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Opinion – Battlestar Galactica series

February 6, 2009 Persuasion Popular 5

I’ll be back on Monday with a post about my healthy communication program in Arizona, and then on Wednesday about how to regain some self control when speaking to others. But today, I’ve persuaded myself to do something a little different.  Because sometimes, you just have to vent your spleen, take a load off your chest, and work through your feelings about something that in your estimation is just not right. And today is one of those days, because tonight, I’m faced with a decision.  To watch the latest episode of Battlestar Galactica, or tune out forever.  You see, I’m a big science fiction fan.  Not big in terms of my size, but in terms of my interest.  It’s big, my interest is.  I’m interested in compelling story lines, conflict that involves cultures and groups, that pits people against the future or the past, that uses the grand size of the universe as a backdrop for the most human of narratives.  

And that interest is why I watched this television series, Battlestar Galactica.  The buzz on it was great.  Quotes extolling its virtues popped up all over the net.  And it seemed the buzz was right, because from the outset, the show had everything I love.  In this intense drama, people are constantly persuading each other about what to do, what not to do, and how to survive.  They have legal arguments, leadership arguments, religious arguments in which persuasion dictates outcome.  There are arguments of urgency and exigency. Couples working through their issues.  Military teams working through their issues, often pitted against civilian groups with different agendas.  

You’d think with so much opportunity for persuasion and creative conflict, the story would have evolved into something spectacular.  And yet it’s become the most depressing horrible dark miserable and did I mention depressing story ever told or show I’ve ever watched.  

I feel conflicted about it because another episode is on tonight and I don’t want to watch it, but at the same time I’ve seen all the episodes until now and would feel unresolved if I just suddenly stopped.   I blame the writers for my dilemma.  Ok, not really.  It’s on me.  I chose to watch this thing.  I chose to join my lot with a ragtag fleet of survivors venturing out across the galaxy in pursuit of a fabled land called Earth.  I didn’t have to do it.  But I’d like to blame the writers. Because I’m persuaded they could have done a much better job with this show.  They started off with so much promise.  Now?  Just bleak, dark, and it keeps getting worse.  Gar.  Erg.  YOIKS! 

Here’s a little context for the intensity of my internal conflict.  

When I was a kid, I read every sci fi book I could get my hands on.  I averaged one book a week in 9th grade.  That number grew as I did.  I’ve relished every sci-fi epic film, and my favorite movies are in this genre.  I love visions of the future, dark or bright.  I love heroism.  I love the unexpected. I love imagining how things will work out, or won’t.

And cheesy has never bothered me.  I like cheesy in movies and tv shows (and rock ballads, too). Overdone, over the top, I don’t care.  Something is better than nothing.  I consider it one of the great advantages of being alive at this moment in history is that there is now a History channel (I am a student of history) and a Sci-Fi channel on television.  My treasured childhood comic books have been brought to life in modern movies.

Unfortunately, science fiction in the media gets mixed up all too often with the horror genre.  And I’m no fan of horror, not at all.  But I’ve watched every sci fi series, from all the Star Treks (may you live long and prosper) and Star Wars (Luke, I am your father) through Roswell (what an amazing series, it’s where I first fell in love with Katherine Heigle) and Babylon 5 (it took some getting used to, but turned into a wonderful story…if only they’d stopped before the last season…oh well!)  

So you can imagine my joy when I learned that the cheesiest of the cheesy tv serials from the 60s, Battlestar Galactica, was being redone, and that they planned to do it dramatically, powerfully, with a big cast, a big vision, and a big splash in the sci-fi scene.   

Now, I’m angry.  What started out brilliantly is now reduced to horror and ash.

I have watched this entire series from the outset.  I’ve encouraged others to watch it too.  I said “It’s the best Sci-Fi epic I’ve seen on television, maybe ever!”   I’ve invested so many hours into this series, and what have they done with it?   At this point, it appears that everyone will die by the time it’s over.  

Here’s a very rough sketch of the main story line.

First, the Cylons (androids created by humans adopt very human values and thus destroy humans because they are different and deemed inferior) nuke the human planets. Billions of humans die.  Only a few tens of thousands of humans survive.  

The nuclear attack is made possible because a top scientist is seduced by one of the androids (android women are all ‘hot’ which should come as no surprise to the truly nerdy and geeky) into giving away a security code that shuts down planetary defenses.  That human, Balthar, is like a cockroach.  He has an indestructible desire to survive, and though he is the cause of almost everything that goes wrong or awry, he always finds a way to survive.  

So a ragtag fleet of ships, that just happened to be off planet at the moment of attack, gets away from the attacking Cylons. The survivors are now led by a battlestar (think battleship) that was scheduled for decommision, and an admiral, played by James Olmos, whose weather beaten countenance says that he has been at war his entire life.   There are so few survivors that the new President – a former education secretary who is the last surviving member of the official human government – keeps a white board in her living quarters where she keeps count. The series appears to be about how the humans survive while being pursued and attacked by the Cylons. Every episode, it seems, a few more people die.  They die in battle.  Of sickness.  Of violence among themselves. The battlestar leads them on a quest aimed at finding a refuge in a mythic place, written in their holy books, called ‘Earth,’ where a lost tribe had supposedly gone before. 

The series starts off powerfully.  Great acting.  Great story telling.  Great conflict.  Great characters.  I was smitten, couldn’t wait to see the next episode.  

But now, the show is back for its final episodes.  And I have grown to HATE THIS SERIES!  I mean it.  HATE IT!   The show, over the last two years, has simply descended into darkness and horror upon horror, and now there is no light anywhere, just more death and dying.  That alone wouldn’t bother me.  It’s the story, the damned story line.  It is unremittingly dark, horribly negative, and apparently pointless.  Now there are strange alliances with the Cylons (I can’t even begin to explain this to you.)  And while the rag tag fleet does find Earth because of the steadfastness of their hard drinking and hard fighting leaders, what they find is that it is uninhabitable. Devastated.  Destroyed.  Thousands of years earlier.  By nukes.  The show could have ended there. But the writers press ahead. 

