Not every series could or would attempt to put such a huge question mark at the end of an episode, then go the entire subsequent episode without even one scene from the point of view of the characters most crucially involved in that question. But not every series has as many players as Battlestar Galactica and gives them such equal emphasis. Take, for example, the exceptionally superb The Shield. It's also arc driven, but in terms of screen time, it's a little more biased toward Vic Mackey and the Strike Team. I don't think BSG has such a bias. It has a lot of characters and gives them all a lot of play. That's just a simple observation, not an opinion on whether one approach is inherently better than the other.
When you look at the three-episode structure of "Guess What's Coming to Dinner?", "Sine Qua Non," and now "The Hub," it's rather sublime. Rather than having three parts told chronologically, where we'd be crosscutting between all the characters, the writers have crafted two separate "part twos." The first part two addresses the story from the characters in the fleet, and the second part two addresses it from the characters on the basestar. Both episodes span the same time frame. It's fundamentally a simple concept, but also crafty.
I think it makes sense because the stories involved, while operating on a common thread, have very different themes. Even if told chronologically it would still necessitate two episodes of screen time. So by separating them and telling the stories on their own, they've actually made it easier to sustain narrative momentum in each thread. I admire that approach. It was also probably one of necessity; to show all of what goes on in each of these two episodes at the same time would not be easy. The story has grown so big that subplots have their own subplots.
But I'm getting too hung up on structure here. "The Hub" works because it's big, it's epic, it's emotional, and it's a major turning point in the BSG storyline. At the same time, it's also an intimate character study of Laura Roslin, who is very aware of her inevitable death, and realizes in her dreams/experiences/visions here that being the president has made her hard. The visions come every time the basestar makes an FTL jump. An FTL jump aboard this ship apparently has a special knack for bringing insight to people who need it. I like the notion itself that while you're in mid-jump, you might exist somewhere between reality and post-reality. It's kind of creepy, and also kind of comforting.
In these visions Roslin sees herself on her deathbed and is guided by the long-dead Priest Elosha, with whom Roslin was very close, and who laments the humanity Roslin has lost: "You don't love people," Elosha tells her. We realize in these scenes how the burden of being president has taken its toll on Roslin's soul. If indeed it's true that she doesn't love people, it's probably because she feels she can't afford to.
Back in the real world, the Hybrid's jumps are actually based on her own instincts; she's following the signatures left by the jumping resurrection hub, which means the daring attack plan might not be lost. If the Colonials can get into position once the basestar is in the hub's vicinity, they can launch their attack and destroy the Cylon resurrection ability forever.
The Hybrid also continues to speak its gibberish, which Roslin and Baltar mostly fruitlessly attempt to decode (both have experienced the Opera House) in strange quasi-comic scenes where they're both yelling at the Hybrid and trying to get its attention. I didn't think all the yelling worked as comedy or drama; it was merely loud goofiness. But in the Hybrid's gibberish we do learn that she knows Renegade Six was killed on Galactica, and a Sharon copy refers to her as "Natalie." (Like Pegasus Six aka "Gina" of season two, it's not until the character has been killed on-screen that we actually learn her name — hence the reason I've never used it in a review before, despite the fact SciFi.com revealed it before season four even started. It's not canon 'til it's on the screen.)
"The Hub" also keeps minor subplots alive in the background. For example, a prominent "guest" character here (played by a regular actor) is a copy of Sharon that knows how to massage Helo's shoulders. How does she know what only Helo's wife knew? Because she has accessed Athena's memories that were stored after she was last killed/downloaded (see "Rapture"). I'll henceforth call this Sharon clone Athena-2. This is a bizarre turn of events and a unique violation of Helo's trust and Athena's individuality (although one wonders if Athena expected to retain that privacy having gone through the download process), and it serves to remind Helo (and us) of the real difference between humans and Cylons. As long as this downloading process exists, it will always serve as a reminder that these people maybe aren't people in the true sense, because they cannot die. It's all the more interesting to ponder what it will mean to the Cylons when that capability is gone.
So the Colonials' daring plan goes ahead: A surprise attack on the hub's FTL drive will disable it so an extended attack can be launched and the Vipers can get in close enough to nuke it. This surprise attack will require the Vipers to be powered off and towed via cable by Cylon Heavy Raiders under the guise of a peaceful approach. It also means the human Viper pilots must put full trust in their Cylon allies amid a very tenuous alliance. Athena-2 makes an impassioned plea to the Viper pilots to trust her and the other Cylons like just they trust Athena-1. (Complicated enough?) What's important to note about this battle plan is that it's not based on complicated, meaningless technical or strategic details; it's about the more human military aspects, like trusting your ally not to betray you, and your wingman not to screw up.
