last frakking attempt
six years (sour grapes department)

things are frakked: battlestar galactica season premiere

My sister Chris said she might watch the "What's Happened So Far" special and then see about watching the show itself, so I sent her an email with a few tidbits not really covered in the special. In my first sentence, I said:

Keep in mind that there will seem to be obvious parallels between the world of BSG and the "real" world. In particular, some things will seem like "America" and some will seem like "Arabs" or whatever. But this only goes so far, because the parallels shift ... "America" will be on different sides at different times.

How true that was tonight. You could get dizzy making connections to events, current and historic. I noted in my essay for the upcoming anthology that the end of Season Two had the odor of Vichy France, and that stink was even more obvious tonight. The occupying power, the collaborator's in-name-only government, and always, the visuals: toaster centurions as storm troopers. Meanwhile, there were the even more obvious references to current affairs, but who was who? The powerful Cylons do what they do in the name of their God (although it would seem that they are starting to lose sight of what their religious morals mean), which makes them seem like crazed terrorists. Except by virtue of their power, they're much more like a bloated entity such as the United States. And so there they are, occupying a land where they aren't wanted, using force because they have no other way of connecting with the people, while the humans commit acts of terrorism (suicide bombs being only the most frightening) and fight their seemingly losing battle against the Cylons.

Meanwhile, we got to revisit the favorite characters of the past. Some were much the same ... Edward James Olmos' Admiral Adama and Mary McDonnell's Laura Roslin still operate under the rules they've established for themselves. But others ... whoa! Tigh has turned into a pirate, single-mindedly using every possible weapon to achieve the tiniest objectives, innocent people be damned. Before he seemed too weak to be in a position of power, but now, we see how he rose as high as he did.

And oh, our Starbuck. This was the one character where newcomers to the show are not going to appreciate what's happening. Starbuck ... the role that was a man in the original, the gender change that pissed off a lot of fanboys of that original ... Starbuck, the toughest, bestest, fucked-upest pilot, Starbuck, with her butch haircut and her stogies ... Starbuck, under detention, being brutalized not with violence but with kindness, and she does what she knows best, she kills her enemy over and over again ("Fight 'em until we can't," indeed), and then the really unfair introduction of a child into the mix. In a crappier show, this would be a cliche, but not here. Starbuck knows what is being done to her, understands not only the reality of the child in front of her, but also the symbolic value of that child. When she grabs the hand of the Cylon at the end, it should make longtime viewers want to retch ... that's the idea ... and that's what I think newbies won't feel in their bones, you have to have lived with this annoying prick of a woman with the great smile, the great laugh, and the killer instincts, loved her more than all the other characters for her very existence as a woman in a role that was "supposed" to be a man. And to see the Cylons use the maternal instincts against her, that hurt.

Battlestar Galactica isn't quite as dark as The Wire ... there is a crushing inevitability to events in The Wire, while BSG still holds out hope that heroism will succeed. But tonight, that heroism wasn't making much headway. This was one of the darkest episodes television has thrown out in a long time ... next to the vision of life presented here, Dexter's serial-killer "hero" seems like a lark.

Comments

Charlie Bertsch

OK. I did it. I did it cold, without bothering to read up on the backstory. I figured the show should stand on its own merits if I was going to consider making a commitment to it. And you know what? It triumphed. I understood exactly what you mean by "retch." I felt that way after one episode. But it was so fucking dark. I've watched some of The Wire -- I'd watch more if our video stores had it -- but, though it's horribly depressing, it feels more contained than Battlestar Galactica. Tonight's episode was so apocalyptic. Damn. And the parallels you mention, with the shifting identification of "America," made that apocalyptic quality so much more viscerally real for me. Anyway, I wanted you to know that you got me to watch a show. I only wish it were always on at 11pm.

Steven Rubio

That's a good point, about containing the darkness. The Wire is about The American City, but what we see is "just" Baltimore. BSG is about the literal end of the human race. Or it was for two seasons. Now, the Cylons, at least some of them, want to live in peace. And at times last night, that seemed like a worse fate than total annihilation.

And, in that odd paradox art can offer ... I'm glad you liked it.

Chris

Last night, we watched "So Far," and then the season premiere. We're still talking about it this morning. I'm going to let Karen share with you her thoughts, which parallel mine, which she will do as soon as she can. Until then, just to let you know, we're in. We're depressed. But we're in.

Karen

I appreciated hearing from you that last night's episode was not as uplifting as the program as a whole tends to be. I enjoyed the "So Far" review of the first two seasons and was looking forward to this year's first episode. I liked the characters and was intrigued about their journey through space even though I haven't been a huge fan of other space odysseys.

