We head into season one of Battlestar Galactica with a revisit of the tense season opener 33.
Ronald D Moore’s re imagining of the 1970’s sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica set a gold standard, both for sci-fi and TV reboots. The darker, grittier re imagining, that saw a fleet of human ships fleeing the dreaded Cylons in search of Earth, won a whole host of awards and critical acclaims over its seven-year run. With the series looking to go through another quasi-reboot under show runner Michael Lesslie, we look back at the first reboot that defined the early days of twenty-first century television. Now we continue the journey with the opening episode of season one…
The first season of Battlestar Galactica picks up almost immediately after the 2003 mini-series, with the fleet on the run from the Cylons. Unfortunately, the Cylons appear every 33 minutes, forcing them to keep jumping to hyperspace. With exhaustion seeping in, it becomes a desperate race against time to keep 50,000 people alive.
After the grand scope of the mini-series, 33 opens season one with a refreshingly focused, tense episode. Aside from a few brief scenes with Helo on occupied Caprica (a surprising return for Tahmoh Penikett ‘s character), the narrative is focused on the desperate attempts to escape the Cylons. Ironically, for an episode where every member of the cast is extremely sleep deprived, the season opener has plenty if energy. It might as well have a ticking 24-style- clock. A few brief moments of exposition, establishing the episode five days after the fleet escaped, we are thrown into the action, with the first thrilling escape by the fleet, before repeating the same action again and again,
The performances are superb, everyone conveying the extreme deprivation that comes with 130 hours without sleep. The desperation is palatable and there is real tension in every jump, from the ships struggling to repair their FTL drives with seconds to spare, the vipers making crash landings as Cylon missiles close in and the sheer panic when everyone realises they have left a cruise liner, the Olympic Carrier, with 1,300 passengers behind.
The moral quandary at the heart of 33 is the decision what to do with the Olympic Carrier when it suddenly appears shortly after the 33 minute mark has passed with no Cylon attack. Rather cleverly, the fate of the passengers is never revealed; while it is hinted that they were killed by the Cylons after they were left behind and the ship turned into a trap, their fate is never confirmed. When Apollo makes the decision to pull the trigger and destroy the ship, no people are seen within, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. The suggestion that it is a trap, designed to lead the Cylon’s to the fleet’s location every 33 minutes is certainly likely, but the ambiguity of what is happening adds a certain sense of mystery to the narrative.
The relationship between Six and Baltar continues apace, with her role as adviser and enemy continuing to remain blurred. When a doctor with evidence that will implicated Baltar’s involvement in the Cylon attack on the colonies is revealed, he is quickly dispatched – conveniently a member of the doomed Olympic Carrier. The question of whether the Six in Baltar’s mind is actually capable of saving Baltar is certainly intriguing; just what power she has at this stage is one of the series’ biggest mysteries.
Similarly, Six’s manipulative nature asserts itself back on Caprica, as she distracts an exhausted Helo into a staged narrative where he is captured by a Cylon and then rescued by Boomer, sacrificing one of her copies in the process. The relationship between Helo and Boomer is one of Battlestar Galactica‘s other significant story lines and it is interesting to see that set up so nicely here, with the audience on the upper hand over Helo, as well as the storytelling decision to show what life on Caprica is like after the nuclear holocaust and Cylon occupation.
33 is a strong, tense season opener. With numerous character motivations and relationships established in the mini-series, the focus here is on throwing the audience straight into the action and showing that the escape from the Cylons isn’t quite so easy a task. While it is bleak – the loss of the Olympic Carrier is the first of many disasters to follow – there is also some sense of hope. The birth of the baby bringing the dwindling numbers of surviving humans up by one at the episode’s end showing that life will go on. It might just be a very difficult journey to get there…
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