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Posts Tagged ‘The Hand of God’

Dear Jane,

Well, I have reached the end of the first full series of New BSG and this feels like a sensible point to give you another update on how I’m enjoying the show. Before we go any further, I feel I have to tell you that I’m still not impressed with either new-Starbuck or new-Baltar as characters (to be honest, I can even see why Dirk Benedict was routinely so snide about the revived series in interviews), nor am I completely sold on the whole mystical angle to the series which is coming to the fore.

I suppose it adds another level to episodes like The Hand of God, which would otherwise be just an extremely competent action-oriented episode. As you might expect, I was not entirely convinced by the revelation that Starbuck’s talents extend beyond top-gun pilot, ace gambler, fearsome inquisitor, and preposterous bio-engineer and Cylon-spaceship wrangler to include strategic genius, but the final battle itself is nicely done, to the point, I thought, of rivalling some of the best action sequences in Babylon 5.

Still, I’m not really sure of the whole ‘this has happened before, it will happen again’ angle. On one level it’s a nice acknowledgement of the fact that this is, after all, a remake (doubly so, given that The Hand of God was also an episode of Disco BSG), but… I don’t know, I’m not a fan of this sort of general-purpose mysticism, especially when the grittier, political stuff is so good.

Which brings us to Colonial Day, which I liked a lot (despite the fact that it’s somewhat biased towards Baltar, the series’ other implausible polymath). I would never have expected, based on his performances in Disco BSG at least, that Richard Hatch was such a competent actor, and the suggestions about how the fleet actually functions were interesting. I understand that the series has drawn a little criticism for following the political-allegory route more than would be entirely realistic in the circumstances (a refugee fleet of only 50,000 people would surely have a less sophisticated media system), but I think one of the no-brainers when it comes to thinking about New BSG is that this series is much more an allegory about Bush-era America than it is a story in its own right.

Which brings us on to Kobol’s Last Gleaming, which I watched in one sitting and also very much enjoyed. Putting aside the naked Boomer parade, the somewhat baffling scuffle between Starbuck and the blonde Cylon, and Robinson Baltar’s life in ruins, the element which really grabbed me again goes back to the Bush-era analogy.

kobol

Let’s face it, Jane, it’s hardly surprising that Wikipedia lists New BSG as ‘military SF’. Most of the sympathetic characters are serving military officers, so the defining outlook of the show is a military one. So you could argue that the central question of this episode is ‘As a decent, sane military professional, what do you do when you find yourself under the command of someone who appears to be an unbalanced religious maniac?’ And if that wasn’t a pertinent question for Bush-era America I don’t know what would be.

There’s a sense in which the mystic element of the series actually works against the effectiveness of this theme – the fact we know that there’s probably some truth to Roslyn’s visions tends to weigh things in her favour more than would be the case – but Adama’s attempted coup d’etat is still gripping stuff, and goes back to the question of who is really in charge of this fleet. While the closing moments of the series – you know, the bit where someone unexpectedly does something to someone else – were a proper, proper shock, I can’t help but suspect that the resolution to this will act as a convenient reset button.

Overall though, a strong end to a season which I thought was pretty good. You know by now the things I’m not entirely convinced by – Starbuck and Baltar, mainly, plus the uneasy coexistence of the serious bits and the pulpy bits.

I can’t remember whether I’ve properly gone into detail about this before, but there is an odd tension between the present-day-allegorical bits and the more obviously SF elements of the setting. At the most basic level, this is a civilisation which has mastered almost-magical technologies like FTL and advanced AI-robotics, but still uses plutonium-based nuclear fission for its heavy ordnance and arms its military craft with projectile firearms. I’m prepared to accept this, mainly because it serves the story’s tone and intent, but initially I had a harder time dealing with the changes to the regular characters, compared to Disco BSG.

By this point I have got used to new-Starbuck and new-Boomer (all of them), so it isn’t just that they’re different characters. Simply, given the Bush-era parallels and general gritty tone, the presence of women as front-line combat pilots strikes me as… well, look, I don’t have a problem with competent women, obviously. I never had an issue with women in senior jobs on Trek, for instance, but the point is that Star Trek is fundamentally progressive, utopian SF. The very fact that the BSG universe still has fighter pilots is an indication, to me, that it isn’t utopian, so the presence of a utopian level of gender-equality jars.

Again, I think there’s a tension here, but this time I think the tension is between the truth of the story the creators want to tell and the realities of making a network TV series. The most ‘truthful’ version of this series, in terms of tone and so on, would probably have a cast much more heavily skewed towards men (rather like Disco BSG, if we’re honest), but I suspect that would be a tougher sell to a modern audience. Hence the rethink on Boomer and Starbuck, I expect – and if you’re going to start tinkering around like that, why not make Starbuck not just a woman but also a strategic genius, stone-cold interrogator, cordon-bleu chef, and so on?

So I suppose in the end the new version of Starbuck is emblematic of the new BSG in more ways than one. I’m enjoying watching the show continue, and am curious about what’s the come, but it still hasn’t completely won me over, I’m afraid.

 

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