KARA THRACE AND LEE ADAMA
This is how we met the angel and her muse, and how their love didn’t really mean a whole lot in God’s master plan. Or did it?
Finally we arrive at our own destination, the most contentious and frustrating elements of the finale, the ultimate shibboleth of BATTLESTAR fandom and non-fandom alike. I saved this section to write about last because I knew that it would (a) be the most difficult material to process / present / argue, and (b) my own personal writing style demands that I build up a head of steam to really get to the big stuff. Plus I knew that once I finished this section, I’d have very little energy to go back and tackle the rest (outside of editing and tinkering). So before we jump in the river and swim out to sea, I think I should probably establish a final few facts on the ground.
A - I am an atheist. I haven’t believed in God or a Supreme Intelligence or a Higher Power or whatever so-named deity that people of various faiths worship in quite some time, and the reasons for that are mine alone. Normally I wouldn’t make mention of this issue, but the supernatural nature of “Daybreak”’s revelations virtually demands a religious perspective and to ignore those elements or pretend I believe otherwise would be both bad reporting and just plain wrong. I believe there is and should be room for more than one interpretation of God, and that religious co-existence / understanding (and that includes atheism as well) is a desperately needed union in these troubled times. And I believe that while it shouldn’t matter that I do or do not have a particular faith to you, my opinions on religion inevitably colors how I as an individual view certain issues of the mind, heart, or the media, and therefore affects how you, the reader, perceives my reaction in turn. After all, if a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it …
B - That being said, I am not automatically adverse to issues of spirituality, in life or in art, and often welcome the debate or a great presentation of the issue. I think THE LAST TEMPATION OF CHRIST is one of the most profound statements on Christianity outside of traditional views (as opposed to, say, THE PASSION, which is kind of like Jesus porn to me), and loved every second of the intensely ecumenical DEAD MAN WALKING.
C – I believe in the rights of the writer/creator of artistic property (paintings, movies, television programs, etc.) to construct their story regardless of their “responsibilities” to the viewing audience. In film it’s called the auteur theory: a film is a reflection of its director’s personal creative vision, as if he was the primary author. Auteur’s works are considered pieces of “art,” their cameras are their words, and they need not be hindered by conventional storytelling. In the television world, the auteur theory is applied to the show runners / creators, and not the individual episodic directors, as it is they who are primarily responsible for establishing / developing a show’s scripts / actors / and overall creative direction. Ronald Moore is undisputedly BATTLESTAR GALACTICA’s auteur, and it is his vision and his alone that we are critiquing in the end.
And after doing my homework for this review, I realize that many of the negative criticisms regarding the finale stem from a theory known as New Criticism, which purports that the text of a narrative alone is what should be analyzed, without regard to author’s intent, reader response, and historical / cultural relevancy. The intentional fallacy, a theory further developed from New Criticism, deems any meanings outside the text are irrelevant and distracting. Naturally the two theories, New Criticism and the affective fallacy / Auteur approach have been at odds since their development. Both approaches have equal merit, but more often than not I find myself siding with the latter, especially when I’m really into the text in question.
LOVE THY ANGEL, BEWARE OF HER AIM
(“The Last Supper”, BSG’s 4.0 main promotional image)
Is “God did it all” an acceptable answer for all the unanswered questions that an increasingly mythology based show with a high penchant for realism and moral ambiguity, along with an intellectual ambition to match, posed over the years?
No, it was not. (according to the New Criticism model)
However, regardless of audience expectations for linear, non reductive resolutions, did it fit into the text of the show and was it playing fair with the admittedly retroconned facts and goals of the show?
Yes, it did. (according to the auteur theory)
It seems as if ever since Kara Thrace flew into the Maelstrom and came back three episodes later that we’ve been heading toward this debate, but the truth, as I stated already, was there all along, right in front of our faces. Endings reveal beginnings and the broad thematic concerns that should have been there from the start; and based in no small part on “Daybreak”, but taking into account the remainder of the series, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA must finally, fully be approached on these two over-arcing / oft conflicting themes:
A) The concrete presence of the divine and its impact upon humankind’s larger destiny,
as expressed by the choices of the individual.
B) The emergence of technology as a false god, a unavoidable crutch that impedes the true development of mankind – which lies in interpersonal development (cross cultural, relationship based, or self examination).
(This is a very STAR TREK esque sentiment, which is completely in line with the events of the finale and especially the pedigree of the show.)
That’s the reductive base line of it all, for those sad, sorry individuals who simply must have it spelled out for them in the simplest of terms. All the rest of it, the space battles, the romantic yearnings, the strum und drang, is mere window dressing. RDM focused on the characters’ endings, and not the “plot,” but characters create plot, and plot reveals theme. And regardless of intent, a theme’s reception is often immutable in terms of its presentation within the text, or how true it is to itself.
I think often of this quote by Roger Ebert, regarding the incredible film JFK, when assessing the emotional impact of films, especially those based on “true events”.
