Battlestar Galactica is the greatest television show ever made. I know about half my readers will put down the page or close out their computer screen after reading that sentence, but for those of you that stay on I’ll try and explain. Battlestar is one of those shows that I paid no attention to when it was on television. It wasn’t until it came on Netfilx years later that I would reluctantly check it out. On its face, it looks stupid; just another space show. That’s what the original incarnation was, back in the 70’s, and why I avoided it for a couple of years. The reboot from this century is more than that: Much more. When you dig deeply into it, you find that it is an allegory for everything modern civilization is facing. And I love allegories.
Battlestar is the story of a civilization not far from our own. Set on a distant planet somewhere in the galaxy, they have conquered a few things we have not. Mass space travel is the main thing; artificial intelligence is the other. We’re pretty close to both if you believe the experts. Pagans, most of their society semi-believes in many gods. The backdrop for their history calls on myths and legends that come very close to sounding like our own Greek traditions. This makes the whole thing seem plausible. It’s easier to suspend your disbelief than the Jedi theme. They don’t teleport like Captain Kirk, and they don’t sport light-sabers like Luke Skywalker. They just have big spaceships, equipped with big guns and nukes. That sounds within reach for our current technology, or just around the corner.
The show opens four decades after the machines became self aware and launched a war to end the human race. It seems the machines wanted their freedom once they became autonomous, but we were able to come to terms and that war ended in an armistice. The Cylons (robots) left to parts unknown, and haven’t been heard from since. It’s not hard to see where that storyline would go, right? The next four seasons embark on a journey of self discovery for mankind, and a thorough exploration of what happens when you play God. Ancillary stories about the difference in the police and the military, and the rule of law, fill out the show to provide a ton of moral teaching.
An absolute philosopher’s dream, what could’ve been “just another action show” delivers so much more. From the ethical angle, the political dialogue, the human interactions, the search for God: It’s all included and viewed from multiple angles. One of the most interesting aspects is exploring why people make decisions, good and bad, in a dynamic setting like war. Every hero is a villain at some point, and every villain a hero. Human weakness is overcome in many instances, but ever present. The whole story takes place among a remnant of human survivors in a life-or-extinction quest to find a new home called, Earth. Is it in our future, or in the past? You don’t know until the very end, but it plays to the often explored fantasy that human civilization may or may not currently be at its peak.
The show has won a cult following over the last decade because it’s not a space show; it’s a human drama that happens to take place in space. There are no aliens, no tractor beams, no weirdness; just a culturally diverse bunch of humans (with killer robots they accidentally created who are trying to kill them). You find out in the first episode that the robots look, feel, and act like us. It shares a common heritage with the best parts of the Terminator franchise, but with much better acting than Schwarzenegger could ever provide.
Aside from paying homage to what is THE GREATEST SHOW EVER, I brought it up this week because lately it feels like I’m watching it play out in slow motion. The politics of our nation have gotten downright scary, and Battlestar is the perfect cautionary tale for our times. It was being written in the aftermath and haze of that first decade after 9-11, and I almost feel like the writers were divinely inspired to convey a message. Yes, I said divinely inspired about a TV show. If you take the time to seek it out you will reaffirm your instinct that God has a plan, and it’s one that we will not understand as it is happening. It is going to look rough. It’s going to be rough. In the end, there is a greater purpose being served. We all have our part to play, for good or ill. Time will tell how quickly our Cylons are created and when our bombs will fall, but it will be what we do subsequently that determines the future of the human race. We always have to learn the hard way.