When you want to get away from it all, it can be helpful to check out of your own world in its entirety and spend some time immersed in fantasy and science fiction. No one needs to deal with the IRS aboard the Starship Enterprise. The Doctor never has to use the TARDIS to place yet another call to his health insurance company, although I’d love to hear how Blue Cross would handle the two hearts issue.
Sci-fi has long provided me with a means of setting aside this mortal coil and enjoying the (typically far more interesting) trials of an elsewhere for a bit. Starting at an early age, V gave me recess game material; later on,The X-Files created a break from term papers.
Sometimes, though, the option for escapism becomes a need: when my sister died, I needed it. Desperately. One day she was there and the next day my mom was sobbing on my front step, telling me that she was gone, hit by a drunk driver while she was out for her morning run. I cried at first, but then my brain didn’t know what to do, other than to keep imagining her death and replaying it in my mind. It was a horrible loop of the worst home movie ever. To further complicate matters, she’d been killed overseas and the French government wouldn’t send her body home for burial. It was a horrid, ugly mess and I had to find a means of putting it away, even just for a short time. That was when I started to watch Battlestar.
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I don’t recall deciding that this was how I’d fill the time when my brain was sodden with grief. During the day, my husband and I stumbled through our adult routines. We got up, we cared for our children, we went to work. We put food together and pretended to eat. Battlestar’s next-to-last season was airing at that point, and there were many episodes available to stream. Knowing that there was this story, long and complex and seemingly bearing no resemblance to ours, just waiting to unfold that night for our distraction, was a comfort. I knew that after the day’s responsibilities were met, the saga of the humans vs. the Cylons awaited; I was eager to escape my drama and exchange it for theirs.
As I watched, I found myself crying a lot. I cried when Caprica was destroyed, when the little girl with the doll was left behind to be nuked, whenever Adama said “So say we all.” It was basically an emotional drinking game: one more tragic twist for the long-suffering crew, one more cathartic opportunity for me.
But then I started getting caught up in the narrative, and I cried less and thought more. I watched the crew, particularly Starbuck and Roslin, grapple hopefully with faith, doubt, and loss. Eventually, I reached for and then grabbed onto their struggles as a way of reflecting and understanding my own. As they fought to clarify their beliefs and to make sense of the demands of the new order in their lives, I did the same. My brain quietly hummed away in the background, allowing the wreckage of my own schema to filter through what I saw on the screen and start to piece back into a new form, one that made sense for me.
More cerebrally, I could appreciate the complexity of the issues the show tackled: sexism, racism, classism. There was very little that Battlestar didn’t take on, and my brain welcomed the engagement and distraction. Less cerebrally, I also appreciated the cast’s spectacular level of hotness. You can’t underestimate the restorative powers of watching attractive people in emotionally riveting action sequences. Truthfully, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t also very much enjoy the distraction of several seasons of Jamie Bamber.
But I think what kept me riveted, what made Battlestar my addiction and my balm over the course of that fractured and miserable summer, was the hard road to understanding that was the spine of the show. It wasn’t easy, but the characters found their strength, as when Roslin shouldered the unexpected responsibility of the presidency and their faith, or when Starbuck clung to her belief in a life beyond the Cylon threat. Yes, these women and their struggles were fictional, but it didn’t matter. Their world was destroyed, yet they persevered. They were resolute in their journey and their resolve bolstered me as well.
I used that resolve to carry me through to the end of summer. The memorial service nearly coincided with the end of the reserve of existing episodes; I’d have to wait until the new season started to see how it all ended. But by then, I could breathe a little. I could manage to not cry most of the time; I could even hold it together when the Final Five were revealed. I could even make it during the day, when I had to keep going and I wasn’t sure how, especially when I ached to call my sister. I won’t say that Battlestar saved me … but it certainly helped me to see that I’d be able to find my way back to Earth.
Featured 'Battlestar' image via SyFy