Overthinking Battlestar Galactica: The Miniseries

Overthinking Battlestar Galactica: The Miniseries

Mlawski asks herself, “Do I really want to watch a show about how much humans deserve to die?”

Moore, Moore, Moore, How Do You Like Me?

You don’t know me, Ronald D. Moore, but I’m getting the feeling you don’t like me very much.  I’m not only talking about me, of course.  I’m talking about humanity.  But I’m part of humanity, sir, and I do not care for your tone.

Don’t take my word for it, readers.  Here are Ronald D. Moore’s words, coming out of the mouth of none other than Mr. Edward James Olmos:

“You know, when we fought the Cylons, we did it to save ourselves from extinction. But we never answered the question ‘Why?’ Why are we as a people worth saving? We still commit murder because of greed and spite, jealousy, and we still visit all of our sins upon our children. We refuse to accept the responsibility for anything that we’ve done, like we did with the Cylons. We decided to play God, create life. And when that life turned against us, we comforted ourselves in the knowledge that it really wasn’t our fault, not really. You cannot play God and then wash your hands of the things that you’ve created. Sooner or later, the day comes when you can’t hide from the things that you’ve done anymore.”

In other words: Way to suck, humans!  You got yourselves into this mess and deserve to die!  DIIIIEEEEEE!

All right, I’ll admit, I’m not being completely fair.  Fine: these aren’t literally the words of Ronald D. Moore, even though he wrote them.  They are the words of Commander William Adama.  Maybe Ronald D. Moore doesn’t believe that all of humanity deserves to be blown up by crazy robots.  But it’s clear that Commander Adama sorta does.

The question is, Why?   Well, let’s put on our “psychoanalytic glasses” and find out, shall we?  Commander Adama is still struggling with the death of his son.  His other son, Lee/Apollo, hates him and blames him for his brother’s death.  Ergo, we can see in this speech the following SAT-style analogy:

Robots : Humans :: Apollo : Adama

Robots are to humans as Apollo is to his father.  Humans played God by creating the Cylons; Adama “created life” by having two sons.  Then one son died trying to live up to his father’s expectations.  The Cylons rebelled against their creators; Apollo turned against Adama.  Adama tried to comfort himself in the knowledge that it wasn’t his fault—but that was before.  Now he realizes he must be judged.  For some reason, he has taken his own self-hatred to a whole new level: he believes that ALL humanity should be judged for its sins, as well.

Way to bleak, General Bleakerson.

Way to bleak, Commander Bleakerson.

Hey, Adama.  Hey.  Look.  I know you’re depressed here, and I know you feel bad about your messed up home life, but you’re going a leeettle too far.  At some point, a father cannot be held responsible for a son’s actions.  We don’t jail parents for their adult children’s crimes, for example.  Nor should we.  Adult children are sentient and thus able make their own decisions.  What I’m saying is, Yes.  At some point, especially several decades down the line, we should be able to wash our collective hands of the things we’ve created.

Listen, I like Freud more than your average psychologist and even I believe that the Freudian excuse only goes so far.  Example: a father beats his son, so his son grows up to beat his wife.  Is the father at fault?  Well, obliquely, he is.  But the son made the decision to buy the belt, to smack his wife with it, to avoid therapy for his anger issues, and so on.  The son goes to jail for this particular crime, not his father.

To say that parental sins=>child rebellion/sin is overly simplistic.  Let’s not essentialize human behavior and psychology.  Yes, statistically-speaking, abused children tend to grow up to be abusive adults.  But—and here’s the crux of my argument here—THEY DON’T HAVE TO.  To say otherwise would free them from all responsibility and render our modern legal and ethical systems useless.  People aren’t robots.  Their parents can’t program them to do anything.  Humans have free will.  It seems to me that Cylons do, too, but we’ll have to wait and see if that’s the case.  And if they have free will, then they, not their parents, are responsible for their actions.

