Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Cylon God: How Special is your Revelation?

With the caveat that I think Battlestar Galactica is brilliant, that it is doing great things for SF television - and for SF in general - and that it has raised the bar for all time in terms of production quality and viewer expectations for what is possible...

Here's what bothers me about the Cylons. When they spoke of God in season one, with their talk of being God's Chosen People and God's Plan, etc..., they very clearly seemed to be doing so out of some form of direct experience. You don't, after all, just decide to commit genocide on a dozen planets on a hunch or a feeling. Their rhetoric very clearly implied that they were acting on what was - or what they interpreted as - Special Revelation, i.e. "that burning bush told me to do it."

But at the end of season two, and particularly in the "occupation" portion of season three, when we learned more about the Cylons and their religion, we don't see any signs of any special revelation. They bicker among themselves, they have doubts, they change their plan completely, some of them even have doubts that God exists. No indication of special revelation at all.

Okay, that's realistic and in keeping with our own world. Only, Battlestar Galactica exists in a universe where special revelation of some sort definitely exists. I mean, Roslyn's visions have lead them directly to Kobol, the Arrow of Apollo and the path for earth, and a Human Priestess, with knowledge of her dream, fortold that D'anna would find the child. This is a show where the ground rules establish pretty clearly that some sort of supernatural is operating from the sidelines, at least where the humans are concerned.

Ergo, it's a fair assumption the when they talked of knowing God's will and being his children, the Cylons had some concrete interaction with divinity - or something they perceived as divinity - before formulating their great plan. And I, for one, have been eagerly anticipating seeing what that would be when the writers revealed it.

Only they didn't. And it's painfully obvious sometimes how the writers are making it up as they go along. Which is okay, and is how most television, even good television works - and these writers are great writers - but man, don't hammer it in one way then shift gears. It's really thrown me for a loop.

Then, a couple of episodes ago, I saw a way out. After all, between "yes" and "no" the universe always contains a "maybe."

The Hybrids, folks!

Cylons who plug themselves into baseships, and in so doing experience the universe more completely or from a different altered state, who may go mad as a result but who, in the opinion of other Cylons, may be touching the face of God.

A-ha! This is how you can have special revelation and yet get the details fuzzy - so you think God's really telling you to wipe out all the humans one week and make nicey-nice with them the next. They have oracles - and oracles aren't always clear even if what they say seems divine.

That satisfies my problems, rationalizes the shift in their agendas, fixes everything perfectly. Problem solved!

Except for the fact that the writers themselves don't seem to have realized the potential of what they've introduced. We haven't seen the hybrids again, and now D'anna is shooting herself repeatedly to try and conjure her own Special Revelation between death and resurrection. Which makes me worried that even when they get it right, Ron Moore and company don't know they've got it right.

I don't watch Lost, but I hear it's starting to wear out its welcome with some viewers who are upset that the show isn't working to more of a plan. I'd hate to see BSG go that route as well. I don't think it will. For my money, it's still the best damn SF series ever in terms of the execution of its individual episodes and its character development, but how it all comes together in the end - and it does need to come together one day and it does need to end- will determine whether it's a show you watch over and over again when it's all said and done, or just something you enjoy in real time while its unfolding, but don't go back to with the same level of enthusiasm. Meanwhile, I continue to be impressed with Heroes, which clearly does have a plan, and while few individual episodes ever rose to the level of a good DS9 or BSG, its still Babylon 5 - for all the unanticipated plot and casting twists and turns Straczynski was forced to take out of necessity & network interference - that ranks as the best series ever when it comes to having a clear story to tell from the beginning and then telling it. And thank God Rome is based on, well, Rome. I'd hate for them to run out of material and have to do a boxing episode. Didn't Moore promise us none of the usual cliches? We've seen that on Oz, the short lived Untouchables series, maybe even Gilligan's Island. Talk about being lost....

38 comments:

Paul Cornell said...

I think Galactica's doing just about the best it can. The production office does seem to remember what hasn't been said and catch up on it. Witness Baltar questioning the Cylon in his head recently about just what she is. An ongoing TV show requires an act of faith, because there will be suspended plot elements, and overwriting. And they have my faith. And Lost's opening two parts this season were all 'look, we have a plan, here's boldly large chunks of it! Here's where those polar bears came from!' Having missed season two, I was very pleased by the directness of it.

Anonymous said...

I quit watching LOST. It felt too much like an endless, prolonged tease.

(Note how THE X-FILES ran into similar problems with the "Alien Conspiracy" story arc.)

ROME is simply fantastic. Best TV series I've seen in a long time. I keep thinking "How can they afford this?" I guess DVD sales will bring in mucho profits.

Anyone looking forward to the Star Wars TV series? (I don't!)
"All Jar-Jar, all the time!"
;-)

Tim Akers said...

