Battlestar Galactica Analysis Blog

A special sub-blog with analysis of the modern Battlestar Galactica to help viewers understand it as both a mystery and a drama on the conflict between AIs and natural-origin humans. You should read the Welcome Message for pointers to my grand theory and other info.

On Type O blood and being set in the past

A minor update on my main review of BSG:

After the show concluded, many viewers complained about how all the clues in the show had pointed — some very directly — to the show being set in the future, and little had suggested it would be set in the past.

Kevin Grazier, science adviser to the show, stated in his book The Science of Battlestar Galactica that Hera’s blood type was such a clue.

Hera had no blood antigens — ie. she was of type O. No colonial was of type O, they were all of types A, B and AB. Since we modern humans are quite commonly type O, this was supposed to be a clue that the story was in the past, and we all got this from Hera.

Except blood type genetics don’t work this way. Everybody has two genes (from two parents) for blood type. You can be AA, AO, AB, BB, BO or OO, getting either an A, B or O from each parent. There are only 4 types because people who are AO have type A blood, and people who are BO have type B blood. Only OO folks have type O blood — the O trait is recessive.

The problem is this. Even if Sharon (the mother) is OO, she can’t have a type O baby if she breeds with people who don’t have any type Os. The colonials are all AA, AB or BB. They have no AOs or BOs because if they did, they would have type O children from time to time. Grazier knows about the pairings and describes them in the book, but somehow misses this important element. So this is not a proper clue that the show is set in the past.

Wait — we could play some games, and give Sharon some magic special O genes that are dominant over A and B from humans, allowing a baby with type O blood. You could, but that would be some new magic, not any known science, and thus hardly something that clever viewers would take as a clue. To top it off, we must also now assume that none of the #8s in the fleet or colonial society ever got their blood typed. Perhaps that’s true, but pretty unlikely once the Cylons were identified and subjected to every medical test they could get their hands on. Sharon’s type O blood would have been well known, and Hera’s type would also be no surprise.

Am I being picky? Of course. But this is worthy of attack because Grazier is holding this out as an example both of the careful attention to scientific detail in the show, and as an example of how the clever viewer would have picked up a clue to the ending by paying attention. It is sadly, neither.

Grazier’s book also contains a major error about Mitochondrial Eve. It admits the mistake that MTE is not the “most recent common ancestor,” but it goes on to make a bigger mistake, saying that MTE is the sole ancestor of people alive today. That is about as wrong as you can get. In fact, most people alive at the time of MTE (and in fact most people alive somewhere around 15,000 to 20,000 years ago, at what is termed the Identical ancestors point) is an ancestor of every human alive today. All of us are descended from all of them. It’s not actually all of them because some of them died without children or grandchildren or otherwise had lines that died out quickly. If somebody’s line did not die out quickly — so they got the usual brood of great-grandchildren and beyond — their tree of descendants quickly becomes so huge it can’t die out and can’t be anything but ancestor to all of us. (There are some exceptions when geographically isolated groups got wiped out completely before they had time to send out members to breed with the rest of humanity.)

Note that even though you are descended from everybody alive 20,000 years ago, that doesn’t mean you inherited DNA from all of them. Through the 700 to 1000 generations since those days, the DNA of most of them has been lost. You are actually descended from all of them many trillions of times over — they occupy lots of slots in your family tree, and some of them more than others. But at this distance the genetic contribution of most is diluted to nothing. The odds you would have any DNA (other than mitochondria) from a hypothetical single person who lived 150,000 years ago are quite slim.

Caprica, uploading and gods

Caprica’s first half-season is almost over, but I started watching late due to travel and the Olympics. Here’s my commentary on the show to this point. I already commented last week on the lack of protagonists we can identify with. Now onto bigger issues.

Caprica is, I think, the first TV series to have uploading — the transfer of a human mind into computerized form — as its central theme. While AI is common in movies and TV, uploading is quite uncommon in Hollywood, even though it’s an important theme in written SF. This is what interests me in Caprica. It’s connection to Battlestar Galactica is fairly loose, and we won’t find the things we liked in that show showing up much in this one.

God, again

In fact, I mostly fear encroachment of material from BSG, in particular the “God” who was revealed to be the cause of all the events of that series. What we don’t yet know is whether the monotheistic “Soldiers of the One” are just yet another religion to have invented a “one true god” or if they really have received signs or influence for that god.

When I was critical of the deus ex machina ending of BSG, many people wanted to point out that religion had been present from the start in the show. But the presence of religion is not the same as the presence of a real god, and if not for BSG, I doubt any viewer would suspect the “One” was real. However, knowing that their is a one true god, we must fear the worst. Since that god set up all the events of BSG long ago, including various timings of the Cylon wars, it’s hard to believe that the god is not also setting up the timing of the creation of the Cylons, and thus directly or indirectly arranged Zoe’s death and transfer. I hope not but it’s hard to avoid that conclusion. The best we can hope for is that no direct influence of the god is shown to us.

Alas, for a show about uploading, the writers do need some more education about computers. Much of the stuff we see is standard Hollywood. Nonetheless the virtual worlds and the two uploaded beings (Zoe-A and Tamara-A) are by far the most interesting thing in the show, and fan ratings which put the episode “There is another Sky” at the top indicate most viewers agree. We’re note getting very much of them, though.

Worldbuilding

The colonial world is interesting, with many elements not typically shown in TV, such as well accepted homosexuality, group marriage, open drug use and kinky holo-clubs. There’s a lot of focus on the Tauron culture, but right now this impresses me as mostly a mish-mash, not the slow revelation of a deeply constructed background. I get the real impression that they just make of something they like when they want to display Tauron culture. As far as what’s interesting in Caprican or other culture, we mostly see that only in Sister Clarice and her open family.

I was hoping for better worldbuilding and it is still not too late. The pilot did things decently enough but there has not been much expansion. The scenes of the city are now just establishing shots, not glimpses into an alien world. The strange things — like the world’s richest man and his wife not having bodyguards after open attacks on their person — might be a different culture or might just be writing errors.

William Adama

For BSG fans, there is strong interest in William Adama, the only character shared between the shows. But this one seems nothing like the hero of the original show. And he seems inconsistent. We learn that the defining event of his life was the terrorist murder of his sister and mother by a monotheist cult. (Well, defining event in a life that goes on to have more big events, I suppose.) Yet he shows no more than average mistrust of monotheism when it is revealed that the Cylons are monotheists and believe in a “one true god.” He doesn’t like Baltar, but he’s pretty tolerant when Baltar starts a cult of a one true god on the ship, and even gives him weapons at some point. He just doesn’t act like somebody who would have a knee-jerk initial jolt at monotheists preaching one true god.

There was also no sign of Tamara Adama in BSG. The original script plans called for her avatar to also contribute to the minds of the early Cylons, and this may not happen. If it does happen, it is odd that we never see any sign of Cylons remembering being his sister. We also have to presume that neither he, nor anybody else knows that his father played a pivotal role in the creation of the Cylons. That would make his father quite infamous, nobody would remember his law career.

New Cap City

Started out as the most interesting place on Caprica. Getting a bit slower. Not certain who Emanuelle is — is she Tamara, or working for Tamara? If so, why is she hooking Joseph on the Amp? When she was winged, it was odd that she had her arm flicker out — I would assume that in a world trying to appear real, non-fatal wounds would look like wounds, and even killed people would leave bodies as far as the other players were concerned.

If Zoe enters New Cap City, she should not be like Tamara, unable to be killed. She is now running in a robot body and interfacing with a holoband like humans do.

Will Tamara’s popularity with viewers turn her from a minor character into something more important?

Origin of the Cylons

The big question remains, where do the minds of the Cylon armies come from? Are they all copies of Zoe? Has Zoe given Philemon the clue as to how to create other copies, perhaps more mindless ones? Does Tamara provide a mind to a Cylon? Do the Soldiers of the One get access to the upload generator that Daniel used on Tamara and make their own uploads, and do they become the Cylon minds? We know that something of Zoe or the STO ends up in Cylon minds.

Who is the hero of Caprica?

As some readers may know, I maintained a sub-blog last year for analysis of Battlestar Galactica. BSG was very good for a while, but sadly had an extremely disappointing ending. Postings in the Battlestar Galactica Analysis Blog did not usually show up in the front page of the main blog, you had to read or subscribe to it independently.

There is a new prequel spin-off series on called Caprica, which has had 6 episodes, and just has 2 more before going on a mid-season hiatus. I will use the old battlestar blog for more limited commentary on that show, which for now I am watching. (However, not too many people are, so it’s hard to say how long it will be on.)

My first commentary is not very science-fiction related, though I will be getting to that later — since the reason I am watching Caprica is my strong interest in fiction about mind uploading and artificial intelligence, and that is a strong focus of the show.

Instead, I will ask a question that may explain the poor audiences the show is getting. Who is the hero of Caprica? The character the audience is supposed to identify with? The one we care about, the one we tune in so we can see what happens to them? This is an important question, since while a novel or movie can be great without a traditional protagonist or even an anti-hero, it’s harder for a TV series to pull that off.  read more »

The lesson of Galactica and treating your creations well

A few weeks ago I reviewed the disappointing “The Plan” and in particular commented on how I wished the Cylons really had had a plan of some complexity.

More recently, I was thinking about what many would interpret as the message in BSG, which is said by many characters, and which is at the core of the repeating cycle of destruction. When you get good enough to create life (ie. Cylons) you must love them and keep them close, and not enslave them or they will come back to destroy you. This slavery and destruction is the “all this” that has happened before and will happen again.

Now that it is spelled out how the whole Cylon holocaust was the result of the petulance of Cylon #1, John, and that this (and its coverup) were at the heart of the Cylon civil war, the message becomes more muddled.

For you see, Ellen and the other 4 did keep their creation close. They loved John, and raised him like a boy. Ellen was willing to forgive John in spite of all he had done. And what was the result? He struck back and killed and reprogrammed them, and then the rest of his siblings, to start a war that would destroy all humanity, to teach them a lesson and in revenge for the slavery of the Centurions. Yet John was never enslaved, though he did decide he was treated poorly by being born into a human body. It’s never quite clear what memories from the Centurions made it into the 8 Cylons, if any. It seems more and more likely that it was not very much, though we have yet to see the final answer on that. Further they enslaved the Centurions and the Raiders too.

So Ellen kept her creations close, and loved them, and the result was total destruction. Oddly, the Centurions had been willing to give up their war with humanity in order to get flesh bodies for their race. The Centurions were fighting for their freedom it seems, not apparently to destroy humanity though perhaps they would have gotten to that level had they taken the upper hand in the war. Ellen intervened and added the love and the result was destruction.

