Everything you were afraid to ask about “Battlestar Galactica”

A complete (updated!) primer on the smartest sci-fi TV show ... maybe ever.

Topics: Fiction, Battlestar Galactica, Science Fiction and Fantasy, Television,

Everything you were afraid to ask about "Battlestar Galactica"

When the “Battlestar Galactica” miniseries premiered in 2003, viewers could be forgiven for having low expectations. At the time, the Sci Fi Channel, on which “Battlestar” aired, was a niche cable channel known mostly for “Stargate SG-1″ and “Star Trek” reruns, and the show’s source material, a cheesy ’70s flop for ABC, wasn’t exactly “The Sopranos.” The series’ premise, furthermore, involved enough clichéd science fiction elements — an evil race of robots, a hotshot fighter pilot, and characters with names like “Apollo” — to make the show’s fans wince when explaining it to their friends.

Three and a half seasons later, “Battlestar Galactica” has become one of TV’s smartest series. It has won a Peabody Award, made the Sci Fi Channel a reputable cable outlet, and revolutionized science fiction on television. It has proved that the genre, when liberated from the body-hugging Lycra jumpsuits and staid dialogue that have plagued most post-”Trek” science fiction series, can be a vehicle for both scathing political commentary and genuine pathos.

On Friday, Jan. 16, “Battlestar” returns to Sci Fi after a lengthy hiatus to conclude its fourth and final season. If you haven’t been watching, the show follows a fleet of human survivors from the Twelve Colonies of Kobol — a group of planets decimated by a surprise attack from the Cylons. The Cylons are a race of partially humanoid robots created by humans who then turned on their makers. Protecting the tiny fleet of survivors is a large aircraft-carrier-like spaceship called the Battlestar Galactica, whose crew is the main focus of the show. In each episode, the humans must evade the Cylons as they slowly make their way to salvation on the mythical planet Earth.

The premise may sound like derivative schlock, but thanks to its strong writing and cast, the series is both politically provocative and tremendously entertaining. Its creator, Ronald Moore, uses “Battlestar’s” universe as a funhouse mirror for American post-9/11 cultural anxieties. Since the miniseries’ initial Cylon attack — with its parallels to the events of Sept. 11 — “Battlestar” has broached topical debates about torture, military occupation, abortion, genocide, religious freedom and war crimes. It has done all this while avoiding the trap of strained allegory and partisan politics and maintaining the escapist thrill that makes science fiction, well, science fiction.



Over the past six years, however, the show’s universe has also become awfully complicated. At this point, there are good Cylons and bad Cylons and morally ambiguous Cylons and Cylons with an inexplicable affinity for Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.” With that in mind, we’ve prepared a “Battlestar Galactica” explainer — as we’ve done for “The Wire,” “Mulholland Drive,” “Donnie Darko” and “Southland Tales” — to prepare you for the rest of the season, and square away any confusion. We’ll begin with a summary of the “Battlestar” story line and briefly describe the characters before answering some nagging questions.

Let’s begin with the summary.

THE MINISERIES

“Battlestar Galactica” begins 40 years after the end of the First Cylon War (when the Cylons first attacked their former masters). Cmdr. William Adama (Edward James Olmos) is preparing his battlestar, the Galactica, for its retirement ceremony. It will be converted into a museum.

The ship’s crew includes Col. Saul Tigh (Michael Hogan), a crotchety alcoholic and the ship’s executive officer; Lt. Felix Gaeta (Alessandro Juliani), the tactical officer; and Lt. Anastasia Dualla (Kandyse McClure), who serves in the Combat Information Center. The rest of the ship’s notable crew consists of Lt. Kara “Starbuck” Thrace (Katee Sackhoff), a fighter pilot; Lt. Sharon “Boomer” Valerii (Grace Park), another pilot; and Chief Petty Officer Galen Tyrol (Aaron Douglas), who is in charge of the hangar deck.

We quickly learn that Starbuck has a problem with authority — when she promptly punches Col. Tigh in the face — and that Boomer and Chief Tyrol are having an illicit affair. Meanwhile, on the planet Caprica, Gaius Baltar (James Callis), a famous scientist working in the defense sector, is sleeping with a beautiful and pious blond woman (Tricia Helfer), and has given her access to confidential defense materials. Elsewhere on the planet, Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell), the Twelve Colonies’ secretary of education, learns that she has inoperable breast cancer.

Shortly thereafter, Roslin and Lee “Apollo” Adama (Jamie Bamber), the commander’s son, arrive on the Galactica to participate in the ceremony, and we learn that Apollo blames the commander for his brother’s flying-related death. Once the event concludes, Roslin heads back to Caprica with Apollo.

Meanwhile, Baltar’s mysterious lover turns out to be a Cylon agent planning an attack. She is one of 12 humanoid Cylon models, who look and sound like humans — though only seven of the Cylon models are known to each other, and the remaining five are shrouded in mystery. Nuclear explosions begin detonating on the planet. War begins, and spreads into space. When the Galactica attacks Cylon raiders, many of its fighters — called “Vipers” — are disabled and destroyed.

