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.