Monday, December 12, 2005

Battlestar Galactica

So, being home sick with the cold today, I ended up watching some episodes of Battlestar Galactica (thanks, Chris S!) -- well, the 3.5 hour series pilot anyway, and episode 1 of the first season. Wow! What fun! Cool story line, interesting characters, and not too much special effects jazz to detract from the plot. I'm hooked! (Apparently, I've been waiting to get hooked to something now that HBO's Rome has run its first season.) It's quite clever and imaginative!

[Now, I have to add this rant, that while incredibly imaginative at one level, I find most sci-fi to be rather unimaginative at other levels. Most of this is due to the fact that they must appeal to a largely American TV audience. But why does everyone speak American English? Why does a bustling marketplace look so artificial, when they could get such an authentic picture by just going to Istanbul or Bangkok or Bombay or Hong Kong? Why are all family dynamics like upper-middle-class white suburbia? Why is everything in the universe so g'darned Anglo? Even the idea of token People of Color -- blacks, East Asians, rarely anyone else -- is an Anglo idea ya know ... !]

Of course, apart from appleaing to the sci-fi geek in me, you know I'd have some commentary on the portrayal of religion in the series. Seems like the people of the Twelve Colonies follow a religion established by the Lords of Kobol (sure that's not Cobol, the ancient programming language? :)), quite polytheistic. ("Thank the gods!" is quite a common exclamation.) The new President swears an oath by raising her hand and swearing, but no book is in sight, and no mention of what she swears by, only that a priest is necessary for the ceremony. At the end of the pilot, at a kind of memorial service the priestess chants some suitably exotic sounding stuff. Except it's (badly pronounced) Sanskrit. In fact, a very famous mantra from the Brihadarnyak Upanishad. "Asatoma sadgamaya, tamaso ma jyotirgamaya, mrityorma amritam gamaya." (From untruth lead me to truth [or reality; many ways to translate sat]; from darkness lead me to light; from death lead me to immortality.) This is followed by a wish that the dead be taken to eternal life, and instead of "Amen," everyone responds, "So we all say."

So there we have it -- a suitably PC, exotic, polytheistic and decidedly non-Christian religion for the series. Seems like the kind of thing a D&D fan would come up with. And of course, this religion would have nothing at all to say about the proper exression of human sexuality. In the first 5 minutes of the pilot, it seems that everyone is having passionate sex. But more on that anon.

Oh, yes. That Earth legend. The Lords of Kobol, after establishing the 12 colonies (why 12? Was someone reading the Bible?), suggested that a 13th tribe escaped to a remote corner of the galaxy, to a legendary planet Earth.

But then, there's this fascinating dialogue between Gaius (the disturbing traitor-character), and the Cylon (machine-being) he's unwittingly helped to undermine civilization and the human race. She professes faith in God, and he mocks her. The conversation sounds like earnest scientific-type meets stereotypical fundamentalist Christian. This dynamic takes a more sinister turn in the first episode. This machine being now resides (in a way) in Gaius' psyche, and keeps up this faith-based-platitudinous-patter in a seductively sinister tone. "You know, that ship was lost because you didn't have faith in God." "You anger God by your lack of faith." "There are no coincidences, God is looking out for you." "Repent of your sins and let God love you." "God wants us to have a baby together. Procreation is God's command." He tries to fend this spiritual assault off using some stock responses. "In a vastly complex universe there are bound to be things that seem coincidental. No, in fact the design of the universe requires this." "There is only reason. " "That's not logical."

So here you have some fundamental Christian themes, twisted a bit, and presented as being part of the bad-guys' (or, in this case, bad-machine gal) armory to break down Gaius' defenses.

But perhaps the most fascinating thing is the whole treatment of sexuality. Of course, people are expressing their love sexually all over the place. Wouldn't be normal TV without that, now, would it. But the way Cylon-gal seduces Gaius (and thereby leads him to betray humanity) seems to convey the sense that sex can be sooooo evil. Sooooo dirty. And when she reappears in his imagination/psyche, she's like the constant seduction machine, this robotic Siren, forever reaching down his pants, leaving him in a sweat. One classic moment, just after she's breathed the "Repent of your sins and let God love you" line into his ear, he writhes and succumbs, "Yes, I repent!"

Of course, now that the human race has almost entirely been eliminated by the Cylons, and there's this surviving remnant (50,000 odd, slowly diminishing), the President reminds us of the importance of fertility. "We need to run away and hide. And make babies."

Perhap's there's a reason God commanded it? :-D

[Anyone remember Earth 2? Now there's a really interesting sci-fi show that, of course, being quite intelligent, got canned in the first season itself]

[Ok -- now back to BSG!]


Anonymous said...

Ok. No more being sick. You truly ranted on that subject.

Based upon the length of the text, I hope you are recovering from your illness.

BTW...I remember the first Battlestar Galactica when each episode was produced on a $1MM budget and was a hit for a 3-4 years. Each Sunday evening I drove my parents crazy in watching the program.

More than likely I just drive people crazy regardless.



Mark Mossa, SJ said...

Looong analysis of Battlestar Galactica!!

You might have mentioned it (yes, I just skimmed), but do you know that you can buy episodes on I-tunes to download to your computer!

Be sure and get all caught up, the new episodes start again at the beginning of January!

As you might have guessed, I'm already hooked!

Gashwin said...

Dogwood -- I'll try my best not to be sick anymore. :) And you drive people crazy regardless? Nah!

Mark -- a friend's let me borrow his episodes. (Uhm. I hope no lawyers are reading this.) So, guess what I'll be watching on the new video iPod on that long trans-Pacific flight? (Unfortunately, the laptop battery would die before we ever left North America, so the iPod it will have to be!)

Jenn said...

In the original series most of the elements of the religion that the Colonials practice is derived from Mormonism.

I'm very interested in seeing where the polytheism vs monotheism is going, especially since various individual Cylons are presented very sympathetically during the run of the show.

Gashwin said...

Hmm -- Mormonism! Interesting -- of course I never saw the original series. I'm totally loving the new one ... theyv'e not touched the religion theme in a while now.

It really is interesting how they're developing the "humanity" of the Cylons. And again, this whole thing about procreation ....

Dale said...

The creator of the original series, Glen Larson, is a practicing member of the LDS. There are a lot of Mormon touches in the show, starting with Kobol (an anagram for Kolob, where Joseph Smith said God resided), and including eternal progression, eternal marriage. Subtle, but notable.