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Monday, March 23, 2009
BSG finale: answer to a question we didn't ask
Author's note: I am placing this ending (the "In Conclusion" piece) in the Creative Commons
Battlestar Galactica Alternative Ending by Richard Akerman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Canada License.
Do with it as you wish, within those constraints.
In further re-processing the finale, I realised it has brilliance in a way.
In the finale, Ron Moore answers the question: What would it mean, if god were real, if religion were true?
Unfortunately, for at least a segment of the fan base, that's not the question we were asking,
and I think it's a pretty long stretch to say that's the question the show was asking.
But I can see, if you're currently religious (like swathes of America, but unlike most of Canada and Western Europe) you could have read this as the question.
The question as I read it and as I think most in the non-religious west read it was: What does it mean to be human?
So what Ron gave us would have been, in its way, genius, if it had been an alternate ending, a surprise one-hour "side B", B-Ark special, AFTER the real ending that answered the "What does it mean to be human?" question.
That being said, if you read Ron's "alternate" finale in this way, it actually ends up in my opinion being scathingly anti-religion.
Think about the answers he gave, if the question is "What would it mean if god were real".
As worked out through
1 if the Old Testament Judeo-Christian-Muslim One God were true
2 if the Classic capricious Greco-Roman-Nordic gods who play dice with fate were true
3 if reincarnation were true
1 Old Testament
* God would destroy unbelievers
- as the billions in the colonies were swept away, for believing in the wrong gods
* God would destroy sinners
- as the billions in the colonies were swept away, for being a capitalist, spiritually corrupt society
* God would reward His Prophets
- as Gaius and Caprica Six are rewarded, and as Not-Kira-Nerys is rewarded by her boatride to see her relatives, after death
* God would test his disciples with suffering
- as in the Bible Job was tested, so the entire fleet was tested, Gaius was tested (attempting to kill himself to save the child), as the believing Cylons were tested having their numbers (literally and figuratively) destroyed by Cavil, just as Not-Kira-Nerys suffered in death
* God would lead the Ark to the Promised Land
- but not without 40 years / 4 years of wandering in the desert / space first
* it would mean that your life is in a way, meaningless. Only faith is rewarded. The only thing you can do is BELIEVE and BELIEVE and BELIEVE. The net is down - behind the scenes God can play everyone like puppets and pawns, but you have to BELIEVE he is doing it all for some PURPOSE.
* it would mean in one interpretation that your life is to be spent in poverty, shunning iconography, not pursuing scientific knowledge and culture, being a simple faith-filled farmer. Keep in mind there are many threads of religious belief that hold this to be true in our own real world today.
- when you see this played out on screen, it exposes what a horrific world that would actually be - nothing but the shirt on your back, endless lifetimes of suffering, no medicine, no art, no space travel, all because God wants us all to stay in a state of spiritually pure primitivism - this ending is an arrow right into the heart of Christian and Muslim fundamentalists who, mostly living at the pinnacle of civilization, claim this is the God and the life they actually want (while not living that way themselves)
Ultimately Moore is making a profoundly anti-religious statement: if this is what you believe, in the modern world, these are the implications: a God who from our perspective is cruel and mysterious, killing with apparent arbitrariness, giving us a life full of suffering and ignorance, changing the rules at whim, and probably going to kill us all again when He decides it isn't going according to Plan.
If this IS the true world, I think a lot of atheists would indeed be inclined to follow Doubting Cavil and say Frak This, and bang.
This world of a (from a human perspective) capricious (hmm Capric-ious) and cruel god is one a lot of us don't want to live in.
When David Plotz set out to read the Old Testament, his conclusion (as I understand it) was that God was a Right Bastard, and that in fact the only characters who redeem themselves in the Testament are the humans.
See e.g. Is God Evil?
In other words, this is basically an upraised finger from Moore, not against science, but to monotheistic religious fundamentalists, saying "if this is what you really believe, this is what it would actually mean in practice".
