4 1/2 years ago, I lived in a small studio apartment in Richmond, Virginia where I was attending Virginia Commonwealth University and quickly coming to the realization that it was the wrong school and program for me (not quickly enough, however, to avoid nearly doubling my student loan debt in that one year). Joya was living in New York City and I was making regular Greyhound pilgrimages up to the city while trying to hold myself together in the face of an increasing sense of disconnectedness from myself and the world. My IBM Thinkpad was equipped with USB 1.0 and 802.11b, and I spent something like $200 for a 120 GB external hard drive. I probably weighed about 15 – 20 pounds lighter than I do now. I didn’t have dark bags under my eyes (those occurred in NYC). I was still smoking, but my stage combat class had me moving and stretching like I hadn’t moved and stretched in years. In fact, that class remains one of the highlights of my time in Richmond and to this day I miss having the opportunity to play with a rapier and dagger.
Because I hadn’t had cable for several years, I’d missed the mini-series re-boot of one of my favorite shows when I was a kid: Battlestar Galactica.
When I was eight or so, I adored Battlestar Galactica and had no conception of just how badly written and directed it was. I loved it. I loved the Vipers that Starbuck and Apollo and Boomer piloted and would draw them over and over again when I was bored in school or at home. My drawing repertoire was never very large, and that Colonial Viper was just about the only thing I ever learned to draw well. And then, of course, there was Starbuck who seemed so frakkin’ awesome to me back then with his charm and grin and anti-authoritarian streak. He was a rogue and played by his own rules: exactly what I was so very not. Battlestar Galactica was a weekly adventure that thrilled me no matter how often they recycled the same canned footage for their battle scenes. I have no doubt that the premise, underdogs on the run and persecuted by a remorseless and relentless force, tapped into my own experience of the world as a child. Don’t misunderstand, I had a healthy and happy and overall uneventful childhood. But what child doesn’t see the adult world as generally oppressive and cast him or herself as the beleaguered hero in their own drama?
The mini-series and first season of the new Battlestar Galactica had come and gone by the time I started paying attention and so, one evening I took a look around and found that, yes indeedy, the mini-series was available as a bittorrent download and so I figured I’d check it out.
One of the powers given to a television series that sets it apart from other storytelling mediums is just how intimately its stories become woven into the fabric of our lives. Here I’m speaking specifically of the experience of watching a series as it airs. These days it is relatively easy to watch entire seasons of a series on dvd or through downloads or on Hulu.com, and watch them in an extremely compressed time frame, and I’ve done my share of obsessively watching a season or an entire series in a matter of days or weeks (13 episodes of Journeyman in 2 days, the entire series of Carnivale in 2 weeks, 2 seasons of Dead Like Me in 1 week, and the mini-series and first season of Battlestar Galactica in 3 days are just a few examples). As much as I might admire or fall in love with a series watched in such a way, the emotional impact of having a long term connection to a show can’t be recreated with such a compressed form of viewing. The act of coming back to a set of characters, of transporting yourself to another world week after week after week can build an emotional connection that cannot be matched by film or theatre. Doctor Who, X-Files, Twin Peaks, Northern Exposure, Buffy: these were all series that became part of the fabric of my life in deeply interesting and compelling ways.1 Did these shows change my life? Did the recent Battlestar Galactica change my life?
Of course. Not in any profound, I’m-a-completely-different-person kind of way, but everything we encounter in life changes us in small and subtle ways. Powerful stories, whether in film, on television, in books, on stage, or told to us a grandparent, a lover, or an utter stranger will always change us in some fashion.
Stories and change are what it means to be human.
Last night I watched the final episode of Battlestar Galactica. In the time that I’ve been watching the show, I have left Richmond, moved in with Joya in NYC for what was the longest and most intimate relationship of my life, started and left a Ph.D. program, shared the sad realization with Joya that we needed to go our separate ways despite our love for each other, and left New York City. I have made an abortive but still emotionally useful attempt to move to New Mexico, decided to become a consultant and open my own business, realized that what I really want is to return to Academia and get my Ph.D. I have moved back to Providence, started temping for Kelly Services2, have designed the sound for eight plays, and applied to Brown University’s Ph.D. program for Theatre and Performance Studies and was rejected. I have faced and fought a number of my own personal demons, sometimes winning, sometimes losing. I have quit smoking, gained weight, and have somehow wandered to the edge of my 30s and am peering, a bit uneasily, into the unblinking eyes of my 40s.
When I moved to NYC and moved in with Joya, I turned her on to the series in time for us to watch the second season in the episodic, weekly format. Later, she got her parents and sister hooked on the series while I did the same with my parents. The past 10 weeks of the show have been tinged with a sadness that lies outside of show coming to a conclusion because I have very much missed watching the show with Joya. Battlestar Galactica has overlapped an often rewarding and often turbulent period in my life that is indelibly marked by my relationship with Joya. She and I have shared an ongoing connection through the show since we moved apart last July because, even apart, we have been able to share in this tangible remnant of our life and love together. For the last 10 weeks we have been spending time in the same story even as we write entirely different stories for ourselves in the real world.
Good stories are my favorite things in the whole wide world. A good story is a gift. Sometimes we are lucky enough to be the storyteller and give a gift the emanates solely from within ourselves. More often, however, we encounter a story out in the world that touches us deeply or makes us laugh or offers us a piece of ourselves we’d thought lost along the way. We then loan the book to a close friend, or drag her to the movie theatre, or get him watching a particular show, or manage to get her to the theatre. The joy I receive when giving a story to someone I care about fills me with warmth and smiles and a dizzy excitement.
Never let anyone tell you that feeling deeply and passionately about a story is silly. Never close yourself off to a good story just because it may come in a format you aren’t very familiar with.
Battlestar Galactica may not have been a perfect story—the facts of producing a television show rarely make for the creation of perfection—but it was a good story, told honestly and with a love for its characters even when those characters’ actions led to pain, loss, and betrayal. This show was also a remarkable story in many ways, principally because of its strong commitment to gender equality, its commitment to examining deeply political and ethical questions without giving the audience clear-cut answers as to what is right and what is wrong, and its portrayal of love and sex through the bodies of older actors. Ron Moore and David Eick, along everyone who worked on the program, have given us a gift forged in creativity, effort, thoughtfulness, laughter, pain, and love.
So, to all of you who brought this story into my life and to all of you who have shared this story with me, I offer you my gratitude.
Was last night’s episode perfect? No. Could I spend another 1000 – 2000 words offering a critique of what didn’t work in the conclusion. Yes, and probably will in the coming days. Right now, however, I am letting myself savor the final chapter to a story I have lived with for several years. I am letting myself feel the precious weight of this gift I’ve been given: this story that has touched me, made me laugh, and made me cry. I am letting myself mourn the loss of a story and cast of characters that made me think about what it means to be human and what it means to be brave and what it means to love.
You will be missed, Battlestar Galactica.
So say we all.