Saturday, March 21, 2009

BSG musings: "Daybreak, Part 2"

[NB: This post started as a liveblog of the encore showing of the finale, but I kept writing long after the finale was over. If you want to skip to the analysis of my predictions, scroll down to item number 24.

NB2, 12/31/09: The contents of this post were refined into a long essay specifically about the nature of the "deity" in BSG. See here: BSG's deity: not loving, and possibly insane.

I'm re-watching the BSG finale, "Daybreak, Part 2," and still processing the experience, which was a generally satisfying mixture of thrills and disappointments. What follows, then, is simply a list of random thoughts.

1. Holy smokes! Baltar got away with it! His dirty secret-- that he betrayed the human race-- died with Laura Roslin. Lucky bastard. Lucky, lucky bastard.

2. The old "BSG" theme, in minor key, during Adama's final flyby of the Galactica. Nice touch. And the special effects in this episode are among the most gorgeous of the series, which has upheld a high standard in that area, especially compared to the various "Stargate" shows and whatever other sci-fi is out there. By the way-- is "Stargate" the Sci Fi Channel's version of "CSI" or "Law and Order"? It's been mutating into a gazillion spinoffs. "Stargate: Universe"?? Good Lord.

3. Old-school Cylon centurions during the final battle. Cool.

4. So... the opera house = the Galactica. We still don't know exactly why Laura Roslin and Baltar-- ostensibly human-- shared those visions. Hera's Cylon blood seems to explain the Hera-Roslin connection, but the "angels" (Head Baltar and Head Six) seem to explain the connection between all the relevant characters even better.

5. I re-watched the end of the episode "Revelations" to see whether we had a clear shot of the thirteenth colony when the fleet arrived at Earth. Sure enough, no: the clouds covered the planet too thoroughly for us to make out the shape of the land masses. Hats off to Ron Moore for pulling the wool over our eyes with that one: that nuked-out planet was indeed Earth-- just not our Earth. Our Earth, as the characters note, isn't the "real" Earth. We are, however, the Earth to which Kara Thrace had been trying to guide the fleet to all along. One potentially serious problem, though: when the fleet arrives at the Cylon Earth, the bridge crew confirms that the constellations from that vantage are "a match." How is this possible if the Cylon Earth is many solar systems away from our Earth?

6. So it seems Hera is Mitochondrial Eve. I admit I love this. It tickles me. Seeing as she's half-Cylon, that means we-- here on our Earth-- are all part-Cylon (or, from a certain point of view, entirely Cylon). And if this story has been repeating itself on all earthlike worlds, with the story always ending with an extrasolar colonization, that means that all of those worlds have hosted hominids that are part-Cylon. Which in turn means that Hera herself is more than half-Cylon, and always was.

7. There's a real case to be made, at the very end of the show, that the divine power is specifically the Cylon God, which is referred to (unless I misheard) as "It" by the angelic Baltar who appears with the angelic Six in Manhattan at the very end of the episode. What we don't know, though, is whether this deity truly is an all-powerful deity or something along the lines of the unseen aliens in Arthur C. Clarke's 2001 universe. If you've read Clarke's 2061 (see here), you know that the mysterious, monolith-dropping alien powers that have overseen the evolution of life on Earth have also been using Europa as a lab for experiments in accelerated evolution, trying over and over to grow... something. Whatever this power in the BSG universe is, its purpose appears to be to keep trying the human/Cylon experiment over and over again until something "surprising" occurs. I found it strange to think that God's plan would include something surprising: plans and surprises don't normally go together in my mind. Far from "plan," I think the proper term here would be "experiment." And "experiment" implies non-omniscience.

8. A bit disappointing to think that human parallel evolution is part of the divine plan. Moore's cosmology here strikes me as muddled. Kobol had Earthlife; the Cylon Earth had Earthlife (we see this in the Final Five's reminiscences, especially when Tyrol passed by the fresh produce market before that nuclear explosion). All that Earthlife couldn't have been brought on ships from world to world, and it couldn't have evolved the same way in every instance, not without constant micromanagement at the subatomic level. At the same time, the notion that humanity started in many different places responds to BSG viewers' earlier confusion about which planet should be thought of as humanity's planet of origin. The inescapable conclusion is that God (or some immense alien power) did this-- seeding many worlds with the reagents of life, and closely guiding life's evolution.