After the attack, Boomer and Lt. Karl “Helo” Agathon — another pilot — crash-land on Caprica, where their ship is swamped with refugees. In a moment of resignation, Helo gives up his seat for Baltar, whom he recognizes, and who happens to be near the ship. Reeling from a Cylon nuclear strike, the Galactica heads to Ragnar Anchorage, a weapons depot, to pick up supplies. Once there, they discover and kill a humanoid Cylon named Leoben (Callum Keith Rennie).

On board her ship, Roslin is named president of the Twelve Colonies and begins assembling a fleet of civilian ships. Her ship also rescues Apollo — whose Viper has been disabled — Boomer and Baltar. In the wake of the attack, Baltar is tormented by feelings of guilt and begins having visions of his former Cylon lover, who we learn is named Number Six. After several close calls with the Cylons, Roslin’s fleet meets up with the Galactica.

Following an argument with Roslin, Adama decides that the Galactica’s primary objective should be to protect Roslin’s civilian fleet. After a tense battle with the Cylons, the humans jump away to safety, and Adama announces that their new objective is to find the legendary 13th colony, Earth, and settle there. As Cylon ships disembark on Ragnar, and the miniseries ends, we discover, rather surprisingly, that Boomer is a Cylon.

Season 1

The first season picks up with the fleet “jumping” (i.e., teleporting) through space every 33 minutes to stay ahead of their Cylon pursuers. In the hangar deck, Boomer’s ability to cope with the resulting sleep deprivation leads her friends to joke that she’s a Cylon. (Unbeknown to her, she has been programmed to believe that she is a human being.) But when somebody sabotages the fleet’s water reserves, and Boomer wakes up in possession of explosive detonators, she begins to suspect that they’re right. She voices her doubts to Chief Tyrol (who is also unaware that she is a Cylon), but he keeps her behavior secret.

Meanwhile, back on Caprica, Helo is taken prisoner by the Cylons. As part of a plot to seduce him and produce a human-Cylon hybrid child, a copy of Boomer liberates him from captivity and they hide in the woods. The two become romantically involved and make sweet, sweet love.

On the Galactica, Baltar has been assigned to build a Cylon detector. He also continues to hallucinate about Number Six — his former lover. The hallucination tells Baltar that she would like him to have a child and, more important, a nuclear weapon. As a result, Baltar requests and receives a nuke for his research. Roslin, meanwhile, reveals that she is dying from cancer. She uses an alternative drug named chamalla to treat it, and begins having religious dreams and hallucinations.

Before a Cylon attack, Starbuck admits to Adama that she was partly responsible for the death of his son. The two have a falling-out, but when Starbuck’s Viper crashes on a moon, Adama places the fleet in danger to rescue her. Just before he gives up, Starbuck manages to climb inside a crashed Cylon raider and fly it back to the Galactica.

Eventually, Tyrol begins to suspect that Boomer really is a Cylon. When Boomer asks to be tested by Baltar’s Cylon detector, the test comes back positive, but Baltar, irrationally afraid that she will attack him, lies to her and tells her that she is human. Then, Ellen Tigh, Col. Tigh’s sexually aggressive wife, suddenly appears in the fleet.

Elsewhere in the fleet, Tom Zarek, a former leftish terrorist, calls for the election of a vice president, and puts himself in the running. In an effort to prevent Zarek from winning, Roslin encourages Baltar to run, and, after a tense race, Baltar wins.

Then, in a surprise development, Boomer’s spaceship discovers a planet that appears to be Kobol, the birthplace of the Twelve Colonies. When an exploratory team is sent to the planet, it is attacked by Cylons, and the ship carrying Baltar and Tyrol crash-lands in a forest.

Before they can be rescued, Roslin — suffering from hallucinations — becomes convinced that somebody must return to Caprica and retrieve the “Arrow of Apollo,” an ancient artifact, if the fleet is to find the path to Earth. She persuades Starbuck to pilot the stolen Cylon raider back to Caprica. Once there, Starbuck encounters Helo, who has since discovered that his copy of Boomer is a Cylon and that she is pregnant with their child — a human-Cylon hybrid.

When Adama learns of Roslin’s plan, he demands her resignation. She refuses, which leads to a standoff, and both Roslin and Apollo — who sides with her — are placed in the brig. The season ends when — during a mission to destroy a large Cylon ship called a basestar — Boomer sees multiple copies of herself and learns that she is a Cylon. As Adama congratulates her on the success of her mission, she shoots him twice in the chest.

Season 2

The season begins with Boomer in the brig and Adama unconscious in sickbay. With the Galactica reeling from a series of Cylon attacks, Roslin manages to convince other members of her government that she is a “Chosen One” who will lead the fleet to Earth. In response, Col. Tigh declares martial law. This prompts many of the fleet’s ships to refuse sending supplies to the Galactica, and in the ensuing confrontation, several civilians are shot. Dismayed by the development, Apollo, Dualla and Dr. Cottle (the Galactica’s medical officer) help Roslin escape from jail.

