"Faith" tells a story combining religion and science fiction about as successfully as I've personally seen it done. In that way, it's a legitimate rival for my longtime benchmark, 1997's Contact (although they're admittedly apples and oranges). The result is an hour full of probing questions that will likely strike different people in different ways. This is a sophisticated and emotionally resonant meditation on life and death, struggle and pain, coping and humanity, and, yes, faith.
The key reason Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's issues of faith never truly worked as an allegory for the real world was because Bajor's prophets were tangible beings that could be physically observed and performed physically tangible miracles. The existence of the Bajoran "gods" was a simple fact; the only question was whether or not one believed the wormhole beings actually were gods. As a result, the religion issue on DS9 lost a lot of its real-world resemblance and relevance. BSG, however, resembles our world precisely because the existence of God (or the Gods) cannot be proven with evidence. It must be taken on faith.
Before I get into all that, let me first pick up where last week's "Road Less Traveled" left off, with the situation on the Demetrius about to go sideways (as they're always saying on The Shield). Sideways it quickly does go, with Kara getting relieved of duty, Kara refusing to stand down, Sharon subduing Kara, Helo ordering the ship to jump back to the fleet, Anders taking Kara's side and pointing a gun at Gaeta and ordering him to halt the jump, and eventually Anders shooting Gaeta in the leg to take the situation over by force. Poor Gaeta. What did he ever do to deserve all he's gotten? (As Clint Eastwood once said, deserve's got nothin' to do with it. Later when Gaeta says, "Don't let Cottle take my leg," we know his fate is sealed; he's gonna lose it.)
Kara, realizing things are quickly spinning out of control, agrees to step down but instead says that she will go herself in a Raptor with Leoben to find the damaged basestar. The rest of the Demetrius can wait here and jump back to the fleet if they don't return. Anders goes with her, along with, interestingly, Sharon, who just seconds earlier was holding Kara in a headlock. Kara needs a Cylon who can provide interfacing help. Plus, the story needs an additional reason to make Helo squirm as the deadline of 15 hours until the rendezvous counts down. Also volunteering for the mission is someone who believes in Starbuck — a crewman named Barolay, who should probably be wearing a red shirt.
"Road" and "Faith" are two separate stories, which merely use the cliffhanger as a jumping-off point for the real story about Kara's bizarre and eye-opening dealings with the Cylon renegades (if indeed it is they, and the not the Cavil camp, who are the "renegades"). Finding the basestar is its own challenge; fortunately, Kara can sense which way to go, and to her own surprise realizes the comet she saw orbiting a planet in her visions was actually the basestar. Nifty, but it again begs the question: Who and what is Resurrected Starbuck? It's worth noting that we are now six episodes into Starbuck's return and essentially know no more about where she went than we did in the first episode. The writers have done a good job putting off all answers to the mystery while distracting us with character analysis like her realization in "Road" that she has lost the person she was and may never get it back. Ultimately, that's the right choice, because this is about characters more than it's about a plot answer that ultimately will have to be somewhat arbitrary.
Once aboard the basestar, we see the formation of a precarious alliance. Renegade Six has no better options with her basestar crippled, but she is not especially happy about giving Kara access to the Hybrid, nor pleased in general about the Leobens' obsession with her. Meanwhile, in what is as amusing an idea as it is interesting, Athena is instantly accosted by a horde of Eights that timidly ask her to lead a mutiny against the Sixes that mutinied against the other Cylons. "You guys make me sick," Athena replies. "You pick a side and you stick. You don't cut and run." The Eights were once called a weak model; perhaps this is further evidence. Bunch of flip-floppers. They should heed Stephen Colbert on the virtue of having balls.
There are a couple of terrific key scenes in this storyline. The most psychologically compelling is when Crewman Barolay has a run-in with a copy of a Six in the docking bay. They get into a brief verbal exchange, and the Six kills her. Just like that. Turns out that Barolay had killed this copy of Six on New Caprica, and now she takes her revenge. Evident here is the ugly cycle of violence that begets violence. Like the best aspects of BSG, there's a real-world message to be found here, but it's elevated into the what-if realm by the ever-so-slight sci-fi tweak: Because this Six had resurrected, she was able to later face the woman who killed her. And she just couldn't let it go.
The point of the scene is how the Cylons are indeed very much psychologically affected by the violence inflicted upon them: Despite all this Six's counseling and her struggles to put being killed behind her, she couldn't do it: "I still see her face when I try to sleep." So now this Six faces her end at the hand of Renegade Six. In an act of "justice" to make a point and provide an answer for Barolay's death in the interests of the fragile alliance, Renegade Six shocks everyone by pulling the trigger and putting down one of her own sister models. There is no resurrection ship; "She's as dead as your friend." Fascinating and powerful — it's a statement of what she sees the stakes are.
The other big moment here is when Starbuck finally gets to visit with the ever-cryptic Hybrid, who at first doesn't say anything remotely relevant or even react to Kara but instead seems to exist somewhere in her own world halfway between a Star Trek engineering deck and your office's IT department.
Eventually, when it seems the Hybrid isn't going to say anything useful, and they're about to pull the plug, a strange series of events occurs. A Centurion shoots the Eight that is about to unplug the Hybrid from the basestar's control, causing the Hybrid to let out an endless, disturbing shriek before finally seeing Kara and imparting some information that makes for some of BSG's most significant mythology material yet. I'll simply quote it: "The dying leader will know the truth of the Opera House. The missing Three will give you the Five who have come from the home of the Thirteenth. You are the harbinger of death, Kara Thrace. You will lead them all to their end." Wow. It's not just in what is said, but how it's said and how it's lit and shot and directed and scored and edited. Absorbing stuff. And what's said is surprisingly decipherable.
