The Springer Show In Space? Not Quite, but Getting There

Colonel Tigh (Michael Hogan) keeps an eye out for the villainous Brother Cavil (Dean Stockwell)Some Thoughts on Battlestar Galactica
by Matt

          In 2003, Battlestar Galactica emerged from the netherworld of cancelled TV shows with a four-hour Sci-Fi Channel miniseries produced by David Eick and Star Trek alumnus Ron Moore. Gone were the capes, feathered hair and other relics of the tackiest decade of all time. This time around, the robotic Cylons—who have developed models indistinguishable from humans—devastate the twelve human worlds in a surprise--nuclear attack. Commander William Adama (Edward James Olmos) rallies the survivors by telling them he can lead them to the “lost colony” of Earth. The post-apocalyptic and “enemy within” aspects resonated with a public shaken by 9/11, and in 2004, Battlestar became a weekly TV series.

         One of the show’s strengths is its emphasis on character development. Rather than cardboard cutouts or flawless superheroes, the denizens of BSG are meant to be real people, complete with problems. Unfortunately, the show’s third season took those flaws too far, threatening to turn Battlestar into “The Jerry Springer Show in Space.”
         One example is what disdainful fans have dubbed “the polygon” and “The Quadrangle of Doom.” Ace pilot Kara “Starbuck” Thrace (Katee Sackhoff), although married to professional athlete Sam Anders (Michael Trucco), has an affair with the Commander’s son Lee (Jamie Bamber) who happens to be married to Anastasia Dualla (Kandyse McClure). In “Rapture,” when Lee dispatches her to rescue Starbuck after a crash, she slaps the errant pilot when she rambles about her dysfunctional love life. In that moment, the series came close to having a Jerry Springer-style catfight (“He’s My Man!”).
         Making this ridiculous situation (that probably violates many military rules) even stranger, Cylon prophet Leoben Conoy (Callum Keith Rennie) has developed an unhealthy affection for Kara. When the Colonials briefly settled an isolated world they called New Caprica (which was quickly occupied by the pursuing Cylons, who imposed an unsubtle Iraq War-allegory occupation regime), he abducted her. He held her captive for months, even going as far as to claim that a stolen refugee child was really their daughter (the result of experiments on her eggs, stolen by Cylon doctors in “The Farm”). Even after the escape from New Caprica, Leoben still would not leave her alone. In “Maelstrom,” visions of him goad Kara into recklessly pursuing a Cylon ship and apparently dying. “My Cylon Stalker Drove Me to Suicide,” anyone? Starbuck mysteriously turns up alive in the season finale, so it’s doable.
         Col. Saul Tigh (Michael Hogan), Admiral Adama’s oldest friend and right-hand man, is another Springer episode in the making. The Colonel is an alcoholic, the result of his attempts to bury his memories of the First Cylon War and ignore the unfaithfulness of his wife Ellen (Kate Vernon). When Ellen turns up alive, she drags him off the wagon and when the Admiral lies near death, spurs him into declaring martial law and nearly causing a civil war. Perhaps this one can be called “My Husband, the Drunken Dictator.”
         When the Cylons occupy New Caprica, they imprison and torture Tigh. Only Ellen’s dalliance with Cylon enforcer Brother Cavil (Dean Stockwell) saves him from worse. Cavil later bullies Ellen into betraying a resistance operation, and at the insistence of Anders, the colonel poisons her. Afterwards, he sinks back into the bottle, his ravings undermining morale until Adama relieves him of duty. It takes the appearance of a pilot Adama abandoned during a secret mission before the war who the Cylons allowed to escape in hopes he would seek revenge, to bring him (temporarily) out of his self-destructive spiral.
         The only remotely functional marriage is between Captain Karl Agathon and Sharon “Athena” Valerii (Grace Park), who happens to be a Cylon. Even this began with a potentially Springer-worthy incident—she became pregnant with Agathon’s child as a result of an elaborate experiment on one of the occupied Colonial worlds (“My Baby Momma is a Cylon!”). It got even stranger when President Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell) faked their child’s death and kept her hidden in her New Caprica schoolhouse, only to lose her to the Cylons during the evacuation of the planet (“The President Stole Our Baby AND LOST HER!”).
         Although still “the best show on television” (as described by Rolling Stone), the first half of Season Three brought “Battlestar” perilously close to becoming a trash talk show with science fiction trappings.

Battlestar Galactica
Sundays at 10 p.m.
Sci Fi Channel

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