There's a part of me as a reviewer that wants to forgo star ratings on episodes like "The Eye of Jupiter." This is act one of a two-act play. BSG as a series is a combination of serialization and episodic that normally allows for an episodic review treatment, but then I get cliffhangers like this and I'm left in the position to comment on a story that has no ending.
I suspect this is why reviewing individual episodes of The Wire or 24 — as much as I enjoy those shows — would be impossible or, at the very least, highly frustrating. Who wants to read (let alone write) a review of a chapter of a book? Fortunately, BSG is generally episodic enough, but that doesn't help me for episodes like "Lay Down Your Burdens, Part 1" or "Exodus, Part 1," so I end up with long-winded digressions like this.
Then again, there are also cliffhangers like "Kobol's Last Gleaming, Part 2" and "Pegasus" (and to a lesser degree "Lay Down Your Burdens, Part 2") that left me hanging and yet also completely satisfied. Perhaps it was the sheer confidence and riveting nature of the storytelling — something shows like "The Eye of Jupiter" lack. Perhaps that's the problem: "The Eye of Jupiter" is lacking something. This is certainly the best episode of BSG since "Torn," but that's not saying much since this season has slipped a bit. As a hiatus-entering BSG episode, this is the weakest yet — although, admittedly, the competition is tough.
Part of the problem with the episode (and the season since "Torn") is the slow but implacable nature of the mythology storyline. I've been getting the sense lately that the entire history of Battlestar Galactica and the placement of all the characters — humans and Cylons — has been preordained by some higher power and is written somewhere in an ancient text or on a stone tablet. Are the characters playing their preordained roles in a predetermined script? Do they have free will, or merely the illusion of free will?
That the series is willing to pose philosophical questions like that is to its credit, but I can't shake the feeling that the writers increasingly rely on the metaphysical as a crutch. The whole plot of "The Eye of Jupiter" hinges upon the fact that the humans and Cylons have found a planet at precisely the same time, in a coincidence that is either a predetermined Grand Plan by a Higher Power, or the writers falling back on God as a way of contriving plot points. The higher power is apparently Ronald D. Moore.
The episode continues from the events of "The Passage," with Galactica in the middle of a joint military/civilian resupply mission on a planet rich with algae that will replace the food supply. While on the planet surface, Tyrol follows a gut feeling and walks toward a mountain and finds a massive temple that must be, according to the ancient religious texts, the 4,000-year-old Temple of Five, constructed about the time the mysterious 13th tribe left during the exodus from Kobol. They apparently settled here for a time before eventually settling on Earth. The Temple of Five is supposed to contain an artifact called the Eye of Jupiter, which, like the Arrow of Apollo, will supposedly point the way to Earth. Whether it actually points to Earth or merely points to another pointer depends, I guess, on how many seasons this series runs before it ends. Why the 13th tribe left such a confusing breadcrumb trail I leave for you to decide. Did they want to be found at all? Perhaps only after a certain amount of work.
About this time, four Cylon basestars jump into orbit in what can only be described as divine timing. As you will recall from "The Passage," they learned about the Eye of Jupiter because the Hybrid told Baltar exactly what he needed to hear in order to put the pieces together. Without the Hybrid, Baltar wouldn't have put it together, and without Baltar, the Cylons wouldn't have put it together. Baltar's presence on the basestar cannot be an accident; it must've happened for a capital-R Reason for him to fulfill someone's capital-D Destiny. At one point, the Hybrid looks right at him and seems to call him "the chosen one."
Baltar still fears he may be one of the remaining Final Five Cylons, which no one has seen. If he is a Cylon (and that remains to be seen) could it be that these Final Five represent some sort of balance in the duality of the game? They are not with the Cylons nor with humanity. Perhaps they are God's prophets/pawns as allowed to exist on the chessboard. (Final Five, Temple of Five — coincidence? I wouldn't bet on it.)
Adding yet another coincidence-of-the-divine: This all happens at a planet whose star, according to scans, is imminently going to go supernova ("Could be tomorrow, could be next year"), meaning this is the one and only chance anyone will have to retrieve the Eye. What are the chances that humans and Cylons would all happen upon this soon-to-be-extinct planet simultaneously, just in time to retrieve from it what they need?
