Battlestar Galactica: “Daybreak”


Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence.

God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.

So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.”
Genesis 6:11-13

Frak. Frak, frak, frak!

Now, that was something.

But before we get into the discussion, let’s get this out of the way first: I’m not surprised by the polarizing nature of this finale, but I am a bit shocked by the number of people with tin ears and tunnel vision who object to the presence of God and angels. I’m not sure what show those people have been watching for four seasons, but it wasn’t Battlestar Galactica.

Let me clarify that:

Nerds? Shut the fuck up.

The socially inept Asperger’s sufferers who are more concerned with bagging and boarding their variant covers and arguing the relative firepower of the Enterprise and an Imperial Star Destroyer (non-ironically) for hours on end watched BSG with one hand down their pants and one finger on the fast forward button. Hot chicks and space battles are their masturbatorial material, so philosophical fine points such as the existence of the divine, the role of free will, or the guiding hand of fate were largely lost on them. They might have pressed play for a few moments during Baltar’s trial when they saw Mark Sheppard, but realizing he wasn’t playing Badger, quickly flipped by and twisted off the top of another Mt. Dew. ((Because they’re Extreme, you see.))

How much better the world would be if the wounded thinkers like Tyrol stayed and the nerds went off to the Highlands to slice their own hands off with cheap, mall katanas.

Now that we’re alone, let’s look at the three hours of “Daybreak” and see what we’ve got and how it fits into the larger tale Ron Moore wanted to tell.

Who Are These People?

Last week felt weak to many people, but if watched with the knowledge that it was the opening act in the final chapter of the story, it just felt incomplete, more like the opening movement in a piece of music, cut off just when it was starting to get interesting. Viewed as a whole, the flashbacks to Caprica before the fall make far more sense as they comment on these characters we’ve followed for six years. Why is Laura Roslin still pushing? Who is Gaius Baltar? What is Starbuck?

It’s simple, really. Roslin pushes because that is what she must do: see things through to the end, no matter how hard or long the road. She still carries the democratic hopes of the survivors, even if Lee is taking the baton from her. Her hand has been on the tiller right alongside Adama’s, guiding them to their new life. Guiding them to Earth. Until then, she must carry on.

Baltar “knows about farming.” I’ve read many, many complaints ((Probably written one or two myself.)) about the writers not knowing what to do with Baltar. Like Lee, he’s never stayed in one role for too long, bouncing about trying to find his place (and trying to stay out of the line of fire) between the scientific, spiritual, and political worlds. In the end, while it was partially about getting Baltar to finally believe God was all around them, I think it was more. I think it was about stripping the false facades, the layers of callous and camouflage he’d built over the years, until the man inside was finally free and exposed to the air.

Brave enough finally to commit a selfless act. Brave enough finally to have the love of the woman he loved. Brave enough finally to embrace his father’s legacy.

This all shades his relationship with Gina in interesting ways, as well. Whereas Head-Six was cold and demanding – as an emissary from God she was something very alien and other – Gina was flesh, blood, and a true sister to Caprica. Baltar’s unrequited love for Caprica was temporarily transferred to Gina, to the point where he acted out his betrayal of humanity in miniature by giving her the nuke as a misguided offering of love.

Finally, Starbuck. Ah Kara, how I love thee. Just as the Cylons used sleepers who were unaware of their true nature to carry out their plan ((Did they have a plan? Yes. Did they carry it out successfully? Hell no. Was their plan a sensible one? I dunno. Maybe we’ll find out this fall.)) God used Kara without revealing her nature. God works in mysterious ways, you know? Mysterious and unfathomable. Not much fun if he rides in on a Ship of Lights and tells Adama the coordinates to Earth.

Not only not much fun, but not earned. If the fleet was handed Earth, they’d have no compelling reason to take the bold and dangerous step they did – sending their ships into the sun and spreading out across the continents. Only through suffering could they achieve salvation.

Kara Thrace’s journey parallels the fleet’s. Only through torment and suffering can she become complete. In completing her task, she completes herself and can return home to the other side. She will be remembered, at least for a time, but that doesn’t matter anymore. Even when her name is scattered by the wind, and the last storyteller has forgotten the story of Kara Thrace, she lives on in our dreams and in us. We are because she was.

