Battlestar Galactica #85: Maelstrom

"There's nothing terrible about death; when you finally face it, it's beautiful. You're free now, to become who you really are."
SO SAY WE ALL: Starbuck is plagued by visions that draw her to her death.

REVIEW: Ok, it's time to address Starbuck's repeating mandala and how it connects to her special destiny as per the prophet Leoben. An oracle confirms all this, and Leoben's exposure of the abuse she suffered at the hands of a parent, which also relates to all this. Maelstrom explores the mystery, gives us SOME answers, but not the final answer. It just asks more questions, and stands as one of the series' most controversial moments, one that will lead to, well, ALL THE OTHER controversial moments!

Kara has vivid sex dreams of the Eye of Jupiter (which she's been drawing since she was a child) and Leoben (mostly Leoben for the sex stuff), by day she is also haunted by herself as an abused child, and on patrols by a Cylon heavy raider no one else can see. It's all leading to a near-death experience where, her windshield cracked, her Viper dropping into the eye of a gas giant storm, she finds herself back in her apartment on Caprica, talking to Leoben. He takes her to a time six years ago when she became a Viper pilot, and gave her forever disappointed mother the news, and also found out her mom was dying of cancer. She ran out of there never to return, but as the journey through time reveals, it was as much out of rebellion as fear, fear of seeing her mother deteriorate, fear of death, others and her own, and fear that her mother was right about her, and that she would always be a failure. The maelstrom isn't just the Eye of Jupiter, or the storm on that unknown planet, but something insider her, emotional turmoil, and at the center of it is this moment, a moment at least in part inspired by the writing accompanying the picture of the vortex in Kara's apartment, which talks of cigarettes. Ron Moore improvising scenes by looking back and seeing what has gone before, as usual.

The Eye returns again and again. It's the cycle of the universe (see All This Has Happened...), a drop of colored wax in the memorial corridor, the storm that does her in, the tunnel to the afterlife. It's the Eye that peers into her soul, the calm in the storm that is her flying. It's catharsis. It's everywhere we care to look as Moore initiates what he calls the show's third act. It begins here, and if the result of Maelstrom is shocking, I can't believe people thought it was really the end for Kara, not with all the talk about her destiny. Cuz this ain't it, guys.

So yeah, Starbuck is seen to die in this episode, in a way that doesn't allow any kind of rescue. Definitely dead. But in that final vision, which may also be a bit of time travel according to the rules of the show, she discovers that her destiny includes this passing from life into death, and that the Leoben from her visions is what we would call Head-Leoben, that is to say some kind of angel like the  ones appearing to Baltar and Six. Whatever's in store for humanity, it involves Starbuck dying, but one hardly believes she would stay dead. Ship of Light stuff. Trust in this universe's mystical underpinnings. They'll get you home. Her fear of death resolved, she stops playing the game that is her death wish and finally gives in, but in peace, having also made peace with her mother.

Even though I knew this was coming (it's not my first watch), it still took me by surprise. Didn't expect it this soon, despite her and Lee coming to terms, finally, with their now distanced relationship; despite her little bookend dialog with Adama; and despite her discussing where she wants her picture to go up on the memorial wall. This is just standard Starbuck death wish stuff, right? And if on the first watch, there's no way they're gonna kill off what is ostensibly the most popular character on the show. I love the stories about people in the cast and crew up in arms that Katee Sackhoff would be sackhed like this, and that some had to be told the plan lest they rally everyone to mutiny. Olmos certainly uses it in the scene where, in rage and grief, he destroys the model ship he's been building all through the series, a ship famously rented out at great expense and insured for big bucks. He wasn't supposed to do that, it's just one of those "lost in the moment" pieces of acting, powerful. It may be the single best reason to watch this episode! Oh Adama, I know you're not a religious man, but you should trust in the Gods. After all, Starbuck gave you an idol of Aurora (another link to the colorful mandala) Goddess of the Dawn, to bring your ship safely to destination, and isn't that the most perfect clue to Starbuck's "special destiny"?

CAPRICANADA: We're well used to Kara Thrace's apartment (the Waterfall Building), but Socrata Thrace's is south of there, on Vancouver's 6th Avenue.

ALL THIS HAS HAPPENED BEFORE AND IT WILL HAPPEN AGAIN: Head-Leoben says this a number of times as if it can explain how Starbuck can go back and see events from 6 years ago, and even seem to participate in them. Like the mandala she keeps seeing, is the universe a circle through which certain beings can travel, with access to the past merely a futureward ride to the next near-identical cycle? It does not properly explain, however, how Caprica has a brand of cigarettes called "Marlboro". Regardless, Starbuck comes full circle in a number of ways, with moment harking back to the mini-series and first few episodes, including similar dialog. She goes down on an alien planet like she did in You Can't Go Home Again. Leoben's prophecy from their first meeting weighs on her. Her mother also tells her she can succeed because she is her daughter, a mirror of Adama's trust in Lee with a similar line in The Hand of God. And to evoke the original series, Starbuck dying and following a guide to the space between life and death seems to hark back to the Ship of Light and its "angels".

HUMAN DEATH TOLL:
Headcount is at 41,400, holding steady from the previous episode. Starbuck's Viper explodes in a planetary storm and she doesn't make it out.

VERSIONS: Among the bonus scenes on the DVD is an alternate take of her dream where she resists Leoben more, and where she tells him she loves him. There is also an extension of the Kara and Tyrol's inspection of her Viper, and her freaking out at a bit of fluid leak. Deteled scenes include a frustrated Starbuck shooting a Leoben target at the gun range, followed by her starting a fight with Lee about being grounded before he can tell her she isn't, and more of their conversation under the Viper before her final mission. A scene was shot, but cut, in which Kat appears to Starbuck in a brand new Viper and tells her not to worry; it is NOT on the DVD.

REWATCHABILITY: High - A key episode in the saga, lyrically written, shot and edited, drawing you in until the those final, terrible moments.

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