Saturday, March 7, 2009

So, Baltar sees angels, eh?

Spoilers ahead for "Islanded in a Stream of Stars":

"So say we all," blog carnival up here.

There are only 3 more hours of Battlestar left to go, one regular show and then a two hour show the week after. I can see the pieces moving into place for the end-game. Hera is with Cavil. Darth Boomer is starting to cry and suffer empathically for Hera, not quite being the cold-blooded machine she thought she could be. "There is still good in her." No doubt she'll soon be throwing evil emperor Cavil down a shaft crackling with lightening at the heart of the colony after she's chopped off Athena's hand with a light-saber.

Galactica needs to be abandoned because she's too dangerous to live in or hyperjump with. We may have even been given a foreshadowing of her fate when Hera was playing with the model Battlestar, seeming to ram it into a Cylon basestar.

More critically to one possible end-game: Sam is hooked up like a hybrid in his goo-tub and that means he's linked to the best excuse for a Deus Ex Machina machine the writers have got and he's getting in touch with all that exposition-dumpitis kind of information hybrids seem to know but can't explain in adequate terms. Remember, if it happens, I predicted it:

Sam's brainwaves have gotten weird. The Doc says he is in a comma, but the harmonic complexity of those brainwave patterns looked familiar to me. I think they might herald a chronic case of Deus Ex Machina accompanied by another acute bout of exposition-dumpitis.
-- Norman Doering

It sure looks like they're trying to make temporal lobe Deus Ex Machina and acute exposition-dumpitis into a condition we can live with through a careful set-up.

And Baltar is talking about seeing angels. Which is a weird coincidence because just before the show started I was reading Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica (the reason why is here) and it's huge section of seemingly psychotic ramblings about the nature of angels. And the guy I started the argument with about Aquinas, Kenneth Hynek, had this to say about Battlestar Galactica:

I’ve commented that the show has a certain Catholic ethos to it before, in that it not only explores the question of whether humanity is worth saving, but that it more often than not answers: “no, it isn’t — yet somehow, it will be saved in spite of itself.” There’s something very Christian, and especially very Catholic, about the idea that a totally undeserving humanity will come to salvation in spite of its own best efforts to avoid arriving there.
-- Kenneth Hynek

I'm not so sure the "ethos" is Catholic but it does appear that Ron Moore's experiences as an ex-Catholic are having an influence on the show. So much of Baltar's and the Cylon religion uses Christian terminology and concepts, as I've noted before. But I suspect that "humanity" will not really be saved in spite of itself by the end of the show. If it is, it'll be way too much of a Deus Ex Machina at this point. Whoever survives the end of this show, if anyone, isn't going to have a lot left to make a life with. Cavil may be defeated. The survivors might find a new world where Cylon and human can live together, but that's not "saving" by Christian terms -- that's just surviving the latest threat. More will come.

Battlestar Galactica seems to be a tragedy like Hamlet and Macbeth are tragedies. The end is death for almost everyone involved. However, religion is playing a big role in these events. They went to Earth following Pythian prophecies, Baltar really is experiencing something he can't account for in rational terms without resorting to either religion or madness or the dark manipulation of his mind by some outside technology. And almost every major character in this last episode was shown involving themselves in some religious ritual, all the funeral services for the crewmembers killed in the accident.

But it was the once vilified Baltar who made the strongest pro-religion statement in this episode when he declared to everyone that Starbuck had crossed over and returned from the dead. He betrayed Starbuck's implied confidentiality to support his religious claims. That's the kind of "saving" religion offers, from death, not the continued existence of humanity. I doubt that the existence of that kind of "saving" will get resolved at the end of the series. It's not that kind of show. It's not about that kind of subject. All the religion is just a reflection of the character's beliefs. Some people are religious, others aren't, and some, depending on the evidence switch back and forth, like Bill Adama.

Well, Starbuck has, in a sense, returned from the dead. But is it supernatural and religious, or something akin to Cylon resurrection technology? Is supernaturalism really how they're going to explain Starbuck's return from the dead? I doubt it.

The writers, when interviewed over at Maureen Ryan's Chicago Tribune "The Watcher" column, keep saying it's about character, not end-games or metaphysics. And this episode was really about the internal conflicts within various characters. Almost all the characters featured in the episode struggled with letting go of something in order to make difficult decisions. Adama and Starbuck do let go. Adama emotionally lets go of the ship that his been his home and source of identity for most of his life. Starbuck lets go of Starbuck and she was ready to let go of Sam. However, Baltar and Helo can't let go of their big hope. Saul Tigh might be regarded as another failure to come to terms with his true identity, as a Cylon. On the other hand all his loyalty to Adama and the Galactica might be a different kind of success in holding onto what he wants to be. Their are all kinds of hopes and expectations, which ones are futile and which are worth holding onto?

