<EM>Battlestar Galactica</EM> Battlestar Galactica
BSG has da buzz. After years wooing and wowing its built-in and dedicated fan base, Sci Fi Channel's Battlestar Galactica is roaring into Season 3 (premiering tonight, Oct. 6, from 9 to 11 pm/ET) with more press and unprecedented promotion than ever. For those who have yet to sample the show (which is based on themes and characters introduced in the '70s series of the same name), be well advised that this isn't your daddy's

Battlestar. And even those who are diehards may be taken a bit aback by the grim fate foisted upon their favorites as the new season begins.

Last we tuned in, New Caprica, once thought to be an oasis for the Galactica's forever-nomadic troops, had quickly and fiercely turned into a prison camp of sorts, lorded over by (surprise) the Cylons and their puppet in chief, Baltar. As insurgent humans plot and plan and go to desperate lengths to rebel against the 'bots, the futuristic scene takes on a strangely familiar and contemporary tone.

Reflecting on his Battlestar's origins as a miniseries, executive producer David Eick says that that first foray's mission was to educate those familiar with the original series about how things would be decidedly different. "We had to establish not just what [the new Battlestar] was, but what it wasn't," he says.

After getting picked up as a series, Eick says the first year was about "investigating the foibles and dark side and really, I think, the Achilles' heel of humanity, more than, 'How are we going to outrun the Cylons?' We got into the depths of the so-called 'good guys' who really aren't so good, who aren't mouthpieces of morality by any stretch. That was a bold statement for this genre."

Season 2, which concluded with the settlement on New Caprica including the chilling coda showing that this utopia would be anything but "was all about strange bedfellows and switching roles," says Eick. "People who were at each others' throats were suddenly getting each others' backs, while Baltar, a man not out for power but really just out for himself, ironically lands in a scenario where the only way he can ensure his self-preservation is to move to this place" the presidency, as well as New Caprica "he never thought he'd be in."

That said, what is the overall theme for the about-to-arrive Season 3? Just as earlier seasons explored how good guys can have debilitating flaws, it's time to take a fascinating look at how the "other half" lives. "The first half, anyway, is moving towards the Cylons' point of view," Eick previews. "You've seen how human beings can be darker and unforgivable in ways you don't normally see with protagonists, so let's now see how our antagonists have their own sympathies, how they are stunted and less evolved on some fundamental fronts."

Eick is first to admit that this bid to apply a more-than-fabricated-skin-deep humanity to BSG's sinister cyborgs is "bold and risky," seeing as the show has thus far been about the eerie similarities between the warring factions. "What we're saying now is, 'Hey, not so fast. They're quite different [from humans], and here's how.'"

Speaking of eerie similarities, Eick knows full well that the scene on New Caprica, replete with insurgents, torture and brainwashing, hits very close to home in today's geopolitical climate. Detailing his and exec producer Ronald D. Moore's poli-sci backgrounds and predilections, Eick says, "We were of the mind that the world didn't need another space opera [when BSG premiered]. I mean, why do another show about people on a ship in outer space unless there was something new to add to it? To me, the old sci-fi novels were all about allegorical, sociopolitical commentary, and that had been lost in contemporary science fiction, so ours wasn't so much a new idea as going back to an old one, to have science fiction discuss the issues of today."

How have cast members reacted to seeing those issues of today displaced into deep space? "It put all of us actors in a very dark space," says James Callis, who plays Baltar. "There are real people going through this, so it's alarming to have that mantle thrust upon you. You don't want to diminish anybody's pain and suffering." Adds Mary McDonnell, who plays former president Laura Roslin, "It was very humbling to step into these other shoes, as it were. We were all surprised by the emotional turmoil that it brought up in all of us."

Heady stuff, but then BSG almost always has been about much more than fast ships and ray guns. Still, is Eick at all worried about going too dark with his outer-space serial? Are there any "light" moments ahead? "That's sort of like asking, when we're seeing war footage from Iraq, if we can see the occasional birthday party to alleviate some of the tension," he says. "This is a war show, and to be true to that there will remain an element of ongoing stress and tension that informs these peoples' lives."

That said, he allows, "I'm not saying there won't be moments of respite, but no more or less than there has always been. We've had laughter, sex and romance, all minor chords, but as long as this show remains of a life and death concept, that tension will always be there."

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