A nephew of mine graduated from college and it was commencement weekend here. As a result, starting last Friday night, the house was crowded with relatives and then through the rest of the weekend my time was taken up with them, (I saw "Iron Man" and went to commencement parties), so I wasn't able to use the normal time slot I'd set aside for blog writing on BSG. And in addition to that, I could only watch one showing of this episode, "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," and that while it was talked over by several relatives.
The result is that this is not a coherent review of the episode, instead what I'll do is continue to add to this review by reviewing other reviews that get linked by The Battlestar Galactica Blog Carnival, "So Say We All." That way I can catch up with what happened on this episode later.
Some questions that I'll be trying to answer in the coming week are:
1) Why did Athena shoot Natalie?
I was left really baffled towards the end. What's going on with Athena and her daughter? Why did her daughter fill a notebook with crayon drawings of the blond 6s? Did I miss a clue? And why is Athena so freaked out about it that she shoots the 6 called Natalie, the least blond of the 6s? It has something to do with the Opera House Visions, but what? Does Athena see a 6 and Baltar stealing her daughter in that vision?
2) Who's bullshit was Natalie preaching to the Galacticans?
In this episode Natalie, one of the Cylon 6s, made a speech to the Quorum about the impact that the possibility of death has had on Cylon society. From what I was able to gather she argued that the Cylons had suffered in developing their individual and social identities due to the fact that they didn't have to face death before the civil war. She said something to the effect that, I paraphrase, "In our civil war we watched our people die and we learned that in order for our existence to have any value we needed to have mortality."
I'd like a transcript of that speech because right now my impression is that it's utter bullshit. The question, the new mystery, is just who's bullshit is it? Is this the Galactica writers preaching what they really think, or did they put that bullshit into Natalie's mouth in order to later argue against it?
One clue to the fact that the writers know its bullshit is that Natalie gets shot and thus her whole claim to the value of death is one she'll have to face herself. Would she really rather die? We'll see how she faces death because, judging by the previews, she's not dead yet.
However, this is old and oft repeated bullshit we've been given as a serious philosophical view in hundreds of movies and books for a long, long time. What Natalie said has already been said by fantasy writers like Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Stephen King and so many others, telling us to go gentle into that good night and not rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Natalie's speech seemed to echo the elven sentiment, the realization that a finite life can press the mind toward something meaningful, that death is a blessing, found in Tolkien's Silmarillion: "But to the Atani I will give a new gift."
Those Men with the greatest understanding treated death as the Gift it was originally intended to be, and when their time came gladly gave themselves up to it. We see this, for example, in the earlier Kings of Númenor, and Aragorn also accepted the Gift at the natural end of his life. For most Men, though, the Gift was tainted by Morgoth, and they came to fear it rather than embrace it. This fear reached its peak in the later years of Númenor, where even the long life given to the Númenóreans was not enough, and wise men did all they could to try to escape death altogether. In the end, this desperation led to Númenor's destruction when Ar-Pharazôn led a battle fleet to the Undying Lands, falsely believing that they held the secret of everlasting life.
Views like this show up in a lot of vampire tales, "The Mummy," and "Pirates of the Caribbean" too. The curse of immortality is that one is trapped here, unable to escape and move on. The curse works by shear irony: every worldly thing is given, power, immortality, but it does not satisfy.
However, thinking there is something to move on to, on the other side of Baltar's river, is not accepting death. It's what Ernst Becker would call "The Denial of Death." One of the ways that death shapes our thinking is the lengths some people go to deny it. This makes a few people dangerously delusional. Muslim terrorists apparently flew planes into a couple skyscrapers thinking they would get an immortal life in paradise with 72 virgins.
Natalie's speech was the kind of thing that immature religious people, who actually deny the reality of death, say in order to sound like grown up atheists. Some who say it, as apparently Natalie and Tolkien, actually do think that when they die that they'll really wind up on the other side of Baltar's river hunting ducks with Mike Huckabee.
It’s one thing to say that, "this is how things are, we die and it effects how we view life," but it’s another thing entirely to say "this is how things should be because death is a gift that gives life meaning, value and/or purpose." And that is what Natalie and Tolkien, and many others, seem to be saying.
