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The 7 Best And 7 Worst Episodes Of Battlestar Galactica

There may be no show with a greater range in quality than "Battlestar Galactica," Ronald D. Moore's re-imagining of the original 1970s science fiction show. An almost instant cult classic, "BSG" took forgotten intellectual property and reinvigorated it as a propulsive, pause-worthy drama that became one of the most addictive and bingeable shows of the 2000s. The series even spawned a short-lived prequel show, "Caprica," and a short-form web series subtitled "Blood & Chrome."

But for all its euphoric highs, "Battlestar Galactica" hit some dismal lows during its four-season run. Some episodes in the middle years are obvious filler, with a number of plot twists coming out of nowhere. Many fans felt that the "Battlestar Galactica" finale ruined the show, but its reputation was already thoroughly mixed by that point. The greatest parts of the show are gripping drama that often deal with trenchant and relevant themes, like the way the occupation of New Caprica paralleled the Iraq War. Unfortunately, there are just as many self-contained and largely pointless episodes that stink of lazy writing and an aimless overall plan. These are the seven best and seven worst episodes of "Battlestar Galactica."

Best: The miniseries

It might be technically cheating to consider the "Battlestar Galactica" miniseries as an "episode," but the three-hour saga is the solid foundation on which the rest of the show rests. It takes a while to get going, but given the amount of exposition that it has to accomplish and the number of different characters that it needs to set up, the miniseries might be the most impressive thing that "BSG" pulled off in its run. From the mysterious opening with Tricia Helfer's alluring Number 6 to Edward James Olmos' rousing speech as Commander Adama at the end, the miniseries is gripping television that hit big ratings for Syfy and successfully launched a franchise.

The miniseries introduces many of the recurring dramatic elements that make "Battlestar Galactica" compelling. The crew of the Galactica has to split up in key situations. Some combination of Commander Adama, Kara "Starbuck" Thrace (Katee Sackhoff), and Lee "Apollo" Adama (Jamie Bamber) reunite dramatically after thinking another one of them had died in battle. Adama and son petulantly argue about their issues despite the fate of humanity being on the line. And of course, a "human" character is suddenly revealed to be an evil Cylon. The miniseries lays out the blueprint for the rest of the show quite well, and it's easy to see why it earned such positive reviews upon release.

Worst: Black Market (Season 2, Episode 14)

After a mostly tight and compelling first season of 13 episodes, "Battlestar Galactica" received orders of more than 20 episodes for the next three seasons, and the middle parts of each began to show the burden of having to tell a longer story. Season 2's "Black Market" feels like a strange dream where Apollo is a private eye all of a sudden. It's as transparent and strange a departure from the normal tone of the show as any "Star Trek" holodeck episode, telling a story that's of little consequence to the rest of the show's continuity.

After the miniseries and 26 episodes of storytelling, we're supposed to just accept that Apollo, one of the leads of the series, has both a pregnant ex-girlfriend who died in the Cylon attack on the colonies and a semi-regular habit of seeing a sex worker on Cloud 9 who reminds him of said dead ex-girlfriend. We're further expected to believe that there's a thriving, inter-ship black market in the rag-tag group of surviving vessels that make up the fleet, and that it's a good idea to let it continue at the end of the episode despite the murder of a Battlestar commanding officer. It's a strange, nearly impossible pill to swallow, resulting in by far the most skippable episode of the show.

Best: 33 (Season 1, Episode 1)

Though the miniseries provided all the core elements for "Battlestar Galactica" to tell its story, "33" is when it kicks into high gear as a week-to-week story. The premiere of the show's first proper season uses the ingenious plot device of the Cylons appearing every 33 minutes after the colonists try to jump away, which creates a tense and thrilling first episode. Viewers barely have time to meet the characters before seeing them pushed to their limits, resulting in a dramatic and compelling start to the show. The episode balances mystery and simmering tension between characters with the immediate plot concern of not being blown up every 33 minutes.

