After the dregs of Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down, Galactica bounces back with one of my favourite episodes. This isn’t necessarily the best episode, but it may be the most fun.
Hand of God is an old-fashioned caper. The fleet finally finds a source of fuel, but it’s guarded by Cylons. They’re outnumbered and outgunned by the Cylon force, so they need to devise a cunning plan to win the day. It’s basically Oceans 11 in outer space.
How did Bill Adama get to be a commander of anything? He brings Starbuck into the strategic planning because she thinks “outside of the box.” Is that really a thing military commanders should be considering? Starbuck may be unconventional, but how much bearing does that have on planning an attack? Is there any evidence Starbuck is capable of planning anything? She’s consistently portrayed as someone who runs on instinct, whether she’s in the cockpit or in the mess. Based on almost everything we ever see on Battlestar Galactica, Starbuck rarely considers the consequences of anything.
But sure. She’ll come up with an awesome plan, while Lee and Tigh – who, between them, should have at least some understanding of strategy – stand by like slack-jawed yokels. Making Starbuck important is one thing, but too often Galactica made supporting characters far less competent than they needed to be.
That said, the idea of Starbuck having to sit out while the real fighting happens is a good one, and her conversation with Adama on that subject is a nice scene. Even better is the scene between the two when Adama demonstrates that she physically can’t join the attack, in the only way she’d really respect. These scenes are so good – the relationship between Adama and Starbuck so natural – that it’s interesting to consider the possibility of Starbuck being grounded for good.
What if the ace pilot really couldn’t fly any more? We’ve already seen Starbuck being steered into the more responsible role of flight instructor; Hand of God could have been another hallmark in Starbuck’s evolution. It was all meaningless, ultimately – the season one finale sees Starbuck embracing her Reckless Loner aspect, and season two sees her doing very little in the way of teaching or planning.
Hand of God is notable for being the first time the humans actually do anything. Until this point, the protagonists have been entirely reactionary: The Cylons do something, the humans respond. But this episode dispenses with the hand-wringing about the fate of humanity and the paranoia about Cylons and replaces it with a nice action storyline. Bill Adama may be a horrible commander when it comes to practical things like strategy and nuclear weapons security, but he slings a mean cliche, motivating the entire human race to punch the Cylons in the face. Possibly while rolling dice. It’s unclear, but unquestionably motivational.
If you’ve been reading along for a while, you know I love a good Baltar Scene. And there is possibly no greater Baltar scene than his proclamation of “I am an instrument of god.” On almost any other show, with any other character, it would be ridiculous, but it’s utterly, perfectly plausible and in character.
Battlestar Galactica has its holes, but seeing James Callis announce his divinity can make you forget almost all of them.