Starbuck lets go of Starbuck? I think I need to explain that one. Recall the scene where Starbuck puts her own picture on the memorial wall. That was her letting go of something, but I'm not sure what. There is, as I've already suggested, a sense in which the featured characters have to come to terms with the difference between who they thought they were, who they wanted to be, and who they really are that is in conflict. This is especially true for Starbuck and Baltar. There is something almost confessional about Baltar's talking about angels in his radio sermon, he’s almost admitting to everyone that he has been seeing Head-6. That near candor about his, perhaps insane, secret gets Starbuck to admit what happened to her on Earth and then she gives Baltar her bloodied dog-tags.

Originally Baltar was thinking of angels as something akin to Head-6. Baltar seemed to imply that others besides himself, like Starbuck seeing her dad, were seeing "angels." Why would he think that? Are there more head characters than we know of? It's interesting that when Baltar talks to Caprica-6 or Starbuck we realize that all of them have had head-characters and have never admitted this to each other. The characters barely understand each other. Baltar makes Caprica-6 a seemingly (to me) sincere offer to help her, but he comes across to Caprica-6 like a sleaze and is put down, "I don't want to be a member of your harem." Baltar got closer to admitting to having a Head-6 with Starbuck, and Starbuck would have been able to tell him about her dad -- but they can't talk about it to each other. It suggests insanity. And here is Starbuck admitting for the first time what she found on Earth to Baltar, probably because of that stuff about angels and how it relates to head-dad.

However, after Baltar studies the dog-tags and figures out that "blood from necrotic tissue" thing (I don't think that's for real) he changes his ideas about angels a bit it seems and claims "Starbuck is an angel walking among us." His new ideas about angels are a little closer to the Bible's depiction of angels and in a way, also Thomas Aquinas's speculations. So excuse me if I indulge in a little bit of Biblical lecturing (in my experience many people, even most Christians, don't seem to realize what a weird and psychotic book the Bible is).

You see, in the Bible angels aren't things you only see in your head. They are always showing up as human-like characters. In the Sodom and Gomorrah story there are some angels that visit Lot and some other inhabitants of Sodom want to, apparently, rape the angels. Lot refuses to give the visiting angels to them and even offers them his daughters instead. That seems to speak against those particular angels being head characters or having significant supernatural powers. Why can't the angels defend themselves? Though, the Sodomites are later struck blind, allowing Lot to escape, it's a pretty wimpy miracle.

Also in the Bible Jacob physically grabs an angel to wrestle with "him" and will not let him go. He does it in order to plead promises from God. Apparently the angel had little supernatural power and couldn't escape from Jacob's grasp, or else did not choose to do this. Jacob would not let go of the angel until the angel blessed him. Eventually the angel gives him the blessing and tells Jacob his new names is Israel (Jews are the children of Israel).

The concept of the dead becoming angels, as far as I know, isn't in the Bible, but Mormons I think have some doctrine like that. And there are Christians who think that. But where is Baltar getting these ideas from? Is he making them up or is Head-6 feeding them to him? And why do these beliefs of Baltar's always get so close to biblical ones? Is it just Ron Moore playing games with Christian Galactica fans?

At any rate, Baltar could have gotten closer to Starbuck, but he blew it. He betrayed an implied confidentiality and called her an angel in public, something she doesn't think she is. That, I think, is Baltar failing to come to terms with who he really is and what he's trying to be, a religious leader. He is clinging to a hope for an afterlife and trying to justify it -- and he's doing it at the price of forming deeper connections with the people around him.

Helo might have the opposite problem, his connections themselves might be too emotionally deep to let go of. Helo begged Adama for a raptor to search for Hera. Adama told him to, more or less, let it go. I don't think he did -- I got the funny feeling he's going to be stealing a raptor soon. And maybe that's not really a "failure" because maybe there are some things you shouldn't let go of. But boy would he be in trouble if he actually did find Cavil on his lonesome.

All in all, with all these characters letting go or struggling to let go of something the whole episode felt like a sad good-bye. Sadness and mystery and letting go dominated the show.

Off topic: Here are some screen shots inside "The Colony."

1 comment:

Ms. SP said...

Before I read your post, I didn't even stop to consider where Baltar got his idea of angels. It isn't a part of the Colonial polytheistic beliefs, and we haven't seen it in the Cylon's monotheism.


Now that you've laid it out though, I'm thinking that in religious terms, Starbuck may be closer to a Bodhisattva rather than an angel. (Although I'm not very familiar with Biblical angels at all--just with the secularized Christian ones.)

To simplify as I understand it:
In Buddhism, a Bodhisattva is someone who has earned Nirvana, non-existence. He/she has seen through the pains, the lies, and the temporary-ness of this world. But instead of disappearing, he/she stays to help others along the path towards enlightenment.

This seems to be a rather optimistic application though, and I should keep in mind what show I'm watching.