In 2003, when the Battlestar Galactica Miniseries aired for the first time, Walter White had yet to mix his first batch of meth, Don Draper hadn’t ruined any of his wives or childrens’ lives and Netflix didn’t have one original series to its name. Friends was still on the air! In other words, it was a different viewing landscape, with peak TV still on the horizon and (gasp) nothing to stream. And so almost 15 years and who knows how many excellent dramas and dramedys and anthology series later, the question is what does Battlestar still have to offer us? When it premiered, it seemed to be a show for nerds – the spaceships and robots and Syfy channel logo in the corner gave that away. And during the years it was on, nerds (or scifi aficionados, if you like) flocked to it. But these days the internet has made us all nerds – nerds who argue online about the Twin Peaks reboot and listen to all of Chris Harwick’s seven podcasts. So now that TV is so much better and we are too (obviously) the question is, do we still need Battlestar – is it still worth revisiting? My answer: Abso-fracking-lutely. And here’s why:
- It’s about politics
Recently a friend told me she was 10 minutes into a conversation with a random Lyft driver – they were casually chatting about the Senate’s use of the nuclear option and whether or not it was worth it to filibuster a super majority – when she realized how weird the whole thing would have sounded to her a few years ago. But not in 2017. Politics isn’t just what we’re talking about it, it’s what’s on our minds and what we’re spending our free time trying to change. Enter Battlestar Galactica, a show in which almost every episode there’s political scheming, power struggles and showdowns between rival factions. And the political world of Battlestar isn’t just the volleying of high-minded ideas. On the show there are real world consequences – often the loss of precious human life – that result from the words politicians say and the decisions they make.
It’s not that our robot overlords are coming – they’re here you guys. If the dog in that gif could speak, he’d be saying “This is my new master. Eff you Sylvia, and all those sweaters you made me wear.” So in an age when we should really start thinking about the range of ethical issues surrounding the advent of artificial intelligence (not to mention whether they’re on Tinder already), Battlestar can serve as a guide and a big red flag of what mostly NOT to do. You know, don’t get enslaved by the race of robots you engineer to be your servants, don’t get complacent when they leave behind the planet they’ve been fighting you over for years cause they’re probably just getting read to bomb the shit out of you, don’t insult them by calling them Toasters… just the basic stuff. The biggest takeaway from human/cylon dynamic on Battlestar is that if we create new technologies with forethought and caution, we might manage to avoid the total destruction of our race. Which brings me to..
- It’s about the end of the world
While I understand that on a daily basis we have to act like it’s all good in the neighborhood, let’s just acknowledge here that at any given moment there’s a host of volatile factors that could come together to wipe us all off the face of the planet. There, I feel better, don’t you? But whether it’s a tweet fight between Donny and Kim Jong Un that does us in or you just happen to be one of the people the Rock doesn’t come to save in the event of a natural disaster, it really does feel like the apocalypse is especially nigh. And if you’ve watched even the first 20 minutes of Battlestar, that feeling will be familiar to you, because that’s how THE ENTIRE SERIES STARTS: worlds, not just one world, blown to smithereens, whole cities lost and centers of power reduced to rubble. And the 70+ episodes that follow are an in-depth examination into how we got to that point (possibly helpful) and how to carry on from there (most likely crucial).
- It’s about having empathy for the “other”
Some scifi shows give you baddies that look like day old meatloaf with arms, tell you they’re pure evil and let you cheer as the heroes exterminate them one by one until they’re entire race is extinct. It’s the easy path to a feeling of satisfaction and moral superiority. Battlestar Galactica, on the other hand, gives you a race of advanced AI that we are responsible for creating, puts human faces on them and presents them as both calculating purveyors of genocide and fervent believers looking for love and their place in the universe. You will find yourself siding with them against the awful humans, and against everything you thought possible. And once you have that moment where your favorite character from the past 10 episodes is revealed to be a cylon, you’ll realize you can’t even trust yourself to know who to hate – and that’s kind of the whole point.
