For Battlestar Galactica’s cast, the storylines of the show’s third season (which starts Friday night at 9 p.m. Eastern) caused some soul-searching. In one thread, the human citizens of New Caprica, which is occupied by their robotic Cylon enemy, consider forming an insurgency, and contemplate the use of suicide bombers.
“I remember thinking that it was a very humbling experience to be asked to step into the other shoes, as it were,” said Mary McDonnell, who plays the humans’ former president, Laura Roslin, during an October 3 conference call with TV critics and reporters. Still, McDonnell said, the storylines should give audiences a chance to consider the issues of those in occupied countries throughout history—including those in Iraq right now. “I think we’ve got to clearly identify that possibility within ourselves,” she said.
While some may be turned off by the grim direction of the show in its third season (and for that matter, in previous seasons), executive producer David Eick said the dark tone was appropriate for a show set during wartime. “It’s sort of like asking, ’When we’re seeing war footage from Iraq, can we at least see a birthday party to alleviate the tension?’” Eick said that the show is steeped in the political and social issues of contemporary American society, but that the writers don’t go looking for issues to incorporate into the show, Law and Order-style. The series follows in the tradition of classic science fiction literature with allegorical content. “Somehow, that felt like [that aspect] had been lost in contemporary TV sci fi, and in contemporary movie science fiction as well,” he said.
Eick hopes the series will encourage viewers to question their most deeply-held political beliefs. For example this season the human characters grapple with their own willingness to commit genocide—an atrocity already perpetrated against them by the Cylons in the series’ opening episodes. “A lot of liberals I know were ready to nuke somebody on Sept. 12,” Eick said. “If you see the (humans) moving to a place where something like an act of genocide is a possibility. I don’t know if you say, ’Oh my God, I can’t relate to them anymore.’”
While the show’s dark tone risked alienating casual viewers, the time-leap the series took in its second season finale divided fans. The humans landed on New Caprica with Cylon collaborator Gaius Baltar (James Callis) as their newly elected president; then the timeline jumped forward one year, picking up with the Cylons returning to occupy the planet. Eick said the producers decided to skip foward because New Caprica was a temporary safe haven for the humans, and “...doing a number of episodes where everyone thinks they’re safe and nothing happens doesn’t seem like a wise thing to do.”
Eick said that while previous seasons introduced the human characters and explored their imperfections, season three will deepen the audience’s understanding of the Cylon enemy, showing how they are less evolved in many ways than their human counterparts. At the same time, though, Eick hopes that the new season doesn’t give away too much about the Cylons. The robots’ religion wasn’t originally intended to be a large part of Galactica, he said, until a Sci-Fi channel executive became fascinated by the concept, which was included in a throwaway line in the miniseries. “We really ran with it, and it became more of a functioning M.O. of the Cylons,” he said. But all things considered, the producers would prefer to keep the monotheistic robots shrouded in mystery.
“One of the things we talked about when we decided to go in this direction is that no one liked…Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Special Edition,” Eick said, referring to Steven Spielberg’s 1980 update of his 1977 film, which let the audience enter the previously-unseen interior of the mother ship.
Callis said the third season will find his character in an existential crisis—namely, Baltar will wonder if the Cylons really do have a plan that somehow includes him, and if that makes him a twisted sort of “chosen one.” But he will continue to cope with his guilt over allowing the Cylons to decimate the human race in the series’ opening. “He’s constantly seeking redemption every day,” Callis said.
Although this season’s dramatic situations are new, the actors said their characters would remain consistent.
“I think one thing that you can trust about Laura Roslin is that her passion for the fleet, and for getting them back to Earth no matter what, remains the same,” McDonnell said.
For Callis, that means his character will continue to be plagued by visions of Number Six (Tricia Helfer), a Cylon he was romantically involved with before the attacks. The visions may be hallucinations, or they might be byproducts of a chip implanted by the Cylons; either way, Callis said Baltar accepts her as real. “I don’t believe he believes that she’s a figment of his imagination for one moment,” he said.
House Next Door contributor Todd VanDerWerff is the publisher of the pop culture blog South Dakota Dark.