As some of you know, I'm finally watching the new BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (2004-2009), perhaps the most critically-acclaimed American science-fiction program of the past three decades. I was thirteen when the original series debuted in 1978 and my almost pathological hatred of that show is legendary among some of my friends, so I figured that any "re-imagining" of such a rock-bottom, empty-headed, flagrant STAR WARS cash-in would have to be better than the original simply by virtue of its very existence. And I was right. However, the further I get into it, the more I'm convinced that the updated show is largely the most impressive example of "the emperor has no clothes" that I've ever seen. I don't think it's terrible by any means, in fact I found it quite entertaining up to a point, but "Best show on TV?" Maybe if you're willing to overlook towering inconsistencies in the rules and plots the writers set up that happen in almost every episode. I'm entertained, but as of about early during the third season there was in my opinion a marked decline in believability/quality. In short, I don't think the show lives up to the hype.
I recently finished the episode where Starbuck's rival, Kat, reveals her "shocking" secret past and dies from radiation sickness before any further narrative mileage could be wrought from her revelation, and my overall assessment of the series at this point is that it was quite entertaining and fun when it was good, but it's really not a science-fiction show at all and is instead a military/political drama that just happens to be set in deep space and only has the trappings of sci-fi (there is virtually no scientific accuracy or even speculative believability present whatsoever), and from there its overall narrative gradually degenerates into a space-set soap opera. The performances are uniformly good, but the scripts are wildly inconsistent, often featuring plot points that make absolutely zero sense — the presidency of Gaius Baltar being the most idiotic and unbelievable of the lot — , set up rules that are frequently violated within an episode after they are established (the various points about the Cylons being fucked with all the time and to little or no real purpose), and threads that often go nowhere after much setup (which I hope will turn out to come together by the series' end).
Having been a lifelong fan of quality (and, admittedly, sometimes not-so-quality) science-fiction and also due to my overly-analytical/editorial nature, it is perhaps harder for me to overlook that the emperor has no clothes than the layman who actually watches TV with regularity (I have not had cable in ages and I do not miss it at all). The fact that this show was almost universally hailed as "the best series on television" during its initial airings is frankly baffling to me and I refuse to drink the Kool-Aid.
Chief among the elements of the new BSG that chafes my ass is that though I usually gravitate toward female warrior characters in most stories, I fucking hate Kara Thrace/Starbuck. I hate, hate, HATE her! She's just too much of a broad caricature of the archetype and I've seen her like so often in the wake of the excellent XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS that I'm sick of the character type. Starbuck is so blatantly a cutout who was both written and performed to be an "I am WOMAN, hear me roar" stereotype that she never had even the slightest chance of being a well-rounded character, which is a damned shame because Katee Sackhoff gives her all while playing her. (Her job here was in essence the losing battle of spinning the writers' straw into gold.) To me, a guy who never had a problem with women as heroes, it's a case of over-preaching to the long-converted and frankly I found it like being back in Sunday school when I was being indoctrinated with how "awesome" a 2000-year-old Jewish zombie carpenter was by the borderline-psychotic Jamaican wife of the church's reverend. (DISCLAIMER: I firmly believe Jesus existed as a fully-mortal radical rabbi and find much merit in what he had to say to the world, but I do not buy any of the more fantastical elements of his myth.) I called bullshit then and I now call bullshit on Kara Thrace. It's gotten to the point where I almost fast-forward the second she appears, but I don't in case I might miss a pertinent piece of dialog. (Surprisingly, in discussing Starbuck with members of my tribe of lesbians, all of them that were into this show feel the same way I do about Starbuck when I would have bet good money on the opposite being the case.) In fact, the only characters I really give a damn about are the Sharon copy who was a prisoner on the Galactica, Helo, Laura Roslin (who is far and away my very favorite), the Chief, and sometimes Colonel Tigh and his utter ho-bag of a wife, but that's about it. Also, I have just gotten past the point where Starbuck was presented with that little girl who was alleged to be her genetic offspring (which I didn't buy for a second) and after all the virulent Cylon-hate and disgust at the farms where the Cylons capture human females and force them to be brood mares for human/Cylon reproduction, to have her in any way be sweet to that kid...I call "bullshit." She should have picked that kid up by the legs and dashed out her brains on the floor. Then I would have believed all the hard-ass setup of the previous two seasons. No way would she have allowed the product of what was essentially a high-tech violation of her body to exist. No fucking way. And that action would have led to an excellent plot point and a major character arc by having her murder an innocent child and deal with the consequences and resulting guilt, but no such luck.
With the exceptions of a very small few, every single adult female I've discussed this show with worshiped the ground Starbuck walked on in much the same way that many women I've known over the years amazingly cite Scarlet O'Hara as an admirable role model. (Did they see the same movie I did?) However you cut it, Starbuck is not a "hero" I would want my impressionable (and sadly theoretical) daughters to follow. Without over-analyzing, I'll simply break it down to the fact she's basically an unappealing, abrasive, self-destructive asshole whose supposed heroism covers the fact that she's pretty much a hypocritical sociopath who's given license for most of her actions by virtue of being in the military. She's also a supposedly staunch believer in the Colonial polytheistic religion, but her handling of her adulterous relationship with Lee Adama (who is an almost total void of personality, by the way) proves that she's completely full of shit.
