The acclaimed SciFi Channel series "Battlestar Galactica" is at last back on the air for its final handful of episodes. For the geeks who've been following the show, its return is cause for nerd celebration. If you've missed it thus far, you may find yourself hopelessly lost if you try to dive in now. Better to start from the beginning on DVD. The show is densely layered and serialized like few shows are.
"Battlestar Galactica" surely ranks among the very best that TV has to offer right now, but (like ABC's "Lost") it's often too inconsistent and frustrating to hit the home run. But when the show is clicking, as it was in last week's riveting mutiny episode "The Oath," no other show can touch it. The dialogue crackles, the plotting often surprises, and the acting is strong. Face it: if the show were running on HBO or NBC, it would have already won a clutch of Emmys.
This is what science fiction is all about - using a futuristic, otherworldly setting to explore problems in contemporary culture. For the last few years, "Battlestar" has raised sticky questions about terrorism, war crimes, martial law, and freedom. This season there's been an unexpected turn into racism and Nazi-style extermination. Without question, this is the grimmest, darkest show to have ever aired. There's often not much levity or charm to be found. Even "The Sopranos" often threw in black comedy. And bubbling in the background to all of this are deep questions about humanity. What does it mean to be human? Are humans defined purely by blood and flesh? If you've lived your whole life engaged in a friendship with someone you find out is a machine, does that make them any less human?
The show often loses its footing when it starts to dig into the convoluted religion of the characters. There's some pretty hoary double-talk dialogue to sort through, lines that sound cool but often don't really make sense. Even so, give the show credit for even trying to tackle those kinds of spiritual issues about God and fate.
Clearly, we're a long way from Dirk Benedict gambling on that Las Vegas spaceship back in 1978.
Come April, "Battlestar" will be off the air. And it will be missed.
This month, Los Angeles magazine's Steve Erickson offers a comprehensive look at the show's appeal.