Has Battlestar Galactica jumped the shark?
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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 Emmywinning 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 postSept. 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. The final bombshell: the revelation of four of the five final sleeper Cylon agents (three of whom ironically led the suicide-bombing arm of the humans' insurrection). But much like those would-be terrorists, that final episode undermined itself as the sleeper Cylons were awakened by the thread of a song that only they can hear a few lines that turned into a few lyrics, then blossomed into a startlingly wretched rendition of Bob Dylan's "All along the Watchtower." A presumed-dead Starbuck reappeared, and the scene fast-forwarded to a glistening Earth.
The tone was so drastically off the winking, boomer-centric reference to our earthly plane was so in-jokey that I felt like I had been kicked in my Wonder Con by a guffawing Luke Skywalker look-alike in a tie-dyed 'fro wig, flipping me the finger. It made about that much sense. The Sopranos can leave the bad taste of "Don't Stop Believin'<0x2009>" in your mouth because AOR rock is the soundtrack to Tony Soprano's life. But the dark, generally straight-faced BSG has been aurally embellished only by title sequence's version of the Rig Veda's Gayatri mantra, reworked by composer Richard Gibbs with Enya-esque new age vocals and tribal drums, as well as archetypally Hollywood orchestral fare and the odd, let's-get-jiggy-wit'-it Irish tin-flute. Somewhere a shark is whimpering from a severe head wound created by a misfiring motorcycle, and one can only hope season four doesn't injure more sea creatures.