9. But you still see the old problem: human/Cylon history's progression is rigidly the same on all the worlds where this happens. The names of the cities might be different, the cultural details might vary slightly here and there, but the dominant cultures-- the planetary civilization that exists whenever a Fall happens-- remain anglophone North American in nature (sorry, Quebec). The only way to make sense of this is to think that, with all that Cylon-ness seeded into the population, rigid repetition is inevitable. A deity that can't figure out this problem is probably part-machine itself: truly a Cylon god, and dumb on a cosmic scale. Looked at microscopically, the act of banging one's head against a wall is also a complex process (Angelic Six talked about God's repetition of complex processes), but only a fool would think that repeated head-banging will eventually lead to a surprising result.

10. Kara Thrace as Christ: disanalogies first. (a) Unlike Jesus, Kara was female. Before you get offended, before you tell me that Jesus' maleness is an irrelevancy, you should know that a very large sector of Christianity (I met many such folks at Catholic University) views Jesus' maleness as constitutive of his divinity. I'm not saying I agree with this, but believe me, it's important to a great number of people. (b) Kara was generally a ho' and, later, an adulteress; as far as we can tell from the admittedly scant evidence of scripture, Jesus was no playboy. (c) Kara wasn't interested in imparting any teachings related to moral conduct. (d) Kara had no disciples, unless we stretch things and say that her lovers were all, in some sense, her disciples. (e) There was no empty tomb: her Viper had a body in it. You might counter by claiming that that corpse was the empty tomb, but I'd reply that you're reaching. Empty-tomb analogies don't usually use the body itself as a stand-in for the tomb. (f) Her life-arc doesn't fit the standard messianic paradigm, which culminates in a leader of a new, pacific regime-- a peaceable kingdom or something of the sort, usually temporal in nature, not spiritual. Kara obviously felt her work was done when the fleet reached our Earth, so she simply blinked out of existence.

11. Kara Thrace as Christ: analogies. (a) She died, she rose again, she disappeared-- hinting at ascension. It was all very much like Neo in "The Matrix," who jumped through all the same christic hoops. (b) Post-resurrection Kara was capable of disappearance and some form of clairvoyance, just as the post-resurrection Jesus was now truly the "Christ of faith"-- a being with transcendent properties-- and no longer merely the "Jesus of history." (c) Kara was interested in leading humanity to what might be called a redeemed end. (d) Kara had a special destiny; her life was the stuff of prophecy. (e) Kara did display certain moral virtues, like loyalty, dedication, and love. Whether her love extended to all humanity is debatable. In a sense, yes, she was intimately concerned with the survival of the human race, but whether this qualifies as a form of agape is a matter for discussion.

12. When you think about it, the story of the Cylons who spent "forty years in the wilderness" after the First Cylon War (with the Twelve Colonies) has some uncomfortable parallels with the story of the Hebrew people. With humanity (whatever that word means in the BSG universe) in both the creator and Pharaonic roles, the Cylons were the Creator's chosen people. But those chosen people were also enslaved, and they yearned for freedom. They finally did break free, and ended up wandering in the wilderness (an asteroid field doing a toilet-swirl around a black hole) for forty years. They returned "home" (to the colonies... a promised land?) to establish, per the messianic paradigm, a new order, and did so in the awareness of some higher purpose, using militaristic means, guided by a sense of justice and righteousness. But who was the Cylon messiah?

13. The end isn't the end by any means: not only have we got the theological panspermia project going on, but we've got remnants of the deity's previous experiments on the loose: the destruction of the Cylon colony didn't imply the destruction of all Cylons everywhere, and there may be billions of them. As I mentioned in a different post, those Cylons have exactly one Cylon lifetime to figure out resurrection or other forms of self-perpetuation. They might be able to do it. Or they might all die out together.

14. We never learn what regenerated both Kara and her Viper. This nags at me, though not in an entirely bad way. It's a puzzle, and I'd like to figure it out. Simply saying "God did it" isn't an explanation.

15. I may have been wrong when I predicted that the Creator wouldn't make an appearance in the form of a new character. Ron Moore himself, BSG's creator, appears in that Manhattan scene: he's the one reading the magazine article about Mitochondrial Eve.

