Battlestar Galactica: The Original Series
Final Thoughts Part One:
The Premise of the Show:
This show, in the end, was a very erratic one, and oftentimes, the very nature of the show was lost in the attempts to “find itself” a niche. Originally, the show seemed more a version of a “Space Western” than anything else, but it succeeded when it focused on the elements that made it unique – a massacre at the hands of an enemy; humanity struggles to survive; the mythology of the past being the key to their own future in finding the fabled 13th Colony; and so on.
The Main Cast:
Originally, while the show looked like it was supposed to be an ensemble cast, the main focus of the show’s setup was much like Star Trek – with 3 main characters in Apollo, Starbuck, and Adama. Everyone else was relegated to backup duty – With Boomer and Tigh given the shortest shrift of the rest.
So much of the focus was on Lt. Starbuck, as played by Dirk Benedict. Of interesting (and almost irrelevant) note, Dirk takes essentially the same character and ports him over to another 1980s hit TV show, “The A-Team.” As homage to his character in Galactica, the second season opening has him on the lot of a Universal movie shoot looking for Hannibal Smith, when he runs into a man who is dressed as a Cylon walking by. Dirk looks perplexed, as if he knew the “Cylon,” but ignores it. It is the inside joke that A-Team/Battlestar Galactica fans would instantly recognize.
But, enough gushing. Starbuck’s character, or maybe Dirk’s portrayal, was not compelling enough to warrant the attention the character received, in my opinion. Or, to be more precise, Starbuck as Action Hero who gets the random alien babe of the week (ala the charge against Captain Kirk) doesn’t work too well for me. For that matter, Starbuck, Caprican Loner, wasn’t in my cup of tea, either. The other item that dragged down the character of Starbuck was his playboy manners, especially with women – but even worse was how the women themselves were handling the Starbuck matter. Athena and Cassiopeia especially, just did not acquit themselves much.
Meanwhile, Apollo, super-athlete, super-pilot, infallible tactician, and all-around super-dad…flopped. As a matter of the course, Apollo was never shown to be wrong against anyone. Not Starbuck, not Sheba, not Boomer, not Tigh, not Adama. Anyone whom Apollo had an opposing idea with was always wrong. That is bothersome to me. And, to make insult to injury, Apollo was only close to dying once – by a female Viper pilot with a chip on her shoulder. They ‘correct’ this by having her break down emotionally on the mission on the planet, followed by shooting her Viper up like Swiss cheese only to have Apollo save her. Again, flag on the play.
Adama, while being the old sage, is only incorrect when it comes to dealing with his son. When dealing with everyone else, Adama’s way is the right way to go. Tigh got to bear the brunt of this, although dealing with Council was often a sticking point.
Boomer? We don’t really learn too much about Boomer compared to Starbuck and Apollo. Here’s what I am sure of: He once had Arctic Training and was posted on such a planet, he is a specialist in long-range communications; he has a sharp eye for Cylon outposts; and he is a Hovercar thief of the highest order.
But what of Boomer’s family? Not so much. Even the newcomer Sheba is given more of a family back-story in less than 2 episodes than Boomer gets in 24. And his own personal relationships? We never get to see that onscreen. A funny thing, though: In a scene during the finale (The Hand of God), when Boomer is awakened by Starbuck, he gets out of bed with only a pair of boxer shorts on – and Sheba AND Cassiopeia looked like they were ready to dump Apollo and Starbuck and give Boomer the flight of his life…
Boxey was the kid that Galactica exploited and then let fall by the wayside. In such an adult show, Boxey was supposed to play up both the family angle and the children’s angle. It also allowed the writing and production staff to send Boxey out on missions with Muffit – and this was an angle that may have backfired in the long run. It also did not help that Galactica’s search for an identity may have been prolonged by trying to keep Boxey near the forefront.
Athena. Maren Jensen was a victim of bad medical science – as well as bad writing. Her appearances tailed off considerably after “Fire in Space,” and she and Larson apparently had many confrontations over her ‘laziness’ when it came to work. It would be many years before medical science would be able to discover the truth: Maren Jensen actually suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
Now, I’ve decided to save Tigh for last. And not for any positive reasoning. Colonel Tigh was supposed to be Adama’s anchor; the realist; and the man whom Adama could confide in. Unfortunately, the onscreen presence of Tigh was even more underwhelming than I remembered. Tigh was not allowed at any point to have a an idea of his that saved the ship or any mission whatsoever; He was never allowed to show any initiative under any circumstances; He was also never allowed to take charge of any mission or leave the ship; Nor was he ever allowed to be right about any situation.
This speaks volumes about not looking at the larger picture for the entire cast when penning a story; with Apollo, Starbuck, and Adama being shown to be always correct about their hunches, even against other cast members, someone has to suffer in their confrontations. It also does not help when 2 lower-ranking subordinates, in essence, boss around a superior officer. For further proof, see how Apollo treats Tigh in the episodes “Fire in Space” and “War of the Gods.” Commander’s son or not, Apollo has a real lack of respect for Colonel Tigh.
The other problem I have with the structure of command of Galactica is the presence of Omega. His role on the bridge was never really well-defined, especially before Athena found herself pushed off. But, he clashes with Tigh on more than one occasion – and when Tigh happened to be left in command, he never tells Omega “Suggestion noted,” or anything like that.