I don’t know if this is the intentional message — that even if you do follow the advice given to keep your creations close and loved, it still all fails in the end. If so, it’s an even bleaker message than most imagine.

The Cylons did not have "The Plan"

Last week saw the DVD release of what may be the final Battlestar Galactica movie/episode, a flashback movie called “The Plan.” It was written by Jane Espenson and is the story of the attack and early chase from the point of view of the Cylons, most particularly Number One (Cavil.) (Review first, spoilers after the break.)

I’ve been highly down on BSG since the poor ending, but this lowered my expectations, giving me a better chance of enjoying The Plan. However, sadly it fell short even of lowered expectations. Critics have savaged it as a clip show, and while it does contain about 20% re-used footage (but not including some actors who refused to participate) it is not a clip show. Sadly, it is mostly a “deleted scenes” show.

You’ve all seen DVDs with “deleted scenes.” I stopped watching these on DVDs because it often was quite apparent why they were deleted. The scene didn’t really add anything the audience could not figure out on its own, or anything the story truly needed. Of course in The Plan we are seeing not deleted material but retroactive continuity. Once the story of Cavil as the mastermind of the attack was written in season 4, and that he did it to impress his creators (who themselves were not written as Cylons until season three) most of the things you will see become obvious. You learn very little more about them that you could not imagine.

There is some worthwhile material. The more detailed nuking of the colonies is chilling, particularly with the Cylon models smiling at the explosions — the same models the audience came to forgive later. Many like the backstory given to a hidden “Simon” model on board the fleet never seen in the show. He turns out (in a retcon) to be one of the first to become more loving and human, since we see him at the opening having secretly married a human woman, but we also don’t forget the other Simon models we saw, who were happy to run medical experiments on humans, smile at nukes, and lobotomize their fellow Cylons to meet Cavil’s needs.

We learn the answers to a few mysteries that fans asked about — who did Six meet after leaving Baltar on Caprica? The shown meeting is anticlimactic. How did Shelley Godfrey disappear after accusing Baltar? The answer is entirely mundane, and better left as a mystery. (Though it does put to rest speculation that she was actually a physical appearance of the Angel in Baltar’s head, who mysteriously was not present during Godfrey’s scenes.)

We get more evidence that Cavil is cold and heartless. Stockwell enjoys playing him that way. But I can’t say it told me much new about his character.

More disappointing is what we don’t get. We don’t learn what was going on in the first episode, 33 and what was really on the Olympic Carrier, a source of much angst for Apollo and Starbuck during the series. We don’t learn how the Cylons managed to be close enough to resurrect those tossed out airlocks, but not to catch the fleet. We don’t learn how Cavil convinced the other Cylons to kill all the humans, or their thoughts on it. We don’t learn how that decision got reversed. We learn more about what made Boomer do her sabotages and shooting of Adama, but we don’t learn anything about why she was greeted above Kobol by 100 naked #8s who then let her nuke their valuable base star. Now that the big secret of the god of Galactica is revealed, we learn nothing more about that god, and the angels don’t even appear.

In short, we learn almost nothing, which is odd for a flashback show aired after the big secrets have been revealed. Normally that is the chance to show things without having to hide the big secrets. Of course, they didn’t know most of these big secrets in the first season.

Overall verdict: You won’t miss a lot if you miss this, feel free to wait for it to air on TV.

Some minor spoiler items after the break.  read more »

Worldcon panel on BSG surprisingly negative

On Saturday I attended the Battlestar Galactica Postmortem panel at the World Science Fiction convention in Montreal. The “worldcon” is the top convention for serious fans of SF, with typically 4,000 to 6,000 attendees from around the world. There are larger (much larger) “media” conventions like ComicCon an DragonCon, but the Worlcon is considered “it” for written SF. It gives out the Hugo award. While the fans at a worldcon do put an emphasis on written SF, they also are voracious consumers of media SF, and so there are many panels on it, and two Hugo awards for it.

Two things surprised me a bit about the Worldcon panel. First of all, it was much more lightly attended than I would have expected considering the large fandom BSG built, and how its high quality had particularly appealed to these sorts of fans. Secondly, it was more negative and bitter about the ending that I would have expecting — and I was expecting quite a lot.

In fact, a few times audience members and panelists felt it necessary to encourage the crowd to stop just ranting about the ending and to talk about the good things. In spite of being so negative on the ending myself I found myself being one of those also trying to talk about the good stuff.

What was surprising was that while I still stand behind my own analysis, I know that in many online communities opinion on the ending is more positive. There are many who hate it but many who love it, and at least initially, more who loved it in some communities.

The answer may be is that it is the serious SF fan, the fan who looks to books as the source of the greatest SF, the BSG ending was the largest betrayal. Here we were hoping for a show that would bring some of the quality we seek in written SF to the screen, and here it fell down. Fans with a primary focus on movie and TV SF were much more tolerant of the ending, since as I noted, TV SF endings are almost never good anyway, and the show itself was a major cut above typical TV SF.

The small audience surprised me. I have seen other shows such as Buffy (which is not even SF), Babylon 5 and various forms of Star Trek still fill a room for discussion of the show. It is my contention that had BSG ended better, it would have joined this pantheon of great shows that maintains a strong fandom for decades.

The episode “Revelations” where the ruined Earth is discovered was nominated for the Hugo for best short dramatic program. It came in 4th — the winner was the highly unusual “Dr. Horrible’s sing-along-blog” which was a web production from fan favourite Joss Whedon of Buffy and Firefly. BSG won a Hugo for the first episode “33” and has been nominated each year since then but has failed to win each time, with a Doctor Who episode the winner in each case.

At the panel, the greatest source of frustration was the out-of-nowhere decision to abandon all technology, with Starbuck’s odd fate a #2. This matches the most common complaints I have seen online.

On another note, while normally Worldcon Hugo voters tend to go for grand SF books, this time the best Novel award went to Neil Gaiman’s “The Graveyard Book.” Gaiman himself, in his acceptance speech, did the odd thing of declaring that he thought Anathem (which was also my choice) should have won. Anathem came 2nd or 3rd, depending on how you like to read STV ballot counting. Gaiman however, was guest of honour at the convention, and it attracted a huge number of Gaiman fans because of this, which may have altered the voting. (Voting is done by convention members. Typically about 1,000 people will vote on best novel.)

Can you be merely "influenced" by God?

Discussion of yesterday’s mega-review of the ending of Battlestar Galactica included much focus on my negative view of the rule of a god as an intervening character in fiction. Many readers feel that the God of Galactica (Gog) did not so much control events as influence them. This suggests the following sidebar on religion:

Many religions struggle with the concept of a god that is so omniscient, it knows the future. This sometimes is described as being eternal, existing outside of time. The problem is the conflict between this, and free will. I find the two to be contradictory, especially when it comes to the concept found in many Christian sects that free will is most important with respect to your choice about whether to believe in god or not, or whether to be good or evil. The religions say you were created by god, who knew what choices you would make before creating you, but you are also punished for those choices. Even though, if asked, “can I choose another future than the one god knows I will choose, making him wrong?” they will say no.

However, the religious often do not see the same contradiction. We will not resolve this conflict here. I want to address the more direct question of a god who talks to people, and intervenes directly in the mortal world, as Gog does.

Gog appears in the minds of Baltar and many other characters. Gog also directly affects physical events, doing things like returning Starbuck in a new Viper.  read more »

Battlestar's "Daybreak:" The worst ending in the history of on-screen science fiction

Battlestar Galactica attracted a lot of fans and a lot of kudos during its run, and engendered this sub blog about it. Here, in my final post on the ending, I present the case that its final hour was the worst ending in the history of science fiction on the screen. This is a condemnation of course, but also praise, because my message is not simply that the ending was poor, but that the show rose so high that it was able to fall so very far. I mean it was the most disappointing ending ever.

(There are, of course, major spoilers in this essay.)

Other SF shows have ended very badly, to be sure. This is particularly true of TV SF. Indeed, it is in the nature of TV SF to end badly. First of all, it’s written in episodic form. Most great endings are planned from the start. TV endings rarely are. To make things worse, TV shows are usually ended when the show is in the middle of a decline. They are often the result of a cancellation, or sometimes a producer who realizes a cancellation is imminent. Quite frequently, the decline that led to cancellation can be the result of a creative failure on the show — either the original visionaries have gone, or they are burned out. In such situations, a poor ending is to be expected.

Sadly, I’m hard pressed to think of a TV SF series that had a truly great ending. That’s the sort of ending you might find in a great book or movie, the ending that caps the work perfectly, which solidifies things in a cohesive whole. Great endings will sometimes finally make sense out of everything, or reveal a surprise that, in retrospect, should have been obvious all along. I’m convinced that many of the world’s best endings came about when the writer actually worked out the ending first, then then wrote a story leading to that ending.

There have been endings that were better than the show. Star Trek: Voyager sunk to dreadful depths in the middle of its run, and its mediocre ending was thus a step up. Among good SF/Fantasy shows, Quantum Leap, Buffy and the Prisoner stand out as having had decent endings. Babylon 5’s endings (plural) were good but, just as I praise Battlestar Galactica (BSG) by saying its ending sucked, Babylon 5’s endings were not up to the high quality of the show. (What is commonly believed to be B5’s original planned ending, written before the show began, might well have made the grade.)

Ron Moore’s goals

To understand the fall of BSG, one must examine it both in terms of more general goals for good SF, and the stated goals of the head writer and executive producer, Ronald D. Moore. The ending failed by both my standards (which you may or may not care about) but also his.

Moore began the journey by laying out a manifesto of how he wanted to change TV SF. He wrote an essay about Naturalistic science fiction where he outlined some great goals and promises, which I will summarize here, in a slightly different order

  • Avoiding SF clichés like time travel, mind control, god-like powers, and technobabble.
  • Keeping the science real.
  • Strong, real characters, avoiding the stereotypes of older TV SF. The show should be about them, not the hardware.
  • A new visual and editing style unlike what has come before, with a focus on realism.

Over time he expanded, modified and sometimes intentionally broke these rules. He allowed the ships to make sound in space after vowing they would not. He eschewed aliens in general. He increased his focus on characters, saying that his mantra in concluding the show was “it’s the characters, stupid.”

The link to reality

In addition, his other goal for the end was to make a connection to our real world. To let the audience see how the story of the characters related to our story. Indeed, the writers toyed with not destroying Galactica, and leaving it buried on Earth, and ending the show with the discovery of the ship in Central America. They rejected this ending because they felt it would violate our contemporary reality too quickly, and make it clear this was an alternate history. Moore felt an alternative universe was not sufficient.

