TV and Movies

Repost: Destiny and Choice, and Battlestar Galactica

Ok, excuse me for a moment while I get something geeky off my chest.

Battlestar Galactica recently wrapped up after a tumultuous four-year run. Much to my surprise, the finale, which I considered some of the best made television I’ve ever seen, has been met by widespread frustration. For those who haven’t seen it, you’re better off not reading any further: if you’re a fan of the show you’ll spoil it for yourself, and if you’re not the following will probably be pretty boring.

As I was saying, I found the response surprising. I realize that people tend to get emotionally invested in tv (or movies or books) for a variety of different reasons, so I figured that some people would be upset that a show they were attached to was ending, but that wasn’t what happened. Instead, the reaction was largely like this:

Actually, the entire scene was quite different from what came before. It was quite a tonal switch. It was jarring to go from such lyrical moments to such exposition-y stuff. (And if you know what he looks like — and perhaps the majority of “Battlestar” fans don’t — seeing Moore in the scene was odd too. It took me out of the moment).

I agree with the comment on Ronald Moore, but otherwise perplexed. The show ends with a montage of robots, but the conclusion that this ending implied that “everything that has happened before will happen again” completely misses the point of the show, and ignores what we’ve been subtly presented these past few years (and not so subtly recently).

The show took up a theme that has dominated religion for millenia, the debate between destiny and free-will, and I think that the show made an interesting statement on free will that has largely been overlooked… Ronald Moore and David Eick must feel the same way because they practically spelled it out in the final minute.

Head Baltar: But the question remains, “Does all of this have to happen again?”

Head Six: This time I bet no.

Head Baltar: You know, I’ve never known you to play the optimist. Why the sudden change of heart?

Head Six: Mathematics. Law of averages. Let a complex system repeat itself long enough and eventually something surprising might occur. That too is in God’s Plan.

Something surprising? If we accept that human “fate” is the closed system, and that is all a part of god’s plan, then what could the surprise be BESIDES free-will? On the other hand, the show states repeatedly that destiny is driving these characters. The revelation of the show (and certainly the final episodes) was that these two ideas are not irreconcilable. What if (the showrunners ask) destiny is more than just a series of predetermined events, but rather the path set out before us that serves to take us only to a place and time where we must choose? (It is worth noting that this is certainly not a new idea; but its rare to see a TV show embrace it in this fashion).

The show’s “message” has been consistent from the start: Sooner or later, we must answer for the things that we have done. If there is no free will there is no “consequence”; events do not flow from those that preceded them, they simply unfold in a predetermined order. No, destiny is something else entirely… it is the events and “forces” at work which drive us towards an inevitable choice; one that only we can make. The show has never been just about what we’ve done, it’s about the choices we’ve made… and as Battlestar Galactica boldly suggests in its closing shots, we have another perilous choice to make. As in the lives of these characters, the choice we face and the decision we must make is never revealed to us; all we can do is learn from our experiences, “the things that we have done” and hope to do what is right when the time comes.

Personally, I just wish that whatever forces were at work in my mind looked more like Tricia Helfer…

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