Monday, April 9

Battlestar Galactica (2003-2009)

Re-imagined by Ronald D. Moore.

Since last summer I have been watching the re-imagined version of the old TV series Battlestar Galactica via Saturday evening reruns on BBC America, two episodes every week. The original series (1978-1979) was something I really liked in its original airing in the immediate aftermath of Star Wars' reinvigorating the epic science fantasy genre, more for its ideas – the intimated connections with our own past, ancient astronauts and mythology, that “Life here began out there, far beyond the stars,” and so forth – than with how they were executed. And, to tell the truth, I was a bit of a hard sell on the new series when it first appeared a quarter century on. For all that it was stupendous from a special effects standpoint, my initial reaction to the direction it went was not positive. I found fault in particular with what seemed like an unlikely mishmash of contemporary – sometimes even retro – technology, styling, fashions, and the like with fantastical science-fiction elements. It seemed to me that those intimated connections with our own past were being thrown over as much as possible, retaining only enough to make the result barely recognizable as any version of “Battlestar Galactica” at all. Especially laughable were some of the names – “William 'Bill' Adama,” “Lee Adama” (with “Apollo” relegated to the status of his call-sign) – that for me at least ruined the suspension of disbelief that's necessary for the world-building that must serve as the foundation of a series such as this. They seemed to show a lack of imagination. I stuck with the rebooted series through the first two seasons, I think, but had lost interest by that time and seldom dropped in after that. When I did, occasionally, what I saw had departed so radically from the basic paradigm of humanity fleeing robotic aggressors that I had no idea what was happening, and an attempt to watch the last hour of the series to see how it ended made basically no sense to me except that they had found something that wasn't Earth but they were calling it Earth and therefore it was our Earth and they were our distant ancestors.

Nevertheless, a couple of my colleagues remained devoted to the show throughout its original run, enough so that they picked up the DVD sets as they came out, and they kept telling me I should have stuck with it. And when BBC America started its announced running of the entire series straight through I decided to give it another shot. It helped knowing that I would be able to watch it straight through virtually without interruption (there were the occasional weekends when it was bumped for a Top Gear or Doctor Who marathon), and that there was a definite end to the story.

That end came this past weekend.

Honestly, I am glad I have watched this series through to the end. There's a lot of good. It is an incredibly complex story mixing issues of faith and reason, politics and space opera, free will versus fate or destiny, and so forth that I'm sure I only scratch the surface in trying to understand. I do still find the mishmash of sci-fi and mundane unsettling, at times jarring, even with the putative rationale in the overarching theme of the show, “This has all happened before, and it will all happen again,” based on an Eastern mystical paradigm of the endless cycle of existence – except that it's hinted in the final episodes that that cycle is being, or at least can be, broken, which itself may be an “addendum” to that theme. As to the visual stylings, I choose to interpret them as allegorical representations of the world that's being portrayed, kind of an extension of the basic (and necessary) practice of representing whatever languages the characters would be speaking as our own language. (For one way that in particular was carried off, and worked for me to add depth to this exercise in world-building, see my post here.) But ultimately I've gotten past that and am able to appreciate the show for what it is, one of the best science fiction TV shows ever. I think it would hold up very well to another watch-through now that I know (even better than I did this time) where it's all going. And if BBC America (or another channel) does give it another such showing, at a nice, steady pace of one or two episodes a week, I may try it. At four seasons – somewhere around eighty episodes – it's more than I'm going to invest in to buy the DVD set because I figure there's little likelihood of me making the commitment to watching it through of my own volition (especially since, at least for now, it's available on Netflix streaming if I do take a notion). If it's coming on a channel that will automatically pace me, I would, however.

Anyway, I just wanted to get some thoughts on the series down now that it's wrapped up. It's not perfect – what is, in this fallen world of ours? – and I don't think they had a clear plan at the beginning as to how they wanted the story to play out. But they did manage to pull most of the strings together in the end, leaving just enough unanswered questions to keep me thinking about it, as well as an ambiguous ending as to whether we are indeed heading down the same road toward man vs. machine conflict that has, they postulate, happened before. The overarching plot is, in the end, extremely complex even though it's laid out pretty succinctly in one of the last half-dozen episodes, and even then is easier to comprehend via a flow chart. Literally. Luckily, someone in the world of fandom has provided that:
Created by Billy Ray Stevens, Jr. Image from here.
Another resource I found invaluable in keeping things straight as I watched through the series – although you necessarily will have plot points spoiled if you consult it now – is the Battlestar Wiki. Looking at that page just now I see the news item, “BBC America is presently airing episodes of the Re-imagined Series beginning every Sunday at 7 PM,” which may mean they are wrapping back to the beginning and moving it from Saturday evening to Sunday evening. I also see that “CGI Supervisor Doug Drexler reports the special effects for Blood and Chrome are finished.” Blood and Chrome is a second prequel series to the Re-imagined Series, set during the first Cylon War and centering on a young William Adama. Perhaps it will be more successful than the first prequel series, Caprica, which I have never seen but lasted only about half a season or so. I have no idea how recently either of those items may have been posted, but it is good to know that there may be an opportunity for continued adventures in this universe, although I imagine they pretty much shot their wad as far as any kind of overarching mythology goes. And Blood and Chrome may well suffer from that. Time will tell.

One point in the finale that I do want to address. I think the postulated rationale for Colonial humanity's so willingly giving up all but the rudiments of their technology and settling down on the new Earth was quite weak, simply that it was time for a new beginning, a "clean slate."  A far better reason was actually set up and could have been rounded off with a line or two of dialogue. I'm being a bit vague on this since I don't want to give away too specific a plot point, but suffice it to say that there are still Cylons out there. Although they have reason to hope that the Cylon Centurions they know about may not be coming for them, there's no assurance of that – Adama himself says it's a “risk,” albeit one “worth taking.” Better not to draw attention to themselves with a fleet hanging in orbit, or too advanced tech evident on the surface. And there may be still other Cylons out there that they don't know about, with no reason whatsoever not to be coming for them. Especially in that case it would be best not to call attention to themselves. Hence the dramatic end to the grand old lady and the fleet, flying into the sun as in my post image above. I just wish a line or two had been inserted to that effect. It's a minor point, however.

In any case, I consider the time I spent over the past months watching this new Battlestar Galactica time well spent.


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