The ultimate solution is the first of many moral dilemmas of the queasy sort that made "Battlestar Galactica" such engrossing television at the start. When it appears that a ship called the Olympic Carrier has been infiltrated by Cylons, President Roslin (Mary McDonnell) and Apollo decide to destroy it. It seems like they've made the right choice, but there's no way of actually knowing for sure. Characters begin to feel the actual stakes of near-extinction that the Cylons have pushed them to, and to reckon with the choices they have to make to move forward. Even years later, the episode is remembered as a great example of how to start a show off strong (per EW).

Worst: Sacrifice (Season 2, Episode 16)

Billy, we hardly knew ye. Once the seasons fluff out to full length, "Battlestar Galactica" often turns to its various romantic plotlines for drama, only to find a near-complete lack of believable chemistry between the actors. To be fair, they don't have much realistic or compelling material to work with, as Roslin's aide de camp Billy (Paul Campbell) seems to have a crush on CIC Officer Dualla (Kandyse McClure) just because they're in the same room sometimes. 

Apollo also develops a weird thing with Dualla seemingly out of nowhere in the middle of Season 2, and it all comes to head on Cloud 9 during a very inconveniently timed hostage situation. It's actually a shame, as the viscerally un-compelling love triangle distracts from what could be an interesting story about a woman — played by guest star Dana Delaney — resorting to violence after her husband's death. In the end, though, this forgettable "Battlestar Galactica" episode is memorable only for Billy's untimely and supremely senseless death in a shootout.

Best: Kobol's Last Gleaming (Season 1, Episodes 12-13)

"Battlestar Galactica" Season 1 goes out with a propulsive bang in the form of "Kobol's Last Gleaming," a multi-part episode that begins to bring the disparate elements of the show together and starts throwing the haymaker plot twists that would define the show for good and ill. When the colonists reach the legendary planet of Kobol, the season-long tension between what's pragmatic and what's dictated by faith in prophecy and scripture reaches a breaking point. Starbuck openly defies her mentor Adama (a recurring pattern for the two of them) by going back to Caprica for the Arrow of Apollo, setting off a constitutional crisis of leadership in the process.

"Kobol's Last Gleaming" also pays off the more frustrating elements of Season 1, as Baltar's vision of the opera house is finally given a point of significance (vague though it is), and Sharon "Boomer" Valerii (Grace Park) finally learns her true nature as a Cylon after ignoring the evidence for months on end. Her truly shocking assassination attempt on Adama as the season closes is one of the all-time gasp-inducing moments in the series. Overall, "Kobol's Last Gleaming" stands as a shining example of "Battlestar Galactica" at its best.

Worst: The Passage (Season 3, Episode 10)

Season 3 contains some of the absolute best and worst of "Battlestar Galactica." It begins with several episodes concerning the occupation of New Caprica and subsequent fallout, and then the quality absolutely craters for a while until the show reveals the Final Five and moves into the end game. "The Passage" is a transitory episode that takes a relatively beloved minor character in brash Viper pilot Kat (Luciana Carro), gives her a new and completely random backstory, and then kills her off.

For some reason, the writers must have decided that Kat's slow maturation from petulant rookie to confident veteran wouldn't be enough on its own, so it's revealed that she stole someone else's identity to hide her life of crime before the Cylon attack. She's then redeemed, sacrificing herself to guide the fleet safely through a radioactive star cluster that can't be passed through in a single jump (because of plot device reasons). Pair all of this with some of Baltar's time in the weird Cylon basestar white robe dreamland and you've got one dud of an episode.

Best: Pegasus (Season 2, Episode 10)

"Pegasus" comes along right when "Battlestar Galactica" needs it most. The show spends the first several episodes of Season 2 wrapping up all the lingering mysteries from the cliffhanger Season 1 finale, and then it gets a little narrative reset in the form of an entire second Battlestar, the Pegasus. The introduction of Michelle Forbes' Admiral Cain shakes up the show's just re-established power structure because she outranks Commander Adama, whose love of military protocol often out-strips his common sense.

