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Battlestar of Africa

I suppose it's strangely fitting that in its finale, the remake of the late '70s space opera "Battlestar Galactica" should live up to the humorous pseudonym we gave it in our household: Battlestar of Africa. It made little sense then, just a play on the sound of words.

It makes even less sense now, as an epic struggle for survival ends in dogmatic ignominy, in Africa.

There are many better reasoned and more detailed critiques of the show's finale elsewhere (skepchick, slashdot) and as much as I am tempted to I will, in the interest of my blood pressure, resist the urge to go down that same path. Instead, some bullet points:

"Mitochondrial eve" is a concept and not a person. Drawing back the independent genetic history of mitochondria is a useful exercise, but a person who holds that DNA is not of particular significance.

To ascribe importance to that individual-- especially because of her supposed nature as a "hybrid", with a Cylon mother and a Human father, is especially ridiculous since not only are mitochondrial DNA separate from human DNA, but they are only inherited through the female line; so in this sense, modern mitochondrial DNA in humans is thus fully Cylon with no "human" components. Again, since mitochondrial DNA is separate from human (or Cylon) DNA this is of little import.

However, if the implication is that all modern humans are descended from Hera, then the writers of BSG now owe even more than an apology to the late great Douglas Adams from whom they have cribbed their ending. One might as well throw up one's hands and admit that Galactica is, in fact, the Golgafrincham "B" Ark. Which sort of explains a lot of what happened during the show, if the crew is actually tired TV executives, hairdressers, and telephone sanitizers.

Certainly their attitude towards technology is little different. There's hardly any less logic in the act of plunging all your remaining technology directly into the sun than there is in wondering what color the wheel should be and whether or not fire should be marketed as a nasal decongestant.

One can only hope Baltar will go out to the natives with a Scrabble set; since if all modern humans are descended from Hera one wonders why they're there at all. Why not have it be an empty world? Why not keep the technology? Why not build a single civilization? If not, why not maintain a separate, but more advanced one?

The answer is, of course, that this ending doesn't fit the mythology that forms the basis of the show. And whereas at times it made an interesting setting, here it ruins the dramatic logic of the program. Mormon myth about North America makes little sense and is backed by no scientific evidence. What seems worse is that even within the context of this work of fiction-- where the authors are free to manufacture whatever evidence they see fit in order to back up their story-- they resolutely refuse to do so and end up defying logic as well.

There's simply no way that all the survivors, without apparent conflict of any kind, the kind that has characterized even the simplest courses of actions throughout the series, would voluntarily go primitive, forgoing all the benefits of their technology (especially those that help keep them alive). Further, there is no sense in "splitting up" as it does not increase the chance of their survival, but rather lessens it. There is every reason to believe the natives might be hostile to them, and as such, they would need both their numbers and their technology to maintain themselves as a separate group. Hoping to infiltrate them genetically and thus live on in this way is not, I think, pragmatic, and does not ring emotionally true, no matter how harrowing the colonists' experience has been.

A lot of the flashbacks are cheap. Let me clarify what I mean by this. When you selectively omit events in the distant past that would have had illuminating impact on on the recent past, for the sake of hitting an emotional note in the present, you have cheated. You have cheated your audience and cheated your characters. In particular I'm thinking of the flashback where Adama and Tigh upbraid Boomer for lousy raptor landings. First, what kind of Cylon is the best raptor pilot the Galactica has, but can't make a decent landing? Was her incompetence faked in order to gain trust? If so, the flashback has exactly the opposite of the intended effect. After all the betrayals and double-crosses by that particular character, that scene, where Boomer promises to pay back Adama "when it really counts" could just as easily have been recalled at any other confrontation between those two characters leading up to that point. To have saved it for the last moment is cheating. To have it delivered not to Adama himself just means that even the writers were too tired of these confrontation scenes to do another one. They should not have bothered with this. There is no way to redeem the Boomer character; they shouldn't have tried.

There's also no way to redeem Baltar or Caprica Six, and they shouldn't have tried-- and yet they do. They could have gotten away with just letting things go. Even if I don't believe it, and even if I don't like it, I would have had little choice but to accept that having arrived on Earth, the colonists are too fragile and tired to do anything but go live in a cave and forget they ever heard of a Cylon. I might even be willing to accept Baltar's role in getting to Earth, and in (supposedly) explaining how it happened and what the significance of it is. However, when you then flash back to the very moment of his betrayal of humanity, you've lost me. No matter what came afterwards there is no sense in which it can be said that things are better after that than they were before. The only way you can accept that is to accept that, like Sodom and Gomorrah, Caprica was destroyed not by Cylons but by God, and that such destruction was necessary and justified. I suppose that's why they bother with the scenes of Ellen, Tigh, and Adama in a bar-- so we can see that Caprican society was decadent and needed destroying. I don't buy it.

Speaking of Cylons, into what part of this Luddite future does letting the Centurions go fall? This makes no sense. Their population is intermixed with organic Cylons, they let a group of mechanical Cylons go, purely as a gesture of freewill, and then they lay down every scrap of technology they have to assist their own survival and defense, if necessary-- something which has proved necessary at every turn, and there is absolutely no reason to think that anything has chanced, beyond "angel" Caprica Six's assurance that "your lives will be less eventful". Which I suppose is just code for "they're turning the cameras off now".

Halfway through, they had me. Even the last minute possible truce I could almost accept. The significance of Hera is never, ever explained-- there is no reason to think that the intermixing of two separate groups of humans and Cylons has any more significance because it happens through this particular girl, rather than any other possibility, or indeed any possibility that did not include Cylon heritage. In fact, if she is the sole vessel through which Cylon genetic material is disseminated then one must conclude that by the present day it is as diluted as a homeopathic remedy and about as important. There would need to be more 50/50 hybrids than just Hera, which dilutes her importance. If she further hybridizes with humans than the percentage of Cylon inheritance decreases further.

About the only note in the show's second half that rang true with me was the President's death and Adama's mourning of her-- something those two characters have been preparing for throughout the entire series. I thought that was handled well, and was touching.

Not so the final scene between Lee and Starbuck, which again combined an unnecessary flashback (wow, those two almost had sex in the past while her fiancee, his brother, was passed out on the couch? I had no idea.. what a surprise! Really!) with a senseless non-explanation. Her character died a meaningless death, landing on a dead-end planet identical to Earth in all ways other than it being a dead end, and then lived on, magically, to function as the solution to a pitifully simple puzzle. Given that Starbuck and the Galactica were searching for Earth, making the musical notes numbers and then coordinates was the most obvious possible solution; yet we are meant to believe that it is thought of at the last possible moment.

Of course we also have to believe that somehow there are two identical Earths. This is the kind of stuff you could barely get away with in the 60s with lame "alternate universe" explanations in Star Trek episodes, but I think I'd prefer to see more rigor these days.

So one Earth became home to the first civilization of organic Cylons, who developed the organic bodies and the resurrection process for the second group of organic Cylons, who came from the mechanized Cylons made by the 12 Colonies who went to war, then left, then came back, as organics, after having betrayed the first group of organic Cylons and strangely choosing to place them where they would ultimately betray Cylons for humanity-- among the human race.

Why did the first group of organic cylons develop the technique faster than the second group? Where did the first group come from? How did they find Earth? Was their Earth populated entirely by five models, or did they have more? Why is there another Earth with identical continents at a completely different point in space? Even if the answer is, as to so many other questions in the series, "God did it" then why did God do it? Why is that particular configuration of continents significant to God, such that it bears repeating?

Douglas Adams pulled that idea off much better than this. Thank God Adams had a sense of humor, or else he'd be spinning in his grave over this series.