I started watching the reimagined Battlestar Galactica in July 2013 on a whim on Netflix; I’d seen the odd episode on TV (don’t ask me which) quite a few years ago and remembering some of the comments on the conclusion of the series I decided to take on watching the entire thing.
It’s been quite an epic journey and a much more satisfying saga than the sub-Star Wars nonsense of the original. Without a single exception the actors and scripts were superior in everyway. The original was a seriously derivative bit of work with some diabolical ideas in it but the central theme of humanity being hunted to extinction has resonance and written during mankind’s genocidal century was clearly a reflection of our own history, whether conscious or not.
But like so many programmes with such a big idea at it’s heart, the reimagined Battlestar Galactica also ended up with many deficiencies. It’s like being a juggler with too many balls in the air and too many questions it raises and potentially forgets to answer. Writers seem to get lost in the grain of an idea and then struggle to work their way back out of their own narrative maze. Battlestar had many such mazes and unanswered questions that after 70-odd episodes really do tax your ability to suspend belief beyond tolerance.
As a fairly uncertain atheist I have to admit finding many of the repeated religious threads not entirely convincing; if man really does make God in his own image then the Cylons were clearly in for one hell of a disappointment. If Battlestar genuinely is science fiction then religious explanations just don’t work for me. Not that I believe it to be literally incredible as it seems highly improbably life across the galaxy will be anything like us but because it is simply bad story telling. Humans love narratives, even if we don’t have one, we’ll make one up. We’re literally born making up stories. We’re told stories from infancy and we develop incredibly sophisticated mechanisms to identify, digest and understand stories.
Our developed senses for what makes good stories turns into an Achilles Heal for writers and audience alike. Developing a central premise [humans fleeing destruction] is a much simpler structure to set up than explaining how they escaped it. We’ve been telling stories of the threat from without for decades from the earliest days of science fiction; HG Wells set the bar almost impossibly high in 1898 with The War of the Worlds, on one hand it was a precursor to Battlestar, Wells’ wrote a tale of the destruction of decadent and complacent Victorian society with a parallel with the fall of the Twelve Colonies in Battlestar. Wells had a secret weapon for his story though, a weapon so powerful it really made the story a seminal work: he had an ending. Wells worked out an ending that was fundamentally satisfying even if viewed in atheistic or theological terms.
Battlestar started to come apart because it ended up with too many plot threads that either it couldn’t or wouldn’t explain. A rational explanation for certain plot points is essential if the story is to have narrative credibility. So many different elements ran through the show like fractures. If you introduce any question or threads I would argue that as a story teller you have an obligation to your audience to answer it in a satisfactory. Doing otherwise tends to look like you’ve bit off more than you can chew or you really don’t know how things are meant to be resolved.
You really can’t start a show off with a premise which says the Cylons are destroying mankind because of a preordained “plan” without going into detail of what that is. On the surface their plan is the genocide of all humans which isn’t really much of a plan and so self-evident it’s not really much of a reveal. So, what was their plan? After 70+ episodes do we really know? Was it anything more nuanced that hunting man to extinction? If it wasn’t more philosophical than that than our bill of goods is looking a bit shoddy.
More to come…