Battlestar Galactica: Humanity’s Show

Battlestar GalacticaI’ve been doing this blog for over a year now, but this is the very first time I’ve taken a request.

See, last week I did two pieces about being a nerd, humourously claiming the title another blogger decided to put on me. And in one of those pieces I made a comment about SyFy’s new Battlestar Galactica (the most recent version, not the old one I will reference below), even hinting at the idea of writing a blog entry about the show.

It was supposed to be a joke, nothing I was really planning to do; yet, I received numerous requests in comments and over twitter to do it. As @Safireblade commented:

“Well, get to work on the Battlestar Galactica post… Chop chop!”

Chop chop?

How could I say no to that? But I have to admit this is a tricky thing for me to do. Just ask a film critic and they will understand- is it easier to write a bad review or a good review? See, as a lover of storytelling, the idea of breaking down what I consider almost a perfect show feels a little… well… sacrilegious.

This is writing voodoo, and I almost want to keep the show safe in my heart, not expose it to the world; letting the memory of experiencing it over the course of its run continue to survive as a cherished memory.

So after struggling over the idea and what to actually say, I decided to set some ground rules for myself. Yeah, I’m going to do something different here, focusing on only three points I want to say about the show. Yet, here is the rub: I am going to attempt to do it without ruining even a minute of it.

Yup, I’m going to avoid spoilers, plot points, and, to make this even more difficult for myself, I am even going to avoid naming characters.

Why would I burden myself with such limitations, especially with a show that has been off the air for a few years now? Because this show deserves that kind of respect. Honestly, if you give it a chance it will speak for itself.

-The Characters-

When critics make their beloved lists of the best television shows, they usually put The Sopranos somewhere near the top. However, I think there is a major fault with The Sopranos which no one seems to address.

There is no character growth in The Sopranos.

None. Nada. Zip.

Tony (and every other character) is pretty much the same person they were at the start of the series (assuming that they didn’t get whacked). Tony will make the same decisions at the end that he made at the beginning; his therapy, honestly, was a giant waste of f**king time (it’s The Sopranos, I had to swear).

Think about this for a minute, are you the same person you were seven years ago? Are you even the same person you were last week?

No, not at all! You grow, you adapt, it’s one of the basic natures of being human and alive; and that is mirrored in Battlestar Galactica.

(Wait! Before we go on, I want to vent about another show that failed in character development and realism. Friends. Okay, I loved watching Friends; heck, my family owns all of the seasons on DVD! But in the real world, our world, would Ross and Rachel have stayed friends after they broke up the first time? No, certainly not! He cheated on her! They would have angrily gone their separate ways and the friendships would have broken apart. Of course this is a show called Friends that honestly should be called the Anti-Friends. Consider, each episode is based around one friend [or group of them] lying or keeping a secret from another character, and most of the humor is based on them mocking each other. Friends? Really??? I think not.)

The Spectacular CharactersPeople in Galactica get scars (internal and external) and they resonant over the course of their lives. It makes complete sense for the characters in the series to point to something done years earlier (for us sometimes) as a motive for something done later.

This realistic aspect of humanity is rare in television, especially in serial television.

-The Ending-

In 2009, Battlestar Galactica ended.

Done.

And for me the ending was satisfying, complete, as well as everything I hoped it would be. I know that it is controversial to say that but I believe it to be true. You can go back and watch earlier episodes and see that this was the plan. This was not a writer who was making it up as he went along.

One thing I find interesting about the ending of this show and Lost, another favorite of mine, is the desire they both share to find meaning. One universal truth around humanity (mirrored in both of their endings) is that we like to believe that our lives have meaning, that we all are on this globe because of some divine decision. And those shows, at their end, convey to the characters (and to us) that to be the truth.

A wonderful dream or illusion brought to fruition (for those curious, this search is one of the backbones to my time-traveling novel My Problem With Doors, of course I take a different path on the journey). Now, I don’t want to get into an argument about fate and religion and reality too much here, but what they are tapping into is an element in storytelling that goes all the way back to Gilgamesh.

We want to believe everything matters.

However, the problem with a successful ending is that it is so easy to shut the book and put it aside, let it gather dust until another wants to pick it up. That is true for me and Battlestar Galactica.

No, I never felt the need to watch Caprica or the new Galactica made-for-DVD shows (or even the newest release- Blood and Chrome); frankly, I think that as a watcher I had no questions left. My “stomach” was filled, why do I need another helping? Thank you, that was wonderful, can we move on?

Surprisingly, I haven’t even purchased the Blu-Ray box set of it. Oh, it has been on my wishlist on amazon for quite a while, but each year, it moves that much further to the bottom. But it doesn’t make me sad.  No, not at all, I went on the journey with the showrunner, and the journey was done.

So say we all.

-The Showrunner-

Growing up in the 1970’s, I did not like the old Battlestar Galactica. Some would use a term like “classic” to describe this version of the tale. I will not. It didn’t earn it for me.

