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D and I had a great time last night watching the finale. Chocolate pudding and full-on fangirl squeeing. So very satisfying. Turns out I may have been pronouncing reification incorrectly, though (RAY ification). I’m sure I have much more to say, but this’ll do for now.

“Autant d'astres, autant d'humanités étranges.” Victor Hugo, Abîmes

“Men of the nineteenth century, the hour of our apparitions is fixed forever, and always brings us back the very same ones, or at most with a prospect of felicitous variants. There is nothing here that will much gratify the yearning for improvement.” August Blanqui, Eternity Via the Stars


The show’s utopic thought: understanding eternal repetition evaporates the significance of biological difference (and thus the cycle of violence). The thirteenth tribe (Cylon) was no different than the other twelve (human), in their capacity for war and slavery. This came out even in the UN/BSG event: we’re all Cylons. Alan Sepinwall’s summary is pretty accurate (still waiting for a transcript to appear on the web):

Craig Mokhiber, Deputy Director of the New York office of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, seemed the most plugged-in to the show of all the UN reps, making several references to the show -- "We are all Cylons," he said at one point, while discussing the idea that we dehumanize our enemies to allow ourselves to do horrible things to them, "Every one of us is a Cylon, and every one of us is a Colonial."
But for all that the show’s cosmology has shown that the difference between skin jobs and humans to be academic at most, there’s still the matter of the Centurions. It bugged me throughout the series, the reification of machine life as a phantasmagoria of race. Which is to say: though it looks like (on the surface) the show is apparently liberationist, egalitarian, etc., it does have two castes, which turn out to be two races: the people and the Centurions. I know I’m always going on about this, but class is seriously fucked in this show.


I was trying to explain the logic of my dissertation to someone once, and she (I think it was) kept steering towards ROBOTS, how they deconstructed the category of the human, blah blah blah. And I was all “BORING!” Let’s just say that we’re all Cylons and be done with that bit. Questions of biological difference, which is what it boils down to in the show and in popular culture more generally, are a front for dirty class dealings. Let’s stop replaying the panto BEEP BEEP I AM A ROBOT DO I HAVE A SOUL. Yes, of course you do. The twentieth century version of the problem of the global other: robot slaves rising up and killing their masters.

Six says at one point (in Razor?), when asked why the old-school Centurions are still around: “They have their uses.” When it is revealed that the Centurions are given the base ship to go off and “find their own destiny,” Ellen and Bill both approve and agree that “they’ve earned their freedom.” Earned their freedom, what does that even mean? They were cannon fodder for the colonials, for fuck’s sake. I think back with some resentment to the bit of comic relief in the Hub, Gaius trying to radicalize a Centurion with some seriously degraded copy of Hegel (one vast game of Telephone over the centuries?):

“I can see a real hierarchy around here,” said Gaius. Why did they have to render it humorously? I think I’m the only nerd in all fandom that’s still exercised about this.

Anyway. The kind of pathos I saw in those final minutes, a parade of roombas and realgirls and actroids, set to the Hendrix version of All Along the Watchtower: creepifying, really, and not all that different from the close of Blade Runner. Robots are still disavowed symbols of raced class hierarchy. I CAN HAS MOAR LIFE?


Galactica in orbit over Africa

Important fade!

So much life, said Laura.

On to the other aspects of the cosmology: what do the 150,000 years mean? The timeline is interesting given the show’s use of eternal return: what a fantasy of starting over! I thought to myself, wow that’s a long time of nothing being recorded. What would that be like? Would it be Lee’s liberal dream of letting our hearts lead, and not our heads? Is that the show’s utopic thought about peace? Might it not be more fulfilling, somehow, to live a hundred and forty-five thousand years without writing? (I don’t know why I thought of that, that I would assume that the writing of history would be the determining factor.) Or is it what it says on the tin: enlightening the natives. Anyway. I am finding myself loath to be generous for some reason, despite the humor:


COTTLE: Their DNA is compatible with ours.
GAIUS: Meaning we can breed with them?
BILL: You got a one track mind, doc.
GAIUS: Listen, I’m talking about the survival of the human race, actually. Not some get-together with the natives.
BILL: You also have no sense of humor.
TIGH: *maniacal giggle*

And by Out of Africa, I mean both the film that spawned a million suburban safari wives (and the J Peterman catalogue) and the single-origin hypothesis of human emergence. That wonderful sweeping bird's eye view, set to the opera house theme.


Hera is Mitochondrial Eve! The most recent common MATRILINEAL ancestor, Ron, but whatever. I don’t pretend to understand the science and politics of that question sufficiently. For now I will note with a raised index finger that it’s the desire to find a common ancestor, it’s a question of race, which is something the show wants to consider a conquerable, eliminable category (see above), but the success of which also importantly hinges on that very category. “Along with her Cylon mother and human father,” said head!Gaius archly. See, there’s no difference, and yet YAY! there is a difference! Guh.

III. Which brings us back to repetition. (Can I just state right now that my gorge rose just the tiniest bit when the theme to the original series played as the rag-tag fleet flew into the sun?) And Mormons. And free frakking will.

Compare that final exchange between the two angels/demons (“All this has happened before, but the question remains: does it have to happen again?”) to the story of eternal progression, promising you your own planet if you continually choose the right, but always under the threat of annihilation. As I wrote in that blog entry, such progression isn't progression at all, but a repetition that goes unacknowledged, disavowed, even. Without avowing that it's just this always-the-same cycle of righteousness-decadence-getting smote-repentance, you're just as mindless and slave-like as the original-series Centurions themselves. Poor buggers, having to do all the ideological heavy lifting. A-gain.

