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The 15 top moments from Battlestar Galactica, best sci-fi TV series ever

Commentary: As the show celebrates its 15th anniversary, let's remember what made it so great.

battlestar-galactica-promo-image
NBCUniversal

Holy frak: Has it really been 15 years since a rebooted Battlestar Galactica defied expectations to become one of the mostly highly regarded TV dramas ever? Yep. Although the proof-of-concept mini-series made its debut in late 2003, the weekly series launched in the UK in October 2004, arriving on US televisions a few months later.

I didn't have to Google those dates; I'm about as steeped in Galactica geekdom as one can get. Back in 2016, just as TV-recap podcasts like The West Wing Weekly were starting to catch on, I felt compelled to launch one of my own: Battlestar Recaptica, which I co-hosted with my longtime friend and colleague, Dave Johnson. Slowly but surely, over the course of about two years, we recapped every single episode, from mini-series to finale.

Along the way, we were lucky enough to snag interviews with many cast members, including James Callis (Gaius Baltar), Tahmoh Penikett (Helo), Michael Trucco (Anders), Grace Park (Boomer), Aaron Douglas (Chief Tyrol), Kandyse McClure (Dee) and Jamie Bamber (Apollo). We also interviewed show writer Anne Cofell Saunders, book author Mark A. Altman (who co-wrote the excellent So Say We All: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Battlestar Galactica) and the big man himself, creator Ronald D. Moore.

So, yeah, you might say I've got my BSG bona fides. Which is why CNET was kind enough to let me name the top 15 moments from the show. It was daunting, to say the least, because Galactica is replete with amazing moments. I could probably give you 50 without breaking a sweat.

But it's the 15th anniversary, so 15 it is.

Before we dive in, I have to address the elephant in the hangar deck. Last month, NBCUniversal announced plans for a new Battlestar Galactica series headed to its Peacock streaming service, this one under the guidance of Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail. Thankfully, it's "not a remake," Esmail tweeted after a not-surprising fan uproar, but rather "a new story within the mythology."

Poo-poo the idea all you want. Just remember: When Ron Moore announced his reimagined Galactica show, with a female Starbuck (gasp!) and no original cast members, fans went bananas. But look what we got. I'm not convinced there's much story left to tell in the "BGU," but I'll give Esmail the benefit of the doubt. Mr. Robot was pretty frakking great.

Here, then, in order of appearance, are the 15 craziest, most shocking and all-around best Battlestar Galactica moments. It should go without saying: Huge spoilers ahead.

Adama tells Lee, 'If it were you, we'd never leave.' (S1, E5: You Can't Go Home Again)

After a dangerous and ultimately unsuccessful rescue mission, Commander Adama has no choice but to abandon the search for Starbuck, previously shot down over an inhospitable moon. But just as the fleet gets ready to jump away, a Cylon Raider appears. It's Starbuck! She's alive! Whew.

Later, Lee questions his father: If it was me down there, would you still have given the order to leave?

Adama: "If it were you…we'd never leave."

Excuse me, I have something in my eye. Adama and Lee barely spoke to each other, and mostly argued when they did. But in this one line, the Old Man reveals that, come hell or high water, he's still Lee's father. And that's what fathers do.

Baltar confronts a 'real' Number Six (S1, E7: Six Degrees of Separation)

From the beginning, Gaius Baltar lived with a Cylon in his head -- a very frisky Cylon, known only to him and only as Number Six. This created countless hilarious moments in which other characters would catch him mid-conversation, or even mid-congress, with someone who wasn't there. So when a living, breathing manifestation appears on Galactica in the guise of Shelly Godfrey -- who absolutely is there, and accuses him of being a traitor -- it's pure pleasure watching Baltar squirm.

The dinner party (S1, E9: Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down)

As dark and disturbing as BSG could be, it could also be laugh-out-loud funny. Tigh's wife, Ellen (played brilliantly by Kate Vernon), returns from the dead and wastes no time returning to her boozy, flirty, bad-influence ways. At dinner with Adama, Lee and Roslin, she pulls off a hilarious trifecta: insulting the president, mentioning Adama's dead son and running her foot up Lee's leg … almost all in the same breath. Battlestar Galactica is no comedy, but it came awfully close in this wonderful scene.

Boomer shoots Adama (S1, E13: Kobol's Last Gleaming, Part 2)

Capping off a freshman season full of what-the-frak moments, the last minutes of the last episode proved the WTF-est of all. After a successful mission, with everyone celebrating a job well done, Boomer pulls out her pistol and puts two in Adama's chest. Sure, we had our suspicions about Boomer, but no one saw this coming. And talk about a cliffhanger: No one could possibly survive two point-blank shots. Could they?

Pegasus returns (S2, E10: Pegasus)

BSG's best arc begins with the miraculous arrival of Pegasus, another battlestar that also managed to escape the Cylon attack on the colonies. But jubilation quickly gives way to unease, as that ship's commander -- Admiral Cain, brilliantly played by Michelle Forbes -- pulls rank and starts making questionable decisions. Nobody puts Bill Adama in a corner!