Shortly after the film was released, I ran into Walter Cronkite and received a tongue-lashing, aimed at myself and my colleagues who had praised "JFK.'' There was not, he said, a shred of truth in it. It was a mishmash of fabrications and paranoid fantasies. It did not reflect the most elementary principles of good journalism. We should all be ashamed of ourselves.
I have no doubt Cronkite was correct, from his point of view. But I am a film critic and my assignment is different than his. He wants facts. I want moods, tones, fears, imaginings, whims, speculations, nightmares. As a general principle, I believe films are the wrong medium for fact. Fact belongs in print. Films are about emotions. My notion is that "JFK'' is no more, or less, factual than Stone's "Nixon''_or "Gandhi,'' "Lawrence of Arabia,'' "Gladiator,'' "Amistad,'' "Out of Africa,'' "My Dog Skip'' or any other movie based on "real life.'' All we can reasonably ask is that it be skillfully made and seem to approach some kind of emotional truth.
The assassination of John F. Kennedy will obsess history as it has obsessed those whose lives were directly touched. The facts, such as they are, will continue to be elusive and debatable. Any factual film would be quickly dated. But ``JFK'' will stand indefinitely as a record of how we felt. How the American people suspect there was more to it than was ever revealed. How we suspect Oswald did not act entirely alone. That there was some kind of a conspiracy. "JFK'' is a brilliant reflection of our unease and paranoia, our restless dissatisfaction. On that level, it is completely factual.
-- “Great Movies – JFK”, Roger Ebert
Now, obviously BATTLESTAR is not based on “true events” and nor should it be approached as such. But the underlying social issues it invoked over the years, the same explorations of genocide, torture, wartime occupation and cross cultural conflicts that got it invited to the United Nations, are very real, as was the event that re-conceptualized the new series from the ground up.
And by placing the many historical and cultural references of the show (especially given the text’s assertion that “real” modern society developed from this fictional origin, a.k.a. “This has all happened before, and it will all happen again”) so squarely outside of the show’s text (and into our own), the intentional fallacy is rendered virtually inert as an appropriate response. One is forced to look at the show in the broader context of real life in order to truly digest it. As for the show’s ultimate repudiation of religion and the existence of the divine, it likewise reaffirms the beliefs of millions of people that God is very real and very much a force in our day-to-day lives. His presence, felt or unfelt, is an immutable truth in their eyes, just as it is for the many characters on the show, regardless of their individual beliefs. So on that notion, if the basic truths of the show are inviolably a mirror to our present emotions regarding the divine, or the cyclical nature of violence, or the eternal restless condition of the human soul, then, yes, BATTLESTAR is both very real, and very factual account of our present mindsets.
The use of religion in popular culture, specifically the use of “God” as a tangible character, is usually a dicey proposition, given the ever-widening schism between secular and spiritual society, both here in American and abroad (I’m not going to even get into pseudo-Christ figures even though we’ll be dealing with one here, this article’s long enough, and it would take me weeks more to write). Religion and politics are considered “touchy” topics in “polite” society (and have been for a long time) because they are such personal issues, so fraught with misunderstandings and undue import. Science Fiction usually gets a broader pass in these matters, because there’s lasers and rubber monsters to disguise the same arguments, but it’s that genre that sometimes gets away with bolder and deeper examinations of matters of faith because of those very distractions. That’s not to say they don’t go unnoticed, but if one compares the furor over DOGMA to say, THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST, then there’s absolutely no contest. One had a black apostle and a contemporary biological descendant of God, and one had Jesus having (tasteful) sex in the Devil’s fantasy of making Him completely human. Guess which one was considered more sacrilegious?
I’ve seen the face of “God” in Sci Fi before and I’ve found Him to be a plot contrivance,
a sick joke,
or something shockingly profound and unexpected,
In fact, when push comes to shove, I actually prefer “GodFellas”’s use and explanation of a Higher Power to BATTLESTAR’s. Take for example, FUTURAMA’s ultimate thesis, as Bender, adrift in space and having just failed miserably in “protecting” the separate beliefs and welfare of two tiny, warring civilizations that had arose on his body, converses with the Almighty Himself:
God: Bender, being God isn't easy, if you do too much, people get dependent. And if you do nothing, they lose hope. You have to use a light touch, like a safecracker or a pickpocket.
Bender: Or a guy who burns down the bar for the insurance money.
God: Yes, if you make it look like an electrical thing. When you do things right, people won't be sure you've done anything at all.
Bender the non-believer (and extreme sinner to boot) eventually gets home due to the perseverance of his buddy Fry, and when he does, he wonders about the validity of his spiritual encounter. Cut back to the cosmos (and a very “IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE” view of God), where He chuckles and repeats, “When you do things right, people won’t be sure if you’ve done anything at all.”
