'Battlestar Galactica' Fan Review

The 2000s reboot of 'Battlestar Galactica' puts a dark twist on an old favorite. 

I will admit I was one of those people who, growing up on the old 1970s sci-fi shows, had no real interest in a Battlestar Galactica reboot or re-imagining. I would rather have seen a Buck Rogers or even a Space 1999 before Battlestar Galactica. In truth, sometimes we don’t want people to take away from our personal definition of what a show should be. While the 70s Battlestar Galactica was cheesy, lighthearted, and silly, the new show was just the opposite. In fact, this was one of a handful of things that original fans cried foul about, that it was too serious, too dark, and no fun at all. Let’s not ever get started on the gender change for the character Starbuck.

However, what many of the fans from the old show don’t realize is just what a great show this is.

Reimagining a Fan Favorite

After a miniseries in 2003, Battlestar Galactica began its first season as a TV series in the later part of 2004. Dark, gritty, and serious to the point of grim, this re-imagining was no joke from Episode 1. As a fan of the original, I could not believe the quality of special effects that exploded off the screen, making the first series seem like a cartoon by comparison. I was won over very quickly.

The new Galactica series follows a similar plot line to the original, but has no qualms about changing things and going places that no sci-fi show has gone before. Caprica again is a focal point, one of 12 human colonies at war with the machines that they actually created themselves. The Cylons turn on their makers, launching a surprise attack and destroying entire cities. The surviving humans take refuge in space in hopes of escaping the Cylon purge. The Battlestar Galactica, a once high-end war machine in its own right, is now a shadow of its former self and is forced to lead, with Commander Adama (Edwards James Olmos) in charge, some 50,000 survivors, and their collection of rag-tag ships away from the devastation and towards the mythical world known as Earth.

In a strange and humorous twist, the Galactica only escaped the Cylon onslaught because its old and outdated computer technology was not susceptible to the Cylon virus that completely decimated most of Caprica’s other defenses. Be that as it may, the crew of the Galactica was left unaware that the Cylons now can possess another look other than the usual head to toe metal they are used to seeing. Now, they can take human form as well. Let the fun begin.

Season 1

The dark and gritty style that would go on to help define the show wasn’t simply used as background fodder. No, this unwashed and down-and-out look also stretched to the humans on board the ships as well, especially those on the Galactica. Everything was made to look worn out, worn down and desperate, which is exactly what was going on at the time. What was happening seemed so real, Cylons or not, which made the viewer make an emotional investment in the series and certain characters in particular.

For instance, I don’t know who came up with idea to cast Olmos as Adama but I hope they got a raise. Olmos has such a strong presence that he can steal a scene with a stare and no dialogue at all. He is a powerful figure that rules supreme but yet also is human and as such, has the same fears and doubts that everyone else has aboard Galactica, yet needs to convey the strong, leader image for the sake of moral. It is a tough thing to ask an actor to do but Olmos pulls it off brilliantly.

One of my favorite characters has to be Dr. Gaius Baltar (James Callis). Here we have a man who might have accidentally helped the Cylons cripple and disable Caprica’s defenses and all he cares about is getting caught. He also might be communicating with a Cylon that looks like a human called Number Six (Tricia Helfer) but the very interesting thing is, no one knows if she is imagined or possibly real. The whole dynamic between Baltar and Six is great to watch and Callis turns Baltar into a multilayered character that only get stranger and more fascinating as the episodes go on.

The action scenes in Battlestar Galactica are also some of the best I’ve seen on television. The ships, both Vipers and Cylon Raiders, look great in battle. The camera style is done in such a way that it looks like a documentary with all its tight zooms and realistic action sequences. Thankfully, this is a sci-fi show that didn’t cheap out on the special effects and it shows with some fantastic sequences and interesting handheld camera work. Putting forth the consistent effort and commitment in this regard gave the show that realistic edge that so many other sci-fi shows simply take for granted.

Too Dark?

There are a few things however, that might turn some viewers away. As mentioned this is dark and bleak setting, so much so that sometimes I found it overwhelming to the point that I wanted to go find my nearest love one and give them a hug. It would have been nice to see them take the reins off the dark atmosphere a little more. Also, while I thoroughly enjoyed the complicated and bizarre "relationship" between Number Six and Baltar, there were times that it seemed to overwhelm everything else that was going on, giving it the mistaken impression that it was more important than other plot threads in the show.

