Archive for the ‘Battlestar Galactica’ Category

The Importance of Being Morally Fit for Triumph   1 comment

Above:  The Confession of Captain Benjamin Sisko in In the Pale Moonlight (1998)

A Screen Capture I Took Via PowerDVD

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Or, What Reinhold Niebuhr Has to Do With Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine

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So… I lied. I cheated. I bribed men to cover the crimes of other men. I am an accessory to murder. But the most damning thing of all… I think I can live with it. And if I had to do it all over again, I would. Garak was right about one thing, a guilty conscience is a small price to pay for the safety of the Alpha Quadrant. So I will learn to live with it. Because I can live with it. I can live with it… Computer, erase that entire personal log.

–Captain Benjamin Sisko, In the Pale Moonlight (1998)

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Recently I completed my rewatch of Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine (1993-1999), the best of the Star Trek series.  I had recorded most of the episodes from 1993 to 1999, but I had not sat down and watched the series from beginning to end, skipping certain really bad episodes.  DS9 was the last great Star Trek series–certainly heads and shoulders over Voyager (1995-2001) and Enterprise (2001-2005), two series notable for, among other faults, playing it safe and ignoring continuity much of the time.  DS9 did not play it safe, especially after its troubled first season.  The Dominion War arc certainly took the series into dark and morally ambiguous territory, only part of which I consider in this post.

The Neo-Orthodox theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), a Cold War liberal, had a strong moral compass and an awareness of human sinfulness.  He opened The Irony of American History (1952) with a statement of the possibility that the means by which the free world, led by the United States, might have to win the Cold War might leave the victors morally unfit to govern.  The use of atomic weapons would not only endanger civilization, kill many people,  and cause much physical destruction, he wrote, but lead to moral complications for the victors:

The victors would also face the “imperial” problem of using power in global terms but from one particular center of authority, so preponderant and unchallenged that its world rule would almost certainly violate basic standards of justice.

–Page 2

As Commander William Adama stated in Resurrection Ship, Part II (2006), an episode of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica (2003-2008),

It’s not enough to survive; one must be worthy of surviving.

In the story lines of Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine the Dominion War raged for years and endangered the great powers of the Alpha and  Beta Quadrants–the Klingon Empire, the Romulan Star Empire, and the United Federation of Planets.  (Aside:  The scripts tended not to mention the Beta Quadrant, but, according to official Star Trek lore, the Klingon Empire, the Romulan Star Empire, and much of the Federation were in the Beta Quadrant.)  Forces of the Dominion, an empire presided over by the shape-shifting Founders, fought to conquer the Alpha and Beta Quadrants.  The body counts were staggering and the Dominion seemed to be on the verge of victory.  Times were desperate.

In In the Pale Moonlight (1998) Captain Benjamin Sisko, with the approval of the Federation Council, conspired to trick the Romulan Star Empire into abandoning its non-aggression treaty with the Dominion.  The plan was to convince one Romulan senator, Vreenak, that the Dominion was plotting to invade the Romulan Star Empire.  There was no evidence of this, so Sisko, with Federation approval, arranged for the forging of evidence.  Certainly the Dominion would invade the Romulan Star Empire in time, given the nature of the Dominion and the Founders’ sense of superiority to solids.  Furthermore, the Federation needed for the Romulans to enter the war on its side.  Vreenak recognized the forgery as such, but Elim Garak, who hired the forger then killed him or had him killed, planted a bomb on Vreenak’s shuttle craft.  The leadership of the Romulan Star Empire blamed the Dominion for Vreenak’s death and declared war.  The Federation had a new ally.  Sisko admitted his crimes in private and confessed that he could live with his guilty conscience.

As I have pondered this episode and others, all the way through the end of the series, I have realized that, as the writers presented the story of the Dominion War, Sisko was correct; his crimes were necessary.  The Romulans were crucial to the defeat of the Dominion, after all.