I’d say the attitude (one I personally favor) “GodFellas” espoused is a more New Testament, laissez faire approach, with anointed prophets and a resurrected savior, rather than an Old Testament, more hands-on approach – which is seemingly the direction BATTLESTAR’s Higher Power took its cue from, similar to the Greek myths also alluded to with the show’s text. Given the historically established propensity in mythology building -- the direct intercession of the Divine in order to force an often politically minded resolution – the various Angels that appear and guide humanity to their new home, breaking the cycle of violence in the process, fit right in line with to the themes of love and punishment that BATTLESTAR always had on its back burner. In both the real historical and the fictional contextual implications, the revelations of “Daybreak” are unavoidably truthful and 100% logical in fitting within the broad thematic concerns of the show. It’s the specifics that are tripping people up, and whether or not those individuals moments are “fair” or “cop outs” depends once again on your view of intentional / affective fallacies. In picking my side, as I have done all along, I get it. I may not like it, but I get it and how it was intended to, neatly, fairly, and completely fits within the show’s established mythos. T’was luck, skill and fate that got them home in the end.
Roslin: But this God that Baltar refers to, it is the Cylon God. You know that, don't you?
Emily: If He's the one and true God, He belongs to all of us. Otherwise, He's not much of a God, is He?
Roslin: Exactly. He isn't much of a God. He's a fantasy.
Emily, making Laura laugh: Oh, Laura. And the Lords of Kobol are real? Reigning from a metaphysical mountaintop in those silly outfits? Zeus handing out fates out of an urn like...like they were lottery tickets. You're gonna work on a tylium ship, you're gonna be an Admiral, your family's gonna be evaporated in an attack on the Colonies, but you'll survive for three more years in a moldy compartment on a freighter till your body starts to eat itself up alive. Those are the Gods that you worship? Capricious, vindictive?
Roslin: But they're not meant to be taken literally. They're metaphors, Emily.
Emily: I don't need metaphors. I need answers.
-- Kevin Shamus Fahey, 4x08 “Faith”
Well Emily, here they are, as presented throughout the text of the series: The Head Characters are non-corporeal envoys of a Higher Power that exists outside of or are unencumbered by linear time. Originating independently from the Lords of Kobol and the Cylon Centurions’ One True God (in fact, the show seems to argue that both of those beliefs are ultimately false), this power has directly interceded in the affairs of man and machine during at least two specific times of imminent apocalypse: the destruction of Earth 1.0 and the Exodus of the 12 Colonies. For the second go-around (the series we just watched), the divine finger of God was directly laid upon Gaius Baltar, Laura Roslin, Caprica Six, the Cylon Hybrids and Hera Agathon, for it was their intertwined destines to lead a union of Human and Cylon society to a new home, which would in turn spawn an entirely new society / race (Just as the exodus of the Final Five would result in the creation of the Significant Eight). Kara Thrace, a mortal, was specifically chosen to hold the location of the new Eden, which required her death and resurrection outside of all other frame of reference (a.k.a. past and current Cylon technology); and her father Dreillde Thrace, had also received the touch at some point. That’s the whats and hows of it all, and those facts are immutable truths within the show.
(Could this be the One True God?)
The question to then ask is, “Why?” but then again, that’s the oldest, and most unanswerable question in the book. That’s the whole human condition in a nutshell, one we spend our entire lives trying to answer. The thing is, religion is all about the search for unknowable answers, the belief in the fundamentally “irrational” versus the “rational.” Spirituality and art provides the leap of faith, science and literalism provides one plus one only ever equaling two. Ron Moore, the “God” of BATTLESTAR had explored these issues before, on STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE (a show I did not watch), where the Bajoran Gods in the Wormhole turned out to be corporeal entities. That didn’t affect their overall belief structure, but it made for a bigger conflict with the opposing religion of The Dominion, and placed more pressure on the anointed prophet Benjamin Sisko (or so Wikipedia told me).
In her multi part re-assessment of DS9, blogger Abigail Nussbaum makes some penetrating insights that one could apply directly to BATTLESTAR (although she can and does and finds BSG lacking in comparison)
From the moment they started taking a serious look at religion--in the first season finale, "In the Hands of the Prophets"--Deep Space Nine's writers never lost sight of a simple truth. Religion is about people. Even if you live next door to heaven. Even if your boss is God's instrument on earth. Religion is about people, and people shape their gods just as much, or even more, than those Gods shape them. Terry Pratchett makes much of this theme in the Discworld novels, most particularly Small Gods. His gods are opportunistic beings, something along the lines of parasites, who feed off belief, and whose personality is shaped and changed by the wishes and desires of their believers. Neil Gaiman does something similar in American Gods and Anansi Boys, albeit with existing earth myths. In both cases, divinity is brought down to a human level--in order to serve Pratchett's humanistic message, or because Gaiman sublimates it to his obsession with storytelling. Deep Space Nine, however, manages to discuss the reciprocal relationship between gods and their believers without making those gods any less numinous or incomprehensible.
-- Nussbaum, “Back Through the Wormhole, Part V: What Does God Need With a Space Station?”
From my point of view, Nussbaum’s assessment, combined with the use of Kara Thrace as God’s special little puppet and “All Along The Watchtower” as her sermon, seems right on the mark for BSG, which was admittedly “all about people” in the end. Baltar was more like Saul converted to Paul, and it was in fact Kara in the Jesus role. Just as the Gods shaped Kara’s destiny with angels, mandalas, prophecies, and showtunes, so did her father. I won’t belie the obvious point that parents are our initial gods, but I will underline the fact that as our relationships with our parents grows and develops with age, and as we see them less as gods and more as people, so goes our relationship to the divine. Sometimes it grows stronger, sometimes stagnant. Sometimes it’s simple, most of the time it’s rather complex.
