Posted by: Ken Brown | January 24, 2009

BSG – “A Disquiet Follows My Soul”

The title of last night’s episode of Battlestar Galactica aptly summarizes my feelings about where the show seems to be heading. Is their goal to prove that real heroes do not exist, that even the “best” are thoroughly corrupt? Where is the courage and hope? Left in the ashes of Earth, it seems. Along with the fleet, I have no idea where they are going anymore, and I’m not sure we’ll like it when they get there (spoilers follow).

But despite all the “disquiet,” this episode did explore some interesting ideas about the nature of humanity. In particular, it brought to the fore an issue that has underlain much of the series: the “humanity” of the Cylons. The Final Five Cylons have been revealed and have formed an alliance with the humans, and now they want to be treated as equals, full citizens with all the rights and protections that entails. Nor is their argument without merit. Are they not people too?

As is graphically illustrated by the scene in which Colonel Tigh and the Six first see the ultrasound of their unborn child, these “machines” are flesh and blood too, thinking and feeling people just like the rest of us. No, they were not born–as far as we can tell they are clones–but is that really relevant? Is it only one’s birth that defines one’s identity? As the movie Hellboy once put it, it’s not one’s origins that “make a man a man,” but rather “the choices he makes. Not how he starts things, but how he decides to end them.”

Yet that is just the problem, according to Felix Gaeta and many others in the fleet, who rightfully ask: Are these not the same Cylons who only four years ago destroyed the colonies–incinerating billions of people? Are these not the same Cylons who oppressed, imprisoned, tortured and executed many of the last survivors on New Caprica? Are these not the same Cylons who chased the remnant of humanity across half the galaxy, only finally giving up their war of extermination when they learned the Final Five were among them? Are these not the same Cylons who, only days ago it seems, threatened to nuke the whole human fleet if they refused to hand over the Five? But now–now that Earth is a wasteland and all hope seems lost–now the Cylons feel as frightened and alone as the humans. Now they want protection. Now they claim to have turned over a new leaf and want to be treated as equals. Is that justice? Is Gaeta wrong to insist that “someday soon there will be a reckoning”? Should we just forget the past with all its victims and join in a round of Kum Ba Yah?

If the Cylons are guilty as sin, however, their newfound desire to be treated as humanity’s equal is not as out of place as it might seem, for there is little sign of righteousness among the Colonials either. They too have tortured and executed, imprisoned and enslaved, even coldly slaughtered their Cylon enemies. It wasn’t long ago that these very humans and these very Cylons attacked and destroyed the resurrection hub, killing thousands instantly and condemning all Cylons everywhere to death. It may even turn out that it was humans who destroyed the Cylon “Earth” 2000 years ago. “All this has happened before, and all this will happen again.”

And if this is true of humanity in general, it is also true of our “heroes,” each and every one of whom has a closet full of too many skeletons to name. Gaeta himself, as revealed in the recent webisodes, is hardly a picture of virtue, aiding the Cylon pogrom during the occupation of New Caprica, attempting to kill Gaius Baltar and an Eight for reminding him of that treason, and now plotting mutiny on Galactica. Even Cally Tyrol–probably the cleanest character in the whole series until Tory flushed her out an airlock for discovering they were Cylons–has now been revealed as unfaithful: it turns out Nicholas is not Tyrol’s child after all; she got pregnant by another man just before they got married, tried to get an (illegal) abortion, then changed her mind and lied about who the father was.

After all of this has come to light, however, Gaius Baltar–Gaius Baltar–has the audacity to blame God for the evil that has befallen them:

Baltar: What manner of forgiveness are you seeking? Is it that of disobedient children?… Are you all just children who transgressed against your Father’s demands?
Crowd: No, we’ve done nothing wrong.
Baltar: Are you being punished for your multitude of sins? Are you?
Crowd: No!
Baltar: Is this really our lot? To have been lead, by a father, to the promised land? To paradise? Only to have paradise cruelly smashed to bits before our very eyes? Are these the actions of a father towards his children?
Crowd: No! It’s not right!
Baltar: What have you done to deserve this punishment? What sins have you committed to condemn you–condemn you!–to wander through the universe, without hope, without light? So you have to ask yourselves, what kind of a father abandons his own children to despair and loneliness? Perhaps we are not the ones in need of forgiveness! Perhaps we are not. Perhaps we have been wronged! Perhaps it is God who should come down here and beg for our forgiveness!

