The toughest thing for a critical darling is to maintain the quality that made the show beloved in the first place. It's a daunting task, not one easily accomplished. But for three seasons, Sci Fi Channel's "Battlestar Galatica" (10 p.m. Friday) has defied the odds.
Yes, every year there seems to be a middle-of-the-season lull, a patch of fatty episodes that do little to advance the story. But by the end of the season, the show always rights itself with a dramatic flourish and, often, a surprise twist.
- When: 10 p.m. Friday Sci Fi Channel; noon Friday, SciFi.com.
As "Battlestar" season four begins, there's no evidence that this pattern will change. The new season may not begin with the resonant parallel to our own world as season three's Cylon occupation of New Caprica (re: Iraq) did, but the series remains as tense and gripping as ever. And, bonus for those who found the series too dark at the start of last season, this week's season premiere even offers a few moments of comic relief (thank you, Gaius Baltar).
When we last left the Colonial fleet, four of the final five human-looking, advanced robotic Cylons were revealed to be four Galactica mainstays: Col. Sol Tigh (Michael Hogan); presidential aid Tory Foster (Rekha Sharma); launch bay chief Galen Tyrol (Aaron Douglas); and Sam Anders (Michael Trucco), husband of Kara "Starbuck" Thrace (Katee Sackhoff), who was given up for dead when her ship exploded.
But in the closing moments of the third-season finale, Starbuck flew her Viper in from out of nowhere, appearing to Lee "Apollo" Adama (Jamie Bamber) during a battle against the Cylons. Kara claims she's been to Earth, the Colonial fleet's desired and long-prophesied destination, and she's going to lead them all there.
Of course, as fans know, in the interim, the "Galactica" movie "Razor" featured a scene of a Cylon oracle warning that Kara Thrace will "lead the human race to its end."
Admiral Adama (Edward James Olmos) and President Roslin (Mary McDonnell) immediately think Kara's return is a Cylon trick, especially after her Viper looks like it's just rolled off the assembly line.
Meanwhile, the newly revealed Cylons are completely confused, uncertain of how to act, fearful that they may bring harm to the Colonials on whose side they've been fighting their entire lives.
Despite the surfeit of mystery surrounding just about everything in this episode, titled "He That Believeth in Me," writers David Weddle and Bradley Thompson wisely offer some lighter moments in the ongoing story of Gaius Baltar (James Callis), betrayer of the Colonial fleet, Cylon collaborator and former president of the 12 Colonies of Kobol. Tomorrow night he's flummoxed to discover he's become a cult figure who is worshipped.
"From president of the Colonies to this? King of fools," he complains. "Probably better to be hated by everyone than to be loved by this lot."
Anyone who has never watched "Galatica" will be completely lost, just as you would be if you jumped into any of TV's other great dramas mid-stream (actually, with the sci-fi overlay, I think you'd be more lost with "Battlestar"). But for viewers who have already invested the time, this new season gets off to a rousing start that lives up to high expectations.