Thursday, April 23, 2009

Battlestar Galactica

We've starting watching Battlestar Galactica, timing it perfectly so we begin right after the last episode airs. I suppose there's an advantage in starting after the end, in that you rarely have to wait. Though you can't necessarily say "I was there from the start!" but that and a nickel will buy you a cup of coffee, I hear. By the way, this is the first blog post I'm linking to Facebook, which ought to increase my readership by approximately 10000%.

Note - we've watched the pilot miniseries and the first two seasons.

Battlestar Galactica is ridiculously intense at times, mostly when it focuses on the ship which gives the show its title. As a military space opera, it succeeds beyond, well, any other science fiction show I've seen. The three-episode arc where a second Battlestar shows up in the middle of the second season, for example, is nailbiting stuff, and well played by the producers, who build intensity with various characters' ethical choices, instead of just making them action hereos.

As soon as the show gets outside the strict confines of the military, it starts to either get bizarre, annoying, or just plain bad.

Supposedly, there's 50,000 civilians hanging out with the Galactica. They have a President, who apparently does things other than argue with the Commander/Admiral. They have elected representatives, who apparently do things other than argue with the President. They have a media, who apparently do things other than argue with, well, everybody. But other than that, what?

The show only focuses on the civilians when they behave bizarrely. For example, there's an evil reporter, or there's Cylon sympathizers sabotaging the fleet, or a black market apparently fulfilling the fleet's desparate need for child sex slaves. Seriously, there's a room full of children for sale, implying that the fleet is overrun with wealthy pedophiles above and beyond what might be expected from a relatively tiny population. Why? The point of the child market was to establish the black marketeers as people who were as evil as they could be, in such a way as made sense to a primarily American audience. An American black market for child slaves would be that evil, therefore, it's portrayed in that light, regardless of the logic of how that looks for a 50,000-person fleet on the run from an existential threat.

That is the basic logic of civilians on the show - their entire society is assumed to be basically American, and ignored until it interacts with the military. The President and Vice President are basically the only important civilians. The cartoonishly powerhungry former terrorist/anarchist, Tom Zarek, is the only civilian who ever demonstrates any kind of depth, largely because he's the only civilian other than the administration to appear more than once. He's also the only person to ever mention that recreating the former society might not be the most effective way to proceed.

An interesting story (though perhaps not intensely riveting television) could be told about the attempts to recreate society in a fleet on the run. Money would be worthless at first. The economy would start as barter, and slowly establish itself as goods were produced. What goods would be produced, when, where, and how. What recreation would come to exist. And what political structures would come to exist.

The last point became especially pertinent in the second season finale, which focused on the presidential election. An election in a tiny group of 50,000 voters (well, less, given that many are likely children) is not likely to be a media-driven, poll-based event, but more likely a small-town mayoral election, where visiting people and shaking their hands becomes more likely to win votes. This would be especially easy in a fleet where people are packed into ships.

As I mentioned during the episode, "My disbelief is not being suspended. It's very well pended right now." The effects of the election tripled that. The idea that the election was a referendum on living on a colonizable planet, with this decision entirely invested in a single person, the President, completely removed all vestiges of the the civilian fleet as anything other than a plot device for the show's writers. Checks and balances? Gone. The military's prediliction for coups and mutinies at the drop of a hat? Nowhere to be found. Instead, we get a clearly insane, suspected traitor being elected in order to sign a executive order, as the role of President somehow became that of totalitarian dictator.

As the show has progressed, the lack of logic behind anything except the military's main characters has become a bigger and bigger flaw. Examining this flaw seems to be making the awesomeness of the first season and much of the second seem more and more flawed itself - like its success is built on deliberately ignoring important plot points, which, as the show progresses, become more and more obvious. I've heard decidedly mixed reviews of Seasons 3 and 4, and I wouldn't be surprised if this was a large reason why.

Still, despite the silliness of the election and how the story got to this point, I do like the idea of seeing the surviving humans under Cylon occupation. I'm a sucker for resistance stories.