BIG FAT SPOILER WARNING! Turn back if you haven’t finished series three yet.
One of the biggest things that sets apart new Battlestar from the seventies version is the politics at work through it. Sometimes that can be a real drag, and the slower episodes always fall back on politics to save on flashy special effects. But when it’s properly slotted in around all the action, it brings a real edge of believable scale that even the best CGI can’t bring to life.
The heftier politics always centre on the president, but she always needs a foil to thrash out the finer points with. She’s always filled with authoritative intent, whether she is right or wrong. It takes a presidential aide to get flustered, mess things up and get filled with conflict.
Between the two of them, while Tory plays it as a smooth poll-taker who generally cocks things up, it tended to be Billy who did the getting flustered and filled with conflict ‘thing’. Indeed, he spent of his time a bit red-faced, loitering around the edge of the president’s desk or Dee’s work console, looking vexed by… something. Dee probably left him because he was too busy with his Big Book of Sudoku.
He is now playing the big sudoku in the sky now having snuffed it at the hands of terrorists, and he got replaced by the sharp-suited, not-so-sharp-of-brained Tory. How she hasn’t got fired is astounding. She got found out of trying to rig an election. She lost the saviour of mankind (Hera). She cocks up trying to formulate charges against Baltar after the occupation. Oh, and she’s a Cylon. She is certainly no Billy. But we continue to see that big decisions are made by individual people who are just as likely to get things horribly wrong as all of us lovable little epsilons.
I should probably admit that I am an enormous politics geek. But this is definitely not the reason I’m a fan of the politics at play in the programme – I normally can’t stand TV doing it. I can’t stand the West Wing. ER doing the ‘big issues’ unsettles me as much as everyone else. But Battlestar has the massive advantage over a lot of other programmes that it necessarily strips everything back to just a couple of people and viewpoints (because everyone else is dead). Keeping things simple stops it from becoming simplistic.
The topics that are dealt with are often surprisingly off-diary, too – the risk of military rule to civilian life is probably not something that would bother the average Western viewer, but here it is, served up as a real risk by the end of series one. The ethics of whether it’s right to rig a democratic election for the better also set up the guerrilla war of series three. The writers could never be accused of shying away from tackling big, and real, topics.
But that only works when you have characters either going head-to-head over an issue, or deciding for themselves what to do. That means you either need Billy there to decide whether to go off on a half-cocked religious mission because the president told him to, or Tory to suss out whether rigging elections is a good idea (even though it is about 32 notches above her ability on the Karl Rove Scale of Deviousness). Roll on series four when we can see what happens now that she is a Big Shiny Bastard…