Well, my cable company cut off my scifi channel supply, so I only ever saw season one, but it's hard to exist in the sf/f scene and not overhear conversations about BSG.

Yes, it's clear that special rev exists for the humans. Not something I'm comfortable with, as you know, but there it is. But it's never been made clear that special rev exists for the cylons. So maybe the cylons exist as a foil for modern man. You know, how do we cope with faith in a world where faith is all you get? Maybe the fervor of their early action comes from a desire to believe, but lacking that essential human soul, perhaps they're cut off from whatever supernatural ex machina actually exists in the world, and their making up with their lack of direct knowledge with a great deal of zealotry.

Anyway. I'm going to have to rent this action, one of these days.

Chris Roberson said...

I've about decided that BSG is a terrific drama, but crap SF. All of the character and interpresonal stuff is just top notch, but anything that touches on the sfnal aspects of the concept, and the Cylons in particular, is given incredibly short shrift. I lost a lot of faith with the show when they seemingly abandoned the concept that Caprica Six was haunted by a hallucination of Baltar. I suppose I could still be proved wrong, but we're a considerable distance into the new season, having had countless scenes with Baltar and Caprica Six, and quite a few with Baltar and his hallucination of Six, without the slightest hint that the question of Caprica Six's own hallucination will ever be touched upon.

As for Lost, I've kept up with that religiously, and I don't agree with the rumblings about them having lost their way (if you'll forgive the unintentional pun). So far, nothing that we've seen on Lost has contradicted everything else that's been revealed, and they return to the big questions often enough to make it clear that they're not being left by the wayside. Do we have all of the answers? Clearly not. But the showrunners so far are continuing to acknowledge in the text that the questions are there, which I think is more than BSG has managed to do so far.

I'll continue to watch both, and think they're two of the best dramas on TV ever (this side of Deadwood and Rome, natch), but I don't know that I can hold them out as the great white hope for SF.

As for Heroes, I just can't watch that thing. It's a load of poo, my friend.

Lou Anders said...

Chris, I'm coming to a similar conclusion re: BSG, which is along the lines of what Ted Chiang was saying here and at WFC recently. Paul - you are correct - BSG is really good tv, some of the best tv ever (the final scene between Saul and Ellen - Jesus!). Where it suffers is where a lot of American tv does - not being able to work to a long range plan because you don't know if you are going to be long range, and then, like the aforementioned X-Files, and also DS9's final year, having to continue past that plan when you do. My problem is not that we have to take the show on faith (ha-Tim, you left out the viewers' faith!) but that the writing team is too. I used to know Ron and speak with him on DS9 and he's brought the best of that writing experience & training with him, which, unfortunately, while it means damn good single episodes, means never looking past the season you are in, setting up cliffhangers pricelessly because you don't know what happens next, and trusting your team to find a way out. This is why DS9 produced some of the best Trek of all time in individual episodes, but sucked the big one in its final season when they were forced to wrap up all the nonesense into something that made sense. Their solution - coopt ideas from B5 and hope no one notices - was dreadful.

Re: Lost - no slur intended. I don't watch so don't have an opinion. Just repeating grumblings I heard at WFC.

Re: Heroes - Chris, we will never discuss it again - no point in our doing so any more than my trying to diss Lost or Alias on the basis of the one episode I watched of either (both of which I hated) would carry no weight and no authority with you - nor should it. Suffice to say, it's rapidly tying with BSG as my favorite currently-airing show and could emerge as an all-time fav if it continues on course. Very credible explainations have been given for two of your biggest complaints (painter/comicbook, taxi cab) but I'll spare you since it doesn't matter.

As to BSG as the great white hope - by showing the way for literary SF to follow - no, of course not. But by bringing mainstream attention to SF - Time, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly all proclaiming it "the best drama on tv" - yes, it will have positive reprocussions on the "stigma" afforded our industry. But these things are always pendulum swings. I remember going to the Pasadena Star Trek con at the height of TNG and being amazed at all the young, attractive late 20s, early 30 something couples with their very young (infant, toddler) kids. Or sitting in a coffee shop in Chicago and realizing every single table was buzzing about "Spocks going to be on Next Generation!" Or all the "Picard and Riker in '92" bumper stickers all the affordable, mid-sized japanese cars used to have on their bumpers. One quality tv show achieving mainstream acceptance removes the stigma, but two or three stinky ones on its heels puts it right back up. Right now, the current/next trend is for the mainstream to paint SF in a serious, mature light. But let BSG go off the air, or some inane film come out, and it will reverse. But this is a good time overall for SF - whether written or filmic.

Paul Cornell said...

