Thursday, April 2, 2009

Battlestar Galactica Finale

First off, I should point out, there are spoilers here. So don't read it if you don't want to spoil the fun of watching the entire series from the beginning to the end. Four seasons of awesome sci-fi/drama/great storytelling. That said, I want to tackle this by first tackling an article on yahoo tv about the series finale's unanswered questions that I thought was just, well, wrong.

Here's the article. And now here are the questions (and my own answers):

How long would an advanced race of humans survive on a primitive planet with no technology or experience in such an environment?
Lee proposed stripping the remaining 30,000 colonists of their current belongings and spreading them out across the globe. Basically, go forth and populate and don't kill anyone. But really, without advanced weapons or any training on how to hunt or farm, any access to modern medicine and any knowledge of the terrain or animal life, wouldn't these people die off after a month or so? Piloting a raptor doesn't prepare you for taking down a bear. Those people on "Survivor" barely make it through six weeks, and they've got Probst supplying them with occasional treats and producers cherry-picking safe locations. We're not convinced the Colonials would make it long enough to apparently sire our human race.

There's so much wrong with this I don't know where to start. First, one of the characters, Baltar, explicitly said that he knew something about farming. If he knows it, perhaps others know, too. More to the point, those who do know can teach the rest. But even if they didn't know, I'm sure they could figure it out. After all, these are the 38,000 survivors of billions - these are the tenacious, tough bastards who despite the near anhiliation of their race and the relentless pursuit of the cyclons managed to survive under the harshest of conditions. Living on ships for years that were not meant to house so many for so long, they had to have already learned some tough survival lessons. They'd been starving, living on nasty-tasting algae for years, probably barely subsisting. To go from that to a green, fertile planet must have been a big step up. And we may forget this today with 6 billion people on the planet, but when there are only 38,000 people, spread out over the whole globe (presumably to the nicest locations), you really can live off just hunting and gathering without running out of things to eat.

Those poor schumcks on Survivor don't have the option of searching for the best place to find food. They are stuck where the producers place them, presumably in locations that don't have too much easy food, or else those food challenges become rather pointless. They also have to waste a lot of time looking for immunity idols and plotting who to vote off. If they instead had to only focus on survival and were free to go where they wanted, they'd probably do much better in the food-collection and shelter-creation business. Finally, even with their restrictions, some of them actually do get rather good at gathering food.

Will it be dangerous? Sure. But the dangers of the wild are overstated. Our ancestors without any advance knowledge or weapons or training managed to do it. I'm sure the colonists could figure it out. And even if almost all of them perished, well, see the next item.

How is Hera "mitochondrial Eve"?
The importance of this human/Cylon hybrid was drilled into our heads ad nauseam over the course of recent seasons, and yet it simply doesn't make sense that she's essentially the mother of all humanity on our Earth (and yes, we know we're greatly simplifying the science here). The last we see of our rag-tag fleet, there are about 30,000 other humans and Cylons scattered across the planet, who will presumably produce plenty of human/human children, human/Cylon children, human/indigenous primitive children, etc. Doesn't this make all of the sacrifice in Hera's name a waste of life, not to mention viewers' time? it long enough to apparently sire our human race.

This item seems to contradict the one before it. First the author complains that there's no way the colonials could survive well enough to sire the human race, now they complain that so many of them will do so that it makes Hera irrelevant. Maybe it is the case that all of the colonials fail and die off without leaving descendants. And perhaps then only Hera is hardy enough to survive (or have her progeny survive) and so she really was key for the survival of the human race. They certainly seem to suggest that this might have been what happened in the show, showing her as Mitochondrial eve. So I call bullshit on this complaint paired with the previous one. Which is it? Will the colonials all die, or do they all leave so many offspring that Hera is irrelevant?

And even if she is irrelevant in terms of siring the human race, I think the author misses the point about Hera - it isn't just about her specific survival. It is more about the central core of the series - not just whether humans survive, but whether they deserve to survive. You could apply that to the cylons as well. In the end, the cylons who make peace with humans and try to save humanity (and themselves) are the only ones who survive because they are the ones who deserve to. Rescuing Hera could be more about showing humanity deserves to survive. And it did lead to them jumping, on their last jump, to what would become their Earth (our Earth).