16. Baltar, when confessing his guilt to Laura Roslin several episodes back, alluded to a flood story. Whatever powers are at work in the BSG universe must work along those same lines, using mass destruction (nukes instead of water) as a way of starting over. I sympathize with the atheist who thinks that this is a terrible way of hitting the reset button.

17. Is Hera supposed to represent God's emergency plan? When God's experiment doesn't work on a certain world or group of worlds, does God manipulate events so that a Hera comes into existence and is flung out of the solar system like a sperm to find another earthlike world (the egg) where she will breed with the local humans who've already evolved there?

18. "All Along the Watchtower" is cosmically significant, eh?

19. Eastern religion angle: in the tense CIC confrontation scene, Baltar babbles somewhat incoherently about God, who is "beyond good and evil" and "a force of nature," but he notes (as other characters have) that the goal for everyone is to break free of the painful cycle of existence-- a theme familiar to Hindus and Buddhists. And consistent with Hindu and Buddhist thinking, Baltar contends that the means to breaking free of this cycle lies within ourselves, that it's by our own choices that we'll achieve moksha. Somehow, the solution involves self-transcendence, the recognition and mastery both of our nature, and of the chain of causation that binds us constantly to this fate.

20. I'm sorry, but I laughed when Cavil shouted "Frak!" and killed himself on the bridge. That probably wasn't supposed to be funny, but his suicide really made no sense to me-- especially after all his scheming. Perhaps Cavil had forgotten that, this time, he wouldn't be resurrecting. Or perhaps he knew full well that this would be the end, and he'd finally had enough. Whatever his motivation was, I simply didn't-- and still don't-- get it. It wasn't the most stellar ending for a rather complicated BSG character. If anything explains Cavil's suicide, though, perhaps it's his deep-seated nihilism. Cavil was a bitterly cynical atheist, after all, but he also had Lucifer-like yearnings-- wanting, in his own way, to be like God (remember his rant to Ellen Tigh about how frustrated he was at his own physical limitations?). Having failed in his quest for apotheosis and/or immortality, Cavil finally gave in to the sin of suicide. I feel sorry for the character, but having seen that suicide twice now, I still think it plays out comically.

21. We never really learn what "12" signifies. It does seem, though, that the 2003 miniseries' contention that "there are only twelve Cylon models" has been shown to be incorrect. We know now that there are probably millions of Cylon models, and that "model" might not be the best term for them.

22. It occurs to me that my old 2006 prediction about the fleet finding Earth was right. It's our Earth, but not the present-day Earth. But Moore did a great job of throwing me for a loop on this one; I was sure that the mid-season finding of Earth meant that the fleet had found our beloved Terra/Gaia/Erde. As we now know, this wasn't the case.

23. The members of the fleet are planning to scatter, leaving clumps of humanity that will likely be too small to produce generations with direct lineages that survive to our present day. Hera will have to mate with the locals, but I assume the locals are fully homo sapiens, even 150,000 years ago.

24. So how'd I do, overall, on my most recent, "final" predictions?

a. The BSG universe is theistic, but only arguably so. The theophany, when it happens, won't involve new or extra characters; it'll happen with the cast we know. I'd say I was on the money here, mainly because the cosmic powers we learn about could merely be Arthur C. Clarke-style aliens, not deities. Taken literally, the Baltar and Six who make it 150,000 years into the future are angels. But they might also be technologized manifestations of energy akin to those beings produced by the USS Enterprise-D's holodeck (but in free-roaming form, unlike holodeck characters), or they might be incorporeal forms of alien life.

b. By the end of the episode, humanity's population will be nonzero. Again, I got this right, but it wasn't hard to predict. During "The Last Frakkin' Special," a recent behind-the-scenes show about BSG, several actors and writers talked about how the show's creators had to wrestle constantly with the network regarding how dark the series would be. I assume Moore had to cave, offering us an ending that could legitimately be termed hopeful in a "the story goes on" way. However, with Hera being Mitochondrial Eve, Moore does manage to slip in a measure of darkness: we modern Earthlings are all at least partly Cylon, and this holds true for world after world, where the same story has repeated itself almost exactly.

