Monday, March 23, 2009

"All Manner of Things Shall Be Well": Saying Goodbye to Battlestar Galactica

For readers who have yet to be converted, rest assured this will be the final Battlestar Galactica-related post here on the blog ... at least for a while. I just felt I should say a proper goodbye, with Friday evening being Part 2 of the 3-hour series finale that was, appropriately, as epic and character-centered and spiritual and idea-filled as the show's vision has always been. I'm still chewing on it, in fact.

But first, some links.
  • As I mentioned previously, The House Next Door is a treasure trove of Battlestar information and analysis, full of depth and heart. Todd VanDerWerff has been doing a full recap and reflection after every episode since the beginning of the third season. Here are all of his Season 3 recaps, and here are all of Season 4's. I just might go back and read through all of them once I have time enough to revisit the entire series again. Speaking of which, maybe we can get him to retro-recap all of the episodes of Seasons 1 and 2, especially with the knowledge of the end! Now that would be pretty cool. (Just for good measure, here is his spectacular recap of Friday's finale. Thanks to him Todd for allowing me the great pleasure of publishing my piece over there, and thanks to all who read and commented on it. I enjoyed my description as someone who "writes about more than just the title [Resident Theology] including, yes, Battlestar Galactica." What a happy endorsement!)
  • Hercules' AICN post, with armies of Talkbackers dissecting the finale head to toe.
  • The Chicago Tribune's The Watcher has a bunch of content, including an interview with series creator Ronald D. Moore.
  • Discover has a similarly spoiler-filled discussion with Moore about the finale.
  • Salon says goodbye to Battlestar, too.
  • The United Nations hosted Battlestar Galactica! I guess that answers the "relevance" argument.
  • The blog Galactica Sitrep has a host of resources and links, including a farewell letter from Moore to the fans.
There's more out there -- just Google "Battlestar finale" and you'll have enough reading for the day, or week -- but that's what caught my attention. Now for some concluding thoughts, theological and otherwise (spoilers herein!):
  • Who knew it would be so hopeful? Sure, there was carnage, and death, and pessimism, and suicide, and goodbyes, and a big question mark -- but a new earth, lush and prehistoric and ready for technology-less new civilization? Peaceful goodbyes, and hugs, and living in the land "with rest from war on all sides"? Truly, Moore brought us through the fire, through the depths of despair, to earn this.
  • Who knew Anders' character would end up so profoundly beautiful? A potential throwaway love interest for Starbuck, a "hot shot athlete," ends up being not only one of the Final Five, but a heroic and faithful husband and warrior who is ultimately the central factor in the Galactica's rescue mission and the one who carries the seeds of destruction -- technology -- flying into the sun in a kind of cosmic sunset. Wow.
  • Who knew -- do I say "I"? -- the show would conclude on a note so explicitly theological? As Todd mentioned in his recap, for any hardcore science fiction fans fearful of either fantasy elements or spirituality, the finale was no blip on the radar, no deus ex machina dropped out of the rafters ready to inexplicably save the day. The divine has been part and parcel of the show from the beginning, and it was truly brave of the show's writers to allow the spiritual to play such a powerful, central role in the series' conclusion. No explaining away, no bait and switch: this was the real thing. And it worked.
  • So how do we plot the seasons? I continue to marvel at the confusing refrain from a minority of viewers who think the show "plummeted" after Season 2, with the left turn of New Caprica and the show becoming "political," etc. Similarly, so many want to complain about the entire arc of the show -- every plot detail and "big reveal" -- not having been known and planned from the beginning. How could that have even been possible? The current season of Lost is revealing the depths of just how much its creators did plan from the beginning, yet even those writers have admitted to a thousand left turns and changed plans and veers off the path. Why would we ever be interested in demanding from a creative team of artists, in the slow and painstaking fashioning of a beautiful and tragic story, told over the course of five years, that they somehow know everything they will do in advance? These characters and stories take on a life of their own! They wrestle themselves out of the hands of their creators! The path the show took is the only path it could have taken, because it was honest.