The successes, and then failures

During its run, BSG offered much that was great, in several cases groundbreaking elements never seen before in TV SF:

  • Artificial minds in humanoid bodies who were emotional, sexual and religious.
  • Getting a general audience to undertand the “humanity” of these machines.
  • Stirring space battles with much better concepts of space than typically found on TV. Bullets and missiles, not force-rays.
  • No bumpy-head aliens, no planet of the week, no cute time travel or alternate-reality-where-everybody-is-evil episodes.
  • Dark stories of interesting characters.
  • Multiple copies of the same being, beings programmed to think they were human, beings able to transfer their mind to a new body at the moment of death.
  • A mystery about the origins of the society and its legends, and a mystery about a lost planet named Earth.
  • A mystery about the origin of the Cylons and their reasons for their genocide.
  • Daring use of concepts like suicide bombing and terrorism by the protagonists.
  • Kick-ass leadership characters in Adama and Roslin who were complex, but neither over the top nor understated.
  • Starbuck as a woman. Before she became a toy of god, at least.
  • Baltar: One of the best TV villains ever, a self-centered slightly mad scientist who does evil without wishing to, manipulated by a strange vision in his head.
  • Other superb characters, notably Tigh, Tyrol, Gaeta and Zarek.

But it all came to a far lesser end due to the following failures I will outline in too much detail:

  • The confirmation/revelation of an intervening god as the driving force behind events
  • The use of that god to resolve large numbers of major plot points
  • A number of significant scientific mistakes on major plot points, including:
    • Twisting the whole story to fit a completely wrong idea of what Mitochondrial Eve is
    • To support that concept, an impossible-to-credit political shift among the characters
    • The use of concepts from Intelligent Design to resolve plot issues.
    • The introduction of the nonsense idea of “collective unconscious” to explain cultural similarities.
  • The use of “big secrets” to dominate what was supposed to be a character-driven story
  • Removing all connection to our reality by trying to build a poorly constructed one
  • Mistakes, one of them major and never corrected, which misled the audience

And then I’ll explain the reason why the fall was so great — how, until the last moments, a few minor differences could have fixed most of the problems.  read more »

Caprica Review (spoilers after the break)

The prequel series, Caprica, is now available on DVD and for download. Caprica is set 56 years before the first Cylon war, and deals with the origin of the metal Cylons. This meta review provides links to some of the recent low-spoiler reviews. As you will read in all of them, Caprica is very different in tone from BSG. It’s a drama set on a planet, not a space opera.

My disappointment with how BSG was ended lowered my expectations for Caprica, which is of course a good thing. You always enjoy a work more when you go into it with lower expectations. In an ideal world, one would wish for a way to get great recommendations on worthwhile things that don’t raise high expectations — you would enjoy life more. It was the high expectations I put on BSG that in part led to the ending being such a letdown.

However, the overall review is positive. If you did not know it was Battlestar, you could treat Caprica as near-future SF set on Earth. If you didn’t have the references to polytheistic religion, in fact, a viewer would be hard pressed to spot differences from a typical tv-SF depiction of a decade or two in the future. Of course, the religion is important in this show, as it became important in BSG. While the God of Galactica (Gog) does not show it’s face directly, we must wonder if it will do so later. However, the religion is fundamental to the plot in that many of the characters do very dramatic things motivated by their religious beliefs. Which is perfectly fine, of course — some people mistook my criticism of the presence of an interventionist god in BSG as criticism of religion playing a role in a story.

You will get some items from Caprica that help explain important elements of BSG. They are more subtle than normal, but there. So the verdict is to watch it, though you will also do fine waiting the 8 months for it to appear on the air. The DVD version contains a bunch of mostly lesbian makeout scenes which won’t show on TV; presumably they are there to keep the boys titillated. They occur — no spoiler here, as you see this in the first 2 minutes of the show — in a virtual reality club which is the setting for a number of scenes in the show. It may be a bit surprising at first to see the Capricans using technology far beyond what is seen on BSG when it comes to computers and robotics. Obviously the colonies had a minor Butlerian jihad after the Cylon war. This was hinted at several times during the BSG series.  read more »

But now on to the spoilers…

Understanding Mitochondrial Eve

(Advance note: Is there a reader who has video editing skills who might want to put together a short and amusing BSG-based parody video that I have conceived of? Contact me if so. Or if you have a complete collection of BSG videos or DVDs and are willing to find some scenes you could also help.)

Because it turns out that Moore decided to turn the entire plot around the idea of Hera being Mitochondrial Eve (MTE), I thought it would be good to add some information on just what this means, and why it was not a great choice as a plot fulcrum. The desire to have Hera be MTE placed the story 150,000 years in the past, and mandated a number of its less consistent elements.

First of all, people should understand that MTE is not “Eve” (mother of us all) nor is she the most recent common ancestor of us all — that person lived far more recently. MTE is an artifact of some simple genetic math. She is the most recent common ancestor calculated only through female lines. I pointed to this article about MTE before and it’s worth a read to understand why she exists and why she is less important than imagined. There is a “Y Adam” too, who is the most recent common ancestor calculated only through male lines, who also lived much more recently.

Everybody is descended from MTE, but everybody is descended from almost everybody who lived at that time. She is actually not particularly special. In fact, we are all descended from almost everybody who lived about 15,000 years ago. It would be more recent than that if human genetic lines had not been isolated for long periods in Australia, the Americas and a few other islands. Be clear: Just about everybody who lived then was ancestor to all of us. The only ones we are not descended from will be those whose lines died out quickly — they left no children or grandchildren. Once you start have several great-grandchildren, your contribution to the world’s genetic pool is all but assured, barring extraordinary events. Go a few more generations and your line is very hard to kill off, especially if it spreads a bit.

So while Moore wanted humans to be descended from Cylons, in fact that could have taken place 15,000 years ago. And if, as shown in the show, populations were distributed to the different continents, it could have been done even 4,000 years ago, or any point in between such as 40,000 years ago for the “great leap forward” when technology and agriculture and language started to really flourish. Australians isolated themselves from the rest of humanity about 50,000 years ago, however, when seas were low they got more recent influxes keeping them related to the rest of the world.

The next thing to understand is mitochondrial DNA (MTDNA) itself. MTDNA is special, in that it is only inherited from your mother. It does not change due to sexual DNA mixing like the rest of our (non-Y) DNA. Instead, it stays mostly the same. However, from time to time, it gets a small mutation that is not sufficient to kill the organism. So while our MTDNA is identical with our siblings, mother and our cousins who share a female descent line, it is very slightly different from other humans. The less related they are to you (ie. the further back your common great^n grandmother is,) the more slight differences there will be. It is precisely because we know the rate of mutation and can look at how different the MTDNA of different humans is that we can calculate when MTE lived, approximately. Estimates get debated, and you will see rates quoted at one mutation per 300-600 generations down to one every 40 generations.

But we don’t just share our MTDNA with our fellow humans. We share it with all the complex life on Earth. We share it with mushrooms and of course with chimps and monkeys and lemurs and mice. We’ve all got the same basic MTDNA, derived from an ancestor long ago that did a symbiotic “deal” with some bacteria to incorporate their energy processing engine into our cells.

Just as you have the same MTDNA, with minor changes, as an Australian aboriginal, you have the same MTDNA as a chimp, but with more of the small mutations. That’s because your common ancestor lived perhaps 50,000 years ago with the Australian, and 6 million years ago with the chimp. There will be 120x as many small differences. They are quite small so that does not turn out to be that much.

And thus we see the problem with how BSG used this process. On the BSG Earth, the chimps and the early humans would have shared fairly common MTDNA. But then Hera’s MTDNA replaced the human MTDNA. On BSG Earth, human MTDNA now bears no common ancestry with the chimps, or all the other animals of the Earth. This is quite different from the real Earth.

Now, we might consider that in fact they are not different because the God of Galactica (Gog) did a little intelligent design on both the evolved Earth life, and Cylons so that they would have the same MTDNA. Or rather that the difference between them would match what the genetic mutation clock says it should match based on the time back to the common ancestor proto-ape. And yes, when you invoke miracles, you can pull off anything, I suppose. But if so, it means the two sets of MTDNA were largely identical. In which case what’s the point? What is the meaning of Hera’s MTDNA supplanting that of the native humans if the two are identical to begin with?

If they are not identical, if there is a real, meaningful difference between Hera’s MTDNA and that of the rest of Earth-life, then this would have been big, big news in BSG-Earth’s National Geographic a decade or two ago. That’s because geneticists would have published stunning papers revealing that human MTDNA was not the same as that of apes or any other Earth life. This would have turned the scientific world upside-down. It would have have been strongly touted as hard evidence by the creationists. It would no longer be the world we live in.

This is also true for the rest of Hera’s Cylon DNA. Unless that DNA is impossible to tell from ours, or unless none of what she had was passed through to us, our genetic sequencing projects would have revealed the fact that we aren’t related to other Earth life, in some subtle way. We would have proteins and genes not found in any other Earth-life. But we don’t. We share all our genes with our animal cousins. For those, like Moore, hoping to draw a connection from the alternate history BSG Earth and ours, you must either say that none of the Cylon DNA made it through, or that it was so identical as to not make a difference.

Of course, there is an answer, discussed on this blog before. If the story had been written to say that the Kobolians came about through the abduction of primitive humans from this Earth some 6,000 or more years before the events of the show, then of course everybody is still related as they should be. The colonials, in this version, are just a lost branch of Earth-kind come home. But alas, this was never suggested in the show.

The miracle of aliens who can breed with Earth-life is indeed impossible without divine action. But it’s more than that. If there was a miracle, it created creatures so alike that in the end they contributed nothing new to the genetic code of humanity on Earth. In other words, a somewhat pointless miracle.

Now you may think that this is a somewhat subtle point, not known to the ordinary viewer who has no grounding in genetics. But this is no minor issue in the show, it is the single element upon which the entire ending, and indeed the entire plot was chosen to turn. Such a fulcrum deserves special attention. And it is also a sign of just how hard it is to try to write an alternate history which you can claim could be our real history. Something is going to catch you up. This is why many viewers never expected Moore to do something so foolhardy as to date the show in the past.

The story of the BSG god. (Gog)

As is obvious to any reader here, I was quite disappointed with the god-did-it ending of BSG. However, we’ll need to examine this god a bit more because in some way, it’s the only other character, besides Young Bill Adama, who we will see in the upcoming Caprica series.

The god appears to some extent, as an underground monotheist cult exists and 2 of the 3 initial Cylons are patterned after its members. It has to be assumed it is from here the Cylons got their own monotheist religion.

The first question concerns whether the monotheist religion is indeed related to the Gog (God of Galactica). Did Gog appear to its founders, or is this simply a human-invented religion that hits upon something true by accident.

