In a time of the coronavirus pandemic, you want a show that’s really going to hook you so that you can effortlessly binge it, and be distracted from your life for a moment. After flipping from show to show for a while and not sticking with anything, I finally found it in Battlestar Galactica, a series that I remembered is currently streaming for free on SYFY (you just have to deal with commercials). The 2004 remake of the 70s series that ran for four seasons starts off with an episode titled “33,” and its premise will wow you.
Technically, Battlestar starts with the mini-series that tells the story of how the Cylons (super intelligent robots) wipe out most of humanity, and pursue the last dregs of it through space. Battlestar Galactica is the one military ship protecting a fleet of civilian ships, and where the show has its focus. So the series has the benefit of building off of these established characters and storylines from the mini-series. “33,” however, introduces us to the reality of actually living in space and running from/fighting the Cylons, and it uses a pretty extreme example to show us how bad it can be.
In the episode, the Cylons are somehow tracking the fleet even after they jump to faster-than-light speed. Every thirty-three minutes, like clockwork, the Cylons show up and attack, and the fleet has to jump again. It’s a great way of exemplifying how exhausting it can be fighting beings that don’t have to sleep or eat or take breaks. The relentlessness of it pushes our characters to the breaking point. For five days now they’ve been living their lives in thirty-three minute increments. As they prepare for each new jump, they have to figure out how the Cylons are tracking them so that they can break the cycle.
The premise is so creative, and the level of detail that they put into it takes it to the next level. It’s the little things, like the slip of paper with “33” written on it that someone added to the clock on the wall. The dialogue is also very deliberate. ***Small spoiler ahead: In the mini-series, we find out that Lieutenant Sharon “Boomer” Valerii (A Million Little Things’ Grace Park) is secretly a Cylon, although she’s actually programmed to believe that she’s human. In the pilot, there are numerous instances where the dialogue is pointing to this. The first time a character talks about the rumors that Cylons look like humans now, it’s to Sharon. Later in the episode, the other fighter-pilots remark on how Sharon doesn’t seem as exhausted as the rest of them, and joke that it’s because she’s a Cylon. The show is indicating what is important, and calling our attention to it, like the fact that Colonel Tigh (Michael Hogan) is good in a crisis, and it helps keep him sober, which he’s struggling with.
Being that there are only about 50,000 people left, each crisis, each episode threatens their entire survival. This keeps the stakes super high, and the issue of the thirty-three minutes in the pilot throws us right into the deep end of that. It’s a masterfully crafted episode of television, and if you want something that’s going to grab you right away, this is it.