2 The Gods including The Fates
Classic religion has Fate as a strong element, indeed The Fates embody this, weaving out the stories of our lives. Not-Kira-Nerys articulated this view of the Colonies religion, scorning the view that Jupiter casts everyone's lot in life, picking our fates out at random, one to be happy and successful, one to suffer, all arbitrary and unstoppable.
(To which President Roslin said, "that's just a metaphor" - oh if only Moore had listened to her for the show's conclusion.)
What Moore is saying in this case is that Roman Polytheism sucked too - on the plus side, you get to do whatever the Frak you want, because there's no Christian concepts of Shame and Guilt, the gods don't care what you do, and you might as well just wander through life, since the hand of fate controls your destiny anyway.
Moore showed how abritrary, pointless and cruel this religious tradition can be when the literal dead hand of fate (Racetrack's dead hand) tumbles to hit the "launch nukes" button, and when Kara discovers her whole life of struggle was basically so she could enter some numbers into an FTL control and then disappear with a poof!
No reward, no free will - if this were the true world, many of us would follow Dualla and say "what's the point then?" and off ourselves.
What if you really go through cycle after cycle, either numbered-Cylon style, remembering everything but in many cases (like Cavil) not changing one damn bit (or even getting worse) through each cycle?
Imagine being fated to live over and over and over again, forever. That's a kind of hell all in itself.
Or in Final Five style, you show up not remembering your past, screw up your life again, briefly discover you're doomed to repeat it when you die and Know All, and then have to start ALL OVER AGAIN, forever.
In that case, like D'Anna you might just say, fuck it, I'm just going to stay alone on this radioactive wasteland and die already.
IF the show had been framed this way from the beginning, it would have been a good conclusion.
But I don't think the show was. I think the conclusion that would have been faithful to the spirit of the show would have been the exact opposite. For example I would have found it quite satisfactory to have my years of invested fan analysis rewarded with something like an actual ending "A", the real ending.
In order to do this, you can leave 4x19 and the first hour of 4x20 basically intact, just cutting out the (terrible) flashbackstories of Tigh/Ellen/Bill Adama and Roslin and Lee's "god is a pigeon" flashback. The Kara-Zak-Lee flashbacks stay and are actually critical to the reimagined ending. You might also insert a teaser "One Will Be Revealed" text at the beginning of 4x20. The big chunk of work is you need to completely reshoot the ending 45 minutes to an hour, starting just when Baltar and Six arrive in the CIC with Hera.
It goes like this:
On Kobol, there was a 14th tribe that went its separate way that did unify the Cylon and Human sides. (If you wish, you can consider "14th tribe" equivalent to "Lords of Kobol", but it's not necessary.) They have had 3500 years to develop very advanced technology and spiritual enlightenment. Although they did not cause any of the wars (Earth 1 or the Colonies) they did intervene in the small ways they could - using Cylon projection technology to send the Five visions and music, helping them to reconstruct the "organic memory transfer" resurrection tech that the 14th tribe had preserved and advanced after the fall of Kobol and beginning them on a long path to the Colonies and beyond.
Resurrection technology is based on a profound understanding of the nature of the universe, the discovery that there are underlying harmonies, a song in the mathematics and physics that underlies our reality, and that we all "read out" into that underlying song when we die - so that if you're careful and "listening" you can seize the moment to read that new harmony back in to a new body and continue.
The 14th tribe also intervened so that when Zak Adama, Cylon (model 7 Daniel) died,
he was resurrected in an old abandoned Resurrection Ship (or a specially constructed ship, a Ship of Light if you like) near Earth 1. He waited and cherished his love for Kara.
The 14th tribe transported Kara's crushed ship to Earth 1 orbit.
When Kara crashed on Earth 1, she was resurrected by Zak, he built her a new ship (hence the two month delay), he jiggered with her memories and sent her on her way. He waits for her to reach Earth 2, whereupon her memories will come back and she can come back and get him.
