I review the first season of the reimagined sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica – starring Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, Katee Sackoff and more.
Following on from the awesome Battlestar Galactica Mini-Series, Battlestar Galactica’s first season is nothing short of a masterpiece. It shows that military science fiction can be pulled off intelligently, deal with politics well and include effective world building methods over the span of twelve episodes, making the shortest season out of the four. Picking up from where the Mini-Series left off with the survivors of the nuclear holocaust escaping the twelve colonies of Kobol, intent on searching for the mythical thirteenth colony known as Earth. All the while however, the fleet are hounded by the Cylons – robot machines which humanity created before turning rebelling and turning rogue, power-play struggles between the politicians and the military – as well as the truth that Cylons can disguise themselves to look like humans, and anybody on board the fleet could be an enemy agent.
Despite the numerous cast which only gets bigger as the series progresses, there are a few key and important players that those of you who watched the mini-series first will already be familiar with. If you have not seen the mini-series first then that is essential viewing, because I made the mistake of watching the first half of Season 1 without prior knowledge and as a result I was left confused and I spent most of the season trying to work out who was who and what was happening. However, I have since went back and rewatched the episodes in question after watching the mini-series in order to understand the events in them better.
|The main cast of Battlestar Galactica|
The core figures at the heart of the storyline are both figureheads on the military/civilian front Commander William Adama, played incredibly well by the imposing figure of Edward James Olmos – takes role of the military leader of the fleet who is well developed, three dimensional and just as flawed as anybody onboard Galactica. He is the main driving force and having been on the verge of retirement in the mini-series, is called back into action as leader of the fleet. It’s great to watch Adama in command, and Edward James Olmos plays him so well that it’s tough to imagine anyone else in the role. On the civilian angle there’s the equally impressive Mary McDonnell – who plays Laura Roslin, formerly a Secretary of Education but now – following the attack, President of the Twelve Colonies. McDonnell does incredibly well with some powerful and moving scenes as Roslin – as she attempts to struggle with not only her own cancer, but also the military and the civilian portions of the fleet respectively.
Just behind Olmos and McDonnell in terms of significance to the plot, is rebellious, anti-authoritarian tough girl Kara Thrace, given the callsign “Starbuck”, having been gender switched from the original series where her role was played by Dirk Benedict. Despite the impressive performances from the rest of the cast it’s Katee Sackhoff who puts in arguably the most impressive character portrayal of the lot, and arguably establishes Kara Thrace as one of the, if not the best female characters in the entirety of the science fiction genre. And it’s fair to say that she’s not just one of the best characters in the whole of science fiction, but quite possibly in the whole of television – Kara is a complex, well rounded and heavily flawed character who develops dramatically over the course of the series. Another military figure who plays a key role in Season 1 is Jamie Bamber’s Lee “Apollo” Adama, who takes the role as William Adam’s surviving son, and it is very interesting indeed to watch the ever-changing relationship between the three characters of Adama, Apollo and Starbuck.
|Starbuck walks away from a Cylon prisoner|
The biggest role in the Civilian Fleet apart from Mary McDonnell goes to James Callis’ Gaius Baltar. Baltar is a charismatic genius and frequent womanizer – and is unwittingly responsible for the destruction of Caprica, one of the twelve colonies – when in the mini-series, he gives the defence codes to a woman later revealed to be a Cylon agent – known only as Number Six. Following the attack and the opening episode, Six lives inside Baltar’s head – and converses regularly with him. As only Baltar can see Six, this creates frequent problems for Baltar when she starts talking to him with other people in the room.
Back on Caprica, the show follows the subplot of the survival of Tahmoh Penikett’s Karl “Helo” Agathon, who in the mini-series, gave up his seat on board a ship carrying refugees to Galactica from Caprica in order to allow Baltar to flee the planet. How the thread evolves with Helo is very interesting to watch – particularly when he links up with Sharon “Boomer” Valerri, played by Grace Park – who’s a Cylon sleeper agent, and another model of her exists on Galactica at the same time as Caprica. To watch these characters survive the harsh world of Cylon-dominated Caprica is very good – and it’s almost like we’re watching a different show that feels more Walking Dead (but replace zombies with Cylons) as opposed to Star Wars – which the scenes set on board Galactica will remind you of.
|Commander William Adama, the kind of leader you want in humanity’s last days.|
The Season itself opens with 33, one of the best episodes of the entire series and one of the strongest pilot episodes ever. Every 33 minutes Cylons attack Galactica, and the exhausted pilots struggle to fight them off, suffering from lack of fleet. It’s got lots of tension, and serves as a very solid opener for the series. After 33 comes Water & Bastille Day – the former of which shows the fleet’s hunt for water, whilst the latter deals with a prison riot and the introduction of famous terrorist Tom Zarek (Richard Hatch) who makes life complicated for Apollo in another nerve-wracking episode.
Then comes the combined threads of Act of Contrition and You Can’t Go Home Again. The former fleshes out Starbuck as a character and deals with her struggling to get over the death of Zak Adama, the Commander’s other son, who was engaged to her – and the guilt that his death was what she believes to be her fault. However, when Starbuck is training some new recruits – something goes wrong and her ship crashes on another planet, leading into the direct follow-up You Can’t Go Home Again, which serves as one of my favourite episodes of the whole series – and although requires a certain element of suspension of disbelief, is a lot more action packed than its predecessor and focuses on Kara’s struggle to survive.
|Laura Roslin, President of the Twelve Colonies|
Litmus, the next episode, doesn’t quite live up to the heights set by You Can’t Go Home Again, but nonetheless allows for an impressive watch as it clears up a few questions left unanswered in previous episodes, and gives some much needed screen time for Chief Tyrol (Aaron Douglas), as well as the Sharon-Cylon on Galactica.Following on from a Tyrol-centric episode Six Degrees of Separation switches its attention to Gaius Baltar – and explores the problems for the character when Number Six reveals herself to the rest of the fleet as a human named Shelly Godfrey – and accuses Baltar of treason.
Flesh and Bone explores what happens when a human Cylon is tortured, and the length that it will go to manipulate and confuse other characters. It also develops Kara’s character even further – as well as Roslin, who begins to have visions of the same Cylon. Then comes the only episode in the series that I would give below a 4/5 star verdict if I was rating them individually – Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down – which attempts to stray into comedy with the focus on Commander Adama’s right hand man, Saul Tigh (Michael Hogan) and introduces his Wife, Kate Veron’s Ellen Tigh.
|Gaius Baltar, scientist.|
Then comes an all out action blockbuster of an episode, The Hand of God, another stronger episode in the series. Colonial Day explores inter-fleet politics where Tom Zarek comes to the front once again – before delving into a game-changing two part finale Kobol’s Last Gleaming, which focuses on the discovery of the lost planet of Kobol and ends with a great cliffhanger moment that will have audiences itching to get stuck into Season 2.
Overall then, Battlestar Galactica is a masterpiece. By far the greatest science fiction TV series (and my personal favourite show of all-time), this is a must-watch series and stands as a great example of what science fiction can achieve regardless of whether you are a fan of the genre or not. If you’re looking for good, compelling female characters then this show is also going to be right up your street – and there isn’t a perfect character in the whole show, with each well developed, boasting their own quirks and personalities – as well as their flaws, some of which is more notable than others.
A great start to an addictive, compulsory-viewing series. This comes with my highest recommendation.