“Nothing But The Rain” – We Revisit Battlestar Galactica

In TV by Scott6 Comments

Scott here: We’re doing something a little different here at Cheese Magnet with this post — I was a loyal viewer of the new Battlestar Galactica from the beginning, but Tanzi came in late to the game (after the series had completed its run, I believe). We’ve both been itching to watch the entire series again, and decided we’d kind of tag-team the two-part pilot miniseries (me in New Mexico and Tanzi from his perch in California).

Here’s the way it works: each of us will post our thoughts as we watch the show, and once we’ve completed the first part of the miniseries, this post will go live. We’ll do the second half of the miniseries as a separate post. If this all works out, we’ll try the same thing with other shows and possibly further episodes of BSG, as well.

Tanzi: Scott is correct, I missed the two-part pilot movie when it first aired and tried to jump in with the first episode, 33. I had no idea what was going on and gave up on the series, thinking it would be a flop. All the hype over the final episodes finally spurred me to go back and give it another try. I powered through the entire series in a few weeks and throroughly enjoyed it.

Battlestar Galactica, Night 1

Tanzi: The first thing I’m struck by is the long tracking shot that introduces us to the interior of the Galactica. It serves notice that this is a real ship, not a collection of sets like we’ve seen on the various incarnations of Star Trek. A lot of shows like to talk about how they have a “lived in” ship but this time they really deliver. Shortly before viewing this for the first time I took a tour of the USS Midway, a post-WWII carrier that’s now a museum here in San Diego and the similarity is remarkable. The production team obviously used old ships like the Midway as the model for the Galactica, it has that same metallic and claustrophobic feel.

The other reaction I have is one that can only come after watching the entire series: I feel a mixture of sadness and warmth towards these characters. Now I know the many flavors of hell they’ll be put through, the monstrous choices some will make, the deaths and betrayals to come. Here they’re young, fresh faced and optimistic, not just the characters but the actors themselves. None of them know where this series will go, who will live and who will die.

Also, Lee Adama was even more of a prick than I remember.

Scott: When the new BSG was in production, I was surprised at how many fanboys were up in arms about the original series being “re-imagined.” I watched the old BSG when it originally aired and even as a teenage sci fi nut, I would have told you it was barely imagined to begin with. If I had any concerns at all, it was that Executive Producer Ronald Moore’s major claims to fame were working on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager — the former a show I don’t much care for, the latter a show I can’t even sit through an episode of. Even with those reservations, however, I felt like there was nowhere to go but up. I went into the mini-series with that mindset, and I wasn’t disappointed.

As I start watching the mini-series again, I’m forced to mention that I probably would’ve sold out humanity for Six, too.

I agree with Tanzi — going back and seeing these characters before the hell they went through over the course of the series is actually kind of moving, as goofy as that sounds. I felt the same way when I went back and re-watched Lost from the beginning — and that’s a good comparison, because BSG and Lost are similar in the fact that they’re both incredibly well-cast (there’s not an actor on either show that I could come up with a complaint about), and the characters those actors play go through so many changes over the course of both those shows, it’s almost unbelievable. There are times you love Starbuck or Commander Adama (or Jack Shephard or John Locke), times you can’t stand them, times you’re unsure about them, and times you just wanna shake their hands and follow them anywhere.

And, uh, I’d also sell out humanity for Starbuck, by the way.

It’s interesting to revisit BSG now that I’ve started reading Fred Saberhagen’s Berserker series (which I hadn’t done when BSG was on the air). I’m not accusing Moore and company of ripping off Saberhagen, mind you — but Fred was exploring many of the same themes (machine race locked in endless combat with humanity, human-looking machines designed to infiltrate, the machines’ curiosity about humans, etc) nearly 50 years ago, and it’s impossible not to make the comparison. If you haven’t read the Berserker books, do yourself a favor and pick ’em up.

Wow, I had forgotten that Colonial One (although it wasn’t Colonial One yet) was able to land aboard the Galactica.

Tanzi: For the most part I agree about the actors, with one exception: Paul Campbell as Billy Keikeya, Laura Roslin’s assistant. He never brought anything to the role other than being sensitive and it felt like the writers never knew what to do with him.

