Sunday, April 01, 2007

Battestar Galactica: The search for Earth

I finally got around to watching the two-part season finale of BSG last night, and let me just say that they are really establishing a pattern of serious mind-fuck season finales. I started to have my suspicions of some stuff in Part One, and then they started to come true, and now I have to come to terms with the fact that one of my hard-core crushes is a cylon, but that it's actually completely awesome.

But the drooling OMG awesomeness is not what I'm actually here to talk about. A member of my church, who is also a professor at a theological college and has done a lot of evangelism to young people, is developing a series of "sermons" on "The Gospel at the Movies". One of the biblical themes he's working with is "The Restoration of God's Creation", which got me to thinking about how well that fits in with Battlestar. Since he's rejecting television for this purpose, I'm taking it upon myself to write some of it here.

As a general idea, the Christian teleological course of the Earth is to get it back into right relationship with the Lord and restore what was in place before the Fall. That's pretty much what we're saying when, in the Lord's prayer, we say "Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven", working toward it in a short-term sense within our lifetimes. To some extent, it's the underlying motivation behind "end times" Christianity, though in my opinion they've got the whole damn picture wrong, focusing only on the long-term end result, presuming they know how and when that's going to happen, and disrespecting God's creation as it currently is in favour of looking both to a personal eternal life in heaven and a post-apocalyptic restoration of God's creation.

How does this fit in with Battlestar Galactica? Why, in the search for Earth, of course. There is a great deal of question around whether or not Earth is mythical or real, and that is part of the central question of whether or not to settle on New Caprica at the end of Season 2. Do we accept that things are never going to be the way they really should be, and decide to go with a possibly good-enough version, or do we struggle and try to reach a goal that we don't know is ever going to come to fruition? The end result of the New Caprica storyline suggests that "good enough" will never actually be good enough, though obviously that's not the only point. One of the biggest themes of the series is how humanity functions in the context of the ultimate crisis, and on a purely political level, there is a constant struggle between setting aside what's actually right because of this crisis and realizing that this state may actually be permanent, or at least very long-running, and therefore ensuring that the system of justice and fairness is adapted to work in that context. But is that a purely political (ie not spiritual) question? Do prison rape, inherited class stratification, and ad-hoc committees of angry victims making life and death justice decisions become okay when things are bad, even as part of working toward the restoration of creation? (I hope that's rhetorical enough for you). Restoration is an ongoing process, and respecting God's work means doing our best for it as it is now, neither settling for something that maybe looks close enough (because comfort will let us behave more morally) nor suspending our morality and our attempts to improve it in order to move us closer to the perceived utopia to come.

The views of the various characters on the subject of Earth are also informative: we see only brief glimpses of what I would call "true believers"--the priestesses, for example, who are essentially watching prophecy play out, but exerting little influence over the actual process, and, interestingly enough, cylons like Three (the fact that these debates go on among the enemy robots is a separate, though equally intriguing, question).

We see a number of characters in powerful positions who believe in Earth on various levels and behave in ways that comment heavily on the current real-world political structure. Laura Roslin is one shrewd politician, but a good portion of the time, she seems to actually think that she's doing what she can to bring about utopia. Though she was initially reluctant to accept her potentially prophesied role in the process, she's gradually moved toward an attitude of forceful confidence and desire to push toward that goal. She's certainly one of the most willing to do what is politically expedient, especially if she sees it as fitting into her long-term plan, regardless of whether the action in and of itself is morally right. Commander Adama shows flashes of believing, or at least hoping, but has lived a hard military life and often displays a cynical willingness to offer platitudes about Earth to the people if it will get them on his side, of a kind that's a little reminiscent of a lot of what's wrong with the real world politics-religion connection (which is not meant to suggest that I don't love Adama and totally want him in charge should the apocalypse strike without warning). He and Roslin have moved closer and closer to the position of the other on this issue since the mid-season 2 mutiny; her taking on some more "get the job done" cynicism and him giving in ever so slightly to glimmers of hope behind his craggy eyes.

Then we have "the rest of us"--those of us who are cogs in the wheel and who are still pretty scared about the idea that we have a responsibility in the restoration. In the real world, there are a hell of a lot more people, so our roles are less obvious, but suddenly, with 40,000 people to work with, each cog is a lot more apparent. There's Starbuck, who never quite wants to believe that she could be some kind of Chosen One*, and who fights with all her might against accepting that power. There's Apollo, whose season finale speech says more than anything else about why the ends don't justify the means, and why living God's creation means now, not just then, and not just when we're comfortable. There's the Chief (see asterisk, re: Starbuck), who's got some resentments against his religious upbringing, but who can't help but notice the signs that Earth may be real and feel moments of spiritual power. There's Gaius Baltar, who's actually desperate to be the hero in this story, so much that he is constantly narrating in such a way that it's never really about the restoration of God's creation, but about the exultation of Gaius Baltar. He, of course, manages to royally fuck everything up in the process, because it's entirely self-driven and not remotely connected to God in his mind.

Obviously, a lot of the picture of what Earth really is and whether or not the restoration is really possible in this fictional universe will shift with future developments, but the picture of how people behave when those answers are up in the air (so to speak) remains captured in what has happened so far, and I think it's the actions and beliefs within a state of uncertainty that says the most about how the search for Earth fits in with the quest for restoration.

*Recent events obviously change that picture, but I'm leaving them aside in favour of the big picture of her character, to avoid both spoilers and speculation

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