Much like "Lay Down Your Burdens, Part 2" did, "Crossroads, Part 2" takes the risk/reward approach to storytelling. It does so to a bold extreme. The risks are substantial: It upends characters and relationships with story developments that promise that things will never be the same. It also asks us to believe that what happens makes sense. Are you convinced? I was. This is a series that makes up the rules as it goes, but it earns its right to do it.
The reward is proportional to the risk: This is a brilliant hour of television that moves confidently through its story to reach a conclusion that is as inspired as it is — well, trippy. Reality feels shattered by the end. The audacious final pull-back through the cosmos seems like it was inspired by a drug-altered state. It had an odd effect that left me with a distinct "WTF?!" sense and yet at the same time feeling satisfied and boundlessly enthusiastic. We are in uncharted waters here. This is one of Battlestar Galactica's finest hours.
I managed to mostly avoid spoilers on this episode — for which I was glad — but let it be said that I knew Something Big was going to happen at the end of the episode; I just didn't know what. In a way, that's the best possible spoiler you can get for an episode like this, because it whets your curiosities and expectations. The result is an episode that generates almost unbearable suspense.
In getting to its destination, the episode first moves through the outcome of Baltar's trial, which exists in the BSG universe as we know it, and, let it be said, is no less brilliant than what happens in the final act. The story remains true to its legal-show pedigree in that it catalogs the momentum of the case as witnesses testify and the realities of the situation that faces the defense: Emotions trump testimony. Lampkin notes that the tactical victories the defense has had against the prosecution witnesses have actually succeeded only in pissing off the panel of judges. "So we're losing because we're winning," Baltar notes, frustrated. Yes. Sometimes people can still smell a rat even if the evidence doesn't prove it.
Lee pitches to Lampkin the notion of a mistrial based on his assertion that the judges aren't impartial. Adama earlier, in private to Lee, called Baltar a "human piece of garbage," which, let it be said, is not impartial. The witnesses aren't impartial, either. So hated is Baltar that Gaeta is willing to lie on the stand, claiming that he was present at the meeting where Baltar signed — without hesitation — the execution order on New Caprica. We know this isn't true because we saw a gun being held to Baltar's head in one of the most memorable scenes in "Occupation/Precipice." Baltar's reaction to Gaeta's perjury is equal part shock and performance art: "Everyone in the fleet knows you tried to stab me through the neck, and you missed! Butterfingers!"
But what elevates this trial into one of the series' classic moments is when Lampkin calls Lee to the stand to testify. Lampkin senses an honest and urgent message in Lee that accounts for his taking part in all this. Adama also wants to hear him out, no doubt to understand why Lee has subjected himself to this alienation. This leads to reluctant testimony by Lee about why he thinks Baltar is being railroaded on trumped-up treason charges by an angry system. Lee's testimony builds and builds, into a brilliant five-minute speech that does nothing less than challenge every assumption about the fleet, the legal system, and its motives for putting Baltar on trial. Lee cites a laundry list of things that have happened since the Cylon attack — the dozens of individual actions that have been forgiven. No one has stood trial, because the circumstances have forced rules to be broken and laws to be ignored. The reason: "We're not a civilization anymore. We are a gang."
This speech is so well-written, so well-argued, that I myself was completely convinced. How do you find Baltar guilty purely on the facts? The facts simply don't support the charges. What we have here is society's motives spelled out in explicit dialog and argued with a startling passion: The fleet wants to flush Baltar away because he has become a symbol of everyone's shame over what happened on New Caprica — for those who were forced to stay and commit war atrocities, and also those who were forced to run away. The idea of essentially putting the actions from New Caprica on trial makes for a wonderful bookend for the season.
Baltar's trial is not about justice, it's about emotion. With this speech, Lee's motives become more clear than I had ever expected, and they shine a light onto a number of truths about a society trying to survive after being destroyed. Can the legal system as it was on the Colonies even be workable within a fleet that faces so much desperation?
When the judges come back with the verdict, there's a palpable tension, resulting in a scene that generated more suspense than I'd anticipated. The ruling is 3-2 for acquittal, and the courtroom explodes in anger. I love the fact that there are so many who don't want to accept the verdict, even in light of Lee's testimony. Watch Roslin's reaction; she's furious. Her bitterness over the verdict is almost unsettling. When she prods Adama about his vote — which, as it turns out, was for acquittal — he has a response that will not satisfy any who wanted Baltar to answer for New Caprica, but nonetheless expresses a simple necessity: "We have to look to the future." I agree with him. If humanity is to find Earth and survive the Cylons, they need to focus on the present and the future and not the mistakes of the past. You can't flush humanity's shame away by holding one man accountable.
Still, though, we may want to flush Baltar away for pure personal satisfaction. In private with his legal team, his reaction to victory displays a hubris that is beyond belief. I mean, this guy doesn't know when to shut up. You'd think the trial would've humbled this man, but acquittal apparently had the effect of, in his mind, confirming him as the victim he always saw himself as. Baltar's comeuppance comes in his realization that he has nowhere to go, and that half the fleet wants him dead. He's not safe. Coming to his rescue are his cult of mysterious worshippers, who whisk him away and to a promised new life. What will he do once he goes underground? Will he cause political trouble that will make everyone wish they'd put him out an airlock after all? One wonders.
