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Why I Can’t Stop Watching Battlestar Galactica. . .

June 12, 2007

From February ’07:

Once again pulling from the archives of my blog @ Zaadz, this essay on Ronald Moore & David Eick’s Battlestar Galactica is a summation of one of the finest shows on television. Regretably, the upcoming Pegasus movie and Season 4 will mark the closing and resolution of this world class show.

If you haven’t seen the show, have a read and see why you’ve been missing the best show on television today.

–D.

Battlestar Galactica

“Om bhūr bhuvah svah tat savitur varēnyam bhargō dēvasya dhīmahi dhiyō yō nah pracōdayāt.”
or,
“Oh all-protecting lord, please guide our intellects, so that we may proceed in the right direction towards enlightenment.”

Mantra from the Rig Veda, used in the opening of the current Battlestar Galactica series.

In the most recent episode of Battlestar Galactica entitled ”Dirty Hands”, in the space of less than an hour’s time there were references both direct and indirect to diverse artworks such as John Sayles’ film Matewan, Norma Rae, the poetry of William Blake, Paul Jarrico & Michael Biberman’s Salt of The Earth, and even a touch of Python.

In case you have it in your head that this is the Battlestar Galactica which in which, “Fleeing from the Cylon tyranny…” Lorne Greene led “a rag tag, fugitive fleet on a lonely quest” with a swashbuckling Dirk Benedict and a daggett named Muffy in tow… Well, let’s just say you’re in for quite a shock. Sure, Starbuck is a girl, Cylons look human and the President of the Colonies is a former school teacher, but there again, you’re looking at the cosmetic changes of the show.

Consider the episode description for “Dirty Hands”… (Some spoilers follow)

Mid-flight, a Raptor catches fire and crashes into Colonial One. No one is killed, but when impurities in the craft’s tylium fuel are discovered, (President) Roslin and (Admiral) Adama demand answers from Zeno Fenner, the foreman on the tylium refinery ship Hitei Kan. Fenner has shut down his ship’s production, insisting that broken machinery, unsafe conditions, and sheer exhaustion make it impossible for his workers to do their jobs well.

Although the fleet’s fuel supply is now dangerously low, Fenner threatens to disrupt production further if these problems aren’t solved. Then he quotes from a subversive new manifesto about class conflict that Gaius Baltar has written and had smuggled out of his cell. In response, Roslin orders Fenner arrested. Adama sends (Chief) Galen Tyrol to the Hitei Kan to replace Fenner and get the tylium flowing.

Tyrol can’t help but empathize with the disgruntled refinery workers. One of his working-class deckhands, Seelix, was recently denied elite pilot training for suspiciously arbitrary reasons; his wife, Cally, even agrees with Baltar’s declaration that a new aristocracy of privileged Capricans is systematically oppressing the fleet’s working poor. But Tyrol also understands that someone has to do the dirty jobs for the fleet to survive at all.

Torn between these positions, Tyrol coerces the refinery’s crew to resume work, but also negotiates with Roslin on their behalf. She proposes that everyone in the fleet with the correct skills should be drafted to take shifts aboard the Hitei Kan so that no one gets trapped forever in an intolerable job.

This solution inevitably creates new problems. One of the draftees, Danny, is a young man who has been chosen only because he briefly worked on a farm to earn money for college. He’s understandably scared and angry about his new forced employment.

Seeking better answers, Tyrol reads (from) Baltar’s book and visits the imprisoned ex-President (Baltar). Despite himself, he ends up considering Baltar’s subversive ideas. Soon afterward, aboard the Hitei Kan, the rickety gears of a conveyor belt jam, nearly causing a deadly disaster. Danny saves the day, worming his body into the machine to fix the jam. But as the gears clank into motion, Danny is snagged and seriously injured.

Seeing this young man — who once dreamed of a college education — bleeding on the floor of the refinery jolts Tyrol into action. He shuts down the Hitei Kan and declares a strike. His workers cheer, but Adama immediately arrests Tyrol for mutiny — and declares that all mutineers will be shot. This time, Tyrol must negotiate not just for his workers’ rights, but also for their lives.”

And again, this was just last week’s episode!