“Daybreak” presents a seemingly carefree Kara at the beginning, even though we’ve already been made aware of a tumultuous childhood and the death of her mother some two years earlier. Nevertheless, here she was, girlish and playful, establishing an immediate connection with her boyfriend’s brother (himself a girlfriend thief), but unwilling and perhaps unable to act upon what was an immediate connection between the two. This reveal fit in nicely with the wild child streak presented throughout the show from her first big scene in the miniseries onward,
but it also tied into the fact that Kara was a closet believer -- remember she once prayed for Leoben’s soul in “Flesh and Bone,” the episode that kicked off the whole Destiny arc.
The series and the war went on, and like everyone else, it ground her spirit and soul down to next to nothing. Part of that light was restored when she rescued Anders in the Season Two finale (an sheer act of human will that dovetailed nicely with the plans of God), but it was only in the middle of Season Three (“Rapture”, to be specific) that we started to get the bigger picture forming in regards to her Special Destiny. And here’s where the path starts truly diverging between the text of the show and the writers’ intent.
As RDM admitted on the podcast for “Maelstrom”, the death of Kara (and her impending resurrection) was largely a spur of the moment decision in the writer’s room (much like the selection of the Final Five). Once again, when the pieces were finally tied together at the end, it naturally begged the question whether or not it was a good fit into the whole of the piece. The show had always been willing to upset the status quo for shits and giggles, and would try to wiggle out of it later. Most of the times those risks paid off handsomely. With Kara, it was a more dicey dénouement, just because of the way it was introduced and paid off.
Given that her “special destiny” was more in the execution (Kara jumping the ship in tandem with the Watchtower music / Slick’s piano notes was a masterfully edited and scored sequence, BTW) than in the explanation, and that honestly it boiled down to a childhood memory of Daddy-Daughter time, I can understand why people found it so frustrating. It just didn’t seem … big enough. But if the point was to illuminate religion as the creation of and interaction between people and their Gods, than whom else could it have been but her first god, and their love as expressed through music? Some consider music to be the conduit between God’s mouth and our ears, and I’d suggest watching the brilliant AMADEUS for a fuller exploration of that conceit.
In regards to “Watchtower,” it was (predictably) much like the Signal was in CONTACT, a pattern that functioned on multiple planes of efficiency, but it also served as a cosmic, Jungian melody, an all-purpose calling card sent down through the ages from Kobol to Times Square. Music was always going to be the key to salvation, all the way from “You Can’t Go Home Again” when Helo and Athena found the abandoned diner on Caprica, which had a radio that very nearly had the Beatles’ “Yesterday” playing on it. That the song that almost played inside Opera House during “Kobol’s Last Gleaming” ended up being “Watchtower” was, in retrospect, inevitable.
Yes, well, that's a long story. "All Along the Watchtower" has been a personal obsession of mine for a while. When I was working on a show called Roswell, I had an episode that I wanted to do entirely about "All Along the Watchtower", that all the aliens that were on Roswell had a significance to "All Along the Watchtower", and I wanted to bring in five or ten different people to come in and play different versions of "All Along the Watchtower" for a plotline— it was a plotline that took place entirely in a music studio, and there was meaning within the song, and blah blah blah, and at the end I wanted a cameo for Bob Dylan showing up and just saying "It doesn't mean anything, it's just song, man."
-- RDM, “Crossroads Part II” Frak Party Q & A podcast
That Kara’s special destiny and “Watchtower” didn’t dovetail with the Daniel theory was inevitable, because of the grander statement RDM and his writers wanted to make. When RDM drew his line in the sand and announced in the “Islanded” podcast that the missing Cylon Daniel was NOT Kara’s father, fan speculation and pre-season promotions (the “You Will Know the Truth” campaign) had already pre-determined that that was the correct answer, and nothing else would do.
It’s hard for me to NOT see how Kara as an instrument of the Higher Power, and not some rogue Cylon, feeds better into the show’s overall thesis of religion after watching “Daybreak” a few times. If she was an instrument of the Significant Eight (Daniel), then what would that be saying in regard to the Cylon’s moral stake in the war? Furthermore, how would that lineage mesh with Hera, a child destined by God as “special” since before she was even conceived, a child so “special” that the writers rewrote Cally as a cheater and Ellen as a shrew to preserve her uniqueness? The divine on BSG was truly being manifested through the individual choices, and not their manipulative puppetry. All that tomfoolery was just plain old course correction. Free will is ultimately what shapes and takes us to a higher plane. It’s the whole “Worthy of Survival” conceit that was brought up in the mini.