That being said, the Season 1 remake or re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica was fantastic TV and a great success. A stunning and captivating look at humanity in its darkest hour, it combines stunning special effects with a story and acting performances that are simply second to none. In a day and age where a lot of shows are content to simply coast along and tow the company line, Battlestar Galactica rips that line in two and ushers in a new age of great sci-fi television.

Season 2

The first season of the newly re-imagined Battlestar Galactica was not only an excellent piece of television but it had a bit of everything mixed in to help pave the way for the following season. All the things that made Season 1 so damn good, the characters, the darkness, the battles, the overall story line, all of it not only continued on in Season 2 but even managed to make some parts better, which is an accomplishment in of itself.

While most of the first season focused on the battles between humans and Cylons, and rightly so, Season 2 went a lot deeper in the human side of things, more often than not with frightening results and revelations. We get to watch as the day to day struggle just to survive begins to take its toll and the battle for humans to keep their fragile humanity intact begins to weaken even the strongest of them.

The action and chaos begin almost immediately, picking up right where things left off at the end of Season 1. With Commander Adama (Edward James Olmos) fighting for his life after an being attacked by known Cylon Sharon Valerii (Grace Park), it is left up to Colonel Tigh (Michael Hogan) to take command and somehow pick up the pieces of not only the assassination but the military coup and incarceration of President Roslin. (Mary McDonnell) It is quite interesting to see how Tigh takes on this challenge as he has issues of his own and the responsibility may be a bit over his head.

With dissent and confusion running rampant through the fleet, Adama re-takes command but even he cannot restore order. President Roslin convinces half the fleet to join her on Kobol in search of a way to get to Earth. However, Adama shows why he has been such a good and respected commander for so long as he manages to bring the fleet back together at Kobol, help Roslin find the map to Earth while at the same time re-instating her as president.

While there was a lot of attention in Season 2 on the decaying human psyche of the survivors and while this was done very well, much needed attention was also give to the Cylons, who now seem are not completely united in their hate of the human race. In fact, the two Sharon Valerii’s, one on the Galactica and one on Kobol, express love for humans and want some compassion and understanding from the characters they interact with, although most just want them dead and care little for what they have to say.

An Adrenaline-Fueled Season 

Other moments that ramp up the adrenaline and stress level include Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) still where we left her in Season 1, that being the Cylon controlled Caprica. While here, she meets up with a group of resistance fighters, humans who were mistakenly left behind by the fleet. Also, we meet journalist D’Anna Biers (Lucy Lawless) who is actually a Cylon agent, planted on the Galactica to spy on the humans from inside their biggest and strongest ship. We also see Chief Tyrol (Aaron Douglas) putting his ever busy hands to work and designing a new type of stealth Viper.

All of these moments and more are very well done but the appearance of another battlestar named Pegasus is what really shifted this season into high gear. Commanded by Admiral Cain (Michelle Forbes) the Pegasus at first seemed to be the beacon of light that the Galactica had been hoping for, something to give them renewed strength and hope. However, it quickly becomes clear that Cain and her crew have sacrificed a lot, mostly their humanity, to stay alive and get to be where they are today.

It’s only a matter of time till Cain and Adama, having totally different views on how they see things, begin to butt heads. The battle lines are drawn between two different parts of the military, the humanitarian side (Adama) and the "end justifies the means" attitude (Cain). However, the two put their differences aside and agree to join forces to try and destroy a key ship in their fleet. While happens next is pure chaos with assassins, escaped Cylon operatives and Adama promoted to Admiral.

Politics in Battlestar Galactica

The season wraps up on a more political note, with President Roslin facing an election after making many tough and unpopular decisions. The big surprise is Baltar throws his hat into the political arena to run and actually winning. The scene then shifts ahead in time one year to see where everything stands after all these events have taken place.

While Season 1 turned out to be wonderful surprise in many ways, Season 2 was much better, diving deeper into the characters and the human psyche and probing all its deepest and darkest secrets. There was no better example of that then the meeting of the two battlestars, whose crews had taken different paths on the humanity scale in order to survive. It was fascinating to watch, well written, and beautifully executed by the actors.

Speaking of acting, it was also very impressive, with a handful of actors pushing their craft the extreme limits of excellence. One of the continuing joys watch was Mary MacDonnell and Edward James Olmos continuing to go head to head. Sometimes on the opposite of arguments from different points of view, they always seem to come together in the end, being able to make their powerful characters seem vulnerable at the same time.

