It has always been said – and it's always been true – that writer/producer/developer Ronald D. Moore's reincarnation of 'Battlestar Galactica' was first and foremost a TV drama within the context of a science-fiction premise. By that definition -- as a drama with real, believable characters who earned fan-base loyalty and widespread critical acclaim -- the final, series-closing episodes that comprise Season 4.5 of 'BSG' can justifiably be called classics of their genres: They present a rich tapestry of satisfying drama, both in the resolution of complex character arcs (some brought to logical and deeply emotional closure, others left tantalizingly ambiguous) and in the tying together of numerous story threads that gave 'BSG' its resonant, sci-fi intensity. Opinions will differ among rabid fans, who will debate the finer points of 'BSG' for years to come, but this much is certain: Given the enormous challenge of bringing this epic, game-changing sci-fi drama to its mind-boggling conclusion, Moore and his gifted team of collaborators rose to the occasion with a superior finale that will have loyal fans scrambling to connect it to everything that came before.
As we ultimately discover in these nine closing episodes (eight episodes plus the epic three-part finale "Daybreak"), what is past is prologue: In revealing the identities of the "Final Five" Cylons, the origin and location of the 13th Colony, the mysterious fate of Kara "Starbuck" Thrace and numerous other characters both human and Cylon (or hybrids of both), 'Battlestar Galactica' ultimately reveals itself as a 150,000-year cycle of human and Cylon history, loyally inspired by the premise of Glen A. Larson's original 'BSG' series from 1978. Loosely inspired by Erich Von Daniken's influential book Chariots of the Gods?, Larson's 'BSG' followed Von Daniken's theory that the human race is descended from pioneering intergalactic travelers who "seeded" planets with new and growing civilizations. While most of Moore's re-imagined 'BSG' bears little resemblance to Larson's (a fact that sparked considerable controversy among skeptical original-series fans when Moore's version premiered as a miniseries on the Sci-Fi Channel – later ridiculously renamed SyFy – in late 2003), the core of 'BSG' remained faithful to Larson's premise.
(Editor's Note - Spoilers to follow)And so it is that Season 4 of 'BSG' ended with a shocker: Under the military command of Admiral William Adama (Edward James Olmos) and civilian president Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell), the rag-tag fleet of starships led by Adama's aging Battlestar Galactica finally arrived on what they hoped would be their new home, Earth, only to discover a charred cinder of a planet, decimated by nuclear holocaust some 2,000 years earlier. Seeming to contradict prophesies that guided Roslin's controversial actions in previous episodes, the tragic fate of Earth compels Adama and Roslin to reconcile their differences to ensure the survival of humankind. As Season 4.5 begins, the human fleet and its humanoid-Cylon allies face a new set of priorities: They must unite if they are to survive and locate a new, hospitable home, but political conflict once again rears its ugly head in the form of a violent mutiny masterminded by alliance opposition leader Tom Zarek (Richard Hatch) and his co-conspirator, the former Adama loyalist Lt. Felix Gaeta (Alessandro Juliani). Simultaneously, conflict rages between the embittered, isolationist humanoid-Cylon faction led by John Cavil (Dean Stockwell) and the aforementioned humanoid-Cylon Final Five, now united with the humans in an attempt to ensure their own survival. Through clues discovered on the decimated Earth, members of the Final Five (including Saul Tigh [Michael Hogan], Galen Tyrol [Aaron Douglas], Samuel Anders [Michael Trucco] and Tory Foster [Rekha Sharma]) had discovered unsettling keys to their past, suggesting that human and Cylon history had been interwoven for countless millennia, and the stage is set for the fullness of that history – including details of the mysterious Cylon "plan" that propelled 'BSG' from the start -- to be revealed.
Granted, any attempt at a comprehensive synopsis of Season 4.5 is likely to be confusing and ultimately futile; simply put, 'BSG' must be absorbed in its entirety to comprehend the many twists and turns that gave the series its narrative momentum. Suffice it to say that Season 4.5 required a lot of heavy lifting on the part of Moore and his collaborators: Some of these episodes convey a challenging amount of exposition, explanation, and back-story, all of which must be provided without violating the flow of dramatic action or the history established in Seasons 1-4. Much of this is accomplished through the fate of Final Five member Sam Anders, whose near-fatal brain injury (from a gunshot wound) results in his direct link to the Cylons' hybrid network, enabling him – in an audacious narrative gambit on Moore's part – to act as a conduit for startling revelations about Earth's past and how it relates to the fates of the now-reincarnated Kara Thrace (Katee Sackhoff), human rebel leader Dr. Gaius Baltar (James Callis), de-facto fleet leader Lee Adama (Jamie Bamber), the multiply-regenerated Cylons Number Six (Tricia Helfer) and Number Eight (Grace Park), and all of the other primary and secondary characters who brought 'BSG' so vividly to life over four occasionally uneven but always spectacular seasons.
