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September 24, 2005

Battlestar Galactica - Pegasus

In rereading my comments on the first season's ending I would say much the same but add that the writers have not strayed from presenting us with the deep, dark, twisted emotions, motivations, desires and sins of humans in crisis. We all like to believe that most people will act heroic in the clinches, but even a cursory look at the thousands of years of human history shows that those who even minimally struggle with morality in an attempt to do good are just not in the majority.

Jeff Harrell quips:

When Baltar is the character who’s on the strongest moral ground, you know you’re seriously being fucked with.
No shit, Sherlock, but you know this is the serious type of fucking where you just lay back and enjoy it.

Honestly, the writing for Pegasus was superb in sounding discordant notes even in the midst of happiness at the BS Pegasus' arrival. Cmdr Adama heard his own words echoed back when Cain expressed dismissive doubt about President Roslin, "The Secretary of Education?". That small throw-away line holds up in relief the long journey both Roslin and Adama have taken over the past two seasons.

Adama's own mistakes also come back to haunt him as (even though he wished it) Cain makes a cursory look at his logs, rejects the context and proceeds to take over even as she had promised him she wouldn't interfere in his ship.

The pressure is relentless and from the condition of the Pegasus' Six-cylon prisoner (wonderfully telegraphed to the audience by Baltar's covering his nose as he first gasps when entering the brig) to Cain's sending her "Cylon interrogator" to rape Sharon, we wonder what really goes on on Pegasus and do we really want to know?

One of the commenters on Jeff's post (yes, he opened his comments for this one) makes the great comparison that Helena Cain is really Kurtz from Heart of Darkness. Certainly Cain doesn't feel any moral constraint in doing things her way, even if it means a few human bodies along the way. Adama and Roslin, for all their own flaws, by their own struggle to "do right" many times struggled against each other. However, their conflict was a conflict of morality and as they fought, they were able achieve some perspective of the other.

BSG allows for this subtle morality play where each flawed individual struggles with the question "should I do this? why am I doing this?" And with two powerful entities, as embodied by Adama and Roslin, the civilian government and the military, their conflicts help keep both sides honest. Cain has "gone up river" and her actions show (including her deliberate action not to talk with President Roslin or supply the civilian fleet) she believes herself beyond conventional morality.

I know I approached BSG long ago with the fear that they just couldn't maintain this level of writing. I worried that the suits would demand something more schlocky, more "marketable", more pablum to attract the 15-22 y/o male demographic. I worried that somewhere along the line, BSG would "sell out"

I take heart in this blurb from Ron Moore as he relates a moral dilemma he faced some years back between giving in and 'playing ball' with the suits or being true to his vision and seeing a pilot he wanted die. Seems in the midst of this he found himself participating on a panel at the Museum of Television and Radio along with Harlan Ellison

At the end, the final question was put to all of us was “Do you have any advice for young writers starting out?” It’s a familiar question, and to be honest, I have a stock response, (which I will someday bore readers of this blog with when I really need material) and I gave it in my usual inimitable fashion, congratulating myself on having held my own throughout the night.

But when the question came around to Harlan, he leaned forward into the microphone, and with all the passion and ferocity I remembered so well from that convention stage in Stony Brook he said:

“Don’t be a whore!”

The world quite literally spun around me under the hot lights and it felt as though the Universe was conveying a message directly to me. It was so simple. “Don’t be a whore!” Don’t write crap because they pay you well. Don’t put your name on something that you know will suck. Don’t sacrifice whatever integrity you have as a writer for a check.

The next day, during the infamous conference call, there came the point my agent had warned me would come, when I either played ball and went with the script I knew in my heart was terrible or my beloved pilot was going to die, and when that moment came, Harlan’s words rang in my ears like the church bells above Quasimodo’s head.

“Don’t be a whore!”

I wasn’t. The project died. And I have been grateful to Harlan Ellison ever since.

As long as Ron Moore is captaining the ship, I've booked full passage.

Posted by Darleen at September 24, 2005 12:01 AM


The one scene where that officer from Pegasus is 'interrogating' Sharon in the brig was a little un-nerving for my wife and I; we had to tell our 11-year old daughter to close her eye while the seen played out (she's watched all of the episodes and we're pretty adapt at 'pre-censoring' the nasty stuff for her).

And of course....they leave you with a cliff-hanger as the season finale. Grrrr....

Posted by: Mad Mikey at September 26, 2005 12:19 PM

I very good post. Pegasus was amazing. I don't think I've ever seen better sci fi than that. Heck, Moore is writing tighter scripts than anything out there right now.

Posted by: Carlos at September 30, 2005 11:39 PM