Rewatching episodes of this humanity-bending epic, is pure delight. It stands up (yes, it’s 10 years later. How did that happen?). The characters, the writing, the intrigue. Everything (well, almost) is well crafted. From the interplay between religion and sense of self, to the layered politics, the relationships (human and non), the known and unknown evils, and the long twisting road toward a satisfying conclusion, the series manages many characters, plots, and themes with the aptitude of much grander, more expensive sagas. Does the show go astray at points? Absolutely. But I’d contend that on the whole it’s one of the strongest long run shows ever on television. A few of my favorite points:
[the rest contains spoilers. but, seriously, just go watch it (and please forgive much of season 3]
The Crux of the Issue
What actually makes us human? From the very beginning of this story the question is posed to us, in a fascinating departure from the original concept. The story was originally told with the “bad guys” as huge metal robots, or “Toasters”. In this incarnation (in case you’ve been living under a fracking rock), the Cylons look (and feel, bleed, and think) like humans – to the point where it’s incredibly difficult even for the greatest scientific minds to tell them apart.
By pitting humans against our human doppelgängers, we aren’t left with much choice but to question the very nature of our humanity. Is it love? Is it faith? Is it simply the act of being “born”? The show eases us into many of these complexities via a few insightful character narratives. One Cylon doesn’t know she is one, but starts to suspect. Another Cylon knows she’s not human, but falls in love with a human, leaving her to question to loyalties and her understanding of herself. All along the humans grapple with the fact that their enemies are nearly indistinguishable from themselves. Can you torture a Cylon? Do they feel pain, remorse, wonder, love, like we do? And if they do… If they can experience, love, pray, and die just like we can, then what really separates us anyway?
One of the strongest things about this show is the fact that there are multiple, complex women at the helm. The President of ‘The Colonies’ is a strong, smart, thoughtful woman. The greatest pilot in the fleet is a woman. Several of the Cylon models are women, with intricate roles, which for most of them involve playing more than one character, or even a character pretending to be another character. The juicy roles for these women makes this show stand apart, not only in it’s own day (2004), but today as well. While there are more and more fantastic roles for women in television, I’m not sure there’s ever been another drama with this many lead female characters and screen time. Seeing a female President stand up against an aggressive male military leader is delicious (not to mention the intelligence and sensuality that they inject into the “older” woman’s character). In the very first episode our fighter pilot punches an older guy right in the face – in the original run of this story, this character was male (you can imagine the outrage from men when it was announced their beloved Starbuck would be female). This show is exactly what show runners should have to watch to educate themselves in the ways to craft a feminist narrative.
Another note about feminism in this show: I really enjoyed that the show was set in a sort of post-sexist world, from the very beginning. You’re actually a little jarred to see men taking orders from women without batting an eyelash, the same sex bathrooms, and the socially accepted “Sir” used without a gendered take. It’s not that the show doesn’t deal with issues of sexuality, gender, identity and even rape, it’s just that the foundation upon which it’s built is a humanist/feminist one, and it’s refreshing as frack – even 13 years later.
BSG did a fantastic job developing its characters over 4 seasons. Granted there were some loved and some hated incarnations, but I don’t think the show can be faulted for not creating inventive and emotional arcs for almost every one of them. Despite the fact that they’re in some sort of futuristic space war, you relate deeply with so many of the characters, their decisions, and the relationships they hold. The interaction between the characters are the meat of the narrative in so many ways. Whether Cylon to human, Cylon to Cylon, or human to human, each relationship grows, tests, expands, and emotionally connects us with each character more. In the first season the tension between President Roslin and the Commander Adama swings back and forth between adversaries, trusted colleagues, friends, enemies, and everything in between. But the foundation they build, leading the last of humanity together, creates a fantastic connection that is explored from a variety of angles over the next seasons. Similarly Adama’s relationship with a Cylon model that tries to kill him, his volatile adoptive-daughter, and his angry son, are all some of the most heart wrenching and dramatic threads throughout the show. I could go on and on, but suffice it say, the way the show puts together characters, challenges them, tears them apart and picks up the pieces, make it one of the best character-driven dramas of all time.
So say we all.
I highly recommend you pick up this and binge it. Yes there are pieces that drag (22 episodes is just too long). Yes Season 3 gets a little painful at times. But, IT’S WORTH IT. This show is some of the best sci-fi ever written. The nerdiest of sci-fi nerds (cough Trekkies, cough) may argue with me on that point (not enough aliens, science, blah blah blah), but in terms of what makes fantastic sci-fi television that appeals to an intelligent and emotionally intelligent audience, BSG nailed it.