BSG to the extreme

Posted by matthew on Mar 31, 2005 in tv

In the week since I first posted about my newfound love for Battlestar Galactica, I have almost completed a bittorrent assisted, time-shifted catch up on the series so far. It was not until after I had watched the free RealPlayer stream of Episode 1 that I actually realised there was a mini-series before the current Series 1 episodes. So I had quite a lot of catching up to do.

The mini series was extremely good. It kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time, and ended beautifully. I’m struggling to think of a sci-fi TV experience that comes close to the drama and believability of this series. I particularly like the combination of old and new technologies, side by side with the duality of humans and machines (the cylons). There are moments that stick with me, like when a human-shaped cylon woman sees a baby for the first time and asks “Are you alive?” before killing it — apparently out of curiosity over its fragility, or just perhaps out of mercy because she knows that the world is about to be invaded and destroyed. Then in episode 5, the human character Starbuck asks a cylon being “Are you alive?” when she happens upon its crashed ship. She also ends its “life” — but can it be alive it it’s a machine? So there is this underlying battle between humans and the machines about which one is truly “alive”.

I really like the fact that the machines are given more and more interesting and human characteristics: questioning themselves and their motives, not knowing the full story themselves, and being vulnerable in some ways, just as humans are. A lot of time in the subplots is devoted to depicting human foibles. Mistakes, character flaws, addictions and indulgences are a very prominent feature. I feel all of this is asking us to consider whether humans really deserve to be a sort of “master race” of beings after all — but at the same time these are the characteristics that we associate with being “human”. All of these themes are very often dealt with in sci fi (how many times did we have to endure them in Star Trek?) but I’ve never seen them done in such a compelling way. They tackle the big issues, from the President who chides herself for having selfish thoughts when she finds out she has cancer to the brilliant scientist who is shamelessly susceptible to the sexual advances of what turns out to be a human-like cylon. It’s completely enthralling.