Seeing as how select children of Saul and Ellen are so clearly not worthy – more likely than not due to the very human jealousies and wrath of their Number One child – it allows the Higher Power to punish them for their lack of love, their inability to connect or to truly expand their horizons (or “to be the best machines the universe had ever seen”). If the point of religion is for us to understand and grow beyond our inherent natures, than the cosmic game plan here (much like Babel and Sodom) invariably takes it right back to square one when we stray too far from the path. “Brother” Cavil got a big taste of that when he succumbed to his rage and frustration, and it was his twisted attempts to play God and manipulate his own that invariably led to his destruction.
Once again, Bear’s music is an invaluable tool for decoding these implications. For the hair-raising moment when Cavil and his four Centurion horsemen of the apocalypse are first shown striding through Galactica’s hallways, his Roslin Religious Theme (which had been underscoring Laura’s desperate, Opera House foreseen, search for Hera), transformed into an explosive chorale statement. The lyrics, made even more unforgettable when Bear layered singer Raya Yarbrough’s voice 15 times over into an epic “Raya choir,” are translated as such:
Omnia illa et ante fiebant (This has all happened before)
Omnia illa et rursus fient (And this will all happen again)
Ita dicimus omnes (So Say We All)
It’s in this moment that Cavil is revealed as the Angel of Death, the perverter of religious intention, the show’s Luficer-ian figure in disguise. Whereas Roslin was the Prophet of Hope, Cavil was the Prophet of Fear; both of them followed their beliefs accordingly, and maybe a bit blindly, too. This all indeed happened before in our world, is happening now, and will most definitely happen again. Cavil had no belief and no hope, and that’s why he blows his brains out in CIC at the moment of truth (seeing how “resurrection” was in that moment gone forever to him, makes his action even more futile in retrospect). So how could Kara possibly fit in to that end of the spectrum, short of making it a Saul Vs. Ellen redux?
All of these tortured pieces fall into neatly into place as Gauis, in his final rapture, argues the show’s religious thesis before Cavil and us (underscored to the Gaius Religious Theme that was introduced in “He That Believeth In Me” and used at various other epiphanies in his arc thereafter):
Gaius. …. Whether we call that God, or Gods, or some sublime inspirations, or a divine force that we can’t know or understand. It’s here. It exists. And our two destines are entwined in its force.
Cavil: If that were true, and that’s a big “if,” how do I know if that force has our best interests in mind? How do you know that God is on your side, Doctor?
Gaius: I don’t. God’s not on any one side. God’s a force of nature, beyond good and evil. Good and evil, we created those. Wanna break the cycle? Break the cycle of birth. Death, rebirth, destruction, escape, death. Well that’s in our hands and our hands only. Requires a leap of faith. Requires that we live in hope, not fear.
That God ultimately rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked (even in the BSG ‘verse) seems kind of a human conceit, as we’ve seen just the opposite occur too many times throughout our own history and lives. But at the same time, it seems undeniable that sometimes the unknowable forces towards “good” has kept us from annihilating ourselves at time, as seen through the actions of individuals. Kara’s been running from her destiny her whole life, right from the first seconds we met her, but it was always right behind her, like on the night she and Lee met. She willingly took that leap in to the Maelstrom, decided to live in hope, instead of the crippling fear she had all her life. And because she did that, because she was slated to die before she was even born, she was able to return and be the hand of God as she was destined to be. And that saved Hera and lead them home. It all boiled down to an individual’s choice, as it did for Gaius’s choice to talk Cavil down from that ledge.
But why Kara??? What was she??? We’ll never know, and neither will Lee. If our Gods works in mysterious ways, ones we can’t possibly fathom, why wouldn’t the one of BSG do otherwise? Insha’Allah, The Lord works in mysterious ways, shit happens, they’re all the same attempts at explaining the unexplainable, especially in the light of extreme adversity. Kara The Green’s purpose was done, and though we can’t understand it, we recognized the truth of it, as did Lee in those final moments. The show had a verité style all along, and surprisingly enough, that aspiration towards truth (a faux documentary style’s whole purpose) applied to its use of God as well.
Starbuck was blessed. She was an Angel in the guise of a mortal. A very human Angel, whose motives we can’t possibly fathom because we ourselves are only human. Some say there are Angels like that our there now. Sometimes I actually believe that.
“And then, they will join the promised land, gathered on the wings of an angel. Not an end, but a beginning.”
-- The Original Hybrid, RAZOR
KILL ALL ROBOTS, FRAK PENECILLIN
Ron Moore: Help? Why would I need help writing plots? I just threw a dart at the cast list and boom! They’re a Cylon. Rinse, repeat, cash the f****in’ check. Watch! Sh-boom! Sh-bung! Sh-bing! Cylon. ”Ohh, please help me! This is so hard!!!”
I love ROBOT CHICKEN, and one of the reasons why is that it’s usually right on the nose when it come to criticizing the things it clearly loves. It might be cruel, it’s usually hilarious, but it’s not exactly inaccurate in its skewering. So when I watched this bit on television showrunners (featuring the real RDM, Joss Whedon and Seth McFarlane), I laughed my balls off. A wise poet once said, “It’s funny, because it’s true” and “it,” of course, is the not exactly incorrect assumption that BSG’s plot contrivances are pretty damn random and illogical at times. “Making it up as you go” is a bane and a strength of all narrative t.v. series, and as Ron says “It’s how you roll with the punches” that defines how your series holds together in the end. Given what we had to work with here, it was a miracle that it all fit together as it did, even though there were admitted flaws and continuity errors (such as both Earths being within same constellation patterns, even though they were a few million miles away from each other). Like I said though, you had to put work into this show, but that made it all the sweeter in the end.