The second question is just who is Gog, and how does it relate to the Lords of Kobol? Moore’s podcast comments say that on Kobol, man lived with the gods, and then became like gods when they created their own artificial life (the 13th tribe Cylons.) So the Lords of Kobol were real, and lived with humans. How does this make sense in the context of Gog? Is Gog one of the Lords of Kobol, or does it predate them? If so, why did it tolerate them and who were they?

Gog has at least two angels who are independent beings, who I will call H6 and HB. Possibly more than 2. We don’t know if Kara’s Leoben and her father were manifestions of those two. Likewise Roslin’s Elosha, of the Final Five’s messengers. If the messengers were independent, it seems there are at least 5 of them. These angels appear to be mostly incorporeal and immortal. They talk about Gog as a distinct being, but also as a force of nature. However, Gog has likes and dislikes, and a plan for both humanity and individual humans.

For a long time I was supposing that Gog was a very advanced A.I., as were the Lords of Kobol. However, it’s meant to be supernatural. It is a big strange to have a story where there are both false gods, who exist (the Lords of Kobol) and a real god as well.

Gog is described as beyond good and evil, a force of nature. It certainly moves in strange and mysterious ways. For most of Kobol, colonial and 13th colony history, Gog allowed the polytheist worship of the Lords of Kobol to thrive. We are told that in “Caprica” the story involves a banned monotheist cult, from which the first Cylons arise, thus giving them their religion. But prior to this, if there has been monotheism, it is not very common. The Final Five were polytheists. Kobol was openly polytheist, and the gods lived with the humans. Baltar was rather taken aback by H6’s preaching about Gog.

H6 is not a cylon of course, but appears to Baltar as one. The god she preaches about appears to be the Cylon god but we can’t be completely sure of that. She is in touch with the real thing. Yet the Cylons who speak of god believe that it was god’s will that they destroy their “creators.” Did that come to them from Gog, or is it a result of the way Cavil reprogrammed them to forget about their actual creators and upbringing. The Cylons see the Final Five in the space between life and death — is this a repressed memory, or is this something Gog sends them? We presume that Gog is the master of the space between life and death, and Gog is the one who called Starbuck into it.

Gog is highly interventionist when it suits it. It may have triggered the Cylon destruction of the colonies. It certainly allowed it to happen. Gog speaks directly to various characters to make them do things. When a being of this level whispers in your brain, it does so knowing exactly how you will react and what you will do, and says the right things to attain the desired results. A god whispering in your brain is like the control a computer programmer has over a program, or the ability of an owner to trick a pet.

Gog may or may not know the future. The angels H6 and HB don’t appear to know it, other than what they are told by Gog. Gog sends a vision of the Opera House chase to various characters. Is this knowledge of the future, or a vision that Gog plans to bring about? Is Gog outside of time and watching its plan unfold, or is Gog making its plan unfold? If so, it’s making rather fine-tuned control, orchestrating the final confrontation, making sure the F5 will be up on the balcony and so on.

Let’s look at some of the things in Gog’s plan

  • Billions of years earlier, breeding two planetfuls of life with genetically identical humans.
  • It probably inspired the sacred scrolls.
  • It knew of the war on Earth-1 and sent the angels to the final five. It must have put the song into Anders’ head, including an opening line which, when translated to numbers, will be jump coordinates for use 2,000 years in the future from the singularity to the Moon.
  • It modified the Temple of Hopes to be the Temple of Five, a chamber where the Final Five could be seen when the star explodes.
  • It presumably timed the arrival of the Final Five to the first Cylon war.
  • If behind the monotheism, it’s also behind the rise of the Cylons on Caprica and what personalities were uploaded into them.
  • The placing of Tigh and Tyrol on Galactica, and of Foster and Roslin there at the start of the war.
  • It put the song with Earth’s coordinates into the head of Starbuck’s father, and various compulsions into her brain, such as the mandala.
  • It was probably behind the destruction of the colonies. And the survival of the Pegasus, and of course the Galactica.
  • It manipulated Baltar in all sorts of strange ways, causing him to act strangely, sometimes helping the Cylon cause, sometimes the human. A rewatch is necessary to get a list of all the things H6 manipulated Baltar to do.
  • It probably put in Shelley Godfrey to cause Baltar to be suspected and then cleared.
  • It made sure Baltar would keep his Cylon detector results secret. (When Boomer is figured, H6 scares him into keeping it quiet.)
  • It arranged for a nuke for Gina, and for Baltar’s election, and thus for the halting of the tribes on New Caprica
  • It probably arranged the jump glitch which found New Caprica, and the Cylon detection of Gina’s nuke.
  • It arranged for the Cylons to recapture Hera, sending a message to an Oracle.
  • It probably arranged the circumstances where Ellen would die and be recreated.
  • It talks regularly to the Cylon ship hybrids and the first hybrid to manipulate their activities.
  • Likewise it appears to talk to oracles from time to time.
  • It contaminated the food to force the fleet to the Algae planet.
  • It arranged the meeting of the forces at the Algae Planet. Did Three’s activation go with Gog’s plan or against it?
  • It exploded the star at the Algae planet, or timed the meeting perfectly to match it. Now that’s interventionist!
  • It gave compulsions to Starbuck to kill herself, which she did.
  • It then planted Starbuck’s dead body and Viper on Earth
  • It then created a brand new Viper and put Starbuck in it, over Earth
  • It probably directed the Cylons to the Ionian Nebula, as it planted clues to send the fleet there.
  • It probably disabled the fleet at the Ionian Nebula, to force the battle, recognition of Anders and Cylon civil war.
  • It gave various visions to Roslin and Sharon and Hera, as well as the regular ones to Baltar and Six.
  • It put the music into the heads of the final five at the Ionian Nebula, and then let them remember they were Cylons.
  • It teleported angel-Starbuck to the Ionian Nebula, with compulsions in her head about finding Earth.
  • It probably lead Leoben to Starbuck, and Starbuck to the region of space with Leoben.
  • During the standoff, it compelled the Final Five to check out the Viper. It made the Viper show a tracking signal for the crashed original Viper on Earth
  • On Earth, it made the Final Five regain a few more memories.
  • From there, a long series of events were necessary to create the Opera House scene including:
    • Sam getting shot, regaining memories and then becoming like a Hybrid who can be hooked into Galactica on the balcony.
    • Boomer’s return of Ellen and capture of Hera
    • Raid on the Colony
    • Various tactical elements of raid on colony leading to standoff in the CIC.
    • Circumstances where Starbuck has to program an escape jump
  • The abandonment of technology, and interbreeding
  • The complete loss of Colonial culture and knowledge.
  • All of modern Earth history.
  • Further repeats of the cycle, until one day some civilization breaks it after enough repetitions. That too is part of god’s plan.
  • Once our Earth arises with dominant monotheism, it no longer likes to be called god.

That’s a lot of intervention and complexity if you consider the result: All colonial civilization and knowledge is lost, and all that remains is a bit of synthetic DNA from Hera/Athena present in the gene pool on our Earth. The same could happen just by teleporting Hera and some others directly here.

Gog certainly does work in strange and mysterious ways.

Or rather, the writers do. For they did not have most of this plan laid out in advance. Yet everything on the list, and in some way everything that happens because of it, is a result of the intervention of Gog and its angels. And this lays out another reason why you don’t want real gods in your fiction. It’s too much. In some sense it’s everything in the show. No longer a result of our characters and their natures and motivations, but the result of divine intervention. But if I wanted to see “Touched by an Angel” I would watch that. I prefer a drama where the characters have some control over their destiny, if they have a destiny at all.

What is most meaningful?

If readers have wondered why I’ve been so silent, it’s because just after the final episode I took a great trip to the middle east, and there is not much time for blogging on such a trip. To re-open discussion let me examine some issues raised in comments and also add more with the perspective of time.

Many fans liked the story, of course, and say that critics such as myself are putting too much focus on the science and on science fiction. BSG, we’re told, was always meant to be a character drama, and the SF was just incidental, a vehicle for that drama. This may be right, though if so, I still find it disappointing. I seek good SF and encourage its production. If people want to just use SF as a vehicle, then they may do so, but I find this less interesting than a real attempt at good SF. But BSG was not simply that. It contained a lot of good SF. Its creator, while he dropped the ball on wrapping it up, is a talented creator who should be encouraged, through valid criticism, to do even better. We are disappointed with the final revealed story because it had more potential for greatness than the vast majority of TV SF produced. TV SF has a poor history, and anything that appears capable of greatness is of particular interest. It’s why I got so invested. The failure to deliver hurts what came before, but does not destroy it.

I continue to feel that if a story is going to be religious fiction (ie. the major plot points will be resolved through divine intervention) then this is not something to keep secret from the audience. I am much less interested in such fiction, but even in cases where I would watch it, I think it’s better for the audience to not give them false expectations. You can tell me to expect a religious (or scientific) ending without spoiling the ending in any way. But if you let fans expect a scientific ending and give them a religious one, there is a great risk — which was realized here — of disappointment simply over incorrect expectations. I think it is incorrect to say that this was not an SF show, and not simply because it was set in space and on the Sci-Fi or SyFy channel. It started off doing what SF tries to do — explore the consequences of science and technology, in particular the conflict between man and machine.

What’s a more meaningful connection?

Moore seems to feel that by setting the show in the past, he has provided it with a connection to us. That by making Hera be our ancestor, it makes the message of the show stronger. I could not disagree more. Most SF is set in the future, of course, and I think there is a good reason for this. SF set in the future, if done well, is saying, “Here is something that could really be our fate.” SF set in the past is saying “here is something which might have been our origin.” The problem is that when the SF set in the past does something wrong or stupid, that connection is now dwindled. It becomes not just imaginary, but impossible. Because we know that another race of humans able to breed with us would not evolve on another planet, we know that aliens were not our ancestors. So this “connection” is meaningless. It is surely false. A future connection however, is much more real. That’s because it is not yet known if it is true or false. As such it could be true, it could be real. A story of man-machine war in the future can be a lesson for us today, as long as it paints a plausible future. Painting a plausible secret past is so much harder to do, and if you fail, you lose the relevance you were hoping for.

Of course, since many fans are willing to let the impossibility slide, or accept the divine explanation, they don’t see it this way, and for them Moore attained his goal.

Many fans are considering the “alien abduction” plot which I laid out in an earlier post, or variants of it, as a way to have the ending make logical sense. And I agree, it is the best way to do that. However, sadly, this is not entirely a fanwank. This is not to say that I don’t enjoy a good fanwank, an effort to invent a backstory which is better than what we saw on screen. I’ve done it with many bad SF movies and TV. Before the show ended, this was fun to do because we could imagine that it might really work out that way. Like SF set in the future, it was a plausible future. But now that all is said and done, it is just wanking to imagine the author had a more plausible story secretly in mind.

