I have now polished off the establishing miniseries and Season One of Battlestar Galactica, which is officially my latest box-set obsession. There’s something especially pleasing about starting a box set which has a finite ending, so you can go at your own pace (unlike The Wire, whose first three seasons I caught up with on DVD, binge-style, then had to trudge through the last two, one episode a week, on FX). BSG, as I’m now comfortable calling it, concluded at the end of Season Four earlier this year on Sky 1 (and on Sci Fi in the US). The definitive Region 2 box set contains 25 discs: that’s 75 episodes, plus the “back-door pilot” miniseries. (The Razor, also included in the box, is widely accepted to form the first two episodes in Season Four, even though it’s presented as a separate entity.)
BSG is already mah favourite sci-fi TV series. Hey, I grew up on Star Trek, especially the original series and the movies, but have fallen in and out of love with the subsequent spin-offs; The X-Files was good, too, although the final season went off the boil; meanwhile, Lost has pulled it back from the brink. Entire sci-fi universes have passed me by, such as Buffy and Firefly. (Yes, yes, one day I will watch Firefly, I do have a job as well, you know.) But BSG has a story arc that I know for a fact concludes at the end of Season Four, even though I have no idea how, and that is why I felt compelled to dive in.
There’s no way I can review each season as I complete it without giving certain plot points away as I go. If you have yet to embark upon this epic quest from Caprica to the fabled planet called Earth, please stop reading. I have managed to avoid learning too much about later seasons by averting my eyes when I refer to episode guides on Wikipedia or other sites (I have also stopped using IMdb for cast information, as in brackets after each actor it says how many episodes in total they appeared in, potentially giving away the lifespan of the character).
So then, Season One …
The miniseries, aired in 2003 in the States, was our first glimpse of Ronald D. Moore and David Eick’s “reimagining” of Glen A. Larson’s 1978-79 series of the same name (I remember excitedly seeing the movie – at the cinema – in 1978, in the hope that it would be like Star Wars, but it wasn’t really, beyond a few similarities in design). Building on essentially the same story, it reboots, as they say, and sets everything up again: a distant human civilisation, the Twelve Colonies, see their home planet comprehensively nuked by Cylons, cybernetic robots designed by humans, leaving only those currently off-planet, around 47,000, alive. What is always referred to as a “ragtag” fleet of survivors gathers around a worn-out old Battlestar, Galactica, captained by equally weathered old warhorse Adama (Edward James Olmos, whose problem skin as a teenager has, many years later, made him a formidable-looking middle-aged actor, who might have been hewn from rock).
The only reason Galactica has escaped Cylon intervention is that its computers aren’t even networked! I love this about BSG – it’s not exactly lo-fi, in that its spacecraft are able to “jump” to other co-ordinates in the nick of time, but its comms devices are attached by curly telephone cables, its attack ships come into land like ducks on a lake, and the cry of “Warm up the computers!” is actually heard in the heat of battle in the miniseries. (In Season Two, when Gaeta networks the computers up in an emergency and has to un-network them to avoid a virus getting through his firewalls, he literally pulls the cable out of the side of his computer!)
It’s certainly militarily-themed, with Viper space-pilots the gym-toned hunks and honeys of the series, and many a pivotal scene on the bridge, with Adama and Michael Hogan’s pisshead second-in-command Tigh hunched over the octagonal lightbox, but there’s so much more to it than Cylon attacks, exchanged gunfire with funky noises and fire in the hold. First of all, there’s the political layer: Laura Roslyn (Mary McDonell) is sworn in as ad hoc President after the attack, despite being a lowly education secretary (“the schoolteacher” they call her, disparagingly) and must instantly face sacrifice and thorny decisions. We see the withholding of key information from the public – via a familiar-looking press corps – and a blind eye turned to rendition in the name of winning what is very nearly a War on Terror, with the Cylons not only “walking among us” but having a go at suicide bombing too. Next, there’s the religious layer, which really gets going in Season Two, which I’m quite some way into now. But in Season One, we learn about the scriptures, and the schism between the atheists and the polytheists – led by Roslyn, who, dying from breast cancer, identifies herself as a kind of saint, put here to lead the humans to safety on the fabled planet Earth. We also meet Zarek (played with a bold flourish by Richard Hatch, who was Apollo in 1978), a terrorist leader/freedom fighter, with whom Roslyn is forced to deal.
But most importantly, there’s the personal layer – you get Oedipal father-son stuff, between Adama and Lee “Apollo” (our own Jamie Bamber, of course doing a spotless American accent – you may remember him from Hornblower); you get unrequited – thus far – love between the all-too-gym-toned Apollo and Kara “Starbuck” Thrace (played by Katee Sackhoff), a seeming tomboy pilot whose more emotional side is gradually drip-fed to us, to the point where she takes on a messianic hue and starts crying all the time, but in a hard, I-can-fly-anything kind of way; the growing romance between apple-cheeked political aide Billy (Paul Campbell) and “D” Dualla (Kandyse McClure – now there’s somebody who had to re-spell her name for the Actors’ Guild handbook) with the hypnotic blue-green eyes; there’s doomed inter-racial romance between a number of Sharons (all played by Grace Park) – ie. Cylons who are convinced they can feel love and get pregnant but might assassinate at any moment – and, respectively, Helo (Tahmoh Penikett – how quickly you become accustomed to these unfamiliar names as they go past on the credits, and how pathetically I always shout out “Hello!” when he come onscreen) and Tyrol, “the Chief” (Aaron Douglas), who doesn’t know whether he’s coming or going. On top of all that, Roslyn and Adama are like the platonic, surrogate mum and dad of the show – he says he “loves everybody on the ship”, and still grieves the loss of his other son Zack, whom Starbuck feels she sent to his death – and both Vice President Gaius (James Callis, another Brit, but playing a Brit) and Col Tigh (Michael Hogan) are being manipulated by their own Lady Macbeths, respectively Number Six, the forces’ sweetheart-shaped Cylon in permanent evening wear, and the apparently humanoid Mrs Tigh (Kate Vernon), who sits around in a slip all day and makes Tigh do things he doesn’t want to do, between drinks.
I’m not sure who I’m writing this for, except myself, but it’s good to get it down, having been entirely sucked into the parallel BSG universe, with its colonies and its Gods and its own swear word (“Frak!” “Frak you!” “Frak me!” “Warm up the frakkin’ computers!” “What the frak?!” “Motherfrakker!” – it’s the malleable, all-occasions equivalent of “naff” on Porridge). I love the way the population number changes for each episode, I love the gay vests, and I love Bear McCreary’s stunning score, which I’m told grows with the saga – certainly that haunting piano sonata is under my skin. If only they didn’t feel the need to do a rapid-cut montage of what’s “coming up” before each episode. Stop teasing me.
Now, on with Season Two, and no more Mr Nice Gaius.