However, probably the star of the season had to be James Callis as Baltar. Callis brings so many layers to the table with this character it’s almost scary, making the audience feel sympathy for him one minute and then totally loathe the man the next. He brought so many emotions out of the character and the audience while still being believable and turning into some sort of cartoonish joke.

Season 2 was everything season one was and then more. A brilliant mix of acting, storytelling and special effects, Battlestar Galactica cemented itself in the world of sci-fi and television as being one of the most impressive shows around. 

Season 3

After the brilliant build up from the first two seasons, Battlestar Galactica put itself in the unenviable position of trying to continue the incredibly high standards the show had now reached without compromising the story in any way. Even though some episodes faltered a bit, with the show mistakenly branching out to several stand-alone stories that just weren’t that interesting, Season 3 still had some fantastic moments that kept the overall product still one of the best shows on television.

The season started out very strong, picking up right where Season 2 left off, with the Galactica colonizing New Caprica and the gutsy and wonderful jump in time by one year. Many of the characters have been displaced or placed in some very dangerous and different scenarios then we’ve seen before. Admiral Adama (Edward James Olmos) and his son Apollo (Jamie Bamber) have left New Caprica and are thinking about leaving the fleet behind, Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) has been trapped by the dangerous and obsessive Cylon Leoben and Colonel Tigh has been tortured by the Cylons and in the process, has lost an eye.

During the New Caprica part of Season 3’s storyline, Battlestar Galactica once again goes to the well using the military versus humanity with a bit of the Cylon’s thrown in. Never one to shy away from going places other sci-fi shows wouldn’t dare, we watch as so many characters are faced to deal with moral crisis as the line between hero and villain once again gets very blurry. This is one the things Battlestar Galactica does very well, digging deep into the human psyche and moral compass which makes the start of this season exciting and frightening all at the same time.

Unexpected Transitions

As the New Caprica plot arcs are left behind, we find the humans and Cylons back in space and delving into some dark, strange and for this show, surprisingly uneven storylines. Baltar (James Callis) is aboard a Cylon ship with D’Anna (Lucy Lawless) and Number Six (Tricia Helfer) which had some interesting moments but not as dark and twisted as we are used to seeing, especially when Baltar is involved. Also, the strange relationship between Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) and Apollo (Jamie Bamber) is finally given more camera time but nothing much really comes of it. In the end, the two come off more as entitled brats then anything and it gives them a personality at times that is very hard to like.

Following in this trend is a collection of episodes that seem to be more like time fillers than anything. This was quite a departure for the show as it focused on some of the smaller, supporting cast with mixed results. While deviating from the central storyline can make for an interesting episode, there was a few too many this season which began to take some of the luster of the overall season. Don’t get me wrong, the production value and acting was still good, just not the great, in your face kind of consistency we are used to seeing from this show.

One of the more interesting topics that was covered in this season was the rough and tumble, darker side of politics. While the show certainly hasn’t shied away from the political side of the things in the first couple of season, this time around they take a closer look at some things that are going on behind the scenes, pulling no punches in their obvious comparisons to some of the political nonsense that goes on in the here and now. The key figure in all of this is Baltar, who as the Cylon puppet and behind closed doors for no on to see, is ever the conflicted man. Even though we all know him as the self-centered coward who is only interested in what is it for him, he is made this time to at least look like he has a heart. The irony of course, is that no one will ever know this fact.

One of the best things to come out of this season was the emergence of Chief Tyrol (Aaron Douglas) as one of the more important characters in the show. At one point merely an interesting supporting character, Tyrol comes into his own in a few episodes here and Douglas brings him to life. It is a credit to both the writers and Douglas for bringing out the best in what was once a minor character and surprising us yet again with this twist all the way into season three.

A brilliant bit of story design also came out full force in season three, that centering on the Cylons. When they were first introduced that were these seemingly mindless robots intent on destroying the human race, which is exactly what we needed them to be. However, they would have gotten a little boring if they didn’t evolve at all so right on cue, evolve they did, into something were never saw coming. Both inside and out they became just a bit more ‘human’ here and there, making the viewer wonder if this was just their programming or were they actually evolving into something more then what they start out to be. In any case, when an enemy changes it’s stripes so to speak, and with these writers, it’s never a bad thing.

While still a very solid, there was a definite sense during the season that the whole ‘search for Earth’ mantra had to slowed down a bit as they didn’t want to arrive at their destination too soon and run out of ideas. The ending of the season, while satisfying in many ways, still left a little bit of uneasiness in me on how they intended to wrap this series up as a whole. Still, great television all around and yet another reminder that Battlestar Galactica has put itself out there as a force not just in the sci-fi world, but in the history of great television shows period. 