But things only get worse. After Baltar and the survivors of the crashed ship are rescued from Kobol, Boomer is shot and killed by an embittered crew member — and downloaded into a new body on a Cylon ship. Meanwhile, a third of the fleet’s ships jump back to join Roslin near Kobol. Luckily, Adama regains consciousness.

Back on Caprica, the pregnant copy of Boomer steals Starbuck’s Cylon raider. Left to fend for themselves, Starbuck and Helo join up with a group of resistance fighters led by Anders (Michael Trucco). Starbuck and Anders become lovers. After Starbuck is kidnapped by the Cylons and escapes from a Cylon “fertility farm” (a facility for the harvesting of human ovaries), pregnant Boomer reappears with a ship. Helo, Starbuck and the copy of Boomer return to Kobol with the Arrow of Apollo, where they meet with President Roslin.

Adama decides to reunite the fleet and jumps to Kobol. After he reconciles with Roslin, pregnant Boomer (henceforth known as Boomer) leads the humans to a tomb on the surface of Kobol that points them on the way to Earth. In an unconnected development, we learn that the fleet’s resident documentary filmmaker, D’Anna Biers (Lucy Lawless), is a Cylon.

Suddenly, the Battlestar Pegasus, commanded by Adm. Cain (Michelle Forbes), jumps near the Galactica. The ship, against all odds, has survived the initial Cylon attack, and has been raiding Cylon positions ever since. Cain takes over leadership of the fleet, but clashes with Adama and Roslin.

Cain gets Baltar to interrogate the Pegasus’ Cylon prisoner, Gina, who has been brutally tortured and raped by Pegasus crew members. She tells him about the “Resurrection Ship” — a Cylon ship that allows humanoid Cylon models to be downloaded into new bodies. Baltar develops tender feelings for her, and she escapes.

Tensions rise when Tyrol and Helo prevent a Pegasus crew member from sexually assaulting Boomer, and they accidentally kill the crew member. They are both sentenced to death by Cain. Adama refuses to accept the verdict. As a result, both Cain and Adama conspire to kill another, but after a mission to destroy the Resurrection Ship is completed successfully, they back down. Then, conveniently, Gina shoots Cain in the head. Apollo (eventually) takes her place as the commander of the Pegasus.

Baltar cures Roslin’s cancer by injecting her with the blood of Boomer’s still-gestating hybrid baby. Irritated by Roslin’s perceived ungratefulness, Baltar gives his nuclear weapon (from Season 1) to Gina, and when Roslin tries to persuade Baltar to resign his vice presidency, he refuses.

Back on Caprica, the original Boomer, Sharon Valerii, and Baltar’s former lover, Number Six (now nicknamed Caprica Six), are having trouble reintegrating into Cylon society. The two decide that the Cylons’ attack on the humans wasn’t such a great idea after all.

On the Galactica, Boomer gives birth to Hera, her human-Cylon hybrid child. The child is born healthy, but, in accordance with Roslin’s wishes, it is given up for adoption. Roslin wants to hide it from the Cylons, who may view it as a miracle child. Boomer is told that Hera has died. Starbuck returns to Caprica and rescues Anders along with members of the human resistance.

In a sudden twist, the fleet discovers a new habitable planet called New Caprica. Baltar, running in the fleet election, argues that the planet should be colonized, and wins. With the settlement of New Caprica under way, Gina the Cylon detonates the nuclear warhead and destroys a large portion of the fleet.

Jumping forward one year, Adama and Apollo now command the Galactica and Pegasus with a skeleton crew. On New Caprica, Roslin has become a teacher, Tyrol a union leader, Gaeta an assistant to President Baltar, and Starbuck has grown out her hair and married Anders.

Suddenly, several Cylon basestars arrive near the planet. In a panic, the battlestars jump to safety, and the Cylons take control of New Caprica.

Season 3

The third season begins four months into the Cylon occupation of New Caprica. Things are looking pretty grim: Tigh has lost an eye in Cylon prison; Starbuck is being held prisoner in an apartment-like cell; Baltar is a puppet leader for the Cylons; Tyrol and Anders have become members of an insurgent group, planning suicide-bombing operations. Back on the battlestars, the crews are training for a rescue mission: Adama has grown a mustache; Apollo has married Dualla and gained a lot of weight.

When Tyrol manages to communicate with a ship from the fleet, the rescue plans are set in motion. Before that happens, Tigh learns that his wife has betrayed plans to the Cylons, and poisons her. Suddenly, the Galactica and Pegasus jump into orbit and execute their evacuation plan, allowing the human inhabitants of New Caprica to jump to safety. In the process, the Pegasus is destroyed and the Galactica is heavily damaged. As a reward for her assistance during the operation, Galactica’s copy of Boomer, Sharon Agathon, is renamed Athena.

