Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The Latest on Battlestar Galactica

This Could Quite Possible Be the Best Show Ever.

But, it's not.

Cause the Scifi channel keeps fucking it up.

The premise is this: humanity is being systematically wiped out by "Cylons" - robots who come in several designs, some of them human. As most of their planets have been blown to bits, that last 50,000 humans in the galaxy (so far as they know), have formed a fleet of ships and are trying to outrun the Cylons while looking for a mythical "Earth" that they can settle down on.

There are things I love about this show. I love the end of the world stuff: the few against the Dark Forces of Evil. I love that in the episode "33" everybody's exhausted and looks like shit and they film all the interior shots with handhelds. I love that people are bitchy and confused and nobody knows what the hell's going on. I love that when the fighter pilots go out to Do Battle, they pass by a picture of a guy watching one of their cities bombed-out by Cylons - a reminder about what you're fighting for. I love the deck they've got that's a memorial to all the dead, all the pictures, the little momentos. I like that they, did, in fact, make an attempt to have a female character who outranks a male character have an affair with him...

... They fuck it up, but their heart was in it.

This is a show about genocide on a mass scale, and lots of very different people trying to work together, and a Faceless Evil to combat. Fucking Classic, right?

The Sci-fi channel toted the gender ratio on this show as being a big deal. It's a quasi-remake of the original Battlestar Galactica, and one of the show's favorite characters - the philandering, cigar smoking star fighter, Starbuck - is now being played by a woman.

There are, however, only four main female characters. Which, you know, considering there's only five or six male main characters, shouldn't seem so bad.


But half of the female main characters are robots.


I shit you not.

Half the female characters in this show aren't supposed to be real women.


I bet they think they're being "progressive."

Read any Golden-Age SF, much?

Worse, the one with the most screen time - the Evil Blond in the Red Dress - doesn't really do anything but make-out with the scientist guy. There's lots of Hot Blonde Cylon Skin for the 14-year-old boys in the audience, but not much substance. Just lots of scenes where she's breathily expositing nonesense about belief and redemption. In fact, the entire subplot of an entire episode consisted of the Cylon making out with the scientist.

Somebody over at Sci-fi doing a little wish fulfillment, much?

For the most part, the gender ratio on-camera is about 1/3 to 1/4 female, not 1/2, though if you're not paying attention, you may think it's half, because we're so not used to seeing women characters on screen.

They appear to have the best of intentions with doing this, but they keep fucking it up.

Some of the actors appear to be confused about What it All Means, too. There are weird scenes where you get these women deferring to the guys around them in weird ways - or sometimes they do, sometimes they don't - sometimes they seem confused during their scenes about whether they're attacking or defending, seeking approval or telling the guy to fuck off.

Starbuck starts to bitch out her commanding officer, who's also supposed to be her best friend (way too much "but shouldn't we play up the sexual tension between them" stuff for them to be best friends, but I digress), and she gets a little hysterical with it. Granted, they're all supposed to be frazzled at this point, but you know what - he didn't get hysterical. Boomer does the same thing when, in another episode, she blasts out a freak-out confession to her boyfriend (who she outranks), and he immediately goes into male-protector mode, and she goes into female freak-out mode and begs for him to "fix" everything.

This, after insisting that these were strong, smart women. And sure, even strong, smart women have freakouts - but you know what, you don't go hysterical in front of a commanding officer, and you can figure out how to "fix" something on your own without coercing the boyfriend who you outrank to cover everything up for you. These women are supposed to be smarter than that.

The hottest person in the whole damn show is definately Starbuck. She's fucking hot: not just in a "looks" way (because if you're too pretty you get points deducted, in my book - I need a little character in the face, not a plastic doll), but the way she talks, the way she walks, the way she holds herself. She's awesome. She's the only one who's got any real spit and fire to her - only she seems to switch from "butch" mode to "now I must be a seductive girl" mode rather too often for my personal taste.

