TV Show Review: Battlestar Galactica

I missed Battlestar Galactica when it was on the SciFi network originally. Too busy with school, work, etc. I was familiar with some of the advertisements for the series. Since I didn’t have much time, I made a quick evaluation. I betcha you can figure out what I thought when I read up on it.  Here, check it out for yourself:

Remind you of anything?

Remind you of anything?

It was an allusion to Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous work The Last Supper. I’m the type of guy who likes to keep science fiction and religion separate. At least, real life religions (Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc) away from science fiction.  Fantasy religions are pretty awesome (see DS-9 with the Prophets). But real life ones… it’s a personal thing, I guess. So I didn’t watch it. The series came up in conversation a few months ago between some online RP friends of mine, and I saw it was on Netflix, so I thought I would give it a try. I avoided as many reviews as I could so I would go in with a fresh perspective.

It wasn’t what I expected, I can tell you that right now,… and I mean that in the best way possible. The things that I loved about the series, I really loved. This series got so many things right that it is scary. The things that I hated about the series, I really hated. I’ve never seen a show where I felt like that, evoking a strong reaction.

The Good

1.  The Cast

The number one thing that this show did right was the casting choices.

Battlestar Galactica

That’s the first thing I noticed about this show. Every successful show requires a phenomenal cast, and this show had it in spades. Their roles couldn’t have been easy, as they had to play characters that were trying to cope with being in a stressful situation with no way to escape it outside of suicide. I don’t know how the actors managed to do that, but they managed to convey that stress in very convincing ways.

I think the best example of this can be seen when Anastasia Dualla committed suicide. That entire episode was emotionally painful. The crew found Earth and discovered it was a wasteland, not the paradise they were promised. It could never be their home. Their entire journey was a failure. Their faith was not rewarded. Kandyse McClure, the actress who played Dualla, captured the hopelessness of the situation. She was calm, almost serine. She came to terms with her situation and decided it was hopeless. So she made the best out of her last day and held on to the happy memory up until she blew her own head off.

McClure made that episode work. She had to sell the suicide as inevitable while showing her character as being happy being in the moment. That was a difficult line to walk. She did it so well, as Dualla was seemingly detached from the situation around her. Yes, the suicide felt like it came out of nowhere. It also felt somehow right, as if there was no other way it could have happened.

As a testament to the cast, I can honestly say that even the scenes I hated with a passion… I was drawn into because the actors did their jobs so well. How many shows can you say that about?

2.   The Soundtrack.

The soundtrack to this series was perfect. This right here is my favorite of the bunch. I had to share it. Had to. Close your eyes and listen. It carries so much intensity (starting around the 1 minute mark) that I knew the scene this was with had to be one of the most important in the series. Heck, if they played this while the cast was sipping coffee, I would have thought it was the most intense coffee drinking in the history of television.

3.  The Cylons.

Not the Final Five. I’m talking about the seven known models of humanoid Cylons as well as the variations on the machine Cylons.

5783c8d47120818bbb3414814c5c22ddThe seven Cylon models were genius. Absolute genius.  The Cylons weren’t just machines; they look like us. More so, they can think and act as if they are human. In fact, they are virtually indistinguishable from humans. And if that wasn’t enough, it was possible for Cylons to not even know they are Cylons! They can believe they are actually human until they are activated, making them the most dangerous enemies one can have. Well… that’s not entirely accurate. What makes them the most dangerous is that they could not be permanently killed. If you managed to kill one of them (or any Cylon for that matter), they download into a new body thanks to reincarnation technology.

These aren’t just seven Cylons. Each model has nearly infinite copies. Each of them have their own unique personalities. The actors were more than ready to live up to the challenge. I was blown away by it. The most prominent one to display this was Number 6 (played by the lovely Tricia Helfer). Number 6 had so many incarnations, it became difficult to keep up with them all.  I can assure you, each Number 6 was unique in her own way. Some of them were leaders. Others, more supportive. The most heartbreaking one was the rape-victim one. A Number 6 was captured on the Battlestar Pegasus and was brutally tortured and raped for infiltrating the ship and nearly destroying it. I don’t know how Helfer was able to bring out so much variety to Number 6, but it is a testament to her superior abilities as an actress.

