As is necessary for most mythology episodes, "Rapture" creates as many new plot questions as it answers. It also seems to confirm the cycle that is the series of BSG: Each half-season starts out with a show that sends everyone off in new directions. If season 3.5 follows in the footsteps of 2.5 and 3.0, we'll have an adjustment period where we can all come to grips with the realignment of the characters (likely to be the most interesting episodes) before we then get a smattering of standalones and a sense of flagging momentum.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. "Rapture" is a satisfying and entertaining effort that proves even better than its setup episode, "Eye of Jupiter." There's a lot going on, and by the end several characters will be on new paths.
As expected, the cliffhanger was much ado about overly amped-up situations that have no choice but to immediately defuse themselves. The Cylons decide not to call Adama's bluff and turn back their Heavy Raiders — except for one, which D'Anna sends through against the wishes of the Cylon majority. The lone ship has Baltar and D'Anna on board to fulfill what they believe to be their destinies as outlined by the Hybrid. Adama stands down the nukes, not wanting to play out Armageddon over one ship. Meanwhile, D'Anna's disobedience forms friction within the Cylon ranks.
Here's an idea: Why not air "Rapture" the week after "The Eye of Jupiter" instead of splitting the storyline in half and airing the resolution so many weeks later? Yeah, yeah — I understand the cliffhanger theory as an attempt to create marketing buzz and return viewers, but does it really work? In this day and age, cliffhangers are cliche. Given how "Rapture" ends, wouldn't there still be enough viewers who would be sufficiently interested to come back and watch what happens next? (But I think I've said all this before.)
Fortunately, the episode does not dwell on its cliffhanger structure (it's merely a means to an end for the previous episode, whereas this episode has its own means and ends). For example, one thing I wasn't expecting was the moment when Helo shoots and kills Sharon as a matter of risky strategy so she can be downloaded onto the Cylon ship where she can see her baby, whom Boomer had told her was seriously ill.
The scene plays out as a tough, agonizing choice born out of desperation. That Helo must shoot his own wife is emotional, but what I also found interesting was the story's acknowledgement that it might not even be his (or Sharon's) right to make this choice. As Roslin points out, the risks involved are huge because Sharon has knowledge that could affect the safety of the entire fleet. Even if we can assume Sharon's loyalty to Galactica, the Cylons will have her in custody and might not give her the choice not to betray Galactica. Still, Helo stands up to Roslin. When he blames her for the situation having gotten to this point, he isn't exactly wrong; Roslin must shoulder her own share of the blame for stealing Hera and hiding her from the parents.
Sharon wakes up on the Cylon ship and is greeted by Caprica Six, where she begins running a game to gain her trust. Who's fooling whom here? That's the question. Can Sharon beat the Cylons at their own game of deception, or will they use her as a tool against Galactica?
Perhaps neither. Among the episode's most interesting character work is a scene where we learn that Caprica Six is still very much interested in a peaceful resolution with humanity. Boomer, meanwhile, most definitely is not. It's actually startling to see how far back into the Cylon nest Boomer has returned. There's a scene where Caprica, Boomer, and Athena are all in the same room discussing Hera's fate, and for a moment it looks like Boomer is prepared to snap Hera's neck. Caprica Six saves Hera by punching Boomer in the face and snapping her neck. Caprica then agrees to help get Athena off the basestar. (I suppose we've come full circle; Caprica snapped a baby's neck in the miniseries, and now she's saving babies from that fate.)
Running concurrent with the Galactica and Cylon basestar plots is the story on the ground of the algae planet, where Lee orders Dee to go after Kara's downed Raptor while he and Anders and their troops attempt to hold off Cylon Centurions long enough for Tyrol to find the Eye of Jupiter — a search that is not going well, by the way. This leads to some well-filmed (if familiar) ground infantry action inspired by many war movies. Like with WWII, the name of the game is valuable real estate and protecting it from falling into enemy hands. There's even a shot lifted directly from Saving Private Ryan, where Dee rolls over a felled man to reveal that there's a hole where his face used to be.
