THE HAND OF GOD

Written by Donald P. Bellisario

Original Airdate: April 29, 1979

Synopsis By Matthew Wharmby

The thing that always strikes me about this episode is how different it is. It's almost as if the production team knew cancellation was coming, and thus pulled out all the stops for this one, throwing in more Cylon action than in the previous nine episodes put together, the touching glimmerings of a love story, and most importantly, some truly heart-stopping excitement.

You've got to remember I was only nine when I saw Galactica for the first time, and I was severely disappointed when Baltar 'surrendered' to the fleet. This meant we never got to see Lucifer again, nor the interior of a baseship with that delicious reverberating bass sound. The Eastern Alliance really weren't up to the job of resident villains, although they were obviously easier on the budget. But I was a kid, dammit! I could get my head round the damn plot when I grew up - for now, I wanted battles! And I got them.

A rare photo of the Galactica cast.Second major difference is no guest cast. None at all. Shortest credits in the whole series, leaving room for more aggro. The oft-discussed family atmosphere on this show was really apparent - they didn't need support in this episode. Even the direction and continuity are different. And thirdly, what about the music. Out go all the old familiar themes, and in comes even more exciting scores tailored appropriately for each scene. Who can forget the unusually higher-pitched onslaught of the basestar's theme, nor the exhilarating music when Starbuck and Apollo are actually inside the enemy ship.

Keeping with the theme of 'we're going to be cancelled anyway, so let's cram in everything we couldn't during the first run, and to hell with the networks and censors', Don Bellisario rather turns the whole premise of Galactica on its head. The idea was to flee the Cylons, avoiding battle at any cost in order to protect the civilian lives in hopelessly undermatched scows, but 'The Hand of God' takes a deep breath and goes over to the offensive. I'm jumping ahead here, so shall push myself back to the beginning.

A foursome of Starbuck and Cassiopeia, and Apollo and Sheba, make their way through darkened corridors and up a ladder to an unknown part of the Galactica. Apollo reveals to an unusually animated Sheba the celestial dome, a forgotten part of the Galactica located right above the thrusters. This observation dome, the highest point on the ship, was to be phased out following refitting, but overlooked. Apollo has been spending time here repairing the old-fashioned scanners and trying to take readings from the equipment on the old gamma frequency that their ancestors used, but so far to no avail. Starbuck points out wryly that Apollo may have been better suited to primitive space exploration a couple of millennia ago. Apollo is far from offended, and is even touched at the thought. You will remember him wondering to Zac over the possibility of resuming exploration, on their ill-fated way to Cimtar. A curious point to do with continuity is that none of the four are wearing their jackets, nor are they equipped with their sidearms. I can only surmise that a) they're off duty, and can theoretically wear what they like, this being the best attempt at 'civvies' they can manage, and b) since the dome is above the thrusters, it's hot! They already have to wear ear protectors to drown out the roar.

Sheba notices something on one of the scanners, coming off the gamma band at a very low resolution. Apollo is fascinated: it appears to be a very early spacecraft of some sort, with fuzzy voiceover we cannot yet identify. They decide to take a recording and see if Boomer can't puzzle it out. This is where Boomer is belatedly revealed to be a bit of a whiz with electronics. However, right now he's fast asleep, and the scene where the four tiptoe giggling into the men's billet is delightful.

They nudge Boomer, but he's evidently in the middle of a naughty dream, as he mumbles something affectionate, and it's all they can do to keep from laughing out loud and disturbing the other sleeping pilots. The word 'gamma frequency' snaps Boomer awake in a shot, and he leaps out of bed - butt naked but for a pair of shorts. NOW they laugh. (Perhaps these days they'd have got away with showing him arse-on, like Mel Gibson!)

A little later, Boomer's cleaning up the tape, but he can't make head, side or middle of it either, and tells the rest of them he'll take it to Dr Wilker's lab and see if he can't sort it out using better equipment. But Apollo's curiosity is unabated, so he goes to the bridge to request taking a patrol out to see where the signal originated from. It appears to be a period of down time aboard the Galactica, as Adama agrees. As it is, they are just entering a star system with some promising-looking planets. One point is a little crude, when Tigh is unusually curious about what the four of them were getting up to in that celestial dome. Cassiopeia is suitably offended.

