Battlestar Galactica: A Newbie's Guide to Season One
Yes, I know, I'm unforgivably late to this party. But guys, if you haven't heard yet, Battlestar is awesome. It's well-written, well-acted, philosophically complex, nuanced in its characterization, and still manages to be action-packed and wildly entertaining. Here are the highlights (and lowlights) of season one, according to an extremely late newbie:
Best Episode: Bastille Day
The miniseries was well-done, but it didn't depart from other works of sci-fi as much as one would like. The first few episodes weren't bad, just somewhat generic and not particularly brave or complex. That all changed with "Bastille Day," which was the episode that definitively got me hooked. When watching a normal TV show, there are plenty of questions that come to mind that you assume the writers won't explore. During the miniseries, that was, "Hey, why is Roslin acting like she should definitely be President when no one voted her in? Sure, she should take over during the emergency, but once that's over and they're a little more settled, shouldn't someone who represents the interests of the people take the mantle?" I assumed that they wouldn't explore this question because Roslin is a main character, and the audience can see that she does, in fact, have the fleet's best interests at heart. But she's also hubristic, and this wonderfully complex episode wasn't afraid to admit that a character we like is afraid to give up her power.
None of the characters are 100% "correct" in their politics or philosophy, which is exactly how it should be. Zarek had a point when he said that the government wasn't democratic and that they were dehumanizing the prisoners by incentivizing them to indentured servitude. Roslin had a point when she assumed that she should keep the presidency in order to keep the government stable, and Adama had a point when he prioritized thousands of people getting water that they needed to survive over less immediate concerns, like fair treatment of prisoners. But all of these characters are both right and wrong, and far too proud to admit their shortcomings. Zarek may have the right idea, but he delegitimizes his movement by committing acts of violence and associating with rapists. Roslin should have taken it as a given that there would be an election once the previous president's term would have been over, because that's the way it works. The fact that Lee's suggestion of an election surprised her at all means that she's much more power-hungry than she wants to admit. And Adama is extremely conservative at his core, and doesn't care about prisoners' rights. All of these characters are admirable, but they're also fallible, much like their respective philosophies.
Between the nuanced exploration of differing political views and that horrifying scene in which Callie is almost raped and ends up biting off a man's ear, this episode got me. So say we all.
Runner-Up: Kobol's Last Gleaming
Is Adama dead? What will happen to Sharon? Is Roslin the savior of the people, or is it Baltar? Was that Sharon and Helo's baby in the bassinet? What is the Cylons' overall plan, and how is the baby part of it? These are just a few of the questions a first-time viewer has after that exciting finale. That's how it's done.
Worst Episode: Water
I'm always biased against early episodes, because the writers and the cast usually haven't quite found their footing yet, but I'd have to go with "Water." I liked all of the material that involved the humans trying to detect the Cylons, but most of the episode was devoted to the practical concerns of living on a stranded spaceship fleet. While it's commendable that they would try to make it realistic, I was afraid that this show would turn into a Stargate-like show in which every episode started out with some kind of technology/space-related disaster that the plucky crew would solve by the end of the episode. I'm so glad I was wrong.
Runner-Up: Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down
"Tigh Me Up" didn't take last place, as it had some intrigue; I was on tenterhooks to find out if Adama was really a Cylon (it seemed unlikely, but if they don't know they're Cylons, then it shouldn't seem likely, and I'm still convinced he might be one). But then again, this episode also inflicted Ellen on the world.
Best Character So Far: Lee and Starbuck
Lee and Starbuck tie for first place. Lee is the most sensitive character on the show (except maybe Helo. Poor Helo), and his moral compass points north the most in my opinion, if only because he's always willing to challenge the status quo. In "Bastille Day," he was the one who both saw the need for harvesting water and found a way to respect the prisoners' humanity at the same time, he saw that Zarek was right about the election but wrong about almost everything else, and in Kobol's Last Gleaming, he goes against his father and commander when the government is clearly overstepping their bounds. Lee would have won all by himself, but for the slut shaming, which knocked him down to a tie.
