ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON 8/17/09
We all know that the new Galactica sort of wore out its welcome with me, we all know it crapped out in the end, we all know I'm not the most unbiased of people when it comes to that show. I'm still smarting from the fact that I slavishly followed it along for half a decade only to have it whip me around and pants me publicly in its final episode. I admit that up front.
We also know that over the last half-decade it's been trendy for people to denigrate the original Galactica as "That stupid, cheezy 70s show with the stupid costumes and the disco haircuts," as though it had nothing good about it; as though it was a complete ant total Science Fiction wasteland with nothing to offer. A *lot* of people who liked the new show either never watched the original, or hadn't seen it in 30 years and had very faulty memories of it, but either way they kept dismissing it as "Stupid" and "Childish" and "Embarasing.
Now, I'll be the first person to admit that The Original Galactica (Hereafter "TOG") had more than its share of problems. The show was a trainwreck in progress from the start, overbudget, under-staffed, behind schedule, and forsaken by the network almost before it hit the air. There are some episodes that are undeniably just plain bad, and even some embarasing bits. That said, whether by design or accident, the show had some surprisingly raw qualities, and the glimmers of Cylon society that we got, which were, frankly, really compelling and quite a bit more complex than the oversexed semi-immortal supermodel clones from the new show.
For those who've never seen it, or who were kids when they last saw it, I'll explain the differences 'twixt the new show and TOG.
For starters, Baltar wasn't an anonymous computer genius in the original show, he was a corrupt politician, a member of the Council of the Twelve, and the dictator of Orion, one of the twelve colonies. He'd been secretly working with the Cylons for decades, and struck a bargain with them wherein he'd betray the other 11 colonies and they - the Cylons - would let him keep his own colony. Not unpredictably, the Cylons screw him over. Baltar is furious, "My colony was to be spared," he shouts at the Imperious Leader (The guy in charge of the cylons in that iteration). The Leader tells him the bargain has changed. "How can you change one side of a Bargain?" Baltar demands.
"When there is no other side. You have missed the entire purpose of the war. So long as one human survives, we are vulnerable. Goodbye, Baltar, we thank you for your efforts"
In the movie version of Galactica, he's executed then. In the series, however, the Imperious Leader is killed at the end of the first episode and Baltar is given a reprieve. He's given a base ship, a Cylon crew, and an IL-Series Cylon as his sidekick/first officer named "Lucifer." For most of the season, Baltar and Lucifer are Inspector Gerrarding the Galactica. Here's some clips to refresh your memory:
Neither here nor there, but I've been repeatedly told that series creator Glenn Larson made up the name "Baltar" specifically for the show. I bought that until 1986 when I was involved in a car accident with a guy named "Angel Baltar." Really! Anway, ignoring my own driving record, what's interesting about the TV Baltar is that we learn a lot of information about Cylon Society from the Baltar/Lucifer pairing, and they're quite a far cry from the remorseless killing machines we all remember. There are at least four kinds of cylons, for instance:
2a) Gold-Plated Centurions. These appear to be "Officer" Models.
3) IL-Series Centurions like Lucifer
4) The Imperious Leader himself, a class of one.
These are all machines, of course, and though we know little of the Civilians, it appears the inteligence level goes up considerably as you climb the scale from Centurion on up.
The IL-series cylons, we find, are actually specifically programmed to be conniving, cheating, and duplicitous. The reason being this fencing between them is a form of evolution or natural selection in which the most scheming, flexible-thinking of cylons survive, the less tractable ones don't. The Imperious Leader is selected from the most competent of IL-series, when they need a new one that is, which isn't very often. (The one who dies at the start of the series is a thousand years old). This ensures that the new Imperious Leader will be one seriously smart, seriously bad dude, which is considered a good thing in Cylon society. We also learn that Cylons - even the centurions - consider themselves to be alive, and don't want to throw away their lives for nothing.
Baltar: "They're machines, aren't they? They'll do what they're told..."
Lucifer: "We are all machines, Baltar, even you, of a different sort."
Wow! That's pretty avant garde for 1978, isn't it?
As you saw in the clip, Lucifer was quite taken with Baltar's own manipulative tendencies. "He's so devious! We have much to learn from him!" They don't hang a sign over it or anything, but I love, love, love the idea that Count Baltar of Orion is so bad that he's giving Lucifer himself evil-lessons. Talk about meta-humor!
In the second episode, Baltar tracks the Galactica to Kobol, the lost motherworld of humanity. There he hatches a crazy scheme which he never lets his cylons in on, but he later explains it to Adama. In a nutshell, he claims to be an innocent pawn who was captured by the Cylons at the armistice (He's lying). He claims to have been to their homeworld, and was sent after them to give a message of coexistence (He's telling the truth). He says that the Cylon forces are stretched way the hell too thin, and the homeworld is all-but-undefended, and that one battlestar could overthrow the Cylons if it got close enough (He's probably telling the truth here). He tells Adama to *pretend* to be his prisoner, his ship will escort the Galactica back to Cylon as a prize vessel, they'll attack, the Cylon Empire will fall, and they'll rebuild it with humans in charge. (This is actually a good plan!) His unstated angle is that he, Baltar, will be the emperor of this new Human/Cylon empire, but still...
Back on the Base Ship, Lucifer is in Baltar's throne "Just trying it out." In a breif conversation with a Centurion, we hear the following:
Centurion: "Our orders were very specific. We were to escort the Galactica as prisoners."
Lucifer: "Yes. The thing that intrigues me about that is exactly who was to whom's prisoner..."