Can't she just be ass-kicking Starbuck and have people like her anyway? Does she really need to wear a low-cut tank top (way lower cut that any body else's in the room) while she's kicking everybody's ass at poker? Does she even need to bother to pretend to defer to the scientist guy? Why doesn't she just find him amusing? Katee Sackhoff needs to take a couple of classes in the Joanna Russ school of feminism.... That would be so cool.

And you know there's this war going on: the director's saying, "These are tough women, but they haven't lost touch with their femininity! More femininity!" Which, somehow, actually means (to this director at least), "Show us that you really need male approval!"

Finally, the male characters defend the female characters a lot from verbal attacks by superior officers. You know, it's a fucking military setting. Getting chewed out by your superior is par for the fucking course. Get over it, you pansies. Again, this wouldn't be an issue if 1) the verbal attacks in question were without merit (in fact, they felt perfectly within limits to me, totally justified, and real) 2) if men were defending other men or women defending other women from such "attacks" in the same way.

Instead, you're sort of seeing this supposedly military-run ship tiptoeing around the women aboard it.

And it's really, deeply, stupid. Because you couldn't function effectively that way, if 1/3 of your crew got "special" treatment by virtue of having breasts. It would piss off everybody - male and female. And before you start arguing about women in the military now, let me remind you that this is supposed to be, like, 3000 years in the future. I'd certainly hope thoughts about what women could be and do and equal relationships between the sexes had improved somewhat by then.

But then, I'm a bit of an optimist SF/F writer, huh.

There's also this weird tension between the Battlestar commander (a man) and the President (a woman). He'll usually just make decisions without her input, like when to jump the fleet, who to attack, when to attack, what's best for everyone, but when it comes to, say, deciding whether or not to leave a lot of people behind, or kill dangerous people, she has to make the decision, even if those people are seen as a military threat.

I love the actress they've got playing the President, and I think she rocks the house, but you know, it's weird. The writers' decisions about when something becomes "her" decision, and when it's "his" seem decided merely based on how suspenseful it'll be. If you want suspense, you have him ask her what she's decided. If you want to move the plot, he just decides on his own.

Really random.

And for all my pissed off bitching, I do keep hoping it'll get better. I keep hoping that Starbuck will really come into her own, that maybe the cardboard too-pretty guy they've got opposite her will somehow develop an actual character, that just because Boomer is a robot doesn't mean she'll be an Evil Robot, that the fucking Cylon in the Red Dress gets blown up for spare parts really soon, that the twitchy scientist guy gets pushed out an airlock, that the President clearly states, "Here's when it's mine. Here's when it's yours," and that at some point, there's an actual likeable guy character who isn't 1) too-pretty and devoid of personality 2) a robot.

Which is like the same thing, I guess.

9 comments so far. What are your thoughts?

Anonymous said...

The chief, Boomer's lover (whose name I can't remember). Not too pretty, and seems to have some personality. IMHO.

I don't remember Starbuck pretending to defer to the scientist guy; I just remember her being shocked at losing a big poker hand to him, since she's obviously been the champ for a while, and then jumping ship on another poker hand because she's freaked by guilty memories. Was there something else I'm forgetting?

Agree totally on the "now he makes the decision, now she makes it" with Adama and the President. 

Posted by Amy Sisson

Anonymous said...

Re: Boomer's lover. Yea, he's OK, but doesn't do anything for me. Something about the way he handled that detonation stuff in "Water." There's something to his personality that doesn't really draw me in.

Starbuck had a weird reaction when he won the poker game (I'm thinking of the one in "Water") - just really weird. He comes up to her to seduce her, and she gives him a heavy look, not like she's gonna go for his bullshit (she does blow smoke in his face), but like she's playing his game with him, and is all set to go to bed with him. It's just... a weird scene to me.

I've only watched up through "Water." I think there was another one last Friday, that I missed...  

Posted by Kameron Hurley

Anonymous said...

