Sunday, February 24, 2013

Battlestar Galactica (2004)

Spoiler Alert

After years of debate, having been convinced by others that Battlestar Galactica (2004) was boring and overrated, I took a friend's recommendation to watch. I was hooked by the end of the first couple episodes on Netflix (I believe these were a mini-series), loving the space battles. In a week and a half, I finished the series in its entirety.

The desperation of the Colonial Fleet early on really drew me in to the show. Everything they did was an all-or-nothing attempt to survive that made every decision by the characters a tense debate, a struggle. Plus, there was the added paranoia brought on by the possibility that any character could be a cylon skinjob. The acting throughout the series bordered on flawless, as I began to enjoy each character more with each episode, even Dr. Gaius Baltar, who I absolutely loathed in the beginning; I was tempted on several occasions to fast forward through his prattling conversations with Number 6 yet was afraid to miss pertinent information.

The politics, specifically the military politics and relationships aboard Galactica, was my favorite aspect of Battlestar Galactica. I was enthralled by the return of the Pegasus and the power struggle between the crews. Humanity was on the verge of extinction, yet they were still unwilling to cooperate with their own race, nearly instigating a civil war.

While I sensed and fretted over the growing religious theme, I managed to ignore it, brush it off as secondary. It was easy to do when Baltar and Number 6 were the only characters debating the existence of God, and the other characters were consumed with the war, fighting for power, dealing with their own demons from alcoholism to debauchery to self-doubt. In the first two seasons, identity was the central theme, begging the questions: what makes us human, what makes us unique, what makes us worthy of life? These questions were expanded upon by the cylons that not only looked human, had emotions and motivations like us, but also had countless copies of themselves with distinct personalities; these cylon models had identical faces yet were unique from their counterparts because of their actions, their past, their love.

I was intrigued by the events on New Caprica, when I had convinced myself I had figured out the direction of the show. Suddenly, there was a jump in time as the fleet resettled, knew peace. Then the cylons evolved, returned, and thought they could garner trust through force. If I didn't already think Colonel Saul Tigh was my favorite character, he definitely was after the resistance. His lines were priceless; his actions were ruthless and just the thing one would expect from a tortured freedom fighter with nothing left to lose.

Season 3 had a theme of penance and redemption. The characters were forced to reconcile differences and the harsh, often extreme, choices they made in New Caprica, yet, by season's end, I was annoyed the writers hadn't revealed any new cylons. I was taken back by their choices for three of the Final Five; majority of the characters that hated and killed cylons the most turned out to be them, and they happened to also be majority of the characters, outside of Admiral Adama, that were my favorites. While I hated this decision at the moment of its reveal, I came to understand it when the characters grappled with the idea as well.

By the fourth season, the course of the show transitioned from a tale about survival and identity to a creation story. Baltar developed into a prophet, a borderline Christ figure, and Starbuck, after dying in heartbreaking fashion, had returned from the dead to guide the fleet. The journey to Earth steered toward a spiritual awakening rather than a need to relocate, and the repeated warning, "All of this has happened before and will happen again," when they landed on a nuked Earth, discovering mass graves full of cylons, took on new meaning.

By far, the strongest episodes in season 4 contained the mutiny of Lt. Felix Gaeta, whose character flipped with the loss of his leg (I believe the leg symbolized his humanity or at least his morals). Friends became foes, and cylons earned their place within the fleet while Galactica became a battleground.

With escalating frequency throughout the show, however, there were uses of divine intervention, and by the finale, that was how the entirety of the series came to a close. Baltar and Number 6 had talked in great detail throughout the series about a higher power, and it turned out they were right. While I'm not against such a theme it appeared to "solve" too many problems in the finale.