The Ark

I lead with Genesis because it’s become so clearly appropriate. It’s not just the superficial similarites of God tasking Noah to build an ark and save the animals and his small family from the deluge. It is more that the God of BSG is so like the God of the Old Testament. More accurately: the God of the Yahwist. ((I am aware that the Documentary hypothesis is not set in stone and there is much competing scholarship; however, it is difficult to argue that the mercurial, playful, impish God who told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac only to send an angel and a ram at the last moment does not differ from later, more…sterile representations of God.)) He was content either to take an active role in the destruction of the colonies and death of billions, or to stand back and watch his children kill each other. With the slate wiped clean, the “ragtag fleet” could begin its journey.

Question: if God is omnipotent, why did the flood waters take so long to recede? Why did Noah and his family remain ark-bound for so many months? Why not wipe clean the slate and set Noah and the animals on their merry way quicker? Answer: because. His ways are mysterious. Though I can guess a good reason: only by pushing Noah and his family to the brink, challenging their faith and taking away hope, only by doing these things could the survivors truly appreciate the gift they’d been given.

Only by losing a fifth of their number and suffering the privations of space travel, occupation on New Caprica, constant war, and the threat of the end of humanity could the fleet realize the gift they had been given in Earth. To end the cycle – at least to try to end it – the ways of the past needed to be abandoned. Given the verdant Earth, teeming with life, I would argue it was easy for Lee to convince the fleet to throw away all ties to their former civilization.

Who wouldn’t want to pull a Thoreau when presented with our beautiful planet after years of grime and muck and recycled air and recycled water? Hell, I get on a plane for two hours and I’m almost ready to become an organic farmer and goatherd. I can’t imagine doing that for years on end with sentient killing machines trying to kill me at every turn.

The Nitpicks. #1 Mitochondrial Eve

Was this right or wrong? Would it have been better had the fleet reached Earth 10-30,000 years ago and in integrating with the human population brought agriculture, writing, and the basis for our myths and religions? I’m not sure. I think if I had been in the writers’ room I would have pushed for this route, even though it would diminish the importance of Hera. It’s hard for me to imagine the humans and Cylons leaving no writing, no implements, no artifacts behind. It’s especially hard since “locations will be documented; given to everyone.”

I know survival was going to be the first order of business for the scattered remnants of the fleet, but didn’t anyone ever want a reunion? Obviously crossing the oceans would be difficult if not impossible, but Europe, Asia, and Africa? The Americas? Did no one ever whip out a map and try to set up trade with someone in a different climate with different crops? I guess they really did just go back to the land.

Still, in order for the story to be truly cyclical, I understand the decision.

The Nitpicks. #2 Nobody Dies

Well, Roslin died (more on that shortly.) And in the end, everyone dies, even if it takes decades. But nobody died.

Patrick at Thoughts on Stuff hit it on the head when he said

I have a lot of issues with the Buffy finale, but a single shot made the stakes work for me there, and that was Anya being casually cut through by a Ubervamp scythe. To see a character who’d been on the show for years cut down with such a lack of buildup made it clear that no one was safe, that this is a war and it doesn’t matter who’s a main character, anyone can die. We never got that here, after all the gunshots fired, everyone walks out fine.

After mulling over that for a little while, I know how I would have resolved it. Leave Helo bleeding out on the deck. Get everyone to CiC. Before hostilities end, have Cavil kill Athena, saying how much he hates the 8s. We now believe Hera is orphaned, as we believe Helo is also dead.

On Earth, the reveal is no longer of the happy nuclear family, but of Hera and her widower father. ((And his awesome walking stick.)) He tells her how good a hunter he is, then tells her how mommy would have told her about the buck on Caprica.

Searider Falcon

The Old Man and Laura take one last trip together, to see the wonder of creation and finally find a place for that cabin. Unable to walk, unable to breathe, Laura is reduced to a shell. Where she was iron and stone and mortar, holding herself and the remnants of humanity together by force of will, all that is gone. Her mission accomplished, the dying leader lets go and is suffused with love for Adama.

