Tag Archives: Battlestar Galactica

Galactica, Actually

In the midst of an otherwise sensible post on “Battlestar Galactica” and gender violence, Ta-Nehisi Coates drops this head-scratcher:

I think so much of this revolves around the fact that, in the past decade, the ceiling for writing and acting on television has been raised. I can’t have watched “The Wire,” watched “Mad Men,” watched “Big Love” and felt as I used to. I simply can’t go back. BSG isn’t operating in the world that Star Trek: Voyager did. The game is the same, but more fierce. Measured against that backdrop, I think the writing, and acting, on the show is rather lackluster (skipping ahead in time, at the end of season, was incredibly lazy). When narrative isn’t done in a particularly inspiring fashion, it seems that the first people to suffer are women, and minorities. It’s no mistake that “The Wire” is not only one of the best written shows ever, it is also one of the bestdepiction of black people ever committed to television.

Head-scratcher is unfair, perhaps, because I know why people think “Galactica” is a level or two below “The Wire” (or even lesser lights like “Mad Men” and “Big Love”). And if you get a few beers in me, I’d probably concede that the show isn’t nearly as good as “The Sopranos,” “Deadwood” or David Simon’s oeuvre, though I think BSG has earned its place on the second tier of damn good shows that aren’t quite as groundbreaking as their creators seem to think.

That said, this is all a bit too apples to oranges for my tastes. Despite its many shortcomings, science fiction is a genre apart. Unlike contemporary or historical drama, it has no easy reference points or ready-made settings, which is why so many of its best authors rely heavily on some preexisting mythology (the superstructure of Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, for example, is explicitly modelled on Gibbons’ Decline and Fall). Good science fiction requires its purveyors construct a coherent, believable future for characters to inhabit and interact with. Say what you will about “Galactica,” but its best moments marry an ambitious* alternate reality with real human drama, something that conventional shows can never match. At the very least, “Galactica’s” flawed efforts at constructing believable scifi represent a unique achievement in television, and for that I’ll always look back on the show with fondness.

*A caveat: “Ambitious” has become shorthand for “I really like this genre and want it to succeed on screen, so I’ll overlook or downplay its glaring flaws,” also known as “Dark Knight syndrome.” Because I enjoy starfighters and hyperdrives and space exploration, I’m willing to grant BSG a lot more leeway than I would a comparable show in a different, equally exotic setting. So maybe I’m just full of it.

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Faithless

Ta-Nehisi Coates has some sharp words for Battlestar Galactica, Gaius Baltar, and Number Six:

There are many things wrong with this first season–the hokey court-drama during that “tribunal” episode, the long extended nothing of the Helo/Boomer arc (I like Helo, but goddamn, can something actually happen please), the hamfisted War on Terror parallelism. But unquestionably the worst aspect of the show is the acting of Tricia Helfer as “Number Six.” My God. Helfer mistake cooing and grinding for sexiness, the way Karl Rove mistakes reading a book a week for wisdom. Here is an actor who has all the externals of her character down, but none of the internals.

I think this is basically correct, although axing Six would have left James Callis without the opportunity to exercise his considerable gifts for physical comedy. I also think it would have been difficult to develop Baltar’s neuroses absent some sort of internal monologue, so perhaps fantasy was a necessary expedient.

What really bothered me about the Six-Baltar relationship, however, was its shallow treatment of religious faith. Many observers (Joe Carter of Culture11 comes to mind) have praised Ronald Moore and Co. for their treatment of organized religion. Barring an amazingly well-thought out finale, I think the show’s approach owes more to convoluted mysticism than deep religious introspection, and the Six-Baltar dialogues were a particularly bad example of this tendency.

Baltar’s religious inclinations are a bit like my own circa 7th grade: we both pray for instant gratification – avoiding detention in my case, not getting exposed for crimes against humanity in his – and then take the result as conclusive evidence of God’s existence (my religious enthusiasm was highly dependent on the clemency of various teachers). Real faith, of course, is nothing like this, which is why religious belief is such an ambiguous, trying experience. Baltar and Six’s interaction suggests that personalized, made-to-order miracles are a prerequisite for faith, which is a bit insulting to people who pray and go to church without ever encountering Tricia Helfer.

