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- Kara Thrace's past comes back to haunt her when Adama has doubts about her fitness for duty.
- Kara Thrace is dreaming of her old apartment, trying to paint over the strange mandala. The dream is augmented when a Leoben Conoy comes behind her, and the two embrace and begin to have sex, rolling through the white paint that Thrace attempted to use to cover up the mandala. The mandala "pushes" itself through the white paint to reveal itself.
- Hot Dog looks over to question what Thrace was dreaming in her bunk.
- Thrace meets Helo in the head. He notes that Hera Agathon wakes up from frightening dreams as well. Helo suggests a psychologist, but when Thrace declines, he also suggests an oracle living in Dogsville. As Helo speaks, Thrace see in her mirror an image of a little girl standing by the hatchway, who appears bruised and beaten. When Thrace looks again for the child, she has disappeared.
- Thrace enters the oracle's tent and finds a small golden figurine of the angelic Aurora, Goddess of the Dawn.
- The oracle, Yolanda Brenn, appears, and tells Thrace to keep the figurine. She asks Thrace to sit before a pool of water. Brenn holds Thrace's hand and begins a reading.
- Brenn knows of the Cylon Leoben and the dreams. When she repeats the destiny foretold by Leoben, verbatim, Thrace is angered. The oracle continues to repeat Leoben's words which were originally spoken under interrogation (Flesh and Bone).
- Thrace wonders how the oracle could know what was said. The oracle tells her that her mother, Socrata Thrace, was trying to tell her something.
- The oracle notes that Leoben is the answer, who can see the answers to Thrace. Thrace angrily leaves the tent.
- The Fleet is orbiting a cloudy gas giant planet as they refuel various ships after the fuel crisis had passed (Dirty Hands)
- Samuel Anders, after the two had a lovemaking session, is asking Thrace to join him for some leave time on another ship.
- He complains that the oracle wasn't helpful, and neither was her mother.
- Thrace notes how the two fought, and the injuries she sustained. Thrace recounts her mothers fear of insects, a holdover from the first Cylon war.
- To get revenge on her mother, Thrace placed rubber ants in her mother's closet, causing her to have a panic attack as she furiously tries to stamp the rubber bugs to death. In retaliation, her mother placed her hand in a door jamb and slammed the door on it, breaking all of Thrace's fingers. Thrace states that it "was worth it".
- During a refueling operation, Starbuck and Hot Dog are on CAP when she believes she sees an enemy.
- Galactica can't see the contact, but Starbuck identifies it as a Heavy Raider. Colonel Tigh notes that DRADIS information is hard to rely on as synchrotron radiation around the planet affects DRADIS performance.
- As Starbuck goes closer, she sees a storm system that looks remarkably like the mandala. The Raider flies close and, to Starbuck, appears to strike her fighter.
- Starbuck keeps descending into the storm, against Apollo's continuous attempts to warn her back up.
- Eventually, Starbuck struggles successfully to return to space, but not after, during the descent, she sees flashes of sights of an apartment with her mother standing there.
- Starbuck is back aboard, but as Galen Tyrol and his deck crew inspect her Viper for damage, there is none.
- Starbuck's gun camera shows nothing, as several pilots including Sharon Agathon, Lee Adama, and Racetrack review it. They don't see Starbuck firing at anything but clouds.
- Admiral Adama speaks with his son and questions Thrace's competency. The admiral believes she is close to burnout, but the younger Adama believes her "steely-eyed Viper jock" mentality is all that holds Thrace together. The admiral repeats the question: Can she handle the strain?
- Lee Adama and Thrace are standing in the memorial hallway. Starbuck asks Adama to place her photo next to Kat if she meets her end before him. Likewise, Adama asks to have his photo next to Duck and his sweetheart, Nora Farmer, both lost on New Caprica ("Occupation", The Resistance).
- Thrace asks what Lee and Admiral Adama think of her flight readiness. Major Adama tries to give her encouragement but Thrace is distracted by a wax dripping that looks like the mandala.
- Thrace passes by the admiral and President Roslin without noticing them, when Adama greets her with an old tag line they shared before the new Cylon War (Miniseries). Before moving on, Thrace gives him the Aurora figurine from the oracle's tent as a masthead for his sailing ship models.
