Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My BSG Addiction: Watchtower

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 5.

Starbuck's Mom Smokes Marlboros

A big mystery throughout the show is where the world fits in our real world time line. Up until the fleet finds Earth mid-season 4, we think it could be contemporary. I could be wrong, but the little I've seen of the original 1978 series, I think that is what ends up happening. The mythology behind the series says 13 tribes left Kobol. Twelve moved to one solar system and colonized what became the 12 colonies: Caprica, Picon, Gemenon, etc. We're led to believe Earth is the 13th colony and we're all here waiting for Galactica to arrive.

It's in this context that I kind of liked how close in spirit their world is to our modern world. Creatively, it's a very hard line to ride, and for the most part, the show handles it well. Society and its details are close enough to ours and different enough that it's easy to buy these people evolved just like we did, they're just a little ahead of us.
In the episode when Starbuck flashes back to her mother, one little detail bother me. If this wasn't the first hint of a major sticking point, I would have let it go. In her memories, Starbuck's mom smokes, and she vividly latches onto this image of an ash tray filled with cigarettes. Quite prominently, the cigarette at the top of the pile is a Marlboro. This could just be art direction or product placement, but I just can't buy the "Marlboro" brand existing on the 12 colonies. I can buy even some specific vocabulary used in the BSG world, but Marlboro is a name, with very specific origins, coming from people living on Earth. The colonies haven't had contact with Earthlings in thousands of years, but the name Marlboro remains a brand of cigarette. I am completely aware of how nitpicky this is, but it's the same reason I have trouble with a pretty major story element.

When the four sleeper Cylons discover who they are at the end of season 3, they are drawn together by a song planted in their shared subconscious: "All Along the Watchtower." Immediately, I thought of Mama Starbuck's Marlboros.  On the plus side, this made me first start to question the placement of the BSG timeline. Either this song was written on Kobol, and somehow Bob Dylan tapped into that shared consciousness when he wrote it in the 1960s, or BSG takes place after Bob Dylan wrote the song in the '60s. On the other hand, I found it very hard to swallow. While it was a totally cool moment to suddenly have four major characters discover they're Cylons, having to watch them sing along their little parts of the song was so fucking cheesy.

For an example of how to pull off this same effect without being cheesy, see the movie "Magnolia." The characters all share a moment singing along to Aimee Mann's "Wise Up." I had never heard that song before that movie, and it's a very powerful moment that these people are all singing this obscure song at the same time across the city. I'm just saying, they could have done the same thing without doing it so hokey.

When the fleet finally arrives on Earth, I totally turned around on the song. They did an amazing job of tying together the song and the world of the show. What I thought was going on at this point was that our modern Earth was running on the same timeline as BSG, but by the time the fleet got there, it was our future, and we had destroyed everything. Anders finds his guitar in the rubble, and we find out the version of "All Along the Watchtower" they heard was his band's cover of it. We find out subsequently that Earth was a Cylon colony, and when it was destroyed, the Final Five downloaded to ressurection and took off for the colonies, bringing the song with them. Suddenly, I can buy it. It totally makes sense. By the end of the show, the entire concept had completely fallen apart.

At the end of the last episode, we finally learn how BSG fits into our timeline. One hundred, fifty thousand years before our modern world, the Colonial fleet landed on our planet, colonized it, and called it Earth. I had trouble buying "All Along the Watchtower" survived a couple thousand years, but now they put in front of me that 150,000 years later, Bob Dylan had some random flash of inspiration and wrote this exact song? Does that mean Dylan was a Cylon? Get it? Dylan. Cylon. Seriously, can you think of one song we know that's even a couple thousand years old, let alone 150,000 years?

As the series comes to a close, it's these little details that really stop me from loving it. There is a strong meta-physical aspect to this show, but that spirituality is strongest when God's involvement can just as easily be explained away. It seems like a cheat that to get to the ending, the show has to rely so strongly on the magical quality of some major story points, like this song. Without earning these magic story beats, the ending feels a little cheap. And that segues nicely into...


Continue to Part 6

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1 Comments:

Blogger Alex M said...

Good analysis, but I don't think the 12 colonies were in the same solar system. To have 12 habitable planets in the same solar system is pretty much impossible, even for a science fiction show. My guess is that they're in the same galaxy.

It's impossible to determine the complete relationship between their world and our Earth. Some of the people have Christian and Biblical names, yet there is no mention of Christ. Not to mention, tons of Germanic surnames.

They also measure energy in Joules, which makes no sense in the 12 colonies.

I don't think there is place for their world in our real universe, unless there's some sort of metaphysical connection (which is not a reach for this show's mythology).

Maybe this whole ordeal is unfolding in a parallel universe?

Still, a good show. These little inconsistencies are what we, the Sci-fi fans, live for. :-)

August 16, 2015 at 1:34 PM  

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