Reboot, Revive, Survive: Reviewing Season 1 of Battlestar Galactica
Why haven't you seen the re-boot of Battlestar Galactica already? And you're supposedly a big fan of Star Trek and especially Deep Space 9 yet you didn't watch Ronald D. Moore's Battlestar Galactica when it was on its television run? These are all valid questions that I don't have answers for. Though I did start watching the series when it first premiered and was enjoying it. Television however was still in the transition phase between what it used to be and what it has become today. Finding it difficult to keep track of on network television, I simply chose to wait and watch the show once it finished its run at my leisure and now I am, on blu-ray.
The series begins with two feature length episodes which are both an introduction to the series' main plot arc and essentially a sort of test pilot with a neat teaser. This kind of multi part test episode structure is now more common than single test pilots of old, especially with shows which have extended plot arcs rather than the isolated episodic reset button type.
The mini-series does two things well, it introduces all the main characters and details the history of the world we are entering. We learn that the Cylons were created by Humans but rebelled and after a long war, a sort of peace was found and the Cylons agreed to leave the colonies. The the opening scenes set a dark tone for what's ahead as a scheduled annual meeting between a Human and Cylon representative ends ominously and essentially we know that the peace will soon be over.
Meanwhile, the soon to be decommissioned Battlestar Galactica is headed home to become a museum. It's crew, clearly with a lot of history, had done their part for the human colonies many times over. Everyone looks weary and annoyed at the media presence during the decommissioning phase. The crew members are showing little regard for the rules as frolicking and fighting abound.
On Caprica, one of the twelve Colonies, represented by the Battlestar Galactica, a Human celebrity genius, Giaus, has been played the fool and allowed for the Cylons to access the Human defence systems. Quickly, everything goes to hell. It isn't a war, but a slaughter. Soon all the colonies are ruined and occupied and a small fleet of ships led by Battlestar Galactica is all that is left of the Human civilisation, some fifty thousand people.
A school teacher, the highest ranking political figure inherits the Presidency due to the amount of government deaths and the weary Battlestar Commander Adama are now leading the populace. The crew of Galactica become humanity's last hope for survival. Commander Adama instils hope within those that remain by telling them the myth of the thirteenth colony, a secret place, hidden from the Cylons, which he intends to lead his people, Earth.
Once season 1 really kicks off, we watch the military crew and civilian survives fight to maintain order and justice through the difficult time. With starvation, lack of fuel, political upheaval and Cylons on their tail, the character dynamics are never dull. Here, the style of the show takes on some familiar territory for those who are familiar with Ronald D. Moore's work on Star Trek, especially the latter seasons of Deep Space 9. The characters are all many shades of grey with secrets, hidden agendas, and uneasy loyalties. Gaius is perhaps the most extreme here, who with a mix of intellect and fortune survives death, incarceration and execution despite his crimes. He seems modelled on Dr. Bashir from Deep Space 9; intelligent, charming and slightly naive but where Bashir's core ideals and intentions are always good, Gaius is always leaning on the side of self preservation. The acting across the entire cast is top notch and Edward James Olmos leads the way with a perfect mix of external pride and power with inner demons and turmoil.
The shows charm comes from the fact that it can walk a fine line, having many characters who don't necessarily get along and always in the middle of a dangerous and stressful situation yet maintain their common goal of survival without it all becoming a farce. The first season is essentially all about survival. Surviving professional adversity, political turmoil, personal relationships and encounters with the Cylons while maintaining and re-building human culture. All this surviving is done at great cost to everyone, as difficult and ethically challenging decisions are made time and time again by those in charge.
Battlestar Galactica is a ten out of ten science fiction series with themes touching on natural selection, survival and also questions what it means to be human. The story essentially starts with the creation of the Cylons, who are far from a generic robot villain. They have evolved to the point where they are able to make themselves anatomically equal to and compatible with humans but with all the advantages of being machines. Had they been presented as simple, two dimensional terminator style machines, the show wouldn't be so engaging as their real threat lies not as adversaries but replacements, the next phase in human evolution.
Season 1 packs enough action sequences, science fiction concepts, dramatic twists, jaw-dropping cliff-hangers and human emotions to keep viewers engaged and wanting more. Where so many science fiction shows have failed, this one delivers. This is for fans of Ronald D. Moore's earlier multi-layered work and also those who just want a more action oriented science fiction fix. The action comes mainly from Wing Commander style space fighter action sequences which to the shows credit does a decent job on a budget to put on screen. The exterior space shots, though grandiose, can't much the quality of gritty interior set designs and are probably the one let down for me as all the ships look a little light and plastic as they zip through space, but this is a minor complaint seeing as the show is really about it's in-depth characters and their complex arcs.
Battlestar Galactica shows us, if you are going to re-boot of an old franchise, you take the core idea and build something which exceeds not just its special effects, but also it's intellect. Now, I’m off to watch Season 2...