The final episode of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica series aired in 2009, meaning there hasn’t been a new episode for over a decade. That’s plenty of time for the show to have digested, the fans to have gained perspective, and for a best episode list to really carry some weight. A decade later, which episodes of BSG have stayed with us? What stands out as still relevant? Is Apollo’s fat suit still worth talking about? (Easy answer: Yes.)
Battlestar Galactica had characters that stayed with us. It asked questions about politics, religion, and the survival of the human race, on a backdrop of fighter ships and cylons and interpersonal drama that carried across the seasons.
Of all the stories that stick with you, these are the best Battlestar Galactica episodes.
33 | S1E1
If you don’t count the mini series as the true beginning of the show (which it totally is), then “33” is technically the pilot episode. On another show the pilot would be something I’d think of toward the end of my reminiscing, but this is always the first episode I think of for BSG. There are few stories out there that so perfectly capture the suspense of this struggle. The world as they know it has just ended as the Cylons have ended the 12 Colonies. Our survivors don’t have answers about what has happened to any other human in the universe. What they do have is a clock with 33 minutes on it and Cylons attacking them every time the timer goes off, and a desperate need to survive.
One of the main themes of Battlestar Galactica is finding the will to survive. Watching these new characters push through exhaustion and sadness and hopelessness to keep going is introduced well in this opener. Right away, we care about the show’s characters, and we care about the stakes.
The highlight of this best Battlestar Galactica episode? All the scenes introducing the drama between Gaius and Six are a compelling start to their relationship.
You Can’t Go Home Again | S1E5
The relationship between Adama and Starbuck is critical to understanding Battlestar Galactica. They may not be related by blood, but it has those chosen family vibes. There’s a barrier between them, as members of the military. But there’s also a barrier between them because Kara used to be with Adama’s son, Zach, gone before the start of the show.
In “You Can’t Go Home Again”, Starbuck admits that she blames herself for Zach’s death. Then, with a rift between her and Adama, Starbuck goes on a training mission and then goes missing. In the process this episode builds their relationship while also building up the two characters. If you haven’t already, “You Can’t Go Home” makes sure you can’t not fall in love with Adama and Starbuck.
Kobol’s Last Gleaming, Part Two | S1E13
Season one left President Roslin hallucinating. Other characters think her visions are the key to the future. Some think Roslin shouldn’t be president if she’s seeing things. It’s a touchy subject, and one that has Adama and Roslin at odds (I love it when Adama and Roslin are at odds.)
Starbuck goes in search of the Arrow of Apollo, and finds it. This puts her firmly on the side of believing in President Roslin, to the dismay of Adama.
“Kobol’s Last Gleaming, Part Two” also spends a lot of time exploring Boomer. Boomer’s a Cylon and now she knows it. Watching her discover this by flying a raptor into the Basestar is one of those pivotal moments that really captures how well Battlestar Galactica can do suspense.
Flight of the Phoenix | S2E9
It’s Battlestar Galactica season two and now everyone knows Sharon is a Cylon. Understandably, the crew is not thrilled about. The story needs an obstacle to bring Sharon’s humanity (or possibly lack thereof) to light. Will she ever be one of the crew? Will she join the Cylons? Is she to be trusted? Even if her intentions are good, won’t the Cylons use her against us?
In “Flight of the Phoenix”, we believe there is a virus in the ship, gifted to us by the Cylons. Adama has to trust our resident Cylon, Sharon to fix the problem. Paranoia. Suspense. Character relationships. Cylons. Yes, please.
Downloaded | S2E18
“Downloaded isn’t about our main characters that we normally follow, but that’s part of what’s so great about it. Battlestar Galactica does a regularly great job of carrying a lot of different characters with a lot of stories and they showcase them best in one off episodes and mini series.
