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Exploring what it means to be human in the BSG universe

Admiral Bill Adama and President Laura Roslin are discussing what to do about Starbuck, whose viper they watched explode months earlier but who just returned to the fleet alive and well—and claiming to have been to and know the way to Earth, the very place they’d been seeking all along. Out of frustration, Starbuck later confronted Roslin with a gun in order to convince her that she is right. When Starbuck gave up her gun, Roslin took a shot at her but missed. Roslin’s been skeptical about Starbuck’s claims from the beginning, but now Adama is torn.

Adama: What if she’s telling the truth? She was supposed to die out there. She didn’t. I can’t explain that. What if she was meant to help us? And this was a . . .

Roslin looks at him incredulously.

Roslin: A what? A miracle?

She stares at him.

Roslin: Is that what you want to call this? Go ahead, say it. Grab your piece of the Golden Arrow. I want to hear "Admiral Atheist" say that a miracle happened.

You shot at her and you missed at close range.

Roslin shrugs it off, blaming her bad aim on her cancer medication.

Roslin: Doloxin fraks with your aim.

Adama: So does doubt.

Roslin's face grows hard.

Roslin: I pulled the trigger and I’d do it again. She put her life in front of a bullet as if it had no meaning. You drop an egg, you reach for another.

Adama: Maybe convincing you meant more to her than her own life.

Roslin: Is that your miracle? You want to talk about miracles? On the very same day that a very pale doctor informed me that I had terminal cancer, most of humanity was annihilated and I survived, and by some mathematical absurdity I became president, and then my cancer disappeared long enough for us to find a way to Earth. You can call it whatever you want. And now, I'm dying.

Adama: Don't talk that way.

Roslin: Bill, you gotta face this. My life is coming to an end soon enough and I'm not going to apologize to you for not trusting her. And I'm not...I'm not gonna trust her with the fate of this fleet. You are so buckled up inside. You can't take any more loss. Your son's leaving, this, me, I know it.

Adama: No one's going anywhere.

Roslin (laughing in disbelief): Oh gods. Here's the truth. This is what's going on. You want to believe Kara. You would rather want to be wrong about her and face your own demise than risk losing her again.

Adama's had enough.

Adama: You can stay in the room, but get out of my head.

He stands up and pours himself another drink.

Roslin: You're so afraid to live alone.

Adama: And you're afraid to die that way. You're afraid you're not the dying leader you thought you were. Or that your death may be as meaningless as everyone else's.

Adama walks away and leaves. Roslin starts to tug at her hair and notices that a lock of it falls out due to the drug treatments for her cancer. She starts to cry.

Battlestar Galactica’sSix of One” doesn’t rank among its best, but it’s getting there. Whereas the last episode seemed to rush through too many storylines, I thought this one staggered in spots (did we really need to spend so much time watching Lee leave the Galactica?). But this episode also had some strong scenes, especially the above conversation between Adama and Laura. In the end, however, the episode won me over with one of the main things that attracted me to BSG to begin with: its exploration of what it means to be human.

I think this is something all good stories explore. Good stories, among other things, get at who we are and why we do the things we do. They take us down the roads our choices lead. They tell us something about ourselves, the world we live in, the people we walk with and those with whom we cross paths. The best stories are true—not that they actually happened or even that they take place on Earth, but that they reveal, portray and explore human nature and the way the world works in real life. Stories like that invite us to reflect on our own lives. They invite us to consider our strengths, gifts and flaws. They provoke us to examine what we believe and why. They help us think through the issues facing us and, if we are intentional, they can even change the way we approach life, people and the world. Ultimately, stories like that reveal something about God, who is (as one character puts it in this episode) “at the beginning of the string.”

BSG goes about this exploration more overtly than most. Not only does it explore what makes us who we are among the humans themselves but even more directly with the Cylons—whom most humans consider to be machines (or, as they put it, “toasters”) without a soul but whom some are beginning to believe may have just that. In this episode, Gaius Baltar makes one of the more overt observations in this arena when he says:
Human beings don’t exclusively hold the patent on suffering. Cylons can feel. . . I’ve spent time amongst them. Man may have made them, but God’s at the beginning of the string, isn’t he. It’s God who made the real soul.

