The future, as we’ve been led to believe, is free of the ills that plagued humanity in the 20th century. There is no poverty, no war; our only pursuit is the betterment of ourselves and the exploration of brave new worlds. In other words, it’s kinda boring.
As a writer-producer on various Star Trek shows since 1989, Ronald D. Moore helped propagate that vision of the future. But living under Federation rule kindled something in him, because one of his first post-Starfleet projects is the brazen Battlestar Galactica.
When Galactica first left the TV dry dock as a four-hour miniseries on Sci Fi, it was derided by fans of the original 1970s TV series — you remember, the one with that weird silver robot and pop culture’s first Richard Hatch. Now that we’re in the middle of Galactica‘s second season, it seems those traditionalists (Starbuck as a woman? Egads!) have shut up and started watching one of the richest dramatic enterprises on TV. In fact, it’s now Sci Fi’s highest rated show.
Moore and his co-executive producer David Eick didn’t jettison everything from the original: This Galactica still follows the ragtag fleet of ships — manned by survivors of a devastating attack on humanity by the evil, robotic Cylons — as they try to find planet Earth. This fleet is still commanded by now-admiral Adama (Edward James Olmos). There are still pilots named Apollo (Jamie Bamber), Starbuck (Katie Sackhoff), and Boomer (Grace Park). There is still the traitorous Dr. Baltar (James Callis), who secretly aids the Cylons.
But the producers added something never to be found on the bridge of the starship Enterprise: conflict. Real, ugly, human conflict. Some Cylons now look exactly like us and have even been programmed to think that they are human, and our friends. (Much of the first season revolved around Sharon ”Boomer” Valerii’s slow realization that she is, indeed, a Cylon — a fact that the audience knew all along. Très Hitchcockian.) Adama’s second-in-command, Colonel Tigh (Michael Hogan), is an alcoholic. The President of the Colonies, Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell), had terminal breast cancer, and — in a delicious twist two weeks ago — was saved by the blood of an unborn hybrid-Cylon baby she had previously ordered killed for being a danger to humanity. Such plot points might not fly without the right actors on board, but this nimble ensemble soars.
Where Star Trek was about strength, Galactica is about weakness, and nowhere is that more evident than in Baltar, a respected scientist, played to the Shakespearean hilt by Callis. His girlfriend — known only as Six (Tricia Helfer) — was the Cylon who used Baltar’s connections to pave the way for the Cylon attack. Plagued by guilt, and not just a little bit insane, Baltar has evolved into TV’s most complex villain: a man who continues to do wrong not out of malice but because he’s just too spineless to do what’s right.
Galactica does take the occasional misstep (a mystical/religious prophecy subplot flew directly in the face of the hardened reality of the show), but it succeeds where most science fiction fails: It makes the characters’ battles with each other as vivid as the explosive battles in outer space.