Xena (Lucy Lawless, who's also on the new BSG in a recurring role unworthy of her considerable talents): perhaps the definitive conflicted and complex female TV hero and everything the writers of the new BSG wish Starbuck was.
Lucy Lawless' now-deservedly-classic Xena — the biggest thing in female heroes for ages until the re-gendered Starbuck came along — on the other hand, straight-up admitted to her history of considerable evil and spent her entire series trying to make amends for her past (a losing battle from the get-go), and the thing that fascinated about her during that odyssey was that despite how hard she tried and how much good she did, she still could not fully exorcise the part of her that was a bloodthirsty killer. Her heart was in the right place, but it just was not in her nature, so her journey toward redemption was a fascinating study in inevitable failure and on many levels I think she knew that. I also will never forget the day I realized that she was irredeemable and that the real twist of the series was that it was actually her more "femme" sidekick/lover Gabrielle's journey from youthful naivete to fully-realized adult womanhood and how she absorbed all of Xena's positive skills and traits while completely eschewing the bad and never giving up on having faith in her lover's ability to change for the better (although I think on some level she also knew that would never happen in total). Gabrielle (Renee O'Connor) in essence became the hero Xena wanted to be, and Xena's individual failure can also be read as a great triumph, because her great capacity for evil and violence led to the genesis of a true hero who is in many ways the ideal of the enlightened warrior-poet. Gabrielle is therefore everything that the writers of Wonder Woman have failed to grasp about the character since her inception. And the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle, be it lesbian or whatever (and in the DVD commentary both Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor flat-out state that the characters were lovers and a deeply committed couple, but we all knew that anyway), was also one of the most genuine, healthy and realistic in TV history, and the positive give and take between the two was absolutely endearing.
Now, after reading all of that, look again at Starbuck and try to tell me that she has even one-sixteenth of all that deep shit going on. You can't, because it simply isn't there. She's an action figure for people with too much anger in them and an un-analyzed icon for misguided feminists and morons. Fuck Kara Thrace. In the ear, and straight on through to her empty, soulless brain. (And allow me to reiterate, my hatred of this so-called character is no reflection on Katee Sackhoff's work.)
Those in search of a genuinely worthwhile and outstanding female character on this show are advised to pay attention to the admittedly low-key president of the Colonies, Laura Roslin, played with vast subtlety by Mary McDonnell (perhaps best known to viewers as Stands With A Fist in DANCES WITH WOLVES).
Mary McDonnell as Laura Roslin, the show's most compelling female presence.As of a few hours ago I'm now up to the episode where, following the exodus from New Caprica, the Galactica and the rest of the ragtag fleet must make their way through some kind of radiation belt to a planet that will hopefully replenish their seriously depleted food supply, while Baltar is more or less a prisoner of the Cylons, and if not for wanting to see how all of this turns out I would just bail. For all intents and purposes I have lost interest in nearly everything on this show and rather than endure another thirty episodes (and two stand-alone movies that are connected to the narrative) I called up a friend who has seen the whole thing and asked him to tell me how it all ends. Now that I know, I was not surprised in the least — I won't come out and say exactly what happens, but I had to read Erich von Däniken's CHARIOTS OF THE GODS back in my ninth grade "Future Realities" class at Long Lots Junior High over three decades ago, so I saw it coming — and I could simply walk away right now and be content. However, after writing about President Roslin, I realize that I do want to see how her arc ends and I will stick with the show for her and the final fates of the characters I previously mentioned as giving a damn about.
Roslin is a former school teacher and the Colonial government's Secretary of Education under President Adar, but she finds herself suddenly thrust into the top office when the rest of the government is nuked into oblivion during the Cylon bombing of Caprica that opens the series. With no training whatsoever for her unexpected presidency, Roslin quickly proves a canny politico and leader who coolly takes no shit from anyone, not even the remaining military bigwigs, an attitude that at first rankles many but soon wins them (and us) over by virtue of her sheer understated badassery and occasionally shark-like political maneuvering. The woman makes many very hard and sometimes downright ruthless decisions, all in the name of preserving the safety and unity of those now under her authority, which is exactly what a strong and responsible leader is supposed to do. I frankly find Roslin to be completely awesome — even when she has to do some shit that is both highly unethical and flagrantly illegal — and my earlier statement of my gravitation toward woman warriors in stories of this ilk still applies, because she is the most intelligent and formidable of opponents and is definitely a warrior in her own way.
So my final assessment is this: I will eventually get back to it and finish the new BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, but I'm kinda burnt out on it for the moment. I admit that I'm a very tough audience, so take my opinion for what it may or may not be worth to you and proceed from there. You may find the show to be the best thing since sliced bread, so by all means enjoy. And despite all of my kvetching about it, I cannot say that the show ever bored me. It may not always have made logical sense and may have fallen into sometimes staggering soap opera stupidity, but being snooze-inducing is absolutely not one of its flaws.