Monday, March 16, 2009

The End of Battlestar Galactica?

Sadly, it’s true. Only one more episode to go. But in this post I don’t intend to indulge in wild speculation about how things’ll turn out in the series finale. No, I want to talk about the end of Battlestar Galactica in a different sense, where “end” is about purpose rather than closure. This notion of end translates the word telos from the Greek, and you can’t complain about being confronted with a bit of Greek when we’re talking about BSG!

What is the aim of the reimagined BSG? What is it shooting for? What is the point of its complicated narrative? Before I give you my proposed answer to this question, let me make it perfectly clear that I don’t mean to suggest BSG is a fable with a single moral. Not at all. This is a messy story. Still, I’d like to argue that there is an aim that often gives shape and direction to the narrative. So what is it?

Consider two moments from the final few episodes of Season 4.5. (Do I need to tell you that spoilers are ahead? It’s obvious, right?) Please forgive me for reconstructing these scenes from memory.

Starbuck demands some time alone with Sam, who’s been shot in the head. She’s talking to him, but thinks he can’t hear her. After reminding him that she once told him she’d put a bullet in his head if she found out he was a Cylon, she tells him that doesn’t matter any more. Whether he’s human or Cylon, she wants him back. Why? Because whatever else he is, he’s her Sam.

Adama asks Starbuck whether Baltar was telling the truth when he revealed to a crowd that she found her own dead body on Earth. She admits it, and goes on to say that she doesn’t know what she is. “I know what you are,” says Adama, “You’re my daughter.”

Think about the distance we've traveled to get to a place where Starbuck and Adama can express this kind of sentiment.

In the original series, the Cylons are metallic robots from outer space who want to kill all humans. They're the enemy, pure and simple, rather like the orcs in Tolkien's LOTR. And the story is us against them, good guys and bad guys. No blurring of the lines.

Through an ongoing series of revelations, the new series disturbs and disrupts this simplistic kind of story--and the moral outlook on which it rests.

Humans created the Cylons. They aren't aliens, but rather our progeny.

Some Cylons look like human beings. They're not metal, but flesh and blood.

Cylons turn out to be religious and political creatures, much like humans are.

Cylons and humans fall in love with one another and there's even a Cylon-human child, Hera.

Some of the characters we thought were humans all along (as did they!) turn out to be Cylons.

Earth, the legendary thirteenth colony of humans, turns out to be a world once populated by Cylons.

Cylons lose the ability to resurrect, and it was always this ability that made them and their way of life so radically different from humanity.

The Galactica itself has become both human and Cylon, both in its crew and in its physical constitution.

I'm fairly certain we could add to this list. But I hope the pattern can be discerned. Although it matters who you are, it doesn't matter what you are. And the lines between us and them are not at all clear. Nobody is just a good guy or just a bad guy. This is one of the many ways that Battlestar Galactica offers us a narrative universe that's more like "the real world" than most of what we see on television, whether it's sf or not.

1 comment:

sam said...

Hello! I agree with you that the "point" of the whole series is the blurring of the line good and evil, although that point is somewhat blunted by the emergence of an evil Cylon faction.

Either way, the fact that humanity was forced to accept some of their once-enemies as allies was significant. (I've written a theory about how that ties with the "cycle" of the series, but that's another matter.)