ubikcan

March 22, 2009

Galactica final episode

Filed under: philip k. dick, science fiction — ubikcan @ 3:35 pm

So farewell then, Battlestar Galactica.

I have been an off and on follower of this series. While initially I found it very dark, offputtingly so (ie I stopped watching) during the first season, I’ve returned to it again more recently, catching up on missed episodes, reading through the summaries on Salon (which they’ve done previously for other difficult to follow films such as Mulholland Drive) and devouring season 4 (the last).

Now with the end of the series, we have the crew landing on a blue-marbled planet 150,000 years ago, and viewing a small band (not “tribe”) of early modern humans. We then cut to present-day NYC with #6 and Baltar eidolons wandering around tut-tutting over humanity’s decadence and a cleverly edited splice from Hera-child to a magazine announcing “mitichondrial Eve’s remains found.”

What? This is one of the oldest tropes in sf: Brian Aldiss called it the “shaggy God story.” The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction lists any number of examples (it was popular after WWII, but examples include Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw, and A.E. van Vogt etc.)

The Ency. is quite dismissive of these plot lines:

the plot being most frequently represented being the one in which survivors of a space disaster land on a virgin world and reveal (in the final line) that their names are Adam and Eve. (Ency. Sf, 1995, p. 4).

Sound familiar? True, Bstar did not reveal this in the “final line” but rather the final episode.

Ency:

Shaggy God stories briefly became popular alternatives to orthodox history in the works of Immanuel Velikovsky and Erich von Daniken, and it is likely that they will continue to exert a magnetic attraction upon the naive imagination (1995, p. 5)

Bstar was better than this: though one notes it was written by Mormons it isn’t clear this represents the Church’s philosophy, any more than it does the Moses story. It represents rather a kind of failure of imagination–since it is such a trope it is impossible not to be aware of that when writing this ending, and deciding to go on ahead with it anyway.

Maybe it doesn’t matter. Bstar was certainly tv worth watching and tried to engage a whole range of issues not normally seen on US tv. I don’t object to the angels or mystical notes even.

Philip K. Dick had similar ideas about personally available fractions of yourself or other beings, which he called “beside helpers” and which he probably got from his understanding of Gnosticism.

That we are left with many questions and plot holes: why not just ask Ellen what’s going on since she has a complete memory of the time on “Earth,” who or what was Kara2–a ghost, a divine but occluded emissary (again PKD overtones from Divine Invasion), how did her father know the numbers/notes to teach her or was this an implanted memory, and of course who is God?

Or rather, since Balthar calls it “it” in the final seconds, what is God? An evolved being? A future cylon (we see shots of Asimo and other Japanese robots as he speaks)?

A show shouldn’t necessarily answer all questions (especially as I understand spin-offs are planned and this would cut into their money-making potential). About all you can say is that the show should somehow be true to itself, but what that is may not be clear: again, not necessarily a problem. Mostly, Bstar succeeded. But by linking to mitochondrial Eve, and early humans the show runs the risk of not even being true to current knowledge. (And did anyone notice the hint that Galen, going off to the mountains on a northern continent by himself is set up to be a kind of Yeti-figure?)

My understanding is that mitochondrial Eve is a theoretical construct, not an actual set of remains as we see in themagazine photo in Bstar (and certainly not “Lucy”). That is, by extrapolating backwards from current human genetic diversity we can postulate a single indivual from which humans descend. (Not the first human ever of course, since other early humans and before that ancient humans would have also existed.)

Anthropologists, correct me if I’m wrong there.

Thanks Bstar!

* * *

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, 1995. 2nd edn., Edited by John Clute and Peter Nicholls.

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