In The Maquis, Part II (1994) Sisko analyzed the difficult situation of a group rebels-terrorists succinctly:

On Earth, there is no poverty, no crime, no war. You look out the window of Starfleet Headquarters and you see paradise. Well, it’s easy to be a saint in paradise, but the Maquis do not live in paradise. Out there in the Demilitarized Zone, all the problems haven’t been solved yet. Out there, there are no saints — just people. Angry, scared, determined people who are going to do whatever it takes to survive, whether it meets with Federation approval or not!

However, later, in For the Uniform (1997), Sisko poisoned the atmosphere of  Maquis colony world and prepared to do the same to other Maquis colonies.  A vendetta against one Maquis leader, Michael Eddington, inspired this plan.

Above:  Dr. Julian Bashir Confronts Admiral William Ross in Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges (1999)

A Screen Capture via PowerDVD

Sisko, the greatest of all the Star Trek captains, did not live in paradise, neither was he a saint.  Neither was Admiral William Ross, as in Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges (1999).  In a story reminiscent of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold,  a great Cold War thriller, Admiral Ross plotted with Section 31, the Federation’s black operations agency that officially does not exist, to frame an innocent and  patriotic Romulan senator and thereby improve the political standing of a double agent.  After all, as Ross said in Latin, quoting Cicero,

In time of war the law falls silent.

Later in the series Dr. Julian Bashir, who takes his Hippocratic Oath seriously, learns that Section 31 was responsible for infecting the Founders of the Dominion with a fatal virus–that the Federation was responsible for attempted genocide.  The Federation, as Gene Roddenberry conceived of it in the 1960s, was a noble and idealistic organization.  DS9 did more to expose the dark underbelly of the Federation than did any other filmed incarnation of Star Trek.  DS9 gave us Section 31, for example.  The writers seemed to present Section 31 in such a way as to make plain its moral dubiousness as well as its practical necessity.

Roddenberry’s Federation is an analog for the United States of America, just as the Klingon Empire is an analog for the Soviet Union.  Thus, in Star Trek VI:  The Undiscovered Country (1991) the two powers begin to end their cold war.  Since the Federation stands in for the U.S.A., the moral questions the Federation faces during the Dominion War might remind one of morally questionable policies of the U.S. Government over time, especially in the context of the Cold War and events since September 11, 2001.   Overthrowing democratically elected governments that are merely inconvenient to U.S. business interests and installing military dictatorships that victimize their own citizenry for decades contradicts U.S. ideals, does it not?  Supporting brutal regimes–whether fascist or military dictatorships–because they are not communist should trouble one’s conscience, should it not?  Also, committing and condoning torture makes one morally unfit.  Whom would Jesus torture?  As Niebuhr reminds us down the corridors of time, we must be morally fit, not just victorious.

All of this brings me to a point:  How can we defend ideals that are in peril by violating those ideals?  We cannot, of course.  Yes, we might have to get our hands dirty, so to speak, but, if we get them too dirty, we compromise ourselves morally and render ourselves morally unfit to serve the interests of justice.   How we treat others is about our character, not theirs.  We may not live in paradise, but how close to the standard of sainthood can we live?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 17, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF EDITH BOYLE MACALISTER, ENGLISH NOVELIST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT EMILY DE VIALAR, FOUNDER OF THE SISTERS OF SAINT JOSEPH OF THE APPARITION

THE FEAST OF JANE CROSS BELL SIMPSON, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS TERESA AND MAFALDA OF PORTUGAL, PRINCESSES, QUEENS, AND NUNS; AND SANCHIA OF PORTUGAL, PRINCESS AND NUN

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2017/06/17/the-importance-of-being-morally-fit-for-triumph/

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Speaking Out of One’s Ignorance   Leave a comment

I make an effort, whether I am speaking in public or in private, or writing on a weblog, to do so out of knowledge.  Toward this end I prefer to do homework and check facts.  In conversation I am not afraid to say something to the effect of

I don’t know the answer to that question, but I know where I can find the answer,

with the intention of doing so and reporting back.  I would rather do that than be inaccurate.  Even better is to know the answer ahead of time.  At a weblog I strive for accuracy also.  If I can find the answer to a given question before publishing a post, I like to do so.  If my sources prove to be inaccurate, I accept factual correction.  Objective reality is what it is, after all.

