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Thursday, March 26, 2009
BSG: more on themes, controversy and ambiguity

I'm trying to understand the pro-finale point of view. It comes from a mindset alien to me though.

1 Themes

One argument which I have already talked about is "there were religious themes".

I think this is some fundamental misunderstanding about SF and genres.

There were "gun themes" in BSG too, but it would have been pretty surprising if for the final assault they had all mounted up on horseback, put on cowboy hats, and rode in six-shooters blazing.

There were also "supernatural themes" (prophecy), but it would have been pretty surprising if for the final assault Adama had said "I've opened the chest of the ancients, here are your magic wands and spells" and Kara had gone in shooting fireballs from her glittery wand, while Baltar put on a wizard's robes and cast bolts of lightning from his fingers.

There were also "technology themes" but in the last assault, they don't say, "oh yeah, we should use those laser rifles and teleporters we've had in storage" and beam into the centre of the Colony and start firing energy beams.

In science fiction that is proclaimed from the beginning to be naturalistic, God can't do it. It's as jarring a switch of genres and removal of constraints as the three fanciful examples I gave above. It's BAD STORYTELLING.

According to, the following are Ron Moore's own words in "Introduction to Battlestar Galactica", February 24, 2003

We believe that bringing realism to science fiction is neither contradictory nor a fool's errand.

Let me emphasize that: bringing realism to science fiction.

Things have rules. Limits. Constraints. Your science fiction universe can certainly have a Creator, if that's within the rules you set from the beginning. Robert J. Sawyer did this with his book Calculating God. What you can't do is have four seasons of events within set science fiction constraints, and 45 minutes of "and god did it".

1.1 But that's no different than...

Let's choose some possible endings:
* Starbuck is [undefined]
* Starbuck is [a robot]
* Starbuck is [an alien]
* Starbuck is [a wizard like Gandalf]
* Starbuck is [angel/god/messiah]

Some people say "well it's no different to say 'a self-aware robot did it' since sentient robots also don't exist". This is some bizarre kind of category error. WITHIN THE CONSTRAINTS OF THE STORY, they do.

On the other hand, if Starbuck had said "Lee, I'm a wizard", really it would have been no different than "Lee I'm solid matter and oh by the way goodbye poof". Both answers are outside the boundaries the story set. You have to obey the rules of the alternative world. That's what fiction is about. Sherlock Holmes doesn't battle Moriarty and suddenly Moriarty grows 10 storeys tall and starts shooting laser beams out of his eyes. Fiction has rules.

Since, as it were, any sufficiently ambiguous religion is indistinguishable from magic, in the context of science fiction, saying "god did it" is no different from saying "a wizard did it". It's completely outside the boundaries of Galactica as it was set up. Even "alien space bats did it" would at least be within the same genre.

2 It's good there's controversy

No, it isn't. It would be good if there was debate.
But God is the ultimate non-answer to everything. God answers mystery, with mystery.

Why is Earth 1 like Earth 2? God.
Why are Colonials genetically compatible with Earth 2? God.
What is Kara? God.
Why [anything]? God.

That's not a discussion, that's an absolute closure of all avenues of understanding beyond faith. The ending is controversial because it's bad. Bad is not good.

And as an added bonus, anyone who questions the ending gets ad hominem attacks about being a secular atheist humanist or whatever the baloney term du jour is for rational analyst.

If the ending had been "this was mostly Cavil with some help from Lords of Kobol and Kara is [undefined]" there would have been debate about it.

This ending closes off all debate.

If the ending had brought some consistent closure to the series, actually solving mysteries in clever, unexpected ways, it might have endured as great works of art endure. "God did it" instead closes off all avenues of further discussion and renders all the time fans invested in the mysteries moot. How can you understand God? The answer to every why question is "because". That's not an answer, that's an excuse.

3 You picky science guys can't handle ambiguity


You can't get less ambiguous than the effective Hand of God reaching down and plucking Kara Thrace up into the sky, followed by didactic lectures from angels.

It is not more complex and sophisticated and ambiguous to have "because God did it" as the answer to absolutely every mystery in the show. It is simplistic and simultaneously undebatable. How can you examine the motives of God. His motives are BY DEFINITION unknowable to man. It's a closed door slammed in the face of fans. It's not ambiguous, it's total Divine Finality.

If Moriarty goes over some falls to his presumed death, you can always debate about whether maybe he somehow escaped. If God comes and stomps Moriarty to the ground with a giant foot, followed by lecturing Sherlock Holmes with angels about how it's all for the best, there is no further debate. Case closed.