It’s not that anything in the show contradicts the idea that long ago aliens or the Lords of Kobol took humans from our Earth and transplanted them to Kobol to create Kobolian society. Indeed, it is the only thing that makes sense. The problem is there is no hint of this in the show, and it would have been so simple to include such a hint — even in the podcasts and other off-air material. Much as we might like it, this is not the story that was delivered.

Collective Unconsciousness & Expectations

I also am quite bothered by the use of the concept of “collective unconsciousness” to explain why the colonials would sing All along the Watchtower, or use quotes from Shakespeare. This is a fantastic concept. While I have seen various explanations put forward, to me this is a writer’s explanation with no basis in reality. It’s one of those psuedoscience concepts that has no basis in good SF. It’s beyond technobabble as a means to explain things. In reality, the only way to explain the existence of elements of our culture in theirs is to set it in the future. Any rational examination would demand it, and it’s upsetting to have a non-rational explanation used instead.

I’ve seen SF use this concept but it makes more sense as something you put in at the beginning, not something you pull out of a hat at the end. SF that is not hard SF often breaks the rules of reality, but the general rule is you lay out your rulebreaking at the start, so that the audience can suspend disbelief at the beginning. You don’t want the audience to have to suspend disbelief at the end — that’s far too late a time to ask this of them.

In many ways good fiction and good SF is about managing expectations. If you start a show by saying “they have FTL drives” you can get away with it because the audience has no expectations yet. If you write a show in a hard SF universe, and then on the last page have the characters escape in their FTL drive you’ve done it wrong.

Another way they mismanaged expectations was with all the hype about the ending. All the press about the ending had show insiders talk about how everybody cried over the sadness of it, but were wowed about how awesome it was. In fact it wasn’t awesome (though of course some will argue with that.) And while it contained several sad elements, it was certainly no more tear-jerking than many other endings we’ve seen in our time.

The religious ending was also a case of badly managed expectations, as I explained above. It’s not that the show wasn’t full of references to religion, and not that it wasn’t clear that somebody was pulling strings behind the scenes. The mistake was making this a mystery until the end, opening up, in some fans, an expectation that it was not just going to be solved by divine will.

Hunter Gatherers

Many have been discussing an essay by Jared Diamond that outlines an argument that the shift from hunter/gatherer lifestyle to agriculture was humanity’s greatest mistake. Even accepting all of Diamond’s arguments that agriculture hurt the lot of the average human, I don’t agree with the conclusion. From my modern perspective, the hunter/gatherer lifestyle, devoid of the great intellectual stimulation available to us today, is not appealing. I think that today we don’t just know more. By training our brains from a young age, we are actually smarter than our ancestors. A lot smarter. I knew this when I found that in class as a child I could readily, on my own, come up with discoveries that had been the work of history’s greatest minds. I could do this because of the training and stimulation I got as a child, not simply because I was led down the garden path. And I don’t see giving up being smarter for the supposedly more carefree and simple existence.

Diamond’s analysis really talks only to the species average. One might be a happy hunter/gatherer, but that bliss quickly ends if you encounter, as I have, the need for modern medicine. When my appendix got infected in my late teens, I was quickly treated. In any other society, I would not be happy, I would be dead. (Yes, I understand there are arguments that perhaps modern diets lead to a higher incidence of appendicitis, but the main point stands.)

So I still don’t buy for a moment the complete (and nearly unanimous) decision to throw away all the technology, even after reading all the justifications presented online for it.

Graphics team apologizes

Fellow blogger on Galactica Science issues Michael Hall must have been bitterly disappointed to see a blog post by post-production CGI team member Darth Mojo on the stars in the backgrounds. They were, as I eventually concluded, just the result of pressed-for-time work by a post team that didn’t imagine anybody would pay that much attention to the stars.

I understand this attitude but I think it’s one that now belongs in the past. People discuss shows on the internet too much now, and so something found by one person will quickly be told to many others. You can’t expect to get away with something that only a few will notice.

He says they were not being deliberate about it. To me that was surprising. With Orion, which is probably the 2nd most recongizable constellation in the sky, placed so prominently in many shots, it was correct of Hall and others to assume that this meant something. It is highly unlikely that it would happen by accident. Particularly because they switched from random to real, and used random at the 13th colony. But unlikely is not impossible, and Mojo says that happen by accident it did.

This was one of a few of the show’s mistakes which led science-oriented fans astray. The Tomb of Athena constellations, also an acknowledged mistake, were an even bigger false clue, because they were shown in one of the show’s big “reveal” moments. It turned out to be incorrect to rely on this scene to understand the show. Relying on the stars was more risky because they were not presented as important.

Correct your mistakes

I will go further here. I think if a show makes a mistake that is likely to cause the honest viewer to have very wrong expectations, the show should try to correct it, either on-screen or in the online media. So the graphics team should have released a note that “the stars don’t mean anything” and Moore should have released a note that the Tomb of Athena arrangement was not properly thought out.

He did this with Daniel. When fans started thinking the mention of Daniel was central to the show, he released a note to say they should not expect more about Daniel.

Now I do realize that a correction on the Tomb of Athena would have led many of us to then realize the show was not going to be set in the future, as it was the more clear clue regarding that. So that may be why they never corrected it. But if you make mistakes, fixing them may have consequences but it’s better to fix them.

I’ll have photos of Israel up in the main blog in the future.

Don't keep secrets when "It's the Characters, Stupid"

Moore famously declared, when composing the end of the BSG story, that “It’s the Characters, Stupid.” He wanted to focus on what happened to the characters and their story, and the plot and mysteries took second place.

I can understand that philosophy in writing. However, I do believe that if this was truly the case, the right thing to do is not create giant mysteries for the audience.

Some of the best stories out there have revealed their ending early on. (Some are even non-fiction so you know the ending in advance anyway.) With the ending known, the story becomes about how we got there, rather than wondering where we are going. As such the story moves its focus to characters and away from big mysteries.

If this story was to be about how Hera became mitochondrial Eve (and in the end, that was the root of all the elements of the closing) then the best thing to do would have been to reveal that right up front. Play out that scene in New York with Ron Moore getting the inspiration for the story early on. Show the ancient Earth as being out there. (They did show us Earth at the end of season 3, but it was modern Earth due to poor communication with the graphics dept.)

Or, if you want to have the shock of finding ruined 13th colony Earth, reveal the truth after that.

The show had lots of big mysteries. Many people enjoyed it for these mysteries, but if the show is really about the characters, the mysteries were a mistake. And we still would have puzzled over them. Fans would have spent hours discussing just how they get to Earth, and just why there is no record of them, and how they could possibly have interbred and other things. While watching the characters have their journey.

It becomes clear that the whole ending is just there for the Eve plot. All the controversial parts of the ending, the ones that make no sense, are driven by it.

  • We currently date Mitochondrial Eve at 150,000 years ago. So that is when they arrive. 50,000 years ago (Great Leap Forward) makes far more sense otherwise.
  • For this to be true, they have to have been able to interbreed with the natives. And so the ridiculous ability to do so, explained as a miracle from god.
  • To have no record of their arrival they have to have discarded all their technology and ships. I haven’t read any critic who thinks this story was credible.
  • To have no record of their culture, it also had to vanish, which means they mostly got wiped out.

All these things that we fans have complained about are driven by this one cute little trick, “Hera is a sort of Eve.” Sadly, alien Eve is one of the more clichéd story lines of golden age SF. Editors even got tired of it. Moore gave it a twist, the synthetic (God and Kobolians together) Eve arriving and breeding with the natives, but it’s still a pretty poor, and unoriginal plot twist. It doesn’t justify having to tear apart so much that was good in the show.

A lot of fans are not understanding mitochondrial Eve very well either. Here is an article about her, and here is a later post on this blog about Mitochondrial Eve.

Kevin Grazier apologizes for Tomb of Athena, etc.

Well, I had to pull my hair out a bit to read this post-series interview with BSG Science Advisor Kevin Grazier

In particular he is asked what he regrets getting wrong. One regret is boring, but the other floored me. It was only the climactic scene of the first season arc, where they come to Kobol looking for a clue to Earth and find, in the Tomb of Athena, the map of the stars of Earth and the realization that the flags of the 12 tribes have constellations from the Zodiac of Earth on them.

Most of us viewed that scene as a big revelation. It said, without equivocation, “This show is in the future.” Kobol’s culture and flags came from Earth. It was a big deal. Later, it was revealed it was the sky of the “first Earth” or 13th colony, but it still demanded a secret history to Kobol.

The other (regret) is I wish I would have been more instant with the constellations in Home Part 2. Because when you start thinking about those constellations, who put them there? Wasn’t the Kobolians. Those aren’t seen from the original Earth, so where did those constellations come from?

He may be saying he knew but could not convince Moore, or that perhaps he realized later. Either way, the show could have thrown us a bone. You don’t want to tell fans your secrets, but if you make a mistake, and fans are interpreting the show differently because of it, throw something in. Have somebody ask, “Isn’t it odd how our flags are those constellations?” And Ellen Tigh says, “Oh, that. In our history, we learned that the founders of the planet stretched and played with the flags to figure a way to draw them in the sky, since it was a cute idea to name our new constellations after our lost makers.” Something. Anything.

I take Grazier to task for two other things: Participating in the horrible ending, and his statement that you would not be able to find a star given photographs of the constellations visible from it. He declares that to be np-complete, ie. you can’t do it in a time that goes up in a polynomial way with the number of stars in your database. I contend you can, and in fact it’s one of the simpler polynomials.

Why you don't want gods in your fiction

I won’t deny that some of my distaste for the religious ending comes from my own preference for a realistic SF story, where everything that happens has a natural, rather than supernatural explanation, and that this comes in part from my non-religious worldview.

Nonetheless, I believe there are many valid reasons why you don’t want to have interventionist gods in your fiction. God should not be a character in your story, unless you are trying to write religious fiction like Left Behind or Touched by an Angel.

The reason is that God, as we know, works in strange and mysterious ways, his wonders to perform. We don’t expect to understand them. In fact, there is not even a requirement that they make sense. Some even argue that if you’re going to write authentic fiction with God as a character his actions should not make sense to the characters or the reader.

The author of a story is “god” in that they can write whatever they want. But in real, quality fiction, the author is constrained as to what they will do. They are supposed to make their stories make sense. Things should happen for a reason. If the stories are about characters, things should happen for reasons that come from the characters. If the story is also about setting, as SF is, reasons come from the setting. Mainstream fiction tries to follow all the rules of the real world. SF tries to explore hypothetical worlds with different technology, or new science, or even ways of living. Fantasy explores fantastic worlds, but when done properly, the author defines the new rules and sticks to them.

