In the first part of the Battlestar Galactica miniseries, the Battlestar Galactica and its crew prepare for a decommissioning ceremony after decades of non-use after the Cylon War. However, recent events on their home world of Caprica are contrasted with this, and no one is prepared. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to start Battlestar Galactica.
Just a few notes before I start this review proper. If you’re joining Mark Watches for the very first (as there are inevitably people from a new fandom around when I start a new project), please make sure to read the Site Rules and the Spoiler Policy before you post a comment. Truth be told, I don’t have much sympathy for people who claim ignorance to this site’s rules. I knew nothing about Battlestar Galactica before I started this project, and as I progress through these episodes, I would like to continue to remain ignorant about things I have not seen. There is a very simple way to know if you’re violating the Spoiler Policy: Have I seem that thing you want to talk about or hint towards? No? Then do not post anything about it. This will make sense more as you see how this place operates, but the idea is that this experience is a whole lot more fun if I can watch it in a vacuum where all I “know” is what I see onscreen. Make sense? Sweet! Thanks for the understanding. I assure you it is an easy rule to follow, and if you are absolutely unable to discuss something without spoiling me, there is a lovely Mark Spoils blog for you to spoil away on, and you are also welcome to geek out about spoilers in my very own forum!
When I started Mark Watches and maybe just a few episodes into Mark Watches Firefly, the Battlestar Galactica recommendations started flowing in. And really, long before that, people have been telling me that there’s probably not a show better suited to my tastes that I should watch. Of course, I miss out on everything because it’s like I sit at the table for losers at lunch while everyone else sits with the cool kids BUT I AM BUSY CHANGING MY KNOWLEDGE OF THE POP CULTURAL LANDSCAPE. I really don’t imagine I’m going to dislike this show and really, if this first part of the miniseries is any indication, all those people who told me to watch BSG are probably right.
(For the purposes of denoting this, I’m obeying the “Parts” denoted in the iTunes version of the mini-series. I don’t like reviewing gigantic chunks of a program because I feel like I end up skipping too much stuff in the name of brevity. Strangely, parts two and four of this miniseries are only half an hour long? WEIRD. After this, though, it’ll be on an episode-to-episode basis.)
What’s initially striking about Battlestar Galactica to me is two-fold: the contrast of stories, and the easily-defined characters. It’s as if the two main story lines are working in opposite directions and are rapidly approaching a point in time and space where they will collide, and do so violently. As the galaxy is decommissioning Battlestar Galactica due to a long, mysterious absence of the Cylons, those same Cylons (and some new ones) are returning at the exact moment to wage war. I think nothing better represents this idea than the cold open of “Part I.” I think I could have done without the text on the screen explaining the context of the show, as the visuals onscreen actually did a fantastic job conveying the futile routine of the Armistice Officer. It’s clear that this man (and many others before him) arrived at this Armistice Station and waited, knowing no one would ever show up. Still, the text isn’t enough to ruin just how powerful this moment is: From silence and boredom, the scene rapidly transforms into one of both confusion and intrigue. (Also, I know I’ll get over it quickly, but as soon as I saw the original Cylon designs, I couldn’t help but think of Cybermen. I KNOW, I KNOW. They are not the same, but I’ve had so much exposure to Doctor Who that my brain went immediately to that place.)
The gorgeous woman who walked through that opening door, guarded by two Cybermen, seemed to be a liaison of some sort. That thought of mine was quickly put out of mind when she stepped to the officer’s side of the table, gracefully sat on the edge, and asks him, “Are you alive?” WELL, OKAY, THAT’S WEIRD. And then she makes out with him? I mean, it has THIS IS A TRAP written all over it and I half expected Admiral Ackbar to comically pop out of the side of the screen and yell at this man. But there’s no time for this, since what I’m guessing is a giant Cylon mothership of sorts bombs the holy hell out of the Armistice Station.
That’s a hell of a way to open a show. But it’s a great way to set the tone: the world is unprepared (SORT OF LIKE ME, LOL) for the re-emergence of the Cylons, and the Cylons are well aware that they have the element of surprise on their side.
