So I started watching Battlestar about a year ago while it was all on Netflix and I got about four episodes in. I was into it, but when it was taken off the service, I forgot about it and just watched rewatched Cowboy Bebop instead. Then it came to my attention that the series was back up, this time on Hulu, and this was around the time that I had upgraded my account to be commercial free. It was a sign from God, whether they be Kobol’s Gods, or the Cylon God, and I’ve just now gotten through the first season.
A lot happens over the course of one of these seasons, so I’m toying with the idea of doing one per episode for season two, but this first one is going to encompass the whole first 13 episodes, including the two-part miniseries that kicked the whole thing off.
Battlestar Galactica, at least so far, is the story of Humans and their Robots, the Cylons, and it’s a story that has been explored from almost every angle since the beginning of science fiction. I, Robot strung together a collection of stories from the early troubleshooting days of the first intelligent robot assistants, Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep (aka Blade Runner) explores Robot humanity and their similarities to their creators. Meanwhile, in Battlestar, we don’t really get to see much of the Robot’s intended purposes since we come in to the story after they’ve already revolted and left the planet to found their own colony.
When we come in, the Cylons have returned and, in the span of a few hours, have wiped out all of the Human colonies, leaving behind only those already in Space. The Galactica survives thanks to it’s outdated, un-networked software, and soon, they gather the rest of the civilian ships into a makeshift fleet, making FTL (Faster Than Light) jump after FTL jump in an attempt to stay one step ahead of the Cylon fleet.
It’s a story of survival, but beneath the science fiction setting, and political maneuvering, it really has deep religious allegory that has been slowly building up more and more steam. The Humans have their Gods who parallel the ancient Greek Pantheon, and the Cylons have their own monotheistic God, but so far, the whole story feels like a dramatization of a science fiction bible. Stay with me, and I’ll explain what I mean.
The story begins with a forced Exodus of the human homeworlds. The worlds they knew were devastated, and humanity is made to leave with a select few on a series of ships. Humanity is left to drift through space on their arks, trying to weather the storm that took everything from them. Or, if you’re not into the Noah comparison, it also fits quite nicely into the story of the Jews finally leaving Egypt to find the promised land. The Cylons claim to be on a mission from God, a mission that involves destroying the Humans in an effort to re-balance the Universe after centuries of Human superiority and bloodshed.
The character of Gaius Balter is perhaps the most interesting in the entire show, purely for his role in the religious aspects of the story. He is a great scientist, a coward, a self-centered asshole, and a window into the human world for the Cylons. He inadvertently helped bring on the downfall of humanity by allowing a Cylon woman into his bed, and, subsequently, into the defense mainframe that he was working on, and afterwards, he finds himself plagued by hallucinations of her that he can’t distinguish from reality.
His character begins as the epitome of the selfish human. Too smart for his own good, only concerned with himself and his own survival, and willing to do whatever it takes to ensure his own well being. As the show goes on, he’s molded and changed by his internal Cylon muse, and by the end of the first season, we can see him moving away from the human Gods he never identified with, and embracing the Cylon God who seems to save him from certain destruction at every turn. The Cylon woman toys with his mind and his assumed truths about life, but also works to ensure his survival against all odds, all the while, planting the seeds in his mind that he’s a tool of God. The one true God. The God that wishes to see mankind’s destruction.
He’s got all the right traits for her to prey on. He’s self-absorbed, rational, and fearful. He finds himself succeeding against all odds time and time again, more often than could possibly be statistically likely, and so he begins to believe in the idea that he’s got a greater purpose to serve. He remains loyal to human survival at the end of the season, but the audience can see that he’s not resisting the Cylon hand nearly as hard as he was in episode one. He is Abraham, hearing the world of God and reacting accordingly. There are allusions in the finale that he is to have a half-Cylon child, potentially as a unification of the two species. Although my own theories point more in the direction that the Cylons want his DNA to further their own designs.
Putting aside the religious undertones of the show, I’d like to talk a bit about what makes the show compelling from a storytelling standpoint. The show has a decently diverse cast between men and women, and while there aren’t too many POC, it does alright for a show that came out in 2009. The show’s co-creator Ronald D. Moore came up with the term Naturalistic Sci-Fi to explain where this show falls on the spectrum of hard to soft science fiction, and I think the show if well served by not falling too far into either camp. It focuses on characters and their development throughout the episodes, but the technology is present and explored enough within the setting and plot that it never feels arbitrary and magical.
I’ve been very sucked into this show as of late and, unfortunately, my writing schedule has suffered a little bit because of it. Expanse is also not helping. (Seriously, check out Expanse. It’s awesome.) Battlestar is well respected for many reasons, but my favorite aspect of the show, and why I think I’m so engrossed by it, is that it goes beyond the surface layer of space battles and FTL drives. It delves into philosophical issues that mankind has always grappled with, and expands on how those issues might transform in the future once we have the ability to birth artificial, yet conscious life.
Determinism vs. Free Will, artificial intelligence vs. “real” intelligence, individual good vs. greater good. These are the underlying issues that every decision in the show is weighed against, and it makes for TV that is both entertaining from a fiction standpoint, and thought provoking from a human standpoint. Are the Cylons truly things? At what point do the differences between their minds and ours become negligible. Was Tom Zarek’s take over of the prison ship, and his ongoing Populist crusade, justified in using terrorist tactics to get the representation he wanted? I’m not quite sure yet. It’s been one season, and I have way more questions than answers. I’m excited to see how things shape up in season 2.