Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? Well, it is. Take your fingers out of your ass and man (or woman) the fuck up. This ain’t your daddy’s science fiction. This is Battlestar Galactica, bitch.
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Battlestar Galactica began life as a very very shitty one-season wonder in the late 70s, a show clearly designed to capitalize on the Star Wars craze at the time. Those of you who watch Mystery Science Theater 3000 will notice that much of the exterior footage in Space Munity was borrowed from it. It came back as the even worse sequel series Galactica 1980 and then the franchise lay dormant, seemingly dead. And there was much rejoicing.
The idea of reviving the franchise had been kicked around for many, many years, most doggedly by Richard Hatch, who played Apollo in the original series. Which would be fine, except he lacked important things like a studio, a network, and money.
For a long time, it seemed like BSG would remain an obscure 70s TV show with a small cult following, and the people with any semblance of taste breathed a sigh of relief.
But then Ronald D Moore happened.
Ron Moore was a pretty frustrated guy in the early oughts. He had written for both Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. If there was a good Klingon episode, chances are Moore wrote it.
After DS9 ended in 1999, he tried to jump ship to work on Voyager. He wrote all of one episode before packing his bags and leaving, appalled at the bullshittery that was the Voyager writer’s room. I’ll save it for a future article, but let’s just say Voyager was a train wreck on both sides of the camera.
He then became attached to the Galactica project, and with his raging ballsack convinced Sci-Fi to greenlight a three hour miniseries, with the option to go to a weekly show if it was successful. Guess what happened?
I could write a whole article on the miniseries by itself, but I’m not going to because I am lazy. So it’s going in here. The BSG reboot miniseries broke all the rules. I know that sounds like a fuckin’ cliché, but it’s absolutely true. The tone was extremely different from the original series, there was a lot of violence, a lot of sex, and just this hopeless kind of atmosphere.
The story goes that humanity lives on a system of planets called the Twelve Colonies. About 50 years ago, they created themselves a race of robots, the Cylons. Over time, the Cylons got smarter and smarter, until they got sick of being treated like servile machines and fucked some shit up.
After a bloody war, the toasters blasted off to parts unknown to form their own civilization and were not seen or heard for 40 years. Just a pro tip, kids, the first Cylon war this refers to is not the original series. This BSG is in a separate continuity entirely.
But then the Cylons returned, only now, they’re no longer just chrome robotronics. They’re sexy.
The human-looking Cylon models have infiltrated the Twelve Colonies, and with the unwitting help of scientific genius Gaius Baltar, they deactivate the Colonial defense grid and infect the military computer networks with a virus giving them remote shutdown capabilities. It’s a complete slaughter and the toasters nuke the shit out of everything.
Galactica, meanwhile, is an old tub of shit left over from the first Cylon war, set to be decommissioned the day of the attacks. Since the Galactica is the Colonial equivalent of the shitmobile, its computer systems are too outdated to be affected by the Cylons’ fuckery and is the only ship able to fight back.
Secretary of Education Laura Roslin, who is by all accounts one sexy MILF was in transit to Galactica to give a speech at its decommissioning ceremony. She assumes the Presidency simply because everyone else is busy being seriously fucking dead.
On Galactica, Adama realizes it’s a losing battle, and together with Roslin, they gather up what civilians and ships they can. One of these civilians is Baltar, who begins having visions of the Cylon hottie up there in the red dress (Six), guiding his actions and telling him it’s all a part of God’s plan. It’s unclear if she’s a Cylon implant in his brain, if he’s just going fucking crazy, or something else entirely.
Anyway, there’s a big fight, everyone’s all holy shit our robots got sexy, and the ragtag fleet leaves the system.
Adama and Roslin agree that the government and military must be kept separate in an effort to preserve what’s left of democracy. At the memorial for the crew that lost their lives in the attacks, Adama surprises everyone by saying they’re headed for the mythical 13th colony, Earth.
He’s lying out his ass. Neither Adama nor Roslin have any idea where Earth is, or if it even exists, but they want to give the people hope.
The Cylons have a little meeting, revealing that one of Galactica’s pilots is a Cylon sleeper agent.
Fans of the original were outraged. How dare you be so grim? How dare you acknowledge that human beings like fucking? How the FUCK dare you make some formerly male characters women? This was to be expected, since fans, especially the kind who like awful 70s television always panic like a bunch of little bitches if something changes. Richard Hatch himself was not pleased at first, though he quickly changed his tune and became a recurring guest star.
Yeah, the fans were angry, but the critics and the general public disagreed. The viewership for the second part of the miniseries were higher than the first night. That doesn’t happen. Ever.
I’ll admit I was bored when I first saw the miniseries back in 2003, and didn’t bother watching when it went to a weekly series the following year. My father, Supreme Nerd of Canada, basically tied the family to the couch and made us watch the mini. I’m not sure what didn’t click in my 13-year old brain, or why I was such an idiot, but I didn’t care for it at the time.
For those of you who are stupid, yes, you do have to watch the miniseries if you plan to watch this show. It’s basically the fucking pilot, and it’s included on the season 1 DVD for a reason.
Season 1 begins in probably the most miserable way possible. The fleet is still on the run, relentlessly pursued by the Cylons, who appear without fail every 33 minutes. Everyone on board Galactica and in the civilian fleet have no time to rest or regroup. They’re sleep deprived, depressed, and generally pretty hopeless. Eventually, they’re gonna fuck up or be a little too slow, and the Cylons will just keep coming.
