Note: This review contains significant spoilers.
Battlestar Galactica: "The Road Less Traveled"
The chain of command on the Demetrius is threatened when Kara
considers an alliance with the Cylons brought to her by Leoben.
Tyrol, facing a personal crisis, confronts Baltar over his attempts
to expand his religious movement.
Air date: 5/2/2008 (USA)
Written by Mark Verheiden
Directed by Michael Rymer
Rating out of 4: ***1/2
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"The Road Less Traveled" is both visceral and thoughtful; immediate
and reflective. It's a best-of-all-worlds kind of BSG outing that
features nuanced characterization, tough choices, rapidly escalating
adrenaline, and the vintage type of "Battlestar" depiction of
military protocol that this series was originally built upon.
If "Escape Velocity" -- while good -- left me feeling slightly at
arm's length, "The Road Less Traveled" pulled me back in close.
The episode begins on Day 58 of the Demetrius' 60-day mission to find
Earth before rejoining the fleet. Tick, tock. Kara remains frequently
closed-off and erratic in her behavior during this mission she is
supposed to be commanding. The search for Earth has produced nothing,
and the crew's patience with Kara's antics has run out. The grumbling
was already evident weeks ago during "Six of One"; here it's
approaching fever pitch. (My, how cynical Gaeta has become. Once one
of the happiest-go-lucky of the crew, New Caprica turned him
downright bitter, not that you blame him. Equally bitter is Seelix.)
On this day, however, Kara goes on her first Viper scout flight since
the Demetrius left the fleet. It's one of those decisions that has
been carefully guided by cosmic fate (or as I have joked about in the
past, by the Plot Gods that are the show's writers, led by Plot God-
in-Chief Ronald D. Moore), because on this particular day and on this
particular flight, the Viper runs across a damaged Heavy Raider. Its
sole occupant: Leoben. Specifically, the same Leoben that held Kara
captive for months on New Caprica. Also the same Leoben whose ship
had been attacked by the Cavils, et al, after the divide in ideology
split the Cylon ranks into civil war.
So what was a winding-down mission that was about to end with the
Demetrius returning empty-handed instead gets a new spark of
inspiration: Leoben *must* be the key to the mystery, because what
are the chances that he just happened to be floating out here for the
Demetrius to find? In Leoben, Kara discovers a certain amount of
faith -- a faith that a coincidence of this sort cannot simply be
meaningless. This despite all he did to her on New Caprica, and
perhaps *because* of his role in "Maelstrom."
Leoben fully encourages this train of thought. He wants Kara to
realize her destiny. He reveals the civil war that has broken out
between the Cylons, and he offers the possibility of a new alliance
between the renegade Cylons and the Colonials, invites the Demetrius
to rendezvous with the renegade Cylons' damaged basestar where Kara
can talk to the Hybrid, who surely can offer cryptic advice that may
lead them all to Earth, the promised land.
Sound crazy? Well, maybe not to a person watching a fictional story
unfold where there are only a certain number of pieces to the puzzle
and this scenario seems to lock them together naturally. But as
members of the Demetrius crew whose lives are on the line, watching a
Cylon apparently manipulate Kara -- who has recently come back from
the dead, by the way -- into what could very possibly be a deadly
trap ... well, can you blame them for thinking Starbuck is off her
Meanwhile, Anders' role in all this is worth pondering. When you
consider that he's one of the Final Five Cylons and no one on the
Demetrius but him knows that, what does that mean for where his
motives lie in this puzzle? Add to that his loyalty to his wife,
despite how screwed-up their relationship is. Talk about complicated.
The most crucial key to making these major characters Cylons lies in
that they are still individuals motivated by their own sense of
identity. And they all respond in individual ways.
That theme allows me to transition to the other storyline in the
episode, centering on a quiet war of attrition between Baltar and
Tyrol. After the death of his wife and the loss of his job, Tyrol is
nothing short of lost. Baltar's radio program argues the non-
existence of the Colonials' traditional Gods, in favor of the One
True God that Baltar seeks to replace the establishment with. Tyrol
listens in his quarters. Shuts it off. His son cries. He turns it
Tyrol tries to make sense of Cally's suicide. Tory provides her
perspective, saying that God has a plan for everyone. Tyrol: "You
spend way too much time with Baltar." Indeed she does, and Tory and
Baltar's pillow talk is revealing. We learn that Baltar's religious
movement is still a fringe one. "No one of consequence" will be a
part of it. If only they could get someone of consequence to stand up
and lend credence to the cause.
