Sunday, March 22, 2009
When I was a kid I used to watch a TV show called "Battlestar Galactica." I don't remember exactly how old I was when I first got hooked on the show since I caught it in repeats on Saturday mornings in which it aired back-to-back with "Buck Rodgers." If you had asked me back then I would have told you that I preferred "Buck Rodgers" because the bright colored spandex and featured guest stars (I do remember Gary Coleman making an appearance) appealed to my adolescent tastes. If you asked me as an adult I would have probably told you that "Battlestar" was the better show but I wouldn't have called it exceptional. That is, until Ronald Moore and David Eick got their creative mitts on it. I have mixed feelings about remakes. Some ideas deserve a second chance but how do you put your finger on what ideas should have been let go after the first attempt? It wouldn't have occurred to me to take a show like "Battlestar Galactica" and attempt to re-imagine it, and yet, it worked. Very well. In 2003 the Sci-Fi Channel aired the first "Battlestar Galactica" mini-series and like so many people I was completely blown away. I had some reservations (Starbuck-- a girl?) while other modern adaptations (the Cylons look human now?) seemed really right somehow. "Battlestar Galactica" defied stereotypes I had about series television. The cast alone, including Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnel was incredible and newcomers Katee Sackhoff and Tricia Helfer have certainly seen their careers spring-boarded onto a whole new level-- deservedly so. The show was also a lot darker than anything I had ever seen before on television, both in mood and setting; which makes sense because we are talking about the virtual annihilation of the human race. For those who haven't seen the show and wonder what all the fuss is about I can only give you my personal perspective. The show wasn't perfect but it was certainly above average from a storytelling and character perspective. Even the special effects were pretty darned impressive for television. But as I sit here writing this, trying to figure out what I would want people to know about this show, I don't find myself going back to just the storyline or the special effects. I find myself going back to the characters. As Ronald Moore said in "The Last Frakking Special," it's the characters stupid. The new BSG was divided along two groups, humanity and the Cylons, and the struggle among the two groups for survival. The original show featured self-aware machines but still needed a human character on the Cylon's side so we could relate. The new show went to another level by having the Cylons evolve into cyborgs that are virtually indistinguishable from humanity and that ends up central to both the show's conflicts and its resolution. Humanity is reduced to a very small fraction of survivors that have to get along in order to live until they find Earth and that struggle is often less than heroic. The Cylons appear to bent on fully destroying the human race but like many things, that agenda evolves as the Cylons realize that they may need the human race for their own survival. Despite the scope of the story, the show still rests on the shoulders of the characters, not any kind of battle scenes or special effects. From Cylons like the seductive Caprica Six and the conflicted Sharon Valerii, to Starbuck, Apollo, Admiral Adama and Laura Roslin... the progress of the show is through their stories. Through the twist and turns over the show's 4 season run I have both loved and hated the show because that's the kind of emotions the writing evokes. A lot of emotion came from simply not knowing where the show was going, and further, not knowing if the writers knew where the show was going. But through it all, I hung in because the show still managed to find something special in all the confusion. Episodes like Scar take us off on a side-trip in the surreal as we learn that the Cylon raiders have a consciousness all their own and a desire to destroy. Fragged illustrates how easy the chain of command can fall and how it can have disastrous consequences for all-- while the Resurrection Ship episodes show how such extreme pressure on a commander can break ones psyche entirely. Whether you felt each episode kept up a certain level of quality or not, you had to appreciate that the show continued to bring something special each week and it was with that feeling in mind that I sat down to watch the finale last Friday. Saying goodbye is hard when you've enjoyed something as much as I have enjoyed BSG. The story arcs of characters like Kara Thrace, Caprica Six, and Gaius Baltar have been surprising and full of far more depth than I could have originally imagined. Plot devices that I thought I wouldn't like, such as Ellen Tigh being the final Cylon, brought more satisfaction than I could ever have expected. But the shows' creators said the show had to end and they promised "all would be revealed." Was it? Well, sort of. The end of BSG was in many ways as much of an enigma as the all the story lines that twisted their way through the series. The first half of the finale was as gritty, dark and violent as the rest of the last season and then it segues into a dreamy, pastoral setting that seems as disjointed as it does peaceful. Characters that had been clustered together in confined spaces aboard a Battlestar suddenly find themselves with a world to spread out in and they choose isolation rather than civilization and it seems...odd. It's also hard to qualify some elements of the last show because of the mystical elements that have been brought in. Do we view the climax as fate or as a deus ex machina shortcut? It all depends on personal perspective I suppose. The only thing I know for sure is that it is with a bittersweet feeling that I bid farewell to my favorite show. It's not a final goodbye since there is at least one BSG movie set to air (from the Cylon's p.o.v) but the umbilical has been cut and I have to let go; no matter how much I don't want to. So...goodbye my dark, demented friend. I'll miss you.