As they leave New Caprica behind, the Cylons take Baltar and Hera (the hybrid child) with them. The Cylons allow Baltar to live with them on the Cylon basestar as long as he helps them find Earth. He agrees, and is sent to investigate a Cylon basestar that has become infected with a deadly virus. Once there, he discovers an Earth satellite — the apparent source of the plague — but doesn’t tell the Cylons what he found. They torture him.

The Galactica also discovers the infected basestar and takes several of its sick passengers as prisoners. They develop a plan to exterminate the Cylons by executing the prisoners near a Resurrection ship — a ship on which dead Cylons’ consciousnesses are downloaded into new bodies — but the prisoners are killed by Helo before the plan can be carried out. In an unconnected story line on board the basestar, one of the Cylon models (Number Three, played by Lucy Lawless) begins purposely killing herself. Every time she dies and downloads into a new body, she has visions of the “Final Five” Cylons. She becomes obsessed with discovering their identities.

The humans land on an algae planet to replenish food supplies. While exploring the planet, Tyrol discovers the Temple of Five — a lost tomb that holds the “Eye of Jupiter,” an item of religious significance that has something to do with finding Earth. Suddenly Cylon basestars jump into orbit and request a meeting. The Cylons also want the Eye of Jupiter, as it turns out, and promise to leave the humans alone if they can have it. Adama refuses.

Meanwhile, Athena and Helo learn that their baby is alive on the Cylon basestar. Helo kills Athena so that she can download into a new body on the basestar and bring back their baby. The plan works. Athena and Caprica Six escape from the basestar and return to Galactica with Hera.

The nearby star suddenly goes supernova — allowing Tyrol to see the Eye of Jupiter. At the same time, Baltar and Three arrive at the temple. Three begins to have visions, but after she sees the face of the final Cylon, she dies, and Baltar is taken prisoner by Tyrol. All return to the Galactica and jump to safety. Back on the basestar, the Number Three Cylon model is permanently disabled.

Later, when the fleet is replenishing its fuel near a giant planet, Starbuck begins to have flashbacks and behave strangely. She catches glimpses of a Cylon raider during a routine mission, follows it and is crushed by the atmospheric pressure. Goodbye, Starbuck.

On board the Galactica, Baltar is tried for his collusion with the Cylons, and Adama is selected to be one of the trial’s five judges. For reasons that are somewhat confusing, Apollo becomes part of Baltar’s defense team and resigns from his post. As the trial progresses, Lampkin gets Roslin to admit that her cancer has returned, and, following testimony from Apollo, Baltar is found not guilty and released.

As the season ends, Tory Foster (Roslin’s aide), Tigh, Anders and Tyrol begin hearing strange music around the ship. They begin quoting Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” and meet up in a ventilation chamber. They realize that they’re all Cylons.

Suddenly, the fleet is under attack and everybody rushes to battle stations. Apollo flies into combat. Starbuck — back from the dead — appears next to him in her Viper. She says she has been to Earth. The camera zooms out, and back in, showing the planet Earth.

Razor Flashbacks (short vignettes shown in the weeks preceding “Razor”)

During the final day of the Cylon War, the young William Adama flies a combat mission in his Viper. He crash-lands on a snowy planet and discovers that the Cylons are conducting experiments on human prisoners — building humanoid Cylon models. Suddenly, a giant basestar takes off nearby, and he learns, via radio, that the war has ended.

Battlestar Galactica: Razor

This special “Battlestar Galactica” extended episode takes place during Apollo’s tenure as commander of the Pegasus. It centers on Kendra Shaw (Stephanie Chaves-Jacobsen), a Pegasus crew member who is chosen by Apollo to be his new executive officer.

In a flashback, we learn that she arrived on the Pegasus just minutes before the Cylon attack. We also learn that Adm. Cain and Gina, an undercover Cylon agent, were lesbian lovers. After the initial battle, Cain orders a revenge attack against the Cylons, during which Shaw learns that Gina is a Cylon. Cain places Gina in the brig, where she is brutally tortured and raped. We also learn that Shaw was responsible for the murder of civilians on board the Scylla, a civilian ship.

Back in the present(-ish) day, a mission is launched to rescue several members of a missing science team. They’ve been kidnapped by a splinter group of Cylons conducting experiments on humans. Starbuck and Shaw lead the team, which is given a nuclear warhead and told to destroy the Cylons’ basestar.

When the warhead malfunctions, Shaw stays behind to detonate it. Before dying, she walks up to the ship’s hybrid — a kind of Cylon that is installed in a vat and controls the ship’s navigation. It tells her, “Kara Thrace will lead the human race to its end.” Shaw tries to warn the Pegasus, but her transmission is garbled. The nuke detonates, and the basestar is destroyed.