But if you make a divine character, even an offscreen divine character, you give the author too much power. They can literally write anything, and declare it to be the will of god. You don’t want your writer able to do that. You may want them to be able to start with anything, but once started the story should make sense.

As BSG ended, Adama and Baltar describe (correctly, but not strongly enough) how improbable it is that evolved humans can mate with the colonials. In reality, the only path to this is common ancestry, ie. the idea that humans from our-Earth were taken from it and became the Kobolians. But Baltar is able to explain it all away in one line with his new role as priest, it’s the will of god.

In a good story, you don’t get to explain things this way. You need to work a bit harder.

Now, if you absolutely must have a god, you want to constrain that god. That’s not too far-fetched. If you were writing a story in Christianity, and you depicted Jesus torturing innocents, people would not accept it, they would say it’s at odds with how Jesus is defined (though Yaweh had fewer problems with it.) BSG’s god is never defined well enough to have any constraints.

He,and his minions, are certainly capricious though. Genocides, Lies, Manipulations, exploding star systems, plotting out people’s lives, leading Starbuck to her death to achieve goals which could easily have been done other ways. Making that cycle of genocide repeat again and again until random chance breaks it. Not the sort of god we can draw much from. (One hopes if we are going to have gods in our fiction, they provide some moral lesson or other reason for being there rather than to simply be a plot device that explains things that make no sense.)

In literature, bringing in the arbitrary actions at the end of a story to resolve the plot is called a Deus ex Machina and it’s frowned upon for good reasons. The BSG god was introduced early on, so is not a last minute addition. People will disagree, but I think the divinely provided link to real Earth is last minute, in the sense that nothing in the story to that point tells you real Earth is out there, just the rules of drama (that the name “Earth” means something to the audience other than that ruined planet.)

If you want to write religious fiction, of course you can. I’m less interested in reading it. Moore said he did not intend to write this. He wrote the miniseries and made the Cylons monotheists and the colonials polytheists (like the original) and the network came back and said that was really interesting. So he expanded it.

But he expanded it from something good — characters who have religious beliefs — to something bad. The religious beliefs were true. But they were some entirely made-up religion with little correspondence to any Earth religion (even the Buddhism that Moore professes) and as such with no relevance to the people who tend to seek out religious fiction.

Giving religions to the characters is good. It’s real. It’s an important part of our society worth exploring. However, resolving that some of the beliefs are correct, and bringing in the hand of god is another matter.

More loose ends

  • The Colony had several base ships. When it started breaking apart, base ships full of Cavils, Dorals and Simons should have jumped away. What happened to them, and why won’t they come a calling soon? (God’s will?)
  • Likewise, a force of Cavils, Dorals and Simons was invading Galactica and was in a temporary truce when fighting broke out again and Galactica jumped. What happened to them. In particular, since the first Hybrid predicted the splintered Cylon factions would be joined together again, why didn’t they?
  • We never resolved why the first Earth was destroyed 2,000 years ago, and that this was the same time as the fall of Kobol and exodus of the 12 tribes. Was this just a big mistake and all 13 tribes were supposed to flee at the same time?
  • I don’t know for sure about 150,000 years ago (it comes and goes) but 135,000 years ago the Sahara was covered by large lakes.

Creationism and the Abduction theory

The posts will come fast and furious in the next two days.

First I want to cover a little more about why this ending is of so much concern to many viewers. While many will accept that it is unscientific, and just say that they never cared that much about such things, the particular errors and issues of the final plot are rather special. What we saw was not merely spacecraft making sound in space or FTL drives or some other random scientific error.

The error in BSG centers around the most pernicious anti-scientific idea of our day: Creationism/Intelligent Design. In particular, it tells the “Ark” story, though it sets it 150,000 years ago rather than 4,000. And, because Moore knows the Ark story is totally bogus, he tries to fix it, by having the alien colonists able to breed with us humans, and thus having the final result be a merger of the two streams of humanity. That’s better than the pure Ark story, and perhaps enough better that I see some viewers are satisfied with it, but with deeper examination, it is just as bad an idea, and perhaps in its way more pernicious because it is easier for people to accept the flaws.

SF writers have been writing the Ark story since the dawn of SF. Indeed, the alien Adam and Eve plot is such a cliche from the 40s that you would have a hard time selling it to an SF magazine today. Not simply because it’s nonsense, but because it became overused back in the day when it wasn’t as obvious to people how nonsensical it was.

The Ark story is not just any bad science. It’s the worst bad science there is. Because there are dedicated forces who want so much for people to accept the Ark story as possible. Normally busy scientists would not even bother to debunk a story like that, but they spend a lot of time debunking this one because of the dedicated religious forces who seek to push it into schools and other places religion does not belong. And debunk it they have, and very solidly. The depth of the debunking is immense, and can’t be covered in this blog. I recommend the talk.origins archive with their giant FAQ for answers to many of the questions about this.

BSG plays a number of tricks to make the Ark story more palatable. It puts it back further in time, prior to the migrations of humanity out of Africa. (Oddly, it also has Adama spread the people around the continents, which simply means all the ones who did not stay in Africa died out without a trace or any descendents.) It makes it a merger rather than a pure origin to account for the long fossil and geological record. It has the aliens destroy all their technology and cast it into the sun to explain why there is no trace of it.

It does all those things, but in the end, the explanation remains religious. As the story is shown, you still need to invoke a variety of divine miracles to make it happen, and the show does indeed do this. The humans, on this planet, are the same species as aliens from another galaxy, due to the plan of God. They have cats and dogs and the rest, even though 150,000 years ago, humans have yet to domesticate any animals. Indeed, god has to have designed the colonials from the start to be the same species as the natives of Earth, it all has to have been set up many thousands of years ago. This is “intelligent design,” the form of creationism that gets dressed like science to help make it more palatable. It is also a pernicious idea.

In one fell swoop, BSG changes from science fiction — hard, soft or otherwise — to religious fiction, or religious SF if you wish. Its story, as shown, is explained on screen as being divine intervention. Now, thanks to BSG, there will be discussion of the ending. But it will involve the defenders of science having to explain again why the Ark story is silly and ignores what we know of biology. I am shocked that Kevin Grazier, who advocates science teaching for children, including biology, was willing to be a part of this ending.

Sadly this ending goes beyond being bad SF.

How to make it work.

Now there is one plot which BSG did not explore which would have made a lot of sense if they wanted to tell this story. It’s been noted on this blog a few times, but discounted because we believed BSG had a “no aliens” rule. This is what I called the “Alien Abduction plot.”

In this plot, aliens — in this case the God, who does not have to be a supernatural god — captured humans and various plants and animals from real Earth many thousands of years ago. The god took them to Kobol, and possibly with other gods (the Lords of Kobol) created a culture and raised them there. From this flows our story.

This plot has been used many times. Recently in Ken Macleod’s “Cosmonaut Keep” series the characters find a human culture way out in the stars, populated by people taken by “gods” (highly advanced beings) a long time ago. The same idea appears in Rob Sawyer’s dinosaur series, and many other books.

Do this, and it suddenly explains why the colonials are the same species as the people on Earth, but more advanced. It does not explain their cats and dogs, or their Earth idioms, but those can be marked down to drama. (They would have to have independently domesticated cats and dogs and other animals, as this had not happened on Earth. Same for the plants. The gods could also have done this for them.)

This plot works well enough that it’s surprising no hint of it was left in the show. I do not believe it was the intention of the writers, though I would love to see post-show interviews declaring that it was.

And even this plot has a hard time explaining what happened to their culture, the metal in their teeth and many other items. For try as they might they could not abandon all their technology. Even things that seem very basic to the Colonials, like better spears, writing, animal and plant domestication, knives, sailboats, complex language and so many other things are still aeons ahead of the humans. They plan to breed with the humans, and will be taking them into their schools and educating them. There was a sudden acceleration of culture 50,000 years ago, but not 150,000. And then there’s the artificial DNA in Hera and any other Cylon descendents. (And no, Hera isn’t the only person we are supposed to be descended from, she is just the source of the maternal lines.) But maybe you can shoehorn it in, which makes it surprising it wasn’t used.

The idea, taken from the old series, that the Greeks would have taken some of their culture from the aliens also is hard to make work. Why do their cultural ideas and now hopefully debunked (to them) polytheist religion show up nowhere else but Greece and eventually Rome? How do they get there, and only there, over 140,000 years of no writing, hunter-gatherer life? I am not a student of classical cultures, but I believe we also have lots of evidence of the origin and evolution of our modern Greek myths. They did not spring, pardon the phrase, fully formed from the head of Zeus. Rather they are based on older and simpler stories we have also traced. But the alien religion is based on our modern concepts of ancient Greek religion.

Even in 5,000 to 10,000 years, there would be a moderate amount of genetic drift in the Kobol environment, including the artificial genetic manipulation involved with Cylons. Since we learn that Africa has more game than the 12 colonies, it’s clear the colonials did not have all of Earth’s animals. It is contact with animals that generates most of our diseases. When different groups of humans get separated for many thousands of years, with different animals, the result is major plagues when they meet. Without divine intervention, the colonials are about to be reduced to a small fraction of their population. Especially after tossing their hospitals into the sun. (Why don’t we see any sick people saying, “Excuse me, do I get a vote on this whole abandon technology idea?)

Atlantis

The other plot which could have explained this I called the “Atlantis” plot. In this plot there is an advanced civilization long ago which reaches the stars but falls and disappears without a trace. It is the civilization that colonizes Kobol and becomes as gods. This requires no aliens. This is not their chosen plot, since it’s even harder to explain how this civilization left no trace, since it would not have gone to the technology destroying extremes the Colonists are shown to do.

Coming up: Why religious SF is a bad idea, even if you believe in the religion. (Hint: while the author is god, you don’t want them to really use that power.)

The good, the bad, the horrible

Readers of this blog won’t have to guess my disappointment with the 2nd half of the finale. And yes, I will tear apart how silly, and pointless the way Moore wanted to end it was.

But first, there were some good parts. The space battle fans were looking for. They last Betrayal by boomer and her flashback. And for one moment, I was impressed that they were able to completely surprise me by making it look like they would have a negotiated settlement with Cavil. That would have been bold TV, for it is actually how many wars end. But Tory’s secret made it not to happen, and Tyrol’s emotions once more muck everything up. They didn’t show it, but this could have been made more complex if he could have restored some memories of his happy life with Tory when they were shacked up and engaged, overwhelmed by the murder. But he is forgiven again.

I felt the Colony should have been, as Simon said, vastly superior militarily. They did much better against it than you would think, and the few nukes in that raptor should not have been able to do that much damage. However, fortunately the singularity, in spite of all our speculations, played no part in the result. Cavil’s suicide was surprising but quickly cast aside in the story. His other copies may or may not have died if the colony was truly destroyed. Since it had many base ships which could jump away, one should presume many of them survived.