  • So how do we map it? The miniseries is obviously the launching pad, and Season 1 continues the steps it began. Season 2 introduces the ensuing anarchy of Adama's assassination attempt, including much of the mythology as well as the now-it's-really-running-full-steam entrance of the Pegasus. By the end, Season 3's full-stop inertia-twist begins in the nuclear explosion, Baltar's win, settling on New Caprica, the Cylons' return and occupation, and the Galactica's exile. Season 3 began the pattern of focusing on individual story lines and intimately exploring characters' lives, as well as beginning the run-up to the end with Kara's death, Baltar's trial, and the mythology of the Final Five. Season 4's first half was consumed in the insanity-inducing desperation of Starbuck in the search for Earth, the resulting issues raised by the "waking up" of the Four, and the civil war between the Cylons and its consequences for the human fleet. (Not to mention the wonderful fruition of Adama and Roslin's love.) Season 4's second half begins in the ashes of Season 3's jubilation-turned-despair, the final dangled carrot snatched before their now-hopeless eyes. The fleet is now truly in the depths of the wilderness: the promised land was a farce. Roslin loses her faith as she lies on her deathbed; Dee commits suicide; Adama starts carrying a flask. (Looking back, the revelation of "the Fifth" was not nearly as big a deal as we thought it would be. We did get a boatload of mythology though!) And then: two of the best hours ever filmed for television arrived almost totally unexpected in the revolution led by Gaeta and Zarek. After that, numerous episodes simply walking with these characters to the end. And the gearing up for the finale ... and then it came.
  • Theologically, is there a message in Battlestar Galactica? Can we expect someone to be releasing shortly a The Gospel According to Battlestar Galactica? Possibly, but I never want to assume there is some sort of "big scale" message, much less a hidden "Christian gospel," in the midst of a show obviously filled with other purposes. There were, however, a remarkable amount of theological themes in play in the finale, which, as I said above, served as a faithful coda to the series.
  • Who is Kara Thrace? To some extent, she is the Christ figure of the story, quite literally dying and coming back to life, the one with the (again, literal) key of salvation, who, upon the accomplishment of her mission, disappears (ascends) on a mountain top. VanDerWerff posited Adama, Starbuck, and Lee walking on the New Earth as a kind of Holy Trinity, although in this case the son is the Spirit and a woman is the Son. Interesting thoughts.
  • If Kara is Christ, and there is a filled-out Trinity, Baltar is the ultimate redeemed sinner. I still cannot believe they found a way to fulfill his character's promise in a wholly fulfilling way. I started to list all of his roles and transformations, and I had to stop myself, the list is so long. His last line ... perfect. Simply magnificent.
  • Do we call Roslin a prophet, the voice crying in the wilderness? Or Moses? Hm.
  • On a macro level, Battlestar models the form of spirituality called apophatic, what theologians call the via negativa. Here God can only be spoken in negatives ("God is not finite, God is not matter, God is not human," etc.), because God is ineffable, unknowable, totally Other. God is mystery and stranger and utterly incomprehensible to mere mortals, and the only way we come to know or see this God is by indirect means. Thus the (now revealed as) angels' discussion, perceived by us as between Baltar and Six, referring to God and correcting with a grin, "You know It doesn't like to be called that." And the real Baltar, even in his apparent revelatory climax, cannot even name who or what the divine is: "God" or "gods" of even "a force of nature." Yet even this unspeakable God, outside of "our" categories of good and evil, implements "Its" will: and in the end all shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well.
  • How perfect was the fulfillment of the Opera House Vision? I could not have asked for more.
  • There is hope, according to the series' conclusion, in breaking the cycle of "All has happened before and all shall happen again." That may be the great shining light bursting through the still-unsure, open-ended question mark of the final few minutes set in modern day. Somehow the Cylons did not return; somehow humans have not completely self-destructed. Peace -- relative peace -- is a possibility. Humanity still holds within its hands the definitive choice for shalom.
  • The twelve colonies (Israel) rescued out of bondage to death (Egypt) on a journey through space (the wilderness) for the promised land (Canaan) following an aged/dying leader (Moses) do finally arrive in a land flowing with milk and honey! Yet there is no conquest, unless we name the Cylons as Egyptians as well as Canaanites. New Caprica is exile into Babylon, and the rescue mission is a New Exodus, a homecoming for the tribes of God's people. Hm.
  • I have no doubt I will continue my theological dissection into the days and weeks to come, but I will leave it at that. Thank you, Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell, for your singular portrayals of two of the most gripping and fascinating characters I have ever come to know through any medium of art. Thank you, every other actor, for your fine performances. Thank you, Bear McCreary, for your breathtaking and gorgeous music. Thank you, VFX team, for your unbelievable work on groundbreaking television special effects. Thank you, set designers and producers and SciFi Channel, for having the chutzpah and faith and skills and work ethic to pull this miracle off. Thank you, writers, for the gravity of your humanity and for the skill of your pen. And finally, thank you, Ronald D. Moore, for your vision and your commitment and your love for this world and these characters and this glorious, triumphant story. It is a work of art, and it stole my heart. And now there will be a hole in my life where these friends and this world and their narrative captured me up into their drama and struggle. I have only gratitude. Thank you.