Incredulity and Battlestar Galactica

I’ve said here and elsewhere that the process that led to my deconversion began about five years ago or so, as I finally began to seriously question many of the beliefs I’d been taught growing up. This is the truth; I didn’t begin to really challenge my own beliefs until around that time. However, as I’ve had time to think about the years of my adult life, I’ve realized that perhaps there were seeds planted here and there, tiny cracks in the wall which formed without my even realizing it, that sufficiently weakened my foundation of faith enough ahead of time to eventually allow me to pulverize it completely when the time was right. Looking back now, I think I’ve pin-pointed the exact moment when that first seed lodged itself somewhere deep inside my brain.

It was March 20, 2009. The air date of the series finale of Battlestar Galactica.

I really loved Battlestar Galactica while it was airing. For those that aren’t aware, this is not the original campy sci-fi series that aired in the late ’70s. Though that series certainly has its fans, I don’t count myself among them. No, this was a reboot that originally aired as a mini-series way back in 2003, and became a full-fledged series a little over a year later. From the very beginning, I was hooked. It had everything I ever wanted in a science fiction television show: top-tier actors, quasi-realistic space physics, political intrigue, an interesting story with mysterious and fascinating threads that endured across multiple episodes and seasons, and high production value… it was truly a diamond in the rough at a time when television was steeped in crime procedurals and reality shows.

The first three seasons were some of the best television I’d ever seen up to that point. Though there were many odd narrative choices and mysteries that didn’t seem to make much sense, it all simply added to the show’s allure. When it was announced ahead of Season 4 that the writers were ready to wrap up the story and it would be the last season, I felt confident that they would finally tie up many of the loose ends that had been dangling since the very beginning of the show. I wasn’t alone. There were whole forums dedicated to fan speculation and theories about the many different threads hanging out there, desperately attempting to make sense of the nonsensical. They were fun to read, but ultimately pointless, because I knew that whatever the writers had in store would blow us all away and end up being better than anything we could have imagined. After all, they hadn’t let us down yet, right?

Then came Season 4. Suffice it to say, things did not go exactly as planned. Though there was still some good stuff there, it slowly began to dawn on me as I watched the last dozen or so episodes that things were not going to wrap up in the satisfactory way I’d anticipated. More threads were created, more loose ends left hanging instead of being tied up, and as the weeks ticked closer to the finale, a sinking feeling formed deep in my gut. Something bad was coming. Even as the finale approached, I hoped for the best, but knew disaster was imminent.

Friends, I had no idea just how bad it would be.

You knew, Edward James Olmos. You knew, and yet you said nothing.

(Arrrrgh, there be spoilers ahead!)

I’ll try not to get into too many specifics, but there were a few mysteries that persisted throughout the series that didn’t make a lot of sense. At one point, a Human and Cylon (the robotic humanoids hell-bent on destroying humanity) fell in love, then conceived and gave birth to a child. This was impossible based on the “rules” the series had set up to this point. There were other impossible events. One of the main characters was killed in the middle of Season 3, only to somehow reappear at the end of that season with no explanation for how she was still alive. Apparitions would appear to characters whom no one else could see, and yet they obviously had knowledge of things they couldn’t possibly know, so the only conclusion was that there was more to them than an overactive imagination. There were many more like this, but the point is that many of these elements were so bizarre and unbelievable, even by the rules of the show itself, that we the audience had to believe there was a plan all along to somehow make them make sense in the end. Because otherwise, it would simply be a case of throwing weird stuff against the wall to see what would stick, and this show was too good for that kind of writing. Wasn’t it?

Turns out, no. No it wasn’t.

Without spoiling absolutely everything, the gist is that this all came to a head in the Series finale, where we all expected to finally get some answers. By this point, most people knew there was no way they’d be able to end things in a satisfactory way, but we at least hoped they’d make a solid attempt. And in the end, they did give an answer to all the lingering questions we had, all the loose ends that could never be tied up. They tied them up in three simple words:

God did it.

Naturally, those words were never spoken directly on the show. They tried to hide the final explanation in mysticism and emotional manipulation, but ultimately, the message could not have been more clear. Anything on the show that didn’t make sense up to that point, well… it was all being played out through some vague supernatural force working in the background.

I remember sitting there after the finale, stunned, wondering where my life had gone wrong. “God did it?” I whispered to myself. Then more loudly, “Wait a second, did that really just happen? God did it? Are you shitting me?? God did it?!?” I didn’t want to believe that the show runners could be so lazy, so careless about the way they handled the ending to what was, at the time, my favorite television show ever. I felt hurt. I felt betrayed. I wanted to literally strangle Ronald D. Moore, the creator of the show. How could he do this to me? GOD DID IT???

As the days and weeks passed afterward, I found myself contemplating the series more and more. Things I once thought were clever and fascinating now seemed shallow and boring. The ending retroactively ruined the entire rest of the series for me. But there was one thing I kept having to ask myself. Why did this bother me so much? After all, in my own life, miracles were an accepted part of the religion I called my own. What isn’t possible for an omniscient, omnipotent being, and why did I have trouble accepting this being existing in a fictional television show when I had no issue with him existing in real life?

I never came up with a good answer to that question, at least not until many years later after I’d shed my faith altogether. At the time, I just tried not to think about it too hard, but I knew that it bothered me all the same. I simply didn’t know why. Now though, I think I understand. Battlestar Galactica existed as an entire universe outside my own, one that could be fully controlled in every conceivable way. The real world on the other hand, the one I assumed at the time had the true God in it, didn’t make sense at all. There were things about the world that were inscrutable – the problem of evil, original sin, the trinity, etc – things we simply had to accept on faith. But in the world of Battlestar Galactica, it wasn’t necessary to accept things on faith. Things there could be made to make sense, should be made to make sense. Being fully removed from that world and simply observing it from an outside point of view, this made it all the more jarring when the answer to everything was a simple “God did it.”

No, that was not a good enough answer. In the world of Battlestar Galactica, they needed to come up with something better. What I failed to recognize at the time, what was bothering me so much without me understanding why, was that “God did it” is not a good enough answer for the real world either. Yet still, even though this didn’t fully click with me, I knew intuitively that something was wrong. The seed had been planted, and in time it would eventually bear fruit.

So in a way, I’ve come full circle to Battlestar Galactica. I’ve gone from loving it, to hating it, to now holding a kind of grudging respect for it because of the unknowable neural connections it rewired inside my brain to eventually help me understand why a world with God doesn’t make sense. Without that initial push, I may not have ever ended up where I am today, and that is something that I truly cannot imagine.

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