Saturday, May 3, 2008

Battlestar Galactica - Ottawa Citizen: Galactica's quest for closure

From the Ottawa Citizen (Ottawa, Canada):

(Please follow the link for the complete three page article.)

Galactica's quest for closure

Complex sci-fi show heads for home -- with a bit too much precociousness

Michael Murray, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Saturday, May 03, 2008

If you're going to feature the word "star" in the name of your television program, then you're going to risk alienating just as many people as you hope to attract.

Yes, the promise of warp speed is sure to deliver the teenage geek who needs to take a hit off his inhaler whenever he thinks of Princess Leia, but it's equally certain to drive away just about everybody else. Science fiction can be polarizing and, for a show like Battlestar Galactica, that's won both an Emmy and Peabody award, finding the audience you deserve can be something of a challenge. I mean, it just doesn't feel very cool as an adult to admit that your favourite TV show is Battlestar Galactica.

To compound matters, when many of us think of Battlestar Galactica, we see Lorne Greene, who was as charismatic as rolled oats, from the original 1978 television show, and not sex goddess Tricia Helfer from the present incarnation.


Now entering its fourth and final season, Galactica has proven to be a critical darling, earning all sorts of accolades for its cinematic, even literary approach to television. It's a complex and ambiguous show that refuses to settle for the trite good-versus-evil formula that has marked previous science-fiction franchises like Star Trek. Galactica posits a universe in which all sorts of seemingly oppositional truths can exist at the same time. Exploring contemporary themes like religious freedom, the morality of torture and terrorism, and the essence of identity, the show could be seen a study on many of the issues confronting the West. To Battlestar Galactica's credit, it contents itself with posing questions rather than answering them, and no evident political mandate is apparent.

Regardless, the show has had some difficulty in broadening its fan base, hovering around two million viewers an episode for the last season and for the debut of this season, too. By contrast, a ratings machine like American Idol regularly scores around 30 million viewers, and so we see that regardless of quality, science fiction remains a marginalized genre.


In spite of all its deftness and complexity, or perhaps because of it, there's a precociousness to this, the final season. Dense with symbolism and theme, with flashy arrows pointing out all the mytho-religious allusions, the episodes sometimes strike me as academic rather than visceral. Through a gauzy and vertiginous haze, the lines between what is real and what is imagined are blurred, and we're left in something that feels like an endlessly looping dream.

It's an admirable show, but it's a good thing this is the final season. Through three seasons we've seen the start of a journey, a failed settlement, betrayal and death, and now it's time to move toward closure. If not, we run the danger of remembering the new Battlestar Galactica as a show that ended up taking itself too seriously, sounding like a couple of undergrads thrilled with the brilliance of their own vocabularies, rather than the excellent show it has been for the last three seasons.

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