Obviously, the Cylons also want the Eye. Baltar negotiates an uneasy temporary truce, which leads to an entertaining scene where he boards the Galactica with Cylon representatives to negotiate with Adama and Roslin. To call his reception chilly would be an understatement. Baltar's attempts to explain himself have an amusing desperation; he wants to be greeted as someone who has done his fellow humans a favor by tempering the Cylons' response, but no one comes with thank-you cards. Roslin is so disgusted she walks out of the room. Cavil's negotiation tactics include throwing in Baltar as a bonus. "Definitely worth thinking about," Adama muses.
The truth of the situation is that it's a stalemate. The Cylons want the Eye. The humans want the Eye. The humans can't bring the Eye up from the planet without being attacked. The Cylons can't attack Galactica or go down to the planet to retrieve the Eye because Adama has promised that he will nuke the entire continent if they do. The Cylon answer to this depends on which Cylon you ask. Cavil argues that they should just destroy humanity and be done with it; to hell with the Eye. D'Anna argues that the Eye is too important and they can't risk losing it.
One has to ask about motivation. D'Anna is clearly personally motivated beyond the Cylons' general goal to find Earth before Galactica does. It has a lot to do with her need to transcend ordinary existence and have a higher purpose: She believes that she and Baltar are fulfilling a larger destiny. I enjoyed the irony of Caprica Six, who brought Baltar into this inner circle and now suddenly has found herself on the outside of it.
So, yes, there's a lot going on here. Fortunately, the writers have somehow not lost sight of characterization amid the densely plotted mayhem. For example, we've got the ongoing soap opera of Kara and Lee, who are now in the middle of a sexual affair that might be one of the worst-kept secrets in the fleet. Dee obviously knows. Anders obviously knows. Lee thinks perhaps divorce is the answer. Kara cites religious sacrament as her reason why she can't get a divorce. Lee cites guilt as his reason why he can't keep cheating. What's a married couple (who aren't married to each other) to do?
Kara's own lies make a mockery out of the very marriage she claims to be sacred, but never mind. More to the point: This plot has turned a solid (if complicated and often strained) relationship between two characters into a shallow and fairly lurid mess. (This love triangle actually involves four vertices that aren't all connected; maybe it can be called a love "Z.") And yet I can't turn away from this train wreck: There's a scene where Anders confronts Lee, and his dialog is perfect as a man of reason who just wants his wife back: "I'm not stupid. I know my wife. I know what she's like. You think you're the first?" Watching the priceless look on Lee's face, you can see that might be exactly what he thought, and that he hadn't considered otherwise.
There's also something nice about Tyrol, the guy who was raised religious and had always as a youth somewhat eschewed it, now finding himself facing his faith in a way that he probably never expected to — standing in the Temple of Five and looking for the lost Eye of Jupiter. Cally notes his reverence for this temple. Meanwhile, everyone's strapping explosives to its walls preparing to blow it up in case the Cylons arrive. You do what you have to.
Most notable of all is the scene where Boomer-Sharon comes aboard Galactica and finds herself face-to-face with Athena-Sharon and lets the cat out of the bag: The Cylons have her daughter Hera on their ship. It goes without saying that Adama and Roslin would eventually have to face the deception they engineered in "Downloaded," and that day has come.
What's most noteworthy about "The Eye of Jupiter" is that it has these character moments even among the 12,000 plot pieces. What's a bit frustrating, however, is that even major bombshells like the revelation of Hera's survival only make for half-formed emotional payoffs, because the episode is too busy supplying all this new information but not playing out any of the repercussions. That's for the next episode, I suppose.
Until then, we have lots of setup, the placement of the various characters on a chessboard, and the cliffhanger. A Cylon Heavy Raider filled with Centurions, which was snuck in under the radar, has landed on the planet surface to engage Lee's troops and obtain the Eye. Lee prepares for a ground assault and orders Anders to lead a civilian defensive unit, which Anders refuses. Kara takes a Raptor on a reconnaissance mission and is shot down. Meanwhile, Baltar and D'Anna head down to the planet, calling Adama's nuclear bluff. But is it a bluff? Adama prepares to release nuclear warheads. I'd say the chances of that are slim to none, but he sure looks like he's ready to.
Look, this isn't "Kobol's Last Gleaming, Part 2." Few cliffhangers could be as satisfying as that one. But this is an improvement over recent BSG fare, and an entertaining management of plot. If it doesn't have an ending and I have no idea what to make of where it's going ... well, isn't that the point?