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Marc Mason is a freelance writer based in Tempe, AZ.

Sunday, February 20, 2005  

As a child, I was enamored of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. Like many boys my age, I dreamed of being Dirk Benedict: pilot, swashbuckler, lover… Starbuck. He was the epitome of cool. The show was exciting, even when it became obvious to even my young eyes that the show was frequently re-using special effects shots, and the episodes became less FX heavy as the season wore on. But I loved it, and I still rather do. It has a place in my heart, a well-deserved one, and I can still enjoy it for the relic that it is.

Like many fans, I perked up with interest whenever someone spoke up in an interview somewhere to discuss reviving the show. Hell, I even bought a hideously unnecessary amount of comics produced by Rob Liefeld’s publishing company because they acquired the license. But it wasn’t until production got rolling on Ron Moore’s “re-imagining” of GALACTICA that I finally believed that the property would ever gain new life. And oh, what life, it has.

Wisely jettisoning the campy barnacles of the original show, Moore and company have turned GALACTICA into a bleak, dark drama. The near-extinction of humanity that sets the story in motion becomes an overriding force that moves the characters on the board. We are suddenly reminded of not only the massive number of deaths occurring through war and terror in our own world, but that we are sitting on a similar method of extinction that the Cylons used to wipe out humanity in GALACTICA. To drive the point home, the Cylons are no longer merely “walking toasters” as the characters describe them; they have evolved and look as human as anyone else. They feel, they fight, they fuck, they bleed, and they believe in God.

And in Moore’s complex worldview, they might just be the good guys. The Cylons don’t see themselves as evil; they see themselves as true representatives of God’s will and plan. If you can find a difference between that point of view and that of a suicide bomber (and last week’s episode delivered a Cylon suicide bomber), it’s a subtle one.

Moore was, in good part, responsible for the best and most complex STAR TREK of all as well, DEEP SPACE NINE. DS9, still one of the only television shows in history to focus on a man of color who was completely devoted to being a good father to his son, was also a complex tale of war, religion, and the struggle to define human nature. In GALACTICA, Moore has taken those concepts much further, as he is free of the heavy TREK continuity and has room to play, having started the show’s mythos from scratch. Moore draws from many of the ideas of the original show, but at each turn, they feel fresh.

Some might tune into the show and find it far too bleak for their tastes, and I can understand that a bit. Looking for a light-hearted moment in the mini-series or the first seven episodes aired in the U.S. is a needle in a haystack proposition. Even the sex, of which there is a surprising amount, lacks a sense of joy or rapture; instead, it is frantic, clawing… a desperate search for connection at the end of the world. There is humor in traitor Baltar’s relationship with his Cylon lover Number 6, but it’s humor derived from the fact that Baltar might just be screaming mad, and you can never quite put away that Baltar’s vanity and carelessness is what allowed the Cylons to begin their attacks and kill billions.

What drives the series at its heart are the women. Mary McDonnell as the reluctant Secretary Of Education turned President Laura Roslin, fighting her terminal cancer and her nature as a pacifist. Tricia Helfer as the seductive and frightening Number 6, manipulating Baltar sexually, yet working to cure him of his atheism as he scoffs at her faith in God. Grace Park as the deeply conflicted pilot Sharon, who comes closer every day to discovering that she has a terrible secret. And, most of all, the amazing Katee Sackhoff, who took an enormous amount of shit from the fanbase when she was cast as Starbuck.

When it was announced that Dirk Benedict’s character was going to be a woman in the Moore version, people got downright rude. But Moore’s instincts were brilliant. Any man cast in that role was going to have a horrendous time with fans comparing him to Benedict’s classic character. By making Starbuck a woman, it sent Sackhoff apart from having to compete with Benedict, and it gave her the opportunity to take the role as her own. She’s done an amazing job, creating a character who’s flawed, self-destructive, and yet heroic. GALACTICA’S writing staff has gifted Sackhoff with one of TV’s best and most complex characters, and the others are right behind her.

The center gravity of the show, however, is the great Edward James Olmos as Commander Adama. Olmos’ intensity is startling, as he anchors every scene he’s in with authority and power, elevating each of the actors surrounding him. Olmos is the indicator that GALACTICA is first and foremost a drama, not a random spaceship show. Each week, even when he’s not the full focus of the story, Olmos finds a way to exhilarate the viewer with Emmy quality work.

GALACTICA has been renewed for a second season already, which is a good sign for fans of quality television. If Moore and his writers can maintain the quality level we’ve seen so far, they’ll be well on their way to making what could well be the finest science fiction show to ever air. I can’t wait to see.

12:14 PM

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