Battlestar Galactica season 2 episodes 19 & 20 review: Lay Down Your Burdens

Our look back at Battlestar Galactica arrives at the end of season two: and heck, is it a game changer...

2.19-20 Lay Down Your Burdens

I’ve been writing these Battlestar Galactica retrospective reviews for some time now, but I need to share a secret. As I sit at the end of season two (with the two parter, Lay Down Your Burdens), not one of the write-ups has yet gone live on the site. My master plan was to write up a big enough batch and get ahead, before starting to run the pieces, so the bad news for you is that by the time you get to this review, the chances are I’ll have at least 20 more of these things primed and ready. I apologise in advance to those who have suffered trying to make head nor tail of my thoughts.

Because looking back over the earlier reviews, I’m conscious that they’ve been quite descriptive of what’s been going on, without much input from me. That’s been deliberate, as I wanted these pieces to be very reactive, without any deep insight, and just the raw thoughts of someone who has been watching Battlestar Galactica for the very first time. But that said, I want to stop and discuss the literally game-changing end to season two. If you’re here for the description, it might just be a bit light this time round.

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One thing that this show gets across better than any I can recall seeing in recent times is the slow passage of time. It does it in a compelling enough way, but I’ve always been aware that it’s been a hell of a slog to get to where Galactica is today. That, for me, made it all the more strange that this finale two-parter seems to add a 15 minute segue on at the end (I think it was around 15 minutes, but to be honest, I wasn’t timing, and was too busy trying to take in what’d happened).

This suffix to the series I initially thought was doing in a short space of time what ideally I’d have preferred a season two or three episodes longer to explore. I still veer towards that thinking, too, and there’s a bit of me that thinks it feels like something added on to buy the producers a cliffhanger.

But then I’m aware that the track record of the show to date is nowhere near that conventional and predictable. Yet I’ve just seen as much ‘time’ pass in half an episode as I’ve seen in the miniseries and 32 episodes leading up to it. That’s a hell of a lot to wrap your head around, and I’ve not quite managed it.

I think this is one of those instances where watching an episode or two a night does me no favours, as I’d have appreciated with this one the gap between seasons to gestate what had happened. I genuinely think it would have driven me nuts, and I also believe that, come the start of season three, I’ll think it’s all a masterstroke. It’s just it all came so fast, and so from left field, that it feels like it hit me like a proverbial truck. A bit melodramatic on my part, granted, but this two-parter has been buzzing around my head for hours since I watched it. As soon as this review is done, that episode one of season three disc is being smacked straight into my player.

Those thoughts aside, at least for now, it goes without saying that plenty else happened. There were two crucial developments here, both of which pointed the way to the finale. The first was the discovery of a new planet that appears to be habitable, and the second is the Presidential election.

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The new planet appears with Starbuck’s plan to head back to Caprica – which is now jump-able thanks to the wiring in of Cylon technology into the Raptors – and one of the ships on that mission goes astray on the first jump. There, they’re confronted with a new planet, that appears to be able to support human life. At this stage, meanwhile, Baltar is behind in the election polls, and Zarek – who is on his side – realises that he needs an issue for him to be able to beat Roslin. And the new planet, he realises, is it. So while Roslin thinks the new planet is a false dawn, Baltar immediately leaps on the issue, and suggests settlement there. Given that everyone has lived on some form of space ship for the best part of a year, it proves a wise strategy.

Roslin, though, isn’t going down without a fight, and even though the polls are swinging against her, she hatches a plan with her campaign assistant, Tory. This, it transpires, is an attempt to rig the election, which initially works. But suspicions are raised, and much though he loathes Baltar, Adama tells Roslin that she’s lost, and basically she’s going to have to deal with it.

Elsewhere, Starbuck meets with the resistance fighters down on Caprica, but they quickly get pinned down under Cylon attack. However, the Cylons then promptly bugger off, for no obvious reason. It takes the appearance of a new Cylon, Brother Cavil, to explain what’s happened (I love the bit where the copy of him is dragged in, proclaiming not to be Cylon, then he sees the other version and folds straight away). The Cylons, it seems, have been persuaded by Numbers 6 and 8 that the destruction of Caprica was a mistake. This basically highlights that Sharon knew he was a Cylon, and kept schtum. She gets her usual place in the brig for her troubles.

Cavil then says that humanity has basically been given a reprieve, but nobody is that keen to believe him. Meanwhile, Starbuck eventually manages to get the resistance – including love interest Anders – back to Galactica, and she wastes no time putting Apollo’s nose out of joint.

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But then we’re back to that election. With Baltar duly elected as President, he orders a course for what is now called New Caprica, although Number 6 (Gina, as she’s called in this guise) says she’s not going.

It matters not, as we jump forward a year to that ending, and find that plenty has changed. Baltar is bored with being President, keeps his office like a tip, and is smug that there’s not been a Cylon attack since he took office. The Galactica and Pegasus now only have a skeleton crew, and most have settled on the surface on the planet, including Tyrol (now a union leader), Anders and Starbuck (now married, with the former ill) and Tigh.

But then along come the Cylons. Out of nowhere, they appear en masse, having found New Caprica by accident. The fleet in the sky, realising they have no chance, jump away, and Baltar surrenders. Then, with the sky filled with Cylon ships, in come the Centurions to take over New Caprica. And that’s where things were then left for ages. I don’t think I could have coped.

It’s a remarkable two-parter in many ways, and not one that endears itself to all. But however it got there, if the job of it is to keep you salivating for the next series, it’s very much mission accomplished.

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I’d better go. I’m wanted back at my DVD player… 

We’re giving these recaps a break for the time being now – thanks to all those who have been following them…!