"The Hand of God" is an exemplary balance of Battlestar's key elements of its first season: military strategy, character analysis, foreboding prophesying, space-flight action, and discussions of a religious nature. It doesn't have quite the emotional kick or empathetic reach of a "33" or an "Act of Contrition," but as an hour of solid storytelling and setup material along several fronts, this is clearly one of the season's best outings.
The fleet is facing a fuel crisis, which will soon leave them as sitting ducks for the Cylons. On a vital scouting mission not unlike the one in "Water," Boomer and Crashdown (Sam Witwer) find an asteroid rich in tylium ore, which will solve the fuel crisis for well over a year. The only problem: The asteroid is crawling with Cylon Raiders; they found the tylium first and have already set up a base and a refinery.
Meanwhile, Roslin gives a press conference about the fuel crisis but hallucinates snakes crawling on her podium. The hallucinations are brought on by her chamalla medication (potent stuff, that) for her cancer treatment, but they take on an added significance when Roslin seeks the counsel of Priest Elosha (Lorena Gale) and explains these hallucinations and the vividly prescient dream that she had ("Flesh and Bone"). Elosha says Roslin's experiences have been foretold in the sacred scrolls by one of the prophecies of the oracle Pythia, who predicted the expulsion and rebirth of the human race, and that the human convoy would be guided by a dying leader. Which is to say: What is the Matrix, and is Roslin the One? In any event, this signifies the future of a much more significant storyline.
Adama decides that now is the time for the Galactica to go on the offensive: "We take the tylium from the Cylons," he says. The Galactica has the element of surprise — always a useful military possession — and besides, this may be the only chance the fleet has before they run out of fuel and become helpless targets. With the right battle plan, it can work. Adama recruits Kara to help devise the attack strategy with Lee and Tigh; they need Starbuck's crazy, out-of-the-box thinking in pulling off something that itself is somewhat crazy. She throws out their initial strategy: "It's a textbook-perfect plan, which is why it will never work."
I enjoyed the credible details of the military strategizing in the war room. The plan is explained almost as if it were a chess game — on a big map in the center of the room, with models standing in for the players. The stakes are made clear: Either this plan works and they destroy the Cylon base, or annihilation of the fleet is virtually guaranteed: "End of game," as Tigh puts it. The risk is big, but in many ways it's an inevitable and necessary piece of doing business. "Sometimes you have to roll the hard six," Adama notes matter-of-factly.
Kara consults Baltar, the resident Cylon expert, in figuring out a way to destroy the base without contaminating the tylium with nuclear radiation fallout. Baltar says that blowing up the staging tanks on the Cylons' tylium refinery will cause a chain reaction that will destroy the base, but he doesn't know where the stating tanks are, so he retreats into his mind to ask Six for help. Six says that God will point him in the right direction. At a loss for what to do, Baltar picks a spot on the map at random and says, "There." Immediately after the meeting he begins to go into panic mode, but Six reassures him: "God doesn't always speak in words."
It's an interesting notion. In real life, God doesn't tell people what to do in the way that Baltar wants to literally hear God's voice. (Compare this to the idea of the Prophets on Deep Space Nine, which were worshipped by the Bajorans but also were tangible life forms whose existence could be proven as opposed to simply believed as a matter of faith.) Six's reassurance is that if Baltar simply puts his faith in God, he will be led down the right path. But Baltar's faith is shaky at best. What's nice about these details is the way the plot services the characters and vice versa.
Speaking of characters, Kara has her own dilemma. She can't be a part of the assault, because the doctor hasn't cleared her injured knee for flight status. This is a disappointing blow that she resists, which leads to a great little scene in the weight room that is effective in its simplicity. Adama gives her a hypothetical flight situation involving G-forces as he adds weights to her knee exercise machine. As much as she tries, Kara's knee can't hold the weight, so she isn't going on the mission. End of story. The demonstration is so definitive that Kara knows it's not even worth an argument.
In her place as go-to pilot will be Lee, which prompts in Kara a certain level of resentment since she wants to be out there flying the mission. Lee has his own resentments, mainly for feeling like he's always playing second fiddle to hotshot Starbuck. The struggle of the competing egos is a believable subplot for these two characters, and Kara sums it up nicely by saying to Lee, "Don't frak it up by overthinking." There's a nice father/son scene before the mission where Adama offers Lee some moral support. Once the mission is under way, Adama turns his advice back to Kara, who struggles with the transition of giving up the cockpit for the war room.
As in "Act of Contrition" and "You Can't Go Home Again," I really like the way Adama has the role of father to these two characters within the confines of the professional military setting. It's an interesting dynamic that works for characterization even while it keeps the plot moving forward along its main thrust.
What's less along the main thrust and involves scenes that feel somewhat perfunctory by this point, we still have Helo and Boomer on the run on Caprica, being chased by the Cylons, who now consider Boomer a traitor. Much to my own relief, there's finally some dialog where Helo wonders aloud where all the people are and how, gee, isn't it strange that we haven't seen a single living person in a month of running around? Helo spots Six with the Cylon squadron and recognizes her as the same woman that Sharon shot in "33," prompting Helo's confusion. The only other plot point here is Sharon vomiting, which wouldn't ordinarily seem like a plot point except for the fact that I already know the revelations in season finale.
The execution of Galactica's battle plan — involving decoy ships, Vipers, traps, and no shortage of explosions — is a refreshing change of pace for the series. After all season on the run from the Cylons, it's gratifying to finally see the Galactica go on the offensive to kick some Cylon ass. It's essentially another take on the assault on the Death Star, but it's done with skill and excitement and features the best and biggest space-battle sequences of the season so far. There's a twist in the plan where a decoy is revealed not to be a decoy but the primary thrust of the assault. There's also the traditional main-character heroics when Lee storms the fortress with his Viper in an improbable act of Starbuck-like madness ("We'll have to blow this thing manually") and plants a bomb that sets off a big 'splosion, just as Baltar had outlined.
The victory is milked for a rousing celebration scene in which champagne bottles are opened, military men and women cheer, and comrades embrace. Kara hugs Roslin in a particularly unrestrained moment of emotion, and the music by Bear McCreary swells with what seems to be Irish influences. (Intriguing.)
Leave it to Battlestar Galactica, though, to take a major victory and still employ it for ominous notes. Because Baltar's random guess was right on target, he takes this as a divine sign and tells Six, "I am an instrument of God" (which, by the way, is an attitude Six fully encourages). Baltar's self-ascension to that of a man who carries out the will of God reveals him as a potentially very dangerous individual; it's representative of a significant character turning point. Up to now he has been pathetic and narcissistic, but now we see his narcissism twisted into self-aggrandizement. It's compelling — and a little frightening. If Baltar was a man of comic mischief before, he shows the notes of a more legitimate villain here.