Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The Best TV Series of My Life: Battlestar Galactica (2004 - 2009)

I remember the original, first version of this series. As I recall, my friends and I called it Discostar Galactica. It was Star Wars, but for those of the disco mindset: big hair, big egos, models pretending to be soldiers, shallow stories, lots of bloodless battle scenes and big explosions like that first bump of coke at the disco party. Or another way of putting it: it was The Dukes of Hazard set in space. It lasted some twenty-four episodes before it was put out of our misery.

The one good thing about it was the choice of Bill Adama, commander of the rag-tag fleet, played by Lorne Greene. A good choice. At the other end was Dirk Benedict, whose ego was so overbearing that I don't recall any of his lines or scenes decades later, only his ego. The girl I was dating at the time (I use that term loosely; she was, in truth, less a girl and more a bona fide bitch-monster) couldn't stop oohing and aahing every time he was on-screen. She was so over-the-top about it that I half expected her to get up from the couch and start dry humping the damned TV whenever he appeared, which was far too often. I remember telling her that he was a crappy actor and wouldn't be around long, and I was right. I mean, looking at his Wiki page, I can see that he has continued working, but honestly, did you know that? I certainly didn't. And I bet that, like me, you didn't either, nor could you care less that he is.

It was for those reasons that when the reboot showed up, I didn't give it a single thought. I mean, why bother? It didn't help that the Star Wars prequels were still being spawned, films that I assure you in this and any other universe will never appear on my Best Movies list, so bad, in fact, that someday I will write an essay about them, and about the soul-crushing disappointment the concluding film in the franchise was, and the franchise itself. I was thoroughly burned out of science fiction as a whole at the time, the entire genre having devolved, in my opinion, to the point where only grossly stunted adults who never matured psychologically beyond the seventh grade could enjoy them. Which means eighty percent of American men, and probably sixty-five percent of American women. Seen in that light, it's no fucking wonder The Rise of Skywalker blew as hard as it did, and that almost all superhero movies aren't worth two dried dog shits on a shingle.

My wife introduced me to the reboot. I recall watching and being blown away from the beginning. Is it any wonder that Benedict, supreme asshole that he is, hated it? His main beef, among others, was that the character of Starbuck--his character in the original--was reimagined as a woman. Somehow that equated to the total defeat of men worldwide by a shadowy international radical feminist cabal, that men were now being utterly oppressed, that Western Civilization was on the rocks and sinking fast. He had his say, fellated George W. Bush, then sank back under the fetid, dark surface of Toxic Masculinity.

What a fucking weenie.

The reboot was, from the off, done right, Starbuck as a woman and all. A nuclear attack on the Twelve Colonies by AIs. Mayhem. Destruction. Terror. Flight. Total confusion. Anger. Rage. Bloodshed. Massacres. Petty bigotries blowing up. Ships full of innocent men, women, and children blowing up. Treason. Impossible moral decisions--Who lives? Who dies? Rebellion in the fleet. Starvation. Disease. Crime. The overwhelming urge to totalitarianism to control everyone. Resources and armaments wearing out or being destroyed. Fuel reserves running out. And always running. Running and running and running. For the AIs--the Cylons--are always there, right on their tail, if not actually in the fleet as sleeper agents just waiting to be activated.

You want a great example of what truly great writing looks like? Watch this series. It also must be mentioned that the soundtrack, composed by Bear McCreary, is so excellent that its influence can be found everywhere today, from video games to series whose stories come nowhere near space. Most of the time, in fact, when I think of the reboot, I first think of the music in it. That's really saying something, because the story itself is Absolute First Class.

The cast is as good as you can get, from Edward James Olmos as Admiral Adama (just as good as Lorne Greene, and much more fleshed out) to Mary McDonnell as President Laura Roslin to Katee Sackhoff as Starbuck, a reimagined role that puts to total shame Benedict's disco-haired, grinning portrayal. You've got James Callis and Grace Park as well; Michael Hogan is the XO and the late Richard Hatch, who played Apollo in the original, now cast as a political extremist willing to do anything to wrest the reins of power from Adama and Roslin, a role he plays beautifully and almost certainly as an apology for his involvement in the original.

There are many others. In thinking of this review, I came to the conclusion that I'd have to leave much out, including those folks, in order to keep this post from blowing up. Storylines and plots, ideas and philosophies, the many conflicts and allegiances, the evolving morals, the shifting perspectives. If I had weeks to write a twenty-thousand-word essay on it, I would. But I don't. This is a series that leaves you thinking after each episode is done; it's a series that, in fact, is the exact opposite of its original. The fight scenes aren't disco. There are real stakes in each. The explosions are big, but you as the viewer aren't so impressed with them as depressed by them many times, because good people--including AIs, as it turns out--too many times are the ones blowing up. No battle is bloodless. And big egos are usually stomped, most times quite viciously. It's not a coke party, but one where stimulants ("stims") are taken by fighter pilots in order to keep alert, and which have over time dire consequences.

Just ... fuck you, Benedict. Seriously.

If I were to make mention of any particular point with respect to this plot, it would be its repudiation of Christianity vis-à-vis Gaius Baltar (James Callis) and the many trials he goes through, most principally as the greatest traitor in the fleet, in fact the person responsible for giving defense codes to the Cylons which enabled them to attack, wiping most of humanity out in the process. His redemption arc is profoundly frustrating, halting, even devolving at points; but one in which, at the end, you realize that you're watching the Christian myth of the condemned Christ reimagined and solidly rebuked. It slaps you upside the head, it does; if at the end of the series you aren't questioning at least some of the tenants of that myth, taken as the very height of morality and truth by billions, then you didn't watch closely enough. Or you're Dirk Benedict.

More than a decade after its conclusion, the rebooted Battlestar Galactica is still entirely fresh, its messages still relevant, if not more so today than in 2009. It's a series I'm confident will achieve that oh-so-rare quality of being truly timeless, a mark of true greatness in a world devoted to the shallow, the emotionally and spiritually stunted, to easy and trite solutions, prepackaged and plastic, to suburbanism and its morally bankrupt ideals, and to the fascistic and easily consummable notions of Christianity, of God and suffering, of sacrifice and leadership, of loyalty and victory. It's storytelling as storytelling should be, not as something to consume, but as something to learn from, to appreciate.

Something humanity as a whole steadfastly refuses to do.

At our profound peril.

Fuck you, Dirk Benedict.