 

Season 4

We pick up the story in the midst of the battle between humans and several Cylon basestars. When Anders tries to shoot down a Cylon Raider, it turns around, and scans his eye — and the Cylon force mysteriously retreats. Starbuck lands on the hangar deck, having apparently returned from the dead. She claims that she has been to Earth, and that the fleet is going the wrong way. Much screaming and threatening ensues.

Meanwhile, Baltar is spirited to a compartment by an adoring group of women. After he seems to heal one of their sick children, Baltar spawns a monotheistic religious movement. Tory begins sleeping with Baltar to gain information about the Fifth Cylon, and starts doing strange things (like flushing Cally out of an airlock). Somewhere in the midst of this, Apollo becomes a member of the Quorum of Twelve, one of the fleet’s governing bodies.

Elsewhere, a conflict erupts in the Cylon fleet. The Cylon Raiders have begun behaving erratically, and several of the models (the Brother Cavils, Number Fives and Simons) want to have them “lobotomized.” The other models (the Number Sixes, Leobens and Number Eights) disagree and, furthermore, want to discover the identity of the Final Five. This leads to an escalating argument and, eventually, a civil war between the two Cylon groups.

Starbuck is given a ship and a crew to prove that she knows the way to Earth. Her ship comes across a stranded Cylon Raider containing a copy of Leoben, who tells her about the civil war that has broken out among the Cylons. His side in the war needs her help to reactivate the Number Three model (Lucy Lawless) and discover the Final Five. During a heated discussion about an ensuing plan of action, Lt. Gaeta is shot in the leg by Anders.

Starbuck and several others accompany Leoben back to his crippled basestar and help bring it back to the fleet. Once they return to the fleet, Gaeta’s leg, unfortunately, has to be amputated, and more unfortunately, he begins to sing. Now allied, the Cylons from the stranded basestar and the humans devise a plan to jump to the Cylons’ central Resurrection Hub. Once there, they will reactivate Number Three and destroy the Hub (preventing any Cylons from henceforth downloading into new bodies and making all Cylons mortal).

Before that can happen, the president visits the stranded basestar to talk to its hybrid about her visions. When she plugs in the Hybrid’s power supply, however, the basestar unexpectedly jumps away with Roslin, Baltar and a human attack team on board. While they are gone, Apollo is named interim president of the Twelve Colonies. Eventually, the team from the basestar carry off the attack on the Hub themselves. The Hub is destroyed, and Number Three is reactivated and brought on board.

Once everybody is back with the fleet, Number Three holds the humans on the basestar hostage in exchange for the Final Five. Tory joins her on the basestar and, during a tense standoff, Tigh, Anders and Tyrol reveal themselves to the Cylons. The humans threaten to flush Tigh out of an airlock, but, in the nick of time, Starbuck discovers that her Raider has detected a mysterious beacon coming from Earth.

Everybody stands down, and both the damaged Cylon basestar and the human fleet travel to Earth together. They land in what appears to be Lower Brooklyn, where they discover that Earth is, in fact, an irradiated wasteland.

“The Face of the Enemy” (webisodes)

Set shortly after the fleet’s discovery of Earth, a recovering Gaeta is sent on an R&R leave. His boyfriend (yes, I said boyfriend), Lt. Hoshi, sees him off. His shuttle — which also contains two Number Eights and several crewmembers — jumps to the wrong location during a surprise attack and is stranded.

The shuttle occupants die one by one, until it is revealed that one of the Number Eights has been killing them — and that she and Gaeta had a fling on New Caprica. Gaeta kills her, and Hoshi rescues the shuttle before Gaeta can commit suicide. Gaeta is henceforth convinced that cooperation with the Cylons is a bad idea, and he seems to be planning something ominous.

CHARACTERS: HUMANS

Cmdr. William Adama (Edward James Olmos):

The stoic and thoughtful commander of the Galactica, Adama is the probably the most central character on the show. He is often more dovish than President Roslin, despite his lengthy military background. During the First Cylon War, Adama was a Viper pilot on the Galactica and, afterward, worked in the merchant fleet, where he met Saul Tigh. With the help of his wife’s family he was reinstated, and worked his way up the ranks. His character hasn’t changed much over the course of the series, despite being shot, and he remains quiet, bearish and strangely lovable. In the episodes before the hiatus, he and Roslin finally admitted their love for each other.

President Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell):

Adama’s elected counterpart on the show, Roslin is a former schoolteacher and secretary of education who became, by default, president of the Twelve Colonies. She operates from her spaceship, the Colonial One, and her political stances veer wildly between the left and the right. Over the course of the series, she has developed strong religious convictions. We learn during the second season that she once had an affair with the late President Adar, and although her breast cancer was cured by Baltar, it has since returned. She is currently dying and prone to hallucinations.