The song did turn out to be coordinates for real Earth, as many expected. And of course, this is where the show hurt itself, undid so much of the good it had done to this point.

Now, of course, readers will know I am particularly bothered by it being set in the past. Moore said long ago he knew man evolved on Earth, and he kept that — sort of. But first I’ll start with the criticisms that have nothing to do with when they set the story, for literally up to the last 2 minutes they could have fixed the story so easily by zooming to a broken Statue of Liberty on the beach. And that is the great shame, for there was so little story need to ruin everything. It’s often been written by fans that they don’t care about the science, that the writers will have a story to tell, and if the science has to bend to tell a good story, they can. But they could have told 99% of the story they wanted without screwing up the science very much. The great shame is they took what could have been greatness and dashed it on the rocks for one little hook.

Leaving out the science…

I simply could never find it credible that they would fly their fleet into the sun. (Nor, for that matter, did it make sense that Sam should die to do so, because he was certainly not a lost cause at that point, and in fact one imagines the remaining 4 might have knowledge together to help him. Or the 5 if Galen had not been so rash.) A computer could easily have flown the fleet into the sun. (Though I did smile at the re-use of the original music at this point. I didn’t like a lot from the old show but I did like that theme.)

Yes, they wanted a new start, a clean slate. But throw their hospitals into the sun? Most of their planes? It boggled my mind. Those who had any health problems would not be so ready to destroy their technology. Yes, the virgin Earth is full of game and fruit, and life there could be idyllic — with medicine — but this was brushed over completely. There should have at least been factions opposed. And those factions would have won, of course, because they would soon have been militarily dominant.

Laura did see the promised land. That doesn’t bother me, the cycle was broken, at least for a while.

Minor issue — Adama says they came a million light years. There is no other galaxy a million light years from Earth. . We will presume he’s just using it as a big number, though. (In fact, on further reflection, this must be the case as they are able to jump Raptors back to collect the fleet. So they are actually quite close to the other scenes of the show.)

I was surprised to see that Baltar knew that Six had nefarious “Employers.” This makes him way more evil than he ever ways shown to be at the start. I had always presumed he was duped, just letting a hot, bright assistant get more access than she should, not assisting a known spy in exchange for sex. This somehow hurt his redemption in my eyes.

And Kara’s resolution just didn’t work for me. Fine, she’s been an angel ever since she crossed into the maelstrom. That whole plot seems to provide so little now. She had physical form, her DNA could be tested, but “poof” she disappears when she feels her task is done.

And why all the fakeouts about sadness and death? Laura dies, as everybody expected for 3 years. Sam dies, to no real purpose. Boomer dies, because Athena is vindictive and forgets she has valuable intel. Starbuck doesn’t die, not really. Tory dies — who cares? And yes, Galactica dies, but because they drive her into the Sun.

The horrible, horrible science

Now some will say, all of this can be accepted because it’s the sudden will of God. That there would be humans, DNA compatible humans from another galaxy is so impossible it could only happen by divine intervention. Which I find highly unsatisfactory in a show of this type. Once you start solving your problems with sudden divine intervention, literally God in the Machine in this case, you make your story much less meaningful. Everything is as it is not because of the characters and their strengths and their story, but because God set it up.

God also had to do something rather un-godlike. If the colonials are the same species as our ancestors, then the diseases of Earth would have wiped out the colonials pretty quickly, and the diseases of the colonials would have done serious horror to the Africans too. The colonials came with dogs, cats and other animals, and God must have made them be exactly the same as the dogs and cats of Earth, who of course have been here for many millions of years. And their diseases too. God has to do a lot to make this story work. And God can indeed do anything. But I’ve already read that book, and didn’t much care for it.

Strangely, though it is 150,000 years ago, Adama plans to spread people all over the place. This actually makes little sense, and doesn’t match the pattern of human migration. Humans spread out from Africa in several waves, but only the last one (about 80,000 years ago) stuck. The expeditions Adama sent died off, leaving nothing. No faction decided to build cities or technology. In fact, all the people pretty quickly collapsed to primitive states, without technology and without writing, which didn’t come to us until quite recently.

It would have made more sense if they had timed this to the “Great leap forward” when human culture suddenly accelerated, which was 50,000 years ago. Once you accept God doing all this magic stuff to make this plot work, at least that could have had some consistency with history. But instead, the colonials quickly came to the life of our ancestors, nasty, brutish and short, with a lifespan of 30. No happy ending there.

New York

All of this plot could have been saved if in a final pan, they had come to a modern ruined artifact, changing the date — and of course removing that final scene of the Angels in New York. Of course a Statue of Liberty would have been very cute, but anything would have done.

Suddenly all of it can make sense. No need for god to be creating DNA miracles — of course they are the same species. They are just the remnants of humanity on a war-destroyed planet, reduced to primitive life. Perhaps even by choice, just like the colonials. Write that story and you could have told this very same episode without bogus science. You just could not have put the Angels in New York to make a few snide comments and melodramatic warnings about the dangers of robots.

Was that short scene worth it? Not at all. Because the truth is, a logically consistent, realistic ending would have done far more for the show’s message. Made it far more respected and remembered. By doing it well, the whole show’s overall message about the dangers of robotics would have been far stronger, far more lasting. It would have been saying, “We just told you a story of how misuse of AI did bring this world to ruin” rather than “This story of danger comes from a distant and fantastical past which makes no sense, and is not really our past.”

What a great waste. While I do crave more realism and less mumbo-jumbo, even those who don’t have that taste can realize that the fault here is not simply a lack of attention to science. It’s a lack of attention to meaning. What could have been one of the greatest SF shows of all time, with a lasting message, cuts off its own legs in the last 3 minutes for highly unimportant reasons. I suspect that for years to come, people will say BSG was “Great, except for the stupid ending.”

And if Starbuck was going to be an angel who can just vanish, could they not have let her have a scene in New York with Baltar and Six? Yes, the Ron Moore cameo was cute. The mitochondrial Eve story, which is where they got the 150,000 years from, is widely misunderstood. This woman is not “Eve” like in the Bible, she is just the most recent of a million common ancestors we all have. They mucked it up just for that?

Loose ends

  • Baltar’s women and their weapons
  • The reason for Starbuck’s long strange fate and journey, if she’s really a non-corporeal being of sorts.
  • Just who is this God and why does he work in these strange and mysterious ways? Why does he not like being called God by his minions? Who are they anyway, and where did they come from? Is this just some strange new theology thrown in at end without explanation, to roughly parallel our notions of angels?
  • Why did the 12 tribes take their flags from the sky of the 13th colony?
  • Why did D’Anna say “You were right” to Baltar?
  • What was the Ionian nebula about? Why the strange power shutdown? Why did Roslin faint? How were the Cylons waiting?
  • Who wrote All along the Watchtower? (Looks like it’s God.)

Broken promises

No time travel? That opera house scene was indeed a vision of the future, very concrete. It goes beyond simply being made to happen by the beings who planted it, or so it seems. Ditto some other prophecies like that of the First Hybrid.

The Truth of the Opera House

Posts on episode-day usually get quickly overtaken by the new episode, so I am holding off some general articles I have for post-show. But with 3 hours to go, I thought I would open up speculation on two topics I haven’t gotten a large read on. These are the Opera House and All along the Watchtower. I’ve read much speculation about both.

Update: Well, the real truth about the Opera House turned out to be quite disappointing. Just a background to use in a vision of an ordained event having nothing to do with Kobol or the Opera House. This was different from a flash-forward or foreshadowing, as it was an actual god-inspired-vision, but what did it mean? “In the future, the final 5 will be on a balcony and look down at Six and Baltar carrying Hera, after Roslin and Athena chased and lost her.” It was just an event, really, with very little meaning. What happened after (Cavil is on the bridge, and he grabs her and there is a peace deal) had meaning, but not the vision itself.

The ancient Kobol opera house, now in ruins, was never occupied by the Final Five, except perhaps on their brief stop at Kobol on their way to the colonies, well after it had been ruined. But it has been their home in visions. They appear on its stage on 5 of 6 drapes in the vision of their faces given to D’Anna. They appear on the balcony as five glowing figures — at least we’re pretty sure it’s them — in the vision shared by Roslin, Six, Athena, Hera and sometimes Baltar of Hera’s chase. Its stage was also the setting for the vision of Hera in her crib before she was born. Only Baltar, Six and Hera go through the doors at the end, into the light. The Five watch and Athena and Roslin can’t get there.

So what is “the truth” of this vision? Roslin we have all been confident does not make it to the promised land. Hera has visions of Six. Baltar’s head six insisted for the first season that Hera was the child of Baltar and Head Six, but real Caprica Six also experiences this vision. Helo’s out of the picture.

Now my prediction has been that we’ll see death for the Final Five, Roslin, Helo and Athena. And while Baltar would normally get a redemption-by-death, we keep getting prophecies of him being father to Hera, so his continued life, and Six’s make sense. Is this all that it shows?

And what does it mean that Head Six is the one who constantly declares that she is to be Hera’s mother, along with Baltar? Head Six is not Caprica Six. She just looks like her. Caprica Six may not even be aware that Head Six exists. In the vision on Kobol, it is Head Six and Baltar that are holding the newborn. But Caprica Six experiences the vision. Are the two characters more connected than I suspect?

The Opera House also ties into a few references we’ve seen to the stage as a metaphor for life. In a podcast commentary about a deleted scene, Moore talked about life on ancient Kobol in terms of the 4th wall. That the Gods observed the humans like players, and that by creating their own Cylon artificial life, the humans broke the 4th wall.

As for Watchtower, I’ve read many theories on the lyrics. A lot of them point to the fact that the song is often interpreted as being in reverse; that to understand its story you must read the stanzas in reverse order. It begins with the princes on the watchtower seeing the figures approaching, and ends with the Joker and Thief having their conversation. We’ve seen many interpretations for which characters might represent the Joker, the Thief or other figures. I must admit that none of these interpretations has shouted out to me as obviously right. A few are clever, but none have the big resonance of truth. While AATW is a favourite song of Moore’s, he didn’t write the story to match the song. At most he may have tweaked it so that it fits with the song. Or the lyrics may not have much close association at all.

AATW was a rather unusual song to use in a drama like this. The characters make many Earth culture references over the course of the show, quoting Shakespeare, using common Earth idioms, taking lines from Earth nursery rhymes etc. This is normal in any literature. The key is that for all of these other references, the author is either lost in time or dead. AATW is unusual in that it’s a famous song by a living author. In the podcast, Moore says that in this universe, Anders is the author of the song, but our string puller has taken it as his or her own, and used it to not just turn on the Final Five, but also injected it into Hera and Starbuck’s father. (Or rather, McCreary’s bass/sitar opening that he added to the song.)