Not every episode is quite so bleak. It seems like they really wanted to hit you in the face with their misery-dongs right out of the gate, but Galactica is an unrelentingly dark series, and if you don’t like that, this isn’t the show for you. Come on, the story stars with the end of the world, for fuck’s sake. It’s also a character piece. There isn’t a space-fight every episode. This is a show about people dealing with isolation and stress and losing everything.
The focus early on is on how to survive in this situation, and how to preserve what’s left of society. Galactica, and by extension the fleet, has finite supplies. There are no replicators. You run out of food, water, or fuel, you are fucked. There is no one to help.
Not everybody gets along all the time, even if they’re friends. Lee and Kara don’t always get along, or Kara and Tigh, or well, just Kara and anybody, really. This is not the happy family of the Enterprise. The friction between the President and Adama and his doubts of her leadership capabilities is a running theme.
On top of that, Cylons look like people. We the audience know as of the end of the miniseries that there are only 12 different models of human-looking Cylons, but thus far, the Colonials only know what two of them look like, meaning anyone in the fleet could be a no good dirty rotten toaster.
Like Sharon here.
Actually, we follow two Sharons, one on Galactica who doesn’t know she’s a Cylon, and one back on Caprica. Caprica Sharon has joined up with Helo, Galactica Sharon’s copilot, who was left behind on Caprica in the miniseries, as he tries to find a way off the planet. Helo of course has no idea she’s a Cylon sent for some nefarious purpose.
It often seems like Battlestar is Ron Moore’s fuck-you to the way things were done on Voyager. Both shows have a similar premise of a small group of survivors alone in uncharted space, people who don’t really get along but are stuck with each other, looking for a way to Earth. Voyager pussied out of giving this premise as dark a treatment as it deserved. Battlestar delights in being as miserable as possible. Moore seems to use this show as a means to get away with everything the constraints of Star Trek wouldn’t let him do.
I like that BSG is not Star Trek. If you don’t watch a lot of science fiction TV, that might not seem like a big deal, but Trek has dominated the genre on television since the 60s. When BSG premiered, there had been Star Trek of some color or stripe on TV since 1987. And Star Trek has a formula most other sci-fi shows emulate.
There are no aliens. Everything in this show is human or human-made. There is little to no technobabble to solve all your problems. The Galactica humans are very similar to us. The uniforms are believable military uniforms, not fucking space pajamas. There are no shields. It’s not a subspace-communication device, it’s a fucking phone. With a goddamn cord. Instead of lasers and photon torpedoes, weapons on Galactica use bullets and nuclear warheads. Galactica is an aircraft carrier in space, and the show treats it like one.
The Colonials don’t always emerge victorious. Adama is not Kirk. He doesn’t instinctively know the right choice in every situation, and neither does Roslin, for that matter. Galactica is not the best and brightest of Starfleet, they’re a bunch of misfits on a rust-bucket. People make mistakes. Things go wrong. Stuff on the ship breaks.
It seems like a small thing, but these little details help the show feel more real. You know, if Captain Picard says “Oh, snap, Number One, them Borgs be phasering us all up in mah grill” you kinda go, oh, okay. But you sit up and pay attention when Adama talks about a fucking nuke.
It also helps you accept the things that are different more easily. And the differences are small. Paper and books have the corners clipped off, “frak” instead of “fuck”.
Also, unlike most of Trek (except DS9) things aren’t wrapped up neatly at the end of the hour, and we don’t just fly off to the next adventure. Every event, every injury, every bullet fired, every ship destroyed or damage sustained to Galactica carries through to the following episodes and will have consequences. You have to really follow along with this show.
The space battles avoid both the Star Trek convention of two naval vessels sitting there firing cannons at each other, and the Star Wars method of emulating Would War II dogfights. The Vipers might look a bit like X-Wings, but they are space vessels through and through, like Babylon 5‘s StarFuries. They make good use of the third dimension. Both Vipers and Cylon Raiders can flip over and turn in any direction, roll upside down, and behave like a vessel should in zero-G.
There is also a somewhat spiritual/mythic aspect of the show. “All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again” is an oft-repeated line. The Six in Baltar’s head talks to him about God’s plan, while the Colonials are polytheistic and worship the gods of ancient Rome. This aspect, while present throughout, doesn’t really come to the fore until the end of the season.
The special effects are gorgeous for a television budget. They’re done by Zoic, who also provided the special effects for Firefly. Their work is absolutely astonishing for the money they had, and in fact, they loved the series so much, they would often provide additional shots for free. If you look closely during the miniseries you can spot both Enterprise and Serenity amongst the fleet.
My only gripe isn’t even with the series itself, but rather with the network. As you can see, Battlestar Galactica is a show with a lot of characters and lots of pretty ships going boom. That costs money. If you’ve ever seen a Sci-Fi Original Movie you know that this network doesn’t have a ton of skrilla in they piggy bank. So, when the miniseries did well and they were faced with presenting Battlestar as a weekly drama, they decided to kill my beloved Farscape to free up room in the budget. Even though BSG is ultimately the better series, I will never forgive that.
There’s a lot of set up happening in Season 1, and the main story doesn’t really begin until the last few episodes. Even so it’s a refreshing experience in its own right, wrapping up with a cliffhanger that will make you want to start the next season immediately. I think you can enjoy it even if you’re not really a fan of science fiction, due to its more grounded, realistic world. If you want Next Generation you’re going to be disappointed. If you can handle a dark, intense show that doesn’t play by the TV rules you’re used to, give this a try. If you don’t, you’re a goddamn pussy and Farscape died in vain.