The Sci-Fi Channel has a history of screwing things up.

Have you read Ursula K. Le Guin's article about how the Sci-Fi Channel ruined her books?

A Whitewashed Earthsea: How the Sci Fi Channel wrecked my books.The Sci-Fi Channel was supposed to make a miniseries based on the Myst/Riven games, but the Myst/Riven people weren't happy with it so it was shelved. I don't have details, but I heard it was pretty bad.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Excellent point.

I posted an excerpt of your rant on my LJ, with a link to your blog. Here

Posted by Ide Cyan

Anonymous said...

I'm having a similar love/hate relationship with the way women are portrayed on one of my favorite sci fi shows, Farscape.

I tend to watch TV on dvd these days, thanks to netflix, so I watched most of farscape last year, over a period of a few months. The show was cancelled on a cliffhanger, and due to audience petitioning, sci fi made a 4 hour movie to cap the series and give it a real ending.

Thing is, you have a great character in Aeryn Sun--she's a warrior who discovers that she can do other things besides fighting, but she never loses the ability or desire to fight when it comes down to it. She's definitely the bad-ass of the show.

Thing is, they also have her doing these sorts of stereotypically 'female' things--fighting with other women on the ship (in part because somebody is being sexual), and such; and then, even though in the ending movie they have her doing pretty tough things like having a baby in the middle of a battle ("Aeryn, put the gun down for just a second." "But shooting makes me feel better."), they are still having her get with the guy and think 'Hey, a family ain't so bad' (he wanted the kid and she wanted it because he did...). They even have her speculate on how maybe three kids wouldn't be so bad...

I guess I just wanted more than the traditional heterosexist patriarchal sort of ending, with them holding their baby up to the stars. Why wasn't SHE the one who sacrificed herself in battle for the rest of the crew, instead of the big, tough guy?

I'm waiting to get the Battlestar miniseries (which I think launched the series a while ago) on dvd now... 

Posted by jpjeffrey

Anonymous said...

At least they're getting a little better. They're making an attempt. I just wish they didn't always get it so fucking *wrong.* It's like you can see their brains turning, "But if she acts *this* way, she'll be too much like a man, and if she acts too much *this* way, she'll be too girly."

Why don't you just make her a *person,* and let her go out into the wild blue yonder from there? 

Posted by Kameron Hurley

Anonymous said...

I think you should watch the entire series before passing judgement on the characters. Your essay is basically irrelevant because the writers haven't revealed the characters in one fell swoop - they are developing them over the entire series of 13 episodes (and even more to come hopefully). So when you say the show fucks up their opportunity, it is like someone saying to Leonardo Da Vinci that they are disappointed in the Mona Lisa when it was one third finished. You're not getting the whole picture of who these characters are. Try this analysis when the series is further along and it might have more meaning.  

Posted by Valdan

Anonymous said...

Hey Valdan. I'm definately looking at the series with a different eye than you are. Not good or bad, just different.

Good to see that you're enjoying the series so much, though I'd hesitate to compare the writers of BSG to DaVinci, even this early in the game ;)

Posted by Kameron Hurley

Anonymous said...

Can't she just be ass-kicking Starbuck and have people like her anyway? Does she really need to wear a low-cut tank top (way lower cut that any body else's in the room) while she's kicking everybody's ass at poker?
And you know there's this war going on: the director's saying, "These are tough women, but they haven't lost touch with their femininity! More femininity!" Which, somehow, actually means (to this director at least), "Show us that you really need male approval!"
I'd disagree with that statement regarding Starbuck. The impression I get is that she wears what she wears not to gain male approval, but to flaunt her sexuality, in a way. Almost to say "Look what I've got and you haven't, ha ha". She has quite a few of her male colleagues wrapped around her finger- Gaius Baltar and Lee Adama most notably.

I definitely agree with you about wanting to throw Baltar out an airlock ^_^ 

Posted by Low Key