The 14th tribe also sent those harmonies to Kara's father, and helped shaped her destiny so that the song would lead them all to a new and beautiful home, full of life.
They sent Cylon projections and visions that can (since they are very advanced) even reach humans like Kara, Baltar, and Roslin, trying to help guide Baltar and Caprica Six to some kind of salvation, after their terrible sin (succeeding to a large extent with Six, rather more unconvincingly so with Baltar).
Hera was the symbol and the carrier of the possibility of united Cylon-Humanity that the 14th embody.
One of Six and Baltar's most important roles, guided by the 14th tribe, was to bring Hera safely to the Opera House, which turns out to be the CIC, the literal "Theater of War" against which so much of the drama of the past four years has played out.
Baltar and Six's other role is to make the case, based on their rediscovered love for one another, for final peace between man and machine, an argument based on love while the visions look on silently approving, but NOT an appeal based on faith at all, Baltar doesn't say "I see angels", he says "I have found love and redemption, finally, and so should all of man and machine".
They make the Great Bargain, Cavil says "I'm a machine of my word", the Cylons get resurrection tech again, Galen restrains himself and forgives Tori. The Colony is NOT destroyed by the hand of fate.
Sam says to Kara - "I can hear it now, the music, it's perfection... I know the answer you've been seeking Kara, you've had it in you all along" - and together they work out the coordinates to Earth 2 and Sam jumps them there.
They land on Earth 2 and Kara has her Second Revelation, of Zak Adama.
Cut and a raptor with Kara and perhaps at least Ellen & Saul but preferably all Four (out of the First/Final Five) jumps to Earth 1 and retrieves Zak Adama - oh joy for Ellen, her beloved 7 lives! and D'anna - return to Earth 2 for incredibly complex homecoming and tragedy - Kara loves Zak AND Lee AND Sam, but Sam is dying and Zak is back... so Kara and Lee can still never be together - stunning reunion for the Adamas as well, brother and son reborn and a Cylon all along. Roslin meets Zak, says "My gods, Adama is a Cylon" and then we have a painful but poignant end of her life, sitting on a hill with Bill, looking at the wonder of the profusion of life, finally back on solid ground she can let go.
Robotic Cylons are freed - each person, man and machine has a choice of the future they choose
Sam asks not to be resurrected but instead takes a new, hybrid Galactica-Baseship reconstruction to explore the universe and listen to the music of the spheres - perhaps Cavil takes inspiration from this and plugs himself in with Sam on Galactica-Baseship, exploring as the machine he always wanted to be.
Some leave to live space lives or seek out other worlds, some stay, humans and Cylons both.
Jump forward five years later - Adama at Roslin's grave atop a hill, talking to her as he does every morning, telling her there is a feast of celebration. Camera pulls back so that we see he is on a hill by her grave, his cabin is nearby, it overlooks a tidy Romanesque village, surrounded by neat fields (and some landed spacecraft) where humans, numbered Cylons and a few robotic Cylons (including some old-style classic Cylons) work side by side - cut to Galen, the town blacksmith working side-by-side with a robotic blacksmith - Galen heads out into the town centre where a long table is laid out and they're all preparing for a meal - Tigh has his eye back, clearly having decided it was worth another round of resurrection in order to see with both eyes again -
Saul and Ellen are looking on as a little boy runs after what is probably Hera - the boy runs to be swept up by Kara, with Zak beside her - Bill Adama arrives and embraces Zak - Lee shows up and they all head to the table together - together, the Five, the numbered Cylons and humans united together through Kara and Zak's son.
END OPTIONAL SCENE
pan along all the happy familiar faces, human and Cylon alike, as children run about... pan up to the sky and the stars, cue traditional (original series) music...
OPTIONAL ENDING TEXT
"Earth, Tigris-Euphrates river valley, c. 10000 BC" or
"Earth, Island of Atlantis, 10000 years ago" or (my preference) simply
"There are those who believe..."
END OPTIONAL TEXT
Fade to black.