With all revealed – and subsequent revelations and clarifications provided by 'Battlestar Galactica: The Plan' (to be released on Blu-ray and DVD Oct. 27th, 2009) – it's the final, three-part episode "Daybreak" that is 'Battlestar Galactica''s elegant coup de grace. While incorporating numerous flashbacks to show the fleet members' lives before the Cylon attack depicted in 'BSG: The Miniseries,' this masterful conclusion shows William Adama recovering from his loss of power, recruiting a small but effective force of volunteers, and leading the battered, nearly destroyed Galactica on its final attack against the rebel Cylons. The outcome of this battle (another triumph for 'BSG''s gifted visual effects team) is what ultimately leads to a convergence of the ideas and characters that 'BSG' had been developing all along: The function of the human child Hera as the key to human and Cylon survival; the emerging love between William Adama and Laura Roslin (in addition to pivotal relationships between other characters); and finally, the ultimate fate of the human race and the 150,000 years of history that inextricably bound humans and Cylons in a conflict that raged for millennia.
Knowing that 'BSG''s fourth season would be its last, Moore and his collaborators (primarily co-executive producer David Eick, frequent director Michael Rymer, and writers Jane Espenson, Bradley Thompson, David Weddle and others) managed to create a finale that's both uplifting and hopeful while functioning as a cautionary allegory with an abundance of present-day resonance. 'Battlestar Galactica' remains what it always was: A deeply human drama that touches upon issues of terrorism, human rights, advanced technology, and many of the other factors that defined the human condition at the beginning of the 21st century.
The entirety of 'Battlestar Galactica' was shot on high-definition digital video by director of photography Stephen McNutt. On Blu-ray, Season 4.5 (like the entire series on Blu-ray) is presented in full 1080p High-Def, in the 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio. Image clarity is better-than-ever, far surpassing broadcast quality and representing (as series developer Ronald D. Moore explains in a brief introduction) the finest available presentation of 'BSG' as a visual, experience. While the series' aesthetic was primarily gritty, dark, shadowy, and dominated by cement-like grays and earth tones, the variety and subtlety of McNutt's really shines here. Contrast, flesh tones, black levels, and sharpness are impeccable throughout, resulting in the revelation of details that truly enhance the viewer's appreciation of 'BSG' and the hard work that McNutt and his crew put into its creation. Visual effects (by Gary Hutzel and his gifted team of artists) share equal benefit from the clarity of 1080p: The special effects of 'BSG' were state-of-the-art – at the time, nothing on TV was more impressive – and on Blu-ray, the entire visual presentation of the series is nothing less than spectacular.
All episodes of 'BSG – Season 4.5' are presented in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1-channel surround sound, with spectacular results. Dialogue is up-front, clear, and the dynamic range is effectively robust, from the tinkling of ice cubes in Adama's whiskey glass to the rib-rattling explosions that rock the epic battle scenes, including a rumbling bass that gives sub-woofers an excellent workout. Balance is equally superb, and Bear McCreary's brilliant musical scores are given appropriate emphasis without overwhelming the dialogue or sound effects. Surround presence is noteworthy when called for: Once again, it's the explosive action sequences that benefit most from a vivid distribution across surround and rear channels: When necessary, 'BSG' on Blu-ray can fill any well-equipped home theater with house-rockin' sound and state-of-the-art clarity. No complaints from this High-Def enthusiast – none whatsoever.
By any rational standard, 'Battlestar Galactica' raised the bar for science-fiction drama on television, and the genre has a new standard to rise to. Season 4.5 faced the daunting task of satisfying the show's demanding fan-base while connecting a lot of loose threads in the series' complex narrative. Does it all hold together? In retrospect, will the series improve or decline in light of the finale's revelations? This is up to individual viewers to decide for themselves, but the positive fan reaction and widespread critical acclaim for 'BSG – Season 4.5' speaks for itself. This was an outstanding TV series that boasted above-average historical significance, a first-rate cast and crew, superior writing at a level of quality rarely seen in the science fiction genre, and a series of final episodes that cemented the series' reputation as a classic. Universal has honored 'BSG' with superior Blu-ray presentation, and 'Season 4.5" is a box set that deserves the highest recommendation.
All disc reviews at High-Def DVD Digest are completed using the best consumer HD home theater products currently on the market. More about our gear.