Reviews

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA REWATCH: Season 1 (2004) – #SciFiMonth

ARTWORK by Tithi Luadthong from 123RF.com

The stage is set. The lines are drawn. Humanity – or what’s left of it – is on the run from the Cylons and in search of a safe place where to rebuild its civilization, maybe even the fabled Earth, humankind’s place of origin. Cylons, for their own part, are as determined as ever to annihilate their former creators, their strategy working both from the outside with relentless attacks and from the inside through the human-looking agents hiding among the refugees, sowing discord or operating acts of sabotage.

As promised in my review of the opening miniseries, I will now focus on the main characters – people who came on the scene fully formed, offering just the barest hints of their past or psychological makeup, and are now given more room to grow and gain new facets.  

Commander Adama is a man somewhat past his prime, and the first we saw of him showed him ready to mothball his last command, the Galactica, and turn it into a museum: called to lead the ragtag fleet of survivors he rallies to the task (and maybe he’s unconsciously happy of this chance for a “last hurrah”…) and applies an interesting leadership model made in equal parts of stern adherence to military rules and of deep-seated capacity for compassion.   Adama’s main counterpart is President Laura Roslin: the former Secretary for Education found herself pushed into the role by the obliteration of the political chain of command, and is now battling with a role that feels too big for her and with a devastating cancer that could shortly claim her life, and yet this apparently shy and unassuming woman shows herself able to tap unexpected resources of inner strength and courage that will help her in taking often soul-wrenching decisions.

Lee “Apollo” Adama, the Commander’s son, is the Galactica’s senior pilot and – from my point of view – the least sympathetic character of the show: his on-again, off-again conflict with his father often looks annoyingly childish and pointless, particularly when one considers the dire situation of the survivors.  Kara “Starbuck” Thrace, hotshot pilot and official maverick, on the other hand, is a much more layered character: brash and insubordinate, she’s also fearlessly daring, not out of a lack of self-preservation but because she faces danger as she does every aspect of life, with a hunger to experience it to the fullest. She might grate on people’s nerves at times (she did on mine too in some instances…) but there is such an irrepressible energy to her that it’s easy to forget her flaws.

One of the main antagonists is Dr. Gaius Balthar: vain and self-centered, he was entrapped by one of the human-looking Cylon agents, thus allowing them to destroy the planetary defense grid before the attack. Making his way to Galactica among the survivors, afraid that his role in humanity’s downfall will be exposed, he keeps seeing a mental image of Number Six, the voluptuous Cylon who duped him, who alternately calms his fears, providing him with white-hot mental diversions, and leads him to actions that will ultimately further the synthetics’ goals.  If Balthar is in effect a despicable individual, he’s also a victim of circumstances (and his own hormones, granted) and as such it’s difficult to completely hate him because his failings are very human and it’s not hard to see our own flaws in his psychological makeup.

Where the introductory miniseries focused on the shock of the attack and its immediate consequences, this first season looks at its aftermath and at the material and psychological attrition of a war fought from uneven positions: humans are the losers here, constantly running for their lives on ships that are, for all intents and purposes, kept together with wire and prayers as vital supplies run out and tempers become more frayed with each passing day.  It’s not just a war of attrition with the Cylons, it’s a war of attrition between humans, their contrasting needs and the ever-growing fear and suspicion engendered by the revelation that the enemy might be walking among them, unseen and undetectable. And as humans are wont to do in hard times, their worst instincts tend to surface, paranoia running rampant among them as hate flares up with racist connotations tailored to debase and dehumanize the adversary (the term “toasters” affixed to the Cylons is a prime example of this) and psychosis leads everyone to look at everyone else with increasing wariness.

The other factor that tends to gain increasing space is that of religion: of course harsh circumstances tend to breathe on the embers of a dormant faith, or to strengthen an already firm one, but what’s interesting here is that both sides show a form of mysticism that takes hold more and more as the story progresses. Humans often call on their panoply of gods (the gods of Kobol, which bear a strong resemblance to the deities of Greek myth), and end up using the old prophecies to either encourage the survivors or to gain a political foothold, as President Roslin does at some point to spur the search for long-lost Earth. But the surprise comes from the Cylons, believing in a sole God whose will they claim to be carrying out: if this assertion does hold some ominous connotation from our own history, it does on the other hand pose the question of how synthetic beings arrived at the development of the monotheistic faith of an all-seeing creator when they are bent on the total destruction of their one-time material creators…

This first season of Battlestar Galactica offers a fair mix of action – the camera work on the space battles, for example, makes for highly adrenalin-infused scenes – and of though-provoking issues, while exploring the depths of human psyche in stressful situations. It’s dark and bleak, granted, but it’s also gifted with a realistic outlook that makes it quite enthralling and dangerously binge-worthy.

