If you missed yesterday's TV Talk what with the turkey frenzy, here's a second chance. Razor airs at 7 p.m. Saturday on Sci Fi and you should watch it.
Terrorism. Torture. Genocide. The rule of law. Religious extremism. Sacrificing freedom for safety.
While the topics sound like the day’s discussion on “The McLaughlin Group,” for my money, you can’t find a smarter, more nuanced look at the big questions than the Sci Fi Channel’s “Battlestar Galactica.”
The beauty of the show — besides the compelling story, the great performances and the not-bad-for-cable special effects — is its unflinching look at the choices people make under enormous pressure.
If you haven’t seen “Galactica,” Sci Fi is offering a two-hour taste of everything great and grim about it at 7 p.m. Saturday with “Battlestar Galactica: Razor.”
It’s a two-hour movie that branches off from the main story line — a distant human civilization is all but destroyed in a surprise attack by a race of intelligent robots, the Cylons, and a few survivors struggle toward a lost outpost called Earth.
That, of course, is also the plot of the original, 1978 “Battlestar Galactica” that inspired the modern series. While the near-complete destruction of humanity was simply a device to set a campy sci-fi plot in motion for the ’78 version, in the modern take, the genocide informs its characters’ every twitch as they wrestle with both surviving and survivor’s guilt.
“Razor” fills a long dry spell between “Battlestar’s” third season, which ended in March, and its fourth and final season, which won’t premiere until April 2008. It also fills in the back story of the Battlestar Pegasus, which entered the plot in the second season.
Whereas the titular Battlestar Galactica survived the initial attack and rounded up a group of civilian ships to flee toward safety, the Pegasus was left alone under the stern authority of the ship’s commander, Admiral Helena Cain (Michelle Forbes).
In “Razor,” Cain delivers one of the more stirring calls to arms ever seen on the small screen, telling her crew, “A philosopher once said, ‘When faced with untenable choices you should consider your imperative.’ Look around you. Our imperative is right here: in our bulkheads, in our planes, in our guns and in ourselves. War is our imperative, and if right now victory seems like an impossibility, then there is something else to reach for: revenge.”
The Pegasus’ story is told in a series of flashbacks, set against a oneoff plot about a mission to a renegade Cylon outpost with a hideous secret.
It’s a shame the show had to wait three season to tell the story, since the Pegasus’ story of duty and sacrifice forms a nice counterpoint to the Galactica’s tales of political intrigue and power struggles.
Like “Galactica” — which followed a plot thread on the horrors that religious extremism can unleash with a story in which suicide bombers were the good guys — “Razor” sets up its characters to make impossible choices and neither condemns nor condones their decisions.
I realize a lot of TV viewers will never get past the cognitive dissonance produced by a science-fiction show tackling such serious subjects. And a lot of other folks have an understandable reluctance to watch such a grim program. But stepping outside our world and our times, and stepping away from realism, is what gives “Galactica” the freedom to do this stuff and gives viewers the perspective to think about it.
And, for fans of the show who might be put off by a spinoff that doesn’t advance the main show’s plot, let me warn you: There’s one very large plot reveal right at the end of “Razor” that should make the wait for Season 4 seem even longer.