March 31, 2008
It's no secret I'm crazy for SciFi's Battlestar Galactica series. Battlestar is easily the best show currently on television, and I'd be hard pressed to name anything from the past that even remotely compares. Way back in the day, when ABC first released the original Battlestar in 1978, the show was widely derided as an impoverished Stars Wars copy. There was perhaps an element of truth to that assertion, but the show also had an undeniably catchy premise and characters. Sure, the Cylons were kind of pitiful villains, but the special effects were groundbreaking at the time, and many of us youngsters positively fell in love with the show, corny or not.
Cut to 2003, when we learned SciFi channel was going to "reimagine" the show as an original miniseries Who, I ask you, could have ever imagined just how gripping the result would be. At the time, I believe SciFi's most popular original show was Stargate, which was generally okay as off-network television went—which was hardly a high standard to meet.
What's funny about the SciFi miniseries is how perfect an ambush it was. Like the Cylon attack on the twelve colonies, it came out of nowhere and took no prisoners. For starters, the show was uncommonly dark. From the artwork to the lighting to the cinematography, music, and writing, this was science fiction Noir gone exponential. This was no remake of the original series—this was an original concept in itself, yet somehow infused with the best of the original series.
The miniseries began with the decommissioning ceremony of the Battlestar Galactica, and the impending retirement of Commander Adama. Crusty old bastard that he is, Adama has refused to allow networked computers on his ship. Consequently the old battlestar is now on the verge of becoming a museum piece (the music the band plays during the ceremony is the original show's theme song—a very nice touch). During the Cylon attack, which is preceeded by a computer virus which wipes out the newer fleet's ability to fight back, the Galactica is the only capital ship capable of fighting. It is the only capital ship that survives.
This blend of high and low technology makes for a surprising and always human juxtaposition. It is easy, as a viewer, to picture yourself living on the Galactica. The technology is old and familiar. Doors don't 'whoosh' automatically as you near. They've got clanky, squeaky, sub-style hatches that occasionally stick. The com radio looks like a classic old microphone from 1950's radio.
The miniseries was also deeply relevant to its era. The Iraq War and the War on Terror, technology, paranoia: the shows themes played directly upon our larger fears and concerns. And the writing...the writing was brilliant.
Not brilliant by the standards of a tv show, but brilliant in a way that wouldn't be apparent until after SciFi Channel picked up the series, and the show was well into its second year.
Watching season one was like attending a high-wire act. Each episode somehow raised the stakes, managing to stun and surprise the viewer with twists that were both wholly logical yet wholly unpredictable. When that magnificent first season finally ended, I found myself rather wistfully wishing that the series would be cancelled. I knew it was impossible for the show to maintain such an unprecedented level of excellence, and I hated to see the show devolve into the usual mess of contrived plot twists and silliness. Still, season one had been truly special. No matter what happened, I reasoned, they could never take that away.
The show was not canceled, obviously. And season two did manage the impossible: it was better than the first year. At the start of every episode, a narrator informs us that the Cylons have a plan. The show's creators, David Eick and Ronald D. Moore, have a plan also, and in season two, it became apparent that they had mapped out the path of the series from start to finish from before the time they began filming the miniseries. That level of planning and discipline is unheard of in network television.
Not only did they have a plan, it was a good one—and they stuck to it as if they were in a race. The show never stopped to pad time with empty episodes. Unlike Lost, for example (argh!! Don't get me started on Lost!), Battlestar kept events moving along with shocking alacrity. In two seasons, the story moved farther than most series do in their entire lifetimes.
In season two, we see moments in which something innocent that happened all the way back in the miniseries becomes relevant to what's happening in the present. The show's gorgeous architecture became apparent here, and during the following season, began hinting at the outlines of a potent mystery: the hidden connections between Cylons, Humans, and "God".
Well, once again, I don't see how the last and final season of Battlestar can continue to maintain such an incredible level of writing quality. And can the show really deliver a satisfying finale? After what Battlestar has accomplished so far, I wouldn't bet against it. It's time for the plan to be revealed.