In the US: Fridays, 10/9c, Sci-Fi
In the UK: Tuesdays, 9pm, Sky One. Starts 15th April
It’s easy to have a love-hate relationship with Battlestar Galactica. On the one hand, if you ever need to cite an example of well executed adult science-fiction, all you have to do is say "Battlestar Galactica" and you’re sorted. Space-faring humanity lives on 12 colony planets, fearing only the return of their own robotic creations, the cylons, who’ve been quiet for the 40 years since their war of independence. The robots come back – looking like humans and convinced they’re God’s new favourites, endowed with souls – and nuke the hell out of the colonies, leaving just a few tens of thousands of survivors who manage to escape, protected by the one surviving military vessel of note, Galactica.
So far, so bleak. And indeed, much of the first season is unrelentingly bleak, as humanity tries to work out how to get food, water and other necessary supplies, all the while chased by the unresting, unrelenting legions of cylons trying to exterminate them once and for all as they try to find the missing 13th colony – Earth.
But if there’s one watchword that defines the series, it’s change. Everything changes. Relationships between people change. Characters die. New characters appear. The whole format changes, with another Battlestar appearing, the humans finding a new world to live on. and characters suddenly finding out that they are in fact cylons themselves.
And not all of these changes have been for the good. In particular, BSG began to suffer from "up its own arse" syndrome. Weighed down by its own mythos and intricacies, it stopped being an accessible metaphor for war and terrorism and became more than a little daft at times. When it was good, it was very, very good, but when it was bad, it was horrid.
So what’s season four – the final season, even though it’s been cut in half – going to be like?
We last left Galactica in the middle of a great big fight, Starbuck reappearing despite being dead, four humans who really, really hated the cylons realising that they were, in fact, cylons, and… well a whole load of other things, too.
The first two episodes of the fourth season are pretty much a double episode that picks up these plot strands and shows us where the rest of the series is going to go with them. For obvious reasons, I won’t spoil you, but with the exception of Baltar’s strand, they’re all very good, even the cylons’.
In particular, the dilemmas facing the just-realised cylons are wonderfully disconcerting for a bunch of characters who don’t know whose side they’re on any more but know they can’t be on the humans’ or they’ll simply be shot – or worse. Starbuck’s a little bit of a jessy, post-death, as is Adama, but even the president manages to surprise.
Thankfully, while there’s a bit of mythology at work, the series is no longer buckling under a weight of dour self-importance, although it looms overhead ready to pounce at key points. Unfortunately, apart from the continuation of the fight from last season, we’re still stuck in minimal budget land.
I’m hoping that many of the questions that are still there get answered soon, because we’re at almost Lost-ian levels of water treading at the moment. But on the strength of these two episodes, I think the journey’s going to be worth it, even if it might be a bit cheap and talkie at times.