True to form, "Pegasus" brings in new stomach-churning moral dilemmas, along with the novelty of new characters. It's revealed that not only has Cain's ruthless attitude meant turning on her own crew and civilians at times, but it's also allowed her to turn a blind eye to the constant torment of a Cylon prisoner of war. By the end of the episode, the joy of reunion turns to terror, as two Pegasus crew members are dead and a civil war looks about to break out over the moral dilemma of how humans treat Cylons.

Worst: The Woman King (Season 3, Episode 14)

Another episode mired in the interminable wheel-spinning in the back half of "Battlestar Galactica" Season 3, "The Woman King" finds Helo suddenly in charge of supervising hundreds of civilian refugees in a Galactica hangar bay. The refugees are dealing with Mellorak Sickness — a mildly serious illness that's treatable within the first 48 hours. Unfortunately, the superstitious citizens from planet Saggitaron have religious objections to the treatments and distrust the prejudiced Dr. Robert (guest star Bruce Davison).

So many questions are raised by all of this: Why haven't we met Dr. Robert before? Does an entire planet share the same religion? Is this really the best use of Helo's training? But instead of telling any sort of nuanced story about internal prejudice or the dangers of faith-based objections to modern medicine, "The Woman King" has an incoherent plot twist where the Saggitarons turn out to have been right to fear Dr. Robert, who was poisoning them all along. No one learns anything, and Helo never speaks of any of this again.

Best: Lay Down Your Burdens (Season 2, Episodes 19-20)

"Lay Down Your Burdens" is the story of a competent career politician and respected female stateswoman losing an election to a total charlatan making promises he could never hope to keep. Improbably, it's a fictional two-part episode of "Battlestar: Galactica," the stellar finale of Season 2, and not a documentary about anything that's happened in the real world. When the fleet encounters a sort of habitable planet, Baltar uses it as an excuse to mount a campaign against Roslin for the Presidency based on a plan to stop running and colonize it, instead of continuing to search for Earth.

The Season 2 finale's most memorable moment by far is the sudden jump to more than a year later in the "Battlestar Galactica" timeline, when several officers have defected from the military to join the shoddy settlement, Apollo's put on his winter weight, and characters have variously gotten married or had children in the interim. It's a brilliant and unexpected move for a show that had been inching its story along slowly, and excitement is ratcheted up even further when the Cylons reappear and take over the nascent colony in a cliffhanger ending. 

Worst: A Day in the Life (Season 3, Episode 15)

"A Day in the Life" finds "Battlestar: Galactica" at its worst, twiddling its thumbs playing marriage counselor to one relationship that's hardly compelling and another that's barely even mentioned before. Chief Tyrol (Aaron Douglas) and his wife Cally (Nicki Clyne) are trapped in a malfunctioning airlock, forcing them to confront the dangers of working together while balancing the new responsibility of caring for the child they had on New Caprica. Considering that this relationship more or less starts (from our perspective) when Tyrol accidentally beats Cally while sleepwalking, it's never really a marriage you find yourself rooting for.

Meanwhile, Commander Adama is having visions of his long-dead ex-wife on their wedding anniversary, although for a while it just seems like he's lost his mind. After three seasons of Baltar and Head Number 6, the show struggles to fit in yet another character who isn't really there. Eventually, we find out Adama's just been imagining his ex as being much more pleasant than she actually was in real life, so it's just a strange nostalgic waste of everyone's time.

Best: Exodus (Season 3, Episodes 3-4)

The two-part "Exodus" is unquestionably the high water mark for "Battlestar: Galactica." Multiple plot threads pay off as Starbuck realizes she doesn't actually have a daughter, Colonel Tigh (Michael Hogan) is forced to make a heart-rending decision about his wife, and Adama and Apollo say yet another one of their patented emotional farewells. New Caprica is in general chaos, and even more nonsense devoted to Hera getting kidnapped again can't spoil the fun.

