To someone who has never watched this show, now entering its fourth and final season, it must seem like a curious beast indeed. Just how did a remake of a camp seventies show about killer robots that airs on a network as unfashionably geeky as the Sci-Fi channel become arguably the finest hours entertainment on the tube? Even the name – Battlestar Galactica – it sounds more like a nickname a nerd gives his Honda civic than a TV show worthy of our time. So what gives? Well the answer is deceptively simple – it’s not really about killer robots at all.

Yes, the show’s premise is a battered and besieged fleet of ships safeguarding the last remnants of humanity from total destruction at the hands of the Cylons (man made robotic creatures that rebelled and damn near wiped us out), but that’s just a drop in a vast thematic ocean. With that as a jumping off point, the producers have spent the last fours years fashioning the lost and helpless 40,000 odd survivors into a microcosm of the human social dynamic.

Like rats trapped together, marooned in deep space aboard dilapidated freighters and glorified submarines, the people of twelve colonies cling steadfastly to a centuries old religious prophecy that a dying leader will lead them to a distant planet known as Earth. On the way the show explores the role of government, the role of religion, the role of religion within the government and peppers it all with heady meditations on the nature of mortality.

While there are countless sci-fi shows that depict a desperate struggle to save our species from a terrifying, technically superior aggressor, what separates Galactica from the pack is its willingness to confront the tough questions; are we actually worthy of being saved? Lacing that central question with subplots ranging from forced occupation and insurgency to prisoner interrogation and secret death squads, this is a series that resonates eerily close to home rather than the distant stars.

As the aforementioned dying leader, president Laura Roslin (a standout performance from Mary McDowell) shifting from righteous idealist to self-righteous fascist, to a burnt out shell, will surely go down as one of televisions all-time great story arcs. Similarly, the crew has slowly disintegrated from square-jawed embodiments of our finest principles to a hateful, demoralized mob filled with venomous contempt that can barely look each other in the eye.

Lacking the bells and whistles that come with a major network budget Ronald D. Moore and the rest of the Galactica brain trust were forced into artistic compromise something akin to Spielberg and the infamous broken shark saga. Using the same handful of interior sets over and over really does give off an a suffocating air of industrial horror, the kind one would rightly breath if entombed aboard a floating hunk of metal in deep space with no end and no escape. You enter the show bright eyed and hopeful and you exit, dirty, sweaty and craving sunlight.

With official confirmation that this is indeed the show’s final season Moore and the rest of the producers deserve all the credit in the world for what they’ve achieved here. With a budget that wouldn’t finance a trip to the zoo, they’ve shown that idea is king and strong scripting simply make budget constraints a non-issue. Given that this is also the highest-rated show in the network’s history, they deserve even more praise for going out at the top of its game and telling the story they want to tell, rather than simply milking it purely for dollars.

Starring: Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, Katee Sackhoff, Jamie Bamber, James Callis, Tricia Helfer, Grace Park, Michael Hogan, Aaron Douglas, Tahmoh Penikett, Michael Trucco, Alessandro Juliani
Created By: Ronald D. Moore

Network: SyFy

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