TV

‘Battlestar Galactica' embarks on its flight to the finish

My fellow geeks, we will gather Friday for the first big holiday of the Geek New Year: the premiere of the final 10 episodes of Battlestar Galactica.

I am not an original Battlestar Galactica watcher and could not, until recently, locate the Sci Fi channel. I did not watch a single Cylon-infested minute until a colleague lent me the first season on DVD. And even then, I fell asleep during the first episode.

And then I got hooked — so much so that I can tell you that if you enter the words “who is the final” into Google, the search engine will cheerfully suggest you end that query with “Cylon.”

Of course you should.

The character-driven Battlestar Galactica has been called one of the best shows on TV — a moral compass of the Bush presidency, a science-fiction show that's really about what makes us human.

But who wants to watch a show about what makes us human? The Battlestar Galactica I'm watching is a ripping good soap opera: annihilation, bravery, idiocy, sex, Top Gun piloting and cool clothes.

Here, a viewer's guide of informational tidbits to prime you for Friday's debut of the final episodes. Do not ask, however, where the show's spaceships get all that liquor. We suspect they'll never answer that one.

FIRST, A PRIMER

If you're not watching the current iteration of Battlestar Galactica (or BSG for us fans) because the 1970s version was stupid and cheesy, stop right there.

The remake, which began airing in 2003, is dark, topical, intelligent and kinda deep.

In short: In some distant part of the universe, humans are living on planets known as the 12 Colonies. It's a peaceful existence after a cease-fire was declared in their long war with the Cylons, a race of artificially intelligent creatures who rebelled against their human creators.

Then all heck breaks loose. The Cylons, who unbeknownst to people have taken human form, launch a sudden, annihilating attack on the Colonies, destroying their planets and killing everyone but about 50,000 people.

The survivors flee into space. Of the entire Colonial Fleet, the decrepit Battlestar Galactica appears to be the only military ship that survived. Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell), the secretary of education and something like 23rd in line for the presidency, is tapped to lead, alongside military leader Cmdr. William Adama (Edward James Olmos). They, and the Battlestar Galactica crew — including the commander's son, Lee “Apollo” Adama (Jamie Bamber), and maverick fighter pilot Kara “Starbuck” Thrace (Katee Sackhoff — yep, in this one, Starbuck is a woman) — must lead the survivors into space in search of a fabled refuge known as Earth, all the while outrunning the Cylon fleet bent on destroying them and sussing out the humanlike Cylons who have infiltrated their ranks.

The show is critically acclaimed and has won the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award, but it has won Emmys only for writing, directing and creative fields. Among TV cults, Battlestar Galactica enthusiasts run somewhere between those of The Wire and Lost.

ON THE WEB

Television Without Pity. Recaps of the show that read like novellas and great forum boards. www.televisionwithoutpity.com/show/battlestar-galactica.

The Last Supper photo. The photo at right of the cast posed like Da Vinci's The Last Supper allegedly gives crucial hints to how the story turns out. At www.scifi.com/battlestar, you can explore the photo and click on the characters to learn more.

The series so far, in 13 minutes. Hilarious. www.scifi.com/battlestar/video/index.php?sub=specials&clip=3.

Wiki- BSG. Geeks have loaded down the Wikipedia entry for all incarnations of the show with all sorts of minutia, fascinating and otherwise. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battlestar_Galactica.

THE FINAL CYLON?

So far, 11 models of the humanlike Cylons have been discovered, but the Final Cylon, the big cheese, is one of the series' last big secrets.

Because Cylons can be born multiple times — like Shirley MacLaine and Anne Heche — the 12th Cylon is a subject of fevered geek speculation, and even characters who have shuffled off this mortal coil are still in the betting pool.

There's even a betting Web site offering final Cylon odds — but they can't be serious, because the odds favor Anastasia Dualla (Kandyse McClure), a connective-tissue character: On hand, but not close to anybody's heart.

