Salon has a guide to catch people up to everything that’s happened on Battlestar Galactica before the final half of season four begins tonight. It’s pretty useful if you’ve already see it, and need to catch up, but if you haven’t, well, they try to iron out some of the plot twists and turns to make it less confusing, but it doesn’t help much. You really need to watch it, not just to catch up, but because the show is a genuine pleasure to watch in the way that “Mad Men” and “The Wire” are. I didn’t think it would hold to rewatchings as well as that show, but the marathon they’re showing today in anticipation of the new half season proves it’s very rewatchable. If you haven’t seen it, then don’t read further.
The end of the first half of the 4th season really got the show back to what I think is the underlying theme that makes it such a powerful show—above all, above all the “who’s a Cylon” stuff and the mysticism, the show is a powerful yelp of protest against war itself. And the more I think about it, the more I think there’s a sort of sick genius to the show, in that it sucks you deeply into the intricacies of the war. How many times have I fully supported and understood this act of revenge or that? But when you step back, even for a moment, you realize that every time one side strikes the other, it just perpetuates the cycle of violence. “All of this has happened before. All of this will happen again,” is a piece of scripture that is repeated by the characters, and it’s obviously meant to be a multi-layered thing. But one layer is certainly the one that indicates that this is a warning (unheeded by characters and mostly unheeded by viewers) about the cycle of violence. The grim ending of season 4, part 1 drives this point home to the Cylons and humans—unable to quit fighting each other, the Earth tribe appears to have completely annihilated itself.
Watching this show in the context of an escalation of violence in Israel adds that much more power to this message. Surely inside of it, it feels that every strike against the other will somehow accomplish something besides a continuation of the violence. But every time someone strikes, they do nothing to improve the situation, and someone just ends up dead. There is no such thing as the conflict that will end conflict, unless it’s the conflict that ends life itself, and that of course is genocide (even if self-inflicted). Setting down arms may not end the conflict, but it doesn’t perpetuate it. Why we can’t see the writing on the wall is one of the greatest mysteries of our species. Consider that the Cylons and humans were literally battling over ownership of the promised land. Their uneasy peace is unlikely to last now that the promised land wasn’t what they thought it was.
The Cylons are a brilliant satirical invention, even if it’s satirical in a dark sense and not in a ha-ha sense. I wished fervently that there had been two or three more episodes drawing out the occupation of New Caprica, because that would have really given the creators time to tease out this parallel between the Cylons and the Americans. The last scene in season two with the Cylon army marching onto New Caprica, as shiny, powerful, and soulless as the humans were dirty, vulnerable, and, well human was a not especially (but necessary) reflection of the absurdity of the American army marching on Iraq. But by shortening the occupation, they gave up on a chance to really drive home what I think was the point of the entire episode, which is that epic shows of force do no end conflict, no matter how absurdly shiny and powerful. Conflict continues as long as people perpetuate it.
The “who’s a Cylon” game is fun, but it did take over the show to an extent that was tiresome. Now that they’re revealed and it’s been revealed that Earth is kaput by the hands of Earth people, I hope the show can really get back to what really makes it so great, which is its dark satire of, well, us. My wildest hope is that somehow both Cylons and humans realize the error of retreating further and further into religion to distract themselves and to justify the perpetuation of violence, but that might be too much to ask. But I for one will be unable to watch the conflict without having the Israeli conflict echoing over the proceedings.