Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Return of Battlestar Galactica

Battlestar Galactica is back.

Life is worth living again (at least for 10 weeks).

Ok, no, that’s over-stating it, but watching the show last night, it did seem like something vital to our cultural landscape had been returned. Over the past 3 seasons, this show has just hit on so many levels. It’s probably one of the first successful revamps to overcome fanboy handwringing by saying “fuck-all” to expectations, establishing its own voice, and becoming a work superior not only to its earlier incarnation, but to almost everything else out there right now. It’s navigating a tricky, heartbreaking storyline, running full-on into narrative land-mines and somehow surviving them. The End of the World! Everything you know is wrong! Reboot character gender/ethnicity switch! Plucky band of rebels vs. an overwhelming superior force! Character returns from the dead! We are not the people we thought we were! Bob Dylan songs in space (ok, this one may not be a common trope, but it was definitely a mine in the field)! It was all there, and all handled with maturity, brutal honesty, and grace.

Season four finds our “ragtag fleet” of apocalypse survivors facing not only a fleet of enemy battleships but more dangerously, a fatal confusion as to what to do next. It begins moments after Starbuck’s return. She’s been to Earth, and wants to lead the rest of them there. By leaving Starbuck, ultimately, just as confused about how she’s returned as the rest of the cast, the writers expand this story, adding a new layer to Starbuck. They make her an oracle. She knows the way to go (she thinks) but only because she can somehow feel where they’re going wrong. But because she can’t explain what happened to her, no one trusts her. She becomes Cassandra, the prophetess of Troy, cursed to see the future but not to be believed. Of course, Starbuck is a classic screw-up character, so she’s going to take everything to the extreme, and she does go to extremes to make the leadership listen to her at the end of this ep, which leaves her face to face (well, gun to face) with a major character whom, early in the series, she saw as a mentor.

And while Starbuck becomes an unlikely Cassandra, Gauis Baltar, fresh off of his acquittal, is trying to turn himself into a false prophet. The problem is, he may actually have a connection to the one true God. And as he falls into despair, and literally offers up his life in exchange for another (the degree of his sincerity is probably up for interpretation), he may actually be transforming, Siddhartha-like, into something he has never been. An honest man. Purely by accident, of course.

And the newly revealed final four cylons? No one had more importance to the New Caprica resistance that these four. Where do they go from here? Those are the questions they are asking themselves. But for now, Tigh provides the answer. They are who they have always been. New revelations change nothing. There’s a comforting philosophy there: we are who we choose to be. Genetics, race, even experiences, are nothing compared to personal choices. And yes, we’ve seen this storyline before in Caprica-Sharon who became fell in love wit Helo, betrayed her people, and became Galactica’s Athena, goddess of wisdom and war. Who these four become is still unclear. There is a possibility for betrayal.
We’ve been promised an honest, clear-eyed, brutal end to this series. Ten episodes this spring, ten next spring, and that’s it. It’s clear the writers and producers have the end in sight, and the freedom to tell story they need to tell. Not many shows get this chance. And no matter what happens, Battlestar Galactica has earned the right to go where it’s going to go. .

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