I am halfway through watching the new Battlestar Galactica series for the second time, but this time is a little different. Before beginning it, I watched the series ending Caprica movie. (I tried to get into Caprica the series, but it just hasn’t happened yet.)
I was really impressed with the Caprica movie for several reasons. But on the whole, I was impressed with a neat theme embedded in the storyline from start to finish, and more importantly, the way it was presented. During the four years of BSG, I had a philosophical problem with the Cylons. They were supposed to be these super intelligent machines, but they acted like petulant teenagers. Their actions towards the humans seemed unnecessarily cruel. When they occupied New Caprica, their fascist state seemed to be a product of a rather illogical and authoritarian mind. In short, I wasn’t buying the concept that the Cylons were superior to humans in any cognitive way other than perhaps processing ability. It just didn’t make much sense. But I stuck with it anyway.
Then I watched the Caprica movie. (Spoiler Alert!)
In a nutshell, here’s what happened. There’s a group of teenagers who have been caught up in a cult-like religion that believes there is only one all-powerful deity, and that all the other Caprican gods are false. They believe in absolute morality. And for the most part, they are vilified and shunned by Capricans because of the dangerous implications of such beliefs. One of these teenagers is an extremely gifted computer genius who solves a long-standing problem of virtual reality — the ability to transfer memories and personality to digital format. She creates an avatar of herself in a virtual world that is for all intents and purposes, a fully aware copy of herself.
The girl is killed when one of her cult-mates commits a suicide bombing. Her father, somewhat crazed from the loss of his daughter, puts all his effort into bringing his daughter back using the avatar she’d created. And thus is born the first Cylon with free will. Only the free will belongs to a petulant monotheist teenager!
And suddenly, the Cylons made sense to me. They weren’t cognitively superior to humans. They were all created using the cognitive abilities and moral compass of a teenage monotheist cult member. So they had lots of processing ability, and were able to create impressive technological innovations, but they were trapped in a kind of perpetual high school drama using little more than second-tier Kohlberg morality.
How very, very clever of the writers!
Meanwhile, the humans are displaying far more moral complexity and awareness. They are often torn between two alternatives, either of which will cause harm. More often than not, they do everything in their power to find a compromise that will perhaps not give anyone everything they want, but will keep both sides from killing each other.
So Kudos to the writers of both series. What a clever way to deliver a powerful message about morality and religion! And to wait until after fans were hooked into five years of watching the series! Even more clever.
Granted, I don’t agree with the writers’ apparent belief that polytheism is a culturally stable religious model, but their statements about monotheism, absolutism, and stunted moral growth are powerful and well integrated into a neat story line.
- Caprica, Pilot Episode: Review (timeoutny.com)
- What went wrong with Caprica? [Poll] (io9.com)
- So say we all: Battlestar Galactica Online’s blueprints revealed (massively.com)