My best guess is that the final Cylon is Tom Zarek (Richard Hatch, who played Apollo on the 1970s BSG), the perpetual hanger-on, outsider, irritant and nobody's best pal. Here's why: Zarek appears in a random way that suggests no one really cares to keep track of whether he's telling the truth. He's never been one of the cool kids in the Colonial fleet, which really grates on his nerves. And Zarek was oddly insistent about getting archenemy Laura Roslin safely off the planet New Caprica.

But the 12th Cylon should not be any of these:

Yet another version of Number Six: It is one of the show's few lazy points that big plot turns are telegraphed by the introduction of yet another character that is a Cylon model Number Six (Tricia Helfer). Geek message boards hum with the theory that it will be Six we see in the show's last scene. Because, I guess, she has been everywhere else.

We Earthlings are Cylons, and the Real Humans died off. Well, the Cylons are increasingly humanlike — what with the civil wars and prophesying and rampant baby-making — so maybe the Galactica “humans” are more a dead-end branch of TV humanity, like the Geico Neanderthal.

A random Viper pilot: Please make the Final Cylon a character who counts. BSG dispatches more day players than a Star Trek mission featuring Kirk, Spock and Ensign No. 207.

WHAT ABOUT 'BSG' GETS ON YOUR LAST NERVE?

How hard can it be, this getting to Earth? The clues are scattered randomly and yet all require life-threatening missions of astonishing complexity. It's like an intergalactic version of the complicated video game Myst.

Why are Cylons, machines that managed to almost destroy humanity in a near perfectly orchestrated attack, incompetent? The glam Number Eight, the Sharon model, has an itchy trigger finger. The glum Cylon Tory is given a single task — get the Miracle Baby off New Caprica — and manages an epic fail. The drinky Cylon Saul Tigh kills his wife for collaborating with Cylons before realizing that he's a fellow traveler. That'll be embarrassing in the afterlife.

Please, not another riddle. BSG is fond of word puzzles. Apollo's masterful defense of Dr. Gaius Baltar's (James Callis) treason — a courtroom vision of “I know he is, but what are you?” — is a classic of political double talk. But c'mon, something like, “The missing three will give you the five who have come from the home of the 13th.” Yep, and grease is the word.

“And they have a plan.” You see this ominous sentence in the opening credits to many episodes. The Cylons were created by man, evolved and rebelled. Check. But what would this “plan” be, exactly? Chasing a band of unhappy, undernourished, bickering humans across the galaxy when, left alone, the humans will extinguish themselves? That's not a plan. It's stalking.

BEST THINGS ABOUT 'BSG'

President Laura Roslin. Who says a cancer-stricken schoolteacher can't run a raucous nation, kill a few traitors, fake a baby death, steal an election and still have time to smoke herbals with the wannabe military dictator?

Helena Cain. Although nominally a human, Rear Adm. Cain (Michelle Forbes) has been the series' best monster.

Dr. Gaius Baltar. Genius idiot, political idiot, captive idiot, messiah idiot. After you've pretty much wiped out humanity, everything else is idiot gravy.

Number Six's wardrobe. A character who kills billions and still wears That Red Dress is somebody who's a welcome addition to any party.

SWEARING IN SPACE AND OTHER TRIVIA

It's a “frak” thing: The ubiquitous expletive frak was created as an all-purpose oath by Glen Larson, producer of the 1970s version of BSG.

Look in the frakin' mirror: Commander Adama has a shaving mirror in his cabin on Galactica. This mirror is made by IKEA, the Swedish home furnishings store and has a very appropriate name: “Fräck.”

Like Hugh Laurie, except not in House: Jamie Bamber, who plays American-accented Apollo, was born in London and has a degree from Cambridge.

‘BSG' DRINKING GAME

Saul Tigh gets testy. One drink.

Apollo wonders whether Starbuck Thrace is his true love. One drink.

Starbuck is confused about her destiny, which involves leading humanity to its end via heavy drinking, ill-advised sexual congress, repeated Cylon murder and craaaaaaazy pilot antics. Two sips.

Gaius Baltar doesn't understand, and the Number Six who lives inside his head has to explain. Shot and a chaser.

William Adama pines. Commander Mopey sure thinks a lot. Three sips.

Doc Cottle barks. Finish the bottle. Cottle barks all the time, but he's not on that often.

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