See, even as a kid, it felt like a Star Wars wannabe; and thanks to J.W. Rinzler’s wonderfully detailed The Making of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, even at that young age I was pretty much on target with that assumption. Many of the people that Lucas used to make the first Star Wars were “stolen away” for Galactica, and then there were the lawsuits over it. When you care about stories and storytellers, hearing tales like that can’t help but make you feel a little ill.

Why we as a society don’t hold our successful storytellers up higher has always confused me?

We debate them.

We question their decisions.

And we confront them aggressively over the internet or in interviews if we don’t like what they did with their OWN story (Hello, to wonderful Damon Lindelof, creator of Lost!). And Ronald Moore, the showrunner, got that in spades each week he worked on the show.

Now, when it was on the air, I was so into the series that I listened (and many times re-listened) to Ronald’s podcast. If you are a fan of the show and haven’t heard these, you need to check them out. See, over the course of an episode, Ronald (and a guest, sometimes his wife which was awesome) watched an episode of the show with you.

These podcasts could almost be used in TV writing classrooms. Because, not only does he talk about that specific episode, but he walks through the experience of casting, budget issues, writing, and planning a serial of this scale.

He was more than a podcaster, he was a teacher! And he took his job so seriously that you as the listener can’t help but listen like an enraptured student. Yes, I was the girl in The Raiders of the Lost Ark with the message written on my eyelids while listening to these episodes. I think I learned more about TV writing from those podcasts then I ever did at the University of Southern California.

This podcast, the show, all prove that Ronald Moore was not the stereotypical TV writer just writing for the paycheck, dreaming of the day he could move on to film. No, he is a storyteller and his goal was to tell the best story he could in the limitations he was given, from beginning to end.  And each time an episode ended I couldn’t help but think he is too good for TV.

(Well, at least American Television. Do you not watch the BBC? Downton Abbey? Doctor Who? Sherlock? I mean, they know how to work with writers over there… Okay, that can be for another editorial.)

Which brings me to my one sad thought regarding Galactica which is the lack of new Ronald Moore work. Yes, he tried to get a show on Fox which wasn’t picked up (seriously, does no one learn from Joss Whedon’s experience with that station?), a thriller/science fiction movie script that was mangled by another writer, and the rumors that he oversaw George Lucas’s attempts to make a live-action TV series based on the seedy underbelly of Star Wars (bounty hunters, hutts, scoundrels, nerf-herders, you know the drill); whatever the case he has been missing. You could at this point put his face on the side of a milk carton.

Our last glimpse of one of the few great television storytellers was near the last shot of Battlestar Galactica. There he was, holding a magazine and then simply walking away.

…Leaving us to ponder the majesty of what he had just accomplished.

He had brought his story home.

If you liked reading this post, why not check out one of my books? I’ve had three novels published in the last few years, A Jane Austen Daydream (coming in April), My Problem With Doors and Megan. You can find them via my amazon.com author page here, or as an eBook on Google eBooks here.  Thanks for reading!…

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16 responses

  1. I agree totally with you on the point of character development over the course of the series Battlestar Galactica – and the ending was, as you say, satisfying. The character development is key to me in any long-running series – I never really care that much about genre or setting – it can be outer space (Firefox), a high school football team in Texas (Friday Night Lights), a hospital surgical floor (Grey’s Anatomy), cops and robbers (The Shield), England at the time of Henry VIII (Tudors), an aristocratic family in 1920’s England (Downton Abbey) or a horse ranch in Alberta (Heartland) – all that is necessary for me is that the characters interact with one another in interesting ways and that I get to see them grow and change. As a writer, I learn a lot about character development through the medium of such series.

  2. Thank you. BSG (the new BSG) will go down in my mind as the best science fiction series in history- there was something, well, see if you remember this – Adama sitting in Sharon’s cell drinking tea. Do you remember that scene? To me that one scene epitomizes the perfection that was BSG. Nothing I’ve ever seen in any TV or movie can compare.
    Loneliness, the need to connect, to change, to grow, free will, to be whatever we want to be, trust, interdependence, the sad strange human condition… all there in a single scene.

  3. Well I, for one, appreciate the spoiler free endorsement, since it’s only more incentive to give the new Battlestar Galactica a watch. I was never a fan of the old one, either, but everyone’s always saying how good this one is!

  4. My other half and I only recently started watching BSG — nearly 4 years after it went off the air. I was never much of a sci-fi fan, but I’ve come to appreciate the genre over time. And this series really seals it for me.

    We got hooked after the very first episode of the mini-series. We’re into Season 3 now. I look forward to that satisfying ending that you talked about, yet I don’t want to get there too quickly because that means I’ll need to find something else to watch. Ah, the dilemma…

  5. I am a scifi geek. I love everything Star Trek, Stargate, and Battlestar Galactica. I don’t have a critical eye. I simply enjoy what I am watching. Oh and one more thing, I was so sad when they cancelled Firefly.

  6. Pingback: The Best Intentions in Starfleet: Rewatching the Lesser Star Trek TV Shows | The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard

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