Since I sprained my ankle a handful of weeks ago, I've been limited in my usual enjoyment of outdoor activities this time of year. Since I can't climb I almost welcome the heat wave, since it seems here to stay anyway, and can only hope it kills all my grass soon so I don't have to keep mowing it.
To occupy the time in a truly deadbeat and un-productive fashion, I signed up for Netflix--only to discover that the franchise doesn't give a damn about linux users and works pretty terribly on at least one windows machine as well, but did finally get it to work patchily (but not on linux)-- and have spent the past few weeks going through the entire re-imagined Battlestar Galactica series, which I'd only caught late Friday-night glimpses of before.
I am a very picky consumer of television, and a pretty picky consumer of science-fiction as well, yet this is a refreshing dose of my kind of story. I'm not finished yet, and from what I read of the plot summary it sounds like it does sort of "jump the shark" a bit at the end, but even if it does, the whole effort is still incredible.
The premise comes from the original version of the show with some distinct twists: robots created by humans have decided that they are in fact far superior to humans and launch a campaign to completely wipe out humanity. In a strange twist, the robots are religious, believing that it is God who deems them less murderous and more deserving than humans, and has thus tasked them with our destruction. The robots, called Cylons, almost succeed, using nuclear weapons to destroy most of the human population on twelve colonized planets. Only a scattered 50,000 humans survive on a fleet of ships that just happened to be in space at the time of the attacks, and that by faster-than-light "jumping" to a pre-arranged new set of coordinates every time the robots come after them. The only aspect of the human military left is a retired old "battlestar" space ship, similar in function to a modern air-craft carrier, and the only aspect of the pre-existing government is the Secretary of Education who had been 43rd in the line of succession to the Presidency. The President and the commander of the Battlestar Galactica struggle to defend the survivors and bring them to a home of hope and legend that some don't even believe exists: Earth.
The first twist comes when we learn that Cylons have been experimenting with biological engineering and have created several models that appear human, even under intense medical examination, and those human-seeming robots are infiltrating the human fleet. Anyone could turn out to be the enemy. One of the main characters in fact does, although tragically she has been programmed to think she is just as human as anyone else.
A substantial change in the re-imagined series and that had many fans of the 1970's version fuming is the main thing that makes the show work so well: two of the all-male-club heroes were written as women this time around, and not just minor characters for the sake of political correctness, either. As a female sci-fi lover, my response is "about 'fracking' time." Re-imagined Battlestar Galactica showcases the strength and vulnerability of characters both male and female alike, how men and women work together on strong teams in a truly co-ed culture, that leaves behind all together so many of the typical troupes about women who do masculine things--making them norms, not exceptions, and in the process making designations like masculine and feminine far less important than simple humanity. The produces of the show got that interesting drama can take place by virtue of people being people. There is inter-gender drama and also romance, but it is nuanced and based on the personalities of the characters involved, not on Woman-ness in conflict with Man-ness. (Yeah, there is that wearying super-sexy Cylon woman hallucinated into being by a disgustingly weak quasi-antagonist main character, but even if that was dreamed up for the visual gratification of male fans, she has a story-central explanation and is herself quite nuanced.) Everyone, even the minor ship-repair-women, ends up being "three-dimensional," and that is so amazingly refreshing.
Also refreshing is that the show isn't afraid to have an intricate plot. Plotting like how a novel is plotted, which story arcs that grow and change and involve keeping up with what happened in what order. That made the show hard to watch while it was airing, because if you missed one show, you were perpetually lost, but makes it as addictive when watching now as reading a good book.
I have my points of criticism: sometimes individual episodes get a little hokey, as science fiction often does, and the evolving elements of mysticism/prophecy are starting to feel a little bit like cheating narrative ("Who are the Final Five Cylons! Who will be The Chosen One to look upon Their faces!") and it sort of pisses me off that the sniveling, weak, narcissistic hallucinating antagonist I mentioned earlier does seem to be turning out to be the chosen instrument of a some higher power. Also, (minor spoiler alert) it gradually dawns on you that this Earth we are looking so desperately to find is not the original home of humanity that we've been away from so long that we've forgotten about, it is actually supposed to be our own planet some many millennia ago. That does stay self-consistent throughout the entire plot, and is consistent with some of the central themes ("all this has happened before, and all this will happen again"), but it is a little technically jarring that our supposed ancestors would dress, look, speak, write, and have recognizably identical technology such as telephones and dry erase boards, to modern Americans, the only spoken differences being that some of them have British accents, and they use the swear-word "frack" instead of our own version.