It’s always a challenge when a television show kills off a sizable portion of humanity in its first episodes. I don’t mean to be flip about that proposition—it’s just there’s a certain series format, seen most recently in The Leftovers, in which the action begins after a near-apocalyptic event has run its course and then the substance of the show deals with whatever follows.
Some do it better than others. In HBO’s case, that calamity comes through a rapture of sorts: Two percent of the world’s population disappears into thin air. What follows is grief—the sudden evaporation of bodies leaves everyone in the town of Mapleton, New York, gasping for spiritual air. The Leftovers hits hard, but so far it has struggled to weave its intersecting set of individual traumas into cohesive web of collective grief. Perhaps the feeling of empty randomness, even in the plot, is part of the point, but it also misses one if the great advantages of serialized television: the ability to build memorials, and to return to manifestations of loss. There’s one series that’s made use of this better than most others: Battlestar Galactica.