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So say we all, one last time

March 25, 2009

Battlestar Galactica’s finally over. I think, like many nerds, fans, geeks, and other folk who have a fond spot for sci-fi, fantasy, comics, and horror, I’m currently on an almost meth-high that comes with a spectacular finish; the same high felt at the end of Return of the Jedi, or The Lord of the Rings.

For those who don’t get as emotionally spent when a good show finishes it’s run, you may not understand the mixture of elation and exhaustion that accompanies it.

I don’t have a clear, unified answer to what BSG means to me, or how I feel it ought to be interpreted. I do have some thoughts.

The Ron cameo

Well done, sir. With all the other risks you have taken, breaking the fourth wall was genius. Although this could merely be interpreted as you wanting to get a minor walk-in on your own show, it could also be a devious way of cementing the mythology you developed as the show went on. Very Unbearable Lightness of Being, dude.

Lee Adama: all my girlfriends frakking die on me

Is this just an homage to Maggie in Northern Exposure? What’s up with this guy? Dude, you should’ve gone for Cally…maybe she’d still be alive at the end.

“He doesn’t like to be called that.”

I love the fact that the meaning of this line will probably be debated for years to come. What is meant? Personally, I think this is meant to blunt the blow of the religious content of the series. Why would god not like to be called god? Dude, it’s totally your name. Maybe because god isn’t god…god is either Moore himself, revealing that the illusory Baltar and Six are simply crutches to maneuver out of story dead-ends, or that god is just another race who’s so far beyond the capabilities of everyone else he only appears to be a god (“Any sufficiently advanced technology will appear to be magic”, and more on the Arthur C. Clarke connection later).

Chariots of the Gods

The original series both benefitted and was cursed by the popularity of this book in the 70’s. For those unfamiliar, Chariots of the Gods postulated that the human race was either helped (or created) by aliens who visited the earth eons ago. At least half a dozen sequels were written by the same author, developing the premise into a very detailed mythology which Explained Everything.

I don’t subscribe to this (although I admit the theory is vaguely plausible). And really, who’s to say?

The brilliant part of Moore’s version of BSG is flipping the mythology on it’s head. In the original, the thirteenth tribe originated on Kobol with the other twelve; in Moore’s version, the twelve tribes and cylons create the thirteenth by arriving.

On the use of cameos

It would have been nice to see all the remaining surviving cast members from the entire series in the last episode, from Lucy Lawless (what happened to her?) all the way back to the original captain of Colonial One. This is one area where I don’t want anything edgy or risky…I want closure on all the characters that I have grown to love in various degrees. If you’re going to end it in a way that a sequel is superfluous, let us see everyone one last time.


The suicide of Cavell was weird. It made sense (he realized he had lost; he would never evolve past what he was in the time he had left; he was essentially a self-loathing nihilist from the start), but I agree with those who said that if you blinked, you missed it. His end should have been a little more cinematic.

The cast that time forgot

The casting of well-known sci-fi actors was a risky gamble. The second Lucy Lawless, Richard Hatch, Michelle Forbes (awwww yeah), and Dean Stockwell walked onto the set, the show could have devolved into parody, irregardless of how serious the story was. It didn’t. And they added so much more to the series than it had before.

Bear with me

Bear McCreary’s music contributed as much to the atmosphere of the series as the docu-drama reality cinematography. One of Bear’s supreme achievements was making the original series theme music listenable without feeling foolish. Thanks, Bear.

Childhood’s Beginning

A lot of the panelists Space brought in for the live discussion after the finale really, really hated the ending. The last hour of the show was, of course, completely different from the entire series, and a bit of a shock. I loved it.

I think most of the shock value stemmed from not really believing that people could give up thousands of years of ‘civilization’ to ‘go native’. As mentioned earlier, it fits into the original show’s Chariots of The Gods mythology (“Life here began out there”), but does it fit into the current show’s update to that mythology (“All of this happened before, and all of it will happen again”)?

That brilliant line points to a cyclical view of history, but the ability to break that cycle points to a view of history as an upwards spiral. Upwards progress in this case is abandoning technology and going native. And the show ends in Times Square, and we are certainly not capable (yet) of building Cylons or Battlestars, so our upwards progress doesn’t even match that of the Colonies when the series starts.

So what is really going on at the end? What is the show trying to say? Does it really have a central message?

Some interesting books that I’ve been thinking about that put the show in context for me:

Isaiah Berlin’s The Hedgehog and the Fox

This is an extended essay about Tolstoy and his view of history, focussing on what he wrote in War and Peace. Berlin argues that Tolstoy was essentially a fox (those who are interested in the infinite variety of things) who wanted to be a hedgehog (those who account for everything with a single unifying philosophy).

You may be able to say the same for Moore, who leaves the series with what appears to be a single unifying philosophy, but the series’ consistent and insistent focus on character and the individual moments and choices that define and shape history belie that unifying vision.

Albert Camus’ The Rebel

Speaking of individual choice, the last episode seems to agree with Camus, that rebellion may be more morally respectable than revolution. Camus argues that rebels don’t seek to replace a system of ethics (or governments) with something different (the role of the revolutionary); they seek to return that system to it’s roots…to rebuild it, not burn it to the ground. There is no better way to rebel than to return to the earth (no pun intended) and start anew. As Lee states, “We can give them the best parts of ourselves, with none of the baggage.”

Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End

A tour de force reframing of the book of Revelation as science-fiction novel, Childhood’s End postulates that we evolve into something neither matter nor energy, but a synthesis of the two that can transcend, to a degree, the physics of the universe (that currently bound us, mortal as we are).

What are the three ‘angels’ within the series (imaginary Baltar, imaginary Six, Starbuck after her death)? Moore leaves this an open question…you can choose the religious explanation, or look for your own interpretation. Maybe, just maybe, these three are both rebels and revolutionaries, keeping us on the upwards climb of progress while allowing us to return to the most basic of our roots, both physically and ethically.

The song, not the singer

Thank you, Mr. Moore, for choosing All Along the Watchtower, which ties so much of my own childhood together:

  • it was a central part of the commentary supplied by Alan Moore (yet another Moore!) in Watchmen
  • U2 covered it on Rattle and Hum
  • it introduced me to Bob Dylan

I find it interesting to wonder who was the joker and who was the thief: Baltar or Six?

The United Nations

It pleased me immensely to find out that the cast of BSG was invited to speak at the United Nations in New York. The footage of Edward James Olmos chanting “SO SAY WE ALL!!” in one of the most important buildings on the planet sent a shiver of Nerdvana up my spine. It’s hard to go more mainstream than the UN.

So say I all…

I’m still thinking about BSG and what it has, and will, mean for me. It’s a series that brought sci-fi up and out of the ghetto it’s perceived to be. The biggest complaint against imaginative fiction is that it’s ‘made up, and can’t possible ever happen.’ As if you can’t level the same claim against King Lear…Shakespeare was making it up, too. Ursula LeGuin railed against this very narrow view of the medium in her introduction to the controversial The Left Hand of Darkness, which I’ll end with.

“Yes, indeed the people in it are androgynous, but that doesn’t mean that I’m predicting that in a millennium or so we will all be androgynous, or announcing that I think we damned well ought to be androgynous. I’m merely observing, in the peculiar, devious, and thought-experimental manner proper to science-fiction, that if you look at us at certain odd times of day in certain weathers, we already are. I am not predicting, or prescribing. I am describing.

“The artist deals with what cannot be said in words.

“The artist whose medium is fiction does this in words. The novelist says in words what cannot be said in words.

“Is it any wonder that no truly self-respecting society has ever trusted its artists?”

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