spoilers ahoy!

I watch a number of TV shows. My schedule is heavily predisposed towards American programmes, but I watch a mixture of British and Irish offerings too. It’s hard to view a variety of shows from both side of the Atlantic, and not become glued to the box every night.

My iron-fast rule dictates:

Thou shalt not watch day-time TV.

This is to prevent my entire day being sucked down the plug-hole of television addiction.

In fact my main time-waster is really the Internet. I’m working on it…

I’ll probably opt for the European version of the TiVo, Sky+, pretty soon. It will allow me to make sure all the programmes I want to watch are recorded, and I’ll be freed from having to watch a particular programme at a particular time (although several channels repeat their lead programmes at least once a week so I rarely miss anything).

In Ireland we get American shows anything from 2-6 months after they were first aired in the USA. Thankfully, unlike the USA system, once a show is scheduled we get a complete run without any breaks. By the end of the series, therefore, we are usually only lagging behind by a handful of episodes.

This is the case with Battlestar Galactica. We’ve just seen the fifth episode of the second season, “The Farm”, and we’ll get a clear run until the finale–sometime in May.

Like a lot of people I was a skeptic about BG when it first arrived. The original show did not hold up over time, and I wondered what could be benefited from its revival. I caught some of the mini-series, and a few of the following episodes of the first season. I liked the bits and pieces that I watched, but I wasn’t committed to the show because I’d never got into the series properly. Some time ago I decided to shell out the cash for the DVD box set (I went for the American version which bundled the mini-series and the first season together).

Then I sat down to watch BG as it is intended. Finally the show’s themes, the characters, and the progression of events crystallised in my mind, and the breath of vision that the creator, Ronald D. Moore, had intended became clear. It stands as an impressive re-working of the original concept, with numerous gigantic leaps of imagination, and a hell of a lot of “what if” questions asked (and sometimes answered).

SF shows can become stymied by their laborious story backgrounds and visions of the future. BG is avoiding some of the usual pitfalls of a SF series by concentrating on the human stories first and foremost. There is no obsession with the technology of the show. Ronald Moore (a former writer for Star Trek) commented in in a blog entry about this:

I did want to stay away from the technobabble that I felt sometimes swamped the characters in Trek, and so I have intentionally avoided discussion of the technical workings of Galactica. Bit by bit, however, small windows into the inner workings do come to light and I’m sure will continue to do so in the future. Also, in all honesty, the writing staff often felt that the technological detail of the Enterprise was as limiting on Trek as it was helpful.

This very lapse irritates me sometimes. Often, I’m struck by how a society with a technological advances like FTL has such mediocre medical facilities, and utilises other very basic technologies (for instance in the last episode Apollo made a recording on an audio tape!). Most of this is swept under the blanket explanation that the Cylons can easily infiltrate complex systems, but that’s not a sufficient explanation for some of the more anachronistic details. Still, it is a minor quibble. Many people would not question, or perhaps notice, these issues.

More and more I find myself dwelling upon the philosophical questions that BG raises: what is the defining characteristic of humanity? What makes someone/thing human? Is it consciousness? The capacity to love?

“The Farm” raised the whole reproductive angle that I’ve been waiting to see examined. I squirmed when I saw the women hooked up to machines, and their identities subsumed into their capacity as–to put it bluntly–breeding machines. Their biological function becomes their raison d’être. In this way the Cylons have succeed in reducing women to machines.

For anyone with a passing familiarity with feminist dystopian futures (particularly popular in science fiction novels in the 1970s and 1980s) this is a subject that has been conceptualised many times. Women’s powerful ability as the creators of life, which is beautiful, is a double-edged sword because it makes them vulnerable and it can be used against them.

The Cylons are edging closer to Nazi territory with their obsession with reproduction, a single blind faith-system, and the repression of all conflicting orthodoxies. That is not to say that humans are coming out squeaky-clean either. What’s great about the show is the spotlight it places on the humans of the story. It examines their behaviour under stress, and what happens when they feel truly threatened, to the point of extinction. What will they do to survive? And will their solutions destroy what makes them human?

BG constantly points to the illusiveness of moral boundaries when one’s life is at stake. At what price comes salvation?

The biggest issues I have with the show are the philosophical ones. The Cylons strike me as being a mish-mash of conflicting ideologies, but because there is no real dialogue between humans and Cylons it is hard to have these issues teased out. I’m often irritated at the exchanges between Gaius Baltar and the phantom in his brain, the beautiful Number Six, because these contradictions are not examined. I suspect that now that Sharon is back in the game that there will be more exploration of the difference between the human and Cylon ideologies.

I recognise, of course, that the human ideology that is presented is not necessarily consistent, and the Cylons, as a mirror of humanity, are just reflecting back, and compounding, this inconsistency. That’s an easy cop-out, however. If Cylons are truly self-aware then they have the capacity for doubt, the ability to question their belief systems, and to notice the obvious problems with their theology.

I wonder when will we see the first true Cylon apostate? When will humans begin to worship the remorseless and humourless Cylon God (other than the lip service of Gaius)?

The main thing that all these questions point to, however, is that BG is a damn fine show. If the series is prompting these questions, and making me mull over issues to do with human identity, faith, and existence, then the show is succeeding in a magnificent and unexpected fashion.

At its best science fiction poses the big questions if life. You can’t get much bigger than the ones that Battlestar Galactica is exploring. It may not always do so successfully, and the show has its incoherent moments, but overall it is an excellent series that features strong acting and powerful writing.

Watching the latest episode of BG is quickly becoming the highlight of my TV week.