So on that note, I’ve been sitting here for almost two weeks trying to come up for a rationalization for quite possibly the worst blunder the Fleet, or more specifically the Fleet’s leaders, ever made, at least within the context of the show’s reality. I cannot. So it might be better if we start at the end, because it’s pretty indisputable that the decision to ditch technology and live all Walden style on an alien world was purely made as a stepping stone to the mandated end of the show – the image of Six in the red dress walking through Times Square. I sometimes wonder if the LAW AND ORDER writers construct their episodes from the endings backwards, in order to make it the most convoluted route possible to that final verdict/revelation. In that case, the decision to ditch technology and live all Walden style on an alien world would be similar to about the 45 minute mark of L&O, when McCoy learns his client… wait for it… has a twist!!!
Bear got it right when he called the 150,000 Years Later coda the conceptual end of the series, whereas Adama on the mountaintop was the emotional end; but to that end, everyone remembers the coda as being the final ending, and therefore judges the show on those few minutes. Put another way, RETURN OF THE KING finally ends with a low key scene of Sam returning home, and not on the magnificent scene of Frodo and Co. leaving Middle Earth; and therefore we see that the series has always been about those who survive after the war, and how they have to move on in one way or another. Sam chooses to live, just as Tolkien did.
(note how Six has her hands on the man, just as she did on Baltar throughout the series)
Now if you didn’t immediately recognize the man on the right, I’d say you definitely judged this show from the New Criticism angle, or that you were a casual or non committal viewer. For the rest of us diehards, Ron Moore’s cameo (similar to Aaron Sorkin's in "Tomorrow") was as another giant tip of the hat to the auteur theory, as the “real” God of BATTLESTAR was revealed, the one whose choices ultimately decided the course of the story and thusly the characters. It may have been meant as a fun little aside, but it lent the episode an additional, if unintended thematic level that fit in with the spiritual reveals of the finale.
(l-r. the master in NORTH BY NORTHWEST and THE BIRDS)
Now RDM is no Hitchcock (then again, who else is anymore?), but Hitch’s authorial hand was felt in every composition, every edit, and every performance, and it’s his work that helped pioneer and define the auteur theory at large. And seeing how the new BATTLESTAR’s prime directive was to be as verité as possible, the ending coda unavoidably came off as a preachy and self-indulgent in comparison to what came before. But a verité style is just as calculated and artificial as a more classically styled proscenium arch, and is perhaps even more of a personal statement on the issues at hand. To me, documentary styles say, “This is real. This is not meant as an illusion or a fantasy, but as a mirror and commentary on reality.” My final judgment on the matter, is that, given the exploration of “God’s” role in shaping the events of the show, and Ron’s call to play his own authorial hand in it all (though the cameo and the final robot montage) was a final affirmation of those arguments, and once again, I got it, even if I didn’t like how it was presented.
Aside from dating the series, said montage of “evil” robots serves a final reminder that technology alone, both in our world and the fictional BATTLESTAR one, will not save us, and may in fact damn us with its overwhelming power when used improperly. Oppenheimer knew this in ’44, and science fiction writers have been cautioning us for years about the perils of artificial intelligence in everything from FORBIDDEN PLANET to WESTWORLD to THE MATRIX and beyond. Even STAR WARS, now the granddaddy of modern Sci-Fi argued for humanism (and faith) over technology, even the most friendly of examples.
(that’s supposed to be R2 being shot, but this is the closest screencap I could find)
That’s a lesson I think we’ve learned, but not quite absorbed over the years. To have the final 30 seconds of the show jump up and down so hard on that point was an open mistake, especially because the show had been subtle enough out it throughout the rest of the show. Here’s one thing where I think a higher budget could have come in handy. Personally I would have liked the news footage montage to have been one shot, actually on location, as Angel Six and Baltar walk through the real Times Square, passing the bums listening to Hendrix’s “Watchtower”, walking by shops and ads with those robot in / on them. That would have been just as effective, and not as ham handed as what we got. Alas, budgets and the desire to keep their ending “secure” didn’t allow that.
(Side note: The Monday before “Daybreak Part II” aired, I had seen a CNN report on this very robot, and aside from finding it creepy (as I do most robots like that) I thought immediately of this show, and how long it might be until we saw her taking up arms against us. So I was rather shocked to see it in the final montage!).
I don’t think the final intention was to make you think “Let’s go out and kill all robots” (which is admittedly what I said right after the producers’ credits), but clumsy as it was, it fit neatly into that whole cyclical nature of time BSG had been harping on the entire series. Technology got out of control on Kobol, Earth 1.0, and Caprica. Will it happen on Earth 2.0? Time will tell.
