BSG review part 1

Probably no one noticed, but I put up a review of Battlestar Galactica here last night which I yanked this morning. Suffice to say that I was overly scathing, and felt on re-reading that I wasn’t really being fair, so I decided to do it over in several parts.

(Spoiler disclaimer: I’m not going to worry about them. This part for example contains a couple of spoilers, but only of the part of the series that’s crap anyway. I’ll be spoiling the good bits later on! 😉 )

The finale was disappointing but the series was okay overall, with some spots of brilliance and some of abject stupidity. I thought the writing was a bit disjointed, in other words, and there were a few gaping logical holes in the overall plotline, which I’ll get to later.

The first season and a half almost made me give up on the series altogether, they were so awful; I was playing catch-up at a time when others were watching better parts and I could not see why smart people I respected were fans of the series. (Peter Watts is a good example – if you want to read some ferociously good dark SF, head over to and download his novels. They don’t have anything to do with BSG, it’s just that he’s a fan of it and I’m a fan of his.)

Suffice to say that the first season and a half was pulpier cheese even than I remember the first series being, and it’s here that most (but not all) of the abject stupidity is concentrated.

Example: Superhero Starbuck crawls inside a crashed Cylon warcraft and gets it to fly by yanking on its nervous system, then uses it to fly back behind enemy lines to retrieve the Ancient Artifact, a literal Arrow of the Gods, that nobody thought worth bringing with them, because the President had a drug-induced prophetic dream it would point the way to Earth… I have to stop, it’s too painful. It was really, really bad writing.

Just as I was about to surrender, that idiotic story arc mercifully slobbered to its painful close and the quality of the writing took a sudden dramatic leap upward. If you haven’t watched the series yet, this is where it gets good, but if you can stomach it the preceding episodes do begin some of the subplots that get developed here and might be worth watching as background.

Speaking of background, I have to mention this: the set and costume designers were abysmally lazy to begin with, which of course meant that the later productions were stuck with those original poor choices. Realistically it’s probably impossible to create a 100% convincing background of an alternate human society that won’t be too jarring, but the BSG visuals don’t even make a good try at it.

The business attire is suits and ties, for example, that would be ordinary unto invisibility in twentieth century America. It’s completely jarring and difficult to ignore how out of place it is on a spaceship from a society out of touch with Earth for thousands of years. The same applies to a myriad of details; the phones, the guns, the computer displays, all utterly ordinary here and now and thus out of place there and then.

Making matters worse is the unibuttocked touch they did put in; almost every square object, books and pieces of paper and photographs and mirrors and so forth, has its corners cut off, for no apparent reason. As part of an overall set design this might have been effective, but when it’s the only thing different it’s worse than useless.

The problem is that it draws attention to itself, saying in a wee shrill cartoony voice “Lookit me! I’m different, I am! I’m a piece of paper, yes, but MY CORNERS HAVE BEEN CUT OFF! I must be the product of an alien society! Pay no attention to the ordinary character of the ball-point pen the guy in the business suit is using to write on me, MY CORNERS HAVE BEEN CUT OFF!!! Weird, huh?”

At least they were able to quietly give up on the fluorescent green booze early on, but as I say, when the series gained suddenly in the quality of its writing during season 2 the damage was already done. At that point it would have been even more confusing and distracting to change the sets and costumes.

On the other hand, the CGI for exterior scenes and the design of the spaceships was absolutely top-notch, very convincing. The Cylon base ships in particular were weirdly beautiful, completely alien and yet exuding a sense of ruthlessly functional design.

well, that’s enough for now, I think. To be continued in part 2…


~ by B.T. Murtagh on May 27, 2009.

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