It’s not often that sci-fi reboots can outdo the original, especially in television. Star Trek: Discovery, for example, isn’t getting fans as excited as predecessors like Star Trek or Star Trek: The Next Generation. On the other hand, Jordan Peele’s updating of The Twilight Zone has adoring fans chomping at the bit for more. But no rebirth in the genre did quite as well on TV as the 2004 version of Battlestar Galactica. It not only lived up to the original 70’s cult classic – it outperformed it and by several light years.
The gritty drama centering on a nomadic fleet of humans facing extinction was one of the greatest space operas of all time. Powerhouse performances from the likes of Mary McDonnell and Edward James Olmos paved the way for the great drama conjured up by the show’s writers and producers. But as with all long-form series, it has its amazing moments…and then it has its not so great moments. The jigsaw puzzle of storylines and subplots seemed to go in all directions at once, yet never fully left the central journey of the show. Some of the pieces of that puzzle were unforgettable. Some others just got in the way. Of course, in the end, it all worked out and was frackin’ awesome!
BSG offered audiences a very satisfying conclusion after 76 episodes. While there were bumps in the road, the best moments smoothed it all out. Here’s a look at Battlestar Galactica: 10 Storylines That Hurt The Series (And 10 That Saved It).
Kara “Starbuck” Thrace is the character that everybody loves to dislike and yet dislikes to love. She’s a consummate wonder, a fierce warrior whether flying her Viper in a faceoff against Cylons, or in a fight over a game of cards. But she’s also unbearably melodramatic at times, especially when it comes to her love life. And her romance with Samuel "Longshot" Anders is no exception. These two alpha dogs bicker and battle as much as they make nice with each other. Half the time it feels like she only loves him to spite another ex-boyfriend, Lee "Apollo" Adama. In the grand scheme of things, Starbuck and Longshot’s bond doesn’t amount to much, and so every moment of the hot and cold affair is tough to sit through.
From the very first pilot episode of Battlestar Galactica, one of the show’s enduring mysteries grabs fans by the eyeballs and never lets go. The self-centered traitor Gaius Baltar maintains a curious relationship with a woman only he can see: the humanoid Cylon known as Number Six. And it’s hard to understand what she is. Perhaps Cylons have implanted her in Gaius’ mind? Or maybe she’s some sort of unearthly spirit? It’s hard to say, even at the very end of the series. But she guides the mad scientist through quite a few changes, all of which are pivotal to the dramatic sway of the show. Gaius unwittingly plays savior and destroyer as he dallies with Number Six and it is endlessly fascinating
Lee Adama sure has a chip on his shoulder. Apollo is really upset at his dad – who happens to be the wildly respected Admiral William “Husker” Adama – and lets him know at every opportunity. He blames ol’ pops for the untimely demise of his brother, and just won’t let go of it. Of course, when it comes to the common interest of fighting the Cylons, they are glad to work together as two professional soldiers. But late in the series, Lee flirts with being a lawyer to help defend the traitor to the fleet Gaius Baltar. The decision is short-lived and seems to be an act of spite more than anything else. It was ultimately not of major consequence and makes us like Apollo just that much less.
Not only was it cool to see the original Battlestar Galactica star Richard Hatch in a totally new role in the 2004 series, his character of Tom Zarek is pure dynamite. An anti-government criminal, Zarek survives the human-eradicating attack by the Cylons by virtue of being in a prison transport ship between planets. From there, he riles up rebellion and intrigue as his voice sways many of humanity’s survivors and almost causes an outright coup d’état. At times almost unbelievably idealistic, and at others utterly underhanded and cunning, throwing Tom into the BSG soup was a lifeline which added an unexpected dimension to the show. It was a sober reminder that even amidst existential crisis, people are still apt to divide into tribes and fall into disunity. Lovely dramatic stuff and up until Zarek’s final fate, a fine thrill for the show.
Nobody likes a spooky person-watcher. And of course, nobody wants to have to watch that on screen for too long. But it’s an interesting vehicle for drama in many cases. Just not in the case of BSG 75. During the occupation of New Caprica, one of the humanoid Cylons known as Number Two, keeps Kara Thrace captive and tries to convince her to become his paramour. In the process, there are hints that he has somehow altered her physiology and possibly wants to have a child with her. It’s all very unsavory and never creates any meaningful ripples throughout the remainder of the series. It’s just an ugly side story which serves to do nothing much other than make us dislike Cylons, which we have plenty of on the show without it.
