down the room where Anders has been taken.

-Starbuck calls back to the moment in “He That Believeth In Me” where she said she would shoot Sam if she ever found out he was a Cylon, and I’ll admit I still didn’t see the gun pull coming.

-Anders launches into the Hybrid speak upon his “activation” in this moment, culminating in a robotic repeat of the “You are the harbinger of death Kara Thrace…” line. It’s very creepy, and speaks to the idea that the Sam we knew is gone for good.

-The lights flicker on Galactica in line with Sam’s blinks, which honestly came off a bit more comedic for me than anything else.

-Adama reads what I assume is another gumshoe detective novel, but one line is notable in the context of his dilemma with Galactica: “But when something’s wrong, something’s out of place, you notice.”

-Still not made very clear, but more convinced than ever that what Roslin is smoking in this scene is meant be something akin to marijuana.

-Roslin goes back to the dream she had of a cabin on New Caprica, from “Unfinished Business”. Moments of maudlin sentimentality like this have been rare from her, but one can hardly begrudge it.

-I think our very last look at Baltar as a scientist in this episode, lab coat and all. How long has it been? I suppose “Epiphanies” maybe?

-Anders suddenly becomes something of a threat to the ship, controlling its ability to jump. Hence the shut down, but not before out first utterance, since “The Road Less Traveled” I think, of “All of this has happened before, all of this will happen again”.

-Regards that, Anders is also heard to say “There’s a hole in my bucket” which is a reference to the song of the same name, suitably about a circular problem of fixing a holed bucket but requiring something to hold water in which to do so.

-Penikott really brings it in the scene with Adama. It reminds me of their hallway confrontation in “Epiphanies”, the sense of desperation seeping through.

-“She’s gone”. Adama is unusually blunt with Helo, but I suppose it fits. He doesn’t have the time to coddle him.

-Helo is having none of Adama’s advice to “Let it go” and goes for the most hurtful thing he can think of: “You want me to let it go? You’re the one who can’t let go…This ship is dead, my daughter might still be alive!”

-A nice mix of the respective funerals for the fallen follows, which on the Cylon side includes the “Prayer to the Cloud of Unknowing” we have heard before regards permanent death.

-The Cylons also use an infinity symbol here, which I think is the first time we have seen such a thing. As I recall this comes up again in Caprica.

-Baltar’s preaching in this moment just seems so bizarre to me. He just takes over the aftermath of a funeral and no one tries to even interrupt him until he’s basically finished.

-Never liked that slap Starbuck gives to Baltar. She would be more of a punch person I would have thought.

-I like Apollo’s summation of Starbuck’s current existence, rounding off every beat with a “Don’t care”.

-Apollo and Starbuck share a nice moment where Lee insists that he being Lee and she being Kara is all that matters, but I could do without the pregnant exchange of looks. BSG would have been better off abandoning this simmering romantic tension ages ago, but can’t seem to let it go.

-A very important moment of reconciliation occurs when Starbuck puts her own photo up in the memorial hallway. She’s letting go of whatever she used to be, and focusing more on what’s to come.

-Our first look at the Colony late on, and while it’s not the complete picture, it is interesting. Even by Cylon standards it seems a bizarre structure, with a heavy emphasis on biological architecture (I’m sure Cavil loves that). That said, you can spot the older model of Cylon Raider in the background of shots.

-Cavil tells Hera that she will have “new playmates pretty soon”. Is it suggesting she’ll be cloned, or otherwise replicated?

-Adama suddenly takes off his Admirals pips in the hallway, like he doesn’t feel he should be wearing them anymore. I’m not sure why: is this perhaps symbolic of him shedding his military persona to make a more logical decision about the ship?

-It’s very on the nose, Adama’s failing efforts to whitewash his quarters, but I suppose it does fit.

-Starbuck decides that she is done running from her destiny or trying to figure out her identity, and will take the next steps with Sam. It’s a nice moment, as intimate an instance that the two can still have.

-“We’re abandoning ship, Tigh”. Adama rarely refers to Tigh as just that, it’s usually “Saul” or “Colonel”. I presume he does this to really emphasise the importance of the order.

-I’m not sure we really need to see Adama buttering up Tigh, by dubbing him “the finest officer” he’s ever served with. Is her really though? I can think of half-a-dozen reason why he isn’t.

-In a bit of unique framing, we get to view Adama and Tigh on a sofa, side by side, from their height. The effect is very memorable, almost framing the fate of the entire ship in the form of these two old men.

-“She was a grand old lady”. “The grandest.” Suitably, the short piece that plays here is “Grand Old Lady”, a reduced take on “Wander My Friends”.

Overall Verdict: I have mixed feelings about “Islanded In A Stream Of Stars”, an episode that feels fundamentally muddled in a lot of ways, with a variety of plots and sub-plots that don’t fit into each other as well as they might. But I would still say it has more good than bad, with the Adama material and symbolic aspects of Galactica’s move towards decommissioning in the good category, and Baltar’s plot in the bad. But of course the other cut of the episode is significantly longer, and we will be looking at that cut next time.

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6 Responses to NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Four: “Islanded In A Stream Of Stars”

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