Of course the dramatic center of the mini series is the Cylon attack on the 12 colonies. Up until this point I think we were all enjoying the introduction of the characters and thinking it’s going to be a fun space opera, albeit slightly grittier than Star Trek. Seeing Gaius Baltar shattered by the realization that he’s sold out mankind for a (spectacular) piece of ass is the first inkling of what’s to come in the series. There’s a clever moment when Boomer and Helo are deciding which survivors they’ll allow on their ship. They draw numbers and the last number is an old lady standing next to Baltar. She asks Baltar to read her number because she lost her glasses (they’re on her head). We see she has the winning number and we’re thinking, no even Gaius Baltar can’t be that slimey, can he? I remember when I first started watching BSG I told Scott that I didn’t like this guy, even beyond the intentions of the writers but it was Baltar’s machinations and delusions that provided so much of the drama and gutwrenching decisions throughout the series. It just wouldn’t have been the same without James Callis as Gaius Baltar.

And to echo Scott’s point about the Saberhagen books, it was during my run through the series on DVD that I first watched Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris. Tarkovsky’s film deals with the same theme the Cylons are obsessed with: at what point does a non-human life form become human? If it looks and acts human, has human memories and feelings and truly believes itself to be human, is it in fact human? The fact that we’re even discussing influences like Fred Saberhagen and Andrei Tarkovsky should tell you this isn’t the same cheesy BSG we remember from our childhood.

Scott: Listen to us, talkin’ about Tarkovsky and Saberhagen like we know what we’re doin’.

Re: the scene where Six asks Baltar not to mock her faith: did they ever truly address the Cylon belief in the one God, while the humans — or those who believed in such things, anyway — were polytheistic? And not to wildly change the subject, but watching Starbuck do pushups in her cell is damnably entertaining.

Tanzi’s mention of the old woman who couldn’t read her number without her glasses reminds me: when the series first started, some folks were complaining that some of the characters wore glasses or that there were phones with twisty cords, as if those things somehow shattered their ability to suspend their disbelief. Those little details are things I really like about the series — for one thing, c’mon, we live in a world where you can have your eyesight corrected with surgery but plenty of people still wear glasses, and I can assure you, even if we were tooling around the galaxy in our Battlestars, I’m not letting anyone zap my peepers with a laser. And, by the way, I don’t remember those people griping when Kirk put on his specs in Wrath of Khan.

Watching the scenes of Galactica command and crew trying to sort out what’s going on as the Cylon attacks begin — and prepare for combat in a ship that was about to be retired and isn’t carrying much ordnance — is actually a little unsettling. I don’t like to make 9/11 comparisons when it comes to this sort of thing because I feel like it diminishes the seriousness of what happened that day, but it’s pretty hard to deny those memories while watching the confusion everyone is going through, the uncertainty of exactly what the hell is happening.

I have to say, I love seeing Adama barking navigation commands as if the Galactica were a seagoing vessel. And I also like that when Laura Roslin finds herself forced into the rather unenviable position of becoming President of the 12 Colonies (as the Secretary of Education, she’s 43rd in line of succession and the other 42 are dead) , she steps up to the plate and starts swingin’.

Tanzi: I believe they did delve a little into the One True God vs the polytheistic humans later in the series when Baltar had his little cult and was being idolized as a prophet. I didn’t feel that was as effective as it could have been. It was almost as if they had these ideas and metaphors they wanted to explore but they didn’t really have an end point or a plan so it never really came together.

Back to the pilot… I think one of the best decisions Ron Moore made was to include so many familiar elements like eyeglasses, Roslin’s cancer, the nukes that the Cylons use to bombard the 12 colonies. He even says on the commentary that it was a conscious decision because these were things the audience could relate to and undersand the gravity of the situation. We know what happens to people with cancer, we don’t intuitively know what Geminon Space Worms would do to someone, or how powerful a Cylon photon torpedo would be. I like that the Galactica universe is pretty similar to our own, only with robots and FTL space travel and paper with the corners cut off.

The way the attack was handled was of course heavily influenced by 9/11 but I thought it was handled well. The main feeling is one of helplessness as we see the planets bombarded and hear garbled reports coming in over the radio. It’s the old trick of letting your mind fill in the blanks far more effectivlely than anything you could do on the screen.

Scott: And that does it for Part 1 of the miniseries. You can read our take on Part 2 right here.

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