Now, the Cylons.

cylon_vs_cylonYes, there was Cylon versus Cylon battles going on. And yes, even though I didn’t watch the original series… I fangasmed. The original Cylons showed up at the end of the series, so I think it was neat they were there. But that’s not what impressed me. There were Cylon ships (that looked like crescent moons) as well as foot soldiers. Their designs were intimidating, slick, and flat out cool. They could resurrect too. So if you killed one of the ships, the pilot would come back smarter. Same with the foot soldier. And guess what? They can go insane from all the resurrections as well. That was the story of one episode. A Cylon fighter ship that went insane and was trying to destroy many of the BSG’s fighters in a cat-and-mouse game. I cannot emphasize how freaking cool the Cylons are.

4.  They Never Explain the Technology

All that you need to know is that the technology works. The tech is never so far fetched that it requires an explanation. They can go faster than light thanks to their FTL drive. The Cylons resurrect thanks to their technology…they download into new bodies. They ships can easily turn in space! And they don’t explain how, they show the technology in such a way that it is easy to figure out. This way, all the attention remains on the story and action rather than on discussions on the technology.

The Bad

1.  The Overarching Plot – the Final Five

As much as I love the plot, and believe me I do… the Final Five is flat out stupid. There are five hidden Cylons called the Final Five. Four of the Five are somehow on the Galactica. And they ended up there, not according to anyone’s plans, but seemingly as a coincidence. I can accept one of them being on the Galactica without an explanation. But FOUR??? That’s a stretch. And do we get an explanation for them being there? Nope. We’re just told to accept they are there. So as if that’s not unlikely enough, the fifth member of the Final Five happened to be in the mountains while the nukes were falling and killing everyone. And he was able to get his hands on the medication to make sure he wouldn’t succumb to radiation poisoning. Pretty lucky he was found by a rescue party and brought to Galactica as well, eh? I would call it unlikely and deserving of a reasonable explanation.

final-five-cylons_lThe actors were great and they made it work really well. But there were way too many coincidences that had to have happened for them to have ended up on the Galactica. It felt like there had to have been some sort of plan in place to bring them together. The one who would have been most responsible would have been Number One, since he seemed most likely to be that sort of Machiavellian manipulator. But… he didn’t do it. So, guess who did?

2.  God

Whenever there was something unexplained, or some supernatural thing happened, it was God that did it. Not the Christian God (though it was HEAVILY implied it could be). Just… some sort of deity constantly referred to as God. While the lack of explanation worked with the technology, it didn’t work at all with God. It made what should have been understandable technology into something otherworldly. The series was strongest when it focused on the struggle for survival. Everything was intuitive on some level. But when you insert God, everything flies out the window.

  • Why were there shared visions between humans and Cylons? God.
  • Why did the Final Five survive the destruction of humanity and end up on the Galactica? God.
  • Why is Admiral Adama so freaking awesome? God.
  • Why was Starbuck still seemingly alive despite her dying when her ship exploded? God.
  • Why was Starbuck’s remains and ship found on Earth after it exploded inside the atmosphere of a gas giant? God.
  • Why did Baltar has visions of Number Six from the very beginning of the series? God.
  • Why did one of the Number Six’s have visions of Baltar? God.

So… rather than give a satisfying explanation for any of them (outside of Admiral Adama being so awesome), we are told that it was God that did it. I appreciate what they were trying to do, talking about an overarching cycle of birth and destruction that God was trying to break both the Cylons and humanity from. I get it. But it was terrible. And worse?

It wasn’t needed. Humanity could have easily found Earth following clues and myths. They could have found where they settled on in the end. They could have had the Final Five (with a reasonable explanation) and the resurrection technology still. Sure, the would have to have gotten rid of the shared vision (which the actors made work in the last episode), but that’s not a huge loss for me.

If the series would have stuck to its strengths and stayed a science fiction show rather than a quasi-religious show, that would have made it all far better.

3.  Baltar’s Visions.

battlestar_baltar_headsix

No. Just… no. After Baltar arrived on the Battlestar Galactica, he was grief-stricken from being responsible for handing over the codes to the Cylons, causing the near destruction of humanity. So when he started having visions of Number 6, the Cylon who tricked him, it was safe to assume he was having a psychotic break. She could have easily been the manifestation of his guilt. It would have been a satisfying answer to who she was. But…. she seemed to know things about the outside world that made it seem like she was a projection from the Cylons. Like he could have had something implanted within him to make him have these visions. And that would have worked as well. Of course the Cylons would want to keep in contact with him and bring him onto their side. He’s the smartest human alive. He could be a boon to their side.

