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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Galactica 1980: The Return of Starbuck – Review

With the ratings plummeting faster than a crippled Viper it was only a matter of time before the Network pulled the plug on Galactica 1980, so producer/writer Glen A. Larson, who hated the direction the show was going due to Network interference, decided to basically say “Fuck it” and do his own thing for one last hurrah.  He managed to talk his good friend Dirk Benedict into returning for one last episode, one that would be basically a two-man radio play, which is not something an actor can turn down, and what we got was an episode that was better than anything seen on either Galactica 1980 or the original series, and simply put we got one of the best hours on television…period.


The episode opens with Dr. Zee (James Patrick Stuart) asking Commander Adama (Lorne Greene) if he thinks dreams are relevant, and when he tells Adama that the dream dealt with a great warrior named Starbuck (Dirk Benedict), the shocked Commander asks to hear what the dream was about.


"I dreamed a dream in time gone by, when hope was high and life worth living."

The dream/flashback begins with Starbuck and Boomer (Herbert Jefferson Jr.) battling it out with a group of Cylon Raiders when Starbuck’s craft is crippled during a daring maneuver. All the attacking Raiders had been defeated but Starbuck knows he won’t be able to make it back to the fleet, and with the Cylon threat still out there the fleet can’t risk coming this way looking for him. Boomer a reluctantly returns to the Galactica, which is fighting off its own Cylon attack, and is told by Adama that Starbuck was right, they cannot go back, “There is no going back! Our enemy pushes us on and on and on! And until we're strong enough or can find Earth and get help, we can never stop or turn away or look back!” This scene is bloody incredible, with Lorne Greene packing every ounce of emotional weight as he looks off into space, and with a voice choked with tears he states...


“Goodbye, Starbuck. I love you. We all love you.”

This is the Commander Adama we’ve been missing all season, and is why you cast someone like Lorne Greene in the first place, because he can pull off the emotional gravitas like nobody’s business. Why you’d turn him into a doddering second banana to a “super genius” kid is beyond me.
It’s at this point that the episode turns into Glen A. Larson’s Hell in the Pacific, a favorite film of his, and he does a brilliant job at adapting it into a science fiction story. Starbuck crash lands on a barren rocky planet, and his first decision is to name this place Planet Starbuck. As one would do.  He then begins a trek across the hostile landscape in the hopes of running into a primitive culture that would worship him like some sort of "winged god from the heavens." Unfortunately all he finds is the crashed remains of the Cylon Raider he shot down earlier. At first Starbuck just uses some of the wreckage to make a crude shelter against the planet’s frigid nights, but come morning he finds himself talking to the “dead” Cylon's as if they are part of his crew. Eventually loneliness gets the better of him and he decides to actually repair one of the Cylons.


“I do hereby give you life.”

This shows the complete desperation of Starbuck, and how being alone is one of the worst thing that could happen to him, because a Cylon’s sole purpose is to kill humans so “waking” one up is not conducive to living a long life. So is Starbuck subconsciously planning a suicide?  Maybe, maybe not, but he does set-up a handy kill switch so that he is able to dissuade the Cylon from killing him, but the odds of this working in the long run are certainly not in his favour. When he explains to the now functioning Cylon that he repaired him because he was "lonely" and needed a friend, the Cylon (voiced by Gary Owens) responds, "We are enemies," Starbuck’s retorts "No,we're cultural dissidents," as they are the only two on the planet any war between their kind is now irrelevant. Starbuck spends the next little while teaching Cy, a name he gives the Centurions, all there is to know about humans. Over time a friendship does develop between the two, even surviving Starbuck cheating at cards, but robot companion can only provide so much. Cy comes to the conclusion that Starbuck is only cheating at cards because he is bored, and that Starbuck would prefer the company of a woman. Promising to bring back a woman Cy heads out into the bitter cold, and returns the next morning, carrying an unconscious, pregnant woman.


“Starbuck, I have brought you a surprise.”

Needless to say this comes as a bit of a shock to Starbuck, and as he’d been haunted by visions of, “The face of a girl I’d never met," it is even more disturbing. Just how does a Cylon go out and find a beautiful woman, on a barren planet I might add, and one who just so happens to match the one in his dreams? This kind of thinking doesn’t cross the analytical mind of the Cylon, and the following conversation highlights just how awesome Cy is.

Starbuck: “She’s alive”
Cy: “I presumed you’d prefer her that way.
Starbuck: “Cy, this isn’t funny. This is a living breathing human being.
Cy: “Yes, I feel I have already compromised everything I believe in. What’s helping one more human going to matter more or less?
Starbuck: “Cy, this is more than a woman.”
Cy: “I’m sorry if you are displeased. There wasn’t much of a selection.