As I did with the mini-series, I would like to mention the soundtrack music, from here on composed by Bear McCreary and share one of my favorite tracks, A Good Lighter, that is often reprised during the series in several variations.

My Rating:

19 thoughts on “BATTLESTAR GALACTICA REWATCH: Season 1 (2004) – #SciFiMonth

  1. The theological aspects of this show were the laziest I’ve seen in a LONG time. Even Supernatural put more thought into their stuff. To me, BSG felt like the religions were tailored around the story, to make certain things work, or not, instead of being the framework from which the story grew. It also didn’t help that the characters, and writers, simply swept aside things when it was more convenient for them.

    Apollo really annoyed me for most of the show. He just couldn’t let go of that hatred for his dad and I felt like it was handled childishly instead of like a mature adult. I think they could have used that conflict and drama better.

    As for Balthar. Oh man, I hated his guts. From the get go and not a single thing about him through the whole show was in any way redemptive. He wasn’t even a strong “bad” character. He was the epitomy of spineless cowardice and selfishness. I know he was deliberately written that way, but oh man, give me a bad guy with some guts please!

    And yet, with all that, I enjoyed this too 😀 I am liking these posts and am looking forward to what you think of the further seasons. They’ve all kind of blended together for me at this point.

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    1. While rewatching I discovered that I had forgotten much about the story and the characters, which in the end turned out for the best, because it felt like discovering something new. The religious angle could have been more interesting if we had been given a stronger basis from which to observe the faith of both Cylons and humans, but I agree on the “pasted on” feeling you mentioned. As for Baltar, he was consistently weak and self-serving throughout the story, which would have been ok if the authors had not decided for the sudden change of heart at the very end, which to me came out of nowhere and looked totally inconsistent…

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Both actors were given the thankless job of portraying unlikable characters, and I appreciated their performance – particularly James Callis as Baltar, he managed to give depth to the shallowest figure in the whole story :-D. Still, I think they could have done a better job with Apollo….

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    1. The end felt like the proverbial mountain giving birth to the mouse, so I’m not surprised you don’t recall that ending: if seemed such a cop-out in many ways… (with the exception of the Adama/Roslin angle – *sniffle*) 🙂

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  2. I watched avidly the entire run of this when it aired. Unlike many, I wasn’t necessarily disappointed with the ending. I do think the series suffered a bit from the early opening that teased the Cylons having a plan. I do think season one is the best of the bunch, 13 episodes of pure awesomeness.

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    1. Yes, the miniseries and the first two seasons are the best of the whole run, and while I was somewhat disappointed with the final two seasons, I had a much better viewing experience this time around, and don’t regret at all having retraced my steps, since I could enjoy many of the show’s strong points.

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  3. I could see myself enjoying a rewatch of this, just as you are. It certainly had its issues, but overall it was a really enteraining journey. I think Olmos was perfectly cast as Adama, I can’t see anyone else now in that role. Balthar was interesting. Very annoying at times, but then there were the times you could almost sympathize for him and the situation he put himself in. And it was fun trying to figure out who the other Cylons might be.

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    1. The mystery of the Final Five was a very intriguing one, and I was sorry about the too-early revelation of the identity of four of them: it would have been nice to drag it out a little longer…
      Olmos is indeed the brightest star in the Galactica firmament: he have such depth to his character that he felt very real and relatable.
      And I hope you can enjoy a rewatch one of these days 🙂

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  4. I loved the show, at least the early episodes, and then hated the ending enough that I doubt I’ll ever re-watch. But the boardgame remains one of my favourites, a great one for 4-6 people that know at least a bit about the show, and don’t mind some treachery around the table 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. What would be an entertaining game without some treachery? 😉
      Jokes aside, this time around the ending did not look as bad as it did on my first viewing: being prepared for it did certainly help… But I keep thinking they could have stopped it at the scene with Adama looking out toward the horizon while sitting on his chosen spot: IMHO it was a much better ending than the coda the writers chose!

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  5. Fantastic thoughts on this first season, Maddalena! It’s nice to hear your refreshed perspective on this one following the review of the mini-series. It definitely does sound like there is so much more going on in this show than what I initially thought of this franchise growing up. Thank you for sharing! 😀

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