- As Thrace goes through inspection of her Viper, she again sees a little girl, this time in her cockpit--Thrace as a girl. Her face is bruised and bleeding. Thrace has flashbacks of her mother and is shocked into stopping her inspection.
- A visibly shaken Thrace sits by her Viper when Lee Adama goes back to check on her.
- Thrace says she is not going back out to fly, not trusting herself. Adama volunteers to be her wingman to give her confidence.
- Thrace asks about Adama's wife and how their relationship was going. After a moment of discomfort after he notes things are going well, Thrace tells him that she is happy that things are working out. Thrace says that, as it was in the beginning, the two are back to being platonic.
- During Apollo and Starbuck's CAP, Starbuck sees another bogey and engages, but no one can confirm it on DRADIS again.
- Admiral Adama chooses caution and orders the Fleet to Condition One status, stopping refueling once more.
- Apollo is again trying to flag down Starbuck, but she is entranced once more and again flying downward in the clouds.
- Starbuck's Viper is hit by the Heavy Raiders machine gun. Her forward canopy window is punctured, she is knocked unconscious, and her fighter begins to tumble. An alarm sounds in the cockpit, and the scene blurs to find a sleeping Thrace shutting off a radio alarm and awaking in her apartment, with who appears to be a Leoben Cylon greeting her.
- Thrace believes she is being tricked again, unconscious or on a Cylon ship, but Leoben states otherwise.
- Leoben keeps pointing out how the mandala-shaped cloud attracts her, and that she hasn't told anyone very much about it.
- Leoben tells her of her tendency to cheat death ever since a day with her mother as they materialize to a small apartment, reliving an event six years ago, where Lieutenant Thrace stands before her mother as she reads a letter from a veterans administration. On the wall is a Colonial Fleet medal, ostensibly from the first Cylon War.
- Socrata Thrace first congratulates her daughter for being the first of her family to become an officer, then berates her for being only 16th in her class and having many demerits.
- Kara Thrace retaliates by pointing out that her mother never reached officer status despite serving in the Cylon War.
- She sees a doctor's report and learns that her mother has cancer, which cannot be stopped because it has metastasized.
- Socrata rejects her daughter's pity, and Kara Thrace runs out the door, vowing never to return. The present day Starbuck begins to cry as she relives the moment.
- Socrata Thrace remains in the apartment alone, staring down at a full ashtray of cigarette butts.
- The scene shifts. Leoben tells Thrace how her mother waited at her apartment in hopes that Kara would return, and died five weeks later -- alone.
- Thrace tells Leoben that she didn't come back because she was afraid of watching her mother die. Leoben leads her to another vision, in which she is able to walk to her mother's deathbed, Socrata has a scrapbook of every doodle and letter that Thrace made, including one of the mandala.
- Thrace tells her mother that something is about to happen, the thing that her mother was preparing her for. Socrata tells her daughter that she is ready as she holds her mother's hand. As she presses Socrata's hand to her face, her mother takes her last breath. Starbuck cries and then smiles at being able to be there to hear her mother's final words.
- Leoben tells her that death is not hard to embrace, that this was the lesson her mother was trying to teach her daughter.
- Thrace realizes that the entity which has shown her these visions is not actually a Leoben. When asked, he replies that he never claimed to be -- he is there to be her guide to see what lies "between life and death."
- The scene shifts back to the clouds, where Starbuck's Viper is still rapidly losing altitude, approaching the gaseous planet's "hard deck" (minimum safe altitude). Thrace is getting dangerously close to it, and if she passes it, the air pressure will crush the Viper "like a tin can". She reawakens, but continues to lose altitude and chase after the image of the Cylon Raider, ignoring Apollo's pleas over the wireless to turn back before it is too late.
- Apollo finds Starbuck in her dive and the Heavy Raider appears briefly. Apollo sees it for the first time.
- Starbuck finally calls out to Apollo, "Lee, I'll see you on the other side." As Apollo frantically calls her to wave off, she repeats, in a whisper, "Just let me go."
- Starbuck sees a vision of white light in her cockpit, and she smiles. Viewers also see an image of her as a young girl in the same white light.