And that’s the harshest cut of all, isn’t it? She soldiered on because of innate strength, her love helping her to keep going over the last few months, but without the struggle, without the rigid structure of the journey, all the love in the world can’t even grant her enough time to see the easterly view one time with Adama.

Instead, his ship dead and his lover gone, he becomes Searider Falcon, adrift in the world with his memories of Laura all he has to succor him.

The Coda

I know a lot of people, even those who liked the episode, felt the coda was heavy handed, preachy, and too on the nose. There are a lot of fans who think the final shot should have been Adama sitting next to Roslin’s grave. But I liked the coda. There was more there than people realize. I left a lengthy comment at Alan Sepinwall’s blog on the coda; I’ll repeat myself here.

As our angels finish their conversation, the camera sweeps to some homeless people, invisible to everyone going about their business and Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower” begins diagetically from a radio in one of their carts. The camera pans, and right before coming to the television showing the “Advances in Robotics” story, it slides past an old Ferrari F1 (I think it’s a Tipo 500, but could be mistaken.)

The juxtaposition of our invisible humans, with one of the pinnacles of mid-20th century design and engineering – a far more organic and craftsman type of engineering – and finally with our possible inorganic future, struck me strongly. The point I see here isn’t “technology bad” or “robots bad”, rather that in our headlong rush forward, we pay little attention to those left behind. And further that we’re abandoning the art and humanity of our earlier technology for something far more sterile. In the words of Lee Adama:

If there’s one thing that we should have learned, it’s that, you know, our brains have always outraced our hearts. Our science charges ahead. Our souls lag behind.

And lest we forget Dylan, in his live performances of Watchtower he repeats the first verse after the ominous ending, indicating a cycle of destruction and ending on these lines:

Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth,
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth.

We reach for the stars and often stand on the backs of our brothers and sisters to get there. We explore and build and study the mysteries of the universe without first studying the mysteries in our own hearts.

Finally, Moore makes it clear that we *are* all brothers and sisters; Hera is our mother and the Colonists and Cylons our aunts and uncles. We must learn from their mistakes and come together as a family.

What BSG Means

Nah. I can’t answer that for anyone but me, and what it means to me has nothing to do with any moral lessons about ethics, technology, religion, science, or politics. Those are all important topics, and BSG makes an intriguing starting point for discussions of them, as the special panel on human rights at the UN earlier this week demonstrates.

But for me what BSG meant is something different. I felt when watching, particularly when watching the long goodbyes, absorbed in a sweeping epic. Characters I cared about and had traveled with for half a decade fought, drank, screwed, cursed, fraked up, lived, and died. As the final hour was unwinding, especially the last 30 minutes, I wanted it to last longer.

Against all rules of narrative, I wanted to know I could come back next week and watch BSG: Little House on the Prairie, where Baltar and Caprica build themselves a log cabin. I wanted to know I could watch BSG: The Highlander, where Galen Tyrol started speaking with a French accent, wearing a kilt, and running around saying, “there can be only one.” I wanted to watch Hera grow up, learning to hunt and farm and build a house from her human daddy and Cylon mommy. I wanted to watch Michael Hogan and his amazing acting eye as Saul Tigh taught the protohumans all about fermentation and distillation. Each week a new delicious alcoholic beverage could be discovered.

Damn it, I wanted Kara and Lee to have a happy ending.

Few works of fiction have that effect. Few are important enough and touching enough that as they come to a close we anxiously check how many pages are left or how many minutes remain, willing there to be more, just a little bit more. BSG was one of those few and I’ll cherish all it meant to me these past few years.

I’ll also walk away with newfound inspiration for what television can do. Who knew we could be brought to tears by Gaius Baltar’s simple acceptance of his heritage? Who knew a network renowned for its missteps and short-sightedness could love something so complex and messy and difficult as much as we do? This is what happens when everyone cares about what they’re producing, from the network brass down to craft services, and pours their hearts into it. This is what television can do.

So say we all!

Please come in and share your thoughts.