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Sunday, February 27, 2011


SPOILER WARNING!!! If you have not yet watched the new BATLLESTAR GALACTICA and plan on doing so, or if you are making your way through it for the first time like I am, you're advised to give this post a miss.

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.

Kara Thrace, aka Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff): less a character than a rote action figure.

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.

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.

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.

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.


Kevie Metal said...

Perfect, dude. I totally agree that Roslin is the most compelling character. And Starbuck... always seemed to me like a big bag of somebody's idea of wish fulfillment. I don't know, Sackhoff does her all with it, and maybe in real life there are women who simultaneously look like her, drink like her, and fight like her, but I've sure as hell never met them.

As I'm reading your review I'm trying to figure out why I even want to rush to the defense of the show, because I spent a good chunk of the series feeling exactly as exasperated with it as you did. I think it's because I ended up enjoying some of the plotlines in season four, and the finale most of all, just by virtue of its sheer... sorry, almost got into spoiler land. Looking forward to your eventual review of the rest of the series.

PN04 (aka Omega Rei) said...

It's about time someone called it on it's BS. I've had way too many discussions with people that simply loved it like they'd been brainwashed. Maybe it's because I had a much fonder memory of the original or if could have been that it felt like the programing exec. at the network seemed to be pushing the show like a personal project, but I detested it from the first day and nothing ever won me back. I don't hold it against you for actually finding things to like about the show, frankly if I'd watched as much of it as you I'd probably try to find something redeeming just to avoid the feeling of wasting my time. In fact, if I did find one good thing about this it was the soundless space scenes that reminded me of the show Firefly.

After reading your review, the only thing I could have wished for more, besides the show to die in a fire, would be be for you to have been watching it live so that there'd be at least one person whose opinion I respect that could have said these things to more people before it infected so many.

Bill Scurry said...

Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell offered so much calm and gravitas to the show, elevating Sci-Fi Channel schlock to something more meaningful. Their chemistry was effortless and romantic, but also refreshingly platonic. Ironic.

Hellbilly said...

I enjoyed the show, right up until the end of the 2nd season and the "Razor" movie, which I regarded as the high point. Season 3 was total crap (albeit with some decent action in the finale), and tainted my opinion of the show as a whole, sadly.

As with a lot of shows, particulary sci-fi, fan support tends to be so fierce as to be blind, and even when a show jumps the shark, or in BSG 2.0's case, goes off the rails, most fans tend to be in denial about the true state of quality, even when it's obviously taken a huge nose-dive, as was the case with BSG season 3.

Hassan Godwin said...

Well, I appreciate the partial dedication. I thought when I let a fact or two slip that we’d gotten off to the wrong start. Again I apologize that my enthusiastic vehemence against the show, and probably more apt, the undeserved hype behind the show, got me carried away enough to be careless with my revelations. In truth, unlike your friend, if you’d called me and said, “Hassan, just tell me what the hell happens at the end.” I would have refused and said you gotta go through with it and see it out so you could get the full effect. So I don’t really know what I was thinking! That said, penance made, I agree with your overall assessment of the show. Yes I did find it entertaining, I was not bored, but that is mostly because even my most rudimentary storytelling attributes were on fire just seeing the first mini-series! I knew I was in serious trouble the moment overtly sexy Tricia Helfer (also a wonderful actress and nice the four times I had occasion to meet her. Very aware of her fortunes in the world and rendered gracious because of it) suggestively kissed the colonial official unnecessarily just before they were nuked in the show's opening, and then later the crude depiction of curious indifference when she snapped a baby's neck in her stroller. I realized we were not dealing with writers gifted with any sense of subtlety, and I.E. we were not going to effectively be dabbling in any irony. I'd have believed a good grab at irony would be almost essential in a commentary piece on the annihilation of human civilization. But hey, that's just me. It's like, starting with seven of nine, producers of modern day sci fi seemingly realized they’d been teasing the wrong organ of their nerd constituency. Why be intellectual, why introduce thought provoking themes when all this while we could have just been putting all of our female characters in spandex and claim the same ratings. Yes, sex in space is indeed interesting, titillating and all of those things, but the oddly encouraging reality is that sci fi fans are way ahead of the curve when it comes to empowered female characters. Even princess Leia, a hundred years back, wowed 70’s American audiences with her caricature uprightedness and fiery personality. She was also the leader of a revolutionary movement to liberate a galaxy from tyranny. Heady stuff coming up off Anne Francis from a decade earlier. Even though Leia was a two dimensional character, as were all the star wars characters, my point is that strong women was a bridge long ago crossed by sci fi fans. Your assessment of Starbuck being an unnecessarily over-compensatory feminist/ male adolescent fantasy is right on the money! I agree with your affirmations about Xena and Gabrielle, as well. Personally my favorite female character in sci fi, and in that the best written, was Major Kira from DS9. There was a woman in charge, effortlessly asserting her authority over a crew of strong male characters, and though initially sorta butched out by virtue of hair style, managed to display very soft, emotional attributes. She never had a shortage of male relations (averaging one per season) she had strong female relations (I.E. both Daxs, and various other ex-bajoran terrorist palls) she was devoutly, spiritually religious and a capable warrior. No one ever gives credit to this accomplishment, which is considerable considering some of the crimes that star trek committed on feminism. I agree with president Rosaline being a more assertive, better rounded character. I also think that it is the producer’s lack of enlightenment that maybe felt that Starbuck was necessary to offset the president, being a further along middle aged woman. They couldn’t possibly allow her to be the main female lead in their show, because they have to get the geeks off. More telling of their state of mind than the real state of affairs in prevailing male/female relations.

