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BSG Season 1: The Miniseries February 27, 2008

Posted by Chris in Battlestar Galactica (Re-imagined).
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 The Cylons Were Created by Man:  That Makes All the Difference

Well, for starters it appears to me that Ron Moore and David Eick (the co-creators of this “re-imagined” BSG) can’t move quickly enough to establish how they’re gonna do this differently than the old series.  I seem to remember from the old story that the Cylons were created by an extinct alien race.  Here, in the first frame of the miniseries we get a clear statement of difference:  “The Cylons were created by Man.”  And then, “They were created to make life easier on the Twelve Colonies.”

This dramatically reorients the the moral compass of the plot.  Before, Humans were the innocent victims of alien, robotic and therefore, evil aggressions.  They were not responsible in virtually any way for their current travails (somebody with a better recollection of that series than I will probably object on this point and I welcome your comments to set me straight, if true).  Now they are clearly implicated.  They created a race of sentient beings that were used as slave labor.  Now, the Cylons are not evil per se.  On the contrary, they deserve some sympathy and understanding as to why they might want to eradicate their human problem for good.  This makes our judgments about who’s good and who’s bad very confused.  Ultimately, after watching the series through Season 3 at this point, I’m ambivalent about both races — Human and Cylon.  This is obviously the point.

The statements of difference continue through the opening scenes to come.  The beautiful Cylon woman contrasted with her fellow Cylon Centurions give further confusion about just who is Human and who we should care more about.  In the opening scene on Galactica, the camera follows a beautiful woman jogging through the active corridors of the ship.  Shortly, we come to find out that this is Starbuck, a tough, adventurous male character in the old series, and here an attractive woman with the toughness to-boot.  Here, the creators seem to make a nod to Whedon and his tendency to feature kick-ass females prominantly in his stories.  The next scene’s fist-fight between Tighe and Starbuck solidifies this impression.

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A Homage to Whedon as Serenity Flies by the Window of a Doctor’s Office on Caprica

The confusing messages continue, as we see the same Cylon woman killed in the first scene now walking down the street in Caprica City.  She comes upon a baby and her mother and is obviously very interested in the child.  She seems genuinely moved by its beauty and vulnerability.  But when the child’s mother is distracted, she snaps its neck.  While this could easily be interpreted as simply the act of a machine experimenting with life and death (a theme delved into more in Season 3), closer observation suggests that she is actually performing a perverse act of mercy, since she knows that the Cylon nuclear attack is just hours away.

The creators’ choices with regard to technology are similarly bold statements that set the series apart from it’s 1970’s cousin.  Adama’s forceful statement to Roslyn on the ban on networked computers on Galactica, the Galactica tour guide’s similar statements of exposition that give Adama’s statements context, and the liberal use of low-tech, analog technologies all make a bold and even somewhat jarring impression on first view.  All present a picture of a society that is extremely ambivalent about technology — something we would expect from the society that gave life to a race of cybernetic killers.

And the differences continue.  While family relations between Adama and Apollo in the old series were harmonious and saccharine, the first scene with these characters together in the new series is a bitter argument.  Likewise, Baltar is not some comically evil character straight from central casting.  Here, he is a victim of his own genius and the hubris it seeds.  This is one of the first signs that the creators planned to take this show in a different direction on more than just a superficial level.  Differences in technology, social structure, and character gender are all intriguing and important elements that create a unique science fiction story and universe.  But by creating strong conflicts between the main characters the creators send us a message that they intend to give us a character-driven show — something the old series did not do well.

As the Cylons begin their attack, the fascination with older (more “human”) technologies continues.  Both Cylons and Humans alike fire bullets and missiles — a nice touch that makes an unfamiliar world a little more understandable — a little more “real”.  The fact that the old Vipers work while the new ones have been incapacitated by the Cylons.  The fact that the crew is so nervous about performing a “jump” with Galactica.   These reinforce the impressions of a technophobic culture.

The sneak attack of course, has deep resonance for us in the post-9-11 period.  But the show’s creators have muddied the waters some and given us something to think about.  While the Humans are victims, Adama’s speech just before the attack where he questions whether they deserved to survive, echoes through the attack that comes.  The fact that the Humans of this story sewed the seeds of their own destruction by creating the Cylons has some clear parallels to our own situation vis-a-vis the Middle East.  As the current standard-bearer of the west, the U.S. has certainly played a role in creating the conditions that brought about 9-11 and while we were certainly victims that day, just like the Humans in BSG, we must know and understand our own role in bringing about our current situation in order to, as Roslyn says, save “…our collective asses.”