I think if BSG were slightly further removed from SF and the SF community, viewers from our culture wouldn't be so hard on it. I'm still a passionate supporter. I think the feeling of cognitive dissonance it creates is unique in TV, or perhaps shared only with Lost, and is purely SFnal. (By which I mean: we are not meant to entirely identify with those who act most like us. I've also had some splendidly alien sensations from the Cylons.) What can I say? They have my continuing faith, and I think they'll wrap everything up when it needs wrapping.

Lou Anders said...

Paul, go back and read my caveats. BSG is currently my FAVORITE SF SERIES OF ALL TIME.

And I think the impact it is having on SF television is incalcuable and wholey positive.

That doesn't mean we can't debate the finer points. And the finer point is, the level of the individual episode is tremendous, as is the level of the arc within a season, but they need to work out the backstory, pick one coherent one, and work to a plan. The Cylons have a plan, but, at least as far as the Podcast they released of their round table story conference at the time of the 2nd season finale - the writing team didn't!

But read my lips - BSG as it is is still some of the best tv ever and the first (and only)SF TV I'd equate with an HBO series.

Michael L. Wentz said...

I know I’ve been rather opinionated about BSG in the past, but something changed. Last month I got to hear Ron Moore talk at the Screenwriting Expo in LA. Harlan Ellison interviewed Ron about Galactica, his motivations, arcs in the story, etc. I was unbelievably impressed with the things Ron Moore said, and found that he had the same types of strong feelings about honor and loyalty as do I. It gave me pause, and had me going back to reconsider the whole series.

Ron Moore mentioned that in BSG the survivors are not the best and the brightest. They are humanity’s screw-ups on a busted ship with no plan, an inexperienced president, damaged commander, and a dysfunctional crew. I almost fell out of my chair when I heard it, but it made the entire concept of BSG snap into view in an instant. I’ve been approaching the show from the wrong angle the whole time.

So Lou, with that said, I think your issue with the Cylons is part of the grand design. Beginning with season one, the Cylons were the organized and principled race, crushing the irrational and spiritually bankrupt humans. As the series has progressed the humans have grown and are becoming more like the Cylons...but don’t forget that the Cylons have taken human form. They are now discovering their emotions and all that other baggage that comes with it.

The Cylons don’t agree, or get along, or have a master plan anymore, and I think it is a result of going to war with the humans and becoming more human themselves. It’s fascinating and truly SF at its core. I’m interested to see how the rest of the season plays out.

BTW, love ROME and HEROES. Check out THE WIRE on HBO. It’s a good one.

Thanks for letting me get in my $.02.

Paul Cornell said...

Hey, do I come over as kind of confrontational? DO I?!! No, seriously, I wasn't being. Okay, trying to read your lips in your photo, and I think that's a steady hum.

Lou Anders said...

I've heard THE WIRE is good - but my wife and I can only manage 2 - 3 hours of tv a week, so that's Heroes, BSG and the occassional Real Time. When the shows are between seasons, Rome will be back in and I'll be showing her the DVDs of Doctor Who season two. I really want to go back and show her B5 - but I'm afraid that there may be no going back. Did everyone see Cory's latest Locus rant - in which he claims improved screen resolution will kill classic SF cinema. Nonsense - people still watch Trek:TOS today. But what may kill it is not advancements in special effects but this renaissance in story telling!

Ted said...

My reservations about BSG extend well beyond its weaknesses as SF and its lack of a plan. I don't think it's that great as a character drama; it's good by the standards of network television, but I think there are better shows on basic cable, and even better shows on premium cable. Some individual episodes have been very good, but some have been quite bad. I do agree that BSG has raised the bar for SF on television, and it deserves praise for that.

Lou Anders said...

I would like HBO to do an out-and-out SF series, and I would like it even more if it was an adaptation of something, rather than an original story idea, and I would be ecstatic if it was an adaptation of something written in the last 20 years, as opposed to something written by Clarke, Asimov, Bradbury, etc...

Ted said...

Why do you think an SF series should be adapted from written work? Off the top of my head, I can't think of any good TV series based on written work.

Lou Anders said...

Hi Ted,
Because I'd like to see it done right once. As long as I'm in wish territory, I can wish they do it right.

But I'd be happy with an SF series that had SF writers on the staff, or even one that stole cleverly from SF writers, in the way that Gibson's own filmic adaptation was unwatchable, but the Matrix did him justice.

paul wargelin said...

BSG, Heroes, and Lost are my three current favorite shows--great character dramas with ensemble casts where each member gets a moment to shine. (Deadwood was my overall favorite show for the same reasons, and shame on HBO for giving it the boot...)

Each show has it's flaws, but I enjoy watching them week after week. Think of it as unconditional love. :-)

Lou Anders said...

Was Deadwood able to wrap things up, or will it end hanging?

Ted said...

Would The Sopranos have been better if it were based on a Mario Puzo novel? Would Deadwood have been better if it were based on a Larry McMurtry novel? Sure it's possible, but I have no reason to think that it's likely.

