Thursday, October 5

Even in the darkest times, 'BSG' is out of this world

Source: The Chicago Tribune

A baby screams as his mother is taken by armed men in the middle of the night. A prisoner, one eye gouged out, huddles in a dank corner of a bare cell.

Men and women clad in gray, ragged clothing, their faces tight with anxiety, mill around the entrance to a prison, hoping for news of a loved one, while in a ramshackle rebel outpost, a man who thinks he has nothing to live for straps on a vest full of explosives.

These aren’t scenes from the evening news. They’re images from the season premiere of “Battlestar Galactica” (8 p.m. Friday, Sci Fi), which, in its third season, provides a unpredictable, fascinating take on events dominating real-world headlines.

In the opening episodes, which by turns evoke Vichy France, Vietnam and Iraq, the Cylons (human-looking machines who attempted to wipe out the human race at the start of the series) debate tactics regarding control of the ragged, rebellious population of New Caprica - the 50,000 or so people who are the remnants of the human race - while the humans consider plots of their own.

“The majority of Cylons think the slaughter of humanity was a mistake,” one anguished Cylon says. Another recommends subduing the humans “by any means necessary.”

The humans, for their part, think about adopting resistance tactics that might get some of their fellow New Capricans killed. And those men taking the screaming mother away in the night - they’re part of a human police force who’ve decided to work for the Cylons.

Ronald D. Moore, executive producer of “Battlestar Galactica,” says his favorite scene in the powerful 2-hour season opener is between Gaius Baltar, the reviled Marshal P├ętain of New Caprica, and Laura Roslin, his political nemesis and resistance sympathizer.

“Going into that scene, I think there’s an assumption of whose side you’re on,” Moore says. “But when he starts challenging her on the morality of suicide bombing ..... it throws her off stride, and I think it throws the audience off stride too. I think, for a moment, you’re really not sure where you’re supposed to go emotionally in that scene and I think that’s a great place to take an audience.”

Naughtycylons That’s been “Battlestar Galactica’s” strength from the beginning - using believable characters to explore personal morality and political choices, while avoiding predictable polemics or easy resolutions. Though the first part of the season has echoes of the situation in Iraq, the debates among the humans and the Cylons are universal to any conflict - what tactics are legitimate in a fight over core beliefs? Are any methods acceptable? In the end, what is worth fighting for?

“We were aware of the [Iraq] parallels and wanted to play it as truthfully as we could, given the situation,” Moore says. “But at the same time, we’re always a little more interested in watching how our characters respond to a situation more than we are in delineating a certain political idea about the situation."

“We really should not pretend that there is a good answer and an easy way out and we’re going to tell it to you in 44 minutes,” Moore says.

In fact, unlike “The Path to 9/11” and “Over There,” which attempted to depict real situations through scripted drama and endured criticism as a result, Moore says “Battlestar Galactica” has more freedom to examine difficult issues, given its outer-space settings.

When attempting to portray real events, he says, “suddenly you don’t have the freedom to examine the themes and issues and really delve into the bigger questions, because you get sidetracked into these arguments about what actually happened and what was actually said. And it becomes a really fraught and difficult situation to dramatize.

“If you take it out of that and put it science fiction… you can start playing around with the pieces more and get to the dramatic heart of what you’re trying to tell,” he says.

The core story of the third season is, at first, quite dark and wrenching, but there are signs of hope; Commander Adama, leader of the military, forms an important bond with Sharon, a Cylon aboard his ship. And surely the fact that one of the Cylons’ greatest desires is to know what love is means that peace - or at least coexistence - might one day be possible.

“There’s always a conversation with [Sci Fi] about how dark the show is, and [whether] is it completely bleak. ... But I really don’t have a nihilistic view of the world, so it’s kind of easy to argue that that’s not the case and point to aspects of the show that are hopeful, like Sharon and other characters,” Moore notes.

Still, in an effort to draw an even larger audience for the drama and to cement the loyalty of the 2.3 million regular viewers of “Battlestar Galactica,” which won a prestigious Peabody Award for broadcast excellence earlier this year, various NBC Universal portals and SciFi.com are offering the refresher episode “The Story So Far,” which also airs on Sci Fi at 4 p.m. Friday. And a series of 10 Webisodes about the New Caprica resistance movement has attracted more than 3.5 million viewers in the last month.

“I think we’d like to see the numbers tick up,” Moore says. “Our numbers are OK and good for basic cable, and Sci Fi’s been happy with them. But we’d certainly like to boost them up.”

“That’s the big challenge for the show, to reach out and get the audience who are not used to watching Sci Fi Channel. The audience that rolls their eyes as soon as you say, `Have you tried “Battlestar Galactica”?’ - those are the people that would like it. The people watching `The Shield’ and `The Sopranos’ would like this show.”

For much more from Moore, see this interview.

Newshound: SciFi

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