That’s What We Like: Battlestar Galactica

Rather than fight over who was going to get to like the Best Show on Television on the day of the premiere of its much-anticipated third season, we figured that we would split the duties. We are nothing if not democratic at Medialoper.

This isn’t quite an oral history, but just like oral histories, when you put it together, it hopefully gives you a well-rounded view of just what makes Battlestar Galactica so fracking awesome. Note: we’ve just gone ahead and spoiled Seasons One and Two because, well, we believe you should have watched them already anyway. And even if we give something away that we shouldn’t, it won’t matter — as they say, it’s all in the execution. And our beloved Battlestar executes in the best possible way.

Kassia: Here’s how it went down. Because I live in a low-TV household, I TiVoed the mini-series and watched it under the cover of darkness. My first reaction was, “Man, Starbuck sure has changed since I was a kid.” My second was, “I gotta get me more that.” Of course, the getting took some time, and when the series was launched, I faced another dilemma: a spouse who didn’t embrace the sci-fi magic as he should.

Luck came in the form of Spring Training. While the boys were in Arizona going to bed early (yeah, really, they could barely stay up past nine), I was in California doing a Battlestar Galactica marathon (Rox, I know I said I’d call that weekend, now you know why I didn’t). Gods bless TiVo! I don’t think I left the couch except to open a bottle of wine.

Jim: Well, Spring Training was worth it, even if Rox got the overall short end of that deal. Anyways, Rox and I totally ignored it at first. C’mon! Battlestar Galactica? I knew that song, and it sucked. But the early buzz was too much, and on the 4th of July, 2005, we taped a Sci-Fi marathon of the first season, and started with “33.” Holy Frack! Before it was half over we realized that it was perhaps the best pilot episode we’d ever seen. For anything. It was perfect in that it immersed newbies like us into this already lived-in world, yet at the same time set the tone for the entire first season.

Kassia: That’s sad that it took you so long, but I understand (even if it meant we had limited conversational topics). And you did pick an excellent episode to start your addiction with. Even if you weren’t up-to-speed on the story, the harrowing series of jumps timed so perfectly, so exhaustingly, would draw you in. I’m going to let you two talk about what you like best about the series before I start on one of my favorite topics: strong women in good roles!

Jim: I love the moral ambiguity of the situations they set up. For example, at the beginning of the second season we were treated to an impossible choice of who to root for: the military leader who had essentially staged a coup or the civilian leader who was following religion more than logic. Meanwhile, by the end of the season, the “good guys” had a choice of either retaining power by dubious means, which we desperately wanted them to do because, well, they’re the “good guys,” or following the rules and give up power to a half crazy, dangerous incompetent.

Rox: Anytime Adama & Roslin are on the screen together. The characters and the actors portraying them are amazing. I would probably watch even if the entire show was just the two of them talking.

Kassia: It is incredible chemistry, isn’t it? The scene where he gave her the book was so sweet, but so wonderful. It’s great to see mature adults who are flawed and intelligent. Adama and Roslin have such divergent beliefs — she’s found religion, quite literally, while he’s more of pragmatic type. Yet even when he thinks she’s gone off the deep end, endangering the mission in the process, he tries to save her. My romantic soul loves this sort of thing. It’s much more satisfying to see grown-ups in a, well, relationship without the coy sparring and false conflict that infects so many other series.

Rox: Yes! And that scene where she’s obviously feeling terrible and he takes her by complete surprise and lightly kisses her. Amazing! Her reaction was priceless. I think I remember reading somewhere that that wasn’t in the script but i could be wrong about that. However, it really felt like it just came out of the moment. They work so well together.

Jim: It was off-script. No way they would have scripted it, because it probably would have looked cheesy on paper: it was all in the timing and execution by Olmos and then McDonnell. Speaking of something that works way better in execution than it probably seems on paper: Baltar/Six. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that they also have the best music on the entire show. I love the haunting and lovely Baltar/Six theme, that one ominious piano note, repeating slightly off time.

(Kassia and Rox: [trying to avoid making obvious comments about Jim and slightly off time].)

Jim: If Rox could watch the Roslin/Adama show, I’m not sure that I wouldn’t watch just the Six/Baltar show. Especially because the Baltar who haunts Caprica Six is so totally different from the “real” Baltar: cool, suave and self-assured. Hee.