- A view from the tail of Apollo's Viper clearly shows the Raider, then Starbuck's Viper appears, chasing it. The bogey vanishes into the clouds, and the view cuts to Apollo, looking straight forwarding, declaring "Visual!"
- Shortly after Apollo gains visual of Starbuck, her Viper explodes. There is no ejection or rescue chute.
- Apollo reports the grim news to CIC. Admiral Adama gives an order for Viper squads to form search and rescue teams, vowing that they'll find her. Lee tells him it's no use. She's gone. Everyone, from Tigh to Gaeta to Admiral Adama, is visibly heartbroken.
- William Adama tries to work on his sailing ship model, with the Aurora figurine now attached, which fits perfectly. But in his anger and grief over the loss of Kara Thrace, he instead destroys the model and begins to weep.
- The scene begins shortly before Act 3, where, as Starbuck inspects her Viper, she finds hydraulic fluid, and becomes visibly angry at Chief Tyrol. Major Adama moves in to attempt to calm her down.
- Katee Sackhoff had to sign a confidentiality agreement relating to what happened to her character in this episode.
- Adama can be seen building his model ship in "Litmus" and "Home, Part I", but it can be seen in his quarters from the start of the series on.
- The introduction of the goddess Aurora increases the number of known gods within the Colonial religion. As before with the use of names such as Mars and Jupiter, Aurora is the Romanized name for the Greek goddess Eos.
- An aurora is a radiant emission from a planet's upper atmosphere that occurs sporadically over the middle and high latitudes of both hemispheres in the form of luminous bands, thus forming the pattern of the mandala that Thrace sees in her first flight over the planet.
- Ron D. Moore has a reputation in Star Trek circles in killing characters in stories that he wrote for the series. The death of a central character such as Kara Thrace appears to uphold this reputation in Battlestar Galactica.
- According to an official statement by Ron Moore, in the scene where viewers show the Heavy Raider image, Starbuck's Viper, and Apollo's Viper, Apollo did not see the Raider, having visual only on Starbuck.
- The ship next to Galactica towards the beginning of the episode is the Prometheus, featured extensively in "Black Market".
- Information from the Season Three Companion book:
- The episode started as a Viper combat episode similar to "Scar" with Apollo and Starbuck fighting a Heavy Raider and Starbuck sacrificing herself to allow Apollo to escape the atmosphere. When Katee Sackhoff asked about the meaning of the mandala and said that she'd like to encounter Leoben again, the writers ran with that idea and rewrote the script.
- A scene was shot, but cut, in which Kat appears to Starbuck in a brand new Viper and tells her not to worry.
- During the sex scene between Virtual Leoben and Kara Thrace in the teaser, viewers can observe a tattoo on Leoben's right bicep. This tattoo is likely Callum Keith Rennie's and while there is an attempt by Sackhoff to cover it up with paint, other scenes shot at a distance show the tattoo more clearly.
- During one of the flashbacks, there is a quick shot of Kara Thrace's mother's ashtray, containing at least one cigarette that quite clearly has the word "Marlboro" on it.
- Although Thrace contemplated ejecting from her damaged Viper, the planet is a gas giant and doesn't have a solid surface. A Jovian planet has winds of up to 700 km/hour and may have extreme temperatures in the depths. The length of time for which her ejection system could have sustained her life is unknown.
- The episode brings many story elements of Thrace's history to a close as everything comes full circle, which is a general meaning of a mandala in spiritual contexts. A few of these elements include:
- Admiral Adama and Thrace's interchange of "What do you hear? - Nothing but the rain". This is first scene that introduced Thrace and her overall relationship with Adama at the beginning of the Miniseries.
- The scene between Lee Adama and Thrace where she states that they've reached full circle as she is again the hotshot pilot who gives nothing but grief to her CAG.
- Admiral Adama's proposed rescue of her is similar to his actions in "You Can't Go Home Again" when Thrace's Viper goes down over a hostile moon. However, this time, Lee dissuades his father from the attempt because of the futility of looking for Starbuck's destroyed Viper within a gas giant.
- Thrace's initial reaction and eventual denial to pull the ejection handle illustrated the completion of her endless cycle of fleeing death, which she now embraced with joy.