If Robots, Then Apocalypse

Adama’s argument is wrong for other reasons, too.  The premises of Adama’s above speech are thus:

  1. Humans are sinful.
  2. The sins of the son (the created) are to be blamed on his father (the creator).
  3. THUS: The evils of the Cylons (the created) are to be blamed on humanity (the creator).
  4. ERGO: Humanity deserves to be punished.

If we take this argument to its logical conclusion, however, we get a paradox.  Lookit:

Premise A

  1. IF all humans are sinful AND
  2. IF the sins of a son are to be blamed on his father,
  3. THEN all sins are ultimately the fault of one ancestral father (a “moral Adam,” if you will).  In other words, if I can blame my dad for my sins, then he can blame that sin on his dad, who could have blamed that sin on HIS dad, and so on and on and on forever until you reach back to the first sentient man.

Premise B (for the believers)

  1. IF the sins of a son (the created) are to be blamed on the father (the creator), AND
  2. IF you believe in a creator God
  3. THEN the sins of this “moral Adam” are to be blamed on humanity’s creator (a.k.a. God).

Premise C

  1. IF all sins of humanity are the fault of either a “moral Adam” OR a creator/God, THEN
  2. Modern humans are not to blame for their sins (Daddy did it!  God did it!), AND THUS
  3. Modern humans should not be punished.

Premise D

  1. IF the Cylons are evil, AND
  2. IF the sins of the created are to be blamed on the creator,
  3. THEN the sins of the Cylons are to be blamed on humanity AND
  4. Cylons are absolved of their crimes AND
  5. Humanity deserves to be punished.


Premise E

  1. IF (as per Premise C), all of humanity’s sins are the fault of their creator (God or a “moral Adam”) AND
  2. (As per Premise C) Humanity is absolved of its sins, THEN
  3. Humanity DOES NOT deserve to be punished AND
  4. The Cylons should not punish them.

In other words, if you buy into the premises Adama outlined in his speech, you shouldn’t believe that the Cylons’ actions against humanity are justified.  Logically-speaking, the Cylons shouldn’t be trying to kill modern-day humans at all.  They should be killing God.


I guess this is all just a roundabout way of saying that, even though I found the BSG miniseries very intriguing, it didn’t adequately outline the Cylons’ motivation for me.  Why, exactly, do the Cylons want to hunt down every last member of the human race?  Commander Adama, as we just saw, has some ideas about fathers and sons and playing God and whatever, but I just explained that they don’t really make much sense.  Anyway, if humanity “sinned” against the Cylons, what does that even mean?  What sins did the “father” visit upon the “child”?  What did the humans actually do the Cylons to make them so mad?  We don’t yet know.

Moreover, what sin could possibly be so bad that it would require the Cylons to kill not only the specific sinners but ALL of the human race, including that baby Number Six killed and that cute, innocent girl left in the Botanical Gardens to die?  That’s like saying that because SOME gorillas kill other gorillas, ALL gorillas deserve to be nuked.  As an environmentalist, I have to say I can’t stand by that argument.

Something Adama can stand behind.

Something Adama can stand behind.

In short, I want to hear a specific motivation out of a Cylon’s mouth, and I want it soon.  And I want that reason to be good.  Because if the motivation is some version of Adama’s, “well, all humans are bad and sinful; obviously they should die!” I’m going to be annoyed.  I’m a fairly cynical person, but I’m not going to want to watch a series that is essentialist and misanthropic at its core.

Mlawski’s Predictions (Week 1):

  • The Cylons’ motivation is that they’re acting on a program some disgruntled SkyNet employee stuck in them.
  • The show will turn out to be a Judeo-Christian allegory that doesn’t QUITE make sense.  (Earth is Eden?  The ship is Noah’s ark?  Number Six is Jesus?)
  • Just as Gen. Adama defeated Apollo in the miniseries by hugging him, the Cylons will be defeated by the power of humanity’s love.
  • Lee/Apollo will turn out to be a Cylon, pushing Gen. Adama from clinically depressed to some kind of badass lunatic out for revenge.
  • Even though you would expect there to be at least ONE therapist on the BSG to help the characters deal with their grief over the apocalypse, there won’t be.
  • There will be no mention of the fact that Edward James Olmos is a Latino.
  • Just as I started saying “Frick!” after watching too much Scrubs, I will start saying, “Frack!” after watching too much BSG.

