I know, I know, I haven’t posted anything in ages, and this one’s not even about a book (though I promise a post on Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies is forthcoming, perhaps when I’ve finished the trilogy), but the re-imagined BSG is more like a novel than the average TV series, and besides that it’s been influencing my writing lately. Anyway, I’m obsessed and want to talk about it!
I think what I love about this series is that it seems to be the perfect marriage of character and plot. Like a good English grad, I love character-driven fiction, but I also like a clear overarching plot. Maybe this is why I’m so devoted to Young Adult fantasy, because those books tend to have complex and exciting plots, but at the same time they’re stories about growing up and facing challenges, and are thus very character-oriented. For this reason, I’m not a huge fan of soap operas or books that take 200 pages for anything to actually happen. In fact, I think Jodi Picoult’s novels are probably the furthest to the character side of a character-plot continuum that I can handle, because the stories focus on characters within a clearly-defined struggle. That’s pretty much what BSG does, too.
I think one of the things that makes Battlestar Galactica so appealing, at least to me, is the way it draws the audience into the characters’ lives. It starts with a catastrophe, the destruction of the characters’ home planets in an attempted genocide, and focuses on their very human reactions to it. There are hints of the history that exists between characters, but this is not the focus of the 3-hour miniseries that starts the story. Instead, the audience is in a position to become attached to the characters because of their life-threatening situation and thir reactions to it. Indeed, the first episode that is founded upon the characters’ history and relationships is the fourth episode of the first season, ‘Act of Contrition’. By this time, the audience has had a chance to form a bond with the characters and therefore care about their disputes, even in the absence of any immediate threat to their lives.
It is this bond with the characters that makes this such a brilliant series. This is hardly something that is unique to BSG, but it seems to be more complete than with many other TV series. I was livid when the end of the second season skipped forward a year, feeling like it was as though a friend drops out of your life for a year and then, suddenly, returns and pretends nothing happened. It took me several days to forgive the writers for killing off my favourite character. In spite of my rage, though, I couldn’t help but acknowledge that this was a good thing, that they had painted the characters so realistically that they felt almost like real people, like friends.
By striking a balance between an overarching plot and the relationships between the characters, BSG becomes a series in which the audience becomes invested. It is one of the few TV series in which, I think, it can be truly said that characters with opposing views drive the plot. There are few characters who can be considered truly ‘evil’; most of the conflict arises simply from incompatible opinions from two separate sympathetic characters. Even the Cylons, the monolithic ‘big bad’ in the first two series, become differentiated as largely sympathetic individuals who are really not that different from the human protagonists.