- Her continued hostility and bitterness towards her mother finally reaches its close as Thrace is finally able to witness her mother's death and hear her final words.
- The final moment before Thrace's Viper explodes, an image of a younger Thrace being engulfed in light could either be symbolism or an event that represents Thrace's return to her childhood innocence.
- Her hostility towards Leoben Conoy comes to a close as she comes to welcome the help and guidance of her "Leoben" guide.
- It should be noted that the Conoy in her vision is not a Cylon, but an unidentified manifestation. Thrace says, "You're not Leoben," and the manifestation replies, "I never said I was." What this aspect of Thrace's vision means remains unknown.
- Thrace's death can be seen as the close of her original desire to die during the episode "Scar". However, here she is ready to embrace death and see a new beginning with it, while in "Scar" her original desire is fuel over despair of her belief that Samuel Anders was dead on Caprica. Both episode plots are motivated by a mysterious Cylon pilot.
- Admiral Adama is shown in the middle of building his model ship after the failed assassination attempt and the division of the Fleet (Home, Part I). The ship is finally completed at the moment of Adama coming to grips with his grief of Thrace's death. In reaction, the ship that was begun during a period of great personal turmoil within Adama is destroyed in the midst of another episode of intense grief and anger.
- Even though Lee Adama and Thrace decided to forge on with their marriages, it is Adama who has found contentment with Dualla while Thrace remained in turmoil with Anders. The scene after another lovemaking session indicates that their relationship hadn't improved much since "Taking a Break from All Your Worries".
- The figurine that Thrace gives to Adama is an idol of the goddess Aurora, the goddess of the dawn and gentle breeze. The relationship between this goddess and Thrace seems to be highlighted prior to her Viper's explosion as she apparently is engulfed in light and wind within her cockpit.
- The connection and parallels between Major Adama and Thrace are further strengthened during Socrata Thrace's death scene. When Thrace confesses to her mother about her fear of taking the next step towards her destiny, her mother remarks that she knows that her daughter can meet the task. When asked how she knows this, her response is almost word for word exactly what William Adama said to his son in "The Hand of God": "'You are my daughter (son).'" Thus, similar to Adama's son, Thrace is finally able to bury the hatchet with her mother.
- The "Leoben" guide explains that his role is to help Thrace take the next step to the place "between life and death." Interestingly, this is the same "place" that the model Number Three describes in "Hero" when she begins her suicide/resurrection chamber sessions in order to discover who the Final Five are.
- Will Anders blame Lee Adama for the loss of Kara Thrace once the news of her death reaches him? (Answer)
- Who is the being that is Thrace's "spiritual" guide during her dream? Is he somehow connected to the makers of the mandala in the Temple of Five? Is he in any way related to the messengers?
- Is the cockpit truly damaged from space debris, or is it imagined just as the supposed damage that Thrace initially believed happened at the first encounter with the Raider?
- Will Agathon experience any form of guilt or regret for showing the picture of the mandala to Thrace?
- What does Thrace mean when she tells Apollo: "See you on the other side"? (Possible Answer)
- Thrace also tells Lee Adama that "they're waiting for me." Who are "they"?
- Will Thrace return as one of the Final Five Cylons? (Answer)
- Who will take Thrace's place as Galactica's Viper ace?
- Will Thrace's death have any lasting effect on Lee Adama and Anastasia Dualla's marriage?
- Considering the white light that appears to shine into Thrace's cockpit and what the Leoben-figure mentioned about showing her what lies between life and death, is it possible that she is experiencing the same event that Number Three had on several occasions ("Hero", "Rapture")?
- Is the placement of Thrace's Aurora figurine on William Adama's model ship symbolic to Thrace, in some way, guiding the Fleet on their path to Earth? (Answer 1, Answer 2, Answer 3)
- Did the real Socrata Thrace see Kara come to her before she died?
