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Where I’ll Be Friday Night

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It’s been more than a fracking year, but this Friday the wait will pay off. I’ll be parked in front of a TV set watching the opening of Season Four of Battlestar Galactica. I’ve not written about it here before, but it is in my estimation, the best thing ever put in television. It has easily outdone everything that has come before it in the science fiction genre, and a substantial portion of everything else.

The reason is that for once a show that happens to be set in space has been created under the assumption that it can and will be enjoyed by adults of higher than average intelligence. There are no silly pseudo-scientific solutions to the problems faced by the characters, no last-minute inventions based on theoretical particle or temporal physics.

It is instead a basic human drama set in a time of catastrophic events, not so unlike what we’ve come to experience and imagine to be plausible in our own reality, or perhaps in the reality that has been visited upon others. In one sequence of episodes, a planet settled by the human protagonists is occupied by the antagonistic, genocidal Cylons, leading the humans to struggle with the idea of, and to ultimately carry out suicide bombings as a means of resistance.

The plot arc of the first three of four planned seasons have covered topics ripped from the streams of cultural and political consciousness: Stolen elections, war crimes, trust, marriage, family, and a peculiarly thoughtful twist on the old boilerplate of science fiction television, what constitutes being human.

Season three climaxes as four core characters discover suddenly that they are actually not humans as they’ve long assumed but Cylon sleeper agents of unknown purpose, it made my very skin crawl. After hating Cylons all their lives, they suddenly are Cylon robots made to appear and act human. The philosophical implications for the current political culture are staggering. When terrorists are the ultimate villains, what happens when those who fight terrorism are viewed through other eyes as terrorists themselves? Down becomes up; heroes, villains, and so on. The moral clarity through which one might wish to see the vital polemic struggles of the day are oddly clarified because there are no right answers. Show runner Ronald Moore, a Star Trek veteran, constantly asks the simple question: What would real people do in the given situation? Answer: The best they can, which often isn’t enough.

It has been criticized as being a liberal-motivated allegory about the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, yet reaches no firm conclusions, leaving the messy moral ambiguity of it all unresolved. Eventually humanity escapes its occupiers in an impressive and complex military operation so richly imagined by the show’s writers and masterfully filmed in a combination of live-action and CGI special effects that it looks as though it could have been taken from combat footage on CNN.

Battlestar thankfully lacks the stupidity that so often infects nearly all television drama, but is instead played straight by a powerful ensemble led by Mary McDonnell who will for the remainder of her career be best remembered by the honorific “Madame President.” Her ruthless portrayal of the cancer-stricken President Roslin, head of the 50,000-odd survivors of a human population that once numbered in the tens of billions has been daring. It is jarring, when a female head of state, who can’t help but be compared to the real-world counterpart who would be president of our own republic, orders without trial the summary execution of an enemy agent. Edward James Olmos as the world-weary warrior Admiral William Adama is the opposite of the moralistic philosopher of Patrick Stewart’s Jean-Luc Picard. He’s instead a soft-spoken leader who not only doesn’t have all the answers, but when pressed isn’t above blatantly lying to motivate the people he leads.

The show is a remake of a campy and largely forgettable 1970s TV travesty of the same name. The title still tends to trigger memories of Lorne Greene re-imagining of Bonanza’s Ben Cartwright transplanted to a spaceship. This unfortunate circumstance tends to color people’s reaction when I tell them the title of my favorite show. There must always be an explanation. This show is nothing like the original, except in the most basic of its plot premise elements: The remainder of humanity stuck on spaceships looking for a planet called Earth they know of only through religious myth. Eventually they’ll get here. What they’ll find when they do – they may arrive on Earth during the time of the dinosaurs, or in the wake of a latent environmental collapse – is the question that Battlestar Galactica fans like myself will be pondering now through over the course of the next fracking year.

Written by ahess247

March 30th, 2008 at 4:28 pm

Posted in Currents,TV,Video

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