A Long Ramble About Battlestar Galactica

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(This is a guest post by GeekDad friend Bill Moore, aka "Unca Bill" in the comments.)

As the new Battlestar Galactica series wound down to its final episodes, I had some fun trying to decipher the clues and figure out what it all meant and how it was going to end. I’m sure that loads of articles and message board postings have been written on the subject and scattered around the internet, but I haven’t had the time or inclination to read any of them, so these are my own independent musings. I expect others have come up with some of the same theories and conclusions. Feel free to point me to any interesting reading; I’ll get around to it eventually. Also I should confess I’m a terrible historian so I don’t remember every little detail (or even some huge ones) from past episodes and haven’t bothered to research them, so much of this is drawn from my limited and skewed memory. There are contradictions here, but I don’t presume to say these ideas are complete or even consistent.

Naturally there are ** SPOILERS ** here. If for some reason you haven’t seen the last few episodes and don’t want to know what happens, stop reading.

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The Gods

The humans worship a pantheon of gods with familiar names like Athena, Apollo, etc. I believe these gods are real and are active actors in the series. But they shouldn’t be taken literally, like in "Clash of the Titans". They don’t appear in human form and speak plainly. Instead they reveal themselves and their designs in signs, wonders, and miracles which can be maddeningly oblique to the humans who experience them. Roslin’s visions. Starbuck’s compulsions. The timing of the nova that destroyed the Temple of Jupiter.

But why many gods instead of just one? In the series, supreme truth and goodness stem from unity in diversity. Out of many, one. This means that the natural order of the universe is for there to be separate entities (intelligences, personalities, cultures, etc.) that despite their differences bind together. This is revealed in the humans’ sacred declaration, "So say we all." There were twelve (or thirteen) ancient colonies, but they are supposed to be one united people and the gods are trying to make that happen again. That’s the gods’ plan. I read that in Greek Mythology there were 12 gods at Olympus. It fits.

The One God

In contrast the cylons worship one god. From our Western monotheistic tradition it’s tempting to think that the cylons are onto something and that the humans’ polytheism is backwards, but in the show I don’t think that’s the case. Just like the humans’ gods, the cylon god is real and an active actor in the show. But his motives are different. He is engendering oneness, without multiplicity. Not unity, singularity. But the problem is that if this goal is ever achieved, it means death, the end of all creation. I think it would have suited his plan beautifully if humans and cylons together had fallen into the black hole. The ultimate, physically literal singularity.

Just as the one god’s motives are different, so are his methods. First, he speaks plainly and directly, often through angels that appear in human/cylon form to individuals. This is in contrast to the pantheon’s indirect manifestations. Second, he lies, or at least misleads. I like to call him the "false god." When the real gods’ signs and wonders appear, they are telling the truth. But when an angel appears and tells you something to your face and says it’s a message from god, chances are it’s a lie that furthers his interests, not yours.

There’s a paradox. The cylon god would have you believe that the humans’ gods don’t exist, but they do. One might even say that the cylon god is an equal member of the pantheon who broke away, much as Lucifer broke from the Biblical God. But as one of the pantheon, wouldn’t the one god’s actions, contrary as they are, be in keeping with the natural vibrant diversity in the universe? Is perhaps his contrariness exactly what fuels vitality and change in the universe? The disruption which shakes things up and forwards the plan? I think this paradox may even be key. It’s easy to think of the one god, the false god, as being evil because of the misery he causes humans and cylons. But viewing the bigger picture, he’s above good and evil. He just is, because the universe requires he be that way.

My son suggested a fun idea. The gods of the pantheon have Greek names, so maybe the cylon god is none other than Ares, the god of war. I can dig it. Check out what I just now learned on the internet: in Greek mythology, when he wasn’t hanging out at Olympus Ares resided in a temple in an area of northern Greece called…Thrace. Whoa. Am I the last one to know this?

Gaius and Six

The false god’s primary prophets are Gaius and the various Sixes. We know this because they receive the visitations and messages from the false god directly from his angels, who appear respectively as Six-in-a-red-dress and Gaius-in-pinstripes. Through them the false god is most active in enacting his plan. The plan is not always clear, but it usually involves suffering, death, and destruction.

