On the Joy of Battlestar Galactica

21 Nov

I came to Battlestar Galactica (the reboot) quite late.  In fact, I think I finally got into the show near the end of its second season.  Something about that first season didn’t grab me the first time I watched; the same happened to the first season of Doctor Who.  But for some reason, I went back to BSG to see if I could figure out what everyone loved about the thing…and in a handful of episodes, I was hooked.  Not just hooked.  Obsessed.

Battlestar Galactica -- The Last SupperLet me tell you about my obsession.  I watched both seasons of BSG in about two weeks.  And since season three hadn’t kicked in yet, I went and re-watched the first two.  In two weeks.  Then suffered through the long delays (a week is far too long) of season three, went back to all of the seasons again, then back to season four (part uno), back to the previous seasons, then on to season four (part dos), and then had what I can only describe as a massive joygasm heart attack as the show came to an end and I had nothing to fill the giant BSG-filled hole in my heart.

Not obsessed enough?  When the show ended, I proceeded to re-watch BSG from start to finish, including the mini-series movie thing.  Six times.  I used to go to bed to BSG, staving off sleep just so I could cram another episode in, and then picking up where I fell asleep the next day.  Six times.  In the same year.  Yeah.  Obsessed.

And I’m still obsessed to this day, though I don’t spend as much time watching the show over and over as I used to (I discovered the joy of watching stuff I missed from my childhood — like Star Trek: the Next Generation or Heroes; well, the last one isn’t from my childhood, but you get the idea).  I’ll still listen to the soundtracks on repeat from time to time.  And I still have vivid memories of watching the show.  Entire episodes are stuck in my head.  The finale of season three with that rendition of “All Along the Watchtower”?  It gives me the shivers every time.  Even now, I’m listening to the soundtrack for Season 4, written, as with the others, by the incredible Bear McCreary, and the memories are a-flowing.

What was it about BSG that got me so hooked?  I’ve thought a lot about this over the years.  Sure, BSG isn’t perfect.  While I understand why and how the ending of the show came to be (it’s actually foreshadowed in earlier parts of season four and other parts of the show to a certain degree), I also understand why a lot of people hated how it ended.  Sorta.  There’s a mysticism to the finale that does leave something to be desired, perhaps because so much of the narrative is actually cleaned up, and yet so many big questions are still left unanswered.  But because that ending made some sort of sense to me, it didn’t actually ruin my experience; rather, it has made my experience better.  I have actually come to love the ending.  Maybe it’s because there’s a certain poetry to it.  It’s kind of idealistic in a way, and given that so much of the series was so bloody dark and pessimistic, I got to hand it to the Moore and his co-conspirators to go out with something resembling a positive note.

Or maybe it’s the characters.  BSG was the first show I got hooked on which didn’t follow the traditional anthology format that had defined televised SF for decades.  It was a deep narrative (in the sense that almost all of its episodes were direct contributions to the overarching narrative or its main subnarratives; even Babylon 5 didn’t do this in its first season, though that one is held up as a good example of narrative-style SF).  And that meant it had a lot of complicated, sometimes messed up or confused characters.  Everyone from Laura Roslin to Kara Thrace / Starbuck to Tom Zarek to Lee Adama and his fath (and so on):  they were all complicated people with sometimes competing motivations or interests (and sometimes not, which made things really interesting when they had the same end goal, but not the same methods).  Even Baltar had a distinct character arc, moving from a spineless and sleazy genius scientist to a religious figure to, dare I say, a hero.  Hell, I even got attached to the damned spaceships (Pegasus, ye will be missed).

Battletar Galactica -- Pegasus

It was a soapy space opera of sorts, and that made getting hooked so much easier for me because, as some of you know, I’m not actually a huge fan of the anthology format precisely because the mainstays never seem to change as the show progresses, even though the world around them does (call this boredom, if you will; X-Files and so many other shows I watched when I was young were great, but after a dozen anthology shows, I just got bored of the format).  Getting invested in characters who become more than they were when they started feels remarkably good (and complicated).  It’s about the emotion.  About the love and hate and betrayal.  It’s about crying when a favorite character dies or in those moments when true bravery pushes its way above the foamy hell of cowardly humanity.  I still get tears in my eyes when Lee shows up to rescue the Galactica from the Cylons, sacrificing the Pegasus to do so.  Tears, man.  So many tears.  Or when Saul poisons his own wife because she committed treason (that was the first moment when I really started to love Saul, to be honest, even though I still sort of hated who he would become after that — a complicated love).  I get emotions of all stripes while watching this show because it dealt with so many different issues, from racism to romance to genocide and even some topics I won’t mention here because triggers.  It was a show that reminded me what sf television could be and what sf overall could do.  It didn’t need to be flashy adventure; it could examine humanity in its warty goodness without pulling any punches.  I liked that.  I loved that.

It’s for these reasons, and many others I won’t bore you with here, that Battlestar Galactica remains my favorite science fiction television show of all time.  You may not like it as much as me, but that’s not going to stop me from starting my seventh re-watch of this show tonight.

That’s right.  Seventh.  What of it?

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5 Responses to “On the Joy of Battlestar Galactica”

  1. Paul Weimer November 21, 2014 at 4:20 pm #

    WAit! You should wait on Seven until we set a rewatch schedule (I have the box sets of the entire series 🙂 ). We probably need one or two more people, maybe Rachel or Stina or Julia or David or Mike…

  2. Juan Sanmiguel January 9, 2015 at 11:14 pm #

    Catching up on Skiffy and Fanty posts and podcasts.

    What I like about this show it ask the question “Can democratic government survive a incredible calamity.” It was the SF show of the post 9/11 world.

    • shaunduke January 12, 2015 at 1:29 pm #

      That’s an interesting way of looking at it. I also appreciated its political exploration, particularly since it was so detailed and gritty. There are few easy choices in a situation like this, and so the show never makes the choices seem easy.

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  1. Top 10 Episodes and Posts for November 2014 | The Skiffy and Fanty Show - December 2, 2014

    […] On the Joy of Battlestar Galactica (by Shaun Duke) […]

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