Wishing that a hypothetical SF TV series were done right seems unrelated to wishing it were based on an SF novel. Of course you can wish for both, but it's kind of like wishing that a friend of yours wins the lottery at the same time.

paul wargelin said...

Deadwood ended the major story arc--the town vs. George Hearst--but it wasn't a series finale by any means.

Last I heard, David Milch has a deal with HBO to produce two two-hour films that will conclude the series.

Lou Anders said...

Okay, okay.
I'll modify my wish so that I'm just wishing slash hoping that HBO will do an SF series one day, and that it will be, in my subjective opinion, "good."

Lou Anders said...

Hi, Paul:
Ah, that's good then. One day, I will watch it.

Lou Anders said...

re:Deadwood - good to hear.One day, I will watch it!

Ted said...

While it's not an SF series, this is an interesting development.

Lou Anders said...

Yes, that is VERY interesting. I applaud the move, though I am not a fan of Garth Ennis. But this is a good move. I'd still love to see a TRANSMETROPOLITAN series one day.

Paul Wargelin said...

I second the call for a TRANSMETROPOLITAN series. I recall reading somewhere that Patrick Stewart was interested in playing Spider Jerusalem in a film.

Lou Anders said...

He was indeed and would have been great, but this was several years ago - eons in Hollywood time.

Justin Weinberger said...

RE: Deadwood -- one of the rabid Deadwoodians in my office confirms that the show is going to get wrapped up in a miniseries and adds that Milch's plan was to limit the run to 4 seasons because the real town of Deadwood actually burned to the ground after four years.

So, as far as speaking to the above conversation about planning arcs in television, it's a step to the good.

Lou Anders said...

Ah, I like.
And it's better than M*A*S*H, which lasted something like 3 to 4 years longer than the real Korean War.

hutch said...

You could argue that, as machines, the Cylons have no soul and are therefore incapable of receiving revelations from God. So their whole `religion' is based on a yearning for something they can never have and the hybrid breeding programme in Season Two is actually an attempt to breed a Cylon Messiah who can experience the word of God directly. Or maybe not.

Lou Anders said...

Well, a lot of the talk of the Cylon god did come from the Cylon in Batlar's head, who may or may not be a Cylon. But season one, what else was said about god that didn't come via her?

paul wargelin said...

RE: M*A*S*H. The show was actually on the air for eleven seasons, which was seven years longer than the Korean War.

RE: Deadwood. I just hope Milch can pull off his planned season four arc in the two films he's been allotted.

RE: Cylon God. I don't recall if it was season one or two, but didn't Sharon/Boomer speak of the Cylon God too?

Lou Anders said...

Yes, I think she talked about how god had deserted the humans for the cylons or somesuch.

hutch said...

I don't know if it's significant, or even of any particular interest to anyone, but it just occurred to me that the humans have many gods and the Cylons just have one.
I'm glad they're going to get the chance to wrap up `Deadwood,' but seething to discover that `Carnivale' has been cancelled.

Lou Anders said...

I'd like to see more done with why exactly the Cylons have Greek gods.

Anonymous said...

re: Cylons & God....

Any one recall Lester del Rey's "For I Am A Jealous People" (Star Short Novels, 1954)? Now that's a story that would cause the religous right to go bonkers.

Michael Walsh

hutch said...

It's not the Cylons who have Greek gods, it's the humans. The Cylons have The One God. But you knew that.

Lou Anders said...

Hi Michael - I don't know that one.
Hi Hutch - Doh!

Dan said...

The 7 Cylons do not have the plan. They are only part of it. They've changed THEIR plans, yes. But the plan, has remained constant.

I find it interesting that so few people have seen what I see as very obvious.

Ronald Moore is a huge Asimov fan. He’s stated so many times. No he’s retelling a story about Robots who became sentient. A lost planet, whose name is Earth. A master “PLAN”. This sounding familiar to anyone?

I would imagine that the final five - are the keepers, or at the very least, PART of the master plan, put into play by the puppet-master; the fifth cylon. The person that took the form of Leobon (Starbuck:> You’re not Leoben are you? Entity:> I never said I was) figures in heavily to this. Be him the first Cylon, or the Cylon god himself. This master cylon / puppet-master is pulling all the strings. They’ve been maneouvering everything.

The antagonism that the 7 cylons display towards the human fleet is only part of the plan. It’s not part of the final goal. Much like the Asimov / Sheldon “Plan” what the players ‘think’ is the goal, isn’t actually the goal. It only moves the plan forward.

Lou Anders said...

I sincerely hope you are right. But from my multiple conversations with Ron Moore in his Star Trek days (and my journalist days), everything I know about the way Trek seasons and arcs were conceived and blocked one season at a time, and everything I've heard on the various BSG podcasts they've issues, it sure sounds like they are making this stuff up as they go!