Saturday, October 07, 2006

Return to Iraqtica
A few thoughts on the Battlestar Galactica premiere last night:

  • That was really one of the more grim two hours of fictional TV I've ever watched. I'm not saying they should have lightened it up--I think the plot as they set it up at the end of Season Two required a heavy dose of misery en route to however they're going to extricate the protagonists. But compared to what television ostensibly offers--escape and recreation--it was a lot to ask of the audience. Maybe that's why I like the show so much: they never make it easy for you.

  • Watching it with my wife and a friend, they somewhat resented the heavy-handed nature of the Iraq metaphor. This was part of what made it tough viewing: our heroes, driven by nationalism and religious belief and personal tragedy and just the simple wish for self-determination, mimicking the tactics of and occupying some of the same mental space as people who are, in real time, killing Americans. But part of what makes Battlestar so compelling is that the show's politics are slippery. In Season One, the trick was to make liberal viewers turn against due process--in the "Litmus" episode, when Adama shuts down the independent tribunal because he thought it was becoming a witch hunt, my response (which may or may not have been yelled at the TV) was that, dammit, they needed a witch hunt! In Season Two, one aspect of it was that what we might call the Bush worldview--Roslin's taking guidance from religion, even her intermittent messiah complex--isn't necessarily wrong in all circumstances; but another piece was that power unmoored from principle doesn't deserve to succeed (Admiral Cain is assassinated, even after Adama cancels his own plan to kill her on grounds that "it's not enough to survive--you have to be worthy of survival"). Now the writers are trying the enormously audacious trick of suggesting that good and evil are almost always contingent: Jammer's comment to Tyrol that "some of those guys [the New Caprica Police] are in way over their heads" is in some sense defensible, but so is the contention of the Resistance that they need to be killed to accomplish a larger good. If anything--as with Admiral Cain's defense of her own actions in Season Two--I wish the writers had given (or will give) Jammer more of a platform to make his case.

  • As usual, the villains are more interesting than the heroes. The Dean Stockwell Cylon, who seemed relatively benign at the end of Season Two, now comes off as a nihilist and a sensualist--he might not believe in the Cylon God, but that seems to render him with even less of a moral compass than the fanatical models. And the fact that all the models seem to be "individualizing" but at different paces should open up great vistas for the writers for as long as the show stays on the air.

  • Finally, I have to note that on the BSG website, they're pushing hard for the show as a good-time cultural phenomenon: there's a cheesy song/video (which I could only take about a minute of) and the gimmicky "frak parties" which I guess is something like a Meet-Up function for sci-fi dweebs. (Still, for your own amusement, I urge in the strongest possible terms that you click on the link and then run your cursor over the image at the top of the page. Seriously--go do it. I'll be right here.) But I can only imagine that watching last night's episode--with its large doses of personal and institutional cruelty, intimations of physical and psychological torture, and graphic scenes of loveless sex and amoral killing--in the company of strangers, would have been somewhere between unpleasant and excruciating.

  • Seems like most of the time when something momentous happens, the Raptor pilot Racetrack is involved. She was Boomer's ECO (yeah, yeah--I'm a dork) when they nuked the base star and Boomer saw all the other models of her; she flew the Raptor that got lost on the rescue mission back to Caprica and accidentally discovered New Caprica; and in last night's episode she was flying the Raptor when the resistance finally broke through the Cylon jamming. Maybe she's a Cylon, or maybe the producers find her easier to reach when they need a short appearance than, say, Olmos' son or any of the other less-known pilots.

  • For the first time, I think there's real reason to believe that Baltar's internal Number Six is just his own mind manifesting externally, as he originally said back in the mini-series. Her telling him to sign the execution order, against whatever moral pull he felt, sounded for all the world like self-interest and justification.

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