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Not Impressed

The new BSG trailer looks weak. Which makes sense, because the show has been maddeningly inconsistent since the insurgency on New Caprica. Ah, well – two and a half seasons of really good sci fi are all that one can reasonably hope for.

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What’s that you say?

No more Palin blogging? As if I had a regular readership to pander to . . .

Aside from picking through disastrous political interviews, I also enjoy science fiction. Here’s American Scenester Matt Feeney on why the new sci-fi show “Fringe” sucks:

But “Fringe” is even flatter in its approach than “Lost” is, in Peter’s characterization. “Fringe” is not only not interested in “why,” it’s not really interested in “how” either. That leaves “what.” Despite the exotic realities it deals in, “Fringe” offers very little in the way of explanation. Instead, it takes its flakey fringe science and simply throws it at the audience. There are some lab procedures, along with some gratuitous CSI-style scalpeling (it’s one of those vivisectional shows where the gore is joined not to violence on live people but to policework on dead ones), but they occur in an explanatory vacuum. I get a kick out of the sort of sci fi in which the alternate reality is close enough to our own reality that the explanation has a buzz of its own, where there’s a little sci with the fi, and you’re thinking, “If only….” “Fringe,” though, operates according to an epistemology that can be summed up as: “Don’t bother.”

Then what are all the lab procedures for, if not discovery, explanation? They provide a sort of the outer form of investigation and discovery, a mime of science. It’s like watching someone clatter away at a keyboard that you know isn’t hooked up to a computer.

Wasting Lance Reddick – better known as Lieutenant Cedric Daniels of “Wire” fame – on a lame TV show should be a capital offense. But this post also reminds me of why I prefer science fiction that strives for a certain level of realism. “Fringe” seems dopey precisely because it sacrifices credibility and consistency for the sake of atmospherics. In the short-term, this may be a favorable trade-off, but over the long-run it hurts the show’s believability.

Of course, “realism” is basically shorthand for science fiction that follows (or at least tries to follow) a set of readily identifiable guidelines. “Battlestar Galactica,” for example, is a great science fiction show because it doesn’t compromise the writers’ coherent vision of Colonial society. Sure, the show’s characters have the ability to pilot spaceships traveling faster than light, but their actions are still constrained by certain hard-and-fast technological limitations. Creating a stable set of “rules” for an alternate universe does a lot to enhance a show’s dramatic qualities because it forces the plot to advance through character development, not random dei ex machinis.

Which brings me to this (totally awesome) entry on Imperial tactics in “The Empire Strikes Back”:

Via Robert Farly, Raoul Vega asks why the Empire failed to run combat air patrols (CAP) while in orbit over Tatooine (and later, Hoth):

My guess is that this is a product of sheer imperial arrogance. Remember; prior to the destruction of the first Death Star, the Rebel Alliance wasn’t in a position to do anything other than raid lighly defended imperial installations, and harass cargo ships. With the Alliance’s dearth of equipment, manpower, and leadership (throughout the entire series, we only see a handful of political and military leaders*), a direct assault on something as formidable as a Star Destroyer would – even if successful – be a heavy blow to the Rebellion’s ability to act as an effective resistance. If you recall, only a handful of pilots survived the attack on the Death Star (an attack which was carried out because of necessity, and not necessarily because there was a realistic chance at success). Indeed, if not for the last-minute intervention of Han Solo, there’s a fairly high chance that the attack would have failed.

Granted, arguing over Imperial tactics is pretty sweet, but I think this type of analysis misunderstands the nature of the “Star Wars” universe. Despite valiant post-facto attempts to flesh out the “Star Wars” mythos, it’s pretty clear from the movies’ dopey characters, pot-holed plots, and general all-around goofiness that Lucas never really envisioned a universe dictated by hard-and-fast rules. “Star Wars” is basically a fantasy setting that happens to include blasters, space ships, and Death Stars. Lucas gets away with it because the aesthetics are totally awesome, but when he tried to flesh out his universe with a series of prequels, the results were pretty disastrous. My advice: don’t try to analyze “Star Wars” – just enjoy it for what it is. Stick to BSG for all your amateur war-gaming needs.

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