Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Wrath of Ron Moore

I think that if last night's episode of Battlestar Galactica proved one thing it's that Ron Moore is a heartless bastard of Whedonian proportions. After having ruthlessly dashed humanity's hopes last may with them finding Earth as an uninhabitable radioactive rock, the BSG writers pick up where they left off by examining the wreckage of what they created. No reset button here.

But it was more than just a really gloomy mood piece. This episode was fast paced and full of big, shocking revelations. If there had been a big space battle, it would have been the perfect prototypical BSG episode.

First we have Earth. Earth was nuked -- we found that out last year. Last night we got some more details. Earth was nuked 2,000 years ago and it was populated by Cylons. This works on two levels for me as a fan of the original BSG. First, it stays true to premise of the original and second, it gives it enough of a twist to provide the writers with wiggle room to get around the fact that the premise of the original series was flat out wrong.

We know that the human race evolved on Earth and that it wasn't seeded by von Däniken-style ancient astronauts which is part of the premise of the original Battlestar Galactica. So by making the thirteenth colony a race of Cylons, Ron Moore and company can have it both ways. Earth was a legendary colony of Kobol just like in the original series but there is wiggle enough room to push the origin of humanity back in time on a more ancient Earth.

It also works well with theme that "all this has happened before" that has been interwoven into this series. Humans on Earth build Cylons and they turn on them and Earth is abandoned. Humans on Kobol build Cylons and they turn on them and Kobol is abandoned. Humans on the twelve colonies build Cylons and they turn on them and the twelve colonies are abandoned. And now we learn that the Cylons who repopulated Earth turned on each other (or humans turned on them) and left the planet uninhabitable.

We also get Starbuck who continues her increasingly twisted journey. Everyone thought that she was dead and mysteriously came back but Kara Thrace herself was still certain that she never died. She went to Earth and could lead Galactica back. The latter was certainly proven to be true but the former, not so much. She discovers that the signal that led them to Earth is actually from her own ship. Kara finds the remains of her Viper along with her own corpse near the landing site. She cremates the body but there is no getting away from the fact that she has to be asking herself what she is and happened to her when she flew into that storm last year and was never heard from for months.

I'm actually pretty pleased with Kara's predicament because it fits well with a crackpot theory that I developed last year when Kara first came back. I believe that the storm that killed Kara last year actually concealed some sort of wormhole which was tied to Earth. It destroyed Kara's original body and ship but also duplicated them both and sent them back to Galactica's location. It's not exactly the most comfortable way to travel but the entity which set all this up probably wasn't planning with comfort in mind.

This development also opens up the possibility that Kara is actually a Cylon. It does fit in nicely with this show's emphasis on the numbers twelve and thirteen. There were thirteen colonies with a legendary thirteenth colony. The colonies worshipped twelve gods based on Greek and Roman mythology and feared a jealous thirteenth god who wanted to be elevated above all the others. And it has twelve humanoid Cylon models. So it makes sense for a previously unknown thirteenth Cylon to pop up.

But this episode is a lot bigger than its scifi tropes. Like BSG in general it is the story of human beings and an exploration of what it means to be human. They all deal with their hopes being dashed differently Roslyn is full of despair and burn the book of Pythia which she has relied up since the first season of this show. Dualla shoots herself. Adama wants to die as well. And the four Cylons begin to remember their lives on Earth 2,000 years ago.

Dee is especially poignant in this episode, breaking down in tears while on Earth, putting on a brave face, and finally blowing her brains out after having on last good day on Galactica. All in all, a pretty nice swan song for Kandyse McClure. Lee is the only one who seems to be holding up well, filling in for Roslyn before the Quorum and recounting his rousing speech to them to Dee during their date together. He is the only major character who doesn't have a major meltdown. It's and interesting choice as he is the one who was closest to Dee having been married to her. And maybe that's why he is holding up so well. With his father, ex-wife, and pretty much everyone else around him melting down, the ever passive Lee has too many examples of what wallowing in despair and is deliberately choosing to shut down emotionally.

While Bill Adama wants to die, he can't bring himself to pull the trigger. So he turns to his oldest friend, Saul Tigh. It's a heartbreaking scene. He taunts Tigh about his dead wife Ellen and accuses him of having been programmed to be his friend, daring him to kill him. But Tigh refuses. For once, he's the (almost) sober voice of reason. And he brings Adama back from the brink, giving him the strength to begin a search for a new planet for humanity to call home.

This sets up the ending of the show with its final and perhaps biggest revelation. Adama talks about how his uncle used to hunt foxes with his dogs. Some foxes would try to fight, some would flee and would try to escape by fleeing across a nearby river, but others would let the river's current carry them out to sea. Maybe they wanted to die maybe they were just tired of the chase but those foxes represent the entire human race and their Cylon allies in this episode.

D'anna, the Cylon model three makes this plainly clear as she's telling Tigh that she wants to stay on Earth, reminding him that Cavil and his Cylons are still out there hunting them all down and telling them that she wants out. We end as Tigh walks out into the ocean, like one of Adama's foxes and begins to remember his life on Earth 2,000 years ago during the great apocalypse. Ellen is there with him, dying in his arms. With her last breath, she tells him that "everything is in place. We'll be reborn again. Together." Ellen is or rather was the fifth and final Cylon.

It was a tremendous ending that really sets the tone for the final ten episodes of Battlestar Galactica. It also raises some exciting questions. How are these final five Cylons being reborn. The ending suggests some sort of resurrection technology that is very different from what the first seven Cylons were using. I'm actually reminded of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode about an ancient alien race that encodes a message in the DNA of many of the show's species. Maybe these Cylons learned some way to encode their memories and DNA in the human genome. It would be an interesting way to give the mystical and religious overtones of the show a scifi spin.

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