Come to think of it, then, it's possible that I got this prediction completely wrong. "Humanity" is something of an empty term if we're all Cylon. Also, it occurs to me that the end of the episode takes place 150,000 years into the future. That means everyone we've been following for four years is dead.

c. Human or Cylon or whatever her basic nature might be, Kara Thrace is somehow a weakly flickering symbol of hope, the Aurora, perhaps the human answer to whatever Hera is. Right. Kara safely brought humanity to a peaceful Earth. Most of that humanity will quietly die off ("You will bring humanity to its end," as the prophecy went), but this will happen peacefully, and in the knowledge that the planet already has its own stock of humans.

Note, too, that Hera, who was described by Six as "the hope for both our people," is indeed the genetic gateway to the survival of both humans and Cylons on the new Earth. The humans in the fleet (we'll talk more about them in a bit) might die out, but Hera is as much Helo's daughter as she is Athena's.

d. The series will, whatever its ending, have a decidedly "And the cycle continues" feel to it. Absolutely correct, but I have to admit this was a no-brainer of a prediction to make.

e. It's been nothing but Cylons since the beginning. Humanity is long gone, and the Cylons have been replaying this drama for thousands, maybe millions, of years. You know, I think Moore has left this open to interpretation, but he may have revealed his hand (or written himself into an unintended corner). We're given to believe that the deity has been repeating its experiment on many worlds, and the first impression we get when Bill Adama and Doc Cottle are talking about the African natives they see is that those natives are truly, purely human. So up to a certain point in a planet's history, life is allowed by the deity to evolve until true humans appear, after which a Mitochondrial Eve is inserted into the populace, lacing humanity with Cylon DNA. This leaves us with a complicated scenario, making it hard simply to claim that "it's been nothing but Cylons." At the very least, we can say that all modern populations are to some degree Cylon. If that's the case, it's not so much that the Cylons have been replaying this drama, as that the drama is being repeatedly kickstarted, always on different worlds, by whoever's doing the panspermia experiment.

But hold on: there's more. Think about the further implications. If the people of the Twelve Colonies also trace back to a Mitochondrial Eve, as seems to be the case, then everyone currently alive on those colonies at the time of the Fall is already partly Cylon. Hera comes along, the product of a Caprican father and fully Cylon mother. If Helo is fundamentally Cylon at the mitochondrial level, then Hera is more than half-Cylon (a point I made earlier in this post). Given enough time and enough inter-solar jumping around, the overall proportion of Cylon-ness in the various "human" populations all over the galaxy could conceivably increase. Once the deity runs out of empty earthlike worlds on which to plant and cultivate non-Cylon life, the galaxy becomes a massive den of Cylon incest as all the legitimately human DNA disappears, forever subsumed into Cylon DNA. So, given enough time, the ultimate result of the deity's experiments is likely to be the Cylonization of all anthropic life in the galaxy. What happens after that? Move the lab to another galaxy (or is that happening already)? Anyway, what we can't know is whether, at this point in the galaxy's history, total Cylonization has already taken place. My own feeling is that it has-- based, as mentioned, on the rigid repetition of human history, language, culture, etc., which is not explicable by a collective unconscious or "racial memory." The repetitions show too high a fidelity to the same basic template.

So the evidence still inclines heavily toward an "it's all Cylons" scenario, especially as we move further forward in time. And if God creates people in his image, then we're back to the idea that this deity (or alien) is itself fundamentally Cylon in nature.

25. I love that Tory Foster got her comeuppance.

26. Excellent (though comparatively brief) BSG commentary here. Equally excellent (and longer!) commentary here, though I strongly disagree with this passage:

The idea that our Earth would get its name -- as well as certain concepts of language and other bits of race memory that would take 150,000 years to resurface -- from these familiar-looking visitors from another star system feels right. It makes the similarity in dress and idiom between Colonial society and 21st century Earth society feel less like a cheat (so the show could more easily comment on current events) than a passing of the torch down through the generations.

