Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My BSG Addiction: Adama

In order to get over my addiction to "Battlestar Galactica," I'm going to talk the show to death until it's out of my system. What originally started as a one-off essay is too big for just one post. This is Part 2.

Admiral Adama vs. Captain Picard

I was brought up on Star Trek: The Next Generation. I think this is a perfect sci-fi show. I'm not talking about some ideal form of perfection; it definitely had its rough patches. The show grew steadily for 5 seasons, and even though the last two seasons' quality dropped a bit, the last episode was absolutely beautiful. Episode-by-episode, the show accomplished exactly what it set out to. It was an adventure story first, and along the way, if they could delve into something deeper, they did it with gusto.

TNG could not exist in today's TV culture. All Star Trek shows follow one, simple rule: the captain is always right. Even Jack Bauer, whose entire purpose in the "24" world is to be right when everyone else is wrong sometimes crosses the line. Jack Bauer would have spent the last 7 seasons in jail, had it not been for that always saving the day thing. That's how we settle on Adama vs. Picard. BSG hinges on Adama's moral compass, but a lot of times, he's out-right wrong.

In the first season, Adama's most puzzling trait is how closely he retains his loyalty to his XO, Colonel Tigh. Tigh is a cowardly drunk who's clearly not strong enough to take command when Adama's not able. At the end of the season, Adama sends marines to arrest the president over what's basically a personal dispute, then he gets shot, leaving Tigh in charge. With Picard in the back of my head, I trusted Tigh to do the right thing. I thought he would surprise me. I thought this would be the moment we finally learn why Adama puts so much trust and faith in his XO.


Tigh declares martial law and basically makes everything worse in every imaginable way. That kind of pissed me off. I wasn't totally on board with the show yet, and I had almost lost all faith in the main character. He's supposed to be this wise commander whose adherence to the old ways saved his ship from annihilation, yet his choice in XO, which you'd think would be pretty important, is just so wrong. It calls his judgment into question for the rest of the show. The challenge of a character like Picard is how he can be right no matter how difficult the situation. The writers aren't allowed to give him a pass just to make a story work. On BSG, they try to get away with raising Adama up as this great military leader, but he is so consistently wrong.

It was actually a few seasons before I turned around on this. Eventually, Adama's fallibility becomes what the show is about. The President, his son, his officers, basically everyone around him has to constantly remind him he's supposed to be the moral compass. This is exactly what the show aims for. The characters aren't just one-dimensionally ensconced in the good or bad camp. They make choices and do the best they can. Week-to-week, it makes for an enthralling viewing experience. They are, by design, incredibly human. I'll go into some detail later, but these tough decisions and how often he battles with them setup what turns out to be a very strong tragic ending for him.

Adama is no doubt a very deep, very flawed character, but I can't help but wonder if a lot of the problems I'm going to discuss in later sections could have been avoided if Adama had been just a little more like Picard.

Continue to Part 3

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