Three Cylon Raiders jump into the immediate vicinity of the Galactica, and as the Vipers close in to intercept, it becomes clear that one of the Raiders is running from the other two. The two pursuing Raiders are taken out by the Vipers, and the third Raider is escorted into the Galactica's hangar deck. The pilot of this stolen Raider is Lt. Danny "Bulldog" Novacek (Carl Lumbly), who served under Adama during Adama's previous command of the battlestar Valkyrie. Bulldog was captured by the Cylons three years ago and was held prisoner until his current escape.
It quickly becomes clear that Bulldog's disappearance involves a dark secret pertaining to a Valkyrie mission and, more specifically, Adama's role in it. After Bulldog's debriefing that seems to be going through the motions with little regard for brutal honesty, Roslin asks Adama, "Do you want to tell me what's going on?" Adama replies, "You're going to have to trust me on this one."
The message of "Hero" is one of taking individual responsibility. The whole issue of how Bulldog was captured by the Cylons digs deep into one of Adama's painful secrets and perhaps into his soul. The show's message is an admirable one, but it's not terribly convincing. Considering what humanity has been through in recent months (what with the Cylon occupation and all), you'd think that long-ago bygones would be bygones. Then again, Adama does have a soft spot for Individual Responsibility.
His dark secret is that the Valkyrie was on a classified mission about three years ago — before the Cylon attack — to investigate the Cylon border, peek across with a small fighter (Bulldog was the pilot), and see what the Cylons were up to. (There were rumors of a Cylon war machine at work. I suppose the intelligence was correct, but far too late.) When it looked like a Cylon patrol had seen Bulldog's ship, Adama ordered it shot down so its presence wouldn't be detected and construed as an act of war. Bulldog ejected before the Valkyrie's missile impact, and was subsequently captured by the Cylons, unbeknownst to everybody, although possibly suspected by some, including Adama and Tigh.
Dramatically, the problem with "Hero" is that it builds up to a big secret that simply isn't big enough. First of all, the new information that Adama commanded another battlestar so shortly before the events of the miniseries feels retroactively inserted into history solely for the sake of this episode and not like an organic or convincing piece of Adama's true backstory. Second, the story makes much of the fact that Adama is overwhelmed with guilt that this failed mission might possibly have been the catalyst for the Cylon attack on the Colonies.
Adama confesses this to his son and even breaks down into tears. I'm not so sure I buy it. The Cylons were clearly planning the attack for years before it happened (as evidenced by the sleeper agents). Adama's guilt over his role in something so much larger than himself does not strike me as believable, especially since we haven't seen a trace of it for the past two seasons (often a problem with inventing retroactive backstory). Yes, Adama has always been willing to question his choices and those of humanity — and I appreciate that — but for him to go from asking a few tough questions to blaming himself for starting the entire war is a stretch.
Adama is so shaken by Bulldog resurfacing that he visits Tigh in his quarters, who has locked himself away since that memorable scene at the end of "Torn" when he said he wouldn't be coming around anymore. If I don't believe Adama's characterization in this episode, I do believe Tigh's, whose deeply damaged psyche and believable screw-the-world response seems to be a selling point of a lot of episodes these days. This is a guy whose motivation I completely buy from week to week.
Meanwhile, the questions circle Bulldog and his escape from the Cylons. Just how did he get off a basestar? Kara reviews the flight video and becomes convinced that the two Raiders that were chasing his Raider simply let him escape when they easily could've killed him. She passes the information to Tigh, and during this scene I again found myself wondering: Just how did these two former-enemies become friends on New Caprica? Much the way "Unfinished Business" will explore how Kara and Lee became so deeply estranged, I hope to find out someday how Kara and Tigh became so amicable (even before their perception of shared suffering upon returning from New Caprica).
There's also a subplot on the basestar with Baltar, D'Anna, and Six, who these days share a bed, threesome style, which is somehow appropriate given Baltar. D'Anna's fascination with Baltar undoubtedly arises from that intriguing torture scene in last week's "Measure of Salvation," but we also get some further hints at her fascination with death — or, more specifically, the mysterious images that lie between death and downloading. Are there truths to discover? Is this the same D'Anna who was a TV reporter on Galactica? (There are flashbacks to her being cornered and machine-gunned in a corridor on Galactica.) Why does she have the Cylon Centurion delete its logs when she commands it to shoot her in the head? When she downloads, surely someone has to know that she died and transferred to a new body, right? Do Cylon bodies have serial numbers? Is this plot supposed to give us hints about something or simply provide half-baked pseudo-philosophical atmosphere? I confess that I don't know.
Back aboard the Galactica, Bulldog inevitably learns of Adama's role in shooting him down, which leads to a violent confrontation in which it looks like Bulldog is prepared to crush Adama's throat with a pipe. Tigh intervenes, and has a priceless little self-describing speech about self-loathing versus facing the truths that we deep down know but don't want to accept. "Sometimes surviving can be its own death sentence," he says. His speech is better than a 12-step program.
Bulldog knows he was shot down; he just doesn't want to admit it. Bulldog knows the Cylons let him escape; he just doesn't want to admit it. Meanwhile, Tigh knows that he would rather drown in self-loathing than face the fact that he killed his wife. The speech the writers give Tigh is great service to Tigh in terms of character development. I like that Tigh is in this place of pain, and is somehow able to burrow his way out. I also like that this leads him to finally bear his soul and confess his sin and reason for suffering to Adama at the end of the episode. In a less-than-stellar episode, there are still stellar moments like this to find.
On the other hand, I don't buy the rationale surrounding Bulldog. Apparently the Cylons let him escape because they knew he would find out about Adama's role in shooting him down and take revenge. If that's the Cylons' plan (and the opening titles assure us every week that "they have a plan"), my questions are as follows: (1) How in the world did Bulldog find the fleet? (2) If Bulldog can find the fleet then why don't the Cylons find the fleet? (3) Why don't the Cylons jump in and attack the fleet directly since they must therefore know where it is? Perhaps their need to find Earth supersedes their need to attack the fleet. Or perhaps the plot is a sieve.
After the past has been dealt with, where does Bulldog go at the end of the episode? He gets on a ship and it's not said where he's going. Apparently he's not staying on Galactica, and that's all we're intended to know. On a series that has had such a dearth of prominent black male characters, Bulldog's half-baked exit from this story is less than satisfying. (Not that his thus-far-mediocre character would've necessarily been a winning addition to the recurring cast.)
And the episode never convinced me of Adama's characterization of overburdened self-administered guilt. When Roslin tries to set him straight (i.e., he was one man in a war that had many, many reasons, etc.), it seems like common sense. That Adama would go so far as to submit his resignation to Roslin (which she rejects, naturally) borders on the ridiculous. You can be torn up inside, but for the sake of those around you and under your command, you can't afford to be so outwardly dramatic. Adama of all people should know that.