27. Reader John points to this TV Guide interview with Ron Moore.

28. How well does the "deity" of BSG match up to the God of process theology? That God, based as it is on Alfred North Whitehead's process philosophy, is also a God that interacts actively with the universe with the goal of producing something (Catholic thinker Teilhard de Chardin, though not a Whiteheadian, per se, saw God as trying to move humanity toward an Omega Point). Key ideas in process theology are creativity, novelty, and freedom. God is part of the cosmos, evolving with it, reacting to it, but is also outside the cosmos, supplying a constantly generative and creative force. Some critics of process theology see it as providing a morally unsavory theodicy: everything bad that happens fits into the greater purpose, which is the constant creation of novelty through the exercise of divine and creaturely freedom. This seems to imply either (1) that most of us are merely grist in a mill that is attempting to produce an eventual crème de la crème., or (2) that the wavefront of creativity is its only important part. Either way, the picture looks grim for most of bumbling creation (for an interesting critique of process thought from an African perspective, see here).

But that unsavory strategy seems to be at the heart of the BSG deity's experimentation. It wishes to run the cycle over and over-- a cycle that involves the exercise of creaturely freedom (though apparently reinforced with prophecy and "angelic" guidance)-- until something new (or as they say in the finale, "surprising") happens. The process God isn't necessarily omniscient or omnipotent, and thus is a good match for the deity we glimpse in the BSG finale. How this can be reconciled with the deity's supposed "love" for all of us has not been explained, and is perhaps best left to mystery.

29. BSG finale cupcakes!?

30. How churlish of me not to say "Hats off!" to the cast and crew of BSG for putting on an amazing show. Best of luck with "The Plan" and with "Caprica."

31. Something I wrote in an email:

[Hera] ended up being kinda the punchline of the series, what with her being Mitochondrial Eve for our Earth. I ultimately thought that was a cool thing to do for her character (since she otherwise spent her on-screen time doing little except being discussed by all the other main characters), but you're right about pregnant pauses. It's a subplot that dragged on and on, and became less interesting-- to the point that I began to wonder whether Hera was just some sort of MacGuffin, like the contents of Marsellus Wallace's briefcase in "Pulp Fiction."


Now that we know what Hera is and how significant she was in the "deity's" plan, her presence in the show makes a lot more sense. But I still think it was a long, unnecessarily tortuous road to get to that revelation. Perhaps she should have been born later in the series.

Ronald Moore admitted in interviews that he and his writing crew were making stuff up as they went along, as opposed to planning the story arc in detail. They apparently had a general idea of where they were headed, but it was also obvious by late in season 2 that they were kind of throwing ideas around without knowing which idea was worthy of follow-up. I think the entire notion of a plan-- whether it's the supposed Cylon plan (I'm still not sure I know what that plan was supposed to be) or God's plan or whoever's plan-- should have been handled with greater care, not with post hoc abandon. Going back to watch Season 1 (which I'll do at some point, when I have the money to get the DVD sets) is going to be awkward in that respect.


I'm not so sure about how sane the BSG deity is, given that its instruments are moral fuck-ups like Baltar, Starbuck, and the always-hot-to-trot Caprica Six, who often seemed to confuse sex with love.


The BSG ending has a hell of a lot in common with the ending of "The Matrix Revolutions," the word "revolution" itself implying, among other things, a circling/cycling. In "Revolutions," we see the beginning of a new human/machine paradigm for peace, but the conclusion leaves open the possibility that the cycle will simply continue, and that it's up to the humans not to allow that to happen. When little Sati asks the Oracle whether they'll ever see Neo again, the Oracle smiles and answers in the affirmative. The line is delivered as if it's supposed to be comforting, but when you think about it, what the Oracle is really saying is that Neo will be NEEDED again someday, i.e., the cycle of violence will continue.

BSG ends on a similarly quasi-optimistic note, with the two "angels" speculating on whether, this time, on this planet, humanity will break free of the pattern. Angelic Six is uncharacteristically optimistic, as Angelic Baltar observes, but Six is also the one who expresses disappointment at the direction that modern humanity has taken ("Commercialism? decadence? where have we seen all this before?" she says while staring around Times Square). The series ends with everything being up to humanity. (Though, interestingly, it gives us a humanity that is already part-Cylon, and I'm convinced that Cylon-ness simply binds one more tightly to the cycle of violence since machines in the BSG universe have less free will than humans do.)

[More to come.]



Anonymous said...

"the special effects in this episode are among the most gorgeous of the series, which has upheld a high standard in that area, especially compared to the various "Stargate" shows and whatever other sci-fi is out there"

Frelling hey!!! You must never have seen "Farscape" back in the late 90's and early 2000's--still the greatest sci-fi show to grace the small screen.

