Sunday, March 01, 2009

Battlestar Galactica: flawed beauty

So, yeah, I'm watching BSG. Not in real time since I totally missed the event when the show started, but I've got the DVDs and at this point I'm almost to the end of S2.

Season 1 was amazing I thought. There was a desperation and an urgency to every episode, with humanity all but wiped out and on the run, struggling to stay alive and stay ahead of the cylons while also struggling not to lose hope and remain human, even in the face of the overpowering cylons. There was also some ingenious ideas presented: cylons who look human and exist in many copies. Cylons who can not really die, because when they are killed their consciousness/soul/memories is "downloaded" into a new body. Yet these cylons are also individuals, and are able to somehow make their own choices (as in the Boomer/Sharon storyline).

I love the retro-feel of the tech with the telephones, the dials and buttons, the clunkiness of it all. I love that the colonials believe in many gods and I love that they all have ancient Greek names. I love the hints and teasers that point to Earth as the place of origin, though this fact seems to have been forgotten by humanity. (Kind of echoing Asimov's ideas in the Foundation series.)

There are fantastic characters and actors: Dr Baltar with his "imaginary" cylon is perhaps one of the most original characters. Ambiguous in his motivations and his actions and even in the sense of "wtf is he"? Adama, Tigh, Doc Cottle, Roslin... those are perhaps my favourite characters. And Helo. He kind of seems to grow on me.

S1 blew me away pretty much. And then came S2.

What happened? After the horrors of the nazi/fascist Pegasus being more or less sorted out, the show seems to have lost its focus and become something of a soap opera that just happens to be set in space. Apollo's love trouble, Starbuck cries/drinks/fights, who is Dualla dating?, and so on. Sure, there's still some parts of the driving story peeking through, but the show definitely lost steam. I still have 3 eps to go so I hope it picks up the pace and gets better.

My main problems with BSG have to do with 1 character. Apollo. I know Jamie Bamber has fans and big arms, but woooo boy!, the guy really does not have all the acting chops required to pull off all the storylines thrown at him. In one of the S2 eps Apollo has several scenes with Zarek, and the actor who plays Z just acts the crap out of the every word and facial expression while Bamber stands there with his 1 facial expression and his usual fly-boy demeanour. Appreciation of an actor is a personal preference, and I really do not get it with Bamber. At times he looks like a pencil-neck with inflated arms, other times like a better-looking copy of Tom Cruise. Other times he just looks pissed off or constipated. That's pretty much his stock expression. And OMG the whole storyline when he's in Cloud 9 and terrorists have taken people hostage there s.u.c.k.e.d. Rarely have I seen a collision of such a poor storyline with such a poor actor. He manages to overpower a terrorist in the bathroom. Takes his gun. Then goes out in the main area with the terrorist as "hostage" and thinks that the rest of the bad guys will let everyone go. Yea. Except of course they go "if you shoot our guy, we'll shoot your girlfriend". Somehow Apollo didn't figure that out? WTF? So he gets to give up his gun and eventually gets shot in the chest by Starbuck. She almost kills him: better luck next time!

Starbuck is problematic too. She starts out all strong and kickass and Dirty Harry. Which of course can't last, because we all need character development. Especially kickass females need to be shown to at least possess a weak side, even if they can kill cylons AND fly raiders like nobody's business. I get that. But to have her reduced to drink/cry/drink/cry/fight/cry/drink is just sad. I'm guessing she eventually does go and save her man on Caprica and maybe then she'll be allowed to be kickass again, but who knows. Sackhoff is a better actress than Bamber, but she's showy and sometimes I have a problem with showy actors who always do the big gestures and emphasize all the emotions to the nth degree. Still, I'd pick her over Apollo Adama any day of the week.

My favourite part of the BSG-verse is really the question it poses about what it means to be human. If you made a cylon/robot/android and it looked so human that it was barely possible to tell it from a real human, and if it was capable of emotion and growth and learning... then how is it different from a human? If it can even reproduce with a human being. If it can love and hate, choose sides, choose its own fate, if it's not just a pre-programmed machine, if it can choose whether to betray, seek revenge or forgive; if it is capable of all this... then how is it different from a human being? One of the most gut-wrenching scenes in the show come when the interrogator from The Pegasus is going to rape Sharon. (The blonde cylon on the Pegasus has already been revealed to have been raped and tortured.) Helo and Tyrol stop it, but afterwards Admiral Cain says that you can't rape a machine. But of course you can: if the machine looks and acts, feels and reacts and even feels pain like a human being... then how is it not rape? And really, in the end, the episiode shows us that committing the rape doesn't say so much about the victim and whether it is human or machine, but it does say a whole lot about the perpetrator.

Also, the idea of reincarnation through technology is fascinating. Knowledge and memory lives on, no life is "wasted", even death becomes a learning experience. Yet, maybe, it also makes the cylons less able to care about life? Maybe this is the thing that makes them less human than the real human beings: living forever just changes your perspective.

I'm hoping the show comes back to greatness. Hopefully with Lucy Lawless in attendance. It was a real treat to see her on the show, complete with dark hair and her own accent! I still miss Xena, dammit!

Screencaps thanks to


Anonymous said...

The Battlestar Galactica movie Razor (though aired between Seasons 3 & 4) takes place just before the penultimate episode of Season 2; between "Downloaded" & "Lay Down Your Burdens, Part 1" - I'd recommend viewing it there. I did when I started watching the show, and I came away enjoying it far more than fans who saw it as it aired.

Maria said...

Thank you for that tip! I just watched Downloaded, and will get my hands on Razor ASAP!

I really thought Downloaded was a return to the shows better days. So, I'm in love all over again!