But the ability to feel (and suffer) is only one aspect that makes us who we are. Free will—and the consequences of the choices we make—is another aspect of our condition and one with which this series plays heavily. In this episode, it vividly unfolds among the Cylons, particularly in the discovery that the Raiders made their own choice to withdraw from the attack on the human fleet in the last episode; the subsequent choice by Cavil and other models to “dumb them down” (take away their ability to make decisions on their own) because of it; Boomer’s decision to go against her model in opposition to that move (which has never happened before); and the subsequent escalating move by those and other models led by Natalie Six to give the Centurions full sentient autonomy or “free will” (even if only to entice them into ushering in a bloody civil war). This theme was echoed in the human fleet as well, with Adama choosing to send Starbuck off to find Earth in spite of the President’s position on the recently resurrected pilot as well as Lee’s choice to leave Galactica and the military.

The idea that we have a will—and exercise that will for better or worse, in line with those around us or not, for good or evil—is part of who we are. We make some decisions out of our bent towards selfishness, be it to squelch fear, a quest for power, craving for control or any other misguided (even well-intentioned) motivation. But others are made out of the more virtuous parts of us—those echoes of the way we were originally meant to be—that value things like life, freedom, justice and love. The decisions we make not only affect the kind of person we become, but also those around us. We make our decisions within and influenced by communities—both those functioning in love as well as those that are broken (as BSG has explored before). As what we chose to do nudges us toward becoming more whole or more wrecked, those decisions also move our communities towards more just and loving relationships or more broken and fractured ones. And what kind of community we become eventually affects and influences those who come into contact us. “Six of One” gets at the kind of rippling-out complexity of that.

But this episode also gets at the possibility that there is a greater Will in the universe than our own. From the biblical standpoint at least, the most central aspect of being human means that we will come to the point (or many of them) where we must confront that. In this episode, that plays out most powerfully in Adama’s struggle with whether or not to believe Kara, who claims she’s been to Earth and knows the way back. In the previous episode, Adama chooses to buy into the President’s fear that Kara’s return is a Cylon trick. But as he’s continually confronted with Kara’s faith in her experience (and, ultimately, his own love for her and trust in her), that decision leaves him in a seething and drink-to-squelch-the-pain state of turmoil. He has a choice: either Kara is a Cylon manipulation or there just may be Something or Someone out there responsible for her return. As Barbara Nicolosi aptly notes, “the atheist Admiral is being drawn out of love to embrace the idea of the miraculous.” We all must eventually deal with the evidence of the Other, be it by taking it into consideration and believing in, relating with, rebelling against or choosing to ignore it. While BSG hasn’t clarified what “God” looks like in its universe, this series consistently suggests that there is something Other—and Adama comes face to face with that in a way familiar to many of us in the real world: by witnessing and having to come to terms with something in the life of someone we love.

Adama’s not the only one reacting to this aspect of reality in this episode. Folks run the gamut: Starbuck’s faith in what she experienced and the gift of salvation that Earth represents is so strong that she’s willing to sacrifice herself, even if she doesn’t understand it all. Roslin, however, rejects the concept of the miraculous in this situation because it doesn’t fit into her concept of how the Other would act. Cavil once again flat-out rejects any idea of an Other and takes on the role himself—as does, however unintentionally, Natalie Six and the other models who instigate the slaughter at the end of that episode.

From a biblical standpoint, these are all ways we humans react to the reality of God in this life. While things are a bit murkier in the BSG universe and it’s not yet clear what kind of God is being revealed (which is a good subject for another post), I do appreciate how these stories invite us to consider our own experiences and choices when it comes to God in real life.

So, while it wasn’t the best episode, “Six of One” did remind me why I’m drawn to BSG. Good stories make for good God-talk. And this was one of them.

(Images: SciFi Channel) bsgctgy


Will P. said…
Carmen -

I agree that this was a thought- and discussion-provoking episode. Too bad I don't have anyone to talk to about it anymore. Miss, ya, my sci-fi dinner convo buddy!
Carmen Andres said…
and we miss you and alison more than you know!! heh, and we don't have anyone to talk about it here, either, oiy.