The bulk of this first part concerns itself with the events aboard the Battlestar Galactica and with one Dr. Gaius Baltar. Like the Armistice Station, those aboard this ancient, historical ship are leading comfortable lives, the thought of war far away for most of them. I like the idea that all of this is set up with the retirement of Captain William Adama. (Moment of joy: AHHHHHH I LOVE EDWARD JAMES OLMOS AHHHHHHHH.) After many years of faithful service, the man and his ship are retiring, the Galactica being turned into a museum. Even that idea is fascinating to me: Part of Captain Adama’s life is now history. Wouldn’t that be weird to experience? I mean, the guy lived through the Cylon war, and now that event will be transformed, through the Galactica, into something to be observed.
Even stranger, if I’d not known that this was the beginning of a series, the opening twenty minutes of this miniseries almost acts like a slow-paced finale. People are saying goodbye, giving well wishes, discussing honor, bestowing thoughtful gifts. Yet even in these moments, the writing is well-defined enough that I could pick out very defined characters from the bunch. Adama is a largely solemn, calm commander, one who demands attention when he speaks, but not in a way that suggests he doesn’t respect those who are around. I can already surmise that Starbuck is probably one of fandom’s favorite characters and I don’t even need to see the 73 episodes that follow this. She’s fantastically defined, a woman character with rough edges, a sense of humor, and a fierce independence. She’s not above being rude and snappy to a superior officer, teasing him about his wife, and doesn’t even hesitate to punch him in the face when he overturns a table on her during a card game. Of course, it’ll be fascinating to see how her abrasiveness will be explored throughout the course of the show.
The man she spurs with, Colonel Tigh, is himself someone with a lot of baggage that’s unexplained here. (I even had to look up his character’s name, as I don’t recall anyone actually saying it once during part one. I blame that more on myself, though, as I’m sure someone said it, but I’m just unfamiliar with these characters.) He drinks heavily, he rarely seems to care about much that isn’t his own little world, but he’s not any sort of caricature of the idea. Captain Adama speaks to him in an intriguing way that both understands what sort of problems the man is going through, but also never quite enabling the behavior itself. Again, I don’t know much about this world at all, but it’s really neat that I can pick out so much from so little.
I was also impressed by how vast and varied the supporting cast is. I think Captain Lee Adama will probably be one of the main cast, but we’re introduced to a great ensemble of characters that I’m intrigued to know more about. (JUST GONNA SAY IT NOW: MORE BOOMER. NOW AND FOREVER.) We’ve got the bitter, brooding son, still furious at his father’s hand in his brother’s death. It seems this is addressed kind of rapidly in this first part, especially given the decommission speech Adama gives later. That seemed kind of quick for a subplot, no? Still, it’s a dramatic dynamic that is clearly going to play a larger part in the story, given what is happening outside Galactica. I don’t know that she’s named, but yet another subplot is introduced as we follow some official (from Caprica, I’m guessing?) learns that she has cancer just prior to making a rendezvous on the Galactica for the decommission ceremony. Of all the story lines, so much of hers is unspoken and subtle. Well…ok, obviously cancer is the least subtle thing imaginable, but I’m referring to the way that the writers introduce this woman’s grief and terror over some sort of malignant tumor. (It’s in her chest? So…breast cancer?) I’m interested to learn more about who she is, and how this will affect her and her role in this series.
And oh lord, everything involving that woman from the Armistice ship is just so fascinating. Of course I didn’t understand how she could be on Caprica after just blowing up on the Armistice ship, nor did I understand why she was so important to Dr. Gaius Baltar. What I like so much about her character (who is still unnamed at this point, yes?) is that we know she has destructive motives in mind. The writers don’t hide this from us, so there’s no huge reveal when she betrays Baltar. We always knew that was going to happen. Instead, the focus of her intrigue is on what she’s going to do. If we know she’s working for the Cylons and it’s also clear that some new sort of war is starting, what does she need Baltar for? Why is she so intrigued by the concept of living men and children?
But seriously, let’s just talk about the Riverwalk Market scene. I mean….Battlestar Galactica opens the entire series in a scene in which this mysterious woman SNAPS A BABY’S NECK IN A PUBLIC MARKETPLACE. Just…what the hell. That is so terribly fucked up! BABY MURDER IN THE PILOT. Why??? What is this woman’s ultimate goal? Is she so interested in the destruction of the human race that she’ll simply cause misery just for the sake of it? HOLY SHIT.