Kara “Starbuck” Thrace (Katee Sackhoff):

A strong-willed Viper pilot, Starbuck is loud, brash and often childish. She grew up in an abusive household and, before the Cylon attack, was engaged to Zak, Adama’s late son. As a result, she and Adama have a close bond that allows her considerable leniency — even though she admitted culpability in Zak’s death. During the third season, she and Apollo finally consummate their close relationship — but do not end up together.

She also discovers that she has been unconsciously painting religiously significant imagery since her childhood and may have a “special destiny.” She then undergoes a downward spiral, with depression and hallucinations, culminating in her death in a flying accident. She, however, miraculously reappears from the dead during a battle with the Cylons. She is convinced that she has been to Earth, and eventually — through a series of complicated plot twists — leads the human race to it.

Lee “Apollo” Adama (Jamie Bamber):

Cmdr. Adama’s son, Apollo, began the series as the fly-by-the-rules foil for Starbuck. He’s a talented pilot with an often tenuous relationship with his father. As the series has progressed, Apollo has undergone some surprising character changes — becoming depressed, getting fat, getting thin, having an affair. At the end of the third season, following his involvement in the trial of Gaius Baltar, he resigns his military post. During the fourth season, he becomes a member of the Quorum of Twelve, and, finally, interim president of the Twelve Colonies.

Gaius Baltar (James Callis):

The most villainous character on the show, Baltar is an arrogant, narcissistic and sexually promiscuous scientist whose affair with a Cylon agent allowed the Cylons to disable the Colonies’ defenses. He is prone to hallucinatory visitations by Number Six, his former Cylon lover. Over the course of the series he is promoted from science advisor to vice president and, finally, president of the Colonies, and during the Cylon occupation of New Caprica, he becomes a Vichy-like collaborator. After a sojourn on a basestar, he is captured, returned to the fleet, and put on trial for his actions on New Caprica. During his time in jail, he publishes a widely read “Mein Kampf”-like treatise called “My Triumphs, My Mistakes.” He is found not guilty and released into the fleet, where he becomes the leader of a monotheistic cult.

CHARACTERS: CYLONS

There are 12 humanoid Cylon models that fit into two categories: conventional Cylons and the “Final Five.” Conventional Cylons exist in multiple copies. Over the course of the series, some of these Cylons have taken on distinct personalities. The Final Five, meanwhile, are a mysterious group whose identity has been kept secret from the other Cylons — and may or may not exist in multiples. At the moment, only four of them have been revealed.

Conventional Cylons

Number Three (Lucy Lawless):

Originally introduced as D’Anna Biers, a documentary filmmaker, this Cylon is narcissistic and obsessive. Over the course of the third season, she comes to play an increasingly prominent role, becoming obsessed with the identity of the Final Five Cylons. She has visions of the Final Five during the downloading process, which leads her to repeatedly commit suicide and download into new bodies. In the Temple of Jupiter, on the Algae Planet, she sees the faces of the Final Five, after which she is “boxed,” or disabled. She is resurrected near the end of the fourth season.

Number Five (Matthew Bennett):

This model first appears as Aaron Doral, a P.R. man, in the “Galactica” miniseries. He makes some sporadic appearances in the ensuing seasons but remains a marginal Cylon character. He sides with the Brother Cavils and Simons in the Cylon civil war.

Baltar’s Hallucination (Tricia Helfer):

A hallucination of Caprica Six that exists only in Baltar’s mind, she appears sporadically to give him advice. This version of Number Six is pious and sexually aggressive. She is fond of telling Baltar that he is the Chosen One, and she may or may not be caused by a chip implanted in Baltar’s brain.

Caprica Six (Tricia Helfer):

This Cylon seduces Gaius Baltar and plays a key role in the Cylon attack on the Twelve Colonies. Following the attacks, she becomes a Cylon hero and has hallucinatory visions of Baltar. She comes to question the decision to attack the humans and advocates a more cooperative approach, eventually helping Sharon Agathon return Hera to the Galactica. After that, she is held prisoner in the brig on Galactica, where she begins having sex with Tigh — and is currently pregnant with his baby.

Sharon “Boomer” Valerii (Number Eight) (Grace Park):

A sleeper Cylon who was part of the Galactica’s crew before the Cylon attack, Valerii gradually realizes that she is a Cylon in the first season. At the end of that season, she shoots Cmdr. Adama. Like Caprica Six, she has trouble coming to terms with the Cylon destruction of the Colonies and becomes an outspoken advocate for coexistence with humans. She then changes her mind about human cooperation and, unlike other Number Eights, sides with the Brother Cavils, Number Fives and Simons in the Cylon civil war.

Sharon “Athena” Agathon (Number Eight) (Grace Park):

This Cylon falls in love with Karl “Helo” Agathon during a mission on the planet Caprica. She helps him and Starbuck return to the Galactica. Once there, she is imprisoned and distrusted, but eventually becomes a valuable part of the ship’s crew. She gives birth to Hera, a human-Cylon hybrid child, but is told that it died. She discovers that her child is alive and rescues it from the Cylons. In the fourth season, she is placed in the brig on Galactica after she shoots another cooperative Cylon.

