Last week the Sci-Fi channel did one of its daytime marathons on “Battlestar Galactica.” You may remember that on the original show, Starbuck or Apollo would crash-land on some random planet that still happened to be inhabited by humans, and at the end S. or A. would return to the rag-tag fugitive fleet, leaving the people behind on the planet. I’m thinking of the Old West planet where a Cylon was the local strongman’s hired gun; or the smuggler who tricked Starbuck out of the experimental Viper.
I might be wrong, but I’m not sure the fleet ever made a point to tell these people that the Galactica and its charges were fleeing from Cylon tyranny and on a lonely quest, etc., and by the way would any of them like a ride so the Cylons didn’t exterminate them like they did the other 12 colonies? At those moments “Battlestar Galactica” clearly strayed from its original premise, which was to get every human in its corner of the galaxy the heck away from the Cylons.
The new “Galactica” never lets you forget its premise. There will be no Old West planets or comical smugglers on this show for the foreseeable future. Instead, it’s been a grim sequence of events, charged with emotion and the drama of the human condition.
Oh, and also a lot of sex. Starbuck had sex with Zac. Boomer 1 was having sex with Tyrol, but they broke up after Tyrol was thought to be a Cylon agent. Last night Boomer 2 had Cylon red-spine sex with Helo. Billy, the President’s aide, lusts after Dualla. And, of course, Number Six had both real and virtual sex with Baltar, the oh-so-tormented scientist who basically opened the door for the destruction of civilization. Baltar’s basic plot has involved trying not to call attention to how insane he acts because he has an ostensibly hott invisible blonde licking his ear and reminding him of his many betrayals. Twitching with barely repressed sexual tension, as if he’ll have an ejaculatory explosion at any moment, he’s still basically Darrin Stevens or Major Tony Nelson played straight.
But we can’t hate Baltar, the show seems to say! Look how wracked with guilt he is! He wants to be good, but he’s apparently o.d.’d on what American Flagg! called Foreignade (TM) — “puts your mind in mothballs and your gonads in gear.”
Last night was the episode where Baltar Gets His. The basic plot felt ripped from the climax of the Kevin Costner/Gene Hackman movie No Way Out, with a race against time before a photographic blur gets analyzed to the point it incriminates our protagonist. I am so, so tired of Baltar and his tragicomic ways that not only did I want him to be found out (as his 1970s ancestor was), I wanted him hung out to dry. But like so many episodes where Gilligan at the last minute screwed up a rescue yet again, Baltar was exonerated and his tiresome subplot lives on.
The new “Galactica” makes a point to show that Baltar is a more interesting character because he’s not all Snidely Whiplash evil like his predecessor. However, while the old show started out with Baltar on a Cylon base-ship sending squadrons after Galactica, he was eventually captured and the show found other adversaries — among them, the millions of Cylons who still wanted to Kill All Humans. It would be more suspenseful at this point for the new “Galactica” to find something evil for Baltar to do, because right now he’s more of a sideshow than a threat.
In fact, this show is starting to remind me of the early “X-Files” in the way it can portray dangers without actually taking a lot of effort to showthem. In the seven episodes aired in the U.S. since the miniseries, the robotic Cylons have only been villains in two — “33,” when they showed up regularly to torment the fleet and kept it from sleeping; and “Act of Contrition,” when a small group of Cylons shot up Starbuck’s Viper. (And even then, the Cylons were only secondary to the conflicts among Starbuck, Apollo, and Adama, which continued in “You Can’t Go Home Again.”) In “Water” and “Litmus,” humanoid Cylon agents were the antagonists, and in “Bastille Day,” it was terrorists aboard a prison ship. Of course, there is the ongoing Boomer 2/Helo plot on Caprica, which is one of the new show’s innovations I am really enjoying — partly because it involves the robotic Cylons trying to kill the humans. In short, the new show’s message seems to be “we can do the ships better, and the space stuff is more realistic, and our sets look cooler, and we’ve got CGI Cylons — but most of every show is going to feature our main cast arguing with each other.”
It’s tempting to say that the past and present “Galactica”s are apples and oranges. The old show was a Sunday-night action-adventure, with fightin’ and shootin’ every week. The destruction of the Colonies was just the catalyst for the ships to head out into the universe so they could run across Old West planets and Nazi pastiches. The new show is more of a Drama, with serious looks at how realistic characters would react to the apocalypse. It’s The Stand in space, with killer androids instead of a disease.
Still, while the old show could have used more realism, this new one could sure use more fantasy. If I want to see pretty people arguing every week, there’s always “ER.”