- It’s the ultimate binge
If you have the willpower to start Battlestar Galactica and not be immediately sucked into binging the entire series, well that’s how we know you’re a cyclon. When I saw the Portlandia sketch that showcased how a mild-mannered couple might have their lives hijacked by an addiction to the series, it was all too real. “You’d know who’d never call? Starbuck!” is something I swear I said to my husband during our great Battlestar binge of 2013. And notice that Carrie and Fred are putting physical discs in an actual DVD player. Weird, right? It’s notable that people were binging Battlestar when it still took that much effort to watch one episode after another. Before it was socially acceptable to watch entire seasons of shows in one couch-sitting, people binged Battlestar because it was too good not to.
- It’s a pop culture touchstone
In addition to its appearance in that brilliant episode of Portlandia – and in case you haven’t seen it all, that sketch goes on for several parts and features some really special guests – Battlestar has made its mark on the pop culture landscape far and wide. We all know it’s one of Dwight Schrutes favorite things (only bears and beets are better) and the show is regularly referenced on The Big Bang Theory (Katee Sackhoff even stops by for a visit). Basically other shows know they can mention Battlestar as a short-hand for hardcore nerdom. Current shows like Humans, The Expanse and The 100 owe a lot to the new ground it broke as a serious drama with a science fiction setting. It’s featured on myriad “Top Television” lists and has been highly praised by other genre masters like Stephen King and Joss Whedon. In a way, BSG laid the foundation for how we would come to relate to TV and movies in the decades ahead (binging them, rewatching them, obsessively discussing them, ending relationships over them) – don’t show up to a pop culture fight without it in your arsenal.
- Its got strong female characters
The fact that one of the best characters in BSG – the reckless, charming fighter pilot with the call sign Starbuck – was written for the reboot as a female (after having been played by a man in the original series from the 70s) says a lot about the show’s embrace of a feminist perspective. It’s take is far from perfect, and critics have rightly pointed out its failings when it comes to gender equity, the most glaring of which is probably the hypersexualization of many of the female leads. But for me the saving grace is the depth it imbues in all its characters, male and female. Yes, some of the women are sexy and sexual, but they are never just that. They are also intelligent and/or naive, scheming and/or brave. They are competent at their jobs, but fallible as people, and never presented as less than the equally flawed male characters. And I know if Kara Thrace and Lara Rosalind become role models for the next generation of young women looking to become warriors and world leaders, I’m certainly ok with that.
- Its got a big reveal
I have a TV related theory that ever since the awful ending of Lost crushed our belief that a show can be built around a satisfying twist, our collective consciousness just hasn’t recovered. So we salve our wounds with shocking deaths on Game of Thrones (which have become less shocking since some people won’t stay dead..) and even ruin decent twists by way of the internet (ahem, Westworld) before the showrunners get a chance to go “ta-da”. That’s why it’s such a thrill to see the identity of the 12 cylon models (and especially of the final five) unveiled over the course of the entire Battlestar series. Some of the reveals are more rewarding (and make more sense) than others, but they all pay off. And as a bonus, the shocking mystery of “who’s a cylon” that drives so much of the show is something you can threaten to spoil for all your friends who aren’t watching it as fast as you.
- There’s a really fun board game based on the show.
I own it (and one of the expansion packs) and you’re all welcome to come over any time to play. Seriously, one of the best way to spend 5 hours of your life at a time.
- It’s about what make us human
Riddle me this – what other TELEVISION SHOW has had its cast visit the actual IRL United Nation to talk about human rights issues? None that I know, though I really didn’t research it that hard. But I know that the cast of Battlestar did do that and that Edward James Olmos gave a speech about how we are all members of one human race and led the entire auditorium in a chant of “So Say We All,” and no, you’re crying just thinking about it. The ultimate reason this show is now and always will be relevant is that it does not just pay lip-service to some high-minded ideals, it does the work of character and plot development to force its viewers to consider the questions that are the essence of our humanity. The very first line spoken in the show is Number Six leaning over to ask a human: “Are you alive?” And Battlestar Galactica answers, yes, we are and here’s how we prove it – here’s what we are living for. So the justification for our very existence serves as the stakes for this, one of the best shows ever created.