Monday, March 05, 2007

the million-dollar "Galactica" question

[NB: My other recent BSG post is here.]

I've asked the question before: When the Galactica fleet finds Earth... what's Earth going to be like?

Isaac Asimov, who also used the legendary-but-real-Earth trope, solved this problem rather handily (if anticlimactically) in his Foundation series by making Earth a barren, radiation-filled wasteland, watched over by compassionate robotic sentinels stationed on the nearby moon.

For the humans in the colonial fleet, whose society so mimics contemporary American culture, what can they expect to find once they reach Earth?

My first guess is: Cylons. Cylons are more numerous, more technologically advanced, and more likely to reach Earth first. I should think that this would be obvious to the colonial fleet as well, which often makes me wonder why they are even bothering to journey to Earth.

But let's assume the humans beat the Cylons to Terra. What might they expect to find?

I suspect they might find something along the lines of the Asimovian solution: Earth will be a husk of its former self, probably uninhabited and uninhabitable, with little trace of whatever culture dominated it.

Another possibility-- one I think might make for a good way to end the series and assuming that the Cylon problem has somehow been resolved-- is to have Earth be so radically advanced as to be almost incomprehensible to the colonials. Completely different languages, amazingly evolved tech (perhaps these Earthlings could solve the Cylon problem in an exhilarating Deus ex machina scene), and a baffling yet fascinating culture. Imagine an Earth as you've never seen it before, with a crowded Moon and Mars to boot.

"Life here began out there," say the ancient scrolls of the colonials' polytheistic faith. Earth is usually referred to as the Thirteenth Colony, the one that went its separate way, suggesting that human life began somewhere both non-Terran and non-colonial. I think a cool twist would be for the colonials to discover that Earth is indeed the cradle of the human race, and that vague notions of panspermia are misguided: Earth itself is the "out there" on which life began. Far from being some lost colony, Earth is humanity's true home, and now the wayward children have returned. If, as both Cylons and colonials believe, "all this has happened before and will happen again," then the return of the children to their motherland strikes me as somehow appropriate, a way to close the circle.

A question about narrative, then: do you think Earth should be found well before the series ends, or should the finding of Earth occur in the final episode? If the latter, then the narrative will have to be drawn out for as long as possible, assuming Ronald D. Moore and company are interested in keeping the franchise alive.

Finding Earth long before the series ends would be problematic, I think, because the fleet's forward motion would have to grind to a halt ("We're home!"), and the show would no longer be about people on the run. I suppose the colonials and Earthlings might prove to hate each other, especially if the Earthlings are highly advanced; that conflict could drive a few extra episodes. Other episodes could expore language barriers, cultural clashes, and so on. But if the series switches over to a "colonials meet Terrans" mode, what direction could the story possibly take? The basic premise of "Battlestar Galactica" is that we are following a small group of humans on the run-- quite possibly the only humans left in the cosmos.

And there's the rub. If the colonists reach Earth, and Earth is utterly barren or simply devoid of human life, we have to wonder whether forty thousand people can indeed repopulate the planet and create a self-sustaining civilization. I'd say that the chances of this happening are slim: an Earth devoid of humans would be a harsh place, full of diseases that have hidden in waiting for the return of human flesh. Without any extra humans to beef up the population, the colonists would likely die out.

That may, in fact, be the way to end the series if the writers go for the "unpopulated Earth" scenario: the fleet is somehow victorious over the Cylons, the colonists reach Earth and settle down, and then... they die out when life proves too harsh for them, and people refuse to reproduce at an acceptable rate.

If the writers decide that Earth should be populated, I hope they opt for something like the scenario I've sketched out above. Meeting an advanced Terran civilization, of which we TV viewers would receive only a brief, tantalizing glimpse, would be cool as hell. For the series finale, it would be a rousingly optimistic "the ending is but a beginning" note on which to end.

And what of the Cylons? We already know that the Cylons (in the series, we often hear "the Cylon" spoken as a plural) are dividing into factions-- some are atheistic; some, having known love, are becoming less antagonistic toward the humans; some retain the full measure of hostility. Is it possible that humans and Cylons might join together in the quest to find Earth, or will the conflict rage on as both groups approach Earth?

So the basic questions I'm tossing around are:

1. What will Earth be like when the humans and/or Cylons find it?

2. Will the humans arrive there first, or will the Cylons?

3. Or: will the humans and Cylons arrive together?

4. If they arrive together, will they arrive as enemies, as friends, or-- in the spirit of the show's pluralism-- as factions, some of which are friendly, some hostile?

5. Will the finding of Earth mark the end of the series?

You know, it wouldn't surprise me if the series ended on a gloomy, ambiguous note. For example, if the colonials were to defeat the Cylons temporarily, then find Earth and celebrate at rejoining a large mass of the human race, I could imagine the Cylons reappearing in the distance right at the very end, suggesting that a major fight was yet to come.

What are your thoughts on the Earth issue, and on how the series might end? What other possible scenarios do you see?



Anonymous said...

6) How does Dirk Benedict fit into all of this?

Stafford said...

I always thought it would be cool if the fleet discovered present day (21st century) Earth. Adds that whole Buck Rodgers in the 25th century element (in reverse) to it all.

Anonymous said...

I have no idea what’s planned, but I’d like to see them on Earth for a few episodes, and for that Earth to be different than present day. It’d probably be in the future from the 21st century is my guess. That or the humans in the show developed eyeglasses and toothbrushes exactly like ours in parallel (doubtful).

Perhaps they would find an Earth ruled by the Cult of Kim. In this scenario, most of the other humans left Earth to colonize points distant, and almost all the rest left behind died of a new and powerful plague. All except the culturally and, more importantly, physically nearly hermetically sealed North Koreans.

As the North Koreans realized what had happened, they spread out to repopulate the Earth with pureblooded Koreans, thanking the Great and Dear Leaders all the way. You don’t want to see what they did to Mt. Rushmore.

And their Eternal Leader is… still Kim Jong-il, thanks to the magic of cloning.