I am also a fan of science fiction.  My inherent attention to detail, in combination with my fandom, has made me a person full of science fiction trivia, especially with regard to Star Trek, Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica, and other franchises.  Recently, when watched the entirety of Lost, I kept track of many details that my viewing partner had missed.  I kept reminding her of scenes from previous episodes or the same episode.

I also know that there is much I do not know, so I endeavor to learn.  Toward that end I consult a variety of sources.  Tor.com, I have found, is a fine source of information about various science fiction franchises, especially Star Trek series, episode by episode.  For Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine the official series companion volume sets the standard for other volumes of that genre.  Certain reviewers who create and post video reviews are also fountains of knowledge.  Many podcasters and reviewers at YouTube, however, routinely speak out of their ignorance.  I have decided to stop listening to a number of podcasters and reviewers there because of this fact.  As I have listened to them profess their lack of knowledge or go off on tangents I know to be baseless in universe I have thought or uttered something to the effect of

I know more about this subject than you do.  Why do you have the podcast?

I have also caught myself correcting them audibly.

One can do homework of these matters easily enough.  I know of websites with detailed information about these series, including by episode and character.  Finding them is quite simple.  One can consult the special features on DVD or Blu-ray sets, if one has those.  I have found special features quite informative.  Commentary tracks have proven especially helpful.

So, those who analyze episodes, series, and movies online, do your homework first, please.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 2, 2017 COMMON ERA

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Galactica 1980 (1980)   1 comment

The DVD Root Menu

This post follows this one:  https://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2011/06/30/battlestar-galactica-1978-1979/.

ABC liked part of the Battlestar Galactica concept but sought a lower budget.  So they got Galactica 1980, set in what was then the present day.  This cost the network less per episode but yielded what, in Galactica parlance, one might call felgerkarb.  Yes, it was really bad, and it has not improved with age.

The Galactica

Thirty yahrens (years) after the events of the Battlestar Galactica pilot, the Galactica discovers Earth, the same Earth those of us alive in 1980 recall.  The Cylons are trailing behind the fleet, so Adama steers away from Earth to protect the planet from a Cylon attack.  The Galactica cannot defeat the Cylons, and the sole purpose of seeking Earth was to find a refuge.  So all humans are now in great danger.  That is the basic premise.

Continuity does not work, however.  The original series, which ran one season, was set after 1969.  1980 minus 1969 equals 11, which is less than 30.  But who is counting?

Most of the original cast did not return.  Lorne Greene, as Commander Adama, was the main exception to this rule.  His beard marked the passage of time.

Troy

Troy was Boxey as adult.  He was, like Apollo (dead by Galactica 1980), who raised him, a straight arrow.

Dillon

Dillon was Troy’s friend and partner.  He was somewhat impetuous, but not nearly as roguish as Starbuck.

Troy, Dillon, and Their Flying Motorcycles

They got to ride their flying motorcycles.

Jamie Hamilton

In the three-part pilot, Troy and Dillon met Jamie Hamilton, a reporter.  During the short-lived series (ten hours, including advertisements), she helped them in various ways, mainly by helping guard a group of Galactican children Adama sent to the Earth for safety.

The children, however, stood out.  They could, for reasons of scientific technobabble, jump higher than Earth children, were stronger than them, and had greater intellectual discipline.  This attracted the unwanted attention of a U.S. Air Force officer, who pursued them episode after episode.   Most of the series concerned the adventures of Troy, Dillon, Jamie, and a few children.

The Disclaimer

Speaking of the Air Force, this disclaimer appeared at the end of episodes in which Air Force personnel pursued any Galacticans.

