I’ve been threatening to write this entry for quite a while now. I survived a section of my teenage years by clinging to the show, Battlestar Galactica. I virtually lived for the weekly distraction of…
“There are those who believe that life here began out there, far across the universe, with tribes of humans who may have been the forefathers of the Egyptians, or the Toltecs, or the Mayans. They may have been the architects of the great pyramids, or the lost civilizations of Lemuria or Atlantis. Some believe that there may yet be brothers of man who even now fight to survive somewhere beyond the heavens…”
Hearing the fanfare that begins after those words still gives me a chill, even after all these years. I can’t explain it. Something in the show struck a cord; and I watched, spellbound, every week, even though we only had a 12 inch black and white TV set. The knights didn’t wear shining armor, the barbarians did; but there were damsels in distress, and gentlemen who rode in (literally, a few times) to save the day. There were gunfights and space battles, nearly every week. I loved every minute of it.
The movie that was made and used as the pilot was one of the few films that I paid to see more than once. (Sweetwater, Texas at least had a theatre. I had to go to the next town to watch a film when I lived in Kansas) I had several T-shirts for the show. I watched Galactica 1980! My favorite scene in every A-Team episode is Dirk Benedict (Starbuck) recognizing the Cylon during the introduction, and I promptly left the room after that bit. I hated the A-Team (it was too juvenile. My little brother watched it) I just loved that bit, though.
I’m offering this up as proof that I am a true fan of the original show; and I feel the need to do this because I’m about to admit to something disturbing.
I love the new Battlestar Galactica. Yes, I know, it has nothing at all to do with the original show. Yes, I know, they’ve taken character names and situations and twisted them around in ways that the original authors would not have conceived of, perhaps even approved of. It’s dark and complex, and it’s content can be both disturbing and titillating at varying times in the same episode. You have to think about the show if you want it to make sense.
And, once again, I hang on every minute just to see what happens next.
So many of the concepts that were used in the original show were fumbled and poorly executed. Baltar was simply a card board cutout villain. There was no realistic attempt to explain why the the Cylons would ever place him (a human) in command of a Basestar. (Never mind that they killed him in the movie, only to resurrect him in the series) In the New BSG, Baltar is a brilliant, twisted, cynical, amoralist; someone that can be easily seen dancing his way in whatever direction that survival dictates. And, indeed, the price of his survival has nearly been the extermination of the remainder of the human race several times now.
All of the characters have flaws, and strengths. There are no knights, and very few gentlemen. Admiral Adama (played by the extremely talented Edward James Olmos) being one of the few. If there is a weakness in the show, it’s a lack of any truly great male leads other than Olmos. Apollo, while admirably independent of his father Adama, is too brittle to be truly likable. Colonel Tigh is a drunk. Lieutenant Agathon is, well… pussy whipped (how would you describe a man who whines incessently about not being with his girl? One who not only does everything that she asks, but adopts it as his personal cause? Like I said…) By a Cylon. It’s a little embarrassing. I get a kick out of watching Doc Cottle smoking his way through his scenes. It’s priceless. Of course, I remember him as Dutch from Soap, so there’s a level of unintended (?) humor there for me. There’s also Lt. Felix Gaeta who, while he’s still suffering from blindly following Baltar onto New Caprica, is definitely a gentleman in every sense of the word.
There are most definitely no damsels in distress. Recasting Starbuck as a woman was perhaps a stroke of genius, even though most fans of the original show point to that as the greatest failing of the new show. Starbuck is still Dirk Benedict’s Starbuck, but this time played by a woman. A hard drinking, gambling, fighter jock with an attitude and ability. A strong female character in a lead position, on the front line of battle. Katee Sackhoff will never have the charm that Dirk Benedict could project, but then she doesn’t need it either. What she lacks in charm she makes up for by diving into trouble headfirst, only to come back out smelling like a rose.
Then there is the President (Beautifully played by Mary Mcdonnell) the Grande Dame of the fleet. She is the figurative mother of the remainder of the human race. Protective of the lives under her care, even to a fault. And Boomer/Athena/Sharon (Grace Park) The other male character from the original show recast as a female; and not just a female, but a female skinjob (a tribute to Philip K. Dick there. He refers to the replicants in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep as skinjobs. Something that was picked up in Bladerunner, the film based on the book) a Cylon agent that doesn’t know it’s a Cylon.
In fact, the show is replete with strong female characters, something that was sorely lacking until the very end of the Original BSG, with the introduction of the daughter of Admiral Cain.
Which brings me to another reason I’ve been obsessed with the show for three seasons; I never can tell which character or storyline from the original show that they are going to play (or prey) on next. The Battlestar Pegasus and Admiral Cain sail into the New BSG in much the same way they did in the original series. But from that point onward, the stories radically diverge.
In a story arc that has developed since the beginning of the series, Baltar gets the chance to earn the hatred that is simply his by default in the original series. And every week is a surprise, a twist on what we thought we knew about the world of BSG.
This week’s episode is a virtual case in point of all of the above. Torture. Genocide. Honor, truth and devotion to duty. Deception and betrayal. Very real questions that we should be seriously discussing in the here and now. Fully developed characters that make decisions based on the traits that we know they have. No holds barred, all the flaws exposed.
Just like life on the edge should be.
The New BSG is everything that the word re-visioning connotes. It is a reworking of familiar characters and stories in a way that you would never have seen them before. As such I have nothing but praise for the series; and I hope that my liking it doesn’t spell disaster for the show,
as it has for virtually every other show I’ve watched over the years.
I’ll just keep watching, wondering what’s next.
Editor’s note: October 5, 2015. The Wife posted this image to my Facebook wall a few weeks ago. Then in a moment of synchronicity I stumbled across this old entry on the subject of BSG on my blog. An entry that I had completely forgotten I had written.
I started to append some closing statement about the series finale being disappointing and blah, blah, blah; when it suddenly occurred to me that I couldn’t even remember how the series ended. The last image I had of it in my head was the burned out cinder of Earth. So I went hunting around trying to find a copy of the series and finally resorted to having the disks shipped to me via Netflix.
What amazes me about memory is how things you think you remember really aren’t the way you remember them. I noticed this first with many of the shows I watched as a child. Watching them as an adult I was shocked at how different the experience was.
Case in point, rewatching classic BSG. The religion angle that I thought was so novel about the revisioning was actually very heavily in the classic show, but it was pretty well muddled up with the contemporary christianity of the time. The Classic episodes were better in some aspects than I remembered; and at the same time they were cringingly naive about so many subjects that the revisioned show just blows right through without a second thought.
Rewatching the last half of the final season of the new BSG, I realized that I had merged several episodes together in my head, and that the burned out Earth that I saw as the end of the show wasn’t even in the part of the season that I watched, although the characters refer to it repeatedly.
I was struck by how circular the final moments of the show try to be, actively pantomiming what the viewer subconsciously does while watching.
All in all, the time I spent rewatching the ending on disk was well spent and more enjoyable than watching it on live television while it was airing. This is because several of the episodes on disk are uncut versions with additional scenes (and I’m a secondary audio junkie, confirmed) I’m going to have to acquire a copy of both Classic BSG and the new version. I see a BSG marathon occurring at some point in the future.