From the Oceanic 6 to the Battlestar 12

There aren’t many shows on TV right now that can compete with the complexity of ABC’s Lost, or that have as many characters who are as nuanced and interesting, or that hand out as many shocking surprises, or that play so heavily in the sandbox of allegory. But there’s at least one: Sci Fi Channel’s Battlestar Galactica, which returns tonight to begin its fourth and final season.

this season, has been all about shaking up its own narrative. Before, we learned about characters in flashbacks, and the suspense centered around when, and if and how, the Oceanic plane-crash survivors would get off the island. But in last season’s cliffhanger finale, suddenly we were confronted with a flash-forward: Some of the survivors had gotten off the island. This season, so far, has been all about learning which survivors comprise the “Oceanic 6,” and, of course, what it all means.

Last year’s Battlestar ended with a cliffhanger, too, as we learned the identities of four more of the dozen Cylon “models” that look like humans, act like humans, and, in many cases, are programmed to think they’re humans, until their deeply buried programming is activated. They’re like unknowing sleeper cells – and by the end of last season, we knew all but one of the Cylons… and so did they.

But the final member of the Battlestar 12 is an unknown as this season begins, though the opening minute of the show teases that it will be revealed. Yes, eventually. Tonight, though, there are plenty of other surprises to placate or confound fans – and a lot more of the tough allegorical questions, about religion, identity and purpose, that you seldom find on television.

In a science-fiction guise, Battlestar Galactica is pondering some very deep and serious issues.

(David Bianculli,

Here’s what other critics thought…

“While it certainly wasn’t the best episode of BSG I’ve seen, it was still a strong one. Most important, it set up some genuinely compelling tensions that will animate the final season as we come closer and closer to Earth. I like a show that can kick some toaster ass, and still find time to worry about the nature of human identity. And this episode does all that and more.”

(Annalee Newitz, io9)

“I saw it. It’s intense, man! Handprints in the armrests.”

(Hercules The Strong, Aint It Cool News)

“Clearly a transitional episode, "He That Believeth in Me" sets up more questions than it answers. Newbies will wonder what the fuss was all about; enthralled BSGers will be satisfied that so many of narrative threads are getting picked up and tugged.”

(Kimberly Chun, San Francisco Bay Guardian)

"Battlestar Galactica" doesn’t have quite the special effects budget of a "Star Wars" movie, so not all the action is quite as flashy. But computer animation helps a lot, and the action has enough flavor to make clear what’s at stake with the personal dramas.”

(David Hinckley, NY Daily News)

“aside from a spectacular space battle at the outset, the tone of Friday’s premiere is one of quiet reflection. Sure, there’s the final-scene cliffhanger, but knowing these characters, most long-time viewers can probably write next week’s opening scenes and not be far off.”

(Andy Grieser, Zap2it)

“There are many small and wonderful dramatic accomplishments in the underappreciated gem that is "Battlestar Galactica," but perhaps the most enduring is that what was conceived of as an epic space adventure has turned into a finely detailed, intimate drama. By avoiding the overblown pomp of traditional sci-fi material, the series can focus on the circumstances of the human condition. It’s a brilliant genre twist that more people need to discover.”

(Tim Goodman, San Francisco Chronicle)

“The multitude of exegeses and theories devoted to major plot twists and minor details attest to the series’s enduring egghead appeal. But “Battlestar Galactica” also provides plenty of spicy sex and Space Age violence. It’s science fiction for viewers who don’t particularly care about science and prefer their fiction veined with allusions to fact.”

(Alessandra Stanley, NY Times)

“The sharpness of the dialogue, the dramatic weight of each scene, the relentlessly high stakes and the informed, multilayered approach to big questions combine to make "Battlestar Galactica" an electrifying drama series that far too many viewers are missing out on.”

(Heather Havrilesky, Salon)

“The premiere should please fans who consider Battlestar Galactica a landmark and entice newcomers to look at previous seasons on DVD. The war between the humans aboard Galactica and the Cylon robots is taking tantalizing turns.”

(Hal Boedecker, Orlando Sentinel)

“The series’ brilliant conceit is that enemies are often sane and rational, and many good guys and gals are obsessed, flawed, and ruthless. Forget sci-fi: That’s the world we’ve always lived in, made futuristic and shiny. With laser beams.”

(Ken Tucker, Entertainment Weekly)

“You have to marvel that the same network responsible for such cheese as “Rock Monster” could be capable of bankrolling and airing the most mature, engrossing drama on any network today.”

(Mark Perigard, Boston Herald)