Battlestar Galactica, Eternal Return, and Life Out There
I’ve been watching the reimagined Battlestar Galactica lately, after I bought the first two seasons on Amazon’s Instant Video. It is really a stunning example of American television, what can happen when we focus on telling a compelling story and stop trying the “Hit Every Cliche To Get Every Demographic” game. There are a couple of things that bother me with the show, but quite frankly I think Galactica is one of the most intriguing TV shows we’ve had on air in the past, oh, 10-12 years?
To be honest, I like both versions of Battlestar Galactica. I like both of them for different reasons. The original was a fun, out of your mind space fantasy that almost was sort of a creation tale. Bad acting, bad writing, atrocious special effects, but fun–sort of like an archaic Michael Bay, though I think it did a better job at getting the point across. It was also fairly bright for a people who just had their homeworlds destroyed. The reimagined series had amazing special effects, amazing writing (well, initially, at least), fascinating philosophical questions, and a dark, edgy vibe that did turn me off at one point, but paradoxically also kept me orbiting nearby, intoxicated by its ragged edge that drew oh so much blood. And both had great music: the original Colonial Theme and prologue music (plus that short riff when the Vipers take off from Carillion to aid the fleet, I cannot get that out of my head right now); the reimagined theme and, well, just about anything by Bear McCreary. That man is a god. (But not the jealous god. I don’t know what he could be jealous about.) In all fairness, while both are good, the reimagined series–for all its faults–is superior.
<figcaption class="wp-caption-text">And let’s be honest, only the reimagined series has the frakking hotness that is Katie Sackoff in a jumpsuit.</figcaption></figure>
As I watch the reimagined series again, I’ve been thinking a bit about Galactica–and like a worm, two memes buried its way into my head and stayed there.
That meme was the basic premise of the franchise: that there is humanity out there, searching for Earth; and that life here, began out there. It’s not, by a longshot, a unique premise: Ursula K. LeGuin explored it (sort of) in her Hainish novels, Larry Niven had humanity evolve from alien colonists in his Ringworld series, and in Stargate SG-1 humanity is an offshoot or “re-evolution” of beings called the Ancients, among others. (Ridley Scott explored it in his recent movie, Prometheus–but personally, that movie was atrocious.) But it still fascinates me.
The idea that Earth is a colony of humans would mean that we really aren’t alone in the universe, and that anyone out there would be much closer to us than we thought. (Or, they are quite close to us, but disturbingly alien. That would be far more likely.)
Naturally, this is all fiction, as all the evidence we have says we evolved hundreds of thousands of years ago out of Africa. The many various “paleocontact” or “ancient astronaut” theories are more or less pseudoscience (no matter what the History Channel thinks), with the two biggest proponents of this “theory,” Erich von Däniken and Zecharia Sitchin, basically making up their own mythologies (so it’s totally cool from a fiction POV, but rather useless otherwise. Particularly Sitchin; the guy had a “complete theory” as to what happened in the past, and if you look at it for any length of time, it’s quickly apparent it’s made up. How else could he get that kind of detail?) Not many of these ancient astronaut theories come close to what’s suggested in Battlestar Galactica, that Earth is a colony, except for maybe the work of Richard Mooney. (And, since his book was written in 1974, that was four years before the original Battlestar Galactica, so he wasn’t copying the show just to make some money off of it. Unless he was a time traveler.)
Still, though, it’s understandable why people think aliens came to us in the past. There’s the hieroglyphic Apache attack helicopter, the “Saqqara bird,” the “Nazca lines,” even the pyramids. Watching the _Ancient Aliens _show on the (hilariously misnamed) History Channel really makes you understand why people believe this sort of nonsense, but it also shows you that yes, Virginia, this is nonsense.
Or is it?
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think aliens came here and messed around with our evolution. But there is one way that life here could have begun out there, and it’s something that even scientists are considering: panspermia. The basic concept is that bacteria hitched a ride on some meteors, which crashed into Earth and deposited this biological material that jumpstarted life. If you take that up a notch, you get “seedships,” interstellar spacecraft that colonize other worlds using embryos. (It’s pretty complicated, but I’ll be honest: if we don’t develop some sort of FTL technology, it will probably be seedships, because nobody is going to want to do the generation ship thing, and they’re likely not going to want to stay a popsicle for centuries either.)
That, in my mind, could be a credible way to say that life here began out there, and human life at that. So instead of the Twelve Colonies of Kobol sending a fleet, led by the Battlestar Galactica, to colonize Earth, you get the Twelve Colonies (or maybe Kobol itself, depending on which continuity you choose) sending a vessel to Earth that’s full of embryos and crewed with…Cylons?!?!
Okay, maybe that wouldn’t happen. But its a thought.
The other major meme from the reimagined Battlestar Galactica is the idea of the eternal return, or eternal recurrence, summed up in the show as “All of this has happened before, and all of this has happened again.” (It’s sort of like “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” I think.) The philosophical idea on Earth is from Frederich Nietzche, although his idea is a bit different from what is presented on the show. Nietzche argued that the universe would, inevitably, reproduce itself exactly–and everything would happen exactly the same. The same people, the same actions, the same settings, everything. It would not be that another group of people would be doomed to repeat their forefathers’ mistakes (as the Colonies did when they forgot what happened on Kobol), it would be the very same individuals doing the very same things centillions of years later as the universe repeated itself.
And let’s be honest, that would be boring as hell.
But the basic idea of the eternal return sticks in one’s head. Is everything repeating itself? Is the world going to cycle through this crap endlessly? Who knows. It doesn’t matter, though, because it sticks there, and worms it’s way down into your core.
<figcaption class="wp-caption-text">For me, because I really want to blame all of our problems on this egomaniacal doofus.</figcaption></figure>
Battlestar Galactica, to me, is really a unique show and concept, either way. Naturally, though, I have to complain about two things in the reimagined series:
- The supernatural mythology stuff: Or, more specifically, the stuff surrounding Kara Thrace. Her death, then resurrection, then discovery of her body and destroyed Viper on Old Earth, is just going way beyond believable. This isn’t even “well, I can see on one hand how its cool” with the two Earths, this is just plain stupid. It makes absolutely no sense. (Yes, I can see where you can say “Well, this is about faith, so it’s not supposed to make sense” but this is also a TV show and people want things to make at least a little sense.) To me, the whole Kara Thrace is an angel arc was something that the writers thought was great, but then had no idea what to do with it and it pooped in their faces as they flailed about. That was essentially the major fail of the show.
Well, now that I’ve been fair and balanced–two cool ideas against two really crappy things they did–I’m going to go read that Richard Mooney book and try to contact the Fleet, so they can be lead to the Thirteenth Colony of Man, New York. (Where hopefully they will pummel Mike Bloomberg and his soda ban into nonexistence.)