Air date: 1/20/2006
Written by Joel Anderson Thompson
Directed by Rod Hardy
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
There's nothing really wrong with "Epiphanies" except perhaps that unlike a lot of episodes of Battlestar Galactica, I knew more or less where this one was going. One of BSG's biggest strengths, much like The Shield or 24, is that you never quite know where the characters and the story's momentum will take you. You just know that there's so much momentum that it will have to take you somewhere.
"Epiphanies" is somewhat boxed in by the fact that the only way for it to end shockingly and unexpectedly would be to kill off the series' female lead — which, obviously, is not going to happen. President Laura Roslin, who has been dying of breast cancer since the first half-hour of the first episode, enters "Epiphanies" literally on her deathbed, and it quickly becomes clear that by the end of the hour she will either be dead or miraculously saved by sci-fi machinations. I leave it to you to guess which is more likely. If you guess wrong, you are banned from reading my reviews.
To kill Roslin would be a writer's coup d'etat, just as killing Adama when he was shot at the end of "Kobol's Last Gleaming" would've been equally spectacularly shocking. The problem, of course, is that then your main characters are dead and you don't have the same show anymore. Quite simply, there are things you cannot plausibly do on a still-running television show. I suppose it's an item of courage that the writers are willing to look the deaths of the lead characters straight in the eye, playing a game of storytelling chicken before swerving at the last possible moment to avoid the collision. It's also worth noting that the way Roslin's death is averted is perhaps the most absolutely appropriate under the circumstances, and one that adds yet another layer to the Cylon/human conflict and Roslin's personal world view concerning same.
On her deathbed, Roslin realizes she must make the order she has likely been putting off: deciding the fate of Sharon's hybrid child. Dr. Cottle has seen strange things about the pregnancy, although I would suggest (as does Baltar) that any hybrid pregnancy between a man and a machine would likely have some ... oddities. Roslin decides the baby, which could potentially become a threat to the fleet, should be terminated. Since she won't be around to make the decision later (when there might be more information to make a more informed decision), she makes the decision now, and it's the last one she expects to make as president. Adama agrees to carry it out. The moral implications here are obviously huge, since we're talking about the forcible abortion of a prisoner's child against her will.
This storyline coincides with a subplot involving new turmoil brewing in the fleet thanks to an organized group insisting on finding a peaceful, negotiated solution with the Cylons to end the war. This group is not above sabotage and violence to get their message across, which begins as a thorn in Adama's side before escalating to a true threat when one of their members carries out a suicide bombing on the fleet's tylium refinery vessel. Adama arrests their suspected leader, a man named Royan Jahee (Paul Perri), but the movement continues and Jahee is not cooperative.
Yes, these are all interesting and relevant issues that have a basis in the world we live in today. I guess the problem is that the story is a little too much of a functional plot and not enough of a dramatic enterprise with fresh character insights. Yes, Helo is understandably appalled at the notion of his baby being aborted. Yes, Sharon flips out when he delivers her the news. (In what might be the visceral peak of the show, she takes on the characteristics of an enraged animal, ramming her head repeatedly into the glass wall of her cell.)
But after all we've been through this season with the "Pegasus" trilogy and the whole Kobol arc, "Epiphanies" feels more expected and inevitable, and less surprising or riveting. Adama must track down the terrorist threat while the characters react — expectedly understandably negatively — to the edict that Sharon's pregnancy will be terminated.
There are also some ancillary issues worth mention. There's a parallel flashback storyline that follows Roslin on Caprica in the days before the Cylon attack. This was when she was secretary of education and was trying to broker a deal with an educators union on strike. She does some behind-the-scenes negotiations to end the standoff and get them back to work. President Adar (Colm Feore) does not like the method of Roslin's solution: "You've just showed them that if they hold out long enough, this administration will cave."
The flashback narrative runs parallel to Roslin's and Adama's current problems with the organized sympathizers, and the lesson to take from this is that there's a difference between negotiating to solve a problem and negotiating because you're afraid of violent reprisals. In the end, Roslin agrees to negotiate with the sympathizers if — and only if — they bring serious intentions to the table. I think that's the lesson, anyway, because it honestly lacked clarity to me. Meanwhile, if there's any point to the revelation that Roslin was having an affair with Adar during the education standoff, then I've missed it. I found it completely arbitrary, extraneous, and distracting — downright puzzling, in fact. In brief: Who cares, and what does it have to do with anything?
Meanwhile, there's Vice President Baltar, who looks to be just hours away from assuming the full-time role of president. Baltar already shows signs of not being up to the job; at one point, Adama gets in his face and essentially tells him to grow up: "Pull yourself together. You're about to become president of the Colonies. You're going to be asked to make some very hard decisions. Act like you can handle it."
Baltar's situation is further complicated by the fact that he still has feelings and sympathies for Pegasus Six, whom he helped escape and who is now hiding on board the Cloud Nine, apparently helping the sympathy movement. She wants his help. He's conflicted and still uncertain of what she's capable of. Does she want to truly negotiate peace or wage her own agenda and destroy the fleet? I like that Baltar is such a wild card: You never know whether he's going to act out of his quasi-psychotic love for Six (any version of her) or his deep guilty need to safeguard humanity from his own potential contributions to destroy it. Roslin's flashbacks also reveal buried information: She remembers seeing Baltar with Six on Caprica before the attack. Now she knows he was somehow involved. And this will all lead somewhere.
Baltar makes an eleventh-hour discovery that the blood in Sharon's hybrid baby has unique resistance to human disease, including cancer. The blood in fact is able to cure Roslin's cancer at the last possible moment. There's irony in the fact that Roslin is saved by that which she ordered destroyed, and it's an irony that will prompt some tough questions for her and everyone else. I guess if you're going to rescue the president with a sci-fi solution at the last minute, this is the way to do it, and one that creates at least as many new issues at is resolves. Still, I found myself asking: Once you're on your deathbed — hours away from death — isn't the damage to your body already done? Even if you cure the cancer, aren't you still damaged beyond repair? Perhaps this sci-fi treatment also healed all of Roslin's organs. It's a tidy resolution, for sure.
I didn't much care for the episode's final exclamation point, where Baltar delivers to Pegasus Six the nuclear warhead given to him (and virtually forgotten by the series) way back in "Bastille Day." I'm having a very hard time believing that Adama would be so careless in following the whereabouts of this device, which he gave to Baltar, of all people, whose trustworthiness has hardly been ironclad. I guess I'm resistant to the idea of a nuclear bomb becoming a plot device in a world that often tries so hard to be plausible in its military details.
Bottom line: "Epiphanies" is a perfectly acceptable hour of BSG, but this series has done much better.