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11 essential 'Battlestar Galactica' episodes you need to watch
It is time to celebrate the love that binds all things together. SO SAY WE ALL.
All of this happened before, and it happened again. Battlestar Galactica premiered in 1978, but received a giant reimagining in 2003. Developed by Ronald D. Moore and executive produced by Moore and David Eick, the new SYFY (Sci-Fi Channel back then) series brought the galaxy of televised science fiction to new heights.
Beginning with a miniseries in 2003 and running for four seasons up through 2007, the series was a triumphant storytelling landmark that dealt with politics, humanity, existence, action, and countless other things. It’s not just one of the greatest sci-fi shows of all time, it is one of the greatest things to ever be shown on television. If this is hyperbole, we don’t care. So say we all.
Fans will be able to relive all of Battlestar Galactica from the beginning as part of SYFY REWIND, a throwback marathon that includes fan favorites Battlestar Galactica, Quantum Leap, and Xena: Warrior Princess — with full series all running from the beginning. SYFY REWIND marathons will air Fridays from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. Check out the SYFY schedule for more details.
Thanks to brilliant writing, incredible effects, an astounding cast of actors, and a musical score that cannot be beat, Battlestar Galactica remains the gold standard. In addition to SYFY REWIND, the entire series is also streaming on Peacock, so this is a perfect time to revisit what we think are the most essential (and favorite) episodes of the series. We will do so chronologically, and two-parters (and one three-parter) will be listed as one entry.
The miniseries that began it all is not listed here because it is its own special thing. Suffice it to say that the event that kicked everything off is brilliant, necessary, and sets everything up in majestic fashion. The miniseries should absolutely be watched first. The specials "Razor" and "The Plan" aren’t listed either, but both have their respective merits.
"Are you alive?" Keep an eye on DRADIS and spin up the FTLs. It is time for the dying leader to know the truth of the Opera House.
1. "33" (Season 1)
A ticking clock counts down when the Cylons will find the last vestiges of the human race. Everyone is exhausted and pushed to their limits. Every 33 minutes the Cylons arrive, the fleet jumps with Galactica, and the clock resets. There must be some kind of way out of here, said the joker to the thief.
The miniseries nuked the colonies and set up our lead characters as well as the fleet searching for a mythical “Earth.” The first actual episode of the series cements all of that, and makes it clear that the stakes are higher than anyone thought they were. This isn't going to be easy. It is going to be hell in space for every character listed on the call sheet.
It is as tense for the viewer as it is for the characters. These people are doing their best, but every round of 33 minutes makes them question if their best is good enough. This is the entire series encapsulated in one episode, and it just so happens to be the first. It is as unrelenting as the Cylons themselves.
2. "Kobol’s Last Gleaming, Parts 1 and 2" (Season 1)
Cylons can appear human now. No one knows what all of the models looks like, however, so the fleet is rife with paranoia about who may or may not be one. The audience knows that Boomer (Grace Park) is a Cylon early on, but nobody on the show itself does. Her storyline is a slow burn for all of Season 1 until she sets the fleet on fire with a gunshot at the end of this two-parter.
She blows right through the neverending drama between William Adama (Edward James Olmos) and his son Lee “Apollo” Adama (Jamie Bamber), and the general result is a fleet in chaos. It stays that way for a good deal of Season 2. The moment in question is hard to watch even when you’ve seen it a million times, and thankfully we can now go right into Season 2 without having to wait for the show to return. Boomer's surprise shot let us know we'd never know what to expect, and that we should never get too comfortable. A lead character could get plugged at any moment.
Thankfully for the fleet, the show, and the viewers, Boomer didn’t go for the head.
3. "Home, Parts 1 and 2" (Season 2)
William Adama and President Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell) have differing agendas. Religion is at odds with the military, more or less. Factions emerge and the fleet is divided because of this disparity. Lee Adama and Kara “Starbuck” Thrace (Katee Sackhoff) are both caught up in it. Roslin is a believer and Adama is not. They do not get along.
Until, blessedly, they do. This two-parter sees many of the main characters finally deciding to share common purpose and stop the madness. We get true understanding between Adama and Roslin, and the chemistry between Olmos and McDonnell really helps to work our emotions. They never go back to how they once were, they only go forward. The true beginning of one of the greatest TV romances of all time began right here.
With their issues set aside, our heroes proceed to discover the secret within the Tomb of Athena. They have something resembling a shared peace and a common purpose at last. They get a second to breathe. It doesn’t last, but what a glorious breath it is. We don't like seeing our heroes fight, let alone Mom and Dad. The family comes together.
Other great things in this two-parter: The Sharon copy (Park again, they’re all Park) that Helo (Tahmoh Penikett) falls for in Season 1 really comes into her own, Lee and Kara continue their will they/won’t they dance of sexual tension, and Roslin’s joy over being reunited with Billy (Paul Campbell).