The exciting thing we learn in the final episodes is that despite all the bad things they’ve done, they are not soulless minions. They are constantly conflicted and tormented by their roles, and even manage to redeem themselves in the end. They come really really close to effecting a peaceful resolution in the showdown with Cavil in the CIC despite and because of their direct relationship with the false god (another paradox!). And despite myself I found some satisfaction that the angels released them at the end and allowed them to live out their days in peace.

Angels

The series ends with a startling present-day scene with angels Six and Gaius. We learn that they are indeed immortal, independent of their mortal likenesses, and in on the false god’s plan which continues to unfold throughout the millennia. We learn that the false god hates being called "God," but that he (it?) must continue the charade…more lies. That was a fun scene that raises questions. Maybe the false god isn’t one of the pantheon, and is in fact an altogether different spirit of evil or chaos in the universe. Angel Six implies that the plan is to keep tearing apart the universe until the pieces come together right, like it nearly did in the CIC (more below). Again, that’s beyond good or evil. It’s just the way it is.

Ellen and Resurrection

I absolutely love that Ellen is the final cylon. When that exposition started flying, my wheels really started turning. The biggest revelation for me is Ellen as Eve. They drove it home playfully in a scene where she takes a big ol’ bite from a nice juicy apple on the base ship. Her name even starts with "E". (Okay, that’s flimsy, but ya gotta admit it’s suggestive.) She’s the mother of the "skin-job" cylons. But what’s most crucial is that she was the key inventor of cylon resurrection. She had the "intuitive leap" that made it possible. We mustn’t take the Eve thing too literally, but if she’s Eve then that means that cylon resurrection is the forbidden fruit, the divine technology that mortals aren’t supposed to have. Eve was seduced by the serpent in Eden, so I’m going to follow the logic and suggest that Ellen’s intuitive inspiration for resurrection came from the false god himself in the guise of…Six! You’ll object that’s not possible since resurrection came before skin-job Six. But remember that Six exists on an immortal plane, so she very well could have appeared to Ellen on Earth as an angel or a vision and led her to the discovery. Remember also that the skin-jobs were modeled after mortal cylons–notably Cavil after Ellen’s father–so Six could even have had mortal form before the holocaust, someone Ellen knew. We will never know how Ellen came up with resurrection, but I really like this theory.

If resurrection is the forbidden fruit, the divine knowledge that makes one closer to being god-like, then that means of course that the gods–the false god and the pantheon gods–are able to perform it. This answers the twin central mysteries of the entire series: how did Gaius survive the nuclear blast we witness every week in the title sequence, and what is Kara Thrace? I believe Gaius died in the blast and was resurrected by the false gods for his continued nefarious purposes. And I believe Kara died in her viper and was resurrected with her viper by the pantheon gods to fulfill her destiny. Gaius and Kara are not cylons or hybrids; they are quite human and they experienced human resurrection which is a divine act.

Cylon resurrection is an abomination. They’re not supposed to be able to do that. They’re supposed to reproduce biologically like they did before the holocaust. The fact that it’s divine is borne out by D’Anna’s experience. She became hooked on resurrection because every time she did it she experienced divine presence and knowledge. And who was her enabler? Gaius, tool of the false god.

I developed this notion weeks before the finale, and literally thrust my fist in the air in validated triumph when I watched the trailer for "Caprica" during the finale, which appears to center around human resurrection and its ethical dilemma. I look forward to seeing if the themes of "forbidden fruit" and the fall from grace continue in that show. Will they make a connection between resurrection (fruit) and the cylon attack (fall)?

FTL

That got me thinking. In Eden there were two forbidden trees. So if resurrection is one tree, what’s the other? The answer is Faster-Than-Light travel (FTL). This idea is half-baked but hear me out. They have much in common. First, they are the two most physically impossible phenomena in a series which otherwise is notable for its realism. Second, they are pervasive, but also key to so many plot developments. Third, there’s a connection between them. When Kara died, her remains traveled to Earth and her resurrected being traveled back to Galactica, all without "human" FTL; her divine resurrection involved divine travel, faster than the speed of light. Fourth, they’re both relatively new inventions. Anders said that the "final five" invented resurrection on Earth just before the holocaust, and also that they did not at that time have FTL travel; they traveled at "relativistic speeds." Fifth, both technologies were lost or given up by the end of the series. The gods reclaimed their own.

