A Few Random Musings on Race, Class, and NeoConservative Politics oh, and maybe that Religion and Science thing
My love affair for the BattleStar Galactica world started when two years ago, when I first became a fan of its spin-off, Caprica. I know there are a few people out there that started backwards like I did, but apparently it’s a bad habit of mine (I finished Angel the spin-off of Buffy before Buffy the Vampire Slayer). So, the following are some thoughts about my favorite episodes and characters from BSG, and what it all meant to me.
My favorite episodes were “Bastille Day,” “You Can’t Go Home Again,” and “Colonial Day.” Both “Bastille Day” and “Colonial Day” played out political dramas were very intriguing, especially in the eyes of a former political science minor like myself. Of all of the BSG episodes, I have seen “Bastille Day” the most because of the political ideology of Tom Zarek. Imagine that the world has just ended, there has been an enormous holocaust of billions of people, and the of the 50,000 people or so who have survived, the Presidency falls into the hands of the Secretary of Education. If the survivors are following the law (the Articles of Colonization, then elections need to be held. What better way to highlight political conflict, and to force people (like Apollo) to take sides. Of course, Zarek, as a mysterious figure, has a bad habit of violence, and is on the prison ship, the Astral Queen because of his terrorist activities. He claims to fight for democracy, free elections, and collectivism, and will use murder to achieve his ends, as we found out in “Colonial Day.”
In “You Can’t Go Home Again,” our Hal Jordany pilot, Kara “Starbuck” Thrace has crashed her Viper and needs to find a way out before the Cylons find her. She manages to find a Cylon Raider, and learns that not only to fly the Raider, but also that the Raiders (cylon technology) were organic specimen similar to animals. So, has Starbuck found a weapon or a pet? That’s the question that lingers in the following episodes, and leading into the Season 2 episode, “Scar.”
Out of Season 1, my favorite characters are Cally and Executive Officer Lieutenant Saul Tigh , played by Michael Hogan and whose presence gives a realistic military feel as well as a vulnerability that people can identify with. Zarek is also in my top three for Season 1 because I see his violent brand of left-wing politics are a reaction against President Laura Roslin‘s neo-conservativism.
The second season sees President Roslin use “the religion card” over and over again, to the chagrin of Commander William Adama, the commander of the BattleStar Galactica. The situations that lead to Tigh ordering martial law put civilians on the defensive, and some of the civilian fleet decides to split off from Tigh’s military dictatorship. Of course, in the middle of the split and getaway is Zarek, and while he is in it for political reasons, Roslin continues to claim that she is being lead for religious reasons. My favorite episode by far in Season 2 is “Farm”; as I watched it, I felt devastated for Starbuck and the other women and how the Cylons were abusing their bodies. Throughout the remainder of this season, along with parts of Season 3, Starbuck’s scars are highlighted, and not by accident. The viewer is reminder of her torment and experience back on “the Farm.”
Religion and politics were mixed once again in the two-part season finale, “Lay Down Your Burdens.” While President Roslin uses the hope to find a new home called Earth, a group of pilots find an inhabitable planet they named “New Caprica.” So Roslin’s opponent in the election, Baltar, collaborating with Zarek, run on a platform to make the humans’ new home on New Caprica. Baltar manages to win the election out right and, his first executive order is for the entire fleet to move to NC. Adama and a few others decide to stay behind.
My favorite characters from this season were Cally, Tigh, and Starbuck. Zarek by this time had showed his hand as someone really desperate for power, and willing to hop along onto any agenda to get that power. Starbuck became more a suffering servant type figure; with her and her ovaries crucified on the Farm, her character changed dramatically.
I was informed that I would be disappointed or bored with Season 3. To the contrary, I enjoyed it like I did the others. In context, BSG’s creators were informed they would only be given 4 seasons instead of 5, and so 3 is a conglomerate of two seasons, and it shows. If left with 5 seasons, I see real potential for in the first three episodes of S3 as 1 season, Occupation/Precipice, as well as Exodus Parts 1 and 2. An entire season of New Capricans resisting Cylon occupation would have been intriguing, and then for the following season to have the trial of former President Baltar. My favorite episode of S3 has to be “The Woman King,” where Helo confronts a doctor for his racism; the physician had been poisoning the medication of a group of refugees from a planet that was looked down upon (Sagittaron, ironically, the same one Zarek was from).