- Did Kara Thrace really die? If not, how did she survive? (Answer #1, #2, #3)
- Katee Sackhoff discusses what it was like to pretend as if she was not coming back to the show:
- Katee Sackhoff: Well the crazy thing was that when I was successful at it, I got in trouble! Because everyone [on the show] was so pissed off about it, that I was getting killed, that it became this huge thing and people were threatening to quit. And then it was my fault, because I did a good job at lying. It's like, "Come on, guys! I'm an overdramatic actor! That's what I do. And you told me to sell it." So it was definitely a hard thing to do. It was a hard thing to keep a secret. And I told key people. I told my agent and my manager, my mom, my best friend, and my boyfriend. That's the only people that knew. My publicist didn't even know!
Information from the podcast:
- The original script had Thrace do three trips to the gas giant. It is during the second trip that she sees the Heavy Raider again, but panics and fakes a hydraulics problem with her Viper, which allows her to return to Galactica. This was the original reason, not the lack of visual evidence of a Heavy Raider, that Lee Adama and his father have their conversation about her fitness for duty.
- The model ship Adama was building over the course of the series was a very expensive rental prop which Edward James Olmos destroyed in an ad-lib expression of Adama's grief over the loss of Thrace, much to the props crew's dismay. Thankfully, the ship was insured.
- The original script was meant to be a payoff for the end of "Rapture" when Karl Agathon showed Thrace the mandala. It was supposed to have Thrace face her fear of death and resist its call, while at the same time the overall payoff would be somehow linked to furthering the Fleet's voyage to Earth. After several iterations of the script, Moore and company decided to go down the dangerous avenue of killing off one of the major characters.
- The original script had an interior scene of the Heavy Raider as the first place that Thrace would wake up from after she is knocked unconscious. There she would find Leoben Conoy using a device that would delve into her memories. At the time, however, Ron Moore didn't know if it was possible if the show could revisit Thrace's apartment. Once that possibility was available, the interior of the Heavy Raider was abandoned because of cost and storyline suitability.
- The last scene between Adama and Thrace was originally to have ended on a more sour note. Thrace was supposed to be in a meeting between Adama, Lee Adama, and Laura Roslin, upon which Thrace noted out loud the possible romantic undertones between Adama and Roslin. Afterwards, Adama would dress Thrace down and those would have been his last words to her before her death. The director argued with Moore about cutting this scene out and eventually Moore gave way to allow a more comforting departure between the two characters.
- According to Moore, "Maelstrom" is, for him, the first page of the third act in the series overall. He believes that with this episode, the show is well on its way to completion and is now on act three out of a 4 act series.
Additional information from the Frak Party Q&A:
- Initially, Moore told only Katee Sackhoff that Kara Thrace would return in the season finale. When the episode script was published the cast and crew, who were in the dark, became upset, Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell in particular. Moore described the mood as almost a "state of mutiny." Eventually Moore and David Eick had to call them and let them in on the secret that Thrace was not really dead.
- Thrace: So where do you want to go when you bite the big one? I wanna go right there, next to Kat.
- Adama: A water-walking Viper jock.
- Thrace: Royal pain in the ass, but a hell of a stick to have on your wing.
- Adama: You can put me right here, next to Duck and Nora. Good card players. Nice way to spend eternity.
- Thrace: Okay, so whoever croaks first, the other one makes sure that their picture goes in the right place. Deal?
- Adama: Deal.
- Lee Adama comforts Thrace on the hangar deck:
- Thrace: I'm not going back out there. I don't trust myself.
- Adama: Hmm. So trust me. I'll fly your wing.
- Thrace: The CAG flying my number two? (smiles)
- Adama: (softly) Whatever it takes.
- Thrace: How are things with you and Dee?
- Adama: Uh, you know, good. No. Better than good. Best they've ever been.
- Thrace: I'm happy for you. Really. It's funny though, after all we've been through, we are right back where we started. You're CAG, and I am your hotshot problem pilot. (both laugh) I guess that's all we'll ever be now, huh?
- Kara: Momma, something's about to happen, you know that thing you were trying to prepare me for, I don't know if I can do it.
- Socrata: Oh yes you can, you can.
- Kara: How can you be sure?
- Socrata: You're my daughter.
- Leoben: See, there's nothing terrible about death; when you finally face it, it's beautiful. You're free now, to become who you really are.
- Kara: You're not Leoben.
- Leoben: I never said I was. I'm here to prepare you to pass through the next door, to discover what lies in the space between life and death.