Sci-Fi audiences take FTL for granted since it’s required to tell these kinds of stories, but it’s fun to take a step back and marvel at its possible cosmological implications.

Kara and Daniel

Many have surmised that Daniel, cylon #7, is Kara’s father. I reject that idea for many reasons, not least of which is that Daniel is not Kara’s father’s name. We see his name on the recorded cassette Helo gives her; I don’t remember it offhand but I freeze-framed it at the time and it definitely wasn’t Daniel.

I believe the seventh cylon is the Daniel from a much earlier episode, the pilot Adama lost. But I submit without complete conviction that there could indeed be a circumstantial connection between Kara and that Daniel. It’s clear that the prophets of the false god are Gaius and Six. It’s also clear that Kara is a prophet of the true pantheon. But if Gaius and Six are a pair, who completes Kara’s pair? Gaius and Six are a human and a cylon, so I accept that prophets come in such pairs–one of us, one of them. It’s not Leoben; he lies all the time, a true follower of the false god. I acknowledge it could very well be Anders, but that’s a bit too on-the-nose for the indirect ways of the pantheon, and their relationship always felt as incomplete and ill-fated as hers and Apollo’s. So I’ll float that it’s Daniel. The only evidence I have is that their stories bear so many similarities. Both are Adama’s top pilots. And both were lost and recovered under miraculous conditions.

But Kara and Daniel were never effective at working together towards the greater good, as Gaius and Six were at wreaking their havoc. A recurring theme of the show is that the cycles of history repeat themselves, but that each time subtle things change. In this particular cycle the false god’s duo was very effective, but the pantheon’s duo never got it together. Which brings me to level my favorite accusation: I believe Six "poisoned" Daniel, resulting in his permanent boxing.

The cylons are numbered in the order they were created. Daniel was "Seven," so Six was Daniel’s next oldest sibling and in the perfect position to commit fratricide. Given the cosmological implications, it’s clear that Six and Daniel were at odds in the divine struggle so the false god "took him out" through Six. And she got away with it, too. The crime was never solved.

We can only speculate what would happen in a universe where Kara and Daniel could have collaborated. Daniel was an artist, Kara was an artist. Daniel was a pilot, Kara was a pilot. Maybe together with their intuitions and military prowess they could have reconciled the differences between the humans and cylons and effected the pantheon’s plan of unity from diversity. Perhaps the key to Kara’s troubled relationships is that the men in her life–Lee, Anders, her father, Adama, even Zach–fell short of her ideal of the warrior/poet (pilot/painter) Daniel she never even knew existed.

Felix Gaeta

My wife and I spent a long time discussing Gaeta’s last words. I wondered for a while who Gaeta was and what he represented. Was he a reference to some real-life myth (oxymoron!) I couldn’t put my finger on? Just a few days ago I found a solution. I think Gaeta represents man’s technological ability, in particular the know-how that enabled and compelled humans to create the cylons in the first place. I’m not saying he’s necessarily the literal reincarnation of the inventor of the cylons; I think he’s more of an allegory. He’s a gifted technician which is why he was so good at his job. He told Gaius he wanted to be an architect and designed restaurants shaped like food. That’s a small step from robots shaped like humans, conflating form and function. He scribbled notes in books compulsively, like so many of our greatest inventors. He considered himself a really good scientist, second only to Gaius.

Step with me out on a limb here. Throughout the series Gaeta spent his career and ultimately gave his life fighting and resisting the cylons. If he’s their figurative creator then there’s some interesting psychology there, just like Dr. Frankenstein trying to destroy his creation. I think Gaeta’s chronically itchy leg represents a deep unconscious pang of guilt for a crime he couldn’t forgive himself for until he paid with the ultimate punishment, the crime of creating man’s destroyers. But if the greater good lies in humans and cylons coexisting, then Gaeta was tragically misguided. And who was his greatest influence? Gaius. Stepping out on the limb a little further, perhaps technology is another way the false god manifests himself to humans, which is why Gaius and Gaeta were so compatible.

The Song

I think my favorite motif in the show is the song that switched on the final five, came out in Hera’s drawings, and led Kara to Earth. I take the song to be the word of the gods, the expression of divine intelligence which binds the universe together. It’s in the native cylons’ DNA/deepest programming which is why it woke them up. It’s in human DNA, and Kara was especially sensitive to it, like an antenna tuned to the right frequency. She may even have become hyper-sensitive to it through her brush with the divine during her resurrection. Hera was attuned to it even though her parents, a human and "skin-job," were not. I love that the skin-jobs just didn’t "get it." They were spiritually tone deaf.

