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Battlestar Galactica 3.17: Maelstrom review

Original US airdate: 4/3/07

Written by: David Weddle, Bradley Thompson

Directed by: Michael Nankin

Starring: Michael Trucco, Callum Keith Rennie, Dorothy Lyman


The One Where: Oh my God, they killed Starbuck!

Starbuck’s having dreams about her paintings of that mandala, the symbol of the nebula. She visits an Oracle, who says that the Leoben Conoy Cylon sees the truth about her destiny, and will be coming soon to “show her the way”.

On a refuelling mission to a planet, Starbuck spots and chases a Cylon raider... but no-one else sees it, and it doesn’t show up on instruments.

She’s seeing the nebula symbol everywhere – first in a pool of candle wax; then in a tornado-like whirl of storm clouds above the planet. Naturally, everyone thinks she’s cracking up.

Things are “back to square one” for Dee and Lee: he says that they’ve never been happier.

On a second mission, Starbuck sees the Cylon raider again. She follows it into the mandala-like vortex. As she dives down and the pressure on her Viper increases, she enters a vision, which is seemingly guided by Leoben. We see the moment when Kara learnt that her abusive mother had terminal cancer: after her sympathy was met with scorn, she walked out on her mum, never seeing her again.

A vision where Kara says farewell to her mother on her deathbed seems to give her the courage to “let go of her fear”. Ignoring the cries of her colleagues, Starbuck flies into the maelstrom, and her Viper explodes...

Well, she ain’t going out like that, is she? It’s a great shock ending, but it’s rather undermined by the fact that you know it can’t really be the end for Starbuck. The only question is: where has she gone?

There have been hints about Starbuck’s rough upbringing before. Way back in season two’s “Cylon baby farm” episode, a Cylon doctor mentioned that X-rays showed Starbuck’s hands had been repeatedly broken – it turns out her bitch of a mum slammed them in a door jamb. Ouch.

The flashbacks explain a lot about Starbuck – she’s tough because her mum raised her that way; she had to develop a tough, cynical carapace to deal with the psychological and physical abuse dealt out to her by her harridan of a mother. Katee Sackhoff grabs the chance to show a more vulnerable, fragile side to Starbuck with both hands, turning in a bravura performance – that deathbed scene in particular is really quite affecting.

There are some magnificent effects in this episode as Starbuck pursues that raider through the atmosphere of a gas giant, and that ending is a real punch to the gut, but essentially this is a strong character piece.

The only thing that detracts from this episode is that, well, it’s the third episode in a row that’s fleshed out a lead character’s backstory. First it was Adama, then Baltar... now it’s Kara’s turn.

Starbuck’s mother’s motto: “Fear gets you killed; anger keeps you alive!”

Ian Berriman

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