4. "Downloaded" (Season 2)
Are the Cylons truly villains? They nuked the 12 colonies and are hunting down humanity, but what are their motives? What does a day in the life of a Cylon entail? This episode flips the show and gives us the Cylon perspective.
They are so much more interesting than simply being villains. The models vary, and even then, not all models are the same. One Number 6 could be awful, but another could be a benevolent being. This episode showcases how unique every Cylon is, regardless of their model, and it makes the drama of the series so much more complicated.
When Cylons are killed, their consciousness is downloaded into a new body. The episode uses this procedure with both Caprica Six (Tricia Helfer) and Boomer (Park) as a frame. What puts it over the top is the acting work done by those who play the main Cylon characters. Grace Park and Lucy Lawless are phenomenal at playing different versions of themselves, but Helfer plays the Cylon model that we know best. This is a true showcase for her. It is a perfectly acted story with vital pieces of Cylon lore.
5. "Lay Down Your Burdens, Parts 1 and 2" (Season 2)
They haven’t found Earth, but they have found a dingy planet that is somewhat habitable. Why keep looking for a myth when they can just stay on “New Caprica” and do what the title of this two-parter suggests?
The end of Season 2 contains some of the show’s boldest choices. Roslin’s attempts to remain President fail, and the job goes to Dr. Gaius Baltar (James Callis), who just keeps slithering along, avoiding consequences. Baltar is often the most fascinating character to watch. We love him, but we don’t want him to be in a leadership role.
When his first order is for humanity to stake down on New Caprica for good, the show pulls a trick that no one saw coming. Baltar rests his head on his presidential desk, and when he lifts it back up, it is one year later. A new status quo is firmly in place for every character. Starbuck and Colonel Tigh (Michael Hogan), who used to be fighting all the time, are friends. Lee Adama is fat. Life on New Caprica sucks. These changes are not reversed. Welcome to the new show.
Time jumps are nothing new, but to do one during an episode (in the middle of a show’s run) that did not get undone was rare at the time. Other series have since used the move (Parks & Recreation being a notable example), and trust that audiences will enjoy learning about what the new normal is.
All of that aside, Gaius Baltar is a horrible president and everyone is miserable, so here’s hoping that the Cylons don’t show up. Oops, they just did.
6. "Exodus, Parts 1 and 2" (Season 3)
Trying to co-exist with Cylons on New Caprica didn’t really work out for the humans. A resistance group fought back, but the Cylons had to start playing rough. President Baltar was useless, and Kara Thrace was locked up in a creepy lab. Will Admiral Adama return to rescue humanity with the might of both Galactica and Pegasus?
Bet your ass he does. We’ve not talked much about how great the action on the series was (and still is), but this is a thrill ride for days. Adama succeeds in his mission and the day is saved, but there are great costs. Tigh is never the same, and neither is Starbuck. Pegasus is lost. Lee Adama magically stops being fat after this, but unfortunately the “hot character gets put in a fat suit to show XYZ” trope didn’t get lost with all of Lee’s weight.
In the middle of Adama bringing the family back together and resuming their path to Earth, there is a small moment on New Caprica that always stands out. When Roslin and Tom Zarek (Richard Hatch) are going to be executed by a Cylon firing squad, Zarek protects Roslin. They have always been fierce rivals, so this was astonishing to see. Maybe there’s hope for Zarek after all? In this episode, maybe. It doesn’t last. These rivals lived on to ratchet their drama up several notches, but still. For one brief moment of common cause, Roslin and Zarek were comrades.
7. "Crossroads, Parts 1 and 2" (Season 3)
Baltar gets put on trial for his treasonous actions on New Caprica. Because he infuriatingly always has to follow his conscience, Lee Adama decides to be his defense attorney. Admiral Adama ain’t happy.
We’re almost glad that Baltar is finally going to get what has been coming to him for three seasons (even though there are lies in the mix), but the trial is brutal. Lee is an ass to both Roslin and Tigh when they each take the stand, and hard truths about both characters are learned. Lee manages to save face with his final speech, saying that sure, none of us like this guy, but what was he supposed to do? All in all it’s a nice courtroom drama that neatly ties Season 3 together. Cut to credits, end of season.
Not really, because we also get a whopper of a reveal as to who four of the “final five” Cylons are. They are triggered by the song “All Along The Watchtower” and all they really know is that they are definitely Cylons. Who they all are and how they got there was almost impossible to comprehend at first.
Also, let’s not forget the final surprise of the season. Starbuck died a few episodes before this, going out pursuing her destiny. Katee Sackhoff’s name was taken out of the main credits. When the Cylons attack and Lee jumps from the courtroom to the cockpit, he encounters Starbuck in a Viper, back from the dead. Not only that, she knows where Earth is.
What? Any one of these bonkers story points would be staggering, but all together it had us absolutely ravenous for Season 4. Kara Thrace, the harbinger of doom. She would lead them all to their end.
