"You Can't Go Home Again" tells the story of a battle between personal feelings and implacable logic. The situation indicates there can be only one logical outcome. Because the outcome is so seemingly inevitable (and because there's a time limit involved that could end up putting everybody at risk), you would think logic should easily win the day. But the logic here is battling some very strong feelings — which happen to belong to the commander of the ship.
The search has begun for Starbuck, whose Viper went down on a desolate planet during an engagement with Cylon Raiders. The odds of finding her aren't good. President Roslin calls Adama to wish him the best in finding his missing pilot, despite the odds. "Frak the odds," Adama responds dryly. "We're going to find her."
Since I haven't mentioned anything about it up to this point, let me take a moment to discuss the fictional expletive "frak." At first, I didn't much care for it. Considering how this series goes out of its way to exist in a relatable world and avoid distracting sci-fi oddities, the use of a fictional swear word seems to go against that intention — and at first did little more than pull me out of the reality of scenes. Personally, I'd prefer real profanity (or even the milder TV alternatives) to silly, made-up words. But I have to also admit that the word has sort of grown on me as the show has gone on. (I read in one of Ron Moore's blogs that the word is a holdover from the original Battlestar, and I guess some nods to the original series aren't a bad thing.)
Back to the story. Adama's loss of objectivity starts almost immediately, but isn't initially a problem since it serves as an added motivator for him to find his missing pilot. It's as the story progresses that Adama's stake seems increasingly personal, less objective, and more risky. Adama and Lee — who both regard Kara as family and also as their last link to Zak — team up to become a two-man force whose personal interests in saving Kara go far beyond anyone else's. "We aren't leaving anyone else behind," Adama explains. The notion of leaving no man behind is a familiar military concept, but it's not really about that here, because under extreme circumstances, Galactica has already been forced to do far worse than leave people behind.
In this case, Adama can argue strategic risk versus benefit: It's unlikely the Cylons will notice their patrol has gone missing for at least a few days, and Starbuck has only 40 hours of oxygen. This gives the search parties 40 hours to look for her.
It's not an easy rescue operation. The planet's environment is unforgiving, offering poor visibility and causing rescue ships to break down quickly and forcing them back to the Galactica. The search area is massive. The odds simply aren't favorable (but frak the odds).
On the planet surface, Starbuck limps along the barren, sand-blasted terrain until she happens upon the Cylon Raider that she downed in the engagement that led to her crash. Starbuck hopes that maybe she can help herself rather than wait for rescue, and attempts to take control of the Raider.
Here we get some solid sci-fi elements. After opening the bottom panel of the Raider, Starbuck finds the interior of the ship is a melding of technology and gory organic components that are practically still pulsating. There is no pilot. In other words, the Cylon Raiders are actually a type of cyber-organic Cylon. The story suggests that they fly themselves. If so, this one is brain-dead. Starbuck hopes she can fire up the engines and fly herself off this rock. No points for guessing if she's successful.
The living, organic space vehicle is an interesting, albeit not new, take on the plot line of the hero commandeering a foreign vehicle. It's particularly appropriate here: Since the Cylons are a species that evolved from mechanistic robots to a flawless human imitation, it makes sense that their ships would blend technology with the organic. Eventually, Starbuck is able to tap into the ship's oxygen supply in lieu of her own depleted oxygen tank. She also plugs the holes in the ship, in a manner that either I don't understand or am correct in saying they would not likely stay sealed in the vacuum of space.
Aboard the Galactica, the Ticking Clock for the search operation has expired, and Colonel Tigh recommends that since Starbuck is likely without oxygen and dead, the fleet should jump before a Cylon base ship shows up and wipes them out. There's a rare moment where Adama raises his voice and we realize that Olmos' performance is usually so calm and controlled that when he does get worked up, it's all the more surprising. Subsequently, Adama relieves Tigh from duty for speaking up against the continued search operation.
What's interesting here is how Adama is clearly not making the logical military call; he's making an emotional — and personal — one, at the possible expense of the fleet. He's hoping he can still rescue Starbuck, and he throws all kinds of resources into it: fuel reserves, rotations of Vipers until a third of them are broken down and in need of repair. Strategically, it's the wrong choice. Finally, Roslin has to force the issue and comes aboard the Galactica to confront Adama. It's perhaps a telling sign that Tigh briefs Roslin on Adama's state of mind, essentially allying himself with her for a confrontation.
That confrontation is where implacable logic steamrollers Adama's and Lee's cause. At a certain point, one pilot is simply not worth putting the future of the entire human race at risk. Roslin offers an argument that is simply irrefutable: "If the two of you of all people can live with that, then the human race doesn't stand a chance." This showdown, which Adama thought he could win because it's "a military matter," is completely neutralized by the facts.
What's somewhat puzzling about the way this unfolds is exactly what Adama and Lee were thinking before Roslin argues the cold, hard truth. It's not as if they are blind to the odds or the dangers. Indeed, it seems to me that Roslin only tells them everything they've been aware of the entire time. Perhaps it's just a matter of needing to be called on their actions, revealing their motivation for what it is — personal feelings rooted in hope and unacceptable risk.
I guess there's something inherently human about hope standing its ground against all reason. This is demonstrated in a low-key but emotionally potent scene where Lee asks his father if he would do the same for him as for Kara. Adama's response is heartfelt and simple: "If it were you, we'd never leave."
On Cylon-occupied Caprica, we get a little bit of action/adventure as Cylon sentries shoot up the place where Helo and Boomer are staying, and in the aftermath of the chaos Boomer is missing. Is this relevant to anything else going on in the episode? Not in the slightest. But it does keep Helo's storyline alive and not forgotten, and proves to be one of the more entertaining executions of this isolated plot thus far.
By the end, of course Starbuck will be rescued. The plot is a foregone conclusion. It's to the credit of the writers, however, that this plays out with humanity, feeling, and genuine satisfaction. There's a sequence where Apollo goes up against Starbuck's Raider, thinking it's an enemy ship. This is an action scenario that doesn't forget that the pilots are human beings as opposed to action props. Could Starbuck really learn to fly an enemy vessel so skillfully this quickly? I have my doubts, but they're not too important.
This is a story built not so much on what happens but who is involved and the relationships between them. By the time Starbuck is returned to the ship and lying in sickbay, the reopened wounds from "Act of Contrition" have been forgiven, and we see how these people care about one other. That's the key to the episode, and one of the keys to what will make this series successful.