When Dee reaches Kara's shuttle, we get one of those Awkward Situations where the spouse confronts the one carrying on the affair. There's really not much to say about these scenes except that they happen, and that they at least put everything out in the open. Kara tries to mitigate the awkwardness by explaining to Dee that Lee won't cheat. ("He's too honorable," she says. Yeah, except for those times in the Raptor and all the ensuing lies.) To summarize this watchable but less-than-compelling love triangle (or Z, or whatever): Kara is completely screwed up when it comes to relationships, Lee is in love with the screw-up, and Dee and Anders are quasi-willing doormats to it all. At least until next week's episode when this all comes to a head...
Meanwhile, there's a star about to go nova. Well, I would certainly hope so. If a storyline sets up in part one the possibility that a star is going nova, then you'd better believe it's going nova in part two. (I suppose that's the rule of Chekhov's Gun as applied to solar systems.)
All the plot pieces collide in a way that only God (or Ronald D. Moore) could engineer so serendipitously. Lee's ground infantry abandons the temple as the Cylon reinforcements arrive, and Tyrol prepares to blow it up. As he's walking down the mountain with the detonator, Baltar and D'Anna (and a Cavil that had me wondering exactly where he came from) go into the temple and deactivate all the charges. Just then, the star goes nova, delivering a shock wave that will destroy the solar system within an hour. The nova creates some sort of magical light ray (the nova is the Eye of Jupiter, Tyrol realizes) that allows D'Anna (but not Baltar) to be pulled into an encounter with the Final Five Cylons, or the Face of God — or something. This encounter is ultimately deadly, because to look into the face of God is to bring about madness and death and so forth.
This might all sound (and indeed be) quite ridiculous, but it's to the credit of "Rapture" that the show has the conviction and showmanship to make all of this interesting, mysterious, and filled with awe. When D'Anna looks into the eyes of one of the Final Five and says, "You. Forgive me, I had no idea," I for one was intrigued by the possibilities. Who are the Final Five? Baltar believes he might still be one of them (I'm laying odds against it), but the answers are not forthcoming. Baltar, stranded in the temple with no solution to his problem, is recaptured and taken back to Galactica. (The story finds a note of satisfying humor in the way Baltar is universally regarded: "Welcome back, Mr. President." Whack.) The destruction of the planet by the shock wave is fairly spectacular, albeit not quite as spectacular as the similar scene in Star Trek: Generations, from which Moore is obviously cribbing (his own material no less).
What makes "Rapture" really come together is an expositional final act that brings insight to all the madness we've witnessed. Baltar is brought back to the fleet, secretly transported to Galactica in a body bag. What happens to Baltar next is a story teeming with possibilities. Meanwhile, Sharon returns with her daughter, bringing back a surrendering Caprica Six (who's promptly thrown into a cell).
Meanwhile, it's speculated that the nova was a hint as to the next pointer on the map to Earth — a reference to the location of another nova witnessed by the 13th tribe 4,000 years ago. And in what might be my favorite touch of continuity, Helo recognizes that the drawings in the temple look like the paintings that Kara used to create as a child (as seen in her apartment on Caprica in "Valley of Darkness"). This creepily raises more questions regarding all that Leoben told Kara about her destiny in "Flesh and Bone." Where is this headed?
As for D'Anna, her disobedience — and the perception by her fellow Cylons that she is playing out a dangerous religious obsession — seals her fate: Cavil tells her that her entire model line will be boxed. Something D'Anna alludes to before Cavil shuts her down, however, struck me as particularly interesting: She mentions the mystery of the evolution of the Cylon race, and it got me thinking that maybe their evolution was external rather than internal, having something to do with God and destiny more than the self-improvement that I had always assumed. Could it be that the Final Five were not evolved from the Cylons at all, that they were perhaps an external force that made the Cylons what they are today?
It's questions like these that make the mystery of the mythology more than simply an execution of plot points. While "Rapture" contains a lot of scurrying around for the sake of plot, it does pose several intriguing questions about the Cylons, about Earth, and about where the characters are headed now that several major chess pieces on the board have been moved into new positions.