Also on New Caprica, we see another amazing turn on the human race by Gaius Baltar. He becomes the puppet ruler for the occupying Cylon force, keeping all the other humans in line. While the rest of his people live in dirty hovels and suffer summary penalties, Gaius lives a comparatively lavish lifestyle while catering to his inhuman masters. It’s one of the many swings for the brilliant scientist whose hubris almost destroys his own race at some times, while at others literally saves it from extermination. There are few characters as compelling on the show and the choice to make him a turncoat boss for the mechanical invaders was a powerful one.
It’s not easy to resist the one you truly love. But there was always something unsavory about Sharon "Boomer" Valeri and Galen "Chief" Tyrol’s tryst that felt wrong. It’s not that they didn’t genuinely love each other. It’s that they harmed others by keeping their dalliances secret. And later in the series, even after Chief marries his underling Callie, he still pines after Boomer. He’s so obsessed with her, that choice after choice he makes as a negligent husband and father almost costs the fleet everything. Separately, both characters are engaging and lead awesome story arcs to follow. But together, we just dislike them, and wish that their mutual attraction could have led to a less unsavory plot direction.
In desperate times, nations can often see a conflict between civilian government and military rule. And so it was on Battlestar Galactica when President Laura Roslin and Admiral Adama came to loggerheads over a very important matter. Early on, a pivotal decision must be made: should the surviving fleet go after the Cylons to avenge the human race, or should the ships which escaped destruction band together and escape? Adama, being the soldier that he is, wants payback. But the pragmatic Roslin sees this as a bad decision and holds firm – the military must protect what is left of the people. The conflict almost ends in calamity but proves to be the moment when the two leaders come to a mutual understanding and even greater mutual respect. Their relationship remained one of the best on the show, right to the end.
One of the great understated characters of Battlestar Galactica is Felix Gaeta. The by-the-book tactical officer is a great right arm to Admiral Adama and his Executive Officer Saul Tigh. His insights and loyalty have saved the ship and the fleet on more than one occasion. And during the Cylon occupation of New Caprica, Gaeta risked his life sending secret intel to the resistance as a double agent openly working for the traitor Gaius. A vigilante squad even almost offed him in their ignorance. So when later in the series, Gaeta decides to side with Tom Zarek in a coup against Adama, it’s a hard pill to swallow. Sure, he has his reasons. But really, the betrayal should have come from another character. The story was great, but choosing Gaeta to play that role was a mistake.
Let’s face it – for the first three seasons of Battlestar Galactica, the identity of the Final Five – a group of humanoid sleeper cell Cylons who think they’re human – was the single most compelling mystery on the show. Who was secretly working against the fleet? Decoy hints pointed to all sorts of suspects. But when four of the five finally wake up and realize who they really are, it’s totally devastating. And then a “human reincarnation” ends up bringing a controversial character back to the show as the fifth of the five – pow! It just knocked the audience over like a ton of bricks and added so much flavor to the remaining episodes, it’s hard to see how we might have cared without the reveals.
Let us pause now to remember Anastasia "Dee" Dualla, Galactica’s communications officer and one of the straightest shooters in the fleet. This all-business woman is tough as nails despite her deceivingly petite frame. Fully professional and cool as a cucumber, the lady helps hold the bridge up under fire and is as devoted of an officer as the fleet can hope for. Unfortunately, at one point, she decides to marry Lee Adama – and the jerk is still hung up on his old flame Starbuck. She tolerates this truth until one day when she sees Apollo and Kara reconciling. Well, it’s a loss she can’t take and so, she takes her own life. It was an ignoble end to a very noble character and she deserved better.
If you think that it’s only the human race which can turn against its own kind, consider the Number Three Cylon model known as D'Anna Biers. After having a series of visions she believes are coming to her from God, she breaks a holy taboo and seeks to see the faces of the Final Five. This quest ultimately convinces her that her fellow humanoid Cylon brethren are on the wrong side of history. She goes on to lead a rebellious faction of Cylons who ultimately join the human fleet on their quest to find Earth. It’s a very exciting plotline, one which ends with a perfect reason for D’Anna to not only end her place on the series but anywhere in the universe for that matter.