Rox: It is a lot of fun to watch Baltar as he stuggles to keep up with what’s going on around him while having Six whispering in his ear.

Kassia: You know what they say about the fine line between nuts and crazy. As one who is old enough to remember the original BG, the first Cylons were cheesy StormTrooper clones. In this version of the series (and who thought that they could make such a fantastic series from such fluff? Oh, right, see: Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, movie versus TV show.), the Cylons walk among us, quite literally. And not quite literally. Six is a figment of Baltar’s imagination, yet his encounters with her, especially at first, are so real that the viewer is stunned to realize she’s not there.

Except when she is — not only was she “real” in the pilot, but the Cylons only have a limited number of models. The Six model is, quite practically, repeated multiple times. This allows Gaius Baltar, the ultimate narcissist to understand the pain of others and the torture of love. Even as one model of Six is whispering sexily in his mind, another Six is being systematically tortured. And Boomer — Sharon — the fighter pilot/Cylon, is somehow able to give birth. And she, like Six, like others, feels a breadth of emotions.

Jim: That was probably the best move that they did: making the Cylons more human than humans. And it led to probably the most universal BSG fanwank game: “Spot the Cylon.”

Spoooooot The Cylonnnnnnn! There are, of course, 12 models. 7 have been revealed: Six, Boomer, Evil Kevin Spacey, Leoben, Creepy Doctor, Xena, and The Rev. Dean Stockwell. My vote for the other 5 are: Gaeta, Ellen Tigh, Tory (Roslin’s wonderfully-named Billy replacement who tried to GOP the election), Maya (the girl from Eureka who ended up with the cybrid baby — oh sweet irony!), and, er, um, Kirk*. Oh, and in a DVD outtake — which makes it off-canon, I guess — Six calls the baby “Thirteen.” Which is awesome on a whole bunch of different levels.

For evil killer robots who seemingly want to destroy humanity, the Cylons sure are likable. And kind of fun. I mean, when they aren’t trying to destroy and/or enslave humanity.

Kassia: Okay, Evil Kevin Spacey is not the official name of the model. And no way is Gaeta a Cylon. You saw the episode where he, uh, cut loose. Gaeta was, in my opinion, the most underused character in Season Two. I really missed him. I was a bit whiny on the Gaeta issue, if you want to know the truth.

Getting back to your point, it’s because, even though they’re deadly intent on their purpose and steadfast in their belief in God, the Cylons aren’t in a life-or-death struggle. They understand the cycle of life far better than the humans. Plus, being heroic is so, well, stiff-upper-lip. Being bad is much more fun. I’d rather be bad, wouldn’t you?

Jim: Speaking of being bad, if the downloading process means that Cylons can live forever, do they believe in an afterlife? I mean, why would they? If not, then what does their conception of God actually gain them without the promise of eternal bliss in His presence?

Kassia: Serenity, Jim, serenity. Oh wait, sorry, that’s another topic for another day.

Rox: I love the fact that they are completely unafraid to go to those dark places that a lot of shows avoid. Take Billy, for example, a character that we grew to love for his loyalty, his ideals and because he stands up for his principles, even against the President, who he clearly adores but doesn’t always agree with. He gets his heart broken by Dualla, so you’d think that would be the extent of his bad week. Nope. By the time the episode ends, he’s killed trying to save her in a botched hostage situation. I couldn’t believe it. How could they kill Billy? And Roslin’s reaction when she views his body in the morgue. I’m just speechless.

Jim: I’ve spent my whole life reading sci-fi books, watching sci-fi movies, watching sci-fi tv shows, including the original craptastic Battlestar Galactica, and nothing, not even Heinlein’s Future History or Star Trek’s Next Generation comes close to sustaining such a level of quality over such a period of time.

Here’s a question: what if New Caprica is Earth? Though I don’t think we’ll see a half destroyed Statue of Liberty to find out one way or the other.

Kassia: Please, no Statues of Liberty. Or other earthly icons. Okay, maybe the Taj Mahal. That hasn’t been overdone. Or Budokan. That would be a nice homage to the 70’s. I don’t want New Caprica to be Earth because that would be the ultimate cliche and this series has avoided serious cliche territory. It skirts it, but, as Rox noted above, then they go and off Billy, and, man, I am still steaming about that. I loved Billy, even if he was involved in a dull old romance; his scenes with Roslin — can we agree that Mary McDonnell could make a phone book look like a highly trained actor? — were just brilliant.

