BSG review part 3

battlestar-galactica
Spoilers reminder: I’m not going to worry about them. If you haven’t seen the series and don’t want prior knowledge of plot points, don’t read any more.

Upon discovering the previously unknown planet New Caprica, the fleet decide to settle there after an extremely narrow election marked with shenanigans puts Gaius Baltar in the Presidency, where he promptly ensconces himself in a comfortable bubble and enjoys all the perks with none of the responsibilities. Sound familiar?

Unfortunately for him (and all the other humans), that nuke I mentioned before attracts the attention of the Cylons, and in a surprise attack that catches the unmaintained military completely offguard (both Battlestars are forced to flee) they capture the colony.

Now if the end of the second season was a good mirror for America during the junior Bush’s Iraq war, the third is also but from the Iraqi perspective. It’s an uncomfortable look at what an occupation by a superior military force looks like, including the inside view of a puppet government and the inevitability of asymmetrical warfare.

The Cylons, like the Americans in Iraq, are full to overflowing with noble rhetoric to justify their occupation – this is the beginning of a new era in human-Cylon relations, we move forward together to a new dawn, and so on. Some of them even appear to be sincere, while others are less so.

In an attempt to make the face of enforcement more human, they institute a human police force, some of whom also sincerely believe that a melded human-Cylon society is the future, and others of whom are only grasping after the extra little power and perquisites of being Cylon lackeys.

The Cylons also try to avoid appearing too tyrannical to the populace at large by propping up the Baltar Presidency as a puppet government, and forcing Baltar (at gunpoint) to be the one who signs death lists.

Nevertheless, a tyranny and an occupation they are, and it quickly becomes apparent that there is no way that there will ever be peace.

The Cylons and their human employees utilize ‘harsh interrogation methods’ just as the humans had, and get the same kind of blowback.

Colonel Tigh, for example, who was always overly cautious as a regular military man, becomes a bitterly relentless guerrilla leader upon his release (thanks to the turncoating of his wife) after a torture session in which he loses an eye. While he might have been a resister anyway, it’s plain that the level of ferocity he exhibits is entirely due to that loss.

Tigh becomes so hard, in fact, that when he discovers his wife had turned coat in order to protect him, he kills her himself. He is also the one who comes up with the tactics of assassinating collaborators (who subsequently add balaclavas to their uniforms to hide their identities – so much for putting a human face on the occupation!) and of suicide bombing.

That, by the way, is one of the few quibbles I have with this segment, which is otherwise a real highlight of the series. The reaction of the Cylons to this tactic was a little bit off, it seemed to me; they regard it as a horror, which is fair enough, but the fact is that it is an eminently sensible tactic for Cylons, due to the download ability. Rather than be appalled at the tactic itself in general, they should have been appalled that single-lived humans would be so willing to squander their lives.

It may seem like a small thing, but it seemed a waste to me that the writers squandered a perfect opportunity to use their SF device to throw a harsh spotlight on just why suicide bombing is such an abhorrent methodology, by use of a science-fictional scenario wherein it really wouldn’t be.

It’s a particularly egregious omission because, by the same token and device, the effectiveness of the tactic is drastically undermined for the humans because to the Cylons being blown up is an inconvenience rather than the end of their personal world.

That’s really my only gripe about season 3, the fact that it is “only” great drama in SF clothes, really, rather than great SF in SF terms, and it could have been otherwise.

When the two Battlestars come back to rescue the civilians they were forced to leave behind, it is easily one of the most frakking awesome portrayals of space battle I’ve ever watched with whitened knuckles! Not only were the special effects unbelievably good – the computer power and design work that went into the CGI alone must have cost a fortune in money, time and skull sweat – but the storyline rocked.

Following that battle and the escape of the humans there is more excellent fodder for drama, again very much applicable to the real-world events of the time, as the humans of the fleet try to piece together their society again.

Former collaborators with the Cylons are tried in secret by a Star Chamber of very questionable legality, with some members whose judgement is not exactly even and rational; Tigh, for example, who is deeply embittered over his eye and his wife, and Starbuck, who was extensively traumatized by Cylon interrogation techniques – she’s the one who was allowed to kill her captor over and over, plus other psychologically devastating techniques. Both are also drinking very heavily, even while judging the cases.

Eventually the government decides rather coldly that most of the people it really wanted dead, especially the ones against whom there wouldn’t have been sufficient evidence to win at trial, have already been killed by these vigilantes, and in the interests of moving forward an amnesty is declared. Baltar is inconveniently returned to them by the Cylons at this point and he alone gets a trial, but the fog of guilt is enough to save his skin, even if he’s not Mr. Popular. Again, sound familiar? Except for the trial part, I mean…

It’s at this point, approaching the end of Season 3, that BSG loses it again and begins its long slow slide into irrelevance. Although the writing doesn’t ever again get quite as bad as it was at the beginning, the narrative drive is lost, and some of the annoying but minor subplots that were washed almost away during these halcyon days rise up again to choke the sense out of the series.

I think I’ll leave that lamentation for a fourth and final installment though.

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~ by B.T. Murtagh on May 29, 2009.

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