But nope. She was an angel from God sent there to guide Baltar.

So we had two satisfying explanations. One of them would humanize Baltar and show complex ways of him dealing with his guilt. The other way showing how devious the Cylons were by manipulating his mind. Rather than go with either one… we get an angel instead.

Are you sure this is a science fiction show?

Yeah, the actors made it work. Believe me, they did. I was drawn in. But when I stopped to think about it, and you should try to think about it too, why was it necessary for her to be an angel? It then begs the question: who the hell was she?  She wasn’t a Cylon. So why did she look like one? Why did she show up only after Baltar made it to the Galactica? Why did she seemingly favor the Cylons for part of it? Why did she seem like she participated in killing humans? Why could she hurt Baltar? And don’t you dare say “because she was an angel.” She was physical enough to hurt him and lift him up. Someone should have run into her at some point. Not this pointless supernatural stuff. It works on shows like Buffy and Angel. It doesn’t work on a science fiction show where we expect everything to have an explanation (even of it is not given).

Let’s Wrap This Up

I’m getting a bit long winded. If you reached this far, thank you for reading this. So… do I recommend Battlestar Galactica. I’ll say yes, with reservations. As I said, the things the show did right, they did really right. The things they did wrong was painful, but the actors made it work. I know people who hated the show with a passion for the reasons I listed in the “bad” section. I know people who loved the show for the reasons I listed in the “good” section.

At the very least, the show is work a look. You won’t be disappointed in the mini-series that came before the TV series. Heck, you won’t be disappointed in the first couple of episodes.  Go and watch! Enjoy! Thank me later.

galactica

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6 comments on “TV Show Review: Battlestar Galactica

  1. Let me say up front – I am an atheist. I think there is no god. I am also a fan of good science fiction. Good science fiction comes in two forms. The first is that in which the story line is tight, with as few “holes” as possible. The second is that in which the story is simply told very well. BSG fails somewhat at the first, but excels at the latter. But is BSG science fiction, or is it just a story well-told?

    I think if you go into it expecting sci-fi, you may be disappointed, because you have expectations that are not met, or at least not met to your satisfaction. And if BSG is sci-fi that does not necessarily discount the potential for supernatural events. If you are religious and believe in supernatural events, then you must believe that they may happen in the future, as they have (allegedly) happened in the past. So there is no actual reason why a story set in the future (and therefore considered “sci-fi” because of imaginative technologies) can’t have a religious story (or a story about religion) to tell, religious motifs, or supernatural events. Indeed, if you’re religious and believe in the supernatural, you almost have to expect supernatural events in the future and such events in stories about the as yet unrealized future.

    I think you missed at least one of the main thrusts of BSG. It proposed several questions (quite literally, in some cases) about life, what it means to be alive, what it means to be human, and, most importantly, what is faith, how does it affect us and what we do (for those who do believe), and the implications of the existence of god, even for those who don’t believe (for example, Gaius Baltar). I read another review that had objections similar to yours – the author of the review concluded that BSG was poorly written overall, because in the end, it explained everything with “god did it.” But BSG did no such thing. From the start, it is a story about god, destiny, and fate. It’s authors interjected “god” and his machinations (usually through proxies) throughout the story. “God” as an explanation was not an afterthought of the authors in order to extricate themselves from a bad story. Although the literalness of this is hidden for most of the series (e.g., it’s not revealed who or what Baltar’s Six is until the very end), there are many clues, some of which you apparently missed and that were obviously missed by the other reviewer.

