JULY / AUG 2012: BY CHARITY BISHOP
What makes us human? Our ability to reason, create, have independent thought, our soul? Could a non-human also have a soul and be part of a bigger plan? This is the question of Battlestar Galactica, considered by many to be the greatest sci-fi series of all time.
Following humanity on the brink of extinction by their enemies, a robotic force known as the Cylons, it shows a desperate ongoing fight for survival as well as explores the existence and beliefs of the Cylons, some of whose identities are not revealed until the very end. Full of provocative statements about humanity and intellectual debate that ranges from the distinction between right and wrong to contrasting the difference in civilian and military perspectives, its characters are realistic and relatable through their individual struggles; none are perfect and all play a pivotal role in the outcome. Our assumptions about who to trust are challenged, forcing us to redefine our view of what makes a person or a cause “good” or “bad.” It is tempting to dismiss the Clyons’ desire to wipe out mankind as evil, but are they? Or are they just fighting for their own survival? Is this a war in which we can only root for one side, or can we see merit in both?
This refusal to formulaic and ask hard questions sets BSG apart from most sci-fi. None of the choices faced are easy… does Admiral Adama risk the lives of the entire fleet to save one ship, or sacrifice a few for many? Even when wrong choices are made, it is often for the “right reason,” leaving us to debate inwardly our moral objections and rationalize them out with logic. When Laura Roslin tries to rig the presidential election, we know if her adversary wins, the consequences will be devastating. Her reasons do not make her actions any more forgivable … do they?
We never forget these faces once we are introduced to them, or the situation most are confronted with. While there are many memorable relationships, between sons and fathers, friends, and lovers, the one that stands out the most to me is between Admiral Adama and Laura Roslin, the president of the colonies. At first they do not see eye to eye. Both are thrust into sudden positions of power and responsibility, and out of a deep and abiding respect for one another develops a moving love story. Because Laura is dying of cancer, their romance is formed of an intentional choice to love in spite of future loss, which makes their final moments together incredibly moving.
BSG pays homage to the military with respectful consideration of the choices the men and women of the armed forces are forced to make… choices between life and death that at times require distasteful actions for the preservation of life. Even though we, at times, do not approve of all their tactics, never are they vilified. Instead, they are shown as heroic, brave, willing to sacrifice their lives for others, and utterly human, right down to their fears, insecurities, friends, and mistakes.
Beneath the moral gray areas and complexities that define BSG is an unexpected religious element. While the allegory is polluted with immorality, it’s still blatant; the Twelve Cylon models may reference the Twelve Apostles (or the Twelve Tribes of Israel). This “super-human” race does not share the pagan faith of mankind in multiple gods, but believes in One God. He arranges outcomes according to His will. Their attempt to destroy mankind forces us to ponder whether BSG bashes Christianity or references its continuing survival over the centuries. What does it all mean? Is Six’s sexual affair with Gaius a warped reference to evangelism? Is Gaius’ view of Six based on his own lustful nature, which begins to fade when he finds faith in God? In many ways, it is as much about his redemption as it is anything else. Even the eventual discovery of Earth and its colonization brings about the scriptural fulfillment of early prophecy, fulfilling Six’s prediction that all of them will play an important role in what is to come. The character of Starbuck is in both worlds, a character that dies, returns to show them the way and disappears once more. It isn’t straight-up allegory, and the final episodes bring to light the Mormon theology of the writers, but it leaves the audience much to consider on multiple levels.
What does BSG say about faith and humanity? It is only when faith is adopted, when paganism fades, when two cultures learn to live in harmony, that contentment and fulfillment of a Greater Purpose is achieved. What are we left with? A series that frequently strays into muddied morality but also asks its audience to dig deeper, to question their beliefs and opinions, to see both sides of every issue and make hard decisions right along with these flawed but wonderful characters. This is not a world in which anything is black and white or obvious, but in which we must involve our minds as much as our hearts; a world in which disgust surfaces at the selfish actions of some, but we rejoice at the redemption of others.
BSG is a series that dares to be different, dares to be controversial, and dares to force us to ask the hard questions simply because they need to be asked. ■
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Charity Bishop would dearly love to spend all her free time mulling over, theorizing, and philosophizing on the vast spiritual / moral lessons of cinema and Victorian literature, but alas, she must make a living, so her days are spent doing editorial work. She devotes her free time to babysitting her bipolar cat, writing books, blogging, and searching for spiritual truth in all aspects of life… when she isn’t editing Femnista!