Battle scarred

Has Battlestar Galactica jumped the shark?
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kimberly@sfbg.com

TV, I: Battlestar Galactica — what the frak happened? But let's back that Viper up: as a drooling, antsy constituent of the 12 colonies, a.k.a., a total BSG dweeb, I have to confess that I'm filled with both moist-eyed, fangirl anticipation and been-burned, skeptical trepidation, awaiting the Peabody- and Emmy–winning series's final, fourth season, which starts April 4 on the Sci-Fi channel. This from a full-on hater of the original 1978 TV series, who scorned it for its cheap-knockoff-Star Wars patina, lousy writing, and stale characterization — with the exception of Dirk Benedict's caffeinated Starbuck. It took plenty of intelligent storytelling, compelling character-building, and thoughtful crafting of a thoroughly re-envisioned mise-en-scène — one that pointedly reflects post–Sept. 11 political, philosophical, and spiritual issues — to pull me in. So why, at the closing moments of the last episode of season three, did I find myself sneering, "Battlestar Galactica has totally jumped the shark"?

The series set the bar high, filling out the original series's cartoonish outlines into a shadowy, visceral war for survival between polytheistic, politicking, and imperfect humans and their creations: the genocidal and monotheistic Cylon robots who eventually evolved from tin cans into perpetually reincarnating and replicating, superhumanlike Frankensteins, intent, at the series's start, on destroying their onetime masters. BSG played satisfyingly to a viewer's desire for both soapy, emotional involvement and more cerebral brain-teasing, spinning its narratives around topical "War on Terror" issues and deeper ideas about belief, fundamentalist or otherwise, and wartime ethics concerning terrorism, torture, prejudice, and human and reproductive rights — in addition to such questions as: What does it mean to be human? Where does artificial intelligence end and consciousness begin? And what is life itself? Viewers could enter at all levels: one can enjoy the brash, frak-it-all sass of the new Starbuck (played with cigar-chomping machisma by Katee Sackhoff), or toy with notions of whether Dr. Gaius Balthar (portrayed by the deliciously anguished James Callis) is insane or in love or has found God or has been implanted with a Cylon chip because he sees and hears his Cylon seductress/guardian angel-devil, Number Six (gratifyingly complicated in the hands of Tricia Helfer), everywhere. Or one can wonder, sudsily, whether Sharon "Boomer" Valerii (Korean Canadian Maxim hottie Grace Park) — the beloved fighter pilot turned sleeper Cylon assassin turned Cylon/human baby-maker turned officer once more — will ever overcome the "species-ist," snarky "toaster" cracks to happily rear her bi-species hapa infant? Will the humans discover their new home, the mythical 13th colony of Earth, before the Cylons do? When they get to Terra Firma, will apes or apocalyptic scenes greet the chariots of the gods?

Sure, BSG fans have undergone moments of taste-testing hamminess: is Michael Hogan — who plays the Galactica's alcoholic Colonel Saul Tigh — an intriguing actor because he plays his character three or four different ways, or is he simply awful? Then BSG allays your fears by forging into such thought-provoking turf as suicide bombings, which the humans resorted to during last season's Cylon occupation. Let's see the other humans-vs.-robots series, the faltering Sarah Connor Chronicles, top that viewer-challenging gambit.

That said, the third season managed to step up the show with both the occupation and Balthar's transformation into a Cylon mascot aboard the machines' hallucinatory base ship — a stylishly sleek, organic-metallic metadisco of a craft that Daft Punk would surely be glad to dock into.

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