Battlestar Galactica Revisited: 1.03 Bastille Day
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 season one's Bastille Day
Bastille Day is the first point at which Battlestar Galactica looks ahead to what humanity might look like after the Cylon genocide of the twelve colonies. The first two episodes of season one dealt with the perilous escape from the Cylons and the first sleeper agent attack and loss of critical water supplies. While Bastille Day continues a number of plot threads from Water, it also examines the question of how a new society might look like moving forward from the crisis.
It is also the first episode to really delve into what makes Apollo tick. We've seen his relationships with his father, Starbuck and the President, but Bastille Day breaks the golden boy facade just a little in his interactions with terrorist Tom Zarek (the original Battlestar Galactica's Apollo, Richard Hatch). Reading Zarek's prohibited book back in college, this episode suggests he certainly has some sympathies with Zarek's motivations, even if he isn't willing to resort to violence to achieve his goals. It is Apollo that sets in motion the presidential elections that will come to have such a dramatic fallout in season two. He see's through Zarek's violent tendencies and latches on to the good ideas, even if it is not what Roslin or his father want. An election might not be the easiest path right now, but it is the democratic thing.
While Jamie Bamber certainly offers more depth to Apollo this episodes, it also helps that he has a worthy adversary to face off. Hatch delivers a strong performance, never falling into the stock big bad of the prison population but proving to be just as dangerous. His entrance - the lone figure to emerge from the cells at the offer of work in exchange for potential freedom - makes for an impressive character debut and he will continue to be another fascinating recurring player in future episodes.
The episode certainly keeps a number of plates spinning when it comes to the conflict between characters. As well as Apollo and Zarek, the tension between Adama and Roslin remains palatable, with Apollo stuck between them and against them in his actions on the prison ship. The barely repressed hatred between Starbuck and Tigh also adds another interesting element; Tigh's anger at her laid back, jokey pilot briefing, her remarks about the stink of alcohol on his breath. There's also some nice interplay between Billy and Dualla, as his admiration for the petty officer has disastrous consequences; not just for the hostage situation they find themselves in, but for how hopelessly out of his depth Billy is when he tries to engage Dualla in any form of conversation.
Six in Baltar's head is one of the show's best elements and this episode is no different. Tricia Helfer slinks between sexual manipulation and open fury as she coerces Baltar into obtaining a nuclear warhead from Adama. It's interesting how quickly the commander picks up on Baltar's BS, while there is plenty of humour and tension to be derived from James Callis's performances as the doctor desperately tries to navigates the conversation in the room with the one in his head.
Bastille Day is a slower episode than the two episodes that preceded it, but still packs plenty in. The violence and tension on the prison ship - particularly the scene where Callie bites off the ear of her would-be attacker - shows just how dark Battlestar Galactica is willing to get. The character work continues to be outstanding, with several different relationships and rivalries taking place in the space of just one episode. The serialised nature also means there is plenty of room to explore the fallout of last episode - Boomer's continued paranoia and the desperation over the lack of water in the fleet - while building up to future story lines in a meaningful way. Some ideas, like the presidential election, won't pay off until the season two finale.
And yet it also manages something of a happy ending. Zarek agrees to provide the manpower to mine the ice. Democracy is honoured with the promise of a future presidential election. Roslin is able to trust Apollo enough to confide in him about her cancer diagnosis. While Battlestar Galactica is often dark and gritty, there is something hopeful about humanity's fight for survival; and Bastille Day shows that there is still plenty of fight left...