Just as separate but equal didn’t work in America, Germany Post-WWII or Jersualem now and forever, it seems as if societal integration was always going to be the end point for Human and Cylons (especially as Season Four progressed overall). Given Hera’s importance from the get go, it was only fitting that she served as what she did in regards to plot and theme. I wasn’t overly familiar with the Mitochondrial Eve concept before this show, but after 80 some pages of heated discourse on TWOP, I do now. It’s ironic because not only did we get a religious parable, we got a science lesson to go along with it, too (and those two groups have also been at war for as long as we can remember). Hera as the biological founder of all modern humanity allowed RDM to payoff her own “special destiny” while making an undeniable case for Intelligent Design in the process. Like Bear said, it was a conceptual ending, but one that wasn’t particularly emotional for me, or everyone else it seems. It also made many of us wonder if Hera grew up and “did” every caveman on the continent in order to achieve that new genetic paradigm. Like Baltar, I have one track mind myself at times.
But by committing to that ending, the “Z” of Times Square and the “Y” of Mitochondrial Hera, we were unavoidably locked into the “X” of Earth 2.0, and therefore the need to rationally explain away the presence of a giant freaking space warship as well as other technology well beyond any current means. And that lead to Lee saying what he did.
In my “Sometimes A Great Notion” review I speculated that having a second Earth would be a cheat. Well, it’s mea culpa time, and I think it was Adama’s little exchange with Roslin that sold it for me.
Adama: “Earth is a dream. One we’ve been chasing for a long time. We’ve earned it. This is Earth.”
Besides, I thought it was a nifty little concept, that we were never the “original” earth. Anyway, the final chapter of the series, those last 35 minutes spent on Earth 2.0, threw me a bit during my first viewing. Subsequent ones have helped it along, and have made it much better, but the one thing that most struck me the first time around was that I finally understood the complaints of “too many” endings applied to RETURN OF THE KING (one that definitely is applicable when watching “Daybreak” in its 2 ½ hour entirety)
I see this pastoral interlude now as an emotional series of goodbyes to the characters we know and love, instead of markers on the way to the final few revelations (much like 4.5 was as a whole), one with some striking, sweeping visual moments such as these:
But still we’re left with the confounding, logic breaking decision to ditch all technology in the process. As Cavil was fond of saying, let’s accept all protestations as read and move on to it. Yes, the colonials would have been up shit creek, in even worse condition than New Caprica, as unprotected and unprepared as the Pilgrims or the Conquistadors or any other similar group could have been against the new elements, environment, weather, disease, predators, and anything else one can come up with. Perhaps that’s why they all died out, and why Hera’s uber Cylon/Human/Earth 2.0 gene pool offspring were the only ones to survive. If it’s the shattered suspension of disbelief that that’s impassable for you this point, I understand. It’s a tough pill to swallow, one even the writing staff wrestled with.
(Cortez y Cortez: Happy coincidence or God’s divine plan?)
The example we talked about most frequently in the writers' room was that of Cortez burning his ships when he got to the New World as a way of making sure his men had no choice but to go forward and wouldn't be tempted to change their minds or go back. (This isn't an area of history that I pretend to have a great knowledge of, so I can't say with any certainty that this is anything more than legend.) We liked the idea that Adama would do something similar here, putting the Colonists in a position that they had to go forward, not back and that they would have to embrace their new world without having other options at hand.
-- RDM, http://forums.scifi.com/index.php?showtopic=2329378
But in another sense, of course that idea came from Lee. He’s always been about balancing the ideal vs. the reality, ever since he let Zarek live in “Bastille Day” Hell, ever since he met Kara Thrace and was talking about the individual’s need to participate in society. Lee Adama is the other character I’ve had generally no use for during the show, and that’s reflected in the writer’s ambivalence about him too. Romo said it best:
Romo: We are essentially looking for an understudy. Quandary is, one doesn't generally get the chance to wield political power without the ambition to actively seek it. (Putting down his duffle bag) Easy, Lance. That same ambition often compromises the unselfish motives that begat the quest. In other words, a battle of id versus ego that ego rarely wins.
Lee: Roslin never sought power.
Romo: Exception that proves the rule. One could argue that Laura Roslin is a study in repressed ambition. Just like you, Mr. Adama. Never seeking out a job until it's handed to you? Flight leader, Battlestar Commander, Quorum Delegate... A man doesn't carve out a path like that through life without...
-- Michael Taylor, 4x08 “Sine Qua Non”
Lee’s (and Jamie Bamber’s) single best moment on the series was of course his brilliant five-minute “Crossroads Part II” monologue about giving up the pretense of being a “civilized” society in a post-apocalyptic world and the hypocrisy of trying Baltar for crimes against the state in that light. Lee was always the idealist, the one figure who would have fit best in the STAR TREK universe, and so it was ironic that his “prime directive”-esque thoughts on how to survived in the New World fell into place the way they did. Myopic and unrealistic as it may have been, it was a perspective that could have come from no one else, and therefore fit in its own way (at least how I see it). The idea could have been made more palatable if there had been even one scene or one stronger dissenter (other than Lampkin), but at this stage, I understand how the sprint to the finish precludes all other considerations, logical and otherwise. Maybe there’s a deleted scene, probably not. The point was never meant to logically fill in all 150,000 years in between humanity’s struggles to survive, but to illuminate the never-ending burdens of it all, the choices that were made, good and bad, to bring them and us to places of moral and spiritual reckoning, if not peace or closure.
