Sunday, January 25, 2009

Part 2: Battlestar Galactica: "The Disquiet That Follows My Soul"

Check out the Battlestar Galactica Blog Carnival, "So say we all" to get other opinions.

In the first part of my review I expressed some disappointment with this episode, but there were still a few crumbs of some excellent stuff even here.

First, Baltar has taken another major shift in his world-wiew. We see him preaching an angry sermon aimed at God saying things like this to his flock; "what have you done to deserve this punishment?" Bear McCreary in his blog called it a "sermon brimming with atheistic rage."

Which makes me wonder if McCreary understands atheism. You can't be angry at God unless you believe that God exists. It would be like being angry at Santa Claus for not giving you a new car for Christmas. If you're angry at someone, then you believe that someone exists. However, there is a kind of empathic anger that one can feel at God which is more like the anger you feel at fictional villains in movies, but that is not what Baltar was doing. Another kind of anger that Christians think is anger at God is when atheists express anger at the Christian in question. That's really more like Starbuck's anger at Gaeta. Starbuck doesn't really hate Gaeta, she hates his bigoted and paranoid ideas about Cylons. If Gaeta changed his tune, Starbuck's anger would evaporate. You can see plenty of that kind of atheist anger on Ray Comfort's blog, I've dealt him a few insults myself.

Baltar's anger may lead to his followers and himself questioning God, but it wasn't explicit. McCreary says that Baltar "questions the existence of God and tries to understand the tragic revelations of Earth." I didn't see that. I saw Baltar merely react to that revelation with a kind of childish and self-centered way which was very revealing of Baltar's character for such a brief slice of time. It's that very self-centered, egocentric attitude that you really have to question to become an atheist. It is religions like fundagelical Christianity that preach that you are so special and important that you are loved by the creator of the universe. It is science that has shown us how small and insignificant we are.

However, McCreary probably saw a different cut of the show for he also says; "...Head Six appears and attempts to comfort Baltar." That never happened in the version I saw and when a commenter asked why not, McCreary said:

You might be right. The version I scored was the director’s cut. To be honest, I’ve never even seen the shorter version that went on the air! So, yeah, I’ll bet that wasn’t in the episode last night. Too bad, too, it’s a great musical moment.

McCreary also says nothing very important was said by either, it merely reinforced Baltar’s despair and that Head Six disapproves of his blasphemy.

WTF! I think I would have rather have seen that Baltar/Head-Six scene than the one between Gaeta and Starbuck where they just insult each other. I had no idea that Head Six was still with Baltar much less that she disapproved of his "blasphemy." Since when are expressing real emotions and questioning God "blasphemy"? Why doesn't McCreary know that's an important clue we were not given. If Head Six said that it would be another clue that Baltar was a Cylon tool because that is nakedly manipulative. "Do not question me! Just fear me." Maybe they should fire the editor.

McCreary says another scene cut from the aired show was between Gaeta and Tigh where Tigh tries to put Gaeta in his place and you see the anger broiling up in Felix. Sounds like the scene between Gaeta and Starbuck. If the Tigh and Gaeta scene was really good, then why cut it and replace it with the Starbuck and Gaeta scene? That scene was one of the weaker ones in the show. The acting was good but the dialog was pretty weak, especially Starbuck's insults.

Another thing Baltar's sermon accomplishes is that it gets the crowd worked into a frenzy, even before a fight breaks out between Tyrol and Hotdog (which has nothing to do with the sermon, it was because Hotdog fathered the child that Tyrol though was his). If Baltar were rational enough to think about what he's doing he might realize that he's near to blowing an opportunity to increase his flock. Now that the Pythian prophesies look bogus there might be a lot more people looking for a new religion.

Baltar might become a conscious fraud as he gains power from his religion while he ceases to believe in God. He could invent reasons why God might not be happy with them and one of them might be that they don't serve Baltar enough. Start passing around that collection plate and see if you want to vocally doubt God now, Baltar.

The second really nice tid-bit in this episode was what has begun to happen to Roslin. She's getting tired of being president and she wants out. She's lost hope and wants to stop and smell the roses before she dies. Let me quote again the anti-hope argument from H.L. Mencken I used in my post "The Dark Side of Hope":

"Despite the common delusion to the contrary the philosophy of doubt is far more comforting than that of hope. The doubter escapes the worst penalty of the man of faith and hope; he is never disappointed, and hence never indignant. The inexplicable and irremediable may interest him, but they do not enrage him, or, I, may add, fool him. This immunity is worth all the dubious assurances ever foisted upon man. It is pragmatically impregnable. Moreover, it makes for tolerance and sympathy. The doubter does not hate his opponents; he sympathizes with them. In the end he may even come to sympathize with God. The old idea of fatherhood submerges in a new idea of brotherhood. God, too, is beset by limitations, difficulties, broken hopes. Is it disconcerting to think of Him thus? Well, is it any less disconcerting to think of Him as able to ease and answer, and yet failing?"

Roslin is arriving at the same conclusion.


Bear responded to my comments on his own blog:

Norman Doering…

I was skimming your blog and saw your comments regarding my “atheistic” adjective for Baltar’s sermon.

You pointed out the obvious, that to be angry at God means you must acknowledge his existence. But I always interpreted this episode to show that Gaius, in fact, no longer believes in God. (And as you correctly guessed, there are lines of dialog in the extended version that would suggest this.)

Baltar only believed in God in the first place because it gave him an ego-boosting God-Complex, allowing him to feel he was somehow instrumental in the inner-workings of the universe. In “Disquiet,” he’s reached this new low, and realized that all the prophecies are bullshit (a conclusion Roslin now shares with him apparently).

The way I saw it, Baltar was preaching anger at God not because he, himself, was angry at God, but because it would be the quickest and easiest way to get the crowd really pissed off. He was venting his frustrations and wanted to stir up trouble. And it obviously worked.

However, my term “atheistic rage” was probably an exaggeration. I’ve never, in my life, met an atheist who was angry at the universe. That is, after all, one of the points of atheism: to strip away the personification of the cosmos that is implied in so many religions.

Duly noted and corrected, sir. :)

- Bear McCreary on February 1st, 2009

Bear got it exactly right, " of the points of atheism: to strip away the personification of the cosmos that is implied in so many religions."

Also, since Bear talks to the writers and producers, and he sees what the editors have left on the cutting room floor, his interpretation that this shows that Gaius no longer believes in God is most likely correct. Alas, what showed up on TV in the Disquiet episode wasn't enough by itself to show this in my opinion. It is, however, beginning to show in Baltar's relationship to his female followers which we saw in "Oath." Baltar seemed annoyed by their continued religiosity.

1 comment:

Mezamashii said...

Hey a Battlestar Galactica lover. I missed Friday's episode due to a friend's birthday & found a surprise repeat on Sunday.

I do think Roislin's character path will be an interesting bit to follow, but the rebellion Gaeta & the VP are setting up feels a little too predictable.