Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Catching Up On....Battlestar Galactica

So, "Catching Up On..." is a new segment for when I want to write about a show that I didn't watch when it was originally on. Thanks to the wonders of Netflix (my new favorite!), I have a whole host of entire seasons of shows waiting for me to watch. I'm starting with Battlestar Galactica.

First, my excuse for not watching it when it was first on. According to Wikipedia, the rebooted Battlestar Galactica aired its opening miniseries in 2003, right during the time I was studying for my first set of law school final exams. Exams are never easy, and law school exams are particularly strenuous. I had no idea what to expect. I certainly wasn't going to watch a miniseries based on a television show that wasn't all that great when it first aired. The first season aired during the Fall of 2004. You may have heard of another show that started at the same time: Lost. I hadn't seen the miniseries, and I never tried to catch up.

I was surprised to read and hear how fabulous the reboot was. The original show was mildly entertaining, but it had as much depth as a party princess. The reboot, on the other hand, was serialized, had a dark tone, and existed on multiple layers. Themes abounded. In other words, it sounded like a show I would love, the original be damned.

What cinched it was this. I posted on Facebook how obsessed I was with Lost. A friend of mine, I'll call him "P", responded that he was feeling the same way about Battlestar Galactica. I was annoyed by his post, as I was all about Lost at the time, but I filed it away for the future. "P" might have annoyed me, but he has good taste in television.

Fast forward to 2013. B and I have bought a "smart" television and signed up for Netflix. Spotting Battlestar Galactica, I save it on my list. Thanks to what I'm now calling "preschool crud", I was home for an entire week, wishing for an early death. I was also binge-watching Battlestar Galactica. It is every bit as good as I thought it would be. It's got science fiction, it's got mythology, it's got beautiful people, it's got great characters, it's got suspense. It was like a book I couldn't put down (which is a problem with binge-watching).

I'm currently at the beginning of Season 4, the final season.  I don't know how long it will take me to finish, but as much as I'm looking forward to it, I'm also going to be sad when it is over.

A brief overview of the plot (if you need it): humans created Cylons, who eventually turned on them. After a 40-year truce, the Cylons invade, and with the unwitting help of a randy scientist, are able to ride over the defenses of the Twelve Colonies. The Colonies are destroyed in a nuclear holocaust, while computer viruses make the battlestars and other spaceships inert, and easy victim to the Cylons. Humanity is almost wiped out. Only the fact that Battlestar Galactica was too antiquated to be wired into the system that was infected by the virus kept it from being similarly defenseless. A ragtag group of survivors in various types of spaceships try to find Earth, the missing thirteenth colony.

In the meantime, here are some initial thoughts, trying to keep the spoilers down (don't worry, I'll write a spoiler-laden post soon).

1. Edward James Olmos.

I've been afraid of this man since his taciturn Martin Castillo in Miami Vice. One glance, and it seems that he has weighed your soul and found it wanting. In Battlestar Galactica, he is just as intense, but he's a bit less of a cypher. Olmos takes over from Lorne Greene, playing William Adama, the commander of Battlestar Galactica when the Cylons attack. His divorce has haunted him, one son has died, and his remaining son won't forgive him for that son's death. (Adama in the original series also had a daughter, Athena, but she doesn't exist in the reboot). But in the crisis of the Cylon attack, he is a major force in keeping the survivors together. Watching Olmos bring Adama to life is a treat and one of the best parts of the show.

2. Two characters I adore: Starbuck and Gaius Baltar

First, Starbuck. In the original series, Starbuck was played by Dirk Benedict, who is male. The reboot rebooted Starbuck, by making the character female, much to Benedict's disgust.  Other than gender, the two are remarkably the same. Both smoke cigars, both are hotshot pilots - the best in the fleet, both are sexually active, both flout authority. But as played by Katee Sackhoff, Starbuck became a fantastic character.

Kara "Starbuck" Thrace is more than just a tough pilot. She cares deeply about the people in her life, but makes some really bad and impulsive decisions. She flees from emotional intimacy, drinks too much, and acts before thinking. But what gets me are her eyes. Her facial expression may say she doesn't care, but her eyes prove differently. She acts like she doesn't feel deeply, but in reality, she does.

