TV: The Battlestar Galactica Boxset Dilemma
When TV achieves something special, word naturally spreads. Thank you, internet. In the mid 2000′s, episodes of the year and TV must-watch lists were praising Battlestar Galactica as fitting with the trend of TV of substance. A cult favourite of ’70s TV was being overhauled for modern audiences: a story of humanity on the brink of destruction, retold with parallels to contemporary events, and with a serious arc constructed drawing in mysticism, religion, and questions of identity. Barriers and conventions were being unfurled, sci-fi TV was receiving Emmy consideration and appealing across audiences. A true space saga was being told on the small screen with the advances technology allowed.
For this writer, the nail in the coffin was a picture in Empire magazine, in which Dominic West and Jamie Bamber looked overly-satisfied, as if their lives were better than ours. Truth told, it was the photo’s caption, which intimated that each was placating the other by praising his TV show as the greatest of all time. West starred as Jimmy McNulty in The Wire, and no one who has seen that show would question the hyperbolic praise thrown at it. It was the greatest TV show I had seen to that point, and, to be frank, it still is. Imagine then, the flurry of intrigue at this parallel being drawn with another show. The show? Jamie Bamber, like West, is British, and had found himself putting on a convincing US accent and playing the role of Lee ‘Apollo’ Adama in Battlestar Galactica.
It took time to get around to watching it (there is probably a great article in mapping our lives and the box sets we watched at different junctures), but this Christmas past all five seasons of Battlestar Galactica sat under the tree with my name on. Seven weeks later, I am into Season 4, and moan about how I don’t have time to study. My issue though is not that I’m gripped; it’s that the whole box set is at my disposal and I find I want to get it over and done with so that it doesn’t go unused. I’m interested in the end result; the journey is proving a bit… blah. Pose a hypothetical question of whether I would still be watching if I needed to seek out each series, rather than having the entire thing at my disposal, and I’m not so certain you’d get a positive answer.
From the outset, it was clear that tried and tested formulas were at play. Ronald D. Moore, a name known to Trekkies, admitted that plots were reused from his time on Star Trek. In Battlestar Galactica, relationships are predictable; inattentive fathers, resentful sons, and unrequited love interests are set up from the off and stories crowbarred in with an ‘episode of the week’ stiffness about them. So often people are extricated and set up for a fall, only for events to see them redeemed by the end of the episode. So much, including a long-running plot of the illness of a major character, gets solved with one line, quick fixes that feel like a cheat. The body count is out of all control and there is a shameless pattern of new faces being introduced only to be killed, or found to be a villain, shortly after.
The villains, Cylons, develop from faceless, near-omnipotent threats to divided, uninteresting baddies weak in the same ways they criticise humans for. There is no consistency around their abilities; at one point they annihilate the bulk of humanity but two seasons later can’t keep order over a group of 40,000 people. The first three seasons open with a line of text ‘…and they have a plan’. Menacing, except it becomes pretty clear after a while that there is no plan.
This is not an all-out beat-down. There are interesting characters: the development of some of the pilots in particular are played out very well and there are some great, moral moments in the tension between military and civil forces left to protect survivors. Every so often brave and interesting choices are made, and apart from the reuse of the same hallway space and various sets ad nauseum, the show does look great.
And so I find myself trapped by the box set. It will be interesting to see if I’m proven wrong, but this is not hope triumphing over experience, it’s a needs must exercise. Deleted scenes and bonus material are skipped and the laptop stays open to do other things. It’s been three mixed series. Can anyone tell me there is a worthwhile pay-off? Can anyone tell me to have faith? Can anyone sit and talk to me about how to analyse the mix of loathing and compulsion I feel towards the show, why I resist thinking about it and can’t stop and why I’ve only begun this to end it. Does it not seem like Galactica should be spelled Gallactica? Does this mean I will never have a healthy relationship? Battlestar Galatica is an entirely different animal to The Wire and it was unfair to begin by expecting it to be similar. But I did and now I’m fracking torn.