?Like it or not, it’s hard to deny that Battlestar Galactica certainly left its mark on television. Not since Babylon 5 has a sci-fi series so embraced long-running storyarcs, and worked so how hard to incorporate real world scenarios into a science fiction universe. But one thing can be said with no doubt whatsoever — this show is dark as shit. Aspects from the original series like cute robotic dogs, aliens, little boys going on adventures, and much more are replaced with characters with major flaws, tragedy around every corner, and not a single character was safe.
Reportedly, Sci-Fi Channel execs were upset at the amount of darkness and despair in BSG‘s first few episodes, and suggested to the writing staff that they show a happy time on the Galactica, like a party or something. So the staff rewrote the opening scene of “Acts of Contrition” to include a celebration — in this case the celebration of a pilot’s 1000th landing. The Sci-Fi execs got their party… complete with a missile drone literally crashing the party, splattering 13 pilots across the bulkheads. Apparently, that was the last time execs tried to interfere with the plot of the series.
However, that scene is nowhere near as dark and disturbing as some of the things that take place during the series’ entirety, as this list showcases. Now, there’s no way the short space of this article to list every single dark point in the series; plus, trying to rank the horrible things that happen in these episodes is like trying to decide which invasive dental procedure you would like without anesthesa — we simply did our best. Warning: If you haven’t seen Battlestar Galactica, there are a ton of spoilers ahead. Also: This list is kind of a bummer.
Emotions were running wild after the rescue from New Caprica — particularly ones of anger toward those who were thought to be collaborating with the Cylons. The episode opens up to deckhand and former New Caprica Police Captain Jammer kneeling inside of a launch tube, hands bound, in front of a group of six other people. He’s tried by the group, consisting of some civilians as well as Sam Anders, Colonel Tigh, and Diana Seelix, and then convicted, and the group watches as he is sucked out of the launch tube.
It turns out this little group of six is a government-sponsored vigilante squad, tasked by acting President Tom Zarek with finding, judging, and executing known Cylon collaborators. With Jammer taken care of, they focus their attention on their next target: Felix Gaeta. Of course, we all know that Gaeta was the mole feeding the resistance information. Thankfully, Chief Tyrol was on the other side of Gaeta’s information funneling operation, so when Gaeta describes his actions, Tyrol is able to confirm that indeed Gaeta was working for the resistance, saving Gaeta from a horrific death by launch tube. The idea that many people we have typically thought of as heroes turning into vengeance-seeking murderers is rather frightening, especially when we find out that the government (or what’s left of it) is behind it all.
For those unfamiliar with the series, Razor was a Battlestar Galactica movie set mostly aboard the Battlestar Pegasus, chronicling the story of Admiral Cain right after the attack on the colonies, as well her assistant Kendra Shaw. As we’ve heard in stories told by her crew in BSG, the Pegasus had a disturbing and violent past, and the TV movie proves it.
We had previously heard from Colonel Jack Fisk that Cain murdered her previous XO when he refused to order a suicide mission. Of course, Fisk quickly changed his story and claimed it was a joke, but here we discover that Fisk told the truth as we witness Cain take Colonel Belzen’s sidearm and splatter his brains all over the Pegasus CIC. But Cain’s legacy was far from over.
Civilian consultant Gina Inviere was a network administrator on the Pegasus at the time of the attack. As it turns out, she was also a model 6 Cylon, and to add a little fuel to the fire, she was also Cain’s lesbian lover. When it is discovered that she’s a Cylon agent, needless to say Cain takes it a little hard. She unleashes Lieutenant Throne on Gina, a so-called “Cylon interrogator,” and essentially tells him to do whatever he wants to her. As we find out later on, his methods include beatings, starvation, and gang rape.
