Battlestar Galactica is not a great show.
There, I said it.
I’d even go so far as to say that it’s a stretch to call it a good show – though it is at times, in moments and patches (particularly early on). That said, overall it’s a hot mess, an unwieldy and overambitious sci fi soap opera obsessed with sex and religion and mythology that largely proved unable to convey anything truly interesting about any of those topics.
Perhaps it “hurt” my viewing experience that I watched much of the series in a compressed timeframe and not over the several years in which it was originally broadcast on SyFy. I had heard lots of good things from many people, of course, during the original run and as a TV geek (even before there was a TV Geek Army in which to codify my ramblings) I felt a bit ashamed about not having seen it, much like an English major who was deficient in Chaucer or Milton or some such.
I caught the first season somewhere along the way – via Netflix’ streaming service, I think – and thought it was quite good, and still do – but my attention had wandered off somewhere early in Season Two. Something about Helo and Sharon/Athena’s endless running around Caprica bored me enough that I dropped out. During the holidays this year though I vowed I would make it right. As a TV geek it was my duty, to the colonies and to the fleet, to watch the entire series end-to-end.
And so I did.
As I noted, the first season was by far the best, and in fact the pilot episode, “33” (which comes after the mini-series that acts as a first chapter of sorts to the series), is probably my favorite episode of all. The concept of the remains of humanity being on the run from vicious, untiring Cylons while an exhausted, beleaguered fleet is forced to stay on the run by making precise intergalactic “jumps” every 33 minutes is simply fascinating and thrilling.
Looking back, I wish that the series could have done a better job of keeping such a focus on tight and taut storytelling. That said, the first season was still rather good and had flashes of great potential that made me look forward to moving on. However, there were seeds embedded even from that early stage that would prevent the series as a whole from attaining anything close to greatness.
Examples include Gaius and Caprica 6’s endless religious and philosophical ramblings in the former’s mind. Don’t get me wrong: it worked in small and concise doses, and James Callis’ ability to playfully interact with “real people” and the sexy woman in his head at the same time could be a delight. I also mentioned Helo and Athena’s adventures on Caprica above. As soon as the audience knows that the human known as Boomer is actually a Cylon, the action – which plays out over multiple episodes – involving their attempted escape from the planet is largely diluted (yes, she eventually does change her mind to side with the humans, but that comes after far too much build up).
Really though the first two seasons were fine, and I’d have a much different attitude in total if Seasons Three and Four didn’t exist at all. In fact, I’d say the real (galactic?) fall off comes after there’s a time jump in the series stemming from new President Baltar’s demands that the colonists settle on so called New Caprica.
Almost everything that happens thereafter over the course of two long final seasons is far less interesting than the relatively minor quibbles I mentioned above. The mythological/religious/spiritual storyline becomes increasingly irritating and convoluted. Baltar’s transition from hated president to Cylon lackey to doomed prisoner to spiritual leader to… you get the idea. There are even a seemingly numbing series of episodes where the theme is drilled into our skulls relating the human toll of pushing on for one more day and one more mission (I kept thinking to myself, “we get it… seriously, we get it”).
Add on top of all of that increasingly protracted storylines dealing with the Cylons amongst themselves (every time the action moved to a Cylon base ship, I thought, “Ugh…”), dreams and visions about Hera and the opera house, Starbuck and creepy Cylon Leoben (Callum Keith Rennie) and her paintings, Zarek’s (Richard Hatch) uneven character arc (watch the whole series and you’ll see an erratic transition from “bad guy” to “good guy” to “really bad guy”), innumerable treasonous conspiracies/acts of sabotage, innumerable trials for treason, innumerable scenes of Colonel Tigh/Admiral Adama/Starbuck drinking themselves sick, innumerable things happening for no apparent reason (Tyrol beating Cally to a pulp, anyone?), innumerable plot holes/inconsistencies/wormholes (example: a Cylon is let out of prison on the Pegasus, who then murders Admiral Cain... and no one seems to care a whit), and on and on.
And don’t even get me started on how the series wraps. Angels? Really? I wasn’t touched, shall we say.
Therefore, I find myself a bit perplexed by the enduring love and admiration that Battlestar Galactica seemingly continues to receive. I did some hunting around online and found Alan Sepinwall’s (one of the sharpest television writers out there) series finale review to be largely positive. What’s interesting to me here is that I was reminded of how much Lost’s series finale relates to BSG’s in how they both look to heavily spiritual/dues ex machina/the gods had a plan all along (and I suppose we now know who the “they” are in AND THEY HAVE A PLAN) solutions. While Sepinwall was also largely sympathetic to how Lost resolved, I was bitterly disappointed after hanging with a series I had greatly admired and defended for six long seasons.
As I mentioned, there’s a lot of good individual things to pick out even during the turgid final run of episodes. The performances especially of Edward James Olmos as Admiral Adama, James Callis as Baltar, Katee Sackhoff as Starbuck, and Tricia Helfer as Number Six were invariably strong. Additionally, while the sets could often feel oppressive (which is the point of course on spaceships where the crews are cooped up for years), the action scenes and space battles were typically impressive, especially on a basic cable budget.
The purpose of this article certainly isn’t to trash a beloved television show that many serious TV fans continue to enjoy for its own sake. I was genuinely surprised with the problems I had with it, which only seemed to increase the deeper into the series I went. I started wondering if I was more of a “soft sci fi” kind of guy (Firefly and Wonderfalls are two of my favorite all time series, for example) and even went so far as to go through a series of neurotic self-examinations to determine why I wasn’t enjoying myself as much as I “should.”
Of course, not everyone has to enjoy all of the series that are broadly considered to be all time greats. No doubt there will be many who dislike The Shield or Breaking Bad, series that I would easily consider to be in that “all time great” category.
But for me, Battlestar Gallactica just didn’t cut it.
So says (just?) I.