Battlestar Galactica, round 2 (2007)
Ah, another quaintly named “weblog”, written around the time of Death Ray 09. It’s interesting to re-read my own speculations on the finale of BSG at that point. I was wrong, naturally.
If you recall, back in May I wrote about the mini-series and first season of Battlestar Galactica. To recap, my main objection to it was the seeming total abandonment of the original show’s driving concept of exodus – flight from a hostile enemy under great duress, which was replaced by overcomplicated attempts to give the show contemporary relevancy. We could also see, through the Cylons, that Americans believe that everyone else subconsciously wants to be American, and problems between the Colonials (the American analogue group) and the Cylons (outsiders) stemmed from the Cylons not knowing how to be more like the Colonials, or failing to see the inherent superiority of the first group’s culture. This naive and patronising strand I believe is common to much US TV SF – look at poor old Worf in Star Trek, for example.
This of course was tempered by the many good things about the show, and you may or may not remember that I was mainly put out because the series had been over-hyped to me before I saw it.
As promised, here are my thoughts on Battlestar Galactica series two.
Okay. Season two is far, far better. There’s less zipping back home to Caprica to check they’ve turned the oven off, there’s less about god, which was a good idea but overplayed. There’s more focus on the problems of running an enormous fleet of refugees. I even rate the derided episode “Black Market”, oh yes.
Basically, everything that was good about the first season – the character interplay, the politicking, the effects, the action – is if anything better than the first series. The inclusion of the Pegasus and all the additional problems that it brings with it – a differing ethos, the struggle between old loyalties and the Colonial’s new situation – was masterfully done.
The Cylons especially have come along a great deal. Although it was absolutely necessary to cast them in an arrogant, superior light in the first season in order to accentuate their doubts and very human fears in the second, it could have been done differently. It has been a nice touch to present the Cylons as wanting to be Americ… human so they could do the job better, but it was not well executed – they had cut-and-paste cultural differences (which stopped them from being proper Americans).
This season the Cylons inevitably come across as far more complex, but not so inevitably as far less human. They now have weight as thinking, feeling, non-human creatures, complicating their relationships with the human characters way beyond the simplicities of revenge and religious and racial tension. As well the obvious sense of growing understanding between the two races, there’s also what seems to be a complex familial relationship developing. Moore and company probably set out to do this initially, but have only achieved it in the second series. To be fair to them, this success ameliorates some of the frustrating Cylon characterisation of season one.
Overall, the different thematic strands of Galactica now work much better together. One of the biggest weaknesses of the first series was the Caprica storyline. The ease with which the Starbuck was able to get home totally undermined the peril of the fleet’s supposedly long-distance journey. It felt that that the Galactica was parked just round the corner. In season two, they go back only once, and the perils of the journey are very apparent.
This results in a focus on the fleet’s journey, which makes the colonials’ experience more claustrophobic, and this in turn heightens everything about the show’s already tense personal interactions – for a long-running SF show like this is all about personal interaction – from the tussle for power between Adama and Cain, to the constant second-guessing of who might be a Cylon.
The only real “meh” moment in season two comes from the trip to Kobol element. Kobol’s ruins look fake, the planet’s significance is never really explained, and the quasi-mystical discovery of the star map feels out of place (the constellations would also look totally different on Kobol to when viewed on Earth, unlike those shown on the monoliths).
And then there’s the constant fretting in my head that, if the Colonials do make it to Earth, how are the production team going to deal with the Colonials basically being Americans in space… I can see why the use of modern US English language helps build empathy for the characters, and gets us away from easily mockable nonsense SF naming, but I predict some difficult writing for the production team when bringing this narrative tool into direct contact with the story itself. If done badly, it will blow all suspension of disbelief out of the water.
Jes disagrees, saying that this is a minor point that should be disregarded, but for me it is of crucial importance, and a poor handling of it could make a complete nonsense of the entire back story. [NB from 2013 – this handling of detail is something that I and Jes Bickham, currently editor of White Dwarf, often disagree on!]
I reckon, as a twist, that the colonies might have been founded from Earth, via Kobol, in the future. That might make a bit more sense. No-one ever said that the reimagining’s story was set in the present, did they?