Battlestar Galactica – Season One

The reimagining of Battlestar Galactica is much beloved online, but I’ve been slow to catch on. I finally got around to borrowing the season one set at Christmas, and recently watched the final episode. It’s very different from the original, but in a good way. Gone are robotic dogs, regular laser battles and Jane Seymour. In are a female Starbuck, cylons that can look like humans and a fleet with two leaders: one political, one military. The music is quiet, minimal, and haunting. The plot progresses slowly, in multiple locations, and without much exposition. I found it a classy show and quite unlike anything else I’ve seen, particularly in its mixture of styles:

  • Sci-fi adventure. The premise – a fleet carrying the last remnants of humanity flees a robotic race of their own design – is little changed from the initial series, and is, I think, a great concept. The action can be impressive, but much of the time it’s a backdrop, with more attention paid to other aspects:
  • Character study. Starbuck is particularly fascinating, and unlike any other female sci-fi character I can bring to mind: brilliant, but unpredictable, moody and violent, she’s a good contrast to the reliable, classically heroic and close-to-boring Apollo. Cmdr. Adama is more volatile than your average leader, and struggles continually with his military responsibilities. Gaius Baltar, resident genius with a secret, is impressively crafted, although revealing more would spoil the plot.
  • Political drama. Whether they’re intended as allegories to current events, the series certainly deals with large political questions. The fleet’s media are hostile to the administration, and in emergency situations the military reaction to their presence is less than favourable. Democracy is of vital importance to the incumbent President, a relatively minor political figure before the rest of humanity was wiped out, but what do you do when a charismatic terrorist gains massive popular support, and demands an election? Lock him up indefinitely? Cmdr. Adama’s father was a civil rights lawyer, and his management of security problems in a fleet full of potential cylons is less right-wing than you’d expect. My favourite episode saw the establishment of an independent military court tasked with determining how a particular cylon slipped through the net, and the hunt for an individual scapegoat quickly escalates.
  • Tricia Helfer modelling portfolio. Think Seven of Nine meets Mrs Robinson. She’s always beautifully lit, wearing dresses that take up half the budget and sultry as hell. This is, to be fair, the idea – her worship as a goddess is just about justified by the plot – but you come to know her figure as well as your own.

The first season veered in unexpected directions. As it progressed I found the characters actually became less likeable, and the situation less familiar. Each character has unpleasant traits, and while they seem more human as a result, they’re harder to root for. Religion plays a major role in the plot, with the cylons (apparently) believing they are doing God’s work and the human characters worshipping multiple deities and following strange doctrines. Prophecy, always an easy but unsatisfying plot device, plays a role that intertwines with the religious aspects, and it’ll be interesting to see how that progresses in a universe with an apparently rational premise. The opening credits promise the cylons ‘have a plan’, but the story is clearly only just beginning, and it’s hard to tell whether this is an X-Files ‘play it by ear and we’ll come up with something’ or a Babylon 5 ‘let’s figure out the story arc of the entire thing before we even start filming’.

There were a couple of dodgy moments, but imho the show’s only real misstep is the 30-second spoiler session at the start of each episode, during which highlights of the next 45 minutes are show trailer-style. I’ve no clue who thinks this is a good idea. I just shut my eyes until the music ends.

I’m definitely hooked, and shall get hold of the second season asap. Anybody interested should first watch the mini-series, as the plot set-up is important and the details relevant.