Thursday, 19 May 2016

On Battlestar Galactica

The other day I watched the final episode of Battlestar Galactica. A year ago I had never watched any Battlestar Galactica. These are some thoughts I have on Battlestar Galactica.

It's an amazing show. I can't help but compare it to modern Doctor Who, which is also a reboot of a science-fiction show from decades ago. BSG and Doctor Who's 21st Century rebirths both began around the same time (2003 & 2005 respectively). I wonder what I'd be like now if I had grown up on BSG instead of Doctor Who. I imagine I might be more grounded, with less starry-eyed optimism but greater appreciation for the fallibility of humanity.

Like Doctor Who, BSG is a show with huge variances in quality. But in both programmes the "ups" heavily outweigh any "downs". At its best, BSG is a sprawling sci-fi epic, with lively characters scrambling through the moral murkiness of a world with highly-developed advanced artificial intelligence. We get so many stories of the beginnings of AI, but BSG is really about what AI could be like after existing for hundreds of years.

Throughout the whole show, but particularly towards the beginning, I found it difficult to know if the show wanted me to relate to the Cylons or not. They're certainly initially portrayed as evil robots of destruction, but then there are many times when the viewer is supposed to root for them. Which is something I would be happy to do, but then the show would change its mind again and say they're evil robots. I appreciate that they were probably aiming for some kind of "objective" portrayal, with lots of grey area, but the show really wants the viewer to feel something towards the Cylons and I was never sure what that something was. Again, maybe this was the point, but it felt clunky.

Speaking of clunky - I'd say the whole plot is a pretty big mess. I can't get my head around the Cylons' plans at all. Totally random things happen all the time under the guise of "destiny". But again, this is just like Doctor Who. The plot is allowed to be a disaster because this show is all about the characters. I was pretty disinterested in the plot of most of Seasons 3 & 4, but it's all time spent building these characters, so it was worth it. And chief among the characters in my books is none other than Mr. Gaius Baltar. A wildly interesting person, stunningly portrayed from the pilot to the finale. Gaius was often used as comic relief and, like in many stories, that allowed him to evolve into the most three-dimensional, intriguing and heartbreaking character of the lot.

"I know about farming."

I thought the musical score by prolific TV maestro Bear McCreary was great in the show, but I think it's actually even better on album. His music is so unique and rich and bold. It certainly holds up against Murray Gold's Doctor Who, if I'm going to keep this comparison going. Here's one of the most extravagant pieces in BSG, which made me suddenly sit bolt upright when it first started playing in the show. Like, I kinda didn't even know strings could do that.

A good test of how invested I am in a show is often how I react to the finale. In BSG's case I was pretty affected. It was devastating to see these characters come to terms with everything and say goodbye to one another. The finale was also loaded with a surprising amount of pointed religious and anti-technological messages, which I know have bothered some people, but I prefer a show has too much to say than not enough. And that rather sums up Battlestar Galactica for me. It's a show that was too ambitious to be perfect. But where's the fun in watching something that's perfect?

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