The surprising part of Razor, though, is the demons that Kendra Shaw possesses. Throughout the film, she seems to be haunted by something dark in her past, often seeking out the comfort of hallucinogenic drugs for solace. We had previously learned from Pegasus deck Chief Peter Laird of the assault on the Scylla, a civilian transport that had escaped the Cylon apocalypse. It’s Shaw’s role in the Scylla massacre that is the source of her demons, as we discover that it was she who fired the first shot, personally executing a woman and her children. She eventually receives her redemption, sacrificing herself to destroy the Cylon facility and the first Hybrid.
Overall, Razor shows us just what is behind the evil of Admiral Cain and explains her actions, making her more of a pitiable creature rather than a pure villain.
?When we think of suicide bombings, we think of a horrible act perpetrated by terrorists on innocents. Suicide bombings are cruel and cowardly, and seemingly inexplicable to anyone with a conscience. And then BSG had the “heroes” use them.
When we last left New Caprica, the Cylons had just invaded, the Fleet had turned tail and ran, and Leoban was on the hunt for Starbuck. “Occupation” opens up with scenes from across New Caprica: Ellen Tigh frakking her robot son in efforts to get her now cyclops-like husband out of a Cylon prison, an attack on a Cylon heavy raider by Tyrol and Anders, and most disturbingly, Kara Thrace sitting down for a beautiful meal with Leoban, where she calmly shanks him before sitting down and finishing her meal, literally bloody handed. As the episode goes on, we learn the insurgency is growing, and needs a larger and more effective form of attack. Former Viper pilot Duck (above), who apparently has lost his wife to the Cylons, volunteers to become a suicide bomber at the New Caprica Police graduation in hopes of killing Gaius Baltar. Of course, instead of sending a message to the Cylons, it instead strengthens their resolve. They crackdown on the humans, and in the next episode take a majority of the characters we care about prisoner. It’s the first time in the series where it becomes hard to sympathize with the humans, who resort to terrorist tactics that so many people have condemned in the real world.
7) The Farm
“The Farm” opens with a bit of a shock — specifically, Starbuck getting shot while on Caprica. She awakens in the care of a doctor named Simon. While it looks like she is going to live, Simon relays the heartbreaking news that Kara’s lover Sam Anders was killed during the attack that put her in the hospital. Then he Simon immediately suggests to her that she should really start working on the whole baby-making thing, much to Starbucks dismay.
Before long, and still under almost constant sedation, Starbuck wakes with a scar on her pelvis. The thing is, it’s not her kidney that is missing, but her ovary. She eventually escapes once she sees Simon talking to a Number 6 and determines that he is indeed a Cylon, but then walks into the truly horrific aspect of the hospital — the Cylons’ have created a baby-making factory, and numerous women, including resistance member Sue Shawn, are attached to some kind of big Cylon frak machine. In an act of mercy, Starbuck shuts down the machines, killing those attached to them, but we are given the impression that there are hundreds of such facilities scattered across Caprica and possibly the rest of the 12 Colonies.
6) The Ties that Bind
It was bound to happen. Eventually, someone would discover the identity of the Final Five. Of all the likeliest candidates to find out, Cally Tyrol was the only one who lived full time with her hidden cybernetic hubby. As Cally became more and more depressed with her lot in life, and more upset with her husband hanging out with his new buddies all the time, she took matters into her own hands and followed in the footsteps of many paranoid wives — she started spying on him.
She initially thought his extra-curricular activities were more along the lines of an extra-marital affair with Tori, but after a little more digging, she found the true Cylon nature of their relationship. Dazedly walking to the hangar after clubbing Tyrol with a wrench a la Gordon Freeman, it seemed like Cally was intending on killing herself and her toddler Nikki via a launch tube, but before she can close the door Tori shows up to talk her down. Finally, Tori is able to rescue little Nikki from his suicidal mother, but unfortunately for Cally, Tori whips out her pimp hand, bitch-slaps her, locks her in the airlock, and launches her into the frozen void of space like a meat Viper. The episode’s final scenes are of her frozen corpse, eyes still open, while the Admiral informs her husband.