It really is just the tip of the iceberg, though, for how much we are shown in the first part of the miniseries. There’s no mystery to the motivations of this woman, as it is quickly revealed by the end of the first hour that she used Dr. Baltar in order to access the defense mainframe, and to begin the mass genocide of the human race, starting with Caprica. On top of that, she’s a Cylon herself, an updated version that is largely indistinguishable from a human. The bombs go off in the distance and all we see are bright flashes of light. It’s through these bombs that we get a more accurate depiction of who Dr. Baltar is himself. The woman Cylon even points it out: as the world is falling apart, Dr. Baltar is awfully concerned with how the world will view him when it’s discovered that he helped the Cylons inadvertently, despite the fact that there will probably not be anyone around to prosecute him even if they wanted to. The bombs will fall, humankind will be on their way to extinction, and there’s nothing he can do to protect himself or save anyone else. Even worse, this Cylon technically cannot die, as her consciousness can simply be downloaded into another body. The number twelve pops up again: there are only twelve human Cylon models, and this one is number six. (Which number was in the Armistice ship? I actually think this will be important to the series, so I’m going to try to keep track of how many Cylon models we see.) It’s left unanswered, but as Baltar begs for his life, the Cylon orders him to duck and a horrific blast of dust and debris rushes through the window. Did Baltar get saved? Or did he just die in a nuclear blast?
Back on the Galactica, much of the drama and tension comes from the fact that no one can seem to believe that a Cylon attack is actually happening. It seems inconceivable, and as more information pours in, nothing seems to make sense. Caprica is being destroyed? One fourth of the fleet is gone? Why do others report of ship malfunctions just before confrontations with the Cylon fleet? If it is true, these people largely only have a lifetime of drill experience under their belts. How many have actually seen battle? I think Colonel Tigh is probably the only one, as he’s the lone person on board the Galactica who doesn’t run about like a deer in headlights.
All of this, though, rests on Captain Adama’s shoulders, and Olmos plays these scenes brilliantly. He never says it, but you can see tiny bits of exhaustion creep into his eyes. This man was moments away from his retirement, and utter chaos has brought him back. It’s all familiar to him, frighteningly so, but Adama isn’t a man who revels in fear. If anything, he uses his experience and routine to keep those around him calm and solid. He seems to me to be a very natural leader because of this effect he has on other people. Even if he wasn’t in charge, I imagine a lot of people would turn to Adama in a time of need.
If the destruction of Caprica is indeed a sign of the fury and power of the Cylon fleet, then it stands to reason that even those not stationary on a planet are in for an even worse battle when facing the Cylon Raiders. I’m glad Boomer appears to have survived the trap set by these vessels, but the destruction is kind of unsettling to me. I am getting the feeling that this entire series is going to be about survival in a way. If the Cylons are able to destroy and eliminate so much, who is going to be left? Using the element of surprise has clearly worked, so I don’t imagine there can be that many humans left after all of this. With nothing to defend their colonies under such a rapid attack, and with their ships at the mercy of this bizarre ability to shut down any onboard systems, how can they fight back? How will the Galactica and the Viper Mark II’s be able to face the Cylons?
I’ll be honest. I’m pretty intrigued by this all. This is a fascinating premise and the surprise attack has made it impossible for me to even guess where any of this is headed. I imagine the Galactica is where the bulk of the action will take place, and the ship will probably be the main force to fight against the Cylons.
But just how are they going to do that?
- I refuse to believe it’s a throwaway scene. So…Cylons have a religion? Or that specific one has a religion? I mean…how does that work? The Cylon seemed rather self-aware of their status as a programmed human. (I am trying to avoid the word “robot” in this case.) They know their creator is humankind. So…..yeah? How can a Cylon even have a religion? Now I’m interested to know if there are any other religions in this world, too!
- “You cannot play God then wash your hands of the things that you’ve created. Sooner or later, the day comes when you can’t hide from the things that you’ve done anymore.” UGH SO GOOD.
- So I think Boomer and Tyrol’s kiss/make-out session was super hot? BASICALLY.
- Creepiest image of the whole “episode”: The reporter being swept away by the bomb blast. Good god.