It’s cool that the word of the gods can be expressed in music. The scale has 12 tones. 12 colonies. 12 gods. (Make what you will of the 13th.) The scales repeat themselves. History repeats itself. The opera house vision was consummated in the showdown in the CIC, but on a higher level I feel the opera house represents the home of the gods, Olympus if you will. Because what do you find in an opera house? Music.

Predictions and Conclusions

As the series wound down I tried to predict what was going to happen. I did not do well. Part of the problem is that I expected them to tie up a lot of loose ends, but they decided not to. So I can console myself that I came up with the ending they would have written if they really wanted to.

I predicted that Cavil would be redeemed, and he was. Despite his terrible and despicable acts, we learned something of his psychology, and I felt he could atone for his sins. And indeed he did a complete turnaround during the showdown in the CIC, though I was surprised by the cause.

I thought a Six would betray the cylons in her zeal to bring the end times, confess to poisoning Daniel, and that Cavil would find he had been duped and turn against her, possibly sacrificing himself to do so. I was not even close here.

I thought the black hole the Colony orbited would be creation’s Armageddon, the final battlefield between the armies of good and evil. And I thought the army of evil would be Gaius’ cult and the Centaurions ("toasters") with Gaius and Six leading them, and the army of good would be the remaining humans and the skin-jobs led by Kara and a surprise appearance by Daniel. No dice.

I was absolutely convinced that the battle would end by all the cylons and humans–and I mean all of them–falling into the black hole, but that the "good" guys, the innocent and the redeemed, would be miraculously resurrected and delivered to Earth by divine intervention, as inscrutable as ever. I thought Earth would be resurrected too and be habitable. They could do a viper. Why not a planet?

I thought Roslin would die before reaching Earth. I thought she would be the leader who never reaches the promised land. But I can’t deny Adama his romantic ending.

I thought Kara would somehow lead her army into the black hole, but never emerge. Not because she was unworthy, but because her destiny would be fulfilled. And it would also neatly resolve the oft-repeated curse that she’s the "harbinger of death." Let’s say I was not completely surprised when she just faded away.

For the record I’m not displeased with the ending they wrote. Here’s my take on it.

I dug the showdown in the CIC. I thought the fulfillment of the opera house vision was very clever. I approved of Cavil’s turnaround because I felt he had it in him. I felt vindicated when Gaius affirmed aloud that the gods and god were at work because it fit how I saw the show. And I loved how it all fell apart in the blink of an eye. From that and Six’s and Gaius’ final present-day dialogue I concluded that throughout history that prototypical scene in the opera house plays out over and over again with subtle differences each time, trying to find a stable solution where either everyone gets along (the gods’ plan) or everyone dies (the god’s plan) , but every time it’s foiled somehow. Tory and Galen, the cylon lovers of yore, messed it up for the gods. That was doomed anyway because the cylons weren’t even supposed to get resurrection; what they needed was reproduction, which they would have had if only they could have understood Hera. (Six’ pregnancy offered them hope, then dashed it. Another cosmic lie.) Hera and Kara (ha ha!) messed it up for the false god by teaming up and effecting a miraculous Hail Mary escape from the doomed Colony. Chalk one up for the gods.

Earth II was a nice touch, if a little corny and rushed. I don’t really buy that all of humanity were willing to start over, but by then the writers were in a corner and I respect that they just had to get to the finish line somehow. Anders’ end was intriguing if a bit sudden. They gave him the little slice of nirvana he apparently always craved. And I have no doubt that he and Kara are together on the other side of oblivion.

And in the epilogue, we descendants are doing it all over again. Roomba, anyone?

One Last Thought

This is goofy but I like it. On the first night of the finale we saw mysterious flashbacks to Caprica with very little context but I thought I caught something. The most striking image was Laura in the fountain…water. The next was Lee with the pigeon in-flight…air. We saw Gaius’ father the farmer…earth. And we saw Kara cooking in a kitchen…fire. This is very contrived, I know, but it’s a fun little observation to play around with. We’re talking about the future of the cosmos. Why not flash back to the basics?

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