Also, "Cavil finally gave in to the sin of suicide." In his religion, was it even a sin? He may have been taking control of how he wanted to die--at the hands of a cylon instead of a filthy know...human.

By the way, how did Anastasia Dualla come back from the dead? Wasn't that her in a couple of scenes in the background of CIC?

John from Daejeon

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I forgot to mention "Firefly" as being up their with "Farscape" in quality sci-fi.

Did you see the commercial for the new BSG 2 hour movie, "The Plan?" This time it plays out from the Cylons POV. Maybe some more answers will be revealed. We just have to wait until the fall for it. Then, there is "Caprica" on the 21st of April.

John from Daejeon

Kevin Kim said...


I didn't really like the puppets in "Farscape." They seemed like 80s throwbacks (think: Yoda). I did, however, enjoy the way the puppets interacted with the human and humanoid crew. Alas, I have to admit I never really gave the show a chance. I might need to watch it from the beginning. Even the puppets might make sense in context.

So what's up with "Farscape" stars popping up on "Stargate"?

re: Cavil and the "sin" of suicide

Yeah, Cavil probably didn't see it that way, but the viewer gets the opportunity to judge Cavil negatively for (as another writer put it) taking the coward's way out.

re: Dualla

I didn't see her, but I'll look for her.


Anonymous said...

Those "Farscape" stars, and others from various sci-fi shows and films (Morena Baccarin, Julian Sands, the hologram ST: Voyager doctor, etc.) were brought in to try and bridge viewership from one show to another during the last couple of years when the franchise was running on empty. It lasted 10 seasons--unbelievable. I only followed when Claudia Black and Ben Browder joined.

"Firefly" only lasted 14 episodes and a movie. Give it a shot first if time is short. Half-way throught the first season of "Farscape" things really came together when they added the new baddie in Scorpious. The makeup on that show was truly outstanding.


Anonymous said...

Re: Cavill's suicide.

I think Mr. Schemer knew that he was taking a HUGE risk by agreeing to the Hera-exchange. When the situation went south, he knew his ass would be grass back home, so he pulled the trigger.

It was awfully fast of him, though. I mean, I only watched it twice, but it seems like the situation had barely started going south when he yelled "Frak!"

_Andy in Japan

gordsellar said...


I skipped a lot of the post because I've not followed BSG and I may later, and don't want ALL the details -- I don't mind spoilers much, but I do enjoy the occasional surprise -- yet I did notice something about the question of omniscience and experiments. It prompted me to ask whether you've ever read Olaf Stapledon's novel Star Maker? It's available free online here, and is one of the few depictions of "God" in SF that hasn't turned me off, precisely because its a deity who is experimenting on a scale that simply blows the human mind to bits.

Anonymous said...

Holy frak!!! Did I make a mistake in watching BSG before watching the best sci-fi episode of the year in “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.” John Connor is Jesus and Moses wrapped into one. I can’t believe that I actually teared up at the end of his breakdown which came at the end of this two-parter. I know I will be throwing away my Emmy votes once again, but Summer Glau and Thomas Dekker (Nick Szalinski from “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: The TV Show”) are on fire in the acting departments. Now, this is some metal on human action that I could stand seeing some more of.

I can’t wait for this summer’s movie now!


Kevin Kim said...


I haven't read that story, but will do so. Thanks for the link.

Carl Sagan's novel Contact (not the film version, which is also decent) features a startlingly theistic ending. The number pi turns to have, encoded in it, a message whose first glyph is discovered by the protag (Ellie Arroway) after she calculates pi out to several million decimal places in base 11. Interesting.

And it makes one wonder why Sagan, happy atheist that he was, would take the theistic route in his story. Did he find such an ending more interesting? I realize that Sagan might not have been implying the existence of the God of classical theism in his novel's fictional universe, but because the "Artist's signature" (Sagan's term) is inscribed in the very fabric of reality, this seems to be a much bigger deal than a human/Cylon eugenics project.


Anonymous said...

"...only a fool would think that repeated head-banging will eventually lead to a surprising result."

Obviously you haven't done much programming. ^ ^

Anonymous said...

Kevin, has an interview with R. Moore in which he goes into further detail about how the ending came about, his fall BSG TV movie, and a feature film version of BSG in which he has no part.

John from Daejeon