A Note: Welcome, new readers!  For those of you who didn’t read my Overthinking Lost posts, know that I love love love comments, even if they only point out how stupid my original posts are.  However, I must ask you to follow two rules when you comment:

  1. Play nice.  Feel free to disagree with each other, but no name-calling or needless nastiness.
  2. No spoilers. I’m a freak about spoilers, and even though I know at some point I will be spoiled about one thing or another, I’d prefer if you don’t spoil anything for me here.  This rule isn’t only for my sake; some people might also be reading these posts as they watch BSG, too, so let’s be considerate of them.

Also, if you ever have any BSG-related topics you’d like me to overthink, please tell me.  I can’t guarantee I’ll answer your question immediately, but there will most likely come a time when I can’t think of a topic for overthinking and will need your help.

Phew.  That said, comment away!  Otherwise, see you in two weeks!

17 Comments on “Overthinking Battlestar Galactica: The Miniseries”

  1. DK #

    Nice start! Like you, I watched the show on DVD. I think Baltar is more like the anti-Bashir, since Bashir is idealistic to the point it gets him in trouble. Also, Baltar and Bashir isn’t the only DS9-BSG character overlap. As a friend pointed out to me, Chief Tyrol is essentially the same person as Chief O’Brien if O’Brien hadn’t been in namby pamby starfleet.

    The first episode of S1 proper is good like whoa.


  2. mlawski OTI Staff #

    @DK: It will be done. :D


  3. Megan from Lombard #

    there were two words that I saw while reading this post that made me smile; free will. BSG deals with that time and again (in fact in the show there’s an arc about that keeps popping up every so often) so it should be interesting to read about if you do a few posts on that.


  4. MaxPolun #

    * Even though you would expect there to be at least ONE therapist on the BSG to help the characters deal with their grief over the apocalypse, there won’t be.


    Actually I just started watching BSG myself (I only watch shows like this after they’re done… except for True Blood for some reason). I actually watched from the start of season 1 rather than the miniseries which made for a little bit of a confusing time (though I knew enough of the basic premise to figure it out). Looking forward to what else you have to say.


  5. Saint #

    If the Cylon/human conflict is a metaphorical manifestation of IRL post-colonial guilt (chickens coming home to roost, etc), it’s not very flattering to the colonized. Fanon talks about the “colonized mind” turning local oppressed people into castrated, helpless automatons who go out of their way to visually and psychologically emulate their oppressors, while simultaneously creating a distorted psychosexual mythos that strips the oppressed of their humanity. BSG seems to take this system to an extreme, turning the colonized into literal robots who have succeeded in “assimilating” as part of a larger plan to obtain subjecthood through annihilation of the human race.

    It goes back to the same imperial anxieties in 19th century England that resulted in the popularity of Dracula. There’s going to be a certain amount of “we deserve it” sentiment, along with the subtext of “they’re not really people” and “they’re super-sexy and dangerous.”


  6. Kevin #

    @mlawski: just to lay some ground rules (and since I never asked in your Lost columns), we know to avoid spoilers… but what do you think of our impressions of the other seasons before you’ve seen them?

    For example, in your S1 post, could we say things like “Thank God it’s short, so we can get to the GOOD episodes!” or “It’s too bad the rest of the seasons weren’t as good as S1!” Those aren’t spoilers… but they imply something, for better or worse, about the rest of the series. Just not sure how much of a “virgin” you want to be when it comes to these.

    Having said that: enjoy the very first episode, “33.” I love some of the later episodes, in both S1 and the other seasons… but there’s something especially fantastic about that one. Savor it!


  7. mlawski OTI Staff #

    @Saint: Ooh, nice Dracula comparison! I buy it. I wonder, though, is it fair to call robots “colonized”?

    @Kevin: Haha, I’m not THAT crazy. Let’s alter the rules to say, “If you must spoil (i.e. refer to later episodes), try to be vague.”