    For instance, in an early episode, Baltar is “framed” by a Six who claims to be human. This Six interacts with others and actually leaves behind physical evidence of her presence. The first time I watched BSG, I didn’t realize she was NOT a Cylon. In fact, she was Baltar’s “imaginary” Six. But this episode revealed (if you were paying attention, as I was the second time around) that Baltar’s Six wasn’t just in his head – she could manifest herself physically and interact with others. So obviously, she was not a Cylon, nor was she merely a figure of Baltar’s imagination. If the viewer realizes this, he begins to wonder, “Just what is she?” Baltar, if he had realized the two were the same, would have done the same thing, but I don’t think that it’s clear he makes the connection. His Six may even have left him with the impression that he was being framed by an actual Cylon. (I may be wrong here. I’ll pay more attention the third time I watch the episode.) Why did she appear only after the Cylon attack? One, because until the attack, Baltar had a real Six in his life. If his Six appeared to him while he was still dealing with the real (Caprica) Six, it would have led him to question the nature of both (how could another human manifest herself in his head?), and could have ruined the Cylon plan, a plan Baltar was fated to help bring to fruition. It would have also altered his reaction to the Six as she appears to him later. His confusion about the nature of his “imaginary” Six is critical to how she is able to manipulate him. Second, it was only after the attack that Baltar could have felt guilty about what he did, because until then he wasn’t aware of what he had done. Only at this time could a Six appear to him and play on that guilt for her own purposes. Enough about Baltar and his Six.

    Why did Starbuck’s Viper end up on “Earth” even though she was killed in the atmosphere of a gas giant? Well, the entire episode of her death was “supernatural.” The Cylon she was chasing wasn’t real. It must have been a vision that she was supposed to pursue unto her death. Why did she need to die? To make her Christ-like? To make her like Gandalf, sent back purified and stronger so that she could complete her life’s mission? The finding of the wreckage of her Viper (and her own mortal remains) may have been a necessary part of the process of forming her ability to face her own fate – she was led to question her own nature and wonder what it is that she had become. If the Cylon she was chasing was supernatural, then her death was intentionally caused by a supernatural agency. That same agency could put her Viper and her body wherever necessary for her to find it in order to make what may have been necessary changes in her psyche so she could fulfill her destiny. (And if that agency needs or wants the “final five” to be brought together, it will work to make circumstances such that the necessary happens. Part of the over-arching mythology of BSG is that “Everything has already happened, everything will happen again.” This was explicitly explained to mean that certain people have roles to play, and they play them over and over again. They are fated to do so. As Six would have said, “It’s all part of god’s plan.”)

    In the end, BSG was a story that raises questions about the human condition, human nature, fate, destiny, faith, confusion we have over our own identities, and what it means to be alive. (“Are you alive?” was a question asked by both Cylons of humans, and by humans of Cylons. The first Six we see asks that of a human emissary, and Starbuck asks the same question of the Leoben she interrogates.) It happened to have, as a setting for the story, speculative technologies. Does this make it sci-fi? And if it does, does that mean that it can’t, or shouldn’t have, told the story that it did, nor posed the questions that it posed? I think not. BSG can’t and shouldn’t be judged by comparison to other sci-fi. It is a story about human nature, relationships, and the difficulties we have coming to terms with out own circumstances, our lives, and our places in the world and the universe at large that just happened to be set off-planet and not in our time. It was a story that even as an atheist I found compelling, thought-provoking, and very well-told.

  2. I see from a synopsis of “The Plan” that Shelly Godfrey was an actual Six, put out of an airlock by the “Brother Cavil” One who is on board the Galactica. So Baltar’s “Head Six” must have made herself absent to make Baltar think that it was her (as I now know that Baltar did consider). Cavil blamed the failure of the Godfrey Six’s faked evidence to be because of the Six models’ affection for Baltar, developed by Caprica Six during her lengthy time with him on Caprica (Cylon models share some, if not all, memories with others of their own models.)

    Without knowing what is revealed in “The Plan,” one cannot know one way or the other whether or not Shelly is a Six, or Baltar’s Head Six, as the writers probably intended to viewers to be as confused as, and to speculate like, Baltar himself.

  3. It’s a pity “Caprica” the TV show has had only one season because there were treads that would lead to a greater explanation and could link all the Galactica”s” TV Shows : what part is real what is in the virtual world, what is the reality, what is an hybrid(at ion), is god the concept or and the gods the conceptors of an other reality, a myth, the plan might be a game… plan…
    Am I fantasying?

  4. Pingback: Can You Guess These TV Shows By Their Emojis | Sharing Interesting Stuff, Updates News & Free Tips

  5. Pingback: Can You Guess These TV Shows By Their Emojis? | Bullet Metro

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