What to do?  The humans now go forward with no destination, along with the Cylons, in an alliance that makes most humans very uneasy (as it should!  These things nuked their civilization!)  The people have become completely cynical, polarized and angry. Their leaders are depressed and miserable at their failure to find a home.  It appears that the problem of getting nuked isn’t a local one, it happens wherever humans settle down.  Great.  Oh, but wait, the inhabitants of earth may have actually been Cylons!  What? And the story spins further away into pointlessness and despair. 

I think I’ve figured out the ending.  Balthar is the sole survivor.  All the humans, all the Cylons, die from their struggle to dominate each other.  Balthar lives to tell the tale to us.  He’s a cockroach. Somehow, he survives.  Every episode, from now until the end, will be about who dies.

I hate this show.  Yet I can’t turn away from it.  GAR.  ERG.  GAK!

Your comments about sci fi, and about this show, are welcome.  I just needed to vent.  Have a great weekend and I’ll talk to you on Monday. 

Be well,

Rick

5 Responses

  1. gary c smith says:

    Captian Video was the dealer that hooked me.
    It was 1954, I was six years old my family lived in Hood River, Oregon. This was the summer before I started first grade. It was a most eventful summer. I learned about Indian giving, baseball, what happens to stray dogs, television, friends and a lesson in fishing that became a story I’ve told hundreds of times.
    It was a hot dry day. As I walked to the irrigation pond to practice fishing the sound of crackling pine needles accentuated each step. I was going to fish, or actually practice fishing, for this body of water was an irrigation pond. I knew fish did not live in here, but my sense of fishing was tie on a hook, or have someone else do it, stick on a worm , cast and wait., I loved to cast, but waiting was the hard part. I was sitting very zen-like when Andy an older neighborhood kid showed up. He looked like Alfalfa from the Our Gang series, with red hair and a spiked cow-lick. He was wearing blue coveralls and he was barefoot.
    “Hey whatcha doin?”
    “Fishin.”
    “Well come here, I’ve got something to tell ya. It’s a secret.”
    I started to pull out my line when he said.
    “No leave that there. Hurry.”
    He led me behind a barn away from where I could see the pond or my line.
    Something felt fishy as I listened.
    “Uh, have you seen that new science fiction show, Captian Video on TV? It’s so neat.”
    “Yea.” I said with great enthusiasm. “I love it.”
    “Well don’t tell anyone about it, OK?”
    The fishiness had now become a school of confused fish.
    He turned and walked back to the pond and two other older kids and one younger kid. Joe, Billy and young Bobby.
    “Don’tcha think you should reel in your line,” one of them said.
    I don’t ever remember kids paying that much attention to me, but with a bit of embarrassment I reeled. There was a fish on. I felt it as I reeled in.
    I had a fish on. A six incher. I think I beamed a very broad smile. And, I knew, the kids had put the fish on the hook.
    I thought they liked me. They wanted me to catch a fish. It was a gift. It wasn’t a trick, but it was.
    They may have been fishing for my soul, because that is what I caught that day. My conscience was fed then. I knew people liked me. I wasn’t too sure up to that point.
    I told this story to friends as I grew, never quite knowing what it meant. It was fun and entertaining, but so what? I knew it was a story that helped mold me into who I am. Sitting in a magic seminar in my thirties, the realization that we always have a choice; coupled with there are times in our lives when we make decisions that mold our whole life bingo-ed for me. I made a choice that worked and served me.

    It was Bradbury, Heinlein, Clark, Asimov, 2001, 2150, Star Trek(S), Star Wars, Childhoods End, Stranger In A Strange Land, the concept of water brothers, Fair Witness, colonies alive in the wispy sky of the Dune sequels, and The Hitchhikers Guide has held the towels of our marriage for 25 years, but the Raves of BattleStar I tried, UCK>
    I remember Klaatu Barada Nikto.
    Live long and Prosper
    Commander Gary C Smith brother to Valentine Michael Smith
    Loyal fan to Captain Video, James T. Kirk, Mister Spock, Arthur Dent and Princess Leia.

  2. A quick followup. I did watch the show last night (I got some encouragement from my twitter followers) and, much as I hate to say it, I enjoyed the show, but only by putting aside the series and focusing on the story in this particular episode.

    It was a classic scenario where a bitter junior officer and a thwarted politician join forces to lead a mutiny, and the steely eyed admiral faces them down when they try to coerce him into capitulation, then he wins back his ship with the help of a few loyal supporters and help from above. It was taught, powerful, and well written.

    That said, another bunch of humans have now died (the leaders of the mutiny, and those who fought for and against it during the retaking of the battlestar) so the numbers continue to dwindle. I stand by my guess that Balthar will be the sole survivor when this thing mercifully ends.

    best wishes,
    Rick

  3. lady j says:

    I absolutely agree with you about BSG having taken a turn for the depressing. I am rather an idealist, and can’t bear to watch the fleet turning against each other. They have gone through so much, and have a real opportunity to change their society into something positive, create new beginnings, new acceptances, but…. I guess in the end, human nature wins.

    Now off to explore the rest of your blog!

    • Hi Lady J, thanks for your comment!
      BSG just makes no sense to me at all now. Seems that humans are now descendants of Cylons? And humans created Cylons? ARGH! Oh well. It’s almost over, and though I don’t see how the ending can be satisfying, I suppose it could happen. Please do check out the blog, and your comments are always welcome!
      best
      Rick

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