And from the character standpoint we started from, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. The decision was made because Lee loves people, just like his father, and wants and wants them to be worthy of their survival (as does Ron). And more specifically, Lee loves Kara Thrace. Always had, always will.
Gauis: Is that what this about? Does everything have to be reduced to your personal feelings about Kara Thrace?
In the end, it does. They never worked it out, and maybe that’s what drove him in the end, made him try to be a better person, all to be worthy of her. Sometimes that’s all it takes. Seeing as how Kara turned out to be an angel in the end further piles on the religious angle of it all; man’s love in the face of an seemingly uncaring and unknowable higher power (I loved the subtle little moment, right before she vanished, when he moved to hold her goodbye, and she turned away and asked him what he would do with himself on Earth 2.0). So in conclusion, I say whom else but Lee could have ruined the show like that? Who else, indeed? But I understand it and forgive him.
Maybe that’s the point, too.
So here, at the end of all things, I suppose the question that determines whether or not one derives satisfaction from this ending, or any ending, is predicated on the responsibility one holds a storyteller to fully resolve their tale. If they make a promise something, should they deliver? RDM always said from the beginning, that the shows one promise, as stated in the credits, was that they were searching for a home called Earth, and that they would find it one day. That was his sole promise, and he fulfilled it. Twice.
BATTLESTAR was never an easy show to love, one that had its share of gaping flaws but never took the easy or cheap way out nine times out of ten. It was particularly renowned for its finales, and I think the one thing that really surprised fans (myself included) was that the finale to end them all wasn’t as bleak or nihilistic as we all imagined it would be. I was convinced Adama was going down with the ship, Roslin would never see the promised land, all my other favorite characters would die a noble death to rescue Hera, and whatever remnants of humanity that reached their final destination would have paid a terrible price to get there. A more or less “happy” ending was the biggest mind frak of them all, one we could have hardly predicted.
But as a society and entertainment consumers that expect full closure, open endings are the most frustrating of them all. We don’t need art to be the same as life, where no one ever really knows how it will end, only that it will. There are those of us who ultimately want good to win, evil to be punished, and to know for sure that it was Col. Mustard in the Study with the Wrench. And there of those of us who take solace in ambiguity, comfort in the unknown, and joy in the journey, not just the destination.
A storyteller does have a responsibility to end their story in the way they see most fitting, but that doesn’t necessarily to mesh with the expectations engendered along the way. It helps, but as long as it stays true to the concept and themes, then the responsibility was met. Besides, everyone loves a good argument, and what would the fun be if there was only one interpretation of art or endings? History is the judge of us all, and I think it will reveal that BATTLESTAR GALACTICA was a show ahead of its time, one that accurately and fully captured the mindset of a society in a time of great turmoil and change. It will see that it ended as it began, as a treatise on faith and science, between man and his better and worse natures, and how the war between those various extremes is eternal, yet bridgeable, if one can only make that leap.
And just like STAR TREK, THE WEST WING and THE SHIELD before it, people will say there was once this great show, one that made you think, made you feel, made you jump off your seat in excitement, that took you to places you never thought possible. This was one of those few, special shows that really gets into one’s soul, and I’m proud to say I was one of its fans, its critics and its ambassadors, from the beginning to the end, and now beyond.
Goodbye, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. You won’t be forgotten.
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Before I close, I’m feeling a bit gushy, and want to make a few thank yous to people who will probably never read these words but deserve them, nonetheless. Cue the Adama bagpipes:
Thank you to the entire cast and crew for six outstanding years of making our show the best and worst road trip in the history of road trips. Thank you Glen A. Larson for ripping off STAR WARS and STAR TREK for a quick network cash-in, and giving us the kernel from which this mighty enterprise sprung forth. Thank you Jacob, the beyond extraordinary TWOP recapper whose brilliant, epic BSG summaries were true works of narrative art, heartfelt passion and piercing insight. Thank you to the posters/admins at TWOP, BattlestarWiki and Galactica Sitrep, all of whom made their respective sites essential sounding boards following each new episode. Thank you Bear for your wonderfully illuminating blog (and simultaneous music lessons) and for answering my and hundreds of other fans’ questions personally with the same passion you devote to your work. Thank you Alan Sepinwall and (especially) Maureen Ryan, BSG’s two most devoted mainstream critics through both thick and thin who provided tons of much needed cheerleading and behind the scenes interviews for the final two half seasons. And thank you BSG haters, who make me want to write a better defense of BATTLESTAR’s indefensible elements than you could possibly come up with in retort. I love you all.
So there it is. I knew I was going to get to these last few lines all along -- in fact, I wrote them near the beginning of composing my little opus and worked my way towards them. I hope you enjoyed reading this much as I did writing it.
There’s only last thing that must be said, so let’s jump to it.
Episode Grade: A-