Reflecting on Battlestar Galactica's journey

by Paul William Tenny

battlestar-galactica.jpgOne of the better shows on television (when it's actually on) is coming to an end this year. The fourth and final season of Battlestar Galactica will premier this Friday at 10PM, at least temporarily taking up the regular time slot of Stargate Atlantis. It'll repeat again at midnight and you can even catch the premier early on the Scifi channel website from noon until 1pm that day.

All that's good and stuff, but does anyone actually remember where BSG left off? It's been a while since the last episode aired and that's one of my chief complaints -- not with the show itself, but how the cable network has handled its production and broadcast schedule. I can't remember the last time I saw a new episode and, to a degree, I'm having trouble remembering exactly where the show left off, and, more importantly, why I should care.
It seems like you can't claim your true geek heritage unless you blast the original Battlestar Galactica as being silly and unworthy of your lofty and very serious, deeply thoughtful and emotional attention, while also praising Ron Moore's incarnation as the best science fiction has to offer today that does more than just tell good stories and provide a sneaky way to "say things" about the current world without getting wrapped up in politics. I'm not there yet because I actually thought the old BSG was nifty and entertaining for what it was, and like many people, I was wary of the new show because just about anything described as a "reimagining" was flat out junk.

I'm not really sure the new BSG even fits that description, other than playing games with the character gender and race, this is still very much BSG. That's not to say that there aren't key differences -- the Cylons were created by us in Moore's version whereas I recall them being created by an alien race in the original -- along with the religious overtones that are highlighted and thrown in your face but never truly explored. But it's still a rag-tag fleet of humans running from the Cylons searching for Earth. I suppose in a way that's why I like the show as much as I do, at least as much as I used to. It's Ron Moore's BSG, but it's still BSG no matter how you twist and tilt the prism.

But things turned out pretty darn well. The mini-series is an excellent piece of fiction that did what the original show couldn't afford to do, and told the story it wasn't able to tell. The first season that followed was remarkable and deserved every bit of praise it got. It reminded us that science fiction has roots in the dark realization that our brains and what we do with them are sometimes the most violent and evil weapons we could ever have. Intentions aside, we use it at our own peril -- even if the man-creates-robot, robots-kill-man scenario is overplayed.

It's a hard line to walk that some shows can't pull off. If you go dark, you run the risk of going so dark that start going darker just for the sake of doing dark stuff. Many disagree but I think Farscape suffered from this. Drama can only be taken so far before you get both the viewers and your characters wrapped so deeply in it that enjoying the show actually takes some conscious effort before you get dragged down by it. E.R. was the same way for me, and I've really felt that bottomless pit of despair in the last season of BSG.

I think that's unfortunate because season three did some things you don't see on hardly anywhere. Once the fleet was back together and on their way, people started rounding up sympathizers and people who worked with the Cylons on New Caprica to oppress the people -- and executed them after sham trials. That was really hard to watch and pushed some buttons for me in ways that I truly appreciate, even if I didn't enjoy seeing it. That came in the middle of other continual despair and a continual state of dread that it took that much for me to raise an eyebrow.

What I really feel BSG could have done more with was some comedy, and believe me, I know how stupid that sounds, but there it is. Lots of dramas find a way to work in at least a little bit of humor to keep the audience from feeling like they are attending a counseling session where the therapist intentionally makes you depressed instead of helping you get better. I kind of dread BSG like that but they have enough cred built up that I'm going to see it through to the end, but ending after four seasons of that is fortuitous because that's about all I can take. At least some moments of humor could have done wonders for opening this show up.

J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5, tons of stuff) really knew how to bring the funny to lighten up an otherwise desperately depressing situation. Joss Whedon I think takes that to a higher level by creating entire scenes that lighten the load, and it still works. You can still explore the depths of the darkness but you've got to be able to laugh in its face, otherwise it will consume you. And your audience.

And that's bad.

And that's what I feel like happened to BSG. So I'm not really criticizing the show, but I'm not putting it up on a pedestal like a lot of people are. Babylon 5 and Firefly belong up there, but BSG missed too many opportunities to reach that level for me. Even so, I'm still really glad they did the show, and I can't say enough how much respect and admiration I have for those people. With the spin-off series Caprica that will pre-date BSG, I wonder if they'll take the opportunity to break away a little bit from the dark story telling and try something different for a change?
in Television


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