I grabbed a torrent of the series pilot and have finished about half. Even though some aspects of the plot are thoroughly spoiled for me, having been watching regularly since Pegasus in episode 2, it was gripping and fresh. I haven’t been this excited about television sci-fi since Deep Space Nine and Babylon-5 – and Galactica has already surpassed both.
The best thing about watching the pilot was how it underscored many of the relationships whose dynamics I’d inferred by the end of season 2. For example, father-son tension between Bill Adama and Lee Adama was always a subcurrent which I’d really only glimpsed – Bill mentions that trust was something of an “issue” between them in an offhand comment, or Apollo is genuinely gobsmacked at his promotion. You could read the love in Apollo’s eyes and hear the pride in Bill’s voice and you wonder, as I did coming in mid-season, what deep emotions are being tapped here? What events were they whose powerful closure I am witnessing here? It’s as if I stumbled onto something private and intimate, and regular viewers of the series were part of that intimacy.
But the mini-series makes it painfully clear what happened between them, and now I realize just how vast a gulf that these characters have had to traverse indeed to arrive where they are now. Lee blames his father for his brother’s death – and goes too far. He also burns his bridge with Starbuck, who clearly was in love with his brother, but you get the sense that their argument is one of many that they have had and overcome – wich makes their alientation at the end of season 2 all the more shocking.
And Baltar. If I thought he was interesting before, now he’s cemented as the greatest villain in science fiction history. As Six observes moments after revealing her Cyclon plans, he has a deep ability for self-denial – and even in the immediate moments after learning that his race is on the verge of utter annihilation, his first thought is how to save himself. Yet as the full reality sinks in of what has happenned, he has genuine horror – his self-absorption is total but there has to be some element to his character that allows us to still, for some bizarre reason, understand him. That such a thoroughly selfish, vain, and utterly roguish character can still be likable is a total paradox that I’ve never seen duplicated before. Baltar makes Han Solo look like Clark Kent, but we still give a damn – and are glad he made it aboard that Raptor.
Galactica was destined to be decommissioned and turned into a museum – as one character put it, the launch tubes for the port nacelle were now a gift shop. However the full squadron of old-style Viper Mark IIs aboard were actually functional, due to the corps d’esprit of the flight crew, and their old-style low-tech design (mirroring Galactica’s) was what rendered them immune to the computer virus that the Cylons used to utterly incapacitate the rest of the Colonial defenses – planetside, Battlestars, and Vipers alike. The wisdom of the Galactica design of forbidding computer networks in favor of isolated systems is immediately apparent and underscored with ferocity as the ships of the line are seen drifting in space, shattered and destroyed, and Galactica’s regular squadron of deadly Viper Mark IVs is obliterated by a single pair of Cylon raiders. There’s a moment before the surprise attacks where Adama chews out Secretary Roslin for her request to put a computer network aboard the museum/battlestar to make it “more convenient” for teachers to lead tours aboard. At the time, it seems pretty heavy handed, but during the attack Adama’s old school practices are justified.
The subplot where Boomer and Helo end up on Caprica and rescue some desperate citizens – including Baltar – is interesting in its own right, but the developments aboard Colonial 782 are more important. Ultimately, the scene where Roslin takes the oath of the office of President – 42nd in succession – is deeply moving and solemn, hitting the same emotional chord that we felt after 9-11. Here is tragedy, and yet in the face of it the institutions will prevail and persevere. The tragedy for the Colonials far outstrips in scale our own national tragedies, but the message is that society itself will survive. And this theme too is carried onwards in later episodes and seasons – and I think achieves its maximum resonance when much later, Adama faces that same President and shows her that democracy is an ideal that must be respected above all else, even it gives the wrong result. And wrong result – Baltar – it gives indeed.
Finally, we see the strands begin to come together. Galactica jumps to Ragnar station to resupply, and Adama sends out the call that he has taken command of the fleet and expects all able ships to rendezvous there. There is a President, and already the first civilian-military authority conflict – which seems to end in tragedy. Adama loses his other son, and the pain on his face is an open book -yet he continues. Helo is left behind on Caprica and Boomer is stranded in space with refugees including Baltar. And we don’t know the fate of Colonial-1 and Apollo, though we can guess.
There are seeds galore in the first half of the miniseries that I see exactly how and where have borne fruit in later episodes. Watching the miniseries has been like a new revelation, making the episodes that I had been seeing regularly take on added depth. In some ways, seeing the miniseries now rather than previously is making these long-term themes even more clear.
This is the best science fiction that has ever been on television.