8. "Revelations" (Season 4)
The final season was broken into two parts, and the end of the first half ended with yet another rug pull. Division in the Cylon ranks saw humans forming a temporary alliance with some of them, and things escalate to the point where the secret of the four hidden Cylons comes out. Adama loses it and trashes his model ship. Not for the last time!
Between the newly discovered Cylons and the mysteriously returned Starbuck, the fleet finds Earth. There is joy from everyone. Roslin is there for Adama, Lee jumps on a console and tears his jacket off, and Bear McCreary cuts in with yet another piece of glorious music. Humanity (and some Cylons) finally achieve their mission. Earth awaits. It's gonna be great!
Guess what? Earth sucks. It is a nuked and lifeless wasteland, and we came to find out that it was home to both humans and Cylons in the distant past. All of this has happened before and it will happen again. The final shots of the main cast taking it in are riveting. In particular, the moment of Adama grabbing a handful of useless dirt next to a barely there Roslin is expertly played. On a series full of gut punches, this might be the biggest one. We didn’t see it coming. Only now, knowing what comes next, are we not as upset as we once were.
9. "Blood on the Scales" (Season 4)
The fleet falls apart after the Earth discovery. Roslin gives up, but Adama decides to keep things together. They'll find another home. He makes their tenuous alliance with half of the Cylons more permanent. A good section of the human fleet hates this, and a mutiny ensues thanks to Tom Zarek and Felix Gaeta (Alessandro Juliani). We thought that we knew Gaeta, he had his ups and downs, but this? So many characters that we know and love aren't just arguing, they are shooting at each other while a coup takes place. Some of them break our hearts, and yes, we’re talking about Racetrack (Leah Cairns). Some of us may have had a crush. Not anymore, Racetrack, not anymore.
Why does this installment loom so large? Adama leading a growing parade of humans to take Galactica back is a thrilling moment. Everything Olmos does in the episode is incredible really, so no surprise there. Juliani was always great as Gaeta, but his final scene with Baltar is his series best. The action, the music, the acting, yes yes yes, why else?
President Laura Roslin’s speech. Gaeta and Zarek have Galactica and they have Adama (now firmly the love of Roslin’s life, by the way) in custody. They tell her to surrender as Adama smiles. Her response: “No. Not now, not ever. Do you hear me? I will use every cannon, every bomb, every bullet, every weapon down to my own eye teeth to end you. I swear it. I’m coming for all of you!”
Don’t piss off Laura Roslin. Don’t piss off Mary McDonnell.
10. "No Exit" (Season 4)
After the mutiny has been dealt with, we’re given something of an info dump episode to fill some blanks about Cylon/human history. We’re given a lot of answers about the final five, and in any other series this would be nothing but dull and shameless exposition. It’s not either thing here; it's breathtaking.
Michael Trucco steps up in a big way as the recurring Samuel Anders, but this is a fine time to celebrate the work done on this show by Dean Stockwell, playing Cylon model #1. Usually going by John Cavil, he’s as close as the series gets to a primary antagonist. Even then, he isn’t pure evil. He can be reasoned with.
Stockwell’s performance as Cavil is nefarious, and at times a little over-the-top. It always works, partially because it's Dean Stockwell and partially because there’s no other character with that kind of energy. The notes are always welcome, and they definitely help to make this episode more than just the blatant release of information. His true desires are spoken in a very memorable speech, one that is perfectly written and acted. Shocking, we know. To reiterate: so say we all.
11. "Daybreak, Parts 1, 2, and 3" (Season 4)
The debate over whether Battlestar Galactica “stuck the landing” is still going on we suppose, but we don’t care. For us, it didn’t just stick the landing, it finished perfectly. It ended in a highly satisfying and emotional three-part episode.
There’s the “line down the center of the deck” scene in Part 1. The biggest action set piece of the series takes place in Part 2. Lee Adama storms into a base leading a troop of Cylon soldiers. The “truth of the Opera House” is revealed, and Starbuck’s true destiny (and the recurring use of “All Along The Watchtower”) is discovered. Not every character lives through it, but humanity is not left stranded in a sea of stars.
It’s not the specifics of the story and the answers to series-long questions that we remember, though. As we’ve said already, emotions run high here. The three-part ending weaves in flashbacks to where the journeys of all of the main characters truly begin, so seeing many of them end makes the tears come even faster.
Will any moment in any finale hit as hard as the Adama/Roslin scene in the Raptor? Probably not. Once Bear McCreary’s theme for them plays, we’re done. "So much life." Humans and Cylons alike have found peace, and after four seasons, they all deserve it. Even Baltar finds some kind of purpose. As he tearfully says to Caprica Six, “I know about farming.”
The final tag, bridging the show’s history to our own (with the “angel” versions of Six and Baltar) is a beautiful bow that tops the gift that was Battlestar Galactica.
Shout it with us, and shout it loud: So say we all! So say we all! SO SAY WE ALL! SO SAY WE ALLLL!!!!!