Revisiting Battlestar Galactica in the Age of Trump
All of this has happened before and all of this will happen again.
This article was originally published in the Den of Geek Special Edition Magazine. Click here to view the full issue!
Whether you’ve watched Battlestar Galactica or not, you’ve probably heard about the space opera’s political relevance in the post-9/11 era.
The Battlestar Galactica miniseries premiered in December 2003, nine months after America’s invasion of Iraq. In an America stuck in a seemingly perpetual state of fight-or-flight, Battlestar felt like the only TV series that was directly asking, and attempting to answer, questions like: How do we respond to a devastating terrorist attack? Should we prioritize safety over healing or freedom? What if we don’t all agree? If we cause the suffering and deaths of others, at what point do we become just as bad as the enemy? Who exactly is the enemy?
One of the reasons some people find the Battlestar ending disappointing is because we wanted clear-cut answers to impossibly complex questions. We wanted an admittedly insightful and topical TV show to tell us if we, as a country, were right or wrong, and what we should do next. We wanted Battlestar to be our guide book for how to heal our fractured country.
A decade later, in President Donald Trump’s America, we are still desperately seeking answers to those questions.
Battlestar Galactica enjoyed reunion celebrations at the ATX TV Festival in June and at San Diego Comic-Con in July. During both events, the subject of how the show is still relevant today came up.
“I really did enjoy [exploring topical issues],” Battlestar showrunner Ronald D. Moore told Den of Geek at the ATX TV Festival. “The conversations, the debates among the writers about what to do and how to bring in what was happening in the world.”
For Moore, it’s hard to imagine what a show hitting the same politically relevant beats as Battlestar would look like in the Age of Trump.
“[The current socio-political climate] is so satirical as it is,” he said. “You’re not even quite sure how to really dramatize it, because it’s so outrageous already. It’s like, I’m not quite sure what to do. Even House of Cards starts to feel tame. You feel like Veep is closer to reality.”
Moore isn’t the only Battlestar alum who wonders if today’s socio-political commentary is at its most effective when delivered as a satire.
“Can you imagine what [Battlestar Galactica] could do right now?” asked Aaron Douglas–who played Chief Galen Tyrol–at San Diego Comic-Con. “You know who would be writing the show? It’d be like [Stephen] Colbert, [Jon] Stewart, John Oliver. The writers room would be ridiculous, but man the show would be good.”
One aspect of Battlestar Galactica that would fit right into today’s America is the show’s exploration of what we expect and will endure from our democratically elected leaders. During the 2016 presidential election, Trump’s vitriolic messaging, directed both at Hillary Clinton and at America’s most marginalized groups, brought political discourse to new lows. As we progress further into his presidency, it seems there is nothing he can do or say that will shake his most loyal supporters.
In Battlestar, we watch seasoned female politician Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell) lose in a presidential election to narcissistic male celebrity Gaius Baltar (James Callis). Looking back, the campaign and the candidate dynamic share many unfortunate parallels with the 2016 presidential election. Baltar’s main campaign promise is that he will make a new home on a barely inhabitable planet known as New Caprica. For a fleet of people who have been living in rough conditions on spaceships for years, it’s too tempting a proposal. They want an easy answer to their suffering.
“I did put out a tweet several months ago about Make Caprica Great Again,” Callis told Den of Geek at the ATX TV Festival. “And someone contacted me and said, ‘I think you need to write Make New Caprica Great Again.’”
For McDonnell, it was hard not to think about her Laura Roslin role during the 2016 presidential election. When Hillary Clinton ran in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary against Barack Obama, Battlestar was still shooting, so the two have always been tied together in her mind. That being said, McDonnell didn’t start making the comparisons between the Hillary and Trump dynamic and the “Baltar/Roslin debacle” until fans began to point it out to her.
“The parallels were almost chilling. But I think that one of the things that we can learn from Laura Roslin, and we can learn from television—because the television narratives are quite often reflecting what is difficult—is that we’re just beginning to liberate women,” McDonnell said at the ATX TV Festival.
“Now we’re in a global situation having to figure out how to move the feminine needle in the world, the feminine energy, to promote women to positions of leadership, because the smackdown was huge and we need to be able to get through that.”
For many men and women, Laura Roslin has been a helpful example of leadership in a time of crisis. What is it about Roslin that is so inspiring?
“She was able to overcome things with a kind of resilience due to the fact that she knew she was dying,” McDonnell said. “She had absolutely no other agenda. There wasn’t ego in her way. I learned so much about the potential of strong decisions by playing a leader who had nothing to lose.”
If you see hope in that description of one of Battlestar Galactica’s main characters, you’re not imagining things. Battlestar Galactica may have been one of the darkest shows on TV when it aired, but it wasn’t without hope.
“A lot of people think Battlestar is very, very dark,” Callis said. “Ron always said to me that he wrote it out of hope. It’s not about the darkness. It’s about what we can do if we get together.”
When the weary survivors of humanity finally find a new home in the finale, their new reality is only slightly less difficult than the one they endured for years aboard the spaceships of the fleet.
Battlestar’s final answer to all of those questions is the same as all of the answers that have come before: There are no easy answers. Survival, healing, safety, freedom, forgiveness, compromise, and building something new take work. There are no shortcuts. Battlestar Galactica was always honest about that. That’s why we loved it.