To use a less racially loaded term than "dark," I would say that last night's episode was disturbing, at several levels, but especially at the "all too reflective of our current state of affairs" level. To see a super power invade another group of people and subject them to false imprisonment, torture, and assassination all in the name of their god rings of the U.S.'s involvement in so many places around the world. I can only hope that those who might not view US politics in this same light might be better able to see our arrogance and hypocracy when the invasion is happening to the "good guys" of BSG. I hope also that well-meaning, god-fearing people can begin to get a glimpse of understanding the world of suicide bombers. While I in no way condone this action - and was glad to see that Roslin didn't either - this show portrays how "desperate times can lead to desperate measures."

At a more visceral level, I identified with the "what if" scenario of being the target of an oppressive regime. I can imagine the not-so-far-into-the-future reality of the US empire falling.....and the subsequent circumstances we might find ourselves in as the rest of the world decides to give us a taste of our own medicine. I felt my own vulnerability as a benefactor of the privileges I enjoy in this country even as I detest the decisions of our country's leadership. I found myself asking whether I'm speaking out against our committed atrocities enough.....and on the other hand, what more could I be doing to help support those who suffer under our global politics?

While I don't enjoy watching TV programs that offer little hope or glimmers of optimism, I also believe that it is important for me and other progressive thinkers to be disturbed from our easy comfort. It's useful to be shaken up, to feel vulnerable, and to be awakened to the very violent realities that exist outside of this forest paradise where I reside. The accounts I read in the newspaper are happening to real people with families who love them and who we would love if they were anything like the characters on this show. Having the disturbing reality invade my comfortable living room is not pleasant, but unfortunately, all too necessary.

I don't like all of the violence and the way that women's voices are silenced in this show. I also would appreciate more characters that give voice to another way - a Gandhian, peaceful approach to dealing with the oppressive forces. Perhaps that will come as the season progresses. When "good" people find themselves in the midst of colonization, there are many possible responses. Real life shows us so many violent reactions - I hope that amidst the reality of this program, we will also be presented with powerful possibilities for seeking peace and freedom that don't involve violent actions. Then the full power and potential of this program will be actualized.

For now, thanks, Steven, for turning us onto this show. I'm already thinking about next week.

Steven Rubio

Terrific comments, Karen! If I might comment myself on a couple of things you brought up.

On the parallels between the Cylon occupation and U.S. actions in the Middle East, it's worth noting (since I believe one area BSG shines is in its ability to show how muddled and grey these areas are) that the Cylons were created by humans to do their work for them. Eventually the Cylons rose against their oppressors. Coming into the show now, you see the parallels between Cylon and American, but there is also a parallel between BSG humans and Americans, since the humans created the initial problem out of their exploitation of others. Of course, this is all complicated by the part where Cylons are just "toasters."

Near the end, you said you didn't like "the way that women's voices are silenced in this show." I really stopped when I saw that ... my first thought (and second, and third) was "she couldn't be more wrong, how can she think that even for one minute?" But then I realized this was what you might call the "tyranny of coming to the show late." Right now, most voices are silenced because of the situation as it stands. But in the two seasons leading up to this, one of the two most powerful humans still living was Roslin. Starbuck is the best pilot, and when she starts to lose her place atop that heap, the person who bumps her is also a woman. The various versions of Sharon/Boomer are extremely powerful, although some of those versions are confused about their role, and Sharon suffers, from both humans and Cylons, because they can't accept her "dual status." So in her case, her voice is always in danger of being silenced, but the fact that Adama trusts her to lead the mission to New Caprica, even when (one of the) Sharons gutshot him in the past, shows how important her character is.

Meanwhile, and this depends on whether or not you are including "toasters," Six (the blond bombshell) is a Cylon hero, Lucy Lawless (senior moment, forgetting her name) is crucially important, and Sharon lies somewhere between those two.

Other women who have featured in previous episodes include spiritual leaders; another officer who in fact outranked Adama and became, for awhile, the head of the colonial fleet; and various of the secondary characters who are presented on about an equal level with their male counterparts (so, of the people you met last night, the wife of Adama Jr. was about as important as Gaeta who works for Baltar now, Cally is a top crewmember and is involved in several primary plots ... even Ellen Tigh, creepy as she is, is a voice that doesn't intend to be silenced).

For me, since she's my favorite, it comes down to Starbuck. She's not the most important woman in the BSG universe ... that would be Roslin, obviously ... but Starbuck is the traditional anti-hero, it's fun that a woman gets to take on that role, and while she is currently imprisoned and seemingly wavering between docility and murderous rage, she has been the least-silenced character on the entire series for most of its run. And I have to add, even though I was v.freaked out at what had become of her, Robin (along with many, even most, online fans) think Starbuck is in fact faking her docility, using it to find a way of escape so that she can go back to being the stogie-chomping heroine.

A last note. I seem to have given a false impression about the "uplifting" aspect of the show. This week was worse than ever, but the entire series has been dark ... it's about the annihilation of the human race, after all ... and the "uplift" is tenuous at best ... the series hasn't given up hope, and there are small victories here and there, but that's about as uplifting as it ever gets.

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