Apollo, Starbuck and Sheba launch and head towards the first three of five planets closest to the edge of this star system. Splitting up, they get a good look at the topography of the three, but Starbuck spots something unusual on his scanner, creeping into range from behind the third planet. He is horrified as the unmistakable readout of a Cylon basestar hoves into view, and the only thing the patrol can do is run like hell before they're spotted. I'm on the edge of my seat and cheering. The Cylons are back!

A terrific basestar scene ensues. We see the top of a deep shaft, and a gold Centurion climbing down its central ladder, then making his way through the computer banks into the control center. As well as being atmospheric, this establishes the geography of the area which will become so relevant later in the hour. The section doors growl open! We are then treated to loads of Cylon dialogue, which I'll recount from memory:

COMMAND CENTURION: Have we achieved orbit?

CENTURION 1: Insertion ten centons ago.

COMMAND CENTURION: Long range scan.

CENTURION 1: Fully operational. Nothing definite to report.

COMMAND CENTURION: Definite?

CENTURION 1: A momentary blip prior to achieving orbit. Our scanners were not fully operational.

COMMAND CENTURION: Nothing since?

CENTURION 1: No.

COMMAND CENTURION: Launch a fighter patrol to circumnavigate the outer edge of this planetary system. Just to be safe.

CENTURION 2: By your command. Duty patrol to the launch bay.

Adama and Tigh discuss the strategic situation on the bridge following the report of Apollo, Starbuck and Sheba. There is some very telling interplay between the protagonists which sums up their character in mere single sentences. The 'difference' between this episode from earlier examples, I think, is that this is finally, and so effortlessly, sewn up. Adama is thoughtful, pondering whether the gamma frequency is a Cylon lure, and that since it's been so long since encountering a basestar, this could be the only one in the entire region. Tigh is rattled and wants to turn back, relating 'We haven't dared tangle with a basestar since we fled the Colonies'. Sheba butts in with a blunt three-word remark which makes Adama's mind up for him there and then. 'My father did'. Tigh is still dubious, noting that Cain hasn't been seen since. Suddenly excited, and simultaneously deeply angry, Adama decides to attack - and Tigh is galvanised into supporting him.

A quick Cylon scene reports on the Cylon fighter squadron's progress to identifying the source of the short-lived blip on the basestar's scanners. Having found nothing, they are ordered to 'continue into the galaxy as long as fuel permits'. Cleverly cut into the basestar shot is a very large model (undoubtedly the one used in the special effects themselves) of a Cylon basestar, seated on a table in the officers' mess with Tigh imperiously pointing out its salient attributes, and Starbuck making asides throughout. They're planning for action against the ship already; in particular its fighter complement (which we are informed for the first time is three hundred strong). All vipers will use the element of surprise to draw out the Cylon fighters, while the Galactica jumps the baseship from the dark side of the third planet. Alone in the officers' billet following the Commander's magnanimous decision to stand each pilot a drink in the Officers' Club before the battle, Apollo is still preoccupied with the finer details, and true to the tying up of loose ends theme that pervades this final episode, it's Starbuck's bantered aside that gives Apollo a brainwave. Starbuck jokes that all they'd have to do is actually fly into the baseship, land and blow it up from the inside, but Apollo is not distracted by his friend's levity. Instead he is taken with the brilliant notion of using Baltar's Cylon fighter.

They take it to Adama, and he's not keen at all, arguing that neither of them would know where to plant any explosives they'd be carrying with them. Pressing the advantage (and showing Bellisario's due familiarity with the plots of earlier episodes), Apollo hauls a reluctant Starbuck to centre stage and points out to Adama that Starbuck was taken prisoner on Baltar's ship and ought to know the basic layout if nothing else. 'They didn't exactly give me the grand tour,' Starbuck protests.

Adama realises that there is actually a way to do it, but it's truly distasteful. All three are aghast as Adama contacts the prison barge and orders Baltar himself, owner of the ship in question, brought over.

Baltar's smugness and suspicion are no less diminished as Adama dismisses his guard and even pours him a drink, but when Adama casually chucks in the offer of freedom for information, the imprisoned traitor's stir-crazed frustration explodes. 'You're taunting me...', he hisses.

