‘Battlestar Galactica’ Countdown: “Someone to Watch Over Me”

“Deadlock” may have been a weak episode, but “Someone to Watch Over Me” is something for any show to be proud of. It’s nearly flawless, a beauty of acting, writing, editing and, so very importantly, composing (composer Bear McCreary’s three-part, incredibly detailed blog on his part of the experience starts here and is definitely recommended reading).

Plus, it’s about Starbuck AND the Chief. What more could you ask for?

I stopped taking notes for much of this episode because I just wanted to enjoy it. Its two narrative strands — Kara talking to a piano player in the bar, and the Chief getting involved with Boomer — twist around each other, weaving things tighter as we near the end of the series. The beginning of the episode alone is amazing: As Starbuck goes through the motions of an ordinary morning again and again, everything is underscored by Slick, the piano player she sees in the bar, and everything literally happens again, just like it happened before. Life repeats itself in small ways, week after week, and Kara gets tireder and tireder, as they look for somewhere to stop moving.

A piece of the thread with the Chief and Boomer involves the baseship wanting Boomer back so they can try her for her involvement in the Cylon civil war, but a piece of what makes that interesting is the appearance of Sonja, the Six who will represent the baseship in the new Quorum. Not much is made of it, but it’s fascinating — as is her plain statement that now that resurrection is impossible, capital punishment has meaning for the Cylons.

The early scenes with Starbuck and Slick, the piano player, have a nicely played friendly combativeness; she challenges him on the meaning of his music, and he explains that it brings a little grace and beauty to an otherwise brutal life — and he could be speaking of Starbuck’s life, given her past, and her quickly revealed knowledge of music, which is far greater than expected. Before she talks to Slick, Starbuck talks to Doc Cottle, who tells her she needs to get on with her life, but for once, the Doc is wrong. She needs to go backwards, via the drawing Hera gives her — the row of dots. In a tiny moment, Hera nods when Starbuck asks if the colorful dots are stars. A map as well as a song? The translation of music into a navigational tool? Isn’t there often music playing in the basestars?

Starbuck’s scene with Helo, when he tells her he has all her stuff, serves three purposes: It reminds us Helo’s there, for crying out loud; it reminds us of Starbuck’s long-unmentioned pianist father; and it underscores how detached Starbuck is from her old self, as she only takes the tape of her father’s playing, leaving Helo everything else that once belonged to her.

But even more quintessentially Starbuck than that detachment is her ineloquent explanation of how the song Slick is working on makes her feel. It’s like a person chasing a car, she says. He tells her it’s meant to evoke a sense of loss. It’s the same thing, but Starbuck speaks in concrete terms, not words that describe feelings, and has to work to explain that that’s just what she meant.

The fact that this manages to be both a Chief episode and a Starbuck episode – the most cut-off person, and the most connected, sympathetic person – helps make it a stunner. Every scene that’s not with Kara and Slick, I would want the show to go back to them, but that the plotline with the Chief and Boomer is so compelling too. On the one hand, Starbuck is inching closer and closer to Slick, talking about her feelings — how the song her dad taught her, which Slick’s playing reminds her of — made her feel happy and sad at the same time (“The best ones do,” Slick says). On the other, Sharon is showing the Chief the trick of Cylon projection, showing him the house she dreamed they’d live in someday, even the daughter she thought they’d have. And I think she means it, even as she leads him into attacking another Eight to get her out; even as she fools him into helping her leave with Hera onboard. I think Boomer is the most conflicted, fascinating, cruel, divided character on the show; she truly seems to believe two things at once. She loved the Chief, but not enough to set aside her mission for Cavill. She says she wants the Chief to come with her, but without thinking of what Cavill would do with him, another one of the five. You could argue she’s always just pushing the Chief’s buttons, but when she tells him she meant every word, no matter what happens, I believe her, even as I don’t trust her. How could you trust anyone who could do what she does in the locker room with Helo, with Athena looking on?

“Sometimes lost is where you need to be,” Slick says to Starbuck. And then there’s the sequence this entire episode is building toward, edited so gracefully, timed just right, Starbuck and Slick on the piano bench, picking out the song; Ellen, Tory and Saul in the bar, just turning their heads the tiniest bit as the first notes line up; Boomer picking up Hera from the nursery, in a hurry; Slick launching into the lower part of that song, Starbuck joining in, a beautiful shot of their hands that shifts to the three Cylons, Saul’s eye widening — until Starbuck stops, seeing her dad, seeing Slick as her father, until the Cylons interrupt and suddenly, he’s gone.

“I plaued it as a kid. My father —” she stops when she realizes the player isn’t there.

Everything else is less; everything else is important. Athena, stumbling into a room, asks Helo if Boomer has Hera and he instantly knows she does. Boomer, trying to escape, pretends to be Athena, but Adama calls her by her own name. Roslin, falling, fainting, as Hera leaves; why didn’t Caprica feel something, too, if they used to share the opera house visions? Ellen realizing it was all planned from the beginning, hating being a pawn in Cavill’s game, and saying of Hera, “She’s plugged into something that’s manipulating all of us.”

The cynical side of me says, sure, she’s plugged into whatever skinny framework the showrunners have set up for the last episodes. But this one is so well done that I can’t be cynical about it. It’s one of the best episodes of the entire series — this one and “Unfinished Business” might top my list.

Next: “Islanded in a Sea of Stars.”