Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Meditations on Galactica

So, Battlestar Galactica's final half season has begun.

I have to say that I'm glad the show is ending, because I think its moment has passed. Actually, had there not been a writers' strike it might have ended at the right moment. But it's possibly the dawning of the Era of Obama. Hopelessness went out with Dubya. Back in 2005 everything seemed hopeless, but there is now the promise of renewal. BSG is pretty much stuck in 2005, in terms of its emotional appeal.

Then again, one might forgive the show if it hadn't begun to feel tired already. Galactica had lost its driving force and vision long before this season. If I had to pinpoint where it went away, it would be right after the secret tribunal episode in Season 3. Before that, the show was definitely relevant: its explorations of faith and politics were interesting, and it had finely drawn characters. The political aspect was most interesting: the most forceful rebuke of the Bush worldview in pop culture might well have come from Battlestar Galactica. But since the tribunal episode the show has made almost no political observations of any worth. Instead, the third season junked most of the show's ongoing themes and emphases but kept the storylines and characters. Season 3 became fixated on lesser stories: Kara and Lee! The final five! Starbuck's destiny! Baltar's trial! All of a sudden, a show which had been about a desperate attempt to escape from the Cylons became entirely Cylon-less, and despite a gem here and there it was a wasteland of boring and pointless episodes. Honestly, they could have done the Baltar trial in a single episode and gotten back to Cylon action. BSG's third season felt more like the first season for a show that I would never have gotten into in the first place.

And its more recent season feels like that show's second season. It really is like the alternate 1985 from Back to the Future Part II where things are just askew. There were actually quite a few things to like in this episode, but upon further reflection, I really miss the old BSG. Y'know, with Admiral Cain and the Pegasus? That was some entertaining, allegorical, dense stuff. You had the sense then of a point to all this dreariness. That's what has gone away. The urgency. Or maybe I'm just ODing on dreariness. Honestly, I don't know. I can tell you that I never had that problem with Deep Space Nine.

I will be the first to admit that Deep Space Nine had its flaws, because it did. There were lots of silly episodes sprinkled in with the serious ones. But it never got depressing. There were a few stretches where things were rough during the Dominion War, but DS9 found a balance between that business and lightness in a way that BSG never did, and this makes me think that DS9 will stand the test of time better than Galactica will. BSG can be compelling but it isn't really balanced, and after a while, one gets tired of ODing on sorrow.

I really do think that that has changed as well: earlier episodes were dark but they didn't lay on the sorrow too thick. Not only that, but there seemed to be actual forward momentum to the show, a feel that everything mattered and that important things were happening. The dark tone of the show was established from episode one, but there always was that little bit of hope. After a while, though, the unrelenting and progressively increasing grimness begins to feel meanspirited. The show might yet tie it all together satisfyingly, but it's begun to feel like the darkness has become an end in and of itself, especially since we've seen the ruined Earth.

At this point, my investment in the series is largely intellectual: I want to see how Ron Moore wraps it up. Emotionally, I've been through with Galactica for a while.