Since the alternative is death at the hands of the basestar (and wouldn't that be an ironic fate), it's no skin off Adama's nose to offer to stick Baltar on one of the planets they are on their way past. Adama's magananimity in conceding to let Baltar have a short-range transmitter is a very useful plot device which would almost certainly have been employed had Battlestar Galactica gone to a second season. (and one which has been used more than a few times in fanfic, by such diverse 'rescuers' as the Eastern Alliance and Count Iblis).

Boomer is desperate to go with Apollo and Starbuck, but he's going to be leading the viper strike which will tear into the basestar's fighters as soon as Apollo and Starbuck have destroyed the basestar's deep scan. He hasn't managed to decipher the mysterious gamma frequency transmission, but he has put together a little present to help the vipers distinguish their Cylon fighter from the hundreds of others likely to be flying about. And here we get the critical throwaway line which is masked as another Starbuck quip. 'Don't worry - if we lose the transmitter, we'll just waggle our wings'. 'You would,' grins Boomer. The three-handed high five (high fifteen, perhaps?) shot from the foot of the steps is a nice little touch of Three Musketeers swashbuckling in this ultra-modern show.

It looks like the lads get all the fun, as we're then given two thoughtful scenes to ponder, involving the female leads. The scene with Starbuck and Cassiopeia is a little overblown, I think, but perhaps it's designed to exacerbate the incredible tension starting to pool in this episode. Cassiopeia's practically lost it, and is tearfully asking Starbuck why he has to be risking his life in such a stupendously foolhardy way. As angry and frustrated with Cassiopeia's outburst as I am, and unable to articulate his emotions, Starbuck can only blurt exhaustedly that 'It's no way to live', and shut her up with thirty seconds of soul kissing. This seems to break the tension, as she tells him he'll just find some beautiful female prisoner on the basestar to rescue. And threatens to kill him if he doesn't come back.

Apollo and Sheba's scene is so tender and touching, that it's also 'different' from the rest of the show. There'd been very little romance in the show following Serina's death, and these two such closed-off, troubled characters' awkwardness together is extremely poignant.

It seems everybody wants in on this crazy mission to the basestar, and now it's Sheba that Apollo has to console with the assignment of flying diversion against the fighters. She cuts in close by asking Apollo if he doesn't have a death wish by taking on every suicide mission since Serina died. She is telling him to face the fact that Serina's dead, and Apollo bridles. But Sheba's tearful retort that 'do you think you have the quarter on loneliness around here?' deflates him, and he realises she's right. She then turns the conversation to whether or not two people who snap at each other for no apparent reason (as they had been doing ever since the Pegasus arrived) was to cover up their true feelings. Hearing no disagreement, she then tenderly kisses him.

Without a doubt, this is the angle most taken up from here in fan fiction, if not the only truly romantic angle of the whole show. (Romance being just about the last thing on Starbuck's mind. Jolly, to take another extreme example, would prefer his food - and that's about it where affairs of the heart are concerned, until now; and a little too late).

As craven as Baltar is, he's quite happy to swan around the landing bay, offering everything he can spill to Apollo and Starbuck on the basestar's probable layout and centurion defences. His inimitable arrogance and swagger is well and truly back, and it's a mark of Apollo and Starbuck's control that they don't just thump him. They're also heavily tooled up, with an extra gunbelt buckled on and tons of charges. Baltar's 'Good luck!' to our thoroughly mortified heroes is a delicious touch. The Cylon fighter launches, with Apollo and Starbuck at the helm. They are very much winging it, as neither of them are 100% certain of what they are doing - and this comes to the fore when the blips Starbuck sights on the scanner turn out to be waves of Cylon fighters. They've flown right into the middle of the returning patrol! Once aboard the basestar, the tension is at excruciating levels as Apollo has to yank Starbuck away from the fighter's window, past a straggling group of centurions he'd not seen. They get out, both handguns drawn, and make their way to the central core, unlatching the hatch and climbing down. We see the lone centurion guard, hoping with bated breath that he doesn't look up - and he looks up! Our Heroes manage to get a couple of shots off and drop him, and then get inside the computer banks to plant the charges. As they're doing so, the control center picks up the approaching vipers. The door to the computer banks hisses open, and our heroes are caught right in the act! Apollo shoots at the centurion about to come through before the door shuts abruptly, but that's their signal to split! They're out and clambering frantically up the ladder when the first centurions rush after them, but in the flurry to escape, Apollo - you guessed it - drops the transmitter. It clatters to the floor out of Starbuck's reach, and right then, the computer banks blow, hurling the centurions against the walls. 'We don't need that electronic felgercarb,' Starbuck tries to rationalise, 'we'll think of something!'