"Exodus" also has some of the most thrilling CGI action the show ever mustera in its climactic space battle, which sees the destruction of the Pegasus to enable the Galactica's escape. Even in a triumphant ending, "Battlestar Galactica" throws in the somber, bittersweet grace notes that mark its best episodes, like a devastating shot of Tigh — a man integral to the escape who loses everything — watching as Adama is carried on his troops' shoulders as the hero of the hour. There would be plenty of story left to tell, but in a palpable way, it's all downhill from here.

Worst: Crossroads (Season 3, Episodes 19-20)

In "Crossroads," "Battlestar Galactica" reveals four of the mythical Cylon "Final Five," and in doing so it completely jumps the shark. There's just no way around how head-scratching and confusing it is to have Colonel Tigh be a Cylon in addition to Tyrol, Anders (Michael Trucco), and Tory (Reka Sharma). It's borderline insulting to just throw this at the audience, and doubly so by using the device of all four of them hearing mysterious music that turns out to be a cover of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower." The parts when they say some of the lyrics in dialogue are groan-inducing once you notice them, as if the writers were pausing the episode to ask us, "Eh? Isn't this clever?"

As if that weren't enough on its own, "Crossroads" also features the interminable trial of Gaius Baltar, which hinges on a bizarre tactic of having Apollo take the stand despite him being one of Baltar's own lawyers. There's also the sudden reappearance of Starbuck, despite her definitely exploding into smithereens a few episodes earlier. Starbuck's reappearance and Tigh's identity as a Final Fiver are both wild swings for the show, and in setting up the final season, they reveal just how much the series had been making up as it went along.

Best: Unifinished Business (Season 3, Episode 9)

Of all the relationships "Battlestar: Galactica" asks you to be invested in, Starbuck's dynamic with Apollo is the only one that's as compelling as the show intends it to be. Actors Katee Sackhoff and Jamie Bamber have real chemistry, and we finally got a payoff (of sorts) to years of tension in Season 3's underrated "Unfinished Business." It finds our two star-crossed lovers working out their leftover tension from New Caprica by way of a boxing match, along with other members of the crew.

Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that Starbuck and Apollo actually almost went for it on New Caprica, before Starbuck panicked true-to-form and married Anders. The reveals accompany the two of them relentlessly punching one another after being alienated for the majority of a year, and the episode ends with the exhausted pair admitting that they missed one another as friends as much as anything else. Some bonds go deeper than attraction and romance, and Starbuck and Apollo prove to be the one true pairing of "Battlestar: Galactica," no matter what their actual relationship status happens to be.

Worst: Daybreak (Season 4, Episodes 19-21)

In truth, there are a lot of "Battlestar Galactica" Season 4 episodes that could qualify as some of the series' worst. The entire last season is kind of a step down in storytelling quality, as the show has to explore an elaborate, borderline-nonsensical cosmology involving ancient Cylons to explain the backstory of the Final Five. Baltar starts a cult, a lot of other confusing things happen, and the Galactica goes on an all-out mission to rescue Hera from the Cylons. Ultimately, in the three-part "Daybreak," humanity and the Cylons reach peace, but at the last minute it falls apart and the Galactica jumps away while the Cylons fall into a black hole. Neat!

Fortunately, the Galactica randomly ends up jumping right to a nice, habitable planet, after four years of trying to find one on purpose. That's pretty lucky. On the planet, the humans settle in for good, and it becomes clear that Starbuck was an angel (or something) the whole season when she vanishes without a trace. It's further revealed that the planet they land on is actually Earth thousands of years in the past, and that the hodge-podge of humans and Cylon-hybrids who settle on the planet are in fact the ancestors of modern-day humanity. In a way, you have to respect "Daybreak" in spirit for going big instead of going home at the end of "Battlestar Galactica," but in practice it just leaves a real bitter, puzzled taste in your mouth.