But trust only goes so far. When it comes to the plan to rescue D'Anna, who knows the identities of the Final Five, Roslin takes no chances; she orders Helo to bring D'Anna straight to her after she's unboxed and (inevitably, successfully, by episode's end) rescued from the hub. Helo, always the man with a code who wants to do the right thing, objects to this deception. When he argues for trust in the Cylon allies — like he trusts his wife — Roslin has a coolly delivered response: "You are not married to the entire production line." Fair enough; Cylon copies are individuals, and as such, you can't simply trust them all to behave monolithically.
The actual attack on the hub is a powerful sequence. It features a beautiful, wonderfully realized visual effects sequence and a haunting score by Bear McCreary. It has an epic, poetic — even mournful — sweep to it. The reason it works so well is because the creative staff is keenly aware that this is not a typical visceral action sequence; it's an emotional piece about the very nature of the Cylon existence, and how humanity and rebel Cylons have teamed up to fundamentally change that existence. The gravity of what's happening is fully conveyed through editing, through music, through feelings. In short, after this happens, everything will be different. The question is how.
If "The Hub" has a flaw, it's that its scenes cut away from themselves to other threads and these transitions don't always feel organic. Crosscutting typically isn't a problem on this series (and it happens all the time), but here, when there's a major space battle, it has to be done with extreme care, and I thought that some of this at times felt like explosivus interruptus. The transition that cuts away from the battle to Baltar standing in a corridor, talking to a Centurion, has an odd momentum-killing quality. We go instantly from the macro to the micro: The Cylons are about to lose their resurrection ability, and Baltar is giving a religious monologue to a robot.
And yet there's something hilariously perfect about Baltar pointing out to a Centurion that it's the low man on the totem pole — a slave, in fact — and preaching to it the word of God. Baltar's evangelical mandate apparently now includes toasters. (Reminding me: We've heard "skinjob" a lot lately; "toaster" not so much). The fallout from the Centurions' sentience inhibitors being removed in "Six of One" hasn't been explored; I hope the issue returns in future episodes. Perhaps this is a hint of such.
Baltar is seriously wounded when the wall explodes behind him, and the only one on hand to treat him is Roslin, and this leads to a particularly intriguing scene. Roslin bandages him, and Baltar uses this opportunity to explain to her his enlightenment of faith.
The evolution of Baltar from an atheist to the leading voice of the monotheistic movement has been quite a journey. If I wasn't quite convinced by it in "Escape Velocity," I most definitely am now. This is a true character journey that finds a way to connect the dots. Baltar even uses faith as a way to wash away his past sins (and perhaps that was one reason that necessitated his conversion: so he could forgive himself). In demonstrating that notion he finally confesses to Roslin his biggest sin of all — that he gave up the access codes that allowed the Cylons to destroy the Colonies. Bang. Cards on the table. He juxtaposes himself to a Noah-like flood as described in Colonial scriptures: "Nobody blames the flood. The flood is a force of nature. Through the flood, mankind is rejuvenated and born again. I was not a flood. I blamed myself. God made the man that made that choice. God made us all perfect."
Hearing this is too much for Roslin, and she has a key decision here where she decides that Gaius Baltar must die to pay for his sins. She is prepared to let him bleed to death. She won't kill Baltar, but she won't save him, either. Is this the same as putting Baltar in the hands of God?
In Roslin's final vision, Elosha tells her that doling out death penalties cannot be done case by case. Roslin watches herself die, and sees the devastation it causes Adama. It's a powerful scene and it informs not only her epiphany about her relationship with Adama, but also her decision to make an about-face and save Baltar. Fascinating stuff. Watch Roslin's desperation as she tries to save Baltar, and avert her own massive sin.
Lastly, the Adama/Roslin relationship pays of here in wonderful fashion. Simply put, they love each other, and finally that fact is embraced and acknowledged. As a payoff, this is a revelation, and I'll tell you why. Love that is fully earned, so that you get true buy-in from the audience, is really hard to depict adequately on the screen. Really, really hard. Dysfunctional romances and coy trifles are a dime a dozen. But the kind of grown-up, mature, comfortable, trusting, fully complementing, intellectually aligned relationship that is Adama and Roslin — it's a big deal to pull off convincingly. This is a relationship that has been built on hours of nuanced storytelling and terrific performances by Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell, and when it comes together like it does in this final moment, it must be singled out for praise.
Footnote: I couldn't shoehorn this naturally into the general discussion, but I still wanted to mention the episode's big fake-out, when D'Anna tells Roslin that she's the final Cylon and then has a good laugh over the lie. Even the music plays along. Fun stuff, albeit cheeky.
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