Monday, October 09, 2006
Battlestar Galactica Season 3 Opener
Spoiler Alert: I don’t think there are any actual spoilers here, but if you haven’t seen the episode yet, come back and read this after you have.
I love Battlestar Galactica. It is the best-written Sci-Fi show ever made, possibly the best-written show on TV altogether. One of the reasons for this is that the producers and writers have decided not to rely on cheap Sci-Fi clichés and technogimmicks, but rather to write believable characters, story and dialogue. Within its own universe, everything that goes on makes perfect sense. They don’t need to invent wormholes or alien space clouds or visit the planet of the week to create drama. They set events in motion and let them play out naturally.
Of course, that doesn’t mean they haven’t thrown in some unexpected twists. I myself was somewhat concerned about last season’s cliffhanging episode, in which the entire setting of the story was more or less flushed out an airlock, and the crew was land-locked on some dismal planet like a bunch of intergalactic trailer park trash. I had hoped that the end of the episode (or perhaps, the start of the new season) would prove this to be a dream sequence or some alternate reality. Well guess what. This ain’t Star Trek. It’s real. Maybe a little too real.
See, this is what disturbed me about the season opener: The producers seem intent to use the show to draw parallels to current events, in order to make us think about them in a different way, much as Star Trek did during the Sixties. But the parallels are imperfect, and the viewers need to be aware of that, lest they allow the show to draw them to false conclusions about what’s going on in the real world.
To wit, this appears to be what the current season is about:
There are insurgents, and then there are insurgents. There are the insurgents who rose up against the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto, who fought them in the forests of the Ukraine, who fought off 5 invading Arab armies in Israel. And there are the insurgents who blow up armored personnel carriers and mosques in Baghdad. Some are heroes and some are terrorists. What’s the difference?
There are collaborators, and then there are collaborators. There are collaborators who tell the Shin Bet when a terrorist strike will occur so it can be stopped, or who risk their lives to patrol the streets in Iraq. And there are the collaborators who welcomed the Nazis into France, or who saved their own skins in the Concentration camps by oppressing their fellow Jews. Some are heroes and some are traitors. What’s the difference?
The simple answer would be that it depends on what side you’re on. If the insurgents are blowing up an Arab armored column to prevent it from taking over a Jewish town (I’ve been watching “Cast a Giant Shadow”), then we call them brave heroes. If a Kapo is ratting out someone who gave an extra potato to an old woman, then she is the most evil of traitors. And on the surface, this appears to be what Battlestar Galactica is going for. It spent two seasons introducing us to these characters that we care a great deal about and sympathize with. And now it has suddenly placed them into new roles that, while they do make sense given the story, make us very uncomfortable. We don’t like to see our friends strapping bombs on and blowing up policemen. But in the context of the story, it makes perfect sense. How then can we feel so differently about Islamic suicide bombers who at least, on the surface, have similar motivations?
But this reasoning is flawed. Because saying that it’s just a matter of which side you choose to identify with raises the ugly specter of moral equivalence. Both causes are the same, both situations are the same, toss a coin and pick a side. And more disturbingly, it assumes that given the same situation, you would act no differently than the terrorist. But the causes are not the same, and the situations are not parallel.
The producers fill the screen with imagery and a dramatic set-up which is evocative of the Warsaw Ghetto at times, a Concentration camp at others, but then use terminology pulled directly from contemporary conflicts such as Iraq or Israel. The metaphors are most certainly mixed.
I think that it’s the context that makes the difference. What are the insurgents fighting for? Are they fighting for freedom for their people against an oppressing occupier? Or are they fighting to intimidate their people and force a rule of tyranny? What is the end result they are after? And will it justify the means to get there?
I wonder where BSG is going with this. Even one of the characters says that suicide bombing can never be justified, regardless of the cause. But of course, there is another character who says that there’s no difference between sending a soldier on a suicide mission in a Viper and strapping a bomb to him. I think the difference depends on the target. If your target is a bunch of strollers in a market, you’re no soldier.
It’ll be interesting to see how this ends up.