If my next cat is female, I'm naming her Starbuck.

Baltar in the original series was a moustache-twirling villain who sold out the humans to the Cylons for power and whatever it is that one-dimensional villains want. In the reboot, Gaius Baltar turned into a much more complicated figure. He didn't exactly betray the humans to the Cylons, he just wanted to get into a pretty girl's pants. He had no idea the pretty girl was a Cylon who was using Baltar to get the security codes to the Colonies' defenses.

Baltar is a fabulous character. He's vain, he's a coward, he's brilliant, he's conniving. Actually, all that sounds like he's a typical villain. So I'm clearly not doing my job. Because he's more than that. He's cynical, sarcastic, insightful, sometimes caring and sometimes harsh, but he's always intriguing. He's an unpredictable character and his presence is always appreciated.

As much as I love the character, I am not naming a male cat Gaius Baltar.

3. Tricky roles for actresses: Tricia Helfer and Grace Park

The tricky thing about Cylons is that they have somehow managed to create Cylons that look just like humans. There are twelve models, two of whom are in the main cast of characters. Tricia Helfer plays Six. One of the Sixes was sent to Caprica to get the security codes from Baltar. Another was on the Pegasus, trying to get its security codes (it was offline when the Cylons sent the virus through the systems). Baltar finds himself haunted by another Six, who can only be seen by Baltar.

Grace Park plays Eight. One is on Galactica - Sharon "Boomer" Valerii. Unlike the Sixes, Boomer at first has no idea she's a Cylon, until it is too late. Sharon "Athena" Agathon knows she's a Cylon, but she's imprinted with Boomer's memories so she can seduce Karl Agathon.

Despite the fact that the Sixes are the same and the Eights are the same, somehow, their experiences have made them different. Caprica Six is different from the Six that was raped and tortured on the Pegasus. Helfer managed to make each iteration of Six unique. Caprica Six, Gina (the Pegasus Six), and Head Six (Baltar's Six) each have their own personalities, and I can always tell which one is which, just by the way she carries herself and her facial expressions.

Grace Park struggled a bit more, perhaps because the differences between Boomer and Athena were less pronounced (remember, Athena had Boomer's memories). However, she did a fine job, and I wonder if she finds her current gig on Hawaii Five-0 to be somewhat dull in comparison.

4. Danged spoilers.

This is a hazard if you are watching serialized shows that have already aired and read a lot on television. I went in knowing a few things that I shouldn't have, but it turns out that most of what I knew I would have known if I had seen the entire miniseries. But right before I was about to start the third season, I read a TV Guide article about the 50 biggest surprises on television and read something about Battlestar Galactica that truly did surprise me. Because it hadn't happened yet. This meant that as I watched, I was able to pick up on all the hints that I probably wouldn't have picked up on before. Has it ruined my enjoyment? I don't know. It's a different level of enjoyment, I believe.

Finally...most of the actors I'd never heard of before Battlestar Galactica aired, but many have moved on to other roles.

Hawaii Five-0 fan alert: Grace Park played Boomer on Battlestar Galactica, a character that was originally male. She did a similar gender switch in another reboot, Hawaii Five-0, where she plays Kono.

Dollhouse fan alert: Tahmoh Penikett, "Helo", played Paul Ballard on Dollhouse, an FBI agent who's obsession with the doll Echo led to his expulsion from the FBI.

Flashforward fan alert (were there any of these?): James Callis, the brilliant and beloved by me Baltar, played a character at the tail end of Flashfoward. I had long stopped watching by that time.

Major Crimes fan alert: Mary McDonnell, President Roslin, plays Sharon Raydor on both The Closer and its spin-off, Major Crimes.  I get a little confused at times when watching Battlestar Galactica, since they too have a major character known as "Sharon".

24 fan alert: Katee Sackhoff, beloved by me as Starbuck, was a series regular on the eighth season. She now starts in Longmire, another show I'm hoping to watch one day.

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