Glenn Greenberg said...

This was a brutal read! Ginny and I loved the show from start to finish.

duluoz cats said...

Couldn't agree more about Starbuck and fast forwarding ... that she was such a crucial character in the end pissed me off no end. I enjoyed BSG, quite a lot, I was a hold out as well. But most of the things you point out here are just about what I came to feel. After the end of season 2 and the start of 3--ready to throw the remote at the screen at times. I was pretty much done with it all. I watched the end mostly because the husband did and it was on anyway, so I'd half pay attention. In the end, I think it was an admirable try, had some terrific ideas, but only managed to shine on occasion and mostly just achieved good entertainment.

Red Stapler said...

I often called BSG "West Wing in space," and I was actually pretty by the insistence it was science fiction.

Laura Roslin and Edward James Olmos were definitely my favorites.

Starbuck is as frustrating as you say, but I sure love cosplaying as her.

Da Nator said...

Thanks for the dedication, Bunche. Altogether and awesome review, teasing out so much of what made the show frustrating and the Starbuck character despicable. Incidentally, Marci forced me to watch after the first two seasons.

BTW, I forgot to mention: it's pathetic that the writers included NO GAY OR BISEXUAL characters. Apparently, somewhere in the future, out in space, we have been exterminated. (And I know that, after much outcry, they made a lame conciliatory attempt by writing a bi subplot for Gaeta, but it was on their webisodes, which one had to actively seek out, was lacking in any warmth or romance, and was during a time of partcularly troubling behaviour by that characer.) Meanwhile, everyone else is free to cheat on their spouses and fuck machines all they like. But no homos! Yay!

Any women over 18 years of age, *particularly* queer gals, who thought Starbuck was awesome are revealing either profound ignorance (partially blamed on our "culture" or not,) or undiagnosed brain damage.

Da Nator said...

P.S.: Props to Hassan for the mention of Kira from DS9!

Sonja Kodiak Wilder said...

The president was great, but there wasn't enough of her for me. I found S'buck really grating and I love strong female characters. Then again, I did fall asleep during the pilot...twice. Steve, I admire your endurance. I reposted your link on fb. I think I have about 300 "friends" who are not familiar with your work.--Stephanie

Joe Rosas said...

I just loved watching the flashbacks of Adama (EJO) 'cause with that cheesy mustache...he looks just like my dad - had to laugh at those scenes!

Anonymous said...

Thank you! I completely lost patience with BSG and felt insulted by the pandering they did with that character. So many good sci fi shows tank when the writers feel the need to make the show draw in a female audience. I HATED Kara. The show hit bottom in the episode where all the cylons start singing "All Along the Watchtower". Caprica was great, but that sadly was cancelled.


Dan Coyle said...




It will only cause more pain. If you think your take on the show's women is dead on NOW...

Madhav said...

This series is pathetic, not just one or two, every single character of this show pisses me off.

ghostof82 said...

Sorry you didn't enjoy it, but I love this show and have watched it twice. I think it was wonderful and actually thought the ending perfect.

One of the things I enjoyed about the show was the flawed/conflicted characters and heroes that were hard to like. I thought it was a challenging approach, really. Felt more real somehow, and the music score was a revelation throughout, truly complex development of themes and motifs.

That said, I can understand its not a show for everyone. But do watch it to the end.

Bunche (pop culture ronin) said...

I finally did watch it through to the end. I called it less than halfway through the run and was bored out of my mind waiting to get to it. That said, I'm definitely in the minority when it comes to my opinion on this series.