“Downloaded” is our first time where we take a deep look at our biological Cylons. It’s here that we find out more about what they’ve been doing all this time. The episode take a look at the visions Caprica Six has of Gaius Baltar, an excellent counter to the visions he has had of her up until now. We get to see the differences between the various Cylons who may appear the same, which is best explained by Boomer who we are watching give birth to Hera while another version of the Cylon wrestles with her own issues.
This season two episodes is a perfect look at the Cylons and their very human seeming struggles.
Exodus Part 2 | S34
Ah Gaius, you have failed the human race in so many ways. Sometimes it seems that’s the entire point of his character: how many ways can one character find to endanger the survival of the human race, without that actually being their end goal? Here, we have Gaius as President of the Colonies, and you know, frakking it up.
“Exodus” is the two part finale for Battlestar Galactica season three. “Exodus Part 2” episode has political scandals, characters in peril, and Cylons and space battles. Our beloved characters have been living on New Caprica and it’s time for the fleet in space to save the day. We meet Lee as Commander of the Battlestar Pegasus and Lieutenant Duala as his wife. Starbuck is being held by the Cylon Leoben. Adama has a mustache and needs to jump in and save the day already. Colon Tigh, now with an eye patch, has to go about the unglamorous job of murdering his wife, Ellen, who betrayed humanity when she gave information to the Cylons.
It isn’t often we get to feel like we have a victory for the good guys on Battlestar Galactica. This is the best one.
Unfinished Business | S3E9
If you’ve wanted to see something happen between Lee and Kara, this is the episode for you. It’s the boxing episode! A must on any list of Battlestar Galactica’s best episodes.
In “Unfinished Business”, Adama tells everyone with a problem to get into the ring and box it out. Let off some steam. Solve your problems with violence, as all great leaders preach to their people. (I mean, they probably would if all of humanity had to live in tight quarters under all this stress.)
Through flashbacks, we see Kara and Lee had sex when they were back on New Caprica, before he got together with Dualla and she got together with Anders. Adama and Tyrol box it out. And then Adama has some feelings and tells everyone that he has let them get too close to him. It’s not easy being the man in charge. This episode. It’s a gut puncher.
Crossroads Part 1 & Part 2 | S3E19&20
“Crossroads” is a two-part episode, and on Battlestar Galactica two part episodes are everything.
In this one Baltar is put on trial. Finally. He faces consequences for nearly ending the human race on New Caprica. “Crossroads” is the finale for season three and the show becomes a courtroom as we discuss Baltar’s sins. In fact, the court knows only a fraction of what he’s done and yet still they’re cheering for his death.
Outside the trial “Crossroads” has “the music”. Tyrol and Tigh search for the sound while Anders and Tory have a fun time off on their own listening. If we look away from Baltar for a moment, there is a lot more happening here. Cylons (and a mix of others) are run around the opera house looking for their own big answers.
This two parter helped define where the show went next. Crossroads indeed.
Revelations | S4E12
“Revelations” is episode 12 in the fourth and final season of Battlestar Galactica, putting it about midway through.
Saul Tigh, the Battlestar Galactica’s second in command, has always been a man defined in part by his hatred of Cylons (and Starbuck). Skip ahead in the series to and Tigh discovers he IS a frakkin’ Cylon. From the moment Saul’s secret is reveald to the audience all we want is to see what happens when his best friend and the leader of our great story, Adama, finds out. In “Revelations” we got that payoff. This is where Adams finds out. Surprise: it does not go well.
By season the time “Revelations” aired, Battlestar Galactica had been carrying the tension of this for a while. It’s here where they really begin to blow up and change the game to bring us toward the grand finale for BSG’s story.
In a similar vein, this is also where Starbuck realizes there is a signal to finding Earth. The questions of “Is Earth real?” and “Will they ever find it?” have been driving our characters since the beginning of the show. And here we are, Earth. It’s where we’ve wanted to be and then… it’s not the lush paradise we’ve been dreaming of.
The impending finale looms behind this episode, driving us like a storm towards the end of it all.
Those are the best Battlestar Galactica episodes, at least by my reckoning. Did we get it right?
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