Hello, Failure

Of all the enemies of literature, success is the most insidious

Monday, February 28, 2005

Failure of the Day: A Tale of Two Failures

We didn’t watch the miniseries that introduced the new version of Battlestar Galactica when it began airing on the SciFi Network a couple of months ago. I hated the original show. (I did scotch tape a teeny photo of Dirk Benedict to my 7th grade Trapper keeper, but I did that more as a show of solidarity with my fellow preteens than out of any real devotion.)

One of Chris’s co-workers recorded the miniseries for him, and Chris, that virtuoso of the Nancy, got me to watch it. It was surprisingly good, and thanks to our DVR and basic cable’s tendency to repeat programs infinitely, we were caught up with the new weekly series in no time. I have to say, it’s some of the finest TV science fiction I’ve ever seen.

Like in the old show, humanity has been rendered all but extinct by their wayward robot creations, the cylons, and now roams the universe in a pathetic convoy of spit-and-tissue spaceships with the slick and vicious cylons at their heels. But the new version is so much better imagined and executed than the old show that, other than the basic premise, the two have little in common.

What fascinates me the most about the new show is that the cylons, some of whom are now physiologically indistinguishable from humans, are monotheistic religious fundamentalists, whereas the human society is polytheistic but largely based on rationality and science.

But human science is a total failure; it’s what gave rise to the cylons. This failure is personified in the character of the arrogant fop Dr. Gaius Baltar, the genius celebrity scientist who couldn’t keep it in his pants for a super hot chick who was actually a cylon operative. He allowed her access to his planet’s defense system, which the cylons then exploited to destroy every living human on that and every other human-populated planet. Baltar escaped to the Galactica just in time but continues to be manipulated by the hot cylon via a chip implanted in his brain.

Religion is also clearly an abject failure. The humans’ 12 gods have utterly, utterly forsaken them; the first hour of the miniseries features the nuclear annihilation of hundreds of billions of human lives over multiple planets. The surviving humans still make gestures toward their pantheon, but it’s half-hearted at best. Who could blame them? Their gods are obviously as impotent as Hugh Hefner without his pills.

Meanwhile, the human-looking cylons are as smug as any red-state fundy, and just as happy to stick their fingers into your suffering in the hopes of poking or finding a hole into which they can pack their beliefs. Dr. Baltar’s HotBot spends a lot of time talking about her soul, even as she wafts her naked ass in Baltar’s face as a reward for calling out to god in a time of distress. Does the cylon god approve of that particular kind of recruitment technique? One of his children will make you cum if you will only believe in Him? But while we watch the cylons continually sell sex, lie, and commit mass murder, we never see them perform even a single act of religious faith or devotion. They simply run code that makes them say words like faith and god and soul as often as possible. It’s shallow programming. The cylons don’t practice a religion—they just talk about religion.

And so it’s no wonder that the show appeals to me so much—it’s all about dueling failure. There is no success but survival, and even then, you’re either a machine on an endless Leviticus loop or a homeless, helpless, and hopeless human with no living friends or relatives. And that, my friends, is my kind of Friday night.


  • At March 19, 2005 8:48 AM, Blogger Don said…

    What a review. I saw the first ten minutes and then had to go. Now I want to go back and see it somehow. But I've never been into TV-show DVDs so, I dunno. But you make it sound like my kind of show too. I hated the original - it was just stupid. But my mother's Scientologist boyfriend got off on the Egyptian space helmets, as if the producers were in on the same secret.


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