There will be lots of analysis after the show ends this weekend, though after that I will be visiting Israel and not commenting so much. I expect to be right about a few things, wrong about a bunch more. My formerly most confident prediction (This is in the far future of real Earth) now has had to drop many levels of confidence, and few of the predictions are at a high confidence level. I will try to be honest and post a scorecard after the show is done.

Could they really live together?

We’ve been told since season one that “god’s plan” is to unite the Cylons and humans, in particular through a hybrid race in Hera. The Final Five can breed with the 7, and I suspect with the humans, but I suspect the Final Five will all die, their race entirely wiped out.

But could a society of such unequals really work out? We suspect, though can’t be sure, that the 7 Cylons don’t age. If they do age it would have been cruel of Ellen to make John in the form of an old man. They’re much stronger, much more physically capable, smarter on average (Baltar things his six is the smartest woman he has ever met) and can talk to computers through their fingers. They can communicate through projection and live in projected worlds.

Which of those attributes the mixed-breeds will have we don’t know, but Hera at least can project. Indeed, they might not all be the same. Some might have more of mommy, some might have more of daddy.

We’ve had a hard enough time with racial tension in a world where the races are physically and mentally on the same level. What kind of world would it be with two different and differently capable races, and their mixed children of different abilities. Unless almost all the humans die, most of the children in this world will be human. Only Hera and a few others to start will be mixed. And all this is not even counting the resentments of “you enslaved us” and “you genocided us.” How can the race wars not flare up again?

It’s a hugely tall order. Another commenter wonders what happens if the “good guys” mostly die in the attack on the Colony leaving Baltar and the mutineers to lead the mixed society. Is Adama thinking through what happens if he fails? Is he thinking through what happens if he succeeds?

You’ve probably read of a bunch of podcast revelations:

  • Daniel is not Starbuck’s father, or much more than a way to explain the numbering gap.
  • No, the very Jupiter like red giant that Boomer stops at is not the real Jupiter.
  • The Final Five’s original ship is buried inside the giant Colony structure. The Centurions built it with the Five after the war.
  • The head beings are real, they are “Messengers” and this will be explained.
  • Oddly, the Colony is the “Cylonia” home base of the Cylons they never planned to show.
  • As he’s said before, the final will be about the fate of the characters more than it is about wrapping up the plot.

One thought about the F5 ship. It of course was able to resurrect the final 5 on its own. Unless that equipment was actually removed to go into the now destroyed hub, it’s not out of the question that it might still work for the Final Five. The 7 are different, so it would not work for them, though the Five designed the 7’s hub and equipment to work on themselves. This might offer a plot opening — a member of the Five, killed in the assault, would suddenly appear, with full memories, deep in Cavil’s lair.

However, I do expect the Final Five to all die, so this would be a one time use, if it happens at all.

Another interesting thought from the comments: If the virus plot is to happen (and it’s looking less like it will) it would be cute if the notes of the song turn out to provide access to the Colony network, courtesy of the OTG. We can imagine Baltar and Six coming to look at the notes, and Six saying, “that looks like of the access codes to our computer network” or to a Centurion inhibitor. OK, I can still hope for this plot because I like the full circle nature of it. But the numbers in the music are going to give them something; perhaps a weapon, perhaps the coordinates of a planet.

Moore’s podcast comment about Cylonia is difficult to reconcile, because John/Cavil says that the other Cylons don’t know about the Colony. Simon and Doral, as I said before, surely have to have asked, “Why don’t I remember this place?” Perhaps, in spite of the language we have been using, the “Colony” is a small and hidden subset within this Cylonia.

And for the brotherhood of us hoping for the “Real Earth,” the fairly decent (I normally detest making-of shows) clip show “The Last Frakking Special” which aired Monday and will air again this week included the famous “Zoom to Real Earth” clip from the end of the third season. Many fans have wondered about this clip, showing a real, present-day (though that may not have been their intention) Earth with the obvious North America, when none of the scenes of the 13th colony Earth showed any recognizable features or stars. That clip kept people hoping, and still does, though Espenson’s offhand remark about humanity coming from Kobol dashed a lot of that hope. While Ron Moore and the rest probably had very little to do with the clip show, the inclusion of this clip makes you feel they are not wishing they had never included it.

Naked Singularities and Antarctica

In the first part of Daybreak, we are told that the Colony is in the accretion disk (a reasonably close orbit) of a naked singularity. Naked singularities are an unsettled question in physics. Some don’t think they can exist, others say they can. Here is an explanation from Scientific American written from the pro side.

Such singularities, if they exist, are still massive and have a deep gravity well, but the singularity is not covered by an event horizon. There may be an event horizon present (black hole,) but it is outside it.

The presence of such an object seems important. You just don’t throw one of these into a show if you don’t intend to use it. A black hole or singularity is highly powerful and destructive. So it may exist just to provide a destructive tool, something that can be used to even the odds in the otherwise futile attempt to attack something as large as the Colony.

That’s not so easy. Because singularities and black holes have such deep gravity wells, you can’t just push the colony into one, any more than you could push the Moon into the Earth. Once in orbit, you are very stable, and in fact absent friction you would stay there forever. Pushing something in orbit around a massive object into the massive object is actually harder to do than pushing something far away that is not in orbit, as counterintuitive as that sounds. If you were still in space, and you wanted to put something into the sun, you would just drop it. From the Earth, in orbit around the sun, it would be much harder to get something to go to the sun.

Near a massive object, there are strong tides on anything that is as large as the colony. This is to say, the gravitational force on the close part of the colony is stronger than the force on the distant part, resulting in a net force that would be trying to tear it apart. The colony would have to be strong if it is subject to such tides. However, if there were such tides, you would find the close and far ends of the colony regularly pelted with rocks which would be orbiting at different speeds than the colony as a whole is. If the rocks are still with respect to the colony, tides are not strong.

That one can jump to the mouth of the colony opens up one of the scientific issues with all forms of teleport. The colony has vastly different gravitational energy, space curvature, kinetic energy and angular momentum than ordinary flat space. BSG FTL jumps, however, seem to somehow account for all that, ignoring important rules of conservation. When they jump near a planet, they seem to jump into orbit around it, rather than watching it zoom away.

Many SF stories that have FTL jumps, by the way, make it a rule that jumps can’t do this, they must be done from relatively flat space to relatively flat space. You can’t jump near anything. They do this not simply to be more accurate. Limiting jump technology is a good idea as it can be a plot killer. It’s good to make it hard. If you have it, anybody can escape from anything, anybody can get into anything, and anybody can put a bomb anywhere. When Galactica jumped into the atmosphere in Exodus, it was wicked cool, but also generated a lot of plot holes. Why don’t they do this all the time? Why do colonial ships even have the ability to fly in space, if they could just jump from atmosphere to atmosphere? Why don’t they just jump nuclear bombs next to targets in the middle of battles? Better not to have to ask those questions.

Naked Singularities and SF

SF Writers love naked singularities, because the rules of physics break down. They feel they can write anything, use them as a handy plot device, because nothing you write would be known to be wrong. That’s not quite true, but naked singularities have become a standard in the toolbox for writers that want to do FTL jumping, time travel and alternate realities.

Does this mean we’re in for this? I would be disappointed because this naked singularity has been introduced only in the last episode. I don’t like it if a story resolves its problems with something magically powerful, out of the blue, in the last episode. That cheats the audience. Some readers here think there have been hints of singularity based teleportation. They point to the maelstrom from which Starbuck’s body was transported after the viper exploded. They think this suggests a singularity inside the maelstrom. Leaving aside the questions of the difficulty of having that in physics, this show already has teleportation in the form of FTL jump ships, so the OTG hardly needs to bring in a singularity.

Others have wondered if the singularity might be the path to our real universe, an alternate universe from that of BSG. Now the truth is that travel “through” a naked singularity is a concept that SF writers love but which is actually quite difficult to work out in reality, even with the little we know. But leaving that aside, it is writable in the traditions of the SF that uses naked singularities. Would this ending satisfy you as a “wrap it up” ending? I can’t say it would do so for me.

Ron Moore of course, as a writer for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, has a history with magic wormholes, though he didn’t create the setting for that show. To my mind the most satisfactory plot use of the singularity would be as a means to make it possible to destroy the colony, but it is a strange enough object to introduce that I suspect it will be more.

Antarctica

Several have noticed that the land mass shown on the blue planet with sunrise at the start of the episode is Antarctica. It follows the land patterns precisely. The editing tells us this is Caprica. Is it just the graphics crew using some stock images to make it easy to make a realistic Caprica? Or is it a subtle hint that real Earth is out there?

First of all, the land mass is brown, not white. But we saw Earth in “Crossroads” at the end of season 3 and it had normal sea levels. It was not a planet of melted polar ice caps.

Secondly, the stars in the background, which have come to be less and less reliable, are the stars of the solar system, but they are from the Zodiac. As you can figure out, if you were looking at the Earth over the south pole, the stars in the background would be those of the north pole, such as the little dipper and North Star, and the stars around them. The sun, however, only appears in the Zodiac, and it never appears where they show it in this picture. Of course, they have used the Earth stars in the wrong way many times now, but you would think that if they were showing real Earth, they would take some care this one special time.

Finally, the terminator (day-night line), instead of going from polar region to polar region, curves east-west. It does do this in Antarctic winter (July) though I am not sure it ever gets quite like this, with the sun rising in the North, rather than slightly east or west of North.

So, hint of Earth, or graphics dept. borrowing some images?

Anders

Something revealed in the comments that I didn’t know. The reason we have seen Anders in a hospital bed or in a tank for all these episodes is external to the show. The actor, Michael Trucco, broke his neck in a car accident and was still recovering when this was shot. He is better now, except for some fused vertebrae, but back then he really couldn’t act below the neck! So Anders the perfect machine, one with Galactica, looks like a last minute addition to the plot, but it’s going reasonably well.

Asian style writing

In the zoom-overs on Caprica, it is interesting to note that four buildings have Asian style writing on them. I don’t think it’s actual asian writing (perhaps those who can read it will tell us) but it is obviously styled on it and reads downwards rather than left to right. In one case, there is a street with three shops with asian style signs, and a 3rd saying “McCool” — it’s quite common for Asian streets to have signs with English words.

On the other hand, Laura’s door says “701” in good old arabic numerals. In Asia they use those as well.

This implies that the Capricans really write with an Asian script. But all papers and signs on Galactica are in English, and read horizontally, not down. Of course we see English because the audience needs to see English, but this is a bit hard to reconcile. Perhaps they just bought the 3-D city simulation from some Asian graphics company and forgot to edit out the signs when they added the Colonial Heavy luxury ships etc.?

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