Back in 2004 Game of Thrones was known only in book format and quality standards of television series were not on par with Hollywood blockbusters. When Battlestar Galactica first featured in its pilot miniseries it was astoundingly top quality with actors, Edward James Olmos (Blade Runner, Stand and Deliver) and Mary McDonnell (Independence Day and Donie Darko) playing leads. This quality was maintained throughout the four (five) seasons of this sci-fi series and despite its age, it is still up there with contemporary TV productions. Battlestar Galactica is on my must see list for sci-fi fans and also polytheists, it offers a refreshing and stark change from the norms in the genre of sci-fi.
Somewhat reminiscent of its 1970’s original, the premise is humanity lives in a decadent space-faring society that spans across twelve planets known as The Colonies. It is set forty years after a devastating war with robot creations called Cylons, who have maintained mysterious truce since the war. As the war becomes forgotten memory old style Battlestars (military spaceships), which intentionally lack automated computers, are being decommissioned. The Battlestar Glactica is the last of its kind. On the day of its ceremonial retirement the Cylons orchestrate a near perfect attack to wipe out humanity, disabling newer Battlestars with a computer virus and dropping nukes on each of the Twelve colonies, reducing humanity from many billions to only 40,000 survivors. Battlestar Galactica being one of the last military vessels remaining eventually discovers a civilian fleet and flee the old homeworlds in search of a mythical thirteenth colony, known as Earth. All the while being hotly pursued by the Cylons.
From the premise one would assume that this series follows sci-fi conventions. I.e. The Terminator meets Star Trek, however it dispels this with its realism and emphasise on religion. First off it deals with a society that is reeling from the shock of devastation, it’s impossible to not notice that this is a post 9/11 production. The society vainly attempts to maintain old idealist institutions like democracy, individual rights and crimes against humanity. But in the face of survival and war these ideals fall through, with each character being flawed and ultimately corrupt. This is a nice change from Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek utopian society of peaceful space explorers where even in the most devastating situations result in a strict inhuman rational and lack of emotion. It’s the realism of Battlestar which has drawn some criticism. It is reflective of the time of its production, when waterboarding was a mainstream term and images of Abu Ghraib were being published in newspapers. The lack of morals and struggle for survival likewise include torture, rape being used as torture, human-like creations being subjected to non-identities -labelled as objects, machines. A different form of racism with Cylons and racial abuse. It’s these themes that some viewers may be put off, but I find this bleakness to be very fitting for a show that is primarily focused on what is it to be a human.
The sci-fi genre is often an outlet for atheism, if religion is featured it’s typically an exotic trait or not shared with the main heroes. For example: Star Trek where religion is considered a primitive quality of by-gone era of humanity, Star Gate which plays on the ancient astronaut theory that all gods are evil space alien parasites, Farscape and Firefly both feature religious type characters that are at odds with everyone else and/or weirdos compared to the atheist crew.
Battlestar instead presents religion as an active and important part of characters’ lives, thus a theme for the show itself. (This, naturally, has drawn criticism from sci-fi fans who typically abhor anything religious). In Battlestar humanity is a polytheist culture that worship the Twelve Lords of Cobol, in every sense –including names– the Twelve Olympian gods. Priests, sacred text, placenames like Delphi, prophecy and artefacts play prominent roles in the story that point towards finding earth.
The Cylons are monotheist and worship a One True God, later the Cylon religion becomes an aspect of some character arches, which are somewhat similar to Christ (though you could say, a parodied of Christ).
It’s with these themes I find interesting and why I recommend to polytheists. There are events that occur which cannot be explained other than divine intervention, certain characters that feature throughout the entire series that cannot be anything other than some divine manifestation or holy guide. While watching the series I predicted that these themes would result in an atheist resolution, i.e. the gods are not real, they are some alien or archetype from forgotten history. At times the show even hints at this. However I was pleasantly surprised with the conclusion where questions of the divine were left opened and unanswered. Compared to sci-fi series this is totally refreshing to observe and welcomed.
So if you’re unfamiliar with this series, need something to binge watch, interested is positive depictions of polytheist cultures in media, check out Battlestar Galactica.
Additional Bonus: The unfortunately short-lived spinoff Caprica likewise deals with some of these themes. That series has a different attitude to the bleakness of BSG and at times a little silly. I liked the series too, but understand why it was not more popular.