Battlestar Galactica has always existed in a state of permanent change. The series is ostensibly about the remnants of the human race on the run from the cyborgs that annihilated their home worlds and everyone on them, but it's really about the price of humanity and what it means to live with your mistakes. Which is why instead of spending an entire season on potentially lengthy arcs, the series often finds a way to wrap these stories in a handful of episodes while (a) preserving their emotional ramifications and (b) getting everything close enough to normal so that the cycle of change and reconciliation can start all over again. Yet in this, its fourth and final season, the series often veers a little too far toward compressing those storylines and winds up cheating the characters. There are worse problems to have, and for the most part the series is sticking to its compelling and melodramatic roots, but still, it's not the way you wanna go out.

Hands down, the best example of this is the way the show dealt with the recent death of a fairly significant character. (Needless to say, spoilers follow.) When Cally (Nikki Clyne) learned the understandably distressing truth that her husband, Chief Tyrol (Aaron Douglas), was a Cylon, she went overboard. And by overboard, I mean she bashed his head with a wrench and then attempted to throw herself and her infant son out an airlock until she was stopped by another Cylon, who just wanted to save the baby before booting Cally into the cold depths of space. The world of Battlestar Galactica has never been a safe one for its characters, what with the genocide and lack of health care, so it's reasonable to think Cally's discovery could eventually lead to her death. But for it to unfold in 20 minutes of screen time in an episode already packed with other plots about the search for Earth, a civil war breaking out within the Cylon ranks, and a meditation on the corruptive nature of political power? Too much.

But for all its faults and its eagerness to fit in one last year of frenzied storytelling, the series still manages to put its characters through the emotional wringer, refusing to let them off easy and forcing them to ask the difficult questions about what it means to be human. This season ostensibly hinges on the discovery of the identity of the final humanoid Cylon model, but that's just the stick; the carrot is self-discovery. Unlike Lost, which is a near-perfect example of pop TV as puzzle show, Battlestar Galactica is only interested in solving the mystery as much as it lets the characters examine their own mortality. The action this season has cut between the developments in the human-Cylon war and the ascendance of Gaius Baltar (James Callis) as the leader of a religious cult decrying the worship of false idols and preaching the existence of the one true God. The episode "Faith" brought this to a kind of head as President Roslin (Mary McDonell), herself suffering from cancer, discussed the nature of the afterlife with a dying woman in sickbay. It was the opposite of the overstuffed storytelling that plagued earlier parts of the season, and though the other half of the episode was devoted to forwarding the plot about the identity of the final Cylon, it was the conversations Roslin had with a stranger on her deathbed that carried the most weight. The episode didn't try to do too much, but instead gave the story room to breathe on its own. That's all it needed.

SEE IT: The latest episode of Battlestar Galactica airs at 10 pm Friday, May 16, on the Sci-Fi Channel.