Doctor Zee

I suppose that Commander Adama was supposed to be in charge of the fleet, but he deferred to the young genius, Doctor Zee, who was also quite an inventor.  Doctor Zee’s mother was one of those ascended humans from the ships of light.  The one very watchable Galactica 1980 episode (also the last one), The Return of Starbuck, consisted mostly of a flashback to how Starbuck became stranded on an uninhabited planet, befriended a Cylon, rescued a mysterious woman who also crashed on the planet, and sent her (and her baby, Doctor Zee), out to space in a one-person craft.  (An untold story never filmed would have shown the ship of lights humans rescuing Starbuck.)

Doctor Zee

Doctor Zee looked like this after the pilot movie.

In the three-part pilot movie, Galactica Discovers Earth, teams of Colonial warriors seek out elite members of the scientific community for first contact.  These men and women should be the most open to the possibilities and the least likely to react out of fear and distrust, after all.  The goal is to raise Earth’s level of technology until Earth can defend herself from the Cylons.

Dr. Donald Mortensen

Troy and Dillon visit Dr. Donald Mortensen, at the Pacific Institute of Technology.  He becomes convinced that Troy, Dylan, and the other Galacticans may be as important to the human race “as the coming of the Messiah.”

Those were heady words, ones meant to sound important, but the series became bogged down in issue-of-the-week stories, such as the dangers of industrial pollution, how bad irrigation quotas are, and why anti-Hispanic bias is misplaced.  The show aired on Sunday evenings, at an hour which came with requirements to present educational messages.  The first rule of comedy is to be funny.  Likewise, the first rule of drama is to tell an interesting story.  The telling of the story ought to present the moral and/or educational message(s) without being pedantic.   But, in Galactica 1980 we get Quincy, M.E.-style speeches, which were no less annoying when Jack Klugman delivered them.  At least Klugman had relatively better material, though.  Of course, Larson made Quincy, M.E., too.

Xaviar

Council member Xaviar, impatient to build up Earth’s technology level gradually, travels back in time to help the Nazis.  So Troy, Dillon, and Jamie must follow him and prevent him from succeeding.  Fortunately, Jamie took her history lessons very seriously.

Xaviar

Oh, and some days Xaviar looks like this.

Wolfman Jack and a Cylon at a Halloween Party

The Cylons do land on Earth–at Halloween, where they encounter Wolfman Jack.  This picture says it all.

The axe fell after ten completed episodes, with few people to mourn the loss.

Over twenty years later, Ronald D. Moore had the Galactica discover Earth, but he did it properly.

A Scene from Revelations

In Revelations, a fourth season episode, the fleet discovers Earth, which is irradiated and in ruins.

A Scene from Daybreak

Yet, in the finale, Daybreak, the Galactica discovers a planet people agree to call Earth.  The scene you, O reader, see above, is set 150,000 years ago.

I knew that, despite my opinion of Galactica 1980, I would purchase a copy when it became available.  Maybe I am a sucker for science fiction with Lorne Greene in it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 30, 2011 COMMON ERA

All images are screen caps I took via PowerDVD.

Battlestar Galactica (1978-1979)   2 comments

The Galactica in Orbit of the Planet Terra, from the episode Experiment in Terra

The success of Star Wars prompted the development and release of other science fiction in the late 1970s.  Paramount Pictures, after years of vacillating, gave the green light to Star Trek:  The Motion Picture (1979).  TMP was really the Motionless Picture, but c’est la vie.  (People wearing bland-colored one-piece spandex pajamas, er, uniforms, while staring at special effects is about as motionless as a movie can get.)  However, Universal Pictures and ABC, in conjunction with Glen A. Larson (who used plenty of spandex in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century), put Colonial warriors in comfortably fitting uniforms in Battlestar Galactica.

(Note to science fiction series and movie costume designers:  Avoid spandex!)

A Cylon

Battlestar Galactica feeds off the mythology of ancient astronauts.  The pilot opens with the robotic Cylon race, which has been at war with the twelve human colonies of Kobol for a thousand yahrens (years), using a truce as a pretense to exterminate humanity.

The Peace that Wasn’t

They almost succeed.

