I called "Exodus, Part 1" the setup, and now I can call "Exodus, Part 2" the payoff. It's a worthy one —good but not flawless — elevated into the realm of the standouts by virtue of two potent character arcs fully realized by the end.
The rest of the time it plays like a highly entertaining — albeit highly telegraphed — action/adventure, in which all avenues must absolutely and unequivocally arrive at the predetermined solution because the previous episode made so very much of promising that solution's delivery. When "Occupation/Precipice" aired, I figured you could easily get ten episodes out of the New Caprica arc. But after last week's "Exodus, Part 1," it became very clear that New Caprica was quickly going to be left in the rear-view mirror. It's Galactica to the rescue or bust.
I'm not sure if that decision was a good thing, a bad thing, or a neutral thing. Clearly, an occupation is a storyline that could've sustained more than four episodes, especially when the series went so far as to jump forward in time and reinvent itself. At the same time, with all that had been accomplished in "Occupation/Precipice," the show probably needed to move along to keep momentum from flagging — which, by the way, I would argue is somewhat what happened in "Exodus, Part 1." And since so much already happened off-screen — both with the one-year leap as well as the four months of unseen occupation — the story's structure naturally had to be geared toward the escape. I just wonder if it could have been and done more.
Not that we didn't have enough. "Occupation/Precipice" had so many storylines and characters that I'm still in awe of it, and in terms of pure action, "Exodus, Part 2" pulls out all the stops.
Before the action, however, the story first deals with one of those many storylines/characters: Ellen Tigh. Anders tells Tigh that he'd better "take care of" Ellen for her betrayal — because if Tigh doesn't, someone else will. What follows is a scene of Shakespearean tragedy in which Tigh poisons his own wife. (When Ellen says that she'd do what she did again if it meant saving her husband, it reveals a mindset that's at odds with Tigh's soldier mentality — because the mission must be maintained at the individual's expense, not vice versa.) Can you agree with Tigh's mindset? Probably not, but you can probably sense a warrior's code at work. In Tigh's mind, this is a mercy killing carried out because he loves her and wants to be sure she dies on his terms and not someone else's. It's a character-defining moment.
Soon the bombs are falling, and we learn the nature of Galactica's rescue plan. Strictly speaking, this is not a rescue mission so much as an orchestrated diversion to keep the Cylons busy while the residents of New Caprica flee to their now-unlocked ships and save themselves. Adama's plan involves a series of clever tactical maneuvers that make for some entertaining, frenetic action and impressive visual FX sequences.
I don't know, however, if I'm quite convinced by from a plausibility standpoint. The use of FTL jumps as a battle tactic strikes me as a dangerous tech card for the writers to play; it has an arbitrary nature and opens a can of worms. In one scene, the Galactica FTL-jumps to a point high in the sky above New Caprica City, does a free fall while on fire, launches its Vipers, and then jumps away just in time to avoid crashing into the ground at terminal velocity. It's a noisy and cool scene, but isn't FTL being used here like a magical teleportation device rather than a function to explain interstellar travel? Don't get me wrong: The notion of FTL is pure fiction in any case, but when they draw attention to it like this, it seems like it's the writers' fictional tech that's outsmarting the Cylons rather than the plausible ingenuity of the characters.
As was said by Lee in the last two episodes and the beginning of this one, Adama's mission is a hopeless one, and a point comes where the Galactica is under heavy fire, outnumbered by four basestars with the FTL engines down, and the situation looks hopeless. Obviously it's time for the Pegasus to charge in for the rescue, in what's one of this series' most spectacular battle sequences. In keeping with the epic scope of the episode, the Pegasus is sacrificed in this battle — a tactical maneuver on Lee's part. (Wouldn't it have been a TV coup if the Galactica had been destroyed instead and next week the show was called Battlestar Pegasus? Kidding.)
It makes for epic drama, but it leaves out some of the more realistic aspects of this series. I found myself wondering: Can a skeleton crew really pilot a battlestar through such a crucible of fire? Also, given the levels of trickery on display here, couldn't a way have been devised from the outset that used both battlestars to carry out the mission, with the sacrifice of one ship drawn up as an acceptable outcome? Perhaps it would've been too big of a risk, but it seems like it would've caused more confusion for the Cylons and made more sense than the Galactica going it alone.
I quibble on logic, but the truth of the matter is that these scenes are exciting and well executed. Much like "Pegasus," this is an episode that's less grounded in reality, and a little larger than life.
There's plenty of action on the ground as well, nicely shot in the Saving Private Ryan cinema verite style. (Duplicating the feel of documentary footage, it seems to me that SPR basically set the visual format for all realistic movie war footage ever since. One wonders if it has become easier to stage war action simply by adjusting the shutter speed on the camera.)
On the character front, we've still got Kara and Leoben in a twisted situation where she has become somewhat more submissive to life in captivity simply because her maternal instincts have kicked in to care for Kacey, allegedly her daughter. Leoben, meanwhile, seems to want some sort of admission of love from Kara, no matter how staged. Kara ends up in one of the most skin-crawling kissing close-ups imaginable. For the life of me, I don't know what Leoben even thinks he gains by getting such a coerced and false "I love you" out of Kara. One suspects this is not about love and the Cylon procreation plan (cf. Helo and Sharon); this is more about power in the rape-predator sense. When Kara stabs Leoben in mid-kiss and then twists the knife, we feel simultaneously glad and unclean.
Meanwhile, Baltar is the ultimate Cylon stooge. As the Cylons plan their evacuation, he sits powerlessly until D'Anna invites him to join the Cylons as they leave (since the humans will surely want his head). There's a showdown between Baltar and Gaeta that manages to keep both characters alive and supply Baltar an avenue for dignity: He will stop D'Anna from setting off a nuke. I find myself wondering what goes through this guy's head. He's clearly been suicidal, yet he couldn't take a bullet to stop the executions in "Precipice." Now he's willing to kill D'Anna to save humanity. When that doesn't go as planned, he ends up joining the Cylons because he simply has nowhere else to go.
As with the good dramatic victories, this one does not come without a substantial cost. Specifically, Maya is killed during the exodus, hybrid baby Hera survives, and D'Anna finds her, in keeping with her premonition. Despite every dire warning being issued by Roslin and Tory, Maya and the child could not be secured, and now the baby finds its way into the hands of the Cylons. Just wait until Sharon finds out. I love how victories on this show include ominous failures that hint at future disaster.
There are character costs as well. The episode's celebratory shots aboard Galactica have substantial power, but not for the reasons you would've thought. Adama is raised up on the crew's shoulders and cheered, but the scene is really about Tigh and Kara, who have been left very damaged by what has happened. The music (a solemn counterpoint to the celebration) and the focus on these two characters says more than dialog ever could, or would need to. Consider: Tigh lost his wife in an even worse way than a random Cylon killing, and Kara learns that Kacey is not her daughter, but simply a random child that was kidnapped and inserted into a very elaborate and cruel deception. In its subtle way, you can almost see Kara's spirit break in this scene.
It's realizations like these that elevate "Exodus, Part 2" into something more than the action-packed conclusion of a plot. The residents of New Caprica have made their escape, but what happened while they were there will leave more than its share of scars.