5) Blood on the Scales
Poor Felix Gaeta. If ever there was a character on Battlestar who could be classified as a shit-magnet, Gaeta would be a pretty strong candidate. In season 4, he ends up at the wrong place at the wrong time during a mutiny, and loses his leg for his troubles. That doesn’t stop him from mutinying himself later with Tom Zarek, though, while angered over the decision of the Admiralty to join forces with the “good” Cylons.
Zarek’s mutiny takes Adama and Tigh hostage, and Gaeta calls Roslin and tries to convince her to surrender. But Zarek takes it up a notch or two when he executes the entire Quorum of Twelve, the fleet’s civilian government. While Zarek intends on executing Admiral Adama as well, Gaeta insists on a trial, even though it will inevitably find him guilty anyway. The sham trial indeed convicts Adama, and reluctantly Gaeta gives the order for Adama to be shot. But Roslin and the Cylon Basestar arrive and break up the mutiny, and Gaeta and Zarek replace Adama at the wrong end of a firing line.
This episode was the first time there was a large-scale battle of human versus human, with teams of marines storming the CIC and mercilessly gunning down members of the bridge crew. Not only were Gaeta and Zarek executed, but a large number of soldiers and civilians were hurt or killed, including Final Five member Sam Anders, shot while working to retake the ship and starting his strange transformation into something resembling a Cylon hybrid.
On a side note, one of the more disturbing images (and one that was used a lot during promotional material and previews before the episode aired) was of Admiral Adama with a target pinned to his chest, executed by firing squad. This of course turned out to be a nightmare dreamed up by Roslin, but that didn’t stop producers from exploiting the hell out of it in the week between episodes.
Thanks to the power of the interwebs, it was pretty much public knowledge that Starbuck was going to die at some point during the third season. I’m pretty sure that most people didn’t know it was going to be like this, though.
“Maelstrom” begins with Starbuck asleep in her bunk, dreaming of hot, steamy Cylon love with none other than Number 2, Leoban Conroy. Apparently disturbed by her dream, she consults Helo, who refers her to an Oracle. Venturing down to Dogtown, she encounters the Oracle who essentially tells her that her mother is trying to speak with her through her dreams. Turns out Kara’s mother Socrata used the Mommy Dearest book of parenting; cigarette burns, beatings and slamming of hands in doors were all favorites of Socrata, at least in the physical category of abuse. And when Starbuck became a newly commissioned officer in the Colonial Fleet, Socrata turned to verbal abuse. Finally having had enough, Starbuck left her cancer-stricken mother, never to return, and Socrata died completely and totally alone.
Starbuck continues to hallucinate throughout the episode, seeing herself as a child in the mirror, then facing down phantom Cylon Raiders while on patrol, at which point she gets knocked unconscious by an impact. It’s then that she sees her mother one last time — Socrata, on her deathbed, finally shows some love for her daughter, and explains that death is not something to be feared, that it can be embraced, and that it is not the end.
Kara wakes up in her ship to Lee’s pleading for her to pull up. She tells Lee calmly she will see him on the other side, that “they are waiting for me” just as her Viper explodes, with no sign of an ejection from the ship. Apollo has the solemn task of informing CIC that she is gone, and the episode ends with a devastated Adama mourning his “daughter.”
For once, Galactica catches a break. While on patrol, Apollo and Starbuck encounter a fellow Battlestar, the Pegasus, under the flag of the slightly sadistic and certainly traumatized Admiral Cain.
Apparently, Pegasus “justice” is a bit more barbaric than Galactica’s, with Cain allowing torture of her Cylon prisoner (see entry #9). We come to find out, that this unfortunate Number 6 has been beaten, starved and gang raped by Lieutenant Thorne and his Sunshine Gang, and their next stop is the cell of Cylon Sharon Valari. Helo and Tyrol arrive at Sharon’s cell just as Thorn starts “interrogating” her — they inadvertently kill her rapist, getting them a first class ticket to the Pegasus brig and the wrong end of a firing squad. Of course, Adama is not about to have this, and thus starts the conflict between the commanding officers of the Galactica and the Pegasus. This episode is one of the first examples of human cruelty that is shown throughout the series, and was obviously written as an allegory for the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.