Given the way the season played out, Cally, Tyrol, Helo, Sharon, and Tigh were my favorite characters to watch. Tyrol as labor leader further exposed the class differences between the Caprican elites and the lowly workers from other planets. In “Dirty Hands,” the last remaining humans are shown to still have biases according to place of birth, thus, meritocracy did not exist. Of all of the problems I had with the BSG world, I felt sickened by the favoritism dealt to the few at the top, especially the nepotism. But I think that was part the producers intent (in my mind), to make us think critically about the nepotism and cronyism around us. Just because someone is born the son/daughter of a senator does not necessarily mean she/he is qualified to be one himself/herself.
In between Season 3 and 4 is the miniseries Battlestar Galactica: Razor; I would highly recommend it. I watched it after I finished the series and it cleared up somethings for me.
Season 4 & Concluding Thoughts
I really don’t want to give away the ends of the arcs of my favorite characters, so instead for season 4, I will talk about my favorite episode (besides the finale), and some of the ideas behind BSG’s philosophy. Baltar interestingly enough became an interesting source of inspiration on the Galactica. His movement from popular and witty scientist to reluctant politician to a Dictator from a ‘developing’ country to prisoner of war to religious prophet is intriguing and highly problematic for me to say the least. In “Escape Velocity,” Baltar the rich elitist Caprican is now living with the downtrodden in Dodgeville after a miracle takes place in “He That Believeth On Me” in which Jeanne’s son is healed, after Baltar teaches about the One true god.
Now, onto some concluding thoughts. First, I wish to say that more important than the technology versus religion theme in BSG is the play of race and racial formation. The Cylons are the constructs of the humans, and yes the Cylons do rebel, but consider this. Following Helo’s story arc, if the (human-like, sentient, organic) Cylons are the racial Other, does not that match up with scholars’ arguments that racial is a social construct, that we create Racial Others in our own minds, we project them onto other bodies? And the idea that these Racial Others are called things or labelled anything other than their name, I think is quite apparent throughout the series.
The problems that BSG presents for religion and science is personified in Baltar’s character. Should we adopt a purely scientific world view, where everything has to be verifiable by evidence? Can we prove that angels and demons exist by looking through a microscope? I think BSG somewhat is telling us to stop and think critically at these issues. If the religious overtones and metaphysics seem a bit of a stretch for a sci-fi show, it is only because it had to remain a little faithful to the BSG of 1978/1980, which was overtly religious. We are left to conclude in BSG that God has a plan, and that plan keeps changing and that everything works out accordingly. However, I don’t buy that explanation. The idea that “All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again” when taken too literally can be seen as fatalist, that history is circular and our choices do not matter.
However, I have a different view. It was Baltar’s choice to date a lab assistant (who was really a Cylon) that cost the human race. It was Baltar’s choice to become Roslin’s Vice President that lead to his eventual politicization. Baltar chose to listen to the Messenger Six (sort of a gimney cricket of sorts) and he ends up being a religious leader who firmly believes in having bigger guns than his opponents as a part of god’s will. Think on that for a second. A scientist armed to the teeth, leading a small militia. I can think of no better imagery for what imagery looks like. Scientists in the name of pseudo-science justified the racism on the law books with their “research.” Their studies was a war against the bodies of the Racial Other. Baltar, as he is scouting a group of people by the end of the series, objectifies them (in the series finale DayBreak Part 3), with a colonizing gaze. Like the Articles of COLONIZATION that he was elected under, Baltar is a symbol of empire, human domination over others. In the end, it is the very fact of being a member of the “12 Colonies” themselves under the “Lords of Kobol” that is the problem for each of the survivors. It is their choice to make: to go back and keep the old ways of being colonized, or de-colonize and liberate themselves, and live to free others from oppression, as Helo does.
BattleStar Galactica: The Plan was a made-for-tv movie that, while giving some spoilers, I was still surprised by how the series ended. It was just a group of clips from different episodes, and not really all that worth it unless you want to just have some feeling of completion. As for Caprica, my opinion has changed somewhat, I will stick with my original assessment about where it could have really gone: see my review linked: Caprica, the season finale, but I judged Caprica more on potential instead of what was, even though I liked the legal drama/science fiction blend. However, in order to have a good legal drama, you need politics; BSG had it, Caprica didn’t.
In all, I highly recommend BSG as one of the best science fiction tv series ever, along side Firefly and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.