As a general rule, I'm tired of cliffhanger season enders. Cliffhangers have long since become cliché. The newer template of serialized cable television — as evidenced by shows like The Sopranos, The Wire, or The Shield — has managed to get away from the network presentation of the cliffhanger season cap. Cable series now often treat seasons as book volumes where certain plot lines are resolved in some form, even as new plot lines are set up. Usually they end on a note of quasi-resolution rather than a note of "to be continued."
Not "Kobol's Last Gleaming." But I'm certainly not complaining. I'll take any cliffhanger as purely entertaining — and that promises to be as life-altering — as what we get in "Kobol's Last Gleaming, Part 2." Not only does the episode end on a true "Mr. Worf, fire" moment of unexpected shock, it's like five cliffhangers all at once, united in the big quagmire that is the story. Just about every character ends up in the jackpot, and for some characters, things will never be the same (or at least I would hope not). This is a cliffhanger for which there will be hell to pay. How is this all going to play out? One legitimate concern is whether season two can pay off what has been set in motion here.
Let's start with Helo and Boomer on Caprica. Not the season's best story structure, I'll grant you. Basically, they've been running around in the background of 13 episodes. Dramatically, aside from Helo recently learning Boomer is a Cylon, this has been a long road of relatively inconsequential events. It has allegedly encompassed 51 days, but it feels more like a couple weeks. And what's Helo's brilliant plan? Still to get off the planet and get back to the Galactica. What in the world makes him think Galactica is going to be anywhere to be found after nearly two months?
Whatever. Helo and Boomer go to the museum that holds the Arrow of Apollo — the same Arrow that Starbuck has jumped all the way back to Caprica to retrieve on behalf of Roslin. Is it a coincidence that Boomer has brought Helo here? Or do the Cylons also have a plan involving the Arrow? If they do, why have they waited 51 days to go after it? And is it a coincidence that the Cylons have taken orbit around Kobol right after the fleet discovered it?
Aboard the Galactica, the situation quickly deteriorates. Roslin, having gone around Adama and betrayed his secret to Starbuck, admits her complicity. Adama immediately asks for her resignation. She refuses. Oh, and she's called the press to hear everything unfold. Noting that "she's dangerous," Adama intends to board the Colonial One and force her to step down. Both think the other is bluffing, but make preparations in case they aren't.
Who's to blame for this situation? In a way, everybody and nobody, but I guess this is ultimately about crossing lines. Clearly, Roslin crossed a line by going to Starbuck. But the choice, ultimately, was Starbuck's to make; Roslin didn't force her to do anything. By demanding her resignation and sending an armed party to arrest her, is Adama justified, or is he himself now crossing the line in bypassing due process of the law? One wonders how anything can ever be the same again when the head of the military sends guys with guns to arrest the head of the civilian government.
Don't forget — we also have a stranded Raptor team on Kobol and a Cylon base star in orbit. The new plan is to send a Raptor with a Cylon transponder to go nuke the base star. With Starbuck gone, Adama chooses Boomer to fly the mission ("I need every pilot") with ECO Racetrack (Leah Cairns). For obvious story reasons Boomer needs to be on this mission, but would Adama really send her in light of Boomer's suspiciously "accidental" shooting of herself? Perhaps this is what trusting your fellow soldiers is about, but one wonders if Adama asked himself the question.
The stranded team on Kobol is mainly concerned with basic military survival tactics, and I liked the story's continued commitment to character details. Lt. Crashdown is in command, but he's clearly not nearly as experienced as Chief Tyrol, who has better instincts about where the team needs to be going. There are early signs of some friction/competition here, even as Crashdown realizes he's wrong and Tyrol's right. Meanwhile, Six plays the part of guardian angel for Baltar, saving his life at one point, and then promising him answers. She leads him to some nearby ruins of the Kobol opera house, in a sequence that's visually and musically arresting.
Starbuck arrives on a very Cylon-occupied Caprica (although most of the Cylons seem to be in orbit), and there's a nifty FX shot of her Raider flying through a ravaged cityscape of damaged skyscrapers. She quickly finds the museum and the Arrow, but is just as quickly ambushed by a copy of Number Six. This leads to the best brutal beating between blonde babes that I've seen since the fight between Uma Thurman and Daryl Hannah in Kill Bill, Vol. 2. The stunt work isn't nearly as elaborate or inventive, but as a simple, dirty, dusty, grueling, violent slugfest, it's well done and entertaining. The music made me think of Black Hawk Down. Starbuck can't really go head-to-head against a Cylon, but that doesn't stop her from trying, and I enjoyed her spirit, even if the dogged underdog is nothing we haven't seen before. The fight ends the only way it can (and the only way Kara can win it), with a reckless, desperate explosion of Starbuck madness. Yes, Kara should probably be dead from such a fall, but I'm heartened by how on this show even the slugfests end in a way true to character.
