Tonight's the last episode of Battlestar Galactica until the "first quarter of 2009" (which could mean March!), but don't go into withdrawal symptoms yet. There's an obscure 1990s show called Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which is currently in heavy rotation on Spike. It shares a lot of the same ideas and themes as BSG — which isn't surprising, since BSG re-creator Ronald D. Moore and two other BSG writers worked on DS9. A roundup of the DS9/BSG similarities — and how BSG is better — after the jump. With old spoilers.
Those long, sweeping arcs. It seems like a weird thing to mention now, because every random cop show or space adventure has storylines that carry on from episode to episode, more like serialized novels than collections of self-contained stories. But back when Deep Space Nine started, the idea of following "arcs," especially ones that went on for more than one season, was still more unusual on TV. For a Star Trek show, especially, it was considered weird to have so many continuing storylines.
Says Ron Moore in a new interview at TrekMovie:
The Enterprise, like I said earlier, could pull up to a planet and have an episode and keep going. With Deep Space Nine, anything that took place on the station, well guess what? Next week you are still on the station. And Bajor is not going anywhere. So really you had to keep playing those stories. You couldn't make a big change in Bajor's political structure in one week and then ignore it then next. You had to keep it going. Kira's story with his relationship with Bajorans had to keep evolving and so did Sisko's and they had a long-term mission. They had a mission about Bajor into the Federation. That alone meant that it was going to be serialized at least on that front.
By the time BSG started, of course, "arc" storytelling was more the norm, especially on genre shows. But at the same time, you can see Moore, plus Bradley Thompson and David Weddle, applying the things they learned on DS9: you'll often have an episode that advances one long-running plot while putting others on the back-burner.
The good terrorists It's hard to think of too many TV shows that portray terrorists sympathetically — and science fiction has two: DS9 and BSG. Quite possibly the most sympathetic character on Deep Space Nine is Major Kira, who was a "resistance fighter" on Bajor when the Cardassians occupied the planet. We hear endlessly about how she planned raids and bombings against the occupiers. We also hear the Cardassian side, about how they thought they were doing the right thing occupying Bajor, and how Gul Dukat, the leader of the occupation, wanted to win the Bajorans' love and respect, but they kept pushing him with their unethical terror tactics. Towards the end of the show, there's a wonderful reversal where the Cardassians are themselves occupied by the Dominion (because Dukat gave away the store) and Kira comes in to teach her former oppressors the tactics she used against them.
The Cylons, meanwhile, thought they were doing the right thing occupying New Caprica. They grasped at a chance for humans and Cylons to live together in peace and harmony — but those stupid, stubborn humans wouldn't go for it. (Actually, it turns out most of the "human" resistance leaders were Cylons too.) Col. Tigh defends his choice to use suicide bombers against all the doubters, saying it's no different than sending soldiers to their deaths in a viper or raptor.
The enemy among us. The Dominion, DS9's evil empire, is run by "changelings," shapeshifters who can look like anyone or anything. (Except for Odo, our friendly shapeshifter, who is a bit pants.) Honestly, DS9 didn't do enough with the "shapeshifter" plot, because if anyone can be a shapeshifter, you open the door for endless paranoia. Commander Sisko could be replaced by a shapeshifter at any moment, and so could Dax or Kira. The show only follows this plot to its logical conclusion a couple of times — once when the changelings infiltrate Starfleet Headquarters in "Home Front," and Starfleet imposes martial law. (Sisko finally realizes what a blunder this is, and there's a great speech about how if the changelings want the humans to lose their freedoms, they'll have to take them away themselves.) And the other time, a leading Klingon is replaced by a changeling and nearly starts a war. But for the most part, the "evil shapeshifters" plot goes on the back burner an awful lot.
In BSG, meanwhile, there are only a dozen of the Cylon infiltrators who could be anybody. This makes it a bit more manageable, even if you have to wonder why the Cylons don't have the technology to make dozens, or hundreds, of models. You still have the paranoia of knowing that Admiral Adama could have been a Cylon from the beginning — but he's not going to be randomly replaced with a Cylon halfway through one episode. It lets you have the "infiltrator" plot without having to back off its implications.