And then there's Lampkin. The guy is a professional manipulator and yet we forgive him far more easily than we forgive Baltar, because we respect his command of human nature while we shake our head at the utter tone-deafness of Baltar's ability to read a room. Lampkin's last conversation with Lee and his exit from the story has just the right note and confirms him as one of this series' best guest stars. Even his cane is a façade, no doubt to engender sympathy. I wondered in my "The Son Also Rises" review whether this guy was a cynic or an optimist. I'm still not sure, but he certainly is capable of seeing through an optimistic prism; he put Lee on the stand because he knew he was an honest man.
While all this with the trial is happening, we also have in the background that mysterious song in the heads of specific characters — as it continues to get louder and clearer. In addition to Tigh, Anders, and Tory, you can also add to that list Tyrol, who goes wandering the corridors at night and hears the song in the patterns of the ship's white noise. The sharing of the ominous mystery music is apparently also connected in some way to a sexual relationship that emerges between Anders and Tory, who realize that they both hear the music only after they've apparently hooked up. At one point, Tyrol and Anders have a conversation about the music. They can hear it, but they can't hear it. It's more like something in their subconscious that has been lying dormant since childhood. This is a bizarre chain of events that hints at the inevitable solution even as it hides it in plain view. Tigh goes to Adama and tells him that he's convinced the music is some sort of Cylon sabotage, which is a wonderful irony given the outcome.
And what about Roslin's mysterious sixth sense throughout all this? She shares a simultaneous vision with Sharon and Caprica Six involving the need to protect Hera at the Opera House. And when the fleet finally makes the jump into the Ionian Nebula (the next landmark on the path to Earth), there's a fleet-wide power outage, which Roslin can feel even before it happens. A Cylon fleet jumps into the nebula at just this time. What does this mean? Is Roslin connected to Hera, the nebula, the power outage, the Cylons, or all of the above? Is it all part of the foretold story involving bizarre twists of fate and special destinies?
The episode has its share of strange, strong images, including Six's visions of the Opera House with Baltar and Hera and the Final Five Cylons as glowing figures of white light with unknown identities. The story marches slowly but implacably to its revelation that Tigh, Tyrol, Anders, and Tory are, in fact, four of the Final Five Cylons. The idea is that a switch is flipped, and these four realize that they're Cylons, but they still retain their personalities, beliefs, and motives.
To that end, the visualization of this process is a tour de force. Tyrol watches the action on the deck, and everything snaps from slow-motion to full-speed, as if he has awakened from a sleepwalking dream state. The four characters are drawn into a single room where they hum the same tune and realize, to their horror, what they are. Bear McCreary's music is appropriately revelatory. The music turns out, in fact, to be a revamped cover of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower," which is so odd and threatening of breaking the fourth wall (the lyrics are even incorporated into the dialog) that it's as perplexing as it is effective.
So what does it mean that these four characters are Cylons? There are cosmic questions of purpose as well as plot points to consider. It's already been made clear that the Final Five are somehow different Cylons than the other seven. What are their roles in this story? What are their destinies? Is it a coincidence that the switch went off just as they reached this nebula? And what does it mean that they all have free will and apparently no Cylon agenda that they're aware of? And what about the fact that they've all gone through hell and back as loyal humans ... for this? And that Tigh has been in the service for 40 years, which would clearly predate what we thought was the advent of human-mimicking Cylons? And that Tyrol and Cally have a child that we now realize must be another hybrid? And how about the fact that the most trusted right hands of both the head of the military and the head of the government are both Cylons? What will these characters do? How will they cope? Will they be exposed? Will they band together or turn on one other? Are they Cylons with an opposite agenda to the other seven? Do they have copies, or are they unique? If they're unique, what are the chances they would all have survived to this point? Or was that part of the original Cylon plan? Who's making that plan, anyway? Do we believe that plan? For that matter, do we still assume that the Cylons evolved from the machines created by man? Perhaps they're an alternate human race, or something else. Or were created from scratch by someone else. (I don't believe the Cylons have a plan as much as this series' gods have a plan which manipulates all the pieces, Cylon and otherwise. Perhaps the Final Five are unwitting servants of that God?)
And what about Starbuck? Lee jumps into a Viper to join the fight and finds himself in a secluded cloud chasing a bogey that turns out to be Kara, who claims to have been to Earth and knows how to get there. And you thought four characters turning out to be Cylons was mind-blowing. When you think about where Kara's been and what she found there and how she could've come back from the dead, your head might explode. Okay, maybe not.
I could go on forever, but I already have. This is a season finale with endless questions. I don't see a problem with that, because they're questions that are at the heart of this series' larger, more admittedly metaphysical and fantastical concepts. The end of "Crossroads, Part 2" requires a viewer's faith in the narrative and a willingness to believe in spectacular coincidences that can only be explained in terms of destiny or God, or a willingness to accept that stories are built of constructs that seek to amaze more than they seek to be plausible in the real world. This is a universe where the spectacular is possible and the will of man may be an illusion.
In other words, Battlestar Galactica has confirmed its mission as a type of science fiction that embraces elements of fantasy and religion that play out in ways only possible in a purely fictional, elevated universe. Those who embraced the gritty realism that existed earlier in BSG may henceforth be getting something they may not have originally bargained for. This series is destined to be every bit about its own mysterious and cryptic legends as it is about human characters in a post-apocalyptic world. The last shot is of Earth, and that's where this series is headed. If you step back and look at "Crossroads," it is really a story about hope.