Because I also love Starbuck. She's unique among female characters on television because she's just so incredibly raw. Other characters on the show, especially Roslin and Sharon, get to be complex and flawed, but Starbuck is groundbreaking for lacking any kind of affectation whatsoever, more than any other female character I've ever seen.
Also, Billy is adorable. That's all.
Worst Character So Far: Six
Ellen has no redeeming qualities, and clearly only exists to show Tigh's softer side. But she's just a recurring character. Picking from the regulars, the least likable by far is Baltar. He's morally reprehensible, unctuous, and grating (and also, really terrible at hiding that he's talking to Six, they really could have made him more subtle about it, especially as time went on). However, I don't know if he's really my pick, because I have to admit that he's well-written. His sliminess is perfectly realistic, and demonstrates that the writers aren't unduly glorifying their characters, but rather attempting to show the spectrum of human nature. And James Callis is a talented enough actor to ensure that Baltar is humanized, and even occasionally endeared to the viewer.
So from a writing/character development perspective, my least favorite character is, I'm sorry to say, Six. I'm sorry to say it because Tricia Helfer is a great actress, and the character has a lot of potential (that she could, of course, still live up to), but as of now she's just another femme fatale. I actually started this series years ago, but only got through the first half of the miniseries because her characterization, particularly in that ridiculously cheesy opening scene, was so lacking. Like any other femme fatale, she exists to problematize female sexuality and depict it as dangerous. This show has some great female characterizations, but this is definitely not one of them, which makes their treatment of her all the more jarring. I'm hopeful that this will improve, but honestly, after an entire season, the damage is sort of already done. Even if she eventually becomes a complex character, she still spent the entire first season playing into the worst kind of stereotypes about women in sci-fi.
Best Shipper Moment: Lee and Starbuck, Colonial Day
Lee getting all googly-eyed over Starbuck in a dress should have been hopelessly hackneyed and cliched. Usually, I would have rolled my eyes and thought to myself, "Whatever, he should like her even when she isn't in a dress." But the amazing acting from both actors sold the moment, especially Jamie Bamber, whose facial expressions were priceless in this scene.
Runner-up: Helo tells Sharon that he respects her relationship with the Chief, but that he "wished it could have been him." And all this before he knows that she's a Cylon. Poor Helo.
Worst Shipper Moment: Lee and Starbuck, Kobol's Last Gleaming pt 1
When Lee slut-shamed Starbuck for sleeping with Baltar, when it was absolutely none of his business. This sort of broke my heart, not only as a shipper but also because it's completely realistic.
The Only Big Misstep (Maybe)
I can't say how they'll deal with religion in the long run, but right now the treatment seems overly optimistic and precious towards the characters. In my humble opinion, the quality of a show goes down when it considers its characters to be too "special." They can be special to us, but if they become special to the entire universe, "just because," it becomes a little trite. And the show might be too optimistic, or it might not be, it all depends on how it shakes out. I get the feeling that the Cylons' "God" might not be as spiritual as it initially seems, considering how dark and gritty the rest of the show is. After all, humans are their creators, so we're analogous to their gods, and they're trying to kill us. That kind of religious allegory is completely fascinating to me. But if the Cylons are speaking literally when they refer to "God," then I will find the theology and philosophy of the show to be less interesting.
Closest Counterpart Show: Stargate Atlantis
Although there are, of course, elements of classics like Star Trek, this show often reminds me of Stargate: Atlantis. The morally ambiguous villain that's somewhat related to humans, the complex dynamics between members of that alien species, the live ships, but most of all, the exploration of different governments' responses to an ongoing crisis. The shows could be sisters.
Minor Annoyance: Credit Spoilers
I don't know if this was true for the original airing, but while I'm watching it on DVD, the montage at the end of the credits is different every time, as it uses clips from the current episode. At first I thought that was amazing and appreciated the effort that must have taken, until I realized that they were spoiling major plot points if you were watching carefully. So I still admire the effort, but as a newbie I'm steering clear until my inevitable rewatch.