Again, wow! Lucifer knows that Baltar is completely un-trustworthy and working on his own agenda. And yet he tolerates it? Why? Because "We have much to learn from him" - in other words, Lucifer believes that Baltar's own unhinged, unpredictable duplicity will give him - Luficer - an advantage when dealing with the other IL-series cylons! Lucifer wants to be emperor some day!
Lucifer and Baltar are a great team, perhaps because they're both the same kind of megalomaniacs. Their aims are the same - to be the unquestioned, sole, godlike ruler of their people. This makes them uniquely interesting to watch, particularly as Lucifer is clearly fascinated by Baltar. Baltar appears to develop a somewhat-grudging appreciation for his first officer as well, though it's quite obvious that neither of them trust the other. (And Lucifer apparently attempts to kill Baltar in one episode, resulting in the human having a pronounced limp in a subsequent episode). Making this weird-as-hell chemistry better is the always-great John Colicos (who played Kor, the original Klingon in Star Trek:TOS) and Johnathan Harris (Dr. Smith from Lost in Space) giving his over-mannered, fey, undeniably mellifluous voice to Lucifer. The devil was, after all, reputed to be silver-tongued.
Added to which, they're quietly funny, you know? Baltar's scenery-chewing condescension versus Lucifer's cattyness. It's fun. And of course since the original show was steeped in the whole "Ancient Astronauts" thing (Stupid as that is), it seems likely that the Lucifer we meet on the show was at one point or another intended to be the *real* Lucifer from the Bible.
And then there's Baltar. The man is a marvel. Colicos took an oily one-note Judas and turned him in to an endlessly interesting puzzle. His performances are always fun to watch in a way that you only got in 60s/70s TV, and you simply don't see anymore. He spins everything to his own advantage. He's utterly, completely, compellingly evil. He tried to kill 44 Billion people to secure his own advantage, and he doesn't care. He ended up killing 48 Billion because he didn't plan things through well enough, and yet he still just treats that as an "Oops." When sent out by the new Imperious Leader to offer an olive branch to the humans and thereby end the conflict - which, by the way, I'm sure was an on-the-level deal - Baltar *IMMEDIATELY* corrupts that to his own advantage, and tries to spin it in such a way that he can overthrown and rule both the 3 million surviving humans *AND* the Cylons! (And frankly, Adama probably should have taken the deal. Commander Cain sure as hell would have!) Baltar *IMMEDIATELY* re-initiates hostilities between the Cylons and humans, thereby leaving himself as the only alternative, the only course they can take.
Baltar is a total sociopath, and he just wants to be absolute ruler of humanity. It doesn't matter to him if humanity is a species of 48 billion souls, or just him and one other dude, he *needs* to be in control. He's totally evil, and he's totally cool with his own evil - he quite literally hangs out with the devil, figuratively in the form of Lucifer, and later on in the series he actually tries to work a deal with the *real* devil. It's all fried cheese on the surface in the best and worst tradition of 70s TV, to be sure, but the more you chew in to it, the more levels there are discover, the more textures and complexities. There's a lot to digest in this guy.
As the show progresses, Baltar begins to show some actual panicked concern for the Imperious Leader's life. I admit I don't know what to make of this. It seems inconsistent. Perhaps Baltar is going through a mental collapse? Unlikely. Perhaps he realizes that his own plans are contingent on this particular Leader's survival, and a new one would keep him on a tighter leash or kill him outright.
It's weird. About two thirds of the way through the season, the balance of power changes, and Baltar surrenders to the refugees, who immediately put him in prison. We never see Lucifer again, and the Cylons are basically an offstage threat for the rest of the series. The show fumbles a bit in this regard, and it's a shame, because that devil guy had some potential. He was an interesting charater. (Ugh. I know I'm joking and all, but I feel unclean having written that.)
Without the fundamental antagonistic duo of Baltar and Lucifer, the show looses a wheel that it's never quite able to replace. Baltar, himself, is featured more often, but in a less compelling manner, simply trying to escape and resume power. Ultimately he trades information in the final episode for his own release. Had the show come back for a second season, we would not have seen him again, since they'd run out of ideas for him to carry out and - much like his somewhat namesake in the final season of the new Galactica - he'd simply become a dangling plot thread.
One aspect that I thought was interesting that they never dealt with was the fact that Baltar and Adama *both* were surviving members of the Council of the 12. No one could prove what Baltar had done, and he had a very compelling lie set up about his capture that he'd already used. It would be impossible to prove otherwise. I would have loved to have seen him tried, and get off scott free, then go on to resume his political career, and become president of the fleet. Baltar was a consumate politician, after all, and Adama had steadfastly avoided politics in the shows' short run. So you'd end up with the interesting dramatic tension of having Adama being subject to Baltar's leadership, and Adama having no choice but to obey. Moses being forced to work for Judas, so to speak. What would make it even more interesting is if Baltar was actually a good leader - megalomaniacs frequently *are* very effective leaders - especially given his massive inside knowledge of the cylons.
If that sounds familiar, it's obviously because RDM had the same idea, but I would have liked to have seen that played out in the '70s iteration. (Though of course quite clearly the idea would never have occurred to them to do it at the time)
That's just me woolgathering, though, that was never in anyone's plan for the show (Though an early outline of Galactica: 1980 hints at Baltar having somehow redeemed himself), and of course that's entirely too ambiguous for '70s TV. Or even '80s TV.
Still and all, my point is that if you haven't seen the original show, or haven't seen it in a very long time, it is well worth your time to watch it. There's a lot in here that's good. If for nothing else, you can watch it for the klingon and his bubble-headed boobie robotic sidekick.
[EDIT: I've since re-watched the early episodes to review them for the site, and I've concluded that the Imperious Leader was lying to Baltar when he sent him out as an olive branch. I think it was a trap, and Baltar immediately saw through it. 7/16/10]