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Preview: Battlestar Galactica's 3rd Season

Following a season finale that had fans scratching their heads in amazement, coupled with a lot of buzz in the off-season, “Battlestar Galactica” returns for a third season tonight, Friday, Oct. 6 at 9 p.m. ET on the SciFi Channel. Producer David Eick tells us that we can expect the show to continue to evolve and challenge its viewers: “It’s not necessarily now about the Cylons chasing us, as you’ll see in season three,” he says. “It’s evolved to more of a race for a common goal…and what that goal is and why both sides are after it is part of what we spend the first half of the season exploring.”

If you saw the second season ender, you may recall that the colonists decided to settle on a planet, believing they were finally safe and leaving the Galactica with a skeleton crew. A year passes, and the Cylons find the humans again when a nuke is detonated. It was an ending most viewers never anticipated, and led to much speculation and shock. Eick says the device of moving time forward so far was simply the best way to advance the plot. “They needed to exist through that period in such a way that they believed themselves to be safe,” Eick says. “People had their minds blown by it, people thought it was a trick, people thought it was a dream, people thought it was a gimmick. For the most part people seemed to really respond to it in a very favorable way, but the truth is, it wasn’t a gimmick at all; it was really just the most practical way to tell that story.”

Cut to this new season, which promises to bring new challenges and new roles to the crew of the Galactica—and to their enemy. “Let’s see how these antagonists, whom we’ve generally assumed nothing but the worst from, have their own sympathies—have ways in which they’re not exactly perfect, how they are stunted and less evolved on some fundamental front than the humans,” says Eick. “It’s a very interesting—and I think bold and risky—way to go, because the heart of the show has always been about, in a way, how the Cylons and humans are so eerily alike. And I think what we’re saying with the first half of season three is, ‘Not so fast. They’re quite different, and here’s how.”

Is he worried about taking away too much of the Cylons’ mystique? “Absolutely, I think that’s a vitally critical concern to have,” he admits. “I think one of the key things we decided was not to attempt to depict something that remains fundamentally mysterious or inscrutable about the nature of their culture, but instead to go at the more mundane aspects of their existence. How do they function together, how do they coordinate themselves in such a way that they fly a ship, how do they move, how do they transport, how do they argue, how they arrive at decisions, how do they arrive at conclusions?”

“Battlestar Galactica” has been creating waves since the beginning, when it was billed as a “re-imagining” of the 1979 television show that lasted just one season and was considered an imitation of “Star Wars.” Since then the new series has marked a path for itself as a commentary on current social and political events—Eick admits as much, although he notes that he doesn’t cut storylines out of the day’s headlines. Instead, he just lets his interest in current events flow effortlessly into the storytelling. “All the key people involved in the very beginning—myself, Ron Moore and the network, the SciFi Channel, were of the mind that the world didn’t need another space opera and that there was already ‘Star Trek’ and all its imitators, and all of its spinoffs. Why do another story about a ship in outer space, unless there was some way of introducing something different to that subgenre?” He says he felt the allegorical political commentary of science fiction legends like Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Robert A. Heinlein, Philip K. Dick and others had been lost, “so it wasn’t so much about coming up with a new idea as it was going back to an old one which is: ‘Let’s use science fiction as a prism or as a smokescreen as it was invented to be, to discuss and to investigate the issues of the day.'”

In season one, a parallel could be made between the American military and the crew of the Galactica, fighting Cylons who seemed a bit like Islamic fundamentalist terrorists. The third season flips this dynamic and turns the Cylons into occupiers with humans as insurgents and freedom fighters. Eick explains, “I think really the motivation for a lot of what you’re seeing just has to do with the fact that there’s an obligation to evolve the show itself conceptually past the point of, ‘Holy smokes, there’s a Cylon, make a run for it!’ You can juice that concept so much before it just becomes repetitive, or worse--you so successfully outrun, outgun and destroy and escape from the Cylons that they become a paper tiger and it doesn’t matter when they show up. It’s a real trick to say to yourself, ‘Okay, that worked well-let’s stop doing it.’”

The current storyline will certainly unsettle many viewers who regularly tune into the dark intensity of the show—and the actors, naturally, aren’t immune either. James Callis, who plays Baltar, has this to say. “Knowing that occupation and torture and brainwashing …goes on makes you realize how important it is when you’re doing the show to try and show the reality, because you’re dealing with real people who are going through this today. It’s alarming to have that mantle thrust upon you, and you don’t want to diminish anybody’s pain or suffering.”

Mary McDonnell, who plays Laura Rosyln, adds, “I remember that we were all very, very surprised at the amount of emotional turmoil that it brought up in all of us, even though we knew what we were about to do and what we were about to commit to. To a certain extent it felt like we were given a opportunity to mature as human beings by having to look at ourselves that way.”

With its messages about war, along with sometimes disturbing images, watching “Battlestar Galactica” can be difficult at times. But don’t expect the series to change its dark tone anytime soon. Eick says, “This is a war show. As long as we want to be true to that we have to acknowledge that there will remain an element, more or less, of ongoing stress and tension that informs these people’s very lives.”

The occupation of the colony isn’t the only issue the characters will be grappling with this season. We hear tell of plotlines involving a possible pandemic virus and decisions about genocide, the implications of the way Laura Roslyn’s life was saved, and a hint that Roslyn might a) get to battle with a Cylon or b) show a more personable and private side or c) both. But if you’re wondering whether or not this epic story has a real plan, don’t worry. There’s a story arc in place and the producers know exactly where they will take “Battlestar Galactica.” Eick reveals, “There’s certainly a direction—there’s very definitely a plan. And…how the colonials and the Cylons find themselves oddly on the same track with the same agenda is part of what we get into in very short order in season three. And that should hopefully satisfy viewers who have been wondering if we’ve been making this up as we go along, because the answer to that is no.”

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