So how can the Humans reconcile with the Cylons?  How can the Humans change who they are to save themselves from extinction?  Baltar’s conversations with his imaginary Six (assuming she really is imaginary) give us a glimpse into one way the creators of the show offer us to come to grips with our collective guilt.  Baltar and his imaginary Six’s recommendation seems to be to simply ignore the guilt.

Imaginary Six to Baltar:  “That’s part of the reason I fell in love with you.  You have a clarity of spirit.  You’re not burdened by conscience or guilt.”

Baltar wants to believe that we can ignore the mistakes of our past. 

On the other hand, Adama is coming to realize that we need to face our past mistakes in order to survive — in order to make ourselves worthy of survival.  At this point at the beginning of the series, both Adama and Baltar see benefits from their different approaches.  Independently, each discovers that the Cylons can take human form.  Adama discovers Leoben is a Cylon while at the Ragnar Station and kills him.  Baltar finds out Six is a Cylon, then decides to implicate Doral as a Cylon as a cover for revealing his discovery of the Cylon device in Galactica’s CIC.  Though he has no idea whether Doral is a Cylon or not, it turns out that he’s right.   Evidently, selfishness and malformed conscience have their advantages.  As the series progresses, the creators return to this theme (among others), inviting us to judge for ourselves how we can and should address our past misdeeds.

What a fantastic bit of television this is!

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Comments»

1. Kym - February 27, 2008

Nice to be back commenting on your blog. Thanks for beginning with BSG season 1 so I get to read your wonderful analysis again.

I like the show (But I think fantastic is too strong. I’ll settle for good instead.)

As always you add a bit of insight to my perception of the show. I hadn’t really realized that Six might have killed the infant for reasons of mercy. I like that interpretation of her character. It fits.

In addition to what you said, I see Apollo and his father’s relationship as a twisted mini shadow of the human/Cylon relationship. Apollo is furious with his father because of how Adama treated he and his brother. The Cylons apparently are trying to kill their parents because of how the humans treated them. In these early episodes, Apollo echos the Cylons in that he tends to be analytical and think in straight lines. Adama can think outside the box and represents humanity in this way (as the first season goes on we see more crossover though as the Sharon with Helo breaks away from Cylon thinking and Apollo follows his gut to blow up the Cylon base.)

I’m interested to see if this parallel plays out over the rest of the series.

2. Chris - February 27, 2008

Good’s not good enough for me I’m afraid…I really love this show and for me, it’s on the same level as Firefly (gasp!).

Excellent analogy between the Adama/Apollo relationship and the Cylon/Human one. I agree with this completely. I didn’t see that myself, and I’ll keep an eye out for it in the future.

Great to have you back commenting!

3. Kym - February 27, 2008

OMG! You are a blasphemer! If a lightening bolt from Joss Whedon doesn’t strike you down, it should!

4. Chris - February 27, 2008

Hey! Check out comments from the Joss-man himself…he loves BSG too! Can’t stop the signal!

Here’s a post from Joss on Whedonesque about his love for the show:

“I’m just sneaking in to say I’ve been continuing to watch BSG, the wife and I are about halfway through season one and gushing isn’t gonna cover this one. You guys have heard me gush, so it won’t have any real meaning. You have to imagine Pauline Kael bursting into song, Lionel Barrymoore In “Wonderful Life” jumping up and jitterbugging with George Bailey, the Grinch’s heart growing three sizes… you gotta start down there to explain what it feels like up here. I’ll put it simply. The show is humbling. Not since the Matrix (the first one) have I had such a strong desire to go to writing school. I think it’s so passionate, textured, complex, subversive and challenging that it dwarfs everything on TV. Or in theaters. Or boho perfomances spaces. Stuff hanging in the Tate? Not as cool. I’m not gonna go on, because I have to get back to work and because if I really start, this post will crash the internet from sheer length. Only downsides are a) I was already having a crisis of confidence, thank you very much and b) I can’t go near any Sci-Fi mags for fear of spoilers. Apart from that, life is to be loved. The Gods are to be praised. Back to the job. -j. “

5. Kym - February 27, 2008

Joss better watch out –a lightning bolt might strike him.

6. Chris - February 29, 2008

Headline: Whedon Strikes Self With Lighting Bolt of Blasphemy

7. Kym - February 29, 2008

Yikes, I hope hope he can still write;>


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