(By the way, I must do what I think I've somehow failed to do in every review up to this point and mention that the Hybrid is played by Tiffany Lyndall-Knight. Her performance is effective — creating a presence that is profoundly creepy and yet at the same time strangely comforting.)
Within the basestar storyline are some smaller touches that are also nice, both involving Anders. One comes when he moves his hand toward a basestar interface panel but ultimately doesn't follow through. What would happen if he, one of the mysterious Final Five, were to attempt to interact with Cylon technology?
The other comes later; when the Eight is shot and lies dying, she reaches out for a kindred hand, hoping to be comforted as she dies. Her sister Eight, Athena, reaches out but just barely balks, as if she can't bring herself to do it. When Athena demurs, Anders steps up and takes the dying Eight's hand. Good stuff worth pondering: Why can't Athena bring herself to go there? Is she so disgusted with her origins and sister Eight models? She seems so much now to identify herself as being human. Meanwhile, Anders tries to oblige this dying Eight, as if trying to step into the Cylon role he now knows he must fill.
So, yes, "Faith" is extraordinary stuff, and I haven't even delved into the storyline that's of probably more significance to "Faith's" real intentions — the stuff dealing with the faith. After last week featured no Roslin or Adama at all, we now get a story all about Roslin and her battle with cancer as it takes place in the Galactica ICU. Season four is proving that it can leave entire plot lines and characters off screen for whole episodes at a time and then bring them back with unhindered effectiveness. I have no structural qualms with that whatsoever.
Okay, maybe one. There's an early scene where we finally we see Tory and Roslin talking on Colonial One. I'm not positive, but I don't think we've scene such an occurrence yet this season, and only now in retrospect do I notice how much of an oversight it might've been. Roslin praises Tory's job performance for stepping up (after falling apart in "Crossroads"). I wish we'd seen more of this, because from what we in the audience have seen, it's less than apparent that Tory has been doing any job at all, let alone a good one. (But I suppose the point here is that they made the point.) Some meaty Roslin/Tory intrigue was something that seemed like an obvious wealth of material when we found out Tory was a Cylon. So far it hasn't materialized (but it's not like there hasn't been plenty else going on instead).
Anyway, Roslin lands for an extended stay in the ICU, where she shares times with another terminal cancer victim, Emily (Nana Visitor, of the aforementioned DS9-prophet-worshipping Bajoran persuasion). Roslin has lost all her hair from cancer treatments. But the more direly ill Emily (who is mere days from death's door) ominously warns her: "It's gonna get a lot worse. Be prepared for that."
The two bond over their shared experience of illness. Emily listens to Baltar on the radio, who preaches his One True God sermons that eschew the traditional Lords of Kobol that Roslin has always prayed to. Roslin wonders what Emily sees in Baltar's ramblings, but therein lies the key to the episode. Emily experienced firsthand what she surely believed to be God and the afterlife, and Baltar's sermons — not the traditional religion — mirror what she is certain she experienced.
The question here becomes: Could the truth of the afterlife actually be about the one true God that Baltar speaks of? Is that one true God the same as the Cylon God? And is faith in one true God a heresy against the Lords of Kobol? If so, what does it mean that this movement is now taking place among humans after having had such a foothold among the Cylons — and perhaps been their impetus for destroying humanity in the first place? Certainly in our real world religion lies in the eye of the beholder. Is the eventual overthrow of the establishment simply an question of numbers?
Sometimes it has nothing to do with the establishment. As the dying Emily says, "I don't need metaphors. I need answers." She's not the only one. A dramatic highlight in the episode is Laura's tale of her own mother's death, which to her revealed merely emptiness and nothing else. For Laura, at that young age, she saw only devastation. No comfort or reason to believe her mother was going to a better place. And it's a tough thing for her to talk about, all these years later. As Emily astutely points out, that experience was filtered through what Laura saw, not what the truth might actually have been for her mother. And that's the point here about faith. It's about the individual more than anything else.
Later, Roslin has an experience where she apparently witnesses Emily crossing over into the afterlife. It's not a dream. It's ... something more. Faith. These are powerful images, despite their utter simplicity. "Faith" has things to ponder about big human questions. When Roslin wakes up and Emily is gone, in her bed is only Baltar's voice, on the radio. It really gets inside her head. Maybe there's actually something to what he's peddling.
That this episode can raise so many recognizable real-world questions even though it exists in its own sci-fi universe is a testament to how truly it embodies the mission of science fiction. It is really about its characters, about us, about society, about issues in the real world.
And I absolutely love that the ending of this episode is about emotions and characters and not about the plot. Yes, there is, previous to the final scene, a lot of plot-based buildup and a ticking clock that counts all the way down to zero. But, ultimately, the episode's send-off has nothing to do with any of it. The writers know that we know that the deadline crisis has been averted, and so they turn the ending inward to the characters.
This attribute is a virtue of "Faith" that does not call any attention to itself whatsoever. But I must herald it, because it instead simply believes in its characters to connect with the audience and drive home the emotional points. It does so superbly. The final scene between Adama and Roslin — which reveals Adama's emotional abandonment and how Roslin may be the very essence of his remaining soul — is so straightforward and yet so moving. Here's an episode that knows it has enough plot to be a game-changer, and yet puts all its final efforts into finding just the right understated words, tone, and feelings between the admiral and the president. Bravo.
That's how it should be. This is an example of why the first 10 episodes of BSG's fourth season are among the series' very strongest batch of shows.