Baltar

Baltar, a member of the ruling council, has sold out humanity in hopes of become the leader of the survivors.  The Cylons have led him to believe that this will happen.  They have lied to him.

Commander Adama

Commander Adama, commanding officer of the Battlestar Galactica, has the good sense to escape from the Cylon ambush, so his battlestar survives intact.  He thinks that it was the last battlestar until he encounters the Battlestar Pegasus, commanded by Commander Cain, played by Lloyd Bridges.

Adama and Athena

Athena, Adama’s daughter, is a bridge officer aboard the Galactica.

Captain Apollo

Apollo, Adama’s son, is one of the viper, or fighter, pilots.  Apollo is the dutiful, responsible voice of morality and reason.  He is a straight arrow.

Starbuck

Starbuck is not a straight arrow.  Sometimes he dates Athena, sometimes not.  He is not ready to settle down yet, but he is an excellent pilot and a basically good guy.

Adama gathers up as many survivors as possible and shepherds a rag-tag fleet in search of Earth, the thirteenth colony, the precise location of which he does not know.  Cylons pursue the fleet, posing a continuous danger, while, from time to time, Adama must overrule the ruling council, populated mostly with fools.

Galactica is a post-apocalyptic story, one ABC decided to air in the old “family hour.”  The “family hour” was a good venue for family dramas and clean comedies, but not a post-apocalyptic saga about human survivors stuck inside cramped spaceships.  So network demands watered down the possible power of the series, which came to suffer from the cutesies.

Hector and Vector

Exhibit A:  The annoying robots Hector and Vector, who, mercifully, appeared in only one episode.  Here they are singing and dancing.

No more exhibits are necessary.

Another weakness was the lack of character development.  Actions in one episode rarely had consequences in another, except in the case of a two-part story.  So most characters felt like stereotypes.

Also, most of the early scripts were bad.  The network rushed into series production after the pilot, giving the writers insufficient time to develop good stories at the beginning.  So many early episodes have tried-and-true plots.  The Magnificent Warriors, for example, is based on The Magnificent Seven.  Watch the original instead.  And Fire in Space, set after a Cylon attack on the Galactica, is based on many 1970s big-budget, all-star-cast disaster movies.  Avoid those.

There was also Boxey, an annoying boy, with his more annoying mechanical daggit, or dog-like creature.  Apollo is raising Boxey as his son, which is noble, as is the captain.  The less one says about them, the better.

There was also sexism.  Early in the series, most of the male viper pilots become ill.  So the defense of the rag-tag fleet is left to…gasp…women!  There is much concern about this, but the women do their jobs well.

On the other hand Lorne Greene, as Commander Adama, brought gravitas to his role.  Who wouldn’t want to follow Pa Cartwright during such a time of crisis?

“John”

The best element of the original Battlestar Galactica was the group of mysterious people who wore white and lived in white ships.  These were deceased humans who had ascended to a higher realm.  They intervened on behalf of the Galactica during the series.  This does beg a question, though:  Why did they not prevent the attack in the pilot episode?

Battlestar Galactica ran for one season only, ending more because of production costs than its place in the ratings.  There would, however, be a follow-up series, Galactica 1980, the subject of my next post at this blog.

As the late, great Peter Falk said in character as Lt. Columbo, “one more thing.”  In the final episode, The Hand of God, the Galactica receives a signal they cannot understand.  It is on a frequency they do not use much any more.  Besides, the signal is garbled.  But, once the signal is cleaned up, we have the big reveal.

“The Eagle has landed.”

It comes from Apollo 11.  The events we have been watching are set after 1969.  And that is no felgerkarb.

I remember watching Galactica for the first time in the 1990s.  It was okay, I thought, but I was sure to keep watching, even if only to poke fun at 1978-1979 hair styles.  Then I saw the Ronald D. Moore version, beginning with the 2003 miniseries, and never looked at the old show the same way again.

Yet the 1978-1979 series retains certain charms, despite the hair.  They (not the hair styles) are worth discovering for one’s self.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 30, 2011 COMMON ERA

All images are screen captures I took via the PowerDVD program.