It was a dark time for the rag-tag fugitive fleet. Wait, who am I kidding, it was almost always a dark time for the fleet. But at the time of “Revelations,” things were going very badly. Adama and Roslin were missing, Starbuck was recently returned from the dead, and four Cylons were hidden among the members of the fleet.
The Basestar returns to the fleet with demands for the four Cylons hidden in the fleet, and they are finally revealed: Tori to Roslin, and Tigh to Adama, who outs the rest of the group. While Adama had been getting progressively more emotional as the series went on, now, finally betrayed by his best friend, we see him lose all composure, even worse than when he was dealing with the death of Starbuck. As he collapses sobbing to the ground, it’s up to his son to finally step into his shoes; in this case, by holding the Cylons hostage in an airlock. This would be disturbing by itself, but this episode is far from over.
Finally, thanks to the help of Starbuck and the Final Five, the path to Earth has been found, and the fleet (the “good” Cylons’ Basestar included) finally arrives at their destination. The air is jubilant as the ships fall into orbit around the lost world, and for once, all seems to be right in the world. In fact, this is one of the very few scenes of celebration in the whole series. And then they land, only to find Earth to be a burnt-out cinder, the victim of a deadly robot uprising similar to what happened to the 12 Colonies. The episode ends with a panoramic view of Earth, and the looks of despair on the faces of our main characters.
Being the last episode that was filmed before the writer’s strike, there were serious doubts that the series would be able to come back to finish what it started. Apparently, had that been the case, the Earth they had landed on would have been our Earth, with the burnt out cityscape being what was left of a modern day New York City. Surprisingly, Edward James Olmos was not nominated for an Emmy for his performance in this episode, as his breakdown is one of the most heartwrenching scenes in the entire series up to this point.
1) Sometimes a Great Notion
So the Galactica ends up at Earth — an Earth that is extra crispy and uninhabitable. When “Sometimes” opens, we see the members of the crew exploring what was left of the once legendary planet, with Dualla getting particularly upset when picking up a set of children’s toy jacks.
As the majority of the crew returns to the fleet, Starbuck and Leoban search the planet for the beacon that brought them there. As their search moves forward, it becomes apparent the beacon that brought them there was the emergency beacon from her own ship, which crashed on the planet with her decomposing corpse still sitting at the controls.
Meanwhile back at the Fleet, Dualla seems to have composed herself, returning to a normal, even a happier than normal version of herself. She even goes on a date with her estranged husband Lee Adama, and it seems that by the end of their evening they have taken large steps to repairing their marriage. She walks back into the officer’s barracks after sharing a kiss with Lee, singing and almost euphoric, and then she suddenly pulls the gun from her locker and shoots herself in the head.
It’s obvious that despair had a firm grip on the Galactica, as a drunken Adama mourns his daughter-in-law. As he walks the hall, all signs of military discipline are gone, with soldiers fighting each other, weeping in the halls, with the Admiral begging Tigh to kill him. It’s easily the darkest episode of the series, and the image of the seemingly joyful Dualla killing herself is an image burned into the brains of every Battlestar fan. It’s also one of the most disturbing episodes of television period.
A fan of video games and science fiction from the moment he discovered his father's Atari 2600 and Star Wars, Jason Helton has been contributing to The Robot's Voice since 2011. Prior, he wrote for the UK's Den of Geek and was the producer and host of Iron Otaku Radio on XM's UPOP 29 channel. A die-hard fan of Battlestar Galactica (both old and new), Doctor Who, and pinball, you can follow him on Twitter @Razgriz1138.