Season 4

By the time the series had reached season four, it was good and ready to bring it all to a close. Sure, they could have stretched it out another season, maybe two, but at the point the impact of the show would begin to lose steam under unnecessary. As it turned out, the way season four played out made for some shocking moments, albeit it felt somehow uneven at times, perhaps because the season had many of the big reveals near the beginning of the season. Still it was quite a ride to finish off the series.

Season four picks right up where the previous season left off, thankfully letting the show get right to those big reveals we were left hanging with. The fact that Starbuck was still breathing was one thing, but the identity of four of the ‘Final Five’ Cylons, Tory (Rekha Sharma), Anders (Michael Trucco), Tigh (Michael Hogan) and Tyrol (Aaron Douglas) was shocking, not only to us but to them as well. What a great way to start a season.

Watching these Cylons try to come to grips at what they really were was a riveting and wonderful storyline to follow. Not only that but while trying to wrap their brains around this revelation they also had to keep their identity a secret from their friends. The pressure gets to one of these four as their secret is discovered and that take some rather drastic action in response. It was a very smart decision to have this Cylon storyline play out this way as it gave us a wonderful insight into creation bent on wiping out the human race.

The season reached a mid-season cliffhanger of sorts (the finals season was split into two parts to stretch it out longer) by bringing the characters of the show to what could only be described as their darkest hour. It was very strange to see them not save this for the end and funny to describe it as their darkest hour. As far as could see, the whole series was pretty much one dark hour after another. Still, it made one wonder if this is only the halfway point, just what in the hell is going to happen at the end?

Bookending the Series

Without stopping to catch its breath, Battlestar Galactica jumps right into a couple of great episodes that are a direct reaction to the midseason cliffhanger and Admiral Adama’s reaction to it. A mutiny is started on board the Galactica, led by Tom Zarek (Richard Hatch) and a character who’s journey through this series going from loyal crewman to now mutineer has been really well written and fun to watch. Watching what transpires on board the Galactica during this roller coaster of a ride was incredibly exciting and emotional and all the best things that made this show the wonderful creation it is.

As the show rolled towards the two part finale, it became clear that no matter what happened, no one was going to perfectly happy with the end result. Jaw dropping action sequences and emotional farewells made for a solid finish that did justice to the series. While everyone mourned the series being over, it was great to see it go out still at the high level few series have reached since.

One of the sore points of the season, and frankly the entire series, lay with the character of Apollo. It’s not that Jamie Bamber was a bad actor, in fact, he excelled at times even when the material was not the best for him to work with. There again, the material itself was not to blame all the time, either. I think in the end the show created a character, Adama’s son no less, and then didn’t really know what to do with him. It was interesting initially to see him leave his Viper pilot behind and jump into politics but even that storyline ran out of steam really quickly. I believe they thought at one point he was going to be a character to stand head to head with his father, but Edward James Olmos was just so good, so big and intimidating that they really had no back up plan that fit properly.

It was also interesting to note the decision to reveal the last of the "Five Cylons" before the finale. While the big reveal was fine in and of itself, it lost some of its luster and shock value a bit by not being saved until the end. Same goes with the whole history of these five, which could have been integrated at different times instead of feeling rushed in one rather lackluster episode.

Saying that, enough cannot be said about how carefully the characters were written and the mythology built over the four seasons. The actors who took over these characters were very good but still must have thought they died and went to script heaven. So many great moments over the series that there are simply too many too list. In this final season, everyone seemed to get their chance to shine and many took it, leaving us with an image of the character we will always remember, even if they didn’t happen to be our favorite character.

Edward James Olmos was a strength that never wavered from day one, taking the mantle and role of leader with Adama and making it like a second skin. Mary McDonnell was his equal in both acting and as the character Roslin, maybe the only person on the show who would stand toe to toe with Adama and have a fighting chance of winning. Perhaps best of all however, was James Callis as Baltar, who also got to go toe to toe with McDonnell in the final two seasons. His character was unlike any ever before seen in sci-fi and we might never see it again.

Even though Season 4 had its rough patches and some uneven episodes, it was a strong was to bookend a series that will be looked back and studied for years, with many people just wanting to know what was it that made it the phenomenal show that it was.

Jeff Fountain
Jeff Fountain

Professional freelance writer for geekchicelite.com and contributor to Bloodbath and Beyond. Enjoy everything to do with the horror and sci-fi genres.

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'Battlestar Galactica' Fan Review