Brother Cavil (Dean Stockwell):

A cynical, snarky and atheistic Cylon model, Cavil first appears as a priest on board the Galactica. He sides with the Number Fives and Simons during the Cylon civil war.

Leoben Conoy (Callum Keith Rennie):

A wily and dishonest Cylon model, Leoben has an obsessive relationship with Starbuck. During the occupation on New Caprica, he imprisons her in an apartment-like cell, and tries to persuade her to love him. It doesn’t really work. He sides with the Number Eights and Sixes in the Cylon civil war.

Simon (Rick Worthy):

Simon is a bald Cylon model who makes rare appearances on the show. He first shows up in the Cylon fertility farm on Caprica, posing as a doctor. He sides with Brother Cavil and the Number Fives in the Cylon civil war.

The Final Five

Chief Galen Tyrol (Aaron Douglas):

The deck chief on the Galactica, Tyrol is in charge of the ship’s hangar deck and ship maintenance. At the beginning of the series, he is engaged in a secret affair with Sharon Valerii and is rather perturbed when she turns out to be a Cylon. On New Caprica, he marries Cally — the crew member who shot and killed Valerii — has a son named Nicholas, and becomes a key member of the insurgency. His discovery, in the third-season finale, that he is a Cylon is presaged by his somewhat random discovery of the Temple of Five on the Algae Planet. It is worth nothing that both of Tyrol’s parents were clergy — suggesting that the Final Five Cylon models may have religious significance. He becomes somewhat unhinged during the fourth season, after he discovers that he is a Cylon — and after Tory flushes his wife out of an airlock.

Col. Saul Tigh (Michael Hogan):

Tigh is the Galactica’s embittered and alcoholic executive officer. He is a bumbling figure with a strong hatred of the Cylons. Before arriving on the ship, he fought in the First Cylon War and met Adama while working in the commercial fleet. With Adama’s help, he was reinstated in the military. During the settlement of New Caprica, he was a leading member in the insurgency, losing his eye during a period of incarceration. In the third season, he poisons his wife after learning that she has given secret plans to the Cylons. Then, just when things seem to be getting better, he finds out that he is a Cylon. During the fourth season, he begins a sexual relationship with Caprica Six, who is being held captive on the Galatica. She eventually becomes pregnant with his child.

Tory Foster (Rekha Sharma):

Foster is President Roslin’s aide — a supporting character that first appeared after Roslin’s previous aide, Billy, was killed in a bar shootout. We eventually discover that she’s a Cylon. In the fourth season, she has a sexual relationship with Baltar, kills Cally, and sides with Number Three during the tense human-Cylon hostage situation.

Samuel Anders (Michael Trucco):

Anders is Starbuck’s loving but alienated husband. Before the Cylon attack, Anders was a member of a sports team doing high-altitude training. Afterward, he becomes a member of the human resistance and, eventually, Starbuck’s lover. She returns to Caprica to rescue him and bring him on board the Galactica. After the two are married, they grow apart, and he has trouble coming to terms with her death. In the third season, he begins a sexual relationship with Tory Foster and learns that he is a Cylon. He begins acting strange when Starbuck returns from the dead.

What’s with all these hiatuses?

The long wait between the third and fourth season was due to “economics and scheduling,” according to Mark Stern, the Sci Fi Channel’s executive vice president of original programming. This latest disruption (which cut the final season in half) was caused by the writers’ strike.

There are only 10 episodes left, but — maybe to make up for all this waiting — some of those episodes will run longer than one hour. The final episode is slated to be a three-hour marathon, and this Friday’s episode will run 3.5 minutes longer than usual — something to keep in mind if you’re recording it on DVR. (The extra minutes will also be posted online).

Are there any other “Battlestar”-related programs planned?

A special two-hour “Battlestar Galactica” TV movie called “The Plan” (directed by Edward James Olmos) will air sometime after the end of the series. The TV movie will focus on two Cylon agents and will be set during the immediate aftermath of the Cylons’ attack on the Twelve Colonies.

“Caprica,” the much talked-about “Battlestar” spinoff series, is slated for a 2010 premiere. It will have a significantly different tone and feel from “Battlestar” — Moore and producer David Eick have compared it to “Dallas” and “American Beauty” — and will be set long before “Battlestar’s” events take place. It will center on two families, the Adamas (including Joseph, Apollo’s grandfather) and Graystones, and the creation of the Cylons.

Why, in God’s name, do Tory, Tigh, Anders and Tyrol sing Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” in the third season finale?

Because Ron Moore really likes that song. In his podcast, Moore has said that he has wanted to use that song in a television show since his days working on “Roswell.” It seems like a pretty arbitrary choice, since, parsing the lyrics (“There must be some way out of here/ Said the Joker to the Thief/ There’s too much confusion/ I can’t get no relief”), there isn’t much overlap with the show’s content.

