The new, re-imagined version of Battlestar Galactica added a character not in the original: President of the Twelve Colonies Laura Roslin, played by actress Mary McDonnell. As you'll see, she's a self-described "progressive." But playing the part of a President who must make hard, sometimes lethal, decisions -- letting some die to save others -- has started changing her:
"Playing this part on 'Battlestar'," McDonnell says, "I've been in the position of having to make sometimes military decisions regarding life and death. It has been a huge stretch for my progressive little heart and soul. The first time I had to experience this in the miniseries, I was really disturbed, when I really got inside that moment.Knowledge and experience are great teachers, aren't they?
"As the 13 episodes went on, and I got more and more in command, I started to notice the separation taking place, separating the perhaps compassionate person from the practical person that had to keep the bigger prize in mind. You start feeling yourself becoming more male in a kind of cliched sense, but in fact, you start relying on a different side of yourself more often to get through the moment and not experience some of that pain."
Rather than [her character's] cancer being a hindrance, McDonnell feels it's actually worked in Roslin's favor.
"It's fascinating to me," she says, "but the cancer has freed me up to become clearer, stronger and faster. I've got nothing to lose, personally. All I've got to gain is the survival of the people. That's all she has, to do the job well that destiny has handed to her. The sicker she becomes, the more freedom she's experiencing to get the job done.
"Do you know what the truth is? Women are carrying all of it anyway. It's delusion to think otherwise. We're carrying too much, and now we're being called into power in a male, worldly sense as well. So how do you do that?"
Playing the president has had a personal effect on McDonnell as well.
"Because I am a middle-aged woman, I was not raised from the first day of my life to be prepared for a position of power in the world. I was certainly raised to know that I could do whatever I want. I had a family filled with strong women, and a dad who said, 'Doesn't matter, go out and do what you want.'
"But my education, the information did not come to me to teach me how to be in the male world and take command. So it's the same with Laura Roslin, in that she was not prepared to be the president or any of this. Now she, under extraordinary circumstances, has to discover her own power. She's a very latently powerful woman. I think that's a very good thing to talk about right now."
BSG is a groundbreaking show in other ways. The producers have just put the first episode of the series (after the pilot) up on the website as a free download. More episodes may come. Executive Producer Ron Moore keeps a blog, where he talks openly about the show and behind the scenes. He's also doing a series of podcasts, where he provides real-time commentary on each episode for the series. And they are free downloads as well.
After a lot of initial skepticism -- the original series was camp, cheap and cheesy -- the new series has earned wide-spread praise from all quarters for its style, its grittiness (the anti-Trek, in a manner of speaking), its realism, and the maturity of its character conceptions. This is a show about the effects of a major cataclysm on a civilisation. That it takes place in a science fiction world is purely secondary. Watching realistic people live day-to-day under enormous, unending pressure with no real hope in sight is what BSG is about.
Star Trek was the trend-setter in its day. In fact, Moore comes from Deep Space Nine, Trek's most complex and gritty series. Many people had thought that the SciFi Channel's other groundbreaking series, Farscape, would be the next trendsetter. But it's turning out to be little ol' BSG. Watch for science fiction to become grubby, dirty and lower-tech in its wake.