The Support Cast:
Although my main concern has been for people of color who appeared on this particular show, I always look for how much the entire ensemble cast has been able to contribute in terms of story. This is where Galactica’s writing goes from average to sub-par.
First, despite his presence as one of the 2nd Tier cast, Jolly’s presence aboard the Galactica was marginalized. We never learned what made him tick; what his specializations were; or even what part of the Colonies he actually hailed from. The only thing that we do see is that he went from serving in Blue Squadron to Silver Spar Squadron when they were integrated aboard the Galactica. We also know that he has helped to take care of Boxey on 2 different occasions before it was decided to foist Boxey on to Cassiopeia.
Sheba was supposed to be the Calamity Jane to Apollo’s Butch Cassidy and Starbuck’s Sundance Kid. However, after “Fire in Space,” her time as a Viper Pilot on patrols with Starbuck and Apollo diminished. After “War of the Gods,” Sheba gets almost as marginalized as Boomer has. In fact, the only times you see Sheba after War of the Gods is when she is with Boomer. Volumes are spoken with this.
The Special Guests:
The only person of color who received top-billing on the 3rd Tier was Brock Peters, and he was supposed to be the hard-case District Attorney-type who wants to “execute” our Hero Starbuck.
Sheila DeWindt was the only other PoC given 3rd Tier billing as Lt. Dietra. After “Lost Planet of the Gods,” we do not see Dietra again – although special pains are taken to bring back Janet Julian’s Lt. Bree (for War of the Gods)*. Sheila makes a cameo appearance in “The Hand of God,” but that is all.
(*-Under the name of Janet Louise Johnson.)
The background people of Battlestar were about as diverse as one would expect. In terms of people with non-speaking roles, People of Color seem to be well-represented. There are 2 Asian male pilots (1 appears to be Japanese, the other Chinese), 2 Asian female pilots (non-descript, one looks to be Euro or American-mixed, another who had a smoke and a drink looked to be Korean), 2 Black female pilots (besides Lt. Dietra), and several Black male and White female pilots.
This kind of diversity is also found among the civilians and Battlestar support crews. Since many of the same faces show up during the course of the season, it can be determined that they have proven themselves to be competent time and time again.
On the flip side, however, the diversity shown in Galactica only extended to the Battlestar crews (this happens to include the Pegasus) and the human survivors of the colonies. The only world that had people of color among the “innocents” was the Agro-World that had the attacking nomads in “The Magnificent Warriors.” Sadly, only one other world had one person of color, and that was the guard at the prison planet in “The Long Patrol.” In “The Lost Warrior,” “The Young Lords,” and “Gun on Ice Planet Zero,” there were not only no people of color, but the white people we were supposed to sympathize with all had blonde hair.
The Cylons, believe it or not, make a set of interesting foes. Originally created by a race of intelligent reptiles called Cylons, it is believed that the creation of the Cylon robots were due to Count Iblis making his presence felt among the Cylon reptiles – and then with the Cylon robots as well. Maybe by impressing his template on the first Cylon Imperious Leader, this was done – or since Count Iblis can possess those who willingly allow it, it was done in this manner. But a race of intelligent machines that are at war with humans, while not new, was executed in a manner that was – these machines were not built by the humans who they now battle.
It would be through Baltar that we would get to see the full run of humanity. Also, paying John Colicos to be the main villain would be cheaper than paying Robert MacNee to run his voice through the echo machine, dress some guy in the Imperious Leader costume, which is very gaudy – and expensive, as well as time-consuming – and shoot the VFX needed for the scene. However, Baltar as a villain does work – when they don’t reduce him to ‘cardboard cutout’ humanoid wanna-be Cylon.
Sadly, once the show got away from the Cylons, the show’s villain quality declined. There was an attempt to build the Eastern Alliance into a threat, but it’s hard to make a new threat when their largest warships can fit into the Galactica landing bay without an issue. The light globes and Count Iblis looked like a promising villain, but they were a one-time fling that Larson and company tried to extend into an extended relationship.
This tells me that the Cylons were the only villains that had any real development in terms of structure whatsoever. When Larson and company lost John Dykstra’s hand for VFX, they were left with what was already on the table, and Universal’s grand genius would not allow them to pay out more money for the Cylon costumes any more. This left Battlestar with villains like the Borelians, who look like Klingon rejects from Star Trek: The Motion Picture; and the Eastern Alliance, who look more at home with Larson’s other sci-fi show, “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.”
In the end, it sounds like the need for a grand plan was fulfilled, but the smaller details – often necessary when building a universe within a sci-fi setting – were not completely fleshed out. Star Trek fans are often accused of being obsessed with “continuity” – and will point out smaller details that clash between each other. But, it is through this kind of “obsession” that a tapestry is made – and one that makes sense. When you don’t stop to get the smaller details right, oftentimes the larger “story” gets lost because of it. This happens many times in Battlestar Galactica, and while a particular episode is trying to make a point about something it feels is important, the episode’s content may be off-putting by what a character does or how a character reacts…or even a character’s history being rewritten before our very eyes.
This does happen in Battlestar, and the series suffered because of it.