Helo and Boomer happen upon Starbuck just in time to watch gravity become her (painful) best friend. Speaking of Helo/Boomer, Sharon reveals to Helo that she's pregnant, and that what they had together was important for spiritual reasons. The entire season on Caprica has basically been building up to this discovery, and the sci-fi/religious implications and questions are endless. What does this mean? Why do the Cylons want hybrid children? Do they require humans to conceive? Why destroy a civilization in order to replace it in the same image, complete with hybrids?
All of these questions are tantalizing. The one hesitation I have is that they seem like they could potentially have arbitrary answers (or, for that matter, none at all), like the X-Files conspiracy plots or Enterprise's Temporal Cold War. The Cylon master plan is either seriously flawed (couldn't they have engineered a love/sexual encounter in far simpler ways?) or spiraling out of their control. One interesting idea is that maybe Sharon is a wild card capable of more independent thought than the Cylons anticipated. There's certainly evidence to support that theory.
Like, for example, Sharon being capable of blowing up the Cylon base star orbiting Kobol. Faced with a malfunction, Sharon and Racetrack are forced to land their Raptor in the base star docking bay, and Sharon must remove the nuke from the side of the Raptor and arm it. While doing this, she's confronted by a small army of naked Sharon copies (who emerge from strategically placed shadows). This is a truly eerie scene, and Sharon's response ("This isn't happening") is pretty dead-on. The gentleness of the Sharons toward Sharon is especially disturbing, as if they're simply incapable of harming one of their own. Why do they let Sharon go? Do they even know that she's planted a nuke on board their ship? They don't appear to, anyway, until it's too late. Sharon gets into the Raptor and they leave. KA-BOOM.
Back on the Galactica, Roslin doesn't show any signs of standing down as the boarding party arrives, and the unfortunate prospect of the system collapsing is demonstrated through a nice touch where Dualla and Billy ask each other if their respective bosses are really going through with this. As if the Cylons weren't enough trouble, now human beings are suddenly on opposing sides of internal strife. Lee's major decision grows out of his speech on democracy in "Bastille Day"; he pulls a gun on Tigh at the last minute and stands not exactly with Roslin, but against a military coup that is terminating the current government. The volatility of the standoff prompts Roslin to back down. Adama has her put in the brig, in a scene of dialed-down straightforwardness and quiet regret.
And then, after all that, comes the shocker: About to be publicly congratulated on her successful mission, Sharon pulls a gun and shoots Adama in full view of everyone in the Galactica CIC, leaving him bleeding to death. It's so swift and unexpected that it could not have been predicted.
So, aside from the obvious drama circling the "will Adama die?" question (gee, what do you think?), the reason this works as a cliffhanger — and works so well — is because it cannot be undone. It has huge consequences for the characters, who by the end of this episode are scattered all over the place.
For starters, the cat is out of the bag — Sharon is a Cylon and everyone knows it. There's the added complexity that the Caprica Sharon seems willing to defect (and is pregnant, which has endless possibilities), even while the Galactica Sharon shot Adama on what looked like autopilot (will she even remember doing it?) after destroying the base star.
We have Adama out of commission, meaning Tigh will have to step up into full-fledged command. We have Lee in handcuffs for mutiny, having gone against his father, who now lies badly wounded. We have Roslin in the brig for willfully undermining a military decision. We have what appears to be no working government for the fleet.
We have Starbuck, Helo, and Boomer on Caprica, in possession of the Arrow of Apollo, which might or might not mean something bigger. We have a military team stranded on Kobol. And, as usual, we have Baltar off in his own little world, being taken on journeys of God and destiny by Six, who foretells Baltar as the one to watch over the new generation of God's children — the hybrids.
That all of this actually makes sense and holds together and seems to emerge from a single coherent narrative with a consistent through-line, and has artistic ambitions without coming across as pretentious, and has a large dose of mystery without seeming aimless — well, that's pretty damn amazing.
Heck, "Kobol's Last Gleaming" is enough to convince me that cliffhangers are still worth doing. This episode, and the season in general, makes me feel more like a cheerleader than a critic. So be it. The cards lie where they fall. Hopefully season two will not be afraid to fully confront this intriguing shuffled deck.