In the end, humans and cylons volunteered to save Hera, risking their own existence to do so. That means something. And their risk and sacrifices led to not only rescuing her, but rescuing the entire human race, by finding a suitable planet to settle on, something they may never have found with the time they had left to search.

Isn't it an amazing coincidence that not only human life, but animal life as well, evolved exactly the same way on different planets light-years apart?
So even though we can't find existence of any kind of similar life outside of Earth, we're supposed to believe that Caprica evolved in exactly the same way, with humans looking identical as us (and sounding it, too) and even animals (like those pigeons we saw so much of in the final episodes) being the same? With the only real differences between us and them being that they liked to cut the corners off of their paper goods and say "frak" instead of our preferred F-word? And that the original 13th tribe also had a society that looked remarkably like ours, but with humanoid Cylons thrown into the mix? What. Are. The. Odds. Wasn't this supposed to be a science-fiction show?

First off, to anyone who has been paying attention, sci-fi has always been secondary - this has always been first and foremost, a drama about people. (Of course, so is really good sci-fi). It is true that it would be incredibly unlikely to have parallel evolution on another planet of even a similar bi-pedal species, much less one that could actually breed with humans evolved elsewhere, but then, this you would just have to chalk up to the spiritual element of the show and say that it wasn't accidental. Or perhaps not spiritual - maybe there is some alien who seeded the planet. Who knows. It doesn't matter. I'm willing to forgive them this one science lapse simply because it really makes for a great story and ties in their civilization to ours. At some point, you have to sit back and enjoy Peter Pan as a story without complaining that there is no such thing as Faeries.

Was this entire series really about teaching us that robots are dangerous?
In the present-day coda, we see a cheesy montage that could've come from "Terminator" in which modern-day robots are shown becoming more advanced. And this was following the renunciation of technology by the fleet's survivors. Was this Luddite message really what "BSG" was supposed to be about? Funny, we thought the show struck a chord with fans and critics because of the brilliant way it referenced our all-too-real struggles with faith, war, terrorism, etc. within a sci-fi setting. Politicians who are blinded by religion scare us. Ideologues willing to kill themselves and others for a cause scare us. A military that ignores the will of the people scares us. Robots? Not so much.

I think the author yet again completely missed the point. It isn't about scaring us with robots. It is about wondering whether humanity will repeat the same mistakes over and over and nearly destroy itself (or fully destroy itself) with its own cleverness - again, with the theme, not can we survive, but do we deserve to by the choices we make and the lives we live.

Would an entire fleet of people really give up their technology?
Was there not one person in the new Quorum who thought that landing on Earth and getting rid of their ships and all of their creature comforts seemed like a bad idea? Yes, they were tired of running and fighting, but what if the planet proved inhabitable for humans and hybrids? Wouldn't they have wanted a way to get off? And wouldn't someone have at least insisted on bringing some weapons for hunting? Were there no dissenters? Collaboration with Cylons resulted in a bloody mutiny, yet a renunciation of eons of technological progress produced not even one debate.

First, there may have been some dissenters or debate that was simply done offstage, so to speak. But as difficult as it may be for us to understand, think of it from the perspective of a colonist. Technology resulted in an almost total genocide of your race. You've been living in cold, metal ships in space eating algae for years. You've been hunted, afraid that the person next to you might be a cylon, and the whole path of your society up to that point led you to this misery. You might be quite ready, after years living in a tiny metal box eating algae, to just chuck all of that crap and go work a farm under the open sky.

With regards to the mutiny, the situation there was quite different. Everyone was totally demoralized by finding a destroyed Earth - it felt like everything they fought for was for nothing and that they'd all just die in space. That depression was turned on the leaders, who were blamed for it. The dissenters were ultimately defeated, their leaders executed. But more to the point, upon finding a real, livable Earth, all of the reason for that previous discontent vanishes. Now there is hope again! A full, empty planet, lush with life and food (and no algae required!). That sounds pretty damn attractive. Now, the leaders look like they really did know what they were doing. They got them there.

They made sure the planet was inhabitable for them. That was made clear. How could similar, more primitive humans be alive and surviving if it wasn't? They really didn't have many other options anyway - they had limited range for further jumps and it is a big galaxy. And I'm sure they were just plain tired of running.