    For instance, “Ooh, just wait until you get to season three!” is fine. “Wait until you get to the part where Baltar and Number Six join together to dismember and eat a baby!” is not fine. Likewise, “Free will is going to be a major issue in the show” is great. “Free will comes up in season two when robo-Boomer’s programming forces her to kill President Roslin” is not great. (Note to other BSG virgins: These examples are not real. I think.)


  8. sarielthrawn #

    My understanding was that the original series was written by a Mormon and was based on their history/mythology. That would explain religious tone and the trek to the promised land.


  9. K-Brack #

    I just forced my friend to watch the mini-series and i look forward to reading your column as i make him watch more episodes. no one is joking about S1E1, its unreal. i have a soft spot for season 3, however. can you say secret tribunal? WHOOOSH
    (i hope at least one person gets that)

    as for the cylons’ motivation, i dont think it gets explained at all during the series, unless i missed something. i think they were just upset about being enslaved. can’t imagine why.


  10. Marty #

    I can’t speak for the miniseries, but the show definitely becomes more than a simple allegory, covering a very wide range of themes and subjects, often a different one each episode.

    Mary McDonnell (Laura Roslin) was also excellent in Donnie Darko.


  11. Gab #

    I hope I can keep up decently with you. I’ve never seen it, either, so between borrowing DVDs and then finding the time to watch them, I’m probably going to play catch-up. Sad pandas. But anyhoo, so much from the board game makes more sense to me now. Like Roslin’s “terminal illness” thing that makes drawing cards or something when you play as her harder.


    I find the idea of Earth being the myth kind of spiffy. Are the characters going to find out in the finale that humans are really from Earth? In the optimistic section of my brain, I’d like to think they’ll make it back to Earth, find a utopian society that doesn’t even need the civil government OR military Roslin and Adama discuss in the end of the miniseries, and everybody lives together in peace and harmony and all that kinda jazz. But, alack, alas, I am not so naive as to expect it in the slightest.

    The “make babies” thing was kind of tongue-in-cheek, but I wonder… will we see some random hookups or even marriages because people are “settling” due to a desire to procreate? This could actually lead to some interesting commentary on and discussion about various standpoints on marriage v. relationships v. sex and what purpose each has for society as a whole as well as the individuals making that society up. I mean, an example straight from this miniseries: Chief and Boomer obviously have something going on, but she’s one of the Cylons- how is that going to affect him in the future when she’s revealed to the Galactica crew? Will he go abstainate over the loss, will he force himself to be with someone else, will he be able to fall in love again, will he turn promiscuous? Will his actions be portrayed negatively or positively? And whatever he does, how will the rest of the crew react (and will those reactions be portrayed as good or bad ones)? Hmmmm…


  12. Tom P #

    I don’t know how you’re going to do full seasons in a week if that’s the way you go. I could do four episodes at a time before it got too depressing.

    And I thought the season finale was great. Like All Good Things… from TNG level great.


  13. mlawski OTI Staff #

    @Tom P: I’m going to do 8 or maybe 12 episodes every two weeks. I watch an episode every day or two. It’s been working fine so far.

    All Good Things is SOOOO good. If BSG’s finale is even close to that I’ll be one happy panda.


  14. Okult #

    I think that there is a christian point to it, not counting the metaphores. The main plot is cyclic, the events that happened happened before, the eternal return of the same. The genealogy of guilt flows in a dialectical current between both sides forever interchangin and forever staying the same- here the christian logic of redemption kicks in it can break the cycle,…
    something new can happen


  15. Tom P #

    @mlawski: Right — I meant “series” finale. I blame jetlag.

    I also had a field day with gender roles while watching the first few seasons. The evil male-dominated military vs. the peaceful female-dominated presidency. The supremely flawed male characters who weren’t complete without female to lead them.

    Then Michelle Forbes showed up and everything went to hell.


  16. Gab #

    Tom: I never saw the original version, but I hear Starbuck was a man in it. Does that do anything to your gender analysis?


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