Watching how Tigh, Tyrol, and Tory react in such different ways to
living with their secret is fascinating and wonderfully attuned to
their individual personalities. Tigh simply sucks it up and decides
to go on; he *is* Saul Tigh, and that's all there is to it. Tyrol
can't do that, and instead suffers, crashes, and burns. Meanwhile,
Tory thinks they can be the salvation of the human race. "All I
know," Tyrol says, "is if there is a God, he's laughing his ass off."
Watching this, I realized that this story was really most crucially
about Tyrol. Being a Cylon has put him in this awful place mentally,
but how he reacts to it is all about who Tyrol is as a man. There are
scenes where he goes to Baltar's temple. We're not sure exactly what
will happen or what will be said; we're simply invited to watch as
Tyrol stands motionless and silent and the camera regards his eyes
and we imagine what might be going through his mind. He's in deep,
conflicted torment. Aaron Douglas is excellent in scenes where he
doesn't say a word. And it makes his outbursts of bottled rage all
the more effective. In one scene he very nearly kills himself, before
gradually calming himself down. It's potent stuff.
The payoff comes late in the episode when Baltar reaches out to
Tyrol. It's a scene that has so many intriguing layers to it, and I
would argue that it is this episode, much more so than "Escape
Velocity," where Baltar's sense of purpose and the attractiveness of
his movement really shine through. I wasn't persuaded by Baltar's
murky "You are all perfect" speech in "Escape Velocity" (partially
because we had little stake in the faceless extras he was supposedly
winning over there, and perhaps also because there was too much of
Head Six pulling the strings).
But here I see a Baltar who (1) can offer something to a man who has
lost everything, and (2) seems absolutely genuine in his attempt to
reach out to someone in pain. It may not be selfless (this is Baltar,
after all), but it's an attempt at something at least mutually
beneficial. Genuineness is not something that usually comes across in
Baltar, but here the writers and James Callis nail it. In retrospect,
you realize the whole story was setting us up on the question of
whether Tyrol would lend Baltar the legitimacy he wanted. But it ends
up being more than just a harbinger; there seems to be some
legitimacy behind what Baltar is preaching. That's the beauty of
framing the whole situation through Tyrol's lost soul. Can Baltar
seriously replace the religious establishment with something new? And
can he do it without destroying the fleet in the process? Interesting
Back on the Demetrius, we have another crisis of faith: the loss of
faith in Kara Thrace to command the ship. Even the command staff
shows fractures. The wheels really start to come off after a crew
member is killed in an accident trying to investigate the damage to
Leoben's ship. Kara flies into a rage and brutally beats Leoben for
what she initially suspects was his own sabotage of his ship. Bursts
of violence like this have an immediate visceral impact, but what's
interesting is how the story takes something viscerally satisfying
like Kara beating on Leoben and turns it on its ear: Kara realizes,
to her horror, that she has lost her taste for the things that used
to get her juices flowing (the rush of a fight, meaningless sex,
etc.). She isn't the same person she was before "Maelstrom" and
Leoben drives the point home by knowing Kara better than she knows
herself. And the only way she can find answers about herself is to
put her faith in Leoben and accept his offer to see the Hybrid on his
But that just ain't gonna fly. The crew is on the edge of revolt.
There are murmurs of mutiny, which Helo tries to quell. But Kara's
plan is too big a risk, and if they miss the rendezvous with the
fleet, they're all as good as dead. It's here where classic BSG
military protocol becomes an asset to the story. Kara is clearly not
being impartial. And yet she's also trying to carry out the mission
at hand: Find Earth.
Helo, as the XO, finds himself in the hot seat, in a scenario that
plays out with a surprising amount of suspense. It's nice to see the
writers spread the wealth and put him so crucially in the middle of
this mess. Helo has always been loyal to Kara, but he has also always
been about doing the right thing, and those two priorities come into
conflict here. (I also liked the dynamic of how Sharon thinks Kara
has gone off the deep end and thus puts her two cents into her
husband's ear.) It's fun seeing characters in jams like this one,
where no matter what call they make will mean hell to pay. What does
Helo do? He announces that he is relieving Kara of command. It's sort
of an obvious cliffhanger, but it's well executed. The prospect of
dismantling the chain of command is not taken lightly, and the show
earns its payoff by depicting its military procedures seriously. Even
with all the mythology themes being mined here (and this season in
general), BSG still finds time to skillfully revisit its roots.
Copyright 2008, Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is
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Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...