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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Rumination's* on Battlestar's Final Flight

Above: Writer/Producer Ronald D. Moore and Edward James Olmos. BTW anyone interested in writing or storytelling should listen to RDM's podcasts for the episodes. These aren't your typical director's commentaries, but insightful and well thought out explanations of the creative process. Also, RDM has said he will make the writer's retreat audio available for the final season.
*whoever can explain the connection between Ronald D. Moore and the word Ruminate gets some major nerd cool points...

"No reason to get excited," the thief, he kindly spoke,
"There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke.
But you and I, we've been through that, and this is not our fate,
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late."
-Bob Dylan, All Along the Watchtower

Two hours is all we have left. However, with its relatively small basic cable budget, and being a remake of a cult show itself as well as being show which has totally re-wrote the rules of space based science fiction, that it survived this long is in itself an accomplishment.
(here's an article about the show's recent UN screening)

Edward James Olmos called it the best thing he’s ever been involved with, calling to mind that he was in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner; I remember Blade Runner in the ‘80’s; how nobody knew what to do with it. Now it’s considered one of the great American Films. So, when Olmos gives such praise to Battlestar Galactica, it has added meaning to sci-fi fans, and cult classics. Like Blade Runner, BSG will be rediscovered down the road, and appreciated for what it is. Hyperbole usually hurts more than it helps, so I won’t heap out the praises I think this show deserves.

I recently re-watched some episodes from previous seasons. I noticed two things: that the show has really been unflinching in its ability to discard integral cast members, and how the writers knew what they were doing most of the time.What started as a simple post-9/11 revisiting of the idea of violence and the nature of humanity, has blossomed into the most philosophically challenging show of my lifetime.

Based around some of the most flawed characters in any genre work, it gave us the first difficult look at Iraq, by turning the paradigmatic tables on our protagonists, who became the insurgents and had to wrestle with the ethics of using suicide bombers. The show repeatedly challenges the notion of what it means to be human. The character arcs of Caprica Six and Athena have made us question if machines have souls, while Cavil has asked what it really means to be a machine. It has dealt with religious fanaticism and compared it with the true faith, and its many crises, of dying President Laura Roslyn. Through the deaths of most of the principal cast to this point in the series, it has dealt with loss, grief, death, and resurrection.

It re-framed its audience’s existential idea of itself and it’s very relationship to the protagonists through its revelation about the fate of earth. Above all it has given us some of the most vivid and complex characters of any show, let alone a science fiction show. From Admiral Adama and his estranged relationship with his son, still grieving over the loss of his wife and youngest son to President Laura Roslyn, who is the backbone of the human survivors, despite her terminal case of cancer. Their romantic relationship was developed so subtly, that it seemed almost alien for a television program in its maturity.

There have been measures of salvation. Moments of grace. Yet, like Adama and Roslyn’s subtle relationship, in the face of extinction and imminent death, BSG is true to itself as a brutal show, not for shock value, but because it exists in a brutal universe. Humanity’s chance of survival is minimal. Space and war are not accommodating situations and we don't make it any easier for ourselves.

If you have not seen BSG, start with the miniseries, and give it time. You’ll be hooked after the first few episodes of the first season. Give it a try. This is a sci-fi show for people who don’t like sci-fi, in that it has little science or fiction to it. It turns the tropes of space opera (exemplified most excessively by the show it’s based upon) on their heads. It’s borrowed from the Old Testament, Shakespeare, Sophocles, and Aeschylus, and Homer. At the same time, as the old Law and Order tease used to say, it has “ripped from the headlines” Abu Grahib, the 2000 election, and numerous direct references to elements of the War on Terror.

Even more fundamentally it's a show deeply versed and proficient in philosophy that knows how to also confront theological questions borrowing from Eastern and Western religious traditions. I could go on, but much has already been written about the show, and much more will be written. And no doubt Ronald D. Moore has some surprises in store for BSG's final mission.

As Adama toasted a few episodes back:

"Here's to Galactica, the finest ship in the fleet."

1 comment:

Parker said...

Well said. I've never been able to really express why this show means so much to me when people ask why I'm such a devotee, but you've done it so nicely, and with loads more insight than I could have ever rustled up. I may use this to convert the unconverted, so I thank you in advance. Tomorrow's gonna be great, if not a bit sad...