The New Caprica time-jump (S2, E20: Lay Down Your Burdens)

The shocking end of season 1? Here, hold my beer. Season 2 concludes by blowing up the BGU as we know it. Our beloved President Roslin concedes the election to Gaius Baltar. The Cylon known as Gina detonates a nuke, taking out Cloud Nine and several other ships. Baltar orders the fleet to settle on a planet to be known as New Caprica. Series over, right? Guess so, because all of a sudden it's 380 days later! And no sign of the Cylons.

Record-scratch. The Cylons invade. Baltar surrenders. Game over, man!

Galactica jumps into the atmosphere over New Caprica (S3, E4: Exodus)

galactica-jumps-into-the-atmosphere

Yeah, they're doing this on purpose.

NBCUniversal

It's the rescue mission to end all rescue missions. The only way Galactica can save the inhabitants of New Caprica is to jump into the frakkin' atmosphere and launch its vipers, then jump out again before it becomes a battlestar-shaped crater. It's utterly thrilling, in part because it's so unexpected (we've never seen the starship Enterprise do that) and in part because it's an audio-visual feast. (Turn the volume way up for this moment.)

Starbuck hooks up with Lee, then runs off to Anders (S3, E9: Unfinished Business)

This fan-favorite episode -- aka "The One with all the Boxing" -- uses flashbacks to show us exactly why Starbuck and Lee have so much, well, unfinished business. Back on New Caprica, they'd finally gotten together, even though he was married to Dee and she was with Anders. But while Lee was still basking in the glow of his declaration of love, Starbuck sneaked back to camp -- and married Anders. All together, now: How could you?

Starbuck is dead (S3, E17: Maelstrom)

Say what you will about the episode on the whole (it's not great), there's no debating the shock of seeing Starbuck's Viper explode at the end -- with her still in it. Wait, no, that can't be. She must have ejected. Right? Please?

Fans were pissed. Fellow cast members were pissed. Ron Moore sold the death as real. Katee Sackhoff played along, letting her castmates believe it too. To everyone involved, it just seemed impossible the show would kill off one of its most popular main characters. (Psst. Stick around.)

Lee's Mr.-Smith-Goes-to-Washington speech (S3, E20: Crossroads, Part 2)

I was never a fan of Apollo hanging up his wings to become Lee Adama, attorney at law. Bo-ring! And I especially didn't like the way fellow lawyer Romo Lampkin kept pulling his strings in the run-up to Baltar's trial. But all is forgiven upon listening to Lee's uninterrupted, minutes-long speech -- as much an indictment of the entire fleet as a defense of Baltar. It's a beautifully written segment elevated by Emmy-worthy acting. Some of Battlestar Galactica's best moments are its quietest ones.

The 'Final Four' Cylons are revealed (S3, E20: Crossroads, Part 2)

Hindsight is 20/20, so maybe seeing Tory, Tigh, Chief and Anders all wigging out (quoting Jimi Hendrix lyrics?!) at the same time, I should have connected the dots. I didn't. But just as something triggered Boomer way back in season one, the flip of some intergalactic switch brought these four together to face a shocking realization: "We're Cylons, and we have been from the start."

Fans were pissed. Cast members were pissed. Three beloved characters (and, cough, Tory) are suddenly the enemy? Say it ain't so, Ron Moore!

Starbuck is alive (S3, E20: Crossroads, Part 2)

After three full episodes without Starbuck and that game-changing Final Four bombshell, there was no reason to expect -- no way to predict -- the last moments of this season-ender. While we're sitting there with our jaws still open, surprise! It's Starbuck, alive, flying a shiny new Viper (what the frak?), sidling up alongside a gobsmacked Apollo. Yep, it really is her, she says. And, oh, yeah: "It's going to be OK. I've been to Earth. I know where it is. And I'm going to take us there." What the frakking frak?

'Earth' is a bombed-out ash heap (S4, E10: Revelations)

If this were an episode of Friends, it would be The One Where Starbuck Figures it Out. At long last, after a season's worth of flirting with insanity, Starbuck works out what those accursed notes mean: They're coordinates. To Earth. Finally, the humans and Cylons can put aside their differences and build a new society. Quick! Set a course, warp factor nine!

Oh no you didn't, Battlestar Galactica. It's Earth, yes, but a ravaged, radioactive Earth. The only thing that can possibly grow in that soil? Bitter, bitter irony. 

Dee commits suicide (S4, E11: Sometimes a Great Notion)

The shock. The heartbreak. Dualla was Galactica's conscience, its gentle beacon of hope. To see her abandon it made us feel like maybe there was no hope for anyone, so riven was the fleet by loss, disappointment and impending civil war. After the discovery that Earth would offer no sanctuary, Dee simply reached her breaking point.

But we never saw it coming. And we'll never get over it. (Silver lining: Kandyse McClure was our guest on the podcast for this episode.)

Hera's bones discovered on 'our' Earth (S4, E20: Daybreak, Part 2)

All this has happened before, and all this will happen again. Not everyone loved Battlestar Galactica's finale, but I think Ron Moore closed the loop in an ingenious, and unexpected, way: The fleet settled here and became our forefathers. Flash-forward to present day -- our present day -- as scientists have discovered the bones of a common matrilineal ancestor (Hera!). Meanwhile,  increasingly human robots are taking the stage. Our stage. By weaving real-world events into Galactica's narrative, Moore beautifully dovetailed his fiction with our reality.

OK, those are my picks. What Battlestar Galactica moments rank in your top 15?