Battlestar Galactica (produced by Ron Moore and David Eick) is what television should be – thought provoking, edgy, true to life where it counts but fueled by a fertile imagination and a talented cast and crew. This is a show that unflinchingly confronts some the toughest moral dilemmas in a way that is hugely entertaining, defies pat answers, and leaves an important place for the sacred and the spiritual.
The story centers on a rag-tag group of refugees from a Terminator-esk apocalypse at the hands of their robotic creations, the Cylons. Of twelve colonized worlds, less than 50,000 survivors have formed a small fleet of civilian vessels guarded by the sole remaining human warship (that they know of), the Battlestar Galactica. The Galactica herself is an aging cruiser that had been slated for decommission and only survived because it lacked the advanced electrical systems that were the primary target of the Cylon attack. On the run and short on supplies, this band of humans led by Galactica’s Captain William Adama (Edward James Olmos) and Secretary-of-Education-turned-President Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell) are in search of the mythical planet Earth. Desperate to hold on to some semblance of civilization but unsure if they can even trust one another, the last remnant of the human race (in that part of the galaxy at least) struggles to survive without losing their humanity.
Beginning with a 2003 miniseries, this “re-imaging” of the 1978 ABC space opera is quite unlike anything else on television. Despite its outlandish premise, this is a show brimming over with characters and stories that are true to life. There are no cut and dried divisions between “good guys” and “bad guys,” no cookie-cutter story-lines or simple solutions to difficult problems. Instead, we are faced with realistic, complex, imperfect people forced into an impossible situation, struggling to do the best they can. In the words of Ron Moore, this show, “dare[s] us to invest ourselves in flawed characters who face ambiguous choices in an imperfect world.”
Galactica also maintains a high view of organized religion that is almost unknown in contemporary television, especially science fiction (a notable but short-lived exception was Firefly). Even better, this is a show that allows not just a vague human “spirituality” in the tame Hollywood sense, but a truly active role for the divine: A priestess known as Elosha (Lorena Gale) is given a positive and recurring role as an advisor to President Roslin, and is sometimes called upon for prayer and religious ceremony. Roslin herself experiences prophetic visions and, on more than one occasion, risks the future survival of the fleet on her faith in these visions and the teaching of certain sacred scriptures. A working downed spacecraft is discovered just after a character offers a desperate but skeptical prayer for aid. A split-second “guess” is (apparently) used by God to secure fuel for the fleet. Such events occur both for the polytheistic colonists and the atheist-turned-monotheist Dr. Gaius Baltar (James Callis). What kind of a theology that presupposes is an open question, but that such things are even granted possibility is a vast improvement over the secular humanism that dominates so much of television.
Battlestar Galactica is by no means a Christian show. It is not for children nor the faint of heart. It explores adult themes, including wartime violence, torture and sexual promiscuity, in a style that draws more inspiration from Black Hawk Down than Star Trek. It maintains a deep belief in moral truth, but an unflinching honesty about the struggles and ambiguities real people face in the struggle to survive. The theology is certainly not Christian, not even allegorically. The original series was marked by strong allusions to Mormonism, and while this re-imaging has avoided that connection, its theology has at least as much in common with ancient Greek myth as with traditional Christianity. But that’s OK, because this is not a show that asks to be accepted unthinkingly, but one to be chewed on and debated.
Writing on the politics of the show, Ron Moore stated that the point is “to raise questions in the minds of the audience, and make them think.” Questions like: Is it ever justifiable to sacrifice some lives for the sake of others? Is lying to and torturing a known spy acceptable if it might save thousands? Is political intrigue warranted if it is necessary to prevent a charismatic terrorist from taking office? Does a positive result justify the questionable risks accepted to achieve it? And is the survival of the human race even worth the trouble if we must abandon everything that makes us human to accomplish it? You will find no easy answers to these questions here, nor will you find characters who always choose correctly, but you will be forced to consider all of them and more. There are no pious platitudes and this is no morality play, but it is a powerful human drama that presents a realistic (though fictional) theistic worldview through a great script, some fantastic acting, and feature-film quality special effects.