Battlestar Galactica season 1 episode 1 review: 33

Surely one of the finest opening episodes of any television season, Simon checks out Battlestar Galactica's full season debut...

Battlestar Galactica

I won’t repeat the preamble about my belated Battlestar Galactica adventures, save that to say it might be worth reading the intro to the mini-series write up to work out how I’m going about these reviews…

1. 33

The opening episode of Lost was superb. I can happily say that. Doctor Who, way back in 1963, got off to a flyer too. But if anyone had any doubts about the strength of the brand new reboot of Battlestar Galactica, then surely 33 – its first proper episode – would have put them to bed.

This was, from start to finish, an astounding piece of television, conveying a feeling of hopelessness as well as any I can ever remember seeing on the small screen. And at heart, it’s such a simple idea that powers it.

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When we join the crew of Galactica, we discover that they’ve been having to perform a tricky faster than light (FTL) jump every 33 minutes. Because once 33 minutes are up, the Cylons reappear and start to attack them. Cue another jump, and again, 33 minutes later, there are the Cylons again. It’s relentless, and heck, how well do they get that across.

We’re up to jump 237 when we meet up with the crew, and they’ve been awake for over five days, knowing that one single mistake could be curtains for them all. They know that every jump they do has to be perfect, else they run the risk of one of the fleet being left behind. Tense barely begins to cover it, and you know that eventually, something has to give.

And that’s just what happens. The Olympic Carrier, on jump 238, gets left behind, and nobody is quite sure why. With tempers frayed and emotions high, it’s three hours before it reappears, with no Cylons on the Dradis scanner either in the interim time. Adama raises the alert level almost immediately to battle stations, and his suspicions are proved right when the Cylons once more reappear.

Enter Dr Baltar, who theorises that the Cylons may have infiltrated the ship, and President Roslin is faced with a stark choice, one made all the harder by the decreasing tally of humans she’s charting on her whiteboard. When nuclear weapons are detected aboard the Olympic Carrier, the order soon follows to blast it out of space.

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This is clearly a heavy decision, made in terrible circumstances, and the show pulls no punches in getting that across. The eery moment when they pull alongside the Olympic Carrier and see nobody inside is exceptionally well done, and there are clearly heavy hearts involved when Apollo finally pulls the trigger. The destruction of the ship does take with it a Dr Amarok, who had been trying to get an audience with the President to inform her of a possible traitor. Baltar, and the number six Cylon inside his head, are clearly relieved to see the back of it.

The episode ends, surprisingly, on a very upbeat note, where – after 40 minutes that’s seen the number of human beings fall by hundreds – President Roslin gets to up the number by one, with the birth of a new child announced.

This was, bluntly, an astoundingly good start for the series proper, and as an opening episode, it takes some beating. I understand that many rate 33 as one of the finest episodes of the show, and I’d go a little the other way (given that, er, I’m only two reviews into BSG thus far) and suggest that this is an exceptional piece of science fiction television. It’s proof, surely, that the idea is king, but it’s useless without some brilliant execution. 33 is a bang-on marriage of both.

Next time, it’s the search for Water that will be entertaining the Battlestar crew. We’ll take a look at that tomorrow…

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