Coming from Gaius Baltar–the most narcissistic, self-serving, morally bankrupt character of all, the very man who enabled the Cylons to wipe out the colonies, collaborated with them on New Caprica, and now leads a sex-cult on Galactica–this outburst of indignant blasphemy is deeply ironic, and made all the more so when it is immediately followed by a fight between Tyrol and the real father of Cally’s child. It seems that Cylons and humans can’t even stop fighting long enough to blame God for their troubles.

I wonder, if God really did come down, who among them would deserve to stand in his presence? But more to the point: Will God come down anyway, and will there be any redemption on offer if he does? Is there any hope at the end of this story, or is BSG content to leave us with the despair of a meaningless and Godless universe?

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Responses

  1. You are aware that he’s referring to the CYLON God, who, aside from being called God, is not necessarily tied with the God of Christianity. In other words it’s a TV show.

    That being said though, it’s unfair to call Gaius arrogant for blaming God for his troubles because no one on Earth has ever experienced what these characters had to endure… they’ve been living space for three years looking for a planet that they don’t even know exists and then when they finally find it, it’s no longer inhabitable and by then their ships are falling apart and they’re running low on resources. I think it’s far, far too easy to sit comfortably on our couches and call Gaius’ words blasphemous. If anything, it was a very natural and human response. Put yourself in the shoes of the characters and really ask yourself if you would have reacted any different.

  2. Rikki,
    Thanks for commenting!

    You (and Gaius) do raise an important point: If (as has been hinted throughout the series) it was God or the gods who commanded the Cylons to destroy humanity and then led them all to Earth, what was the point of it all? And can any purpose be worth the bloodshed? Thus, I think you are right that:

    I think it’s far, far too easy to sit comfortably on our couches and call Gaius’ words blasphemous.

    Nevertheless, telling God that he needs to beg for our forgiveness is blasphemy, whether it’s a “very natural and human response” or not. I’m not saying I wouldn’t feel the same in their position–who knows?–but blasphemy is blasphemy, especially when the very man who enabled the Cylons to destroy the colonies dares to blame God for destroying the colonies!

    To be sure, it is not the God of Christianity that Gaius is blaming and blaspheming (then again, the show is not created in a vacuum; the whole point of having the characters talk about “God” is to play off our real-world views of God–whether Christian, Muslim, New Age, whatever), but if they are going to tell a story in which God or the gods play an active role, it is certainly appropriate to analyze its claims about what it would be like if they did so.

  3. This show is known to push buttons but I don’t think he was being blasphemous for blasphemy’s sake. So to say blasphemy is blasphemy is not entirely correct. One of the things I love about this show is nothing is cut dry and their are deeper meanings than just a bunch of characters speaking dialogue. You might see an arrogant man who’s throwing a temper tantrum at his God but I see a man who’s been profoundly hurt and betrayed. Whether he’s justified in his anger or not that remains to be discovered. It could be part of a greater to lead the humans to the true promise land and that this planet, be it Earth or a red herring, is just warning of what could happen if the Cyclons and humans continue to fight each other and amongst themselves. Or it could be that the Cylon God is not God at all. Some fans speculate that it may be the BSG equivalent of Satan, with the the Lords of Kobol being the actual good guys. It’s hard to say. Like I said, nothing is clear cut. Kinda like real life.

  4. Those are great thoughts, and I agree: one of the best things about the show is the way it raises such questions without forcing an answer down our throats.

    On that score, you might be interested in Carmen Andres’ very different take on that episode, here.

    Thanks!

  5. […] that episode aired, I noted the irony of this claim, coming from the man most directly responsible for the very situation he is […]


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