Thursday, March 19, 2009

Farewell - So Say We All

Battlestar Galactica. Never in my life have two words had such a repulsive effect on me (well, until people started using 'epic fail' on the internet ad nauseum). Of course this had much to do with my exposure to Galactica 1980, Cylons and taxi cabs are a truly disastrous mix. I disliked Galactica 1980 so much, that I was in no way interested in a remimagining of the original Battlestar Galactica. Despite my love of robots (killer ones in particular) and my love of anything involving actors from The A-Team (I SERIOUSLY love it when a plan comes together) I just couldn't muster up any interest in the new series. Then I heard that the new Cylons looked like humans. I just couldn't do it. I mean, sure, Terminator has human looking robots but they always eventually get back to being all robot-y.

So I passed up the new Battlestar-- skipped the miniseries and scoffed at anyone who watched it. When the series came to pass I did watch one episode, but didn't know any of the characters or the intricate back story of just what the hell was going on. I was confused and annoyed. So I shut it off. Years passed and I continued to watch my beloved Stargate SG-1 and the lesser Atlantis (spawned from SG-1). Battlestar, SG-1 and Atlantis were presented together on Friday nights. Sci-Fridays it was called, and while I didn't watch one-third of the evening I was impressed at how well the three shows did in ratings together.

Flash forward to the end of season two. I had finished watching the Stargates for the evening. I knew that something big was going to happen on Battlestar that evening from the internet buzz. I was playing something on my Xbox 360 and glanced at the clock. I wanted to know what the twist was going to be on BSG, so I shut off my game and turned Sci Fi Channel back on. The episode, "Lay Down Your Burdens Part 2," showed the surviving humans landing on a barren planet and trying to eke out a life hidden from the Cylons. The show employed a time jump in the narrative. Launching the story almost two years into the future. This device was used to the detriment of Alias but it worked. I was...well, I was enraptured. I didn't know who the hell any of these characters were, but I couldn't look away.

"What do we do now, Captain?"
"Same thing we always do. Fight 'em till we can't."


Soon thereafter, I decided to purchase the first season on DVD. I remember the conversation I had with my wife(then fiance), Melissa, very clearly:

"You want to what?"

"Buy the first season of Battlestar Galactica on DVD."


"I want to check it out. It's only one season, I've bought worse DVDs before."

"But we hate that show."

"I just want to check it out, I've been wrong before."

And so on. Eventually I got her to accept the fact that I was going buy the season and while she wasn't quite sold on the idea, I did get her to watch along with me.

So we watched it. The mini-series, eh, good. Interesting idea, great execution but I just wasn't getting it yet. We began watching the series proper and I was still wondering exactly what everyone was buzzing about. It was good and in some cases great, but it just wasn't hooking me. I loved some things about the show greatly. The minute attention to detail made me happy; the bursts of air that would maneuver the Vipers around were a good example of that. I was clearly digging the series more than her, but it still didn't have me. Until "Flesh and Bone." That episode carried both the supernatural mystery of the series (President Roslin's dreams of Leobin) and the hard-hitting moral ambiguities that the series would always straddle.

It was then that I got "it." I was sold on the series and couldn't finish the first season fast enough. Melissa? Not so much. But she continued to watch and eventually was won over by "Kobol's Last Gleaming" After that we were both big fans of the series. Impishly ignoring the fact that we had badmouthed it so much before, defending it to other people who refuse to check it out (My father-in-law still refuses to watch, no matter the amount of pestering we give him) and championing it as one of the very best examples of science fiction. Because it is. Without a doubt in my mind, Battlestar Galactica is one of the greatest examples of fiction, science or otherwise, ever created.

It is not rare for science fiction to make some commentary on the human condition, it was one of the basic tenets of Star Trek. BSG is really no different in that respect, what is different from other science fiction is intensity, the actual humanity and the flaws present in the characters. These are real people with real problems, yes, some of them stem from killer robots wiping out their planet and chasing them through the cosmos, but you never feel like they are people who couldn't exist. Few other science fiction series can claim the same. If you have not already, hop back in our archives to our TAWp 9 Science Fiction Television Series list. Aside from Garrett's, ahem, quirky choices (Quantum Leap and Futurama are great but don't fit in this example and ALF? Yeah, the less said the better), all the shows listed have some semblance of this. Flawed characters, sometimes pushed to their limits. In particular I feel that Babylon 5 and The X-Files are shining examples of this genre convention. BSG takes it up a notch. Desperate, flawed people struggling--suffering, trying to survive against all odds.

Fantastic characterization would only work if the actors behind the characters can handle the challenge. Battlestar's cast is one of brilliance. Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, Katee Sackhoff, James Callis, Michael Hogan...I could continue listing off names but the point is entirely moot, there is no one in this cast that I dislike. There are CHARACTERS that I dislike for one reason or another, but the acting in this show is beyond reproach.

Created in the wake of September 11th, this show has never blinked in the face of difficult topics. 9/11, the war in Iraq, torture--it may seem trite to provide allegories to these topics in a show with killer robots but Battlestar Galactica handles them with a strength and seriousness that is rarely seen on television.

One of the things that I find fascinating about this show is it's capacity for renewal. What I mean by this is that every season seems to carry with it a new direction. Sure, the main thrust of the series remains the same. The last known group of humans in the galaxy is trying to make their way to a place called Earth. But that agenda, the means of getting to it and even the quest itself change and shift nearly every season giving every season a familiar and fresh feel.

The producers of this show also seem to have a great grasp on the internet spoiler phenomenon. Season three included an episode called "Maelstrom" which (aside from being named after a ride in Epcot) ended with the "death" of Starbuck. I was terribly disappointed in the episode, even going to so far as to post on a television blog this comment:

"I'm almost fearing saying this (because rabid Lost apologists will jump all over me for it) but, this episode reminded me of the most boring of Lost episodes. With it's boring flashbacks and go-nowhere story. BSG usually does a great job of at least moving the plot forward, even in a slow episode. Sadly this episode didn't go anywhere. There was no real explanation for Starbuck's paintings and then she died...disappointing. "

I stand by that comment. It was a lousy episode, but it was responsible for one of my favorite meta-series moments. After Starbuck's death Katee Sackhoff made the rounds on talk shows and in interviews she complained and verbally abused the producers of the show for killing her off. She stated that she would never have to cut her hair for the series again, like she did earlier in season three. She seemed genuinely angry about being killed off, but see, it wasn't real. It was a big con planned by Sackhoff and the producers. Make the viewers think that Starbuck is dead and the actress who portrayed her was livid about it. No one would see it coming when Starbuck miraculously returned in the season three finale. It's something that I will forever remember this series for, actually shocking me. Another, shock came when the Colonial Fleet found Earth a solid ten episodes ahead of schedule (show creator Ron Moore was ADAMANT that the fleet would not find Earth until the final episode) proving another shock, quite possibly engineered as such.

With four seasons and two made-for-TV movies (the second, "The Plan" is set to air this fall) the new Battlestar Galactica has already lasted far longer than the series that spawned it. It truly stands heads and shoulders above the original series. This Battlestar Galactica is powerful and moving. I'm truly sad to see it go but at the same time excited to have been witness to it's greatness. Friday nights, indeed the Sci Fi Channel, will never be the same without the Galactica. So say we all.

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