The writing on Battlestar Galactica is some of the best currently on television. In a scene where Chief Tyrol confronts Baltar on the perceived fallacy of his geographical origin, I was left completely reeling from not only the brillance of performance, but the wealth of ideas and words. Writing crisp, rich, layered and relevant and the acting equally so.

The acting pallate is a broad ensemble of talent from known talents such as Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell, veteran character actors such as Michael Hogan and Donnelly Rhodes, and fresh talent such as Katee Sackhoff, Jamie Bamber and James Callis. Each one of these actors lending a quality missing from so much of television’s landscape.

In just over three seasons of television, viewers have been treated to discussions of political corruption, torture and terrorism, spirituality and mythos, personal relationships and the value of humanity. We’ve been been thrillerd by gun battles, dog fights and combat sequences as good, if not better than any done to date on television. The show bridges the gap between intellect and viscera, spirituality and faith, humanity and technology, and in doing so, the new Galactica is New Era material all the way.

In the show’s brief run, Producers Ron Moore and David Eick have had the courage to write shows which challenge viewer ideals and assumptions. At one point, Galactica served to many on the political Right as a show which spoke to one’s right to commit “justifiable” atrocities in a state of war. When one of the key recurring characters took a turn from a committed and albeit flawed military leader, to a not-so-subtle Osama Bin Laden-like persona, many were infuriated and those sort of polarized viewers left in droves. But no one’s beliefs on this show aren’t subject to scrutiny, nor are the viewers. And thankfully, there isn’t anyone more righteous than another.

Galactica deals with the idea that humans are capable of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, with each one of us containing the material that creates both Messiah and Monster. It forces us all to consider possibilities both positive and negative that none of us may yet be comfortable confronting. It asks us to confront everything that we know and understand, and expects us to entertain the possibility that not everything we hold as sacred is necessarily a good thing, nor etched in stone.

This show offers an avenue for entertainment, but there’s nothing escapist about it. It’s more invigorating and enlivening, than it is frivolous. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to know that Ron Moore, one of the creative forces behind the best years of the Star Trek franchise, can be pointed to as one of the key forces behind the shape and success of Galactica. He has often been sited for taking shows like Next Generation and Deep Space Nine into places that dealt with contemporary issues in a more honest and relevant way.

Where Star Trek was at one point the show that society needed, I believe Galactica is the series that is necessary for this day and age. It’s darker and often times more of a challenge to watch. But in it’s exploration of the struggle for the roughly 400,000 human refugees and their quest to survive, it deals with the issues of what we fortunate six billion still have to answer for and deal with. Hopefully, not unlike the possible destination at the end of Galactica’s road, there still is for all of us, that bright and shining planet known as Earth.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 12, 2007 5:50 pm

    Must rent the first season of the new “Galactica” some time and give it a chance. I’m still trying to erase the memory of Glen Larson’s original series from my mind. Richard Hatch and Dirk Benedict…yecchh. We don’t have cable, exist in a two-channel universe so I’ve only heard about “Galactica” through other sources. Well, I’m sure it’s at the video store on DVD. Perhaps some summer weekend, after I’ve put a new writing project to bed and have some time to unwind (this bit of wishful thinking courtesy an unreformed graphomaniac). But you’ve convinced me to at least give it a chance. Just tell me they’re not planning a new incarnation of “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century”…

  2. June 12, 2007 6:25 pm

    Your complaints about Richard Hatch (who actually has a significant and actually decent part as an anarchist) and Dirk Benedict only means you never saw the very short-lived Galactica 1980. Kent McCord played Boxie (the kid with the robot dog) all grown up and a Viper pilot along with Barry Van Dyke as his buddy and fellow pilot. Six words: Cylons on earth and flying motorcycles!

    At my age, I have pleasant but of course reserved memories of the show. I saw the BG movie in Sensurround at about seven years of age. Same thing with the Buck Rogers movie (complete with the James Bond like theme song and opening!)

    But suffice it to say that the new Galactica will serve as remedy enough. My recommendation would be to watch the mini-series through the first season (available in a single box depending on where you get it). And of course, the entire series is available on iTunes as well.

    Everyone I have turned on to the show has become hooked and thankful that I hounded them about it. In the event that you get a chance to watch, I’d love to hear your feedback!

    Take care and thanks for stopping by again. . .

    –D.

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