Jim: I agree with you about the earthly icons. Even things like music — Kara’s father’s piano music and that bad industrial metal music that post-resurrected Sharon was playing in her apartment — and cigarettes can take me right out of the plot. And cars. Especially the cars on Caprica. The personal transportation system that looks like that just seems so specific to our civilization.

Rox: I knew you would complain about the cars!

Jim: Stupid cars.

Kassia: Kids!!!

Rox: One word. Pegasus. When they decided to bring Pegasus and Admiral Cain into the already muddled fleet, the show really went to another level. Watching Cain and her crew welcome the Galactica back to the colonial fleet set up a series of events that changed everything. We got to see the other side of the fine line that Adama and Roslin and the rest of the fleet had been walking. Their treatment of their Cylon prisoner. Their completely different view of civilians. The complete wartime attitude that was behind every decision made on the Pegasus as opposed to Roslin’s and Adama’s focus on survival. It shows us that maybe Boomer is right. Maybe the human race doesn’t deserve to survive. But, by the same standards, neither do the Cylons.

Kassia: Being me, I would be remiss if I didn’t get all feminist on you all. Back in the day, Starbuck was played by Dirk Benedict (while Apollo was Richard Hatch, who may have resurrected his career in what I think may be the best, most diabolical homage in the history of television…take that, William Shatner!). In keeping with the Star Wars-esque quality of the original series, Starbuck was the Han Solo character: wise-cracking, a bit rebellious, always able to get the job done (also, male). Apollo, burdened by the fact that his father (then, Lorne Greene) was in charge was all serious and, well, dull as hell. We should mention that this Apollo is nothing at all like Apollo 1.

Jim: Gods, I hated that show: I was the target audience — Sci-Fi loving male teenager with a deep love for Stars Wars and Trek — and I h-a-t-e-d hated that show.

Kassia: So, yeah, I was skeptical when I learned that the new Starbuck was, gasp!, a woman. And, I think in the mini-series, Katee Sackhoff was trying to find her character’s footing. This Starbuck fights, cheats, drinks, and has casual affairs. She is who she is, flaws and all. And like all of the female characters on this series, her gender is not, at any juncture, an issue.

Jim: Starbuck rules, on every level. The way that they’ve shown her beginning to mature even as she still wants to swashbuckle, is totally realistic. The End Of The World, as well as actual responsibilities, will do that to you. Being irresponsible is fun, being responsible sucks. Until one day, when it doesn’t suck so much, because you’ve actually gotten shit done for once. So you can almost watch her grow up, scene by scene, frame by frame, into a future leader that will rival Adama or Roslin. Or — if things go in another direction — Cain. Either way, while it’s slow and full of backsliding, it’s there and if she lives, she’ll end up formidable in a way that Apollo can only dream of, because his irresponsbility always has a purpose.

Kassia: Across the board, the women, human and Cylon, in this series are as flawed and as strong as the men.

Rox: I completely agree. Heroism, moral ambiguity, poor decisions, luck…all of these are seen in both the men and women of Galactica.

Kassia: Though, in all fairness, I’d probably give cool points to the female Cylons. Lucy Lawless is awesome. Sorry, it’s true. Even Kirk would say so. If he knew who Lucy Lawless was. I think one of the greatest aspects of this series is that its focus on the strengths and weaknesses of our species is so complete. We are flawed. We believe stupid, incomprehensible things, we chase dreams, we fight even when we should be surrendering. And, most importantly, we know in our hearts that the line between good and evil isn’t quite as clear as we’d like to believe. Jim called it moral ambiguity. It’s also individuality.

Jim: So say we all.

*Originally, this said, “A Player to Be Named Later,” which was a lame joke. However, since this post went up, new evidence has come to light — for example, he has completely bonded with the Scooba that he and Kassia purchased — that leads me to suspect that Kirk is a Cylon, so I changed the post. After I had that realization, so many things clicked into place: no wonder Kirk’s never really liked Science Fiction: he’s Science Fact. And to those of you who say, “Kirk is a real person, and Battlestar Galactica is just a TV show,” I can only respond, “or is it?” Yeah, it is. But still, I’m just sayin’ . . .

6 Responses to “That’s What We Like: Battlestar Galactica”

  1. Flo says:

    Lucy Lawless is great, I’m glad she is on this show.


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