The song, however, is meant to remind viewers that “Battlestar Galactica” takes place in a world that parallels our own. The song played on the show isn’t the Jimi Hendrix or Bob Dylan version, but an original “Battlestar-ized” cover — performed by, among others, the guitarist from Oingo Boingo. As the show’s composer, Bear McCreary, put it on his blog, it’s not that Bob Dylan exists in the world of “Battlestar,” but that the idea of Bob Dylan does.

In fact, the show has been building on its earthly parallels. The first line from the 1953 animated version of “Peter Pan” — “All of this has happened before and it will all happen again” — for example, has frequently been quoted in the show.

So who’s the final Cylon?

Ronald Moore has promised he’ll reveal the identity of the final Cylon before the end of the series. But here’s what we know so far:

  • The final Cylon is familiar to Number Three. She recognizes it during her vision in the Temple of Jupiter. She says “You — forgive me … I had no idea …” and tells Baltar that he was “right,” before collapsing.
  • In the extended cut of “Razor,” the hybrid claims that the “fifth [Cylon], still in shadow, will claw toward the light, hungering for redemption that will only come in the howl of terrible suffering.”
  • The hybrid tells Starbuck during the fourth season: “The missing Three will give you the Five who have come from the home of the Thirteenth.” This seems to suggest that the final Cylon comes from the 13th colony (Earth).
  •  In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Moore has claimed that the final Cylon was not on display in the promotional poster for the fourth season. Since the poster contains almost every major character in the “Galactica” universe, including Starbuck, Adama, Apollo and Roslin, this either leaves us with an as-yet-unknown Cylon character or a supporting character Cylon — or Moore was leading us on.

To feed speculation, the show’s publicity campaign has gradually been releasing photos and snippets of upcoming episodes on the show’s Web site.

What’s this all this confusing religious stuff?

The religious themes on the show have become increasingly prominent over the past four seasons. The creator of the original “Battlestar Galactica,” Glen Larson, was a devout Mormon, and both the original and the reimagined series are a retelling of the Book of Mormon.

In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Lehi manages to escape the destruction of Jerusalem and guide a small group of survivors to America. It’s also worth nothing that the name “Kobol” is a slight derivation of Kolob, the dwelling place of God in Mormonism, and the Quorum of Twelve, one of “Battlestar’s” governing bodies, shares a name with a governing council of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The reimagined version of the show also incorporates a diversity of religious themes. The Cylons and humans have a different set of rather complicated religious beliefs. Like the Judeo-Christian faiths, their religions overlap at key junctures, and the series is filled with references to human religions ranging from the Norse (“Ragnar”) to the Greek (“Pegasus”) and Christian (“Cain”).

The Cylons, unlike most humans on the show, are monotheistic and believe in “one true God.” Humanity, in their view, has forsaken God and, thus, sinned. So God directed humanity to create the Cylons. In order to please their God, the Cylons then murdered their creators. (To complicate matters, during the first half of the fourth season, Baltar becomes the leader in a monotheistic cult — though it is unclear how closely his beliefs overlap with those of the Cylons.)

Most humans are polytheistic (with a number of gods seemingly derived from, or connected to, Greek and Roman mythology). In the universe of the series, the Lords of Kobol existed on the planet Kobol, together with human subjects. When a “jealous god” wanted to be promoted above the others, this led to the dispersal of humans across space and the founding of the Twelve Colonies.

Why are the Cylons so intent on finding Earth?

According to Moore’s podcast for “Torn,” the Cylons see Earth as “an objective for themselves and a way for their own redemption.” They are looking for the path toward spiritual maturity — something that their attack on humans hasn’t provided them with — and Earth is part of that search.

As Moore points out, the Cylons are a very young culture, and over the course of the series, we’ve witnessed their evolution from a unified front to one in which individual models have taken on their own differing agendas. Caprica Six, for example, became an outspoken advocate for cooperation with the humans, Leoben had his own romantic aspirations for Starbuck, and Number Three became suicidal and mildly unhinged. In the fourth season, these differences escalated into an all-out civil war.

Why are the Cylons so jazzed about creating a human-Cylon hybrid child?

The Cylon religion compels them to “be fruitful” and have children. But since sexual reproduction between Cylons is impossible, the human-Cylon hybrid child is their one hope to fulfill God’s will. That’s why Hera (Helo and Athena’s child) plays such an important role in the show. The child is, according to Number Six, part of a “new generation of God’s children.”

But isn’t Caprica Six pregnant with Tigh’s child?

Yep. That appears to be the case. It seems that the Final Five, unlike other Cylon models, are capable of reproducing sexually — making Tigh and Caprica Six’s baby the first Cylon-Cylon love child. I guess we’ll have to see how that one pans out.

 

Thomas Rogers

Thomas Rogers is Salon's former Arts Editor. He has written for the Globe & Mail, the Village Voice and other publications. He can be reached at @thomasmaxrogers.

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