Recently, I have been re-watching old shows: I think it’s the cheeto presidency that’s driving me to shows that make me feel comfortable. One show in particular I’ve been watching is Battlestar Galactica.
I’m currently in the beginning of season 3, in which the epistemological problem that Cylons are indistinguishable from humans is being fully exploited: after having her hybrid baby, Sharon has been made into a lieutenant aboard the Galactica, humans are engaging in suicide bombings of other humans and Cylons in the name of the resistance, and the uniformity of the Cylon models is cracking thanks to the Cylon war heroes, Caprica 6 and Boomer. These plot reversals and inversions are important not so much in terms of creative plot development (though that creativity must be acknowledged) but most importantly because of how they reconfigure the audience’s relationship to the series. That is, who are we to root for? And why? Well, yes, the humans. But the characters themselves remind us that suicide bombing crosses a line. And are we now going to throw in with Colonel Tigh, a character we are constantly reminded is not to be trusted? The viewer has to be pragmatic here, even if it is distasteful. And the Cylons, what to do with them? As dastardly as they are, our apprehension is intimately related with how like us and our history they are. What even the human characters are beginning to grapple with is the idea that Cylons have souls (something the audience could always entertain but which now they have to face more seriously). And yet they decimated billions, a crime that cannot just be forgiven, especially by the survivors of such decimation.
This is why Battlestar Galactica is such a great show: the series seeks to constantly reconfigure the bonds of identification and disidentification between audience and fiction. For there is much we admire about the characters as well as what repels us. President Roslyn’s moral certainty, until it becomes tyrannical. Adama’s decisiveness and leadership is comforting at the same time that it’s narrow minded and the character can never truly be approached; we are Lee in many ways. This push and pull goes down to the setting: space age humans in a gritty, rust bucket fleet. Not the star trek sleekness we’re used to for a space drama.
I’ll sign off for now, but I have more to say on this topic.
Originally published on 13 Mar 2012