Sunday, January 18, 2009

the BSG discussion continues

My friend Andy R. writes:

Re: BSG. I just watched the new episode. Wow!

Full disclosure: I gave up on BSG early on. I mean, Humans were battling an opponent that was Human-But-Better. The Cylons had human bodies, could reproduce, and their only difference was an advantage, so I gave up on the whole thing. I sensed a "Lost"-like series with no plot progress - but lots of "personal interaction" - and I had no interest.

If I wanted to watch people in impossible circumstances, under extreme stress and yelling at each other, I'd go back to a Korean hagwon.

As a special-effects friend of mine pointed out: shows that don't resolve major conflicts within a season or two are just boring. And for that reason I loved "Nowhere Man". Drama, tension to beat the "X-Files" like a red-headed step-child, and they wrapped it all up in 2 seasons.

[ Full disclosure: The fact that they filmed the entire show (set in many different US cities) all in my hometown helped. ]

But the latest BSG episode was great. The Adama showdown with Tigh was spectacular. Apparently Edward James [Olmos] himself added key lines to the dialog, including the "main vein" comment and the lines about "I could smell her."

The girl's suicide caught me off-guard but seemed to rank up there with a Shakesperean drama. Even Lee's show-down with the Cylons (via telephone) while Tigh was in the air-lock would have made a good drama in and of itself. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the 9 remaining episodes are even half as good.

Re: Starbuck and the Cylon count. I sure hope they unravel this plot point well. The now-great drama Doctor Who deals with plot-points like this from time to time, and they get kind of a pass.... but I'm VERY curious how the 2-Starbuck situation can be resolved without a waving of the sci-fi B.S. wand.

Do you remember Star Trek: The Next Generation and their use of Tasha Yar's daughter via magical sci-fi goodness? That type of hocus-pocus would work in almost any other show involving spaceships ("Farscape" comes to mind), but not BSG.

As you said, I, too, hope they continue in a dark tone. The best shows have always had a dark, adult tone in their beginning (AirWolf, Knight Rider, and Robocop come to mind). Watching BSG go out it in a sissy fashion would be too bad.

Andy makes a good point about Cylon superiority. While heroic narratives often establish that the heroes fight against impossible odds, it's possible for a storyteller to construct an enemy that is simply too overwhelming. According to BSG lore, the Cylons who attacked the colonies had about forty years to establish their own "homeworld" somewhere, then use that world as a staging area to prepare their vengeance. During that time, Cylon morphology went from clunky droid exoskeleton with rudimentary sentience to humaniform entities that, as Andy points out, are human-but-better. They have superior recall, superior strength, superior reflexes, and perhaps most important, superior mental discipline (Cylon "projection" is a form of mental visualization that allows them to endure hardship or entertain themselves). Cylons must also have enormous resources: we have no clue how many base ships and resurrection ships they have, but the material to construct those ships must have come from somewhere.

The Cylons do suffer from some of the same baffling anachronisms that plague the colonials. Why do Cylon warcraft still rely on missiles and bullets? What about particle beams that can lance across thousands of kilometers in a fraction of a second? The obvious answer is that BSG's writers have to "handicap" the villains somehow, but this simply raises other questions. For instance, how is it that a race could experience exponential self-improvement in the span of forty years, then suddenly stop improving? The series itself provides a partial answer: Cylons of advanced sentience apparently want to appear human, primarily for religious reasons. It doesn't hurt that looking human (and being programmable) makes one a good sleeper agent. Nevertheless, there seems to be no reason why other forms of Cylon couldn't continue to upgrade themselves and to multiply-- the fighters, the heavy raiders, the base ships themselves. Humanity's destruction seems assured.

The series probably won't break in this direction, but the most recent episode ("Sometimes a Great Notion") clues us in to the fact that Cylons, because they are created beings, are a case of parallel evolution-- invented or reinvented in various places, then evolving separately but in similar ways. If enough different Cylons proliferate throughout the galaxy (and the galaxy's a big place, so this could take eons), they might end up keeping each other in check.

Humanity's only chance is for the Cylons to use their powers of reason to conclude they should relent-- i.e., for the series to conclude on a positive note, something like the denouement of "The Matrix Revolutions" has to occur, where the great machine intelligence suddenly stops attacking. Anything less than that sort of scenario equates to triumph for the Cylons. As scientific thinker George Dyson wrote, "In the game of life and evolution there are three players at the table: human beings, nature, and machines. I am firmly on the side of nature. But nature, I suspect, is on the side of the machines."

Whether humanity deserves to exist is one of the major philosophical questions on which BSG meditates. Series developer Ronald D. Moore, if he follows the dark path, may be saying that we don't.

UPDATE: ZenKimchi has an interesting take on "Sometimes a Great Notion."



Anonymous said...

It seems that the Cyclons need the humans to reproduce in the forms of hybrids (human/cylons) as the resurrection ship was destroyed. They should still be able to construct centurions, but I think the centurions have become wise to the evolving nature of the 13, who have the programming to become more and more human. The centurions can never truly be human or evolve like the 13. However, I believe that they have the capability of self-preservation, and may actually be the cause of the continuing saga because I am starting to doubt that even the humans are truly human anymore if these wars have been ongoing without end.

As for the totally awesome "Nowhere Man." It only lasted one remarkable season on the defunct UPN network and was shot in numerous locales throughout Oregon and the greater Los Angeles area. That was my first taste of the TV business, after getting personally to watch industry greats Tobe Hooper, Ian Toynton, James Whitmore Jr., Lawrence Hertzog, and, of course, "24's" and "Le Femme Nikita's," Joel Surnow, it pretty much was downhill after that. And I will once again throw away my Emmy vote on "BSG" even though my fellow voters have an aversion to sci-fi and cutting edge programming.

John from Daejeon

Anonymous said...

As for cutting edge programming, "The Spectacular Spider-Man: The Animated Series" is back and even stronger in its second season. For lovers of the original comic "web-head" and Gwen Stacey, this is a can't miss series. I still can't believe that this is my current favorite TV show above the likes of BSG, Lost, Eureka, Burn Notice, Dexter, Nova, Frontline, and NCIS. After watching it, I feel energized and like a kid again, and ready to take on all comers which sometimes include my fellow Emmy voters who are of the elitist persuasion.

Last year, I spent countless hours defending sci-fi and animated series as equal to, or actually better than, current dramas and comedies to other Emmy voters, and I even went so far as writing a long letter to Emmy magazine about there needing to be a "best of" television category which would encompass all of TV’s best programs of the year (including documentaries, sci-fi, specials, sporting events [last year’s Superbowl would have come in 1st place], animation, etc.) only to have it fall upon those incapable of admitting that this would be for the best. Anyone for a college football playoff system after several years of BCS fiascos?

So if you get a chance, check out “The Spectacular Spider-Man.” The first episode is a little rough in setting up the backstory, but it quickly gets up to speed in the second.

John from Daejeon

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the corrections via "Nowhere Man." I guess it was only 1 season.... but it felt like 20. A friend of mine worked on the show, and would feed me info when he could. The fact that I was into the show anyway only made the wait for the next episode worse.

What all did you do in TV?

Re: Emmy votes. Beyond Spiderman, what's left to watch once BSG is gone?

_Andy R.