So Kara isn’t really human, right? She’s maybe a Cylon? No, that doesn’t add up. Perhaps she’s just an angel and doesn’t know it? That would be kind of a cop out, wouldn’t it? Here’s what the show does answer. Starbuck crash lands on a planet chasing a Cylon. Her ship is destroyed. It is impossible for her to have survived the crash. But then, later on, she returns to the fleet, unable to answer just how in the heck she wasn’t pulverized. It’s a pretty great sci-fi story device. Or it would be, if they ever explained it! The last episode sort of reveals her to be an unwitting pawn of God's plan, and probably an ethereal being, but that wasn’t the best way to resolve a pretty intense mystery on the show.
Back during the New Caprica occupation by the Cylons, a lot of crazy stuff happened. Saul Tigh was harmed. His wife was literally together with the enemy. Oppression of any uprising against the Cylons was commonplace. And the fleet was nowhere to be found, completely impotent to help rescue the marooned colony. All the while, the human race had to bide its time to find the right moment to escape. And all along, the double agent Felix Gaeta put his life on the line delivering intel to the resistance. Nobody but he knew he was the spy in Gaius’ puppet administration. Without his risky cunning, the fleet’s rescue would not have been possible and we loved every nail-biting minute of it!
In the many quests and adventures centered in the overall BSG story, a crucial one involves the discovery of the planet Kobol, home to the lost 13th tribe of humanity. Ancient myths hold that there is a key on the ruins of the planet which will help the survivors of the Cylon attack find Earth. As a focal point of the mystic journey, however, it kind of feels like a dud when we finally get there. It’s not that the map to Earth was disappointing. But the whole reveal of the Opera House visions are overhyped and never feel like they mean much. For a dramatic spiritual epiphany, it feels more like a TV McGuffin which could have been way more interesting.
There’s an old saying: be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. The human fleet of spacefaring survivors do indeed find their way to the mythical planet of Earth. The only problem? When they get there, they have found that their lost thirteenth tribe has destroyed itself with thermonuclear war. Not only that, the irradiated world is not habitable. Staying longer than a few hours will cause severe radiation sickness and worth. It was a crushing setback in BSG’s journey for salvation and made for great dramatic television. The reverberations of this sad discovery led to the finale, where the fleet forges a new destiny – a far more compelling conclusion than finding the original Earth intact might have been.
Once again, we find ourselves at the distracting and exhausting episodes of Starbuck’s many relationships. This time it’s with Apollo. As the Admiral’s last surviving son, this pairing of Lee Adama with Kara Thrace is extra uncomfortable since ol’ Husker sees Starbuck as his own daughter. And the way these two carry on! Blowout fights, messy reunions, and annoying manipulations – really the stuff of daytime soap operas, not highbrow sci-fi operas. On paper, it might have looked like a good plot point, but it brought out the worst in the otherwise stellar performances from Katee Sackhoff and Jamie Bamber. Unfortunately, we literally had to endure this dreadful couple to the very last episode!
A classic element of any good dramatic script is the time-honored “ticking time bomb” scenario. Some event is coming which the protagonist must outlast in order to avoid destruction. Well, in the case of President Roslin, a devastating diagnosis of cancer was to be her final time bomb. And before she left this mortal coil, she was determined to see the fleet arrive safely in a new home. Fighting the good fight against the ravaging disease, Madame President proved to be more resilient than ever – to the last. Her character’s final farewell in the last episode was easily the greatest tear-jerker of the series and probably the greatest moment of the finale as well. A lovely ending to a compelling storyline.
The overplayed and excruciatingly tired cliché of a manipulative wife is one of the most unfortunate tropes in dramatic storytelling. But that’s just what we got in Ellen Tigh, the flighty wife of Executive Officer Saul Tigh. This power couple share a lot of things, including dismal drinking habits and short tempers. But her garish attraction to any man she meets becomes an eye-rolling device very quickly. Ellen’s one-dimensional character is only redeemed late in the series when she is revealed as one of the Final Five. But until then, this was one subplot we’ve seen way too many times and it was a bore. Saul was far better realized as a complex character, which makes us feel that maybe the writers weren’t as fair to some of the women they created for the show.
Just when one would think that finding another Battlestar had survived the Cylon apocalypse impossible – boom! Here comes the Pegasus! This reunion was a dream come true. More humans were alive, a whole new Battlestar was added to the fleet, and with it, a chance to fight back and maybe even rebuild the species. Instead, a new conflict emerged. Admiral Helena Cain outranked Adama and disapproved of his command. Convinced that only her most intense military tactics were in order, Adama had to fight on a whole new front as the two ships’ cultures were in opposition to one another. It was great drama and ended with a real bang! It also spawned the TV film Battlestar Galactica: Razor, which aired between seasons as an extra story for a faithful audience!