Yeah, so, the two-part season premiere (or, technically, midseason
premiere) of Battlestar Galactica debuted last night, and I have to
give an extraordinary shoutout to the show's writers, producers, and
WARNING: FROM HERE THERE BE SPOILERS.
First, a quick recap. Last season's finale was an echo to the
unfinished series finale of the original Battlestar Galactica. In both
cases, the Battlestar Pegasus under the command of a colonial officer
named Caine appears and joins the Colonial Fleet. This time around, the
show producers used Pegasus as a foil to show that despite the dark and
gritty tone of the previous two seasons, and the hard and horrible
choices the heretofore seen characters had to make, things were not as
bad as they could be. The new Admiral Caine, who outranks Galactica's
Commander Adama, is a sociopath out to avenge the Cylon Attack on the
colonies, no matter if many humans—or even all of them—die in the
process. She also not above the rape and torture of Cylon prisoners, or
the summary execution of any crewman or civilian that wavers even the
slightest bit under the yoke of her command.
In contrast, Adama—in his own words, thanks to the leavening influence
of President Roslyn—understands that it's now about human survival,
not revenge. As such, his first priority is the survival of every
member of his fleet, including those that under the strict letter of
the law deserve to die. That's why Adama hasn't executed the Cylon
Boomer carrying the human/hybrid child of Helo. It's also why he won't
allow Helo and Chief Tyrol to be executed by Caine, even though these
two murdered Lt. Thorne in the midst of his rape of Boomer. A sentence
of death may be just, but it doesn't serve the cause of human survival.
We need everyone we can get.
If the season premiere left it at that, it would be solid television.
That it reached for so much more than that is what makes it great
television. Adama and Caine were plotting mutual assassination attempts
of each other, but Adama actually stops to consult with Boomer, asking
why the Cylons hate humanity so much. Boomer keeps it simple: Humans
are too petty, too vengeful, too savage to deserve survival. In a
conventional show, this would telegraph that Adama would call off the
hit on Caine, but not vice versa, reinforcing the elementary character
contrast. Of course, this show doesn't hit the usual marks. Yes, Adama
calls off the hit, but so does Caine, suggesting that maybe Adama has
gotten to her the same way Roslyn got Adama.
Again, in a conventional show, this would mean that Caine would
survive, and she and Pegasus would part ways with the fleet on good
terms, heading off to rescue resistance fighters on Caprica (a
contingency suggested earlier in the show), possibly with Starbuck in
tow. Again, the show zigs instead of zagging, having Caine executed by
her own Cylon prisoner, paying for her sins even as she had begun to
regret them, turning the Cylon Number Six unit into the same petty,
vengeful creature that Boomer said Cylons didn't aspire to be. A total
inversion, totally from left field. Thematically, this is beautiful.
However, that's only the A plot. The B and C plots are things of beauty
as well. In the original Battlestar series, Pegasus and Caine were MIA,
disappearing to fight a Cylon Basestar. Since the new BG has kept
somewhat tangentially in sync with the old BG, we expected that the
massive spacebattle backdrop behind these episodes to have a similar
outcome. It didn't. Everyone survives, and Caine dies after the
conflict, leaving an intact Pegasus to serve as an unbelievable plot
device for future episodes. A departure of new BG from old.
The battle was almost an afterthought, given precious little
screentime. That's another departure from the old BG: spacefights are
the dull interludes between magnificent character moments, rather than
the reverse. Everyone survives the battle, most of which is observed by
a slowly asphyxiating Apollo, who is willingfully allowing his survival
suit to leak away his air supply. Apollo, who earlier learned that his
most loved and trusted comrades—his father, the President, and
Starbuck—were all colluding to assassinate Caine, probably agreed with
Boomer on some level: humans (and himself personally) weren't worthy of
survival. Remember, Apollo fought his father last season rather than
betray his principles of democracy, but couldn't betray his loyalty to
his father after he and Roslyn went underground. Apollo was a hero of
principle who saw death as more appealing than succumbing to petty
savagery. Also, the scion hero is now broken, another departure from
the old BG. Starbuck—who is closer to Caine's philosophy than
Adama's—is left to carry the torch.
Then, we have Baltar. Excepting Adama's private scenes with
Roslyn—easily the most subtle and powerful moments on television
during the last five years—Baltar had the most affecting scenes in
this show. His longrunning fantasy life with an imaginary or
psychically implanted Number Six was consciously abandoned in favor of
freeing and protecting the imprisoned, real Number Six unit. Baltar
gave up the last shreds of his old life, even the imaginary bits, in
order to embrace the more painful but more meaningful future.
This was the meta-theme of the whole show: out with the old, in with
the new. Caine, and her suicidal devotion to the Old Colonies was
killed for that sin, while Adama, Baltar, the new Number Six and even
the show's producers gave up all that had come before, even the old
incarnation of Battlestar Galactica. We've done our tributes and our
nods, it's time to take the characters somewhere new.
Adama is now an Admiral, not longer hailed by the same name and rank as
the old BG, Apollo is no longer the knight errant leading the Colonial
forces, and the Galactica itself is no longer alone, or even the most
powerful ship in the fleet. Even the Cylons are facing a new status
quo, having lost the resurrection ship that made them immortal. Now
they must deal with their own mission and principle with a much higher
cost attached. Is the price they pay worth it, especially when members
of their own kind become more human every day?
I don't know what the answers are, but I'm sure at least half my
guesses will be wrong, and that the processor of discovery will
comprise what is unquestionably the most daring and complex show on TV.
Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can also follow him on his personal blog.