Death doesn't give life value, meaning or purpose. Life actually has far more than one purpose, value or meaning and they are all up to you. Death does nothing but put a limit on your choices for finding purpose, value and meaning in life. Transhumanists, like Max Moore, call people like Natalie and Tolkien "deathists."
In our world such views line up with the thinking of thanatophiles like Leon Kass and Francis Fukuyama who would argue that radical life extension will cause serious social problems. They might even be right. But avoiding the problems isn't the only factor determining policy. We aren't going to get rid of cars and other technological innovations because of pollution, environmental destruction, and the squandering of natural resources. We are forced to find other solutions that allow us to keep our cars and cell phones and electric lighting. Right or wrong, if people could chose not to die, they would. I would. I say find other solutions to problems caused by those choices because we're solving the biggest problem of all.
The whole purpose of life, to the extent it has one singular purpose, is to avoid death. We don’t seek out death. It comes to us unbidden, and we unwilling participate when we have no remaining alternatives. And because we, in our current state of technology, can not defeat death we invent the suicidal self-destructive and romantic sophistry required to think death is a good thing. However, when talking social policy we're usually talking about other people's death, not our own. Many deathists can be hypocritical about that. Consider people who chose to die in order to end their suffering from cancer and other such incurable conditions, many deathists like Leon Kass don't support Jack Kevorkian.
If choosing not to die were one of the available options, I'd choose it, providing I saw a prospect for some good living ahead. I'd love to have Cylon technology protecting my life and mind. I'd rather be paying for that than for life and health insurance. I'd even give up ever having children for that kind of immortality if we couldn't escape from this planet for the stars and over population became a problem. However, all we can do today is thwart death imperfectly by giving the next generation more tools than we had.
It's not because I'm one hundred percent certain there is nothing coming after death, though this seems the most likely possibility, but rather that I've got zero confidence in people who say there is more. You see, the thing about dying is you only do it once and there’s no changing your mind afterwards. As long as I live death is a possibility even with Cylon technology even though it might get harder to die. So, I wouldn't trust a deathist like Natalie any farther than I could throw the the Great Pyramid of Khufu.
3) Are Starbuck and Helo supposed to be morons?
Starting off this episode there was a big minute or two of drama centered around the fact that the Cylon basestar jumped into the middle of the fleet before the poo-barge did and almost got blown up by the Galactica. They had tried to jump at the same time but the poo-barge had a techno glitch and came in late.
Ummm... Why didn't they have the poo-barge go first and tell them the basestar was coming? Even jumping together would require Helo having that explanation. Why not explain that there is a basestar coming and why you shouldn't shoot at it.
Did I miss something? Was there a good reason they thought they should jump together?
Oh dear, I feel like I missed an important episode because I was so busy and distracted this weekend. More than half the reviews linked at the blog carnival seem to have begun with the word "wow," whereas I probably would have used the semi-word "wha??" and clearly I needed to pay closer attention but I didn't have enough attention to give.
Updates are coming... stay tuned.
Thanks to a comment from M, and the Battlestar wiki, I now have that transcript of Natalie's speech to the Quorum:
"In our civil war, we've seen death. We watched our people die. Gone forever. As terrible as it was, beyond the reach of the Resurrection Ships, something began to change. We could feel a sense of time. As if each moment held its own significance. We began to realize that for our existence to hold any value it must end. To live meaningful lives we must die, and not return. The one human flaw, that you spend your lifetimes distressing over - mortality - is the one thing...well, it's the one thing that makes you whole."
Some of the arguments in the comments section below have to do with whether this is bullshit, and if not, what does it mean. Note that the two people who are saying it means something, MB and M, don't agree about what it means.
Len Neighbors' blog post on this episode has a nice paragraph on viewing BSG:
The real power of this religious debate as a storyline is that it destroy's the audience's birds' eye view. Up until the middle of season three, we were perched on high like clockmaker gods, watching what had been set into motion, knowing who was what. Sure, there were little mysteries here and there, even some big ones, but none like this. For the first time, we're stuck in the same place the characters are: picking a side to believe in as a matter of faith. We might know what the characters on both sides of the debate are doing and saying, but we don't know what's true, and what's not.