The Battlestar Galactica reboot in 2003 stands as one of my favorite television shows of all time. Not only does it feature fantastic acting, but it also has one of the richer and more complex TV series plots ever assembled. And while many science fiction novels and shows trend towards cliché portrayals of good and evil, Battlestar Galactic fully embraces the many shades of gray that we find out here in the real world.
In case you’re unfamiliar, Battlestar Galactica chronicles a fleet of space ships as they hop across the galaxy in search of the mythical Earth. They are being pursued by the Cylons, a robotic race originally created by humanity (in the reboot). The Cylons destroyed the Twelve Colonies, a solar system once inhabited by humans, wiping out billions with a surprise nuclear strike. Only a small group has survived, having escaped in a fleet of ships under the protection of the Battlestar Galactica.
The Cylons start out as the typical black-and-white, through-and-through evil bad guys that inhabit many fiction universes. Over the course of the series, however, their background, motives, and actions become more complicated and nuanced. Yet the most interesting battle may not even be the Cylon-Human battle, but instead the inner-fleet battle between the military command and various civilian groups.
Democracy Vs Fascism Vs Radicalism Vs Religion
Quite the subtitle right? The inner fleet politics found in Battlestar Galactica are perhaps the most interesting elements of the whole series, at least for me. There’s the military aboard the Battlestar Galactica, which holds most of the fleet’s weapons. There’s also a civilian President, elections, coupes, a group of former radicals, and many shades of gray.
Even before the dust of the surprise nuclear attack on the Twelve Colonies settles, military leader Commander William Adama is coming to blows with “President” Laura Roslin. Problem is, Roslin was the outgoing Secretary of Education in the 12 colonies, and only assumed the presidency after numerous other higher ranking officials were killed or went missing. A military man vs. school teacher battle for power quickly ensues.
President Roslin wants to flee the solar system and search out a new home, Adama wanted to jump into battle and go down in a blaze of glory. Adama also rejects the legitimacy of the school teacher turned President, initially blowing her off. Roslin and Adama come to blows many times throughout the course of the series.
Even if you haven’t seen Battlestar Galactica, you can probably guess who won this initial debate. President Roslin convinces Adama to flee the Twelve Colonies. Over the course of the show the military-civilian tensions emerges as perhaps the most interesting plot line. Again and again, the military moves to suppress and arrest civilian leaders.
Meanwhile, inmates held aboard a prison barge manage to escape and seize control of their ship. The group is led by Tom Zarek, a notorious radical who was jailed for anti-government terrorist activities. Suddenly, everyone is trying to figure out what to do with rebellious prison ship. Storm the ship and kill them all? Allow some of them to earn their freedom?
I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but later on Tom Zarek and other radicals would emerge as contenders for the Presidency held by Laura Roslin. As a result, Roslin dallies with her own dictatorial thoughts. Round and round the circle goes.
Then there’s Dr. Gaius Baltar a once prominent fleet civilian leader and scientific genius who would fall from grace. (I’d love to tell you more, but there’d be far too many spoilers). Eventually Baltar would foment class warfare, arguing that elitists within the fleet are exploiting everyone else. And after that, he has a sort of religious epiphany and starts preaching the word of God.
This is only a brief sketch of some of the many complicated human vs. human plot lines. If you haven’t seen Battlestar Galactica, but enjoy shows like Game of Thrones or House of Cards, you should give it a watch.
Is It Really All Fiction? Real World Suggests Not
One of the best aspects of Battlestar Galactica is its ability to force viewers to confront real world ethical dilemmas within the context of a fictional universe. Religion, torture, manipulating elections, back-room scheming, oppressive military leaders, they all come into play.
The American government, among others, has used the threat of terrorism to pass numerous wide-sweeping laws. We all already know that the government is engaging in spying programs to collect personal data and our Internet activity. Prisoners are being held in Guantanamo Bay, denied any semblance of a fair trial and justice system.
Populism, meanwhile, appears to have reared its head in the election of Donald Trump. The goal here isn’t to dig into touchy politics, but to recognize how tough times can empower populist-style leaders, whether that be Gaius Baltar, Donald Trump, or the leaders of the Brexit movement.