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They Had A Plan

March 22nd, 2009

Massive spoilers for the series finale of Battlestar Galactica immediately follow. 

I can’t say that they didn’t warn us. The answer had been in plain view the entire time. Despite all of the speculation and rationalization about the seemingly miraculous events dogging the fleeing Colonials–implanted chips, shared mental projections and unrevealed Cylon/human hybrids–the truth was that it was God all along. (Though we now know that it doesn’t like that name.)

And it’s funny that we expected something else. It’s not like Battlestar Galactica hasn’t worn its spirituality on its sleeve from the start. The ties between the original series and the Mormon faith have been well documented. One of its best-regarded episodes, “War of the Gods,” was not at all coy about injecting literal angels and devils into the space-based shenanigans. Heck, an unproduced script for the Galactica: 1980 follow-up went so far as to have Starbuck assumed into the heavenly domain of the “ship of lights.”

So, really, why were we surprised that “Head Six” wasn’t lying about being God’s messenger? Or that there really was some sort of divine force egging the pudding? 

For myself, it’s at least in part because I reject the idea of an activist God in my own life. I’m willing to concede the possibility of a creator, but I’ve seen nothing in my time on this world that allows me to believe that it takes any interest in our earthbound affairs.

And even though I don’t believe that science and religion are competing teams in a zero-sum game, I come down firmly on the side of science, which doesn’t simply throw up its hands when it encounters a mystery and declare that “God did it.”

Yet, while I was still holding out hope in the final hour for a solid, rational explanation of Starbuck’s seeming death and resurrection, I can’t say that I’m all that bothered by the lack of one. In our world, “God did it” is the ultimate cop-out. But in a fictional world in which inexplicable, miraculous events are a regular occurrence, I find it more palatable. I didn’t complain about the presence of the supernatural in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. so why here?

Besides, the modern Galactica, unlike the original series, remained a tiny bit coy about it. Saying that “it doesn’t like that name” offered a back door to other, semi-rational explanations involving super-evolved aliens and such. Producer Ronald D. Moore’s other major sci-fi series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine posited that the only difference between Captain Sisko’s “wormhole aliens” and the “prophets” of Bajoran spiritualism was a matter of perspective.

So, leaving God-or-It aside for the moment, what about the rest of the finale? I certainly don’t want to overlook the tremendous kick-assitude of the first hour, from the toe-to-toe slugout between the Galactica and the Cylon Colony ship to the brutal brawl of old-school Centurions and their modern counterparts. The sight of the battlestar ramming through the colony’s bulkhead will stick with me, as will the scenes of Galactican marines and Centurions working side by side. Whatever cost-cutting the production might have had to do to save up for this special-effects blow-out, it was worth it.

And while the one big surprise reveal–that the previously-seen, nuclear-ravaged Earth of the Colonials’ quest was not in fact our world–took me a few moments to grasp, I have to say that it makes a lot of sense. The Earth we visited at midseason left too many questions; it appeared to be our own future, yet it was colonized by Cylons who were fully aware of their machine origins. The conceit of the refugees finding our planet and renaming it Earth was fitting. First, it acknowledges that it really didn’t matter whether they ever found the “real” Earth; the only reason that Roslin and Adama brought up the legend in the first place was to give hope to the fleet. Second, it pays off the link between the Galacticans and us that’s inherent in the premise. There’s no point in using the name Earth unless we’re meant to be involved in the story.

I’m not entirely sure that I bought the notion of the Colonials abandoning their technology (even medicine?) to go native. Furthermore, having them settle down in Earth’s prehistory drew an unfortunate parallel to the hapless Golgafrinchams of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and made me wonder whether the real villain was in fact a giant, mutant star-goat. Yet it too paid off a core concept from the original series’ opening narration:

There are those who believe that life here began out there, far across the universe, with tribes of humans who may have been the forefathers of the Egyptians, or the Toltecs, or the Mayans. That they may have been the architects of the great pyramids, or the lost civilizations of Lemuria or Atlantis. Some believe that there may yet be brothers of man who even now fight to survive somewhere beyond the heavens…

In the “reimagined” Galactica, Admiral Adama may not have built the pyramids or sunk beneath the waves with Atlantis, but it’s fun to think that the Colonials’ legends became part of our own collective consciousness. If you really want to get silly about it, perhaps they informed a certain cheesy ’70s TV show.*

All of this talk about the grand plot arc has made me overlook the most important part of the series: the characters. And while the finale may have gone on for fifteen minutes too long, it did allow us–as with the film version of Return of the King–to take our time winding down and to find out where the paths of the people with whom we spent the last five years took them. Whatever I may feel about certain aspects of the storyline, I felt that in the end the characters were believable: human in their foibles, yet capable of great strength. Here too there were a bunch of good moments, including Tyrol’s enraged attack on Tory, Adama and Roslin’s final Raptor flight and pretty much everything involving Baltar.

I’m glad that everything turned out more or less okay for the surviving Colonials. They finally had one good day, even if they never made it to the Puppy Planet.

Though it’s gonna suck when they realize they’re out of toilet paper.

*For a time, I began to think that the cycle of civilizations being slaughtered by their own creations (“all this has happened before; all this will happen again”) might imply that the original series itself was part of the same continuity. I also thought that Dirk Benedict would turn out to be Starbuck’s dad. So I guess I’m not so clever.

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