Admiral Adama and his son Lee Adama (call sign, Apollo) are in the Admiral’s quarters, reflecting over the events that had transpired over the previous few months since Apollo took command of the Pegasus, in particular the death of Major Kendra Shaw and the legacy of Admiral Cain, whose actions after the Cylon attack were alarmingly questionable at best and brutally evil at worst—especially Admiral Cain’s orders to Major Shaw and other officers to kill the families of individual civilians who refused orders to leave their ships, join the Pegasus and surrender supplies which left the rest of the civilians helpless before the Cylons.These are some of the closing lines from Battlestar Galactica: Razor, a two-hour television movie which I finally watched last night (it aired last fall). I found these words a profound light in such a dark-but-all-too-accurate vision of human choice and reality.
Adama: But I’ve been going over Cain’s logs. And from a tactical perspective it’s hard to find fault with anything that she did. Or that Kendra did.
Apollo: They butchered innocent civilians, Dad.
Adama sits at his desk. Apollo looks at him incredulously:
Apollo: C’mon. How can you ignore that?
Adama looks up at his son and speaks softly.
Adama: I know that I didn’t have to face any of the situations that she did. I had the President in my face, arguing for the survival of the civilian fleet. I had Colonel Tigh keeping me honest, balancing my morality and my tactics. And I had you.
Apollo looks at him.
Adama: Now, you don’t have any children so you might not understand this but you see yourself reflected in their eyes. And there are some things that I thought of doing with this fleet but I stopped myself because I knew that I would have to face you the following day.
Cain’s voiceover at the beginning of the film hints at what is to come. She tells us that “you make your choices and you live with them, and in the end you are those choices.” Early on (in an effective scene with Cain on a treadmill which drips of symbolism), we realize that Cain is well down a path almost completely void of family and friends. Following the Cylon attack (which occurs early in the story), Cain reveals that her choices are governed by the philosophy that there are times in life that one must become like a razor if one is to survive—a choice which under girds her morally questionable choices to kill an officer point-blank with his own gun when he objects to one of her commands and orders the execution of family members of civilians who refuse join and give their supplies to the Pegasus (and effectively abandon their ships—and families—to the Cylons). In her isolation, others have little ability to challenge or affect her choices. But her choices definitely affect others.
Kendra Shaw joins the Pegasus as an inexperienced officer just prior to the Cylon attack. She’s somewhat isolated herself and looks to Cain as a mentor, inevitably starting down a path guided by the Admiral’s philosophy. After Cain is killed, Shaw isolates herself even more (just as Cain had) and the Admiral’s philosophy drips from her words and actions.
But unlike Cain, Shaw (who calls herself “Cain’s legacy”) is not yet Cain. One of the most effective scenes in the film involves Shaw and the execution of the civilians. In several flashbacks, we see her staring at the gun in her hand with a surreal detachment after the executions, trying to put together that it was her finger that pulled the trigger. Later, as she walks away, she turns to look behind her, her face bathed in light. Then she turns away and walks into darkness. These scenes stand in direct contrast to Cain, who hasn’t looked back in so long that she can no longer see the light. It helps us understand that Shaw—even as she strains to embrace Cain’s philosophy—walks with remorse and regret. And that affects the choices she makes. And, while she’s walked down the same path long enough to suffer the consequences, that affects how her life ends. In the end, she sacrifices herself, yearning for forgiveness and atonement for her actions (unlike Cain, who remained resolute in defense of her choices even to her death).
Against this bleak yet all-too-real narrative, the conversation between Adama and Apollo stands out as a declaration of the considerable power of belonging to a strong community—indeed, of a community that has become a family—in the choices we make. The community that Adama references in his conversation is far from perfect. Its people struggle to be guided by the principles of democracy and, for some, a religion that values life while fighting against the very extermination of humanity. They struggle to balance the good of the many and the value of individual life in a desperate fight for survival. This community is made up of deeply flawed humans who make some really bad choices, yet they are people who struggle to live by respect, love and trust. (This consistent portrayal of humanity as flawed folks who struggle with these issues is one the reasons I admire BSG. It is a realistic and biblical view of humanity—one which, oddly enough, is also reflected by the Cylons.)
This kind of community is something Cain and Shaw lacked (and in Cain’s case, both rejected and prevented). They isolated themselves instead of walking with others. Adama struggles with what he may have done in Cain’s place, but he has long walked a different path from Cain. Both Adama and Cain lost family (Adama to divorce and death, Cain to the Cylons), but Adama chose to walk life in trust and relationship with those around him whereas Cain, with few exceptions, chose to walk alone. And those relationships—that family made up of broken and flawed people who nonetheless struggle to live in trust and respect—helped to guide Adama and the choices he made. And those choices made him a different person than Cain—and helped grow and strengthen the community in which he lives. It could even be argued that Shaw’s invitation into and experience with that community stirred her moral conscience and influenced the choices she made at the end of her life.
I like Adama’s words. They project a compelling image of the power of community—and I think I resonated with it so strongly because it is an echo of a truer community: the people of God as they are called and enabled to be. But that community—this living-together of those who follow Jesus, this “church”—does more than guide its members on the straight path, to walk justly, humbly and rightly. This Kingdom living-together explodes in Light, Life and Right-ness. This kind of Kingdom living-together changes the world—not because we change it but because God changes it through us together.
Community itself is no guarantee against wrong choices that lead to the paths of darkness. BSG illustrates that all too well. As does Scripture. And life. But I’ve long been enamored by how the choices we make determine the paths we walk. Walking with God isn’t free of pain, suffering and loss. But if we choose to walk with God, if we choose to live in him, then we find he lives in us (Romans 8:5-8). Inherent in that kind of life is the call and imperative to love and walk with others. Indeed, as we begin to experience God-in-us, it becomes impossible to live in God and not be drawn to (even as we struggle with) walking justly and humbly with him and each other.
Choices like these change us. Choices like these grow God’s Kingdom community, inviting others into the Light. And those are choices we can live—and die—with.
As for Razor itself, it’s not the best of the series, but it did have its moments. All in all, it was good to be back in the BSG universe—and I’m all the more eager to see how the story plays out.
For more on BSG from this blog, go here, here, here and here. And a friendly word of warning: BSG episodes can (and often do) contain strong violence, sexual content and adult themes.
(Images: SciFi) bsgctgy