How does the Colonial Fleet survive and find a new home? God. How does Baltar and Number 6 reconcile their actions that led to atrocities? Angels and faith in God. How does Kara Thrace lead her people to a new Earth? A musical message from God. What was Kara Thrace when reincarnated? We don't know, but God played a part. Personally, my theory is Starbuck 2.0 was an angel and the pianist was God a.k.a. a higher power and her father.

I can live with all of these explanations, as I did with the ending to Lost, but what really irked me during the finale was the sheer stupidity in the actions of the Colonial Fleet and cylons alike. After four seasons of characters, "rolling a hard six," making risky yet brilliant choices, and finding common ground with their enemies, they just set their ships to autopilot and pointed them at the sun. There was a mutiny because the crew of Galactica didn't want to coexist with cylons, yet I'm expected to believe these same people would give up all of their futuristic comforts and settle on a planet with cylons because Lee Adama says so?

I won't even get into the logic, or lack therof, behind Lee and Starbuck, the fleet's best pilots, being in the ground force instead of flying against a cylon colony, Starbuck being more of a savior than a, "Harbinger of Death," or Admiral Adama abandoning his son forever to mourn the death of the president, his love, on a hilltop...

While the fleet splits up and heads to different corners of the planet to mate with and teach the natives, I suppose, they let the Centurions fly off on a base ship. First of all, the mutineers allow this? Second, the characters even question as I did: what's to stop the Centurions from returning to wipe them all out? Just faith? Even Cavil was terrified of them without inhibitor chips. I want to believe this was done for the sole purpose of leaving room for a follow-up series and not sloppy writing.

And how does Hera, the human-cylon hybrid, play into any of this? Why was she so important? We're left to presume her remains were dug up as the missing link, yet I have to believe the people on Earth wouldn't be able to biologically differentiate between human and cylon, if the Colonials couldn't, especially since the people on Earth have no idea of the existence of cylons. If the Colonials and cylons truly wanted to break the cycle, wouldn't they have left some sort of record of past wars, their history, and what brought them to Earth, instead of leaving future generations blind and prone to repeating the same mistakes? How are a pile of bones going to help anyone? Who did she mate with to pass on her genes, if the survivors were scattered over the entire planet and her family appeared to be living in isolation? With the two angels walking through the crowd of our modern society, I guess it's another plot device we, as viewers, are meant to accept on faith.

Despite my criticisms over the finale, the final season, the good in Battlestar Galactica (2004) far outweighs the bad. The first two seasons contain introspective themes, stellar characters, and amazing battles; the episodes are loaded with amazing science fiction. Even the weaker third and fourth seasons have moments that shine--I really can't say enough about the Gaeta mutiny, as it was one of my favorite storylines. Overall, the show is worth watching, and I feel any fan of science fiction will find it enjoyable...if they can get beyond the religious theme. The complexity of the characters is worth noting, and that in itself tells me Battlestar Galactica (2004) was not overrated and deserving of its accolades.

5 comments:

  1. Always thought I should have watched it. The earlier iteration was SO corny, tho, that I never gave it a chance.

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    1. The new version of Battlestar Galactica was well done, in my opinion, and not campy, though the characters still use, "frek," to swear. I've seen other science fiction shows do something similar (they say Frell in Farscape, if I remember correctly), so it didn't bother me.

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  2. Way overrated. I have just finished season 1 and wonder what all the hype is about. Plodding narrative, shallow and predictable characters and that annoyingly pervasive religion theme. I kind of hoped the president and the whole "scriptures" crap would be phased out but looks like it becomes even more central to the show. Shall not be watching too much of this show I'm afraid.

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    2. The religious theme becomes the center of the show. It nearly turned me off because it became so preachy, so I can understand if it turned someone off the show entirely. But, you really thought the characters were shallow and predictable? Still, as time goes by, I might lean more toward the show being overrated than when I originally wrote this blog.

      Anyway, if you're looking for great Sci-Fi and haven't seen them yet, I would recommend Farscape or Fringe over Battlestar. They're two of my favorites but definitely not for everyone.

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