Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Admiral Adama's New Clothes

From Kolchak:

There's one in every crowd...and, this time, it looks like I'm going to be the one.

Battlestar Galactica is back on the SciFi Channel, with the first half of its fourth and last season. The show is regularly praised as the best dramatic series on television, regardless of genre. Even the writers at, who have apparently never met a snarky remark they didn't like, didn't include BSG in its recent poll of overrated sf shows.

All of this is pretty impressive, but I've never been able to join this particular choir. The charm of the new BSG has, in general, eluded me. For a while, I was intrigued by how the creative staff had turned a show that could charitably be called an oddity into something serious. But then I started noticing things...

My biggest problem with the new BSG is the new visualization of the Cylons. As I understand it, there are now Cylons who are indistinguishable from human beings. The original Cylons have been producing these organic models for 20, maybe 40, years, since the end of the first war with humanity. To be able to do that would require some major upgrades in technology, I think.

The real question here, though, is not how the Cylons do it, but why do they do it.It apparently has something to do with the Cylons finding God. Or a god. (Why would the Cylons acknowledge anything as a god, anyway?) But that's all I can tell you. Maybe that's all any viewer can tell you. And I certainly can't tell you why the Cylon god or the new organic Cylons ordered a new invasion of the Twelve Colonies.

Another thing about the organic Cylons is that they come in sets. Each of them have several duplicates. Why? Don't ask me. Nothing I've seen suggests any sort of link between members of a set/litter/clutch/whatever. No telepathy, no shared knowledge, no group mind.

By the way, a lot of statements in the piece are going to be qualified with words like "apparently" and "As I understand it." I've not seen every episode, and, at this point, I don't plan to. I've seen the first dozen or so episodes in the weekly series; the occupation of New Caprica and about a half-dozen miscellaneous episodes. I think that's a fair sampling, but there are probably going to be people who think otherwise.

The other problems I have with the new BSG are harder to explain. They deal more with feelings and impressions, rather than story logic. But I think they're worth talking about.

Battlestar Galactica is a dark, depressing show. It presents a universe where mankind is totally at the mercy of forces beyond its control, where the best you can hope for is to stay alive and keep running. Some people say this is a needed antidote to the Star Trek universe and maybe it is. However, it doesn't make a show that I want to watch every week.

The protagonists of Firefly andFarscape are the bottom of the social ladders in their respective universes, but they still win, from time to time. Even when the characters are behaving outrageously (Chiana sleeping with both D'Argo and his son in Farscape) they're still interesting, and understandable. I've never gotten that from "Galactica."

The show has been praised for its political commentary, but I have mixed feelings about it. I did like the occupation of New Caprica arc, but I thought the episode where abortion was outlawed on the Colonial Fleet was nonsensical, particularly since the decision to prohibit abortions was based on a study of population trends in the fleet that was pulled out of the air for this episode. At least one reviewer has said that choices like this proves BSG's willingness to question the sacred cows of both the right and the left.

To me, though, it just seems inconsistent, and sloppy.

All of this may just boil down to one idea: BSG takes itself too seriously. I remember reading one of the BSG producers saying that the show was more serious and realistic than any of the Star Trek shows. (I think the speaker was David Eick, but I can't swear to it now.) I still remember the line because, within a few days of reading it, I saw an episode of BSG that featured a catfight between the new Starbuck and one of the organic Cylon women. I have no real problems with staging catfights,. but I do have a problem when someone tries to label them serious science fiction.

1 comment:

handdrummer said...

For what it's worth, I agree with Kolchak.

I find the mythical cloaking of the war on terror that is the core of BG to be as offensive and distracting as the romantic reiteration of the tragedy of the Myth of Southron Betrayal is in Firefly.

Both are fairy tales told to us for political purposes. Both are calculated distortions of the truth that have agendas far beyond the telling of a story.