Divided loyalties. In DS9, Odo becomes one of the most compelling characters on the show because he discovers he's actually a member of the evil changeling race, which oppresses the Gamma quadrant and wants to take over the Alpha quadrant. Plus there's always Worf, who's torn as usual between his Klingon and Federation allegiances.
On BSG, meanwhile, almost everybody ends up being torn in half eventually — especially Sharon/Athena, who rejects her own Cylon kind to join the humans. And Helo, who marries her. And the four secret Cylons, who still have all their old human loyalties, but are brought together by their shared identity. It's a little more interesting than on DS9, because the Cylons are less blandly evil than the Dominion. It's more compelling to see people torn between two groups that have a valid claim on their loyalty than it is to see someone deciding whether to support good or evil. (And you never really think Odo is going to turn his back on the humans forever.)
The mismatched romantic pairings. The love story between Odo and Kira is one of the few really compelling romantic sagas in Trek — unless you think Troi/Riker is full of awesome. But it does have some problems, like Kira's decision to date Odo comes out of nowhere. And I was annoyed with Odo's "changeling bros before hos" moment in the finale, where he ditches Kira to go off with his own people. But still — Odo pines for her for so long, and they finally get together, and he turns into mist in that one episode and swirls around her. It's just too radical. And I actually loved the Dax/Worf pairing as well.
Meanwhile, BSG has nothing but mismatched pairings, especially the aforementioned Helo/Sharon marriage. Pretty much every marriage on the show turns out to be between a human and a Cylon — Saul/Ellen, Galen/Cally, Sam/Kara... the only people without commitment issues are Cylons. We won't know for a while yet if Helo/Sharon will have a satisfying resolution, but we already know how Saul/Ellen and Galen/Cally turned out. In both those cases, it wasn't a happy ending, but at least it was memorable.
The gods and prophecies. Few shows obsess about religion as much as BSG and DS9 have. Deep Space Nine has religion built into its DNA at so many levels, it's practically a religious allegory with space-opera trappings. Let's review: there are some mysterious aliens who exist out of time, whom the Bajorans worship as "the Prophets." The Prophets anoint Benjamin Sisko as their "Emissary," and it turns out they possessed his mother and arranged his birth. He's supposed to help them fight their evil counterparts, the Pagh Wraiths. Meanwhile, the Dominion worships its leaders, the changelings, as gods. It's interesting: in DS9, the non-Bajoran characters refer to the Prophets as "the wormhole aliens" — until somewhere in season three or four. You never hear the phrase "wormhole aliens" (I think) in the last few seasons of the show. And there's less and less doubt that Sisko has a holy mission on the Prophets' behalf. Sadly, it doesn't end that well — there's one episode where Sisko's son gets possessed and has to fight a holy battle, and it's both confusing and boring. And then in the end, the giant battle between the good gods and the evil gods turns out to be a matter of jumping off a cliff. And it's pretty clear the changelings aren't gods — they're just slimy shapeshifters who have tweaked their slaves' genomes or gotten them hooked on drugs, so they'll be worshipped forever.
I complain about the portrayal of religion on BSG, but I do have to admit it's a lot more subtle than on DS9. There are a few reasons for this. First of all, we never meet any gods on BSG. The Lords of Kobol and the Cylon God both have the decency to stay behind the curtain, giving people visions and causing coincidences. The more we see of the Prophets on DS9, the less impressive they are. And the more we see of the changelings, the less credible it is that anybody could worship them as gods — their "false gods" status gets too obvious, if that makes any sense. And usually when we see a religious experience on BSG, it's ambiguous. Someone has a weird dream sequence and then they (and we) have to puzzle it out. And as annoying as the Baltar=Jesus stuff has been, it's pretty audacious of the show to make its most repellent character into a guru. BSG has prophecies and books with funny names, just like on DS9, but they're usually oblique. and of course, BSG has the Gemenons, who are sort of the equivalent of the hyper-religious Bajorans.
In both shows, though, there's a "quest" aspect, and competing faiths. I'm holding my breath that BSG's journey of self-discovery and religious awakening turns out to have a more satisfying ending than DS9's did. In general, looking at the above list, it seems like Moore and co. have turned the lessons they learned doing DS9 to good purpose — so here's hoping.