Thursday, February 02, 2006

deconstructing bsg

As is the custom when we have something decent to watch, my wife and I are trying to crack Battlestar Galactica.

Amazingly good for a show on the Sci-Fi Network (motto: "No concept so good we can't ruin it!"), "Battlestar Galactica" reimagines the 1978 TV show in some bold, amazing ways. Instead of following a tedious formula of humans fighting robots in space, it's doing a decent job of portraying a society's efforts to hold itself together after a merciless attack by an implacable foe.

And yes, that means there are some pretty strong 9-11 parallels. So far we've seen episodes dealing with the Patriot Act, paranoia over fifth columnists, the heightened struggle between the military and civilian authorities, and a few bazillion other things. It's a drama, set aboard spaceships, where the predominant struggles are internal and interpersonal.

It's abso-fracking-lutely brilliant.

One of the interesting facets of the show is how it deals with religion and belief in God. The original series possessed a bizarre spirituality heavily influenced by creator Glenn Larson's religious beliefs, that God was once a human, that humans were destined to become gods, and so on. Consequently, a lot of the show's language, setting and imagery drew on his beliefs, what with the planet Kobol and its capital city, Eden; the twelve colonies; Commander Adama serving as a politician-military leader-high priest;and so on.

The new show has kept a fair amount of the setup, albeit rearranged, with new levels of significance, different characterization, and so on. The original series Cylons were created by a lizard race and were bent on humanity's destruction; here they were machines created by humanity that rebelled and now have agents who look human and who have infiltrated human society. Adama is no longer the flawless leader; he's been split into at least three roles. The new Adama is a military man whose willingness to support the president is limited to what he can agree with, the president has made some questionable decisions, and the high priestess is someone else entirely with a fairly minor role.

As the show has gone on, religion and God have come to play a bigger part in the story. Gaius Baltar, whose ongoing affair with a Cylon agent allowed them to shut down the Colonial defenses, has gone from viewing religious belief with disdain, has started to believe that he may have a role in God's plan for the surviving Colonials. Starbuck has developed in an interesting direction as a character by professing a belief in the Lords of Kobol, who have been identified elsewhere in the series as more or less interchangeable with the mythological Greek gods.

The Cylons, by the way, are monotheistic; the Colonials are polytheistic.

For the lonest time, I've been hung up on the original series' use of the Twelve Colonies to invoke (I think) images of the Twelve Colonies of Israel. I'm not aware that the new series is attaching any such significance to the number 12, but the Cylon whom Baltar has been having an affair with has indicated that there are twelve different Cylon models.

There also were twelve different Greek gods.

Coincidence? I don't know, but I can't help but wonder if I'm onto something. Number Six, whom we've seen involved with Baltar, is a fairly sensual Cylon. In addition to Baltar, we've seen her hit on Adama and Helo. Another of the Cylons we've seen two copies of is something of a liar and a trickster who delights in sowing dissension among the humans. That reminds me somewhat of Hermes, the messenger of the gods and also a liar, a thief and a trickster.

Since I've only seen the miniseries and Season One, the only other confirmed Cylons I've seen are a newsman who returns as a suicide bomber, and a Cylon who is also a pilot in the Colonial fleet. (I'll refrain from saying more to avoid ruining it for anyone who hasn't seen the show yet.)

Both the Cylons and the humans are very interested in Kobol and seeing the rebirth of the human race. Baltar and Number Six are fixated at the end of the first season with a baby, who I presume could be Helo's child with the Cylon who shall remain nameless for now. The Colonials left Kobol because of a great battle two thousand years earlier among the gods. And both the liar-trickster-messenger Cylon and the high priestess have quoted from their holy texts that say "All this has happened before and will happen again."

So ...

If the Cylons are patterned after the gods and are now poised to have children with the humans, does this mean that the original lords of Kobol were artificial lifeforms?

Nah, probably not. But I'm going to be puzzling over this show for a while to come.

(Someone buy me Season Two.)


JJ said...

Hey, season 2 isn't finished yet!

But season 2.0 (the first half of season 2, which finished airing about 6 months before the beginning of the second half... this show is airing in the strangest way!), is available on DVD. You might even be able to rent it. Or buy it from iTunes... I tried that, per your suggestion, by the way... but it turns out I can't. The minute I entered my credit card information it barred me from purchasing because I'm Canadian -- apparantly only Americans can buy the TV episodes. So I shall continue to watch using dubious means.

marauder said...

I lack not only an iPod, but also a decent Internet connection and fast-enough processor to watch TV shows on my computer.

Bad news about the iTunes not selling to Canadians. Must have been Canada's decision to recognize Bush as our lawful president -- that got a lot of people in an uproar.

marauder said...

Let me also add that if there's a six-month lag between two episodes, I consider the latter episode to be part of a new season, no matter what the broadcasting wonks claim!