There seems to be a pretty violent backlash against Battlestar Galactica’s series finale, so here’s another essay of support. It’s cross-posted at the excellent geektainment website Pink Raygun, so you’ll have to click over there to read the second half.
When all the guns stopped blazing and the nukes started flying, Battlestar Galactica’s final episode lost its grip on reality. It also found a human peace it had been lumbering toward over the last four years–one we all knew was coming but none of us expected. There’s been a lot of criticism of the last ten or so hours of TV’s greatest science fiction show. The pace was too slow. The tone was too dark. The finale punctuated an epic story with a literal deus ex machina, as the last remains of humanity were saved only by divine intervention. It’s a testament to the emotional investment BSG earned from its viewers over the years that so many hearts could be broken at the end. To be so violently disappointed, one has to have been violently committed at some point. It’s understandable to be upset with the finale, but it’s also indefensible. Battlestar Galactica ended with a planetload of mysticism and gobbledygook, but in the process, it earned its status as a storytelling masterpiece.
There are two kinds of Galactica fans: the “who”s and the “why”s. And there’s no better way to demonstrate the distinction than with one of the show’s many central mysteries. Once the final four Cylons were revealed at the end of season three, the identity of the fifth became the driving question of season four. Many couldn’t stop debating who the final Cylon would be. My money was on Hotdog, if only because I figured no one would expect it. And when I found out John Hodgman would be guest starring in the last half of the season, I hoped like hell he’d be the fifth. Especially if it turned out he really was a PC. But, of course, Ellen Tigh got the gig, and the disappointment started to roll in. Apparently people wanted the final Cylon to be a more central character like Roslin or Adama or Starbuck. These were the “who” fans. Personally, I was much more interested in why there even was a final Cylon. It didn’t matter to me who that character was, but why she existed in the first place. What role do the final Cylons play, and why are they different from the others?
Every mystery posed by BSG created another two sets of questions. How did Starbuck come back to life, and why did she come back to life? How is Baltar seeing this ghostly Six, and why is he seeing this ghostly Six? Who built that ancient temple, and why did the temple point to the eye of Jupiter? I’ll admit that the answers to the “who” and “how” questions offered at the end of the series aren’t particularly satisfying for those invested in them. Basically, “God” and “because God can do some crazy magic” are what we’re left with, and that’s infuriating to many people. But the answers to the “why”s are so intriguing and sublime and hold such an uncomfortable mirror to humanity that I can’t help but be overjoyed with the finale–mumbo jumbo and all.
Battlestar Galactica is not Star Trek. When Star Trek dealt with religion and spirituality at all, it was always in scientific terms. The gods of Bajor turned out to be aliens living in a wormhole. God himself was just a mean old man on a barren planet at the center of the galaxy. (And just what does he need with a starship?) But in the universe of BSG, God is real. And not only is He real, he’s also a seemingly omnipotent being able to guide humans over generations with subtle signs and wonders. For a show so focused on humanity that there are no aliens in sight and even our robot enemies look exactly like us, throwing God into the mix might seem to lift BSG off the gritty ground it’s been firmly footed upon for so long. It might feel like a dash of fantasy in a world seemingly built to be the opposite of fantasy.
But the thing is, there is no humanity without God. No, that’s not some endorsement of creationism. I don’t believe in God at all–not even in some kind of wishy-washy “he’s whatever we want him to be” or “he is all things” kind of way. I believe we are all biological processes loosely held together by electrical attractions, and when we die there’s nothing more for us. And it’s exactly because of this lack of faith that I think there’s nothing more human than the concept of God. If you trace humanity’s religious history, you discover a timeline of our own self-awareness. In the beginning, the gods were the answers to scientific questions we couldn’t otherwise fathom. Why does the sun rise? Why do the crops grow? In time, the gods became our lawbringers. They were harsh and wise, but also sometimes petty and cruel. They were a reflection of a society based only around survival. When we advanced, we had the luxury of self-reflection, and we didn’t like what we saw. Our God became an ideal. A warrior king who helped us conquer, and then a benevolent dictator. And then a source of unending love. God became both a reflection of our better natures and a prediction of our potential.
And so it was on Battlestar Galactica. The desperate humans clinging to their pantheon, trying to survive. The calm and certain Cylons and their One True God, who is the way and the light and doesn’t suffer imperfect pagans gladly. Then, there were the Cylon rebels–the ones who examined themselves and turned their God into a loving inclusionist, just like they wanted to be themselves. But in the end, neither humans or Cylons were right about God.
Read the rest here.