Despite its controversial ending, the 2004 version of Battlestar Galactica remains one of the best sci-fi shows ever written. Its fantastic ensemble cast, complex politics, and surprising plot twists combined beautifully with Bear McCreary’s breathtaking soundtrack to create one of the best shows ever, period.
With 76 episodes and several TV movies created over its run, the series is rich with content. The storytelling built itself to a fever pitch by the end of every season, and the writing rarely missed the mark. This makes ranking the show’s episode an arduous task, but you really can’t go wrong with any of those you will see on this list.
There are definitely a lot of spoilers here, but if you haven’t seen the show, why not start today?
As the first episode of the first season, “33” establishes the stakes pretty quickly: The Cylons will never quit, and humanity is in deep trouble if they ever stop running.
This is all exacerbated by the fact that they must jump to the next location every 33 minutes, leaving everyone with a severe lack of sleep. The anxiety transfers to the viewer, making for an exciting and unforgettable introduction to the series’ universe.
9 Unfinished Business
This is the episode where everyone boxes in organized fights so that they can release some steam. Because this is BSG, it’s never quite that simple, and what should be a fun exercise quickly turns serious. Most fans will praise the writing, particularly Apollo and the Starbuck’s arc through the episode, but let’s not forget about the choreography of the fight between Tyrol and Adama. As far as storytelling through punches go, this might be up there with the first Rocky.
The discovery of a second surviving Battlestar should be a huge victory for humanity, but Admiral Helena Cain of the Battlestar Pegasus quickly establishes that she outranks Adama and that things are to go her way or else.
The big hook of this episode is the Pegasus itself, as we are shown what can happen when a military crew is left to itself, in constant danger, and without civilians to keep its ethics and morals in check. One of the hardest episodes to watch in the entire series.
This episode is a masterpiece because of two things: First, it is basically the Starbuck show, where Katee Sackhoff gets to showcase her acting muscle in an incredible display of complexity and emotions.
Second, it’s also worth it to see Edward James Olmos destroy a $2,000 model ship in a fit of rage and despair, one which he was unaware was rented at great cost by the production.
This two-parter has a lot going for it, but what places it so high is the trial of Gaius Baltar. After nearly leading humanity to its doom on New Caprica, Baltar has to face an angry populace which is ready to ask for his execution for the loss of life during the Cylon occupation.
Once again showing versatility, BSG demonstrates that it can also be a quality courtroom drama. Also, let’s not forget Romo Lampkin as a breakout character having his shining moment here.
5 The Miniseries
Though not officially part of the series proper, the Miniseries is where everything is put into place. We see humanity go from complacent to barely surviving. We also learn about the personalities of the main characters, and what’s surprising is how consistent and true to themselves they would stay to their original appearance through 76 episodes of growth and evolution. Now that’s quality writing.
There are two main things to mention here: The first once is Saul Tigh’s reveal to his best friend that he is indeed a Cylon, the one thing he hates more than anything, and the fallout of his admission. Needless to say, Adama does not react well to this news.
The second one is humanity’s search for Earth which seems to finally come to an end, but not in a good way: though they did find the planet, it seems like the previous tenants did not take good care of it.
3 Lay Down Your Burdens
When it seems like Baltar might beat Laura Roslin in the upcoming election through his New Caprica platform, the higher-ups in the government are obviously wary of the dangerous plan. But how far is everyone willing to go for what they believe to be “the greater good”? At what point does one cross the line when trying to protect everyone’s interests? Everyone is both right and wrong at the same time here, but it’s the consequences that one is willing to live with that makes the difference. It also kicks off the New Caprica storyline, which is probably the best arc the show has ever done.
The finale is a controversial one, but no matter what one thinks of the ending, the journey to get there is definitely exciting and packs a very strong emotional punch. Be it the final assault on the Cylons, Starbuck finally finding peace, or Adama and Roslin’s touching moments together, there’s something for everyone. This episode also proves that the series never forgot its own motto: All this has happened before, and all this will happen again.
The best episode of Battlestar Galactica showcases everything the series does right in a single package: The space battle to rescue the survivors is one of the most exciting the show has produced. The plotting by the resistance on New Caprica is a tense thriller by itself.
Finally, Saul Tigh having to kill his own wife to save her from a more violent execution is a lesson in acting by Michael Hogan and Kate Vernon. (Most of) humanity finally works together to have one of the few real victories they will get to taste over the course of the series. A perfect two-parter that takes you all over the place emotionally.