A ferocious battle scene ensues as Boomer and Sheba's squadrons engage the Cylon fighters. A continuity point is that the viper laser sound is actually the lower-pitched pulse more properly used for the Galactica's deck guns, but here it sounds rather appropriate; as if the vipers have been upgunned with more powerful weaponry. The exciting, frenetic music underscores the desperation of the battle, and while that's going on, the Galactica closes in on the basestar. The tone on the bridge (whose lighting, most unfortunately, has not been changed to red for red alert) is almost gleeful as Adama and Tigh realise the basestar hasn't scanned them. All deck guns blaze, and the basestar is rocked. NOW the Cylons realise what's going on, and start to return fire. Both capital ships take heavy damage. Finally, another pass brings the Galactica victory as its forward lasers demolish the basestar, blowing it to pieces.

Not far away, the battle is winding down, also in the Colonials' favour. As Boomer picks off another raider, he observes no red dot indicating Apollo and Starbuck, but no Apollo or Starbuck either. The tension mounts again as they appear nowhere to be found, and Boomer is back on the Galactica and on the bridge making his report by the time the last few Cylon fighters attempt to make runs at the Galactica. What looks like the very last one also shows no red dot, and Adama orders deck guns to target it - until it starts waggling! Boomer erupts in glee with the recognition, while Tigh is as perplexed as if he'd never heard the word before. 'Just keep waggling, buddy', Starbuck says as we see the Cylon fighter's cockpit swing up and down (surely they'd have been vomiting like hoses by now!), and finally arrive in the landing bay. Later, the final scene of Battlestar Galactica returns to the celestial chamber. It's just Apollo and Starbuck this time, escaping from all the furore. They're going to be decorated for this, but the price is the loss of Apollo's recorded transmission of the primitive space lander, which bought it when Wilker's lab was destroyed in the battle. This is why Apollo is fiddling with the scanner again. Starbuck idly wonders whether Apollo thinks the transmissions aren't a Cylon lure at all, but greetings from Earth. Why not, Apollo replies - if the fleet is heading in the right direction, routine video and audio communications are what they'd be picking up first. But with nothing on telly at the moment, it's time to go, and the pair climb down from the chamber. Perhaps the continuity theme of the cast not initially wearing their lasers was deliberate, as we see Starbuck's gun butt accidentally switch the scanner back on as he turns to get down.

'So we're really going to get a medal?' are Apollo's last words. 'Did I say us?' Starbuck counters. 'Thought they were just decorating me!', and with that, that's the end of Battlestar Galactica. Until... The gamma band scanner flickers and comes on, this time crystal clear. We see the lander again, and instantly recognise it as the Apollo XI vehicle from the moon landing - and with the voiceover ending in the unforgettable words 'Tranquillity Base here; the Eagle has landed.'

After this, one wonders whether Glen Larson didn't sketch the idea for Galactica 1980 right off the bat. Allowing for eleven more years of flight time till they reached Earth, that could have been a live transmission, but what the viewers and fans imagined, and wanted to happen, was that Earth would be so far advanced that this kind of transmission would be ancient history to THEM. Some rather fine fanfic has explored this theme, Mark Koeberl's script in particular having the Galactica reach Earth to find it the disappointment of Galactica 1980, but inadvertently stumbling upon the cryogenically frozen remains of the original expedition seven millennia earlier. These revived Kobolians, with comparable technology, not to mention four functional battlestars and a full repair shipyard to service them, could then join up with the fleet and devastate the Cylons head-on.

VERDICT: Five stars out of five. A blinder, a superb finale, and quite against the run of play.


To read John's full review, comments, and analysis of this episode, click here.


Battlestar Galactica Episode Guide

Enter Sheba's Galaxy