The most simplistic yet accurate one-line review for "Exodus, Part 1" that I could possibly write is: "All setup, no payoff." This episode is one hour of setup material, with no release and, surprisingly enough, not much suspense or tension. It's background material. Necessary? Absolutely. Satisfying? Not exactly.
It's a simple fact that any reasonable storytelling must have ebb and flow. This is definitely the ebb part. Let me reiterate that this show contains plenty of useful and necessary storytelling, but after "Occupation/Precipice," this feels like an episode that's spinning its wheels — even when, strictly speaking, it's not. Perhaps it has something to do with the awe factor: Once we've gotten over the initial shock of where all the characters are, we must now follow them around on this rock, and that's not as intriguing here as it might've been.
Let's start with the quasi-cheat structure of the opening act. "Precipice" ended with a cliffhanger where it looked like Roslin and dozens more were about to be executed in a mass machine-gunning. "Exodus, Part 1" begins with the declarative title "one hour earlier," and we see events that are undoubtedly going to retroactively impact the outcome of last week's cliffhanger ending.
Tyrol gets wind of the death order that the Cylons drew up (and Baltar signed), and must now, with a small team of soldiers, do everything he can to stop it — especially since his wife Cally is on the list. Apparently to give the story a more personal angle (as if Roslin, Zarek, and dozens more about toe be shot weren't enough), the episode feels a need to make Tyrol go into a fit of hyperventilating. We must stop the Cylons now, because "They've got Cally!"
Tyrol's rescue is crosscut with Anders' team rendezvousing with Sharon as the first step in Galactica's evacuation plan. The Cylons open fire on Anders' team because their position has been betrayed by Ellen, for reasons that one can understand but not forgive. Did she even realize the stakes involved? No, she did not.
Crosscutting the attack on Anders' team with the rescue of the prisoners by Tyrol's team is a nice try editorial-wise, but ultimately it's a little muddled. The scene, for example, never shows how Tyrol's team took out the half-dozen Cylon Centurions that were about to shoot the prisoners. So far as I can tell, the Centurions simply vanished after the machinegun fire started. Did Tyrol's team have RPGs like Anders' team did? If so, we don't see them.
After the opening action, "Exodus, Part 1" settles into a series of scenes that might best be described as scene-setting for "Exodus, Part 2." Yes, it's all relevant, but a lot of it we already knew. There are scenes where Roslin reiterates the importance of Maya and her mysterious child, which she ominously refers to as "the shape of things to come." And there's the issue of Ellen, whom Anders immediately knows is the one who betrayed them (the Cylons who attacked them had the map she was supposed to burn). The moment Tigh learns of his wife's betrayal is the ultimate in dramatic rubber bands stretched to the max but somehow not permitted to break. The breaking will evidently come next week.
Meanwhile, Cylon D'Anna has a strange dream and/or premonition about a human oracle and a child. She visits the temple from her dream and the oracle tells her, in not so many words, that Sharon's child Hera is still alive. While it's been established before that Cylons can "see patterns" regarding the future, this to me feels like a convenient narrative shortcut that steers clear of potentially more interesting real-world scenarios for this discovery. Rather than coming up with a plot- or character-based situation for how the Cylons learn that Hera still lives, the writers fall back on the more arbitrary spiritual/mystical explanation. Part of me feels like this is a cop-out.
Still, this leads to the episode's single most engaging character dynamic, where Sharon breaks into the Cylon base and is discovered by D'Anna, who tells her that Hera is still very much alive. Sharon's response is the most interesting and foreboding line in the show: "Adama wouldn't lie to me." Sharon carries out the mission successfully and obtains the launch codes, but you just know that this dialog exchange is going to come back to haunt everybody. After all of Adama's talk about trust, this betrayal — regardless of the situation and what was said to whom and when — is going to be a devastating blow to all the understandings that Adama and Sharon have reached in the past year, and who knows what the consequences will ultimately be.
It's the one good payoff in an episode that is otherwise content to provide only setup and atmosphere. This series has a tendency to stand studiously on ceremony, and I often appreciate that tendency. But I also occasionally grow restless about it. This episode has so much emotional/atmospheric pre-battle preparation on Galactica that it comes dangerously close to cliché, no matter how earnest and well performed it is. There's the flight-deck prayer, the salt poured on the floor, the shaking of hands, the well-wishing, and Lee and Adama hugging for what they both expect will be the last time. All of this is done with utter conviction. But it also betrays a certain air of false suspense — because, let's face it, the mission is obviously going to be successful in next week's "Exodus, Part 2," where the title itself is the confirmation to what is already a foregone conclusion.
So when Adama makes his speech just before the Galactica jumps to New Caprica for a mission that (if successful) will be remembered for generations to come, I can appreciate the intention, but it's certainly not a case where drama and suspense are the same thing.