Battlestar Galactica just might be the greatest sci-fi-based television programme of all time, and it is certainly one of this decade’s greatest artistic triumphs. These are bold statements, and it takes at least a generation before one can truly analyse whether something is a ‘classic’ or not, but I would be greatly surprised if time weren’t kind to the series.
It’s also the series that has the most trouble getting respect. Most people have a preconceived notion of what science fiction entails, and these notions sadly sentenced this series to a small audience. After all, doesn’t science fiction centre on aliens, techno-babble and soap-opera tactics? The answer is no, but hardly anyone tuned in to find that out.
All of the series’ defenders have said the same thing: it has brilliant writing, high intelligence and perhaps the greatest ensemble of actors. And there is no denying the skill that has gone into this show. Anyone who has seen it knows how unpredictable it is, constantly surprising people with character development and plot twists most never saw coming.
And sadder yet: it’s over.
But therein is another strength of the show. Unlike any other popular and/or well-regarded series, this ended on a high. It was an artistic choice, not one based on budget or demands from actors, writers or producers. It highlights the integrity that has always been prevalent in the series.
For those not in the know, Battlestar is a reboot of the series from the seventies. It takes the same premise: a race of robots known as Cylons all but wipe out humanity, and the few remaining people try to elude annihilation while searching for a mythical planet their religion speaks of, a planet called Earth. The new version also takes the names of most of the main characters.
But there the similarities end. For while the original was nothing more than a chance to cash in on the success of Star Wars and Star Trek, this new version is far more interested in good storytelling. It’s easy to see many parallels to events in modern life with themes such as political distrust and religious fanaticism. It also constantly blurs the lines, with many episodes showing sympathy for the antagonists and showing the protagonists in a questionable, and sometimes unfavourable, light.
One cannot praise the performances enough. After all, its two leads are Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell, arguably two of the finest actors working today. Their scenes throughout the run are some of the best because they were the most human. And unlike other series, their relationship was never built only on a ‘will they/won’t they’ premise. It is always based on character connection, and when they finally ‘do it’, it’s nothing more than a logical progression for their characters. And without giving anything away, the final scene with these two characters is one of the most bittersweet and poignant moments I’ve ever seen on TV.
And the rest of the cast are equally brilliant. It’s too difficult going into descriptions because it would just read like a role call. The writing is great, but the series works because it has such a high calibre of performance skill to put onscreen. Even small characters, people who are in the background and only have the occasional line, are expertly played and make one give a damn.
It’s also a tricky series to discuss fully because it constantly surprises with more twists and turns than a Hitchcock film or a roller coaster. That is always the one thing you could count on: you never know what was going to happen next. And you never want to give the game away for anyone, because one should be able to enjoy the surprises through the series and not from spoilers. People die unexpectedly, friendly people turn out to be dangerous and characters that seem unimportant hold important keys to events.
It is also one of the best produced series I’ve ever seen. Every production aspect, from the rich design concepts to the beautifully haunting score, is note-perfect. Half of the joy in watching the show is in the utter beauty of the space battles or in the hypnotic soundtrack.
Battlestar is an easy series to be a geek about. It has so many twists that it urges you to go looking for someone else who has seen it just so you can speak openly about it. It is a series that consistently excelled in producing great episodes. Even questionable plot threads, including a supposed cancer cure and a main character becoming a religious guru, pay high dividends in the end. I also cannot think of another series that has such intelligence, rich characters and bold plot points, and I fear that we aren’t going to see another one like it for some time.
If there is any justice, it will find a much larger audience through DVD collections. It is a series that has the tag of being ‘the show that people who hate science fiction love’, but there is something to that; it is not a genre show but is instead a character and plot driven series that just happens to take place on spaceships.
If you haven’t watched it, start from the beginning, because unlike most series, Battlestar is structured as a single-thread story. And I can all but guarantee you’ll be both hooked and amazed.
Battlestar Galactica is a series that consistently challenges its audience with brilliant writing, riveting performances and cunning parallelism to the modern world. It is entertaining and thought-provoking, and it consistently shows what television can do best: to serve as a visual medium to explore characters and themes in depth. I’m going to greatly miss it, but I feel all the better and richer for having taken the journey. You will too.
Battlestar Galactica aired on Sky and is available on DVD and Blu-Ray.
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