Monday, September 26, 2011

In Which My Re-Watch of Battlestar: Galactica Doesn’t Go Well

The other night, guest blogger Jays and I whiled away a long wait at a metro station by chatting about about the problems with the new Battlestar: Galactica. I badgered him... I mean, gently encouraged him to write a post about it.


I admit it. I tried. I really, really tried. I got lost on this series the first time through, but back then I was in grad school, I didn't have cable, there was always a bar that I could go to and get drunk at instead, etc. etc. So when the entire library of Battlestar: Galactica got placed on instant watch on Netflix (Qwickster?) I decided to give it another try. Maybe now with more bandwidth in my brain, the show would be able to impress me more than it did the first time around.

Spoiler alert: no.

The show played out almost exactly as I remembered it. The miniseries? Awesome. The first season? Tense, riveting, dramatic. The second season? Moody, exciting, compelling. The third season? Um. Wait, what? The fourth season? Double-you. Tee. Eff.

It's no small thing for a show to write itself into a corner. Sci-fi shows in particular tend to suffer from this problem because the desire to showcase all the beautiful world-building the creators have put so much thought into often manifests in more characters and more plotlines than we really need to see as viewers. Before long, we've got needlessly complicated character interactions and histories and way too many "surprise" twists that were dreamed up in order to give us the next big shock. *insert Lost-coughing here*

I was hoping that a re-watch of BSG would maybe help me to feel less cheated by the show, less let down. The first time around, all that promise that the show started with just seems to collapse under its own weight. I was hoping that this time the story would be different. Sadly, this was not the case. The beginning was still strong as ever, don't get me wrong. The sense of dread and hopelessness pervading the start of the show is still palpable in every scene. The actors conduct little mini master classes in how to effectively show terror and futility and exhaustion all in one whiz-bang fighter pilot scene after another and the "Cylon attack of the week" trope is surprisingly sparingly used.

It's all handled with such a deft touch that you really feel it when, out of nowhere, the show trades in its more subtle metaphors about survival and how humanity deals with tragedy with a big old message stick they repeatedly whup you upside your head with the moment the Cylons begin occupying Iraq…er, I mean New Caprica… in season three. From there, it quickly descends into this weird mess of gooey, schlocky twists where instead of acting the way they were written for two years, characters suddenly take on new identities to fit the ever-meandering plot. Starbuck is a prophet! Number Six is in love with Colonel Tigh! And Lee Adama lectures everyone about how moral and upstanding he is. A lot. By the time the "Final Five" Cylons are revealed, it's hard to even care about their identities anymore because who or what they are is no longer compelling thanks to all the inconsistency in the other characters.

(Sidebar – something that's always bugged me about calling them the "final" five - it seems like a strange misnomer for the show to refer to these as the last ones, rather than the first, since the show clearly establishes that they were, in fact, the original Cylons. Well, okay not the original ones – the original ones were apparently made by humans hundreds of thousands of years ago, only to have both races almost kill each other and then start again with a new batch of humans that made a new batch of Cylons, apparently without knowing that their progenitors had done the same thing, but our Final Five were really there even though they don't remember being there because of some trick of plotting and …do you see what I mean about needlessly complicated?

The one thing that I will give the show, having had the benefit of watching it all together and seeing the entire series as a whole, is that it did on occasion do its job in seeding a plotline or an important point early on that came back in a significant way later. In watching the show over four years, some of the revelations about characters came as a complete about-face, whereas watching it in a more compact format you can see that that reveal was, in fact, rather solidly foreshadowed. The revelation about the true nature of "HeadSix" and "HeadBaltar" is a good example of this. On the whole, unfortunately, you get the impression of a show that came out of the gate with a solid premise and a polished production and creative team that became so convinced of its greatness that it fell on its face, much like a freshman quarterback face-planting on the two yard line just seconds before the end of the Big Game.

It's a lot like this. Only with robots.

By all means, do feel free to watch the entire series online. Fans will still be excited by the all the epic epicness going on for much of it. And despite the loopy writing, the show still had a complement of high-caliber actors who were able to deliver some extremely strong performances. Just be skeptical of the creators' claims that the show would re-invent the sci-fi genre. While it may have given new shows a template to follow in terms of presenting a more realistic version of the sci-fi trope of living on a spaceship, let's hope that whatever models come after this one are able to improve on their predecessors' failings.

1 comment:

Maggie Cats said...

Hmm...I seem to remember liking the season where they were on New Caprica. Things didn't really fall apart for me until the very end--basically when Starbuck when Jesus Christ Superstar. But I have never done a DVD rewatch...and now I am kind of scared to do it.