Given the total war they endured, I could also see a reluctance to have weapons. And I'm sure they could make some to hunt with.

Ultimately, I just don't think it is all that implausible - in fact, it is an understandable and reasonable reaction to everything that civilization (what was left of it) had been through.

Did all of the rebel Cylons die in the nuclear blast?
So we're led to believe (however vaguely) that after the nuclear blast on the Cylon baseship (where the 1,3 and 5 models were keeping Hera), the rebel Cylons were eliminated and sucked into the black hole (or singularity). But what about other baseships, the ones that the Galactica crew took photos of during their scouting mission? Where did they go? Is there still an Ahab-like Cavil out there searching for revenge on the human/hybrid race?

There could be, but the point is, it doesn't matter. Those cyclons did not earn the right to survive. They wanted war and to stagnate with resurection rather than rebirth. Even if stragglers survived, they probably eventually died out. Maybe the colonials all died out too, leaving only Hera and her descendants, as noted above. Maybe only together could they survive.

In whose mind were "head" Six and Baltar supposed to be existing in during the coda?
We'd been shown these visions of Six and Baltar as they advised/pushed Caprica Six and the real Baltar throughout the course of the series. We're supposed to buy that they are angels (or demons... it was never really made clear) and that they only were seen through the eyes of their human or Cylon counterparts. So in whose head were they in when we see them strolling through Times Square? Series mastermind Ron Moore's? Ours? God(s) only knows.

Who says they have to be in anyone's head? And really, it never is made clear exactly what or who they are, and sometimes, I think that is ok. If you explain everything down to the tiniest detail, there's nothing left to ponder, is there? This question is based on a premise that has not been established.

Were the Cylons right about the One God thing all along?
One of the most resonant issues during the series was the issue of monotheism vs. polytheism. The Colonial humans believed in multiple gods, while the Cylons believed in one god. Who was right? We never thought there was supposed to be an answer – just like religious conflicts continue to remain unresolved in our real world. And yet in the finale's final scene, Head Baltar made a reference to a "He" who doesn't like to be called God, making us question what the point was of the scintillating debate over the past four years. Sounds like we're supposed to believe the Cylons were right all along. Who the devil thought that line made sense?

Maybe it isn't a god at all, just an alien? Really, it isn't answered and it doesn't need to be. Of course, as an atheist myself, I'm not all into god debates in general. The series doesn't attempt to deal with that. One could take it symbolically - the colonies were not all equal. The cylons and humans were not equal - that led to the first war, no doubt. Maybe the polytheism to monotheism is about the unifying theme of bringing all of the colonies and the cylons together into a single race - that only united do they survive - divided and squabbling, they do not.

Finally, what the heck is Starbuck?
Kara was called a harbinger of death, but yet she ultimately led the humans and remaining Cylons to our Earth, where they could live out their lives and propagate the species. So is she really an angel? If so, does it make sense that an angel could apparently have amnesia and need to experience a vision of her father in order to help solve her final puzzle? (Angels have visions?) And if she's the same kind of entity as whatever Head Balter and Six are, how could she exist in a corporeal form and be visible to everyone, while the Heads weren't? And why was she of all people chosen to be whatever the hell it is that she was? We know the answer to the Starbuck Conundrum (as a future college course will undoubtedly be called) was meant to be left up to the individual viewer, but we can't help but be severely disappointed by the non-answers provided.

I rather like that they didn't explain this. It is clear that Starbuck, the original, did die. And she was somehow (along with her ship) put back together. Was it some sort of resurrection technology put together by the alien Baltar-angel refers to? Maybe. It is interesting to speculate on it, and wonder. And you couldn't do that if they just explained it. So as I said, I rather like that they didn't.

Final Thoughts

I really liked the finale. It was very satisfying for me. I was happy with it. It had an awesome action sequence for the first half and a very satisfying coda that resolved all that needed to be resolved and left the rest open, as it should. (Unlike, say, Star Trek: Voyager, which just kinda ended abruptly - that kinda sucked). It was a brilliant capstone to a truly groundbreaking series that I'm going to miss but that I'm also glad was finished on its own terms.

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