But this image still moves me enormously:

I’ve been thinking about it all afternoon, and my shoulders hurt, so I’ll leave you with a quote from Auguste Blanqui, the most exemplary professional revolutionary in the 19th century (their Che?), who came up with Nietzsche’s eternal return before Nietzsche. In his own very idiosyncratic work of popular astronomy, Blanqui hypothesized that, given a finite number of elements and an infinity of space and time, there’s nothing but our copies out there in the universe. Benjamin called it “the most terrible indictment of a society that projects this image of the cosmos – understood as an image of itself – across the heavens.” I will of course return to this. *cough*

At bottom, this eternity of the human being among the stars is a melancholy thing, and this sequestering of kindred worlds by the inexorable barrier of space is even more sad. So many identical populations pass away without suspecting one another’s existence! But no—this has finally been discovered in the nineteenth century. Yet who is inclined to believe it?

Until now, the past has, for us, meant barbarism, where as the future has signified progress, science, happiness, illusion! This past, on all our counterpart worlds, has seen the most brilliant civilizations disappear without leaving a trace, and they will continue to disappear without leaving a trace. The future will witness yet again, on billions of worlds, the ignorance, folly, and cruelty of our bygone eras!

At the present time, the entire life of our planet, from birth to death, with all its crimes and miseries, is being lived partly here and partly there, day by day, on myriad kindred planets. What we call progress is confined to each particular world, and vanishes with it. Always and everywhere is the terrestrial arena, the same drama, the same setting, on the same narrow stage – a noisy humanity infatuated with its own grandeur, believing itself to be the universe and living in its prison as though in some immense realm, only to founder at an early date along with its globe, which has borne with deepest disdain the burden of human arrogance. The same monotony, the same immobility, on other heavenly bodies. The universe repeats itself endlessly and paws the ground in place.

But also this, which moves me even more than the view of Earth:

GAIUS (crying): You know I know about farming.
CAPRICA: Hey, I know. I know you do.

EDIT: I find I have more to say about the finale of BSG. You will have missed all the fan outrage, because you likely have a life. Me, I've been stuffing my hankie in my mouth. The outrage, while justified, well, I have hesitated to add my voice to it, cos there are some TBMs out there who scare me a little.

Most of the criticism comes from a largely agnostic crowd who's upset at the lazy writing (not only a deus-ex-machina ending, but a deus-ex-Rube-Goldberg-machina ending, as one fan put it), and I pretty much agree. The orchestration of events (THERE MUST BE SOME KIND OF WAY OUT OF HERE, Y/Y?), Kara the angel winking out, Racetrack's conveniently floppy dead hand, the head!characters and the Opera House (Cavil's suicide), and the "breaking of the fourth wall" in the coda [Hi God! I mean Ron!], are all rather lazily constructed, compared to the complexity of the show's earlier allegories.

This blogger puts it most succinctly:
If we take these at face value -- miracles for the sake of miracles, or of encouraging belief in higher powers -- they fall horribly flat, unless you are already convinced that belief in a higher power is an end in itself.
And there's also this person, possibly my favorite member of that community:
It seems to me that the finale took a big, steaming dump on most of the major themes of the series -- gee, it turns out you can wash your hands of the things you've created, just by randomly nuking them and/or sending them into the Sun! That was easy! Woo-hoo, let's go camping!
Now the larger significance of this, for me, is that the particular higher power invoked by the plot here seems to be the Mormon god. So my complaints about the slapdashery have this additional sense of doom (Mormons always make me feel doomful). It's not just the script was crap, it was MORMON crap.

I'm hating that RDM et al didn't finally rework the cosmology of the original series (eternal progression): the always-the-same cycle of righteousness-decadence-getting smote-repentance. All of it devolving to the matter of free will to choose to be righteous in the face of an unremitting evil, the reward being YR OWN PLANET (Earth 2, in this case).

Lee and Bill's decision to take the whole fleet feral: think Lehi leaving Jerusalem behind, getting on that boat and sailing to the Americas (or the Jaredites before him, or Joseph Smith and Brigham Young after him). Technology, you understand, cities and circuitry and radio waves, is the evil away from which they must turn. All that might contribute to machine intelligence, and just in case you didn't get it, there's the coda, about which I have already griped. The head!characters really are a straight reworking of the Beings of Light from the original series, helping their less-evolved siblings along ("as you are now, we once were; as we are now, you shall become"). And all of this is based on a repetition: Joseph Smith's ripping off of the Jewish Diaspora

It might be too much to ask of anyone who would pick up this particular narrative (and the cosmology that narrative implies) to break out of the grip of its contradictions. I had thought it wasn't too much to ask, and I had felt they might just do it, but no. Sadly no.

Date: 2009-03-22 03:49 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you for this.

Date: 2009-03-22 04:04 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
My pleasure. Or rather, my compulsion! MUST GEEK OUT.

Date: 2009-03-26 02:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I think I’m the only nerd in all fandom that’s still exercised about this.

Mmm, you're not ;) I completely agree with the entire paragraph that preceded that. Faux egalitarianism is way too common in sci fi stories. Despite sci fi's obsession with depicting progressive, futuristic societies, there are always throwbacks which make it very clear that those stories were conceived in the thick of our modern, flawed, not-so-egalitarian society (see also: White Conquistador Lee eager to bring his language and civilization to the natives). I'm sure the centurions were mostly omitted due to budget issues (that gorgeous CGI must cost a fortune), but at the same time I think the show's message of caution about repeating cycles of violence would've been more effective if the centurions had had some sort of agency.

(I wandered in via [ profile] galacticanews, by the way.)

Date: 2009-03-26 10:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Hi! I see you around in the neighborhood.... :D


Date: 2009-04-13 12:58 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
i took me a while to write it up, but my thoughts on this travesty are available here:


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