Not only is this a brilliantly funny scene but it also beautifully shows the evolution of a Cylon from a being that previously desired to exterminate all human life, to one that would wish to make a friend happy. Gary Owen’s Cy is very reminiscent of Dick Tufeld's work as the robot in Lost in Space with a dash of the depressed Marvin the robot from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The relationship that develops between Cy and Starbuck, in this single episode, is more fleshed out than anything we saw between Starbuck and Apollo during the entire run of the original series. And it just keeps getting funnier, when Cy is informed that the woman he brought Starbuck is going to have a baby he responds…


“I’m rapidly being surrounded.”

A week goes by and this new member of the group does not say a word (He assumes she can’t understand English). To fill this void in conversation Starbuck regales her with stories about his life, and speaks openly about his relationship with women, saying that he found it difficult to commit to any one woman as he was afraid of getting hurt, "That's why I never cared if they got hurt first.” Her response is to just walk away. Cy steps up to Starbuck and states, “I may not find your incessant talk fascinating, but at least I don’t walk off.” An oblivious Starbuck turns to Cy, “Did you say something?”


No of course not. What could I possibly say to you? I’m nothing but a machine.

It’s clear that Cy is jealous of this strange woman, and because Cylons have never had the need of the “Bros before Hos” code, he is confused by the situation. Starbuck becomes even more confused than Cy, and even a bit angry, when the mysterious woman suddenly blurts out, after not saying anything for a week, “Will you die for me?” That’s what I call a real conversation starter. The woman, that he learns is named Angela (Judith Chapman), tells him not to be angry, and that she is from “Dimensions Beyond” and came in “The usual way.” These tidbits of information are less than helpful.  She tells Starbuck that, “We must prepare a vehicle for our child.” She informs him that the Cylon emergency beacon will soon bring hostiles searching for their own.


“Wait, what was that about “our” child?”

She tells Starbuck the baby is his “Spiritual Child” which I guess is a clever way to get Child Support from the only other person on the planet. Over the next few days a grumbling Cy helps build a craft out of the escape pod from Starbuck’s Viper and the engine from Cy’s Raider. Starbuck’s focus on Angela and the coming baby increases Cy’s bad mood, and he often stomps off to have a good sulk. Eventually the baby comes but so do the Cylons, and Starbuck knows that the only chance Angela and the baby have in being found by the Galactica is if they go alone. The pods resources would not sustain two adults and a baby for long.


Starbuck shown here being better ship designer than Jor-El.

When Cy learns that his Cylon brethren have arrived he tells Starbuck he must go to them. Starbuck threatens to shoot Cy if he leaves, but he can’t do it. When the little ship lifts off Starbuck immediately find himself under fire from the three newly arrived Cylon Centurions, but before the can finish him off Cy appears. The world’s greatest Cylon approaches his comrades and states, "I extend my weapon that I may perform the following function." He then blasts two of the Centurions, but then gets shot by the third. Starbuck is able to take out the remaining Centurion, and then rushes to the mortally injured Cy. When Cy tells Starbuck his circuits are fading Starbuck frantically responds, “No Cy, no. Cy it’s just you and me now. One human and one Cylon.” A dying Cy looks up at Starbuck and says…


“No, Starbuck. Not human, not Cylon. Friends.”

Just writing that down for this review still causes me to choke up. This is simply fantastic storytelling with wonderful characters, and if made a bit longer it could easily have made for an excellent feature film, which of course Wolfgang Petersen would later do in 1985's Enemy Mine.
In an interesting twist we later see Angela, unbeknownst to Starbuck, standing on a ridge looking down at him and the dead Cylon as she pronounces him, “Good.” It’s never stated outright what kind of creature Angela was, but one can assume she is one of the “Beings of Light” that the Galactica crew encountered in War of the Gods. It is of course then revealed that the “Child from the stars” is in fact Dr. Zee, that his ship was picked up by the Galactica years ago. Dr. Zee asks, “Adama, could I be Starbuck’s son? And if I am who is my mother?


“The answer is still out there amongst the stars.”

This is my favorite episode, and actually rivals many of the episodes in the Ron Moore reboot. It is incredibly funny, but also loaded down with heart and pathos. Galactica 1980 was not a good show, even by television standards of the time, but with this episode Glen A. Larson proved that when he wanted to he could really bring his “A” game to the table. Sadly Galactica 1980 was cancelled before this episode even aired.  Now as much as I love this episode it is not perfect, in the pilot episode Galactica Discovers Earth we are told that Dr. Zee is a mutation, not some "Child From the Stars" and you'd think at some point a super genius would have got around to asking Adama, "Don't I have parents?"  We also never find out what happened to Apollo.  He's never mentioned in this episode so I guess we are to assume he's dead.  But more importantly, with the cancellation of the show, we don't find out what happens to Starbuck.


Goodbye Starbuck, you are still the man. Where ever you are.

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