Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Touched by an Angel?

In this post I'm going to reflect on "Daybreak," the two-part series finale of Battlestar Galactica. That's your cue to run for the exit if you're trying to avoid spoilers. Of course, you're probably used to having to do so by now, since there's plenty of talk about the end of BSG in the sf blogosphere.

I liked a lot of things about these three hours of one of the best tv series of all time. I enjoyed watching the Galactica slug it out with the Cylon Colony and it's high time we got to see some real Cylon on Cylon combat. Unlike some folks, I appreciated (most of) the flashback sequences and I'm glad that Ron Moore et al crafted a closing narrative that focused on the characters we love (or hate) rather than merely trying to pick up every loose plot thread.

Yet a couple of things have been bothering me. I'll begin at the end, with the astonishing dissolution of the community of people who have somehow managed to overcome seemingly unsurmountable obstacles and have finally, after a long and painful journey punctuated by the disappointments of New Caprica and the previous Earth, found their way to a beautiful new planet where they can make a home for themselves. "At last!" we should be thinking and feeling. But what are we given? Tyrol by himself on an island? Adama and Lee forever separated after a brief and inadequate goodbye? Starbuck disappearing into thin air? Helo, Athena, and Hera making their own way, apart from everyone else? All this is ultimately unsatisfying.

Now, I get that this last remnant of the Colonies must disappear so that this new planet can be our very own Earth, but from my point of view this cute gimmick isn't worth what it costs in narrative terms. So much drama between the Admiral and his son, and it ends like this? Hera's prophesied significance turns out to be that she's the mitochondrial Eve. Okay, again that's kind of cute, but we've been led to believe that she would play some key role in the life of this community of humans and Cylons--the one that's so quickly done away with by the show's writers. I'm more troubled by this than I am by the rejection of technology that others have talked about.

The other thing, as you can probably guess from the title of the post, is the revelation that the Six and Baltar that have been secretly appearing to Gaius and to Caprica Six for so long are... drum roll... angels. Apparently the writers have been reading Genesis 6. Let's add to this Starbuck's miraculous disappearance, implying that she's an angel, too, or some other kind of supernatural creature. All I can do about all this is sigh. Really?

Some have objected to this development because they want to keep their science fiction and their supernatural fiction in separate compartments. That's not my point, and I'm all for desegregation here. I've enjoyed the way that BSG has involved religion and the supernatural in its ongoing story very much. Strikingly, the Cylons are religious, and have a very different conception of the divine than humans do. People take up various positions about the legitimacy of prophecy, with Adama dismissing Roslin early on as a quack and then later coming to have some sort of faith in her visions. The show clearly wants us to think that there's something to all this religious talk. I'm delighted about that, and I wasn't at all hoping for a debunking explanation of all of the apparently supernatural happenings to which we've been witness.

But I wasn't ready for a series finale that in some ways reminded me of an episode of Touched by an Angel or some other sappy show. One of the things I've always deeply appreciated about BSG is the way the show leaves its viewers in the gray, unsure what to make of its characters and plot developments and wondering what to think about morality, politics, and religion. Thus, I'm unhappy that this finale filled in certain blanks so decisively. Moore says in this interview about Starbuck's finale that "there was more in the ambiguity and mystery of it than there was in trying to give it more definition in the end." From my point of view, her disincarnation doesn't leave enough room for such mystery. Moore has also said that one of his prime concerns is that BSG be relevant to our world and our lives. Yet for most of us, such obvious and unequivocal contact with supernatural beings isn't part of our lives. In the finale, it seems to me that BSG explicitly becomes a religious story about divine agents on a mission rather than remaining a story about beings like us who don't quite know what to make of such stories but perhaps trust and hope that some of them are true. And this shift makes it less relevant, I think, and less like the show I still love in spite of these objections to the way it leaves us.

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