Printed: 2020-06-03

Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

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Immortality and Death in Battlestar Galactica

Ben Scarlato

Ethical Technology

January 18, 2009

[Spoiler Alert: contains spoilers for the first episode of the final half-season of BSG Sometimes a Great Notion ] As the final half season of Battlestar Galactica opened with one of the darkest episodes ever, it gave me a lot to think about regarding death, immortality, and hope even in the worst of situations. Even if you happen to assign a low probability to the possibility of a high-quality future for ourselves here in 2009, it is worth dedicating a lot in pursuit of that future when its realization is of great value and permanence.

In the show, Dualla copes with the disappointment of finding Earth in ruins by abruptly committing suicide in an attempt to escape into death. It would seem that like D’Anna who choose to remain on Earth alone, Dualla saw the similarity between Earth being nuked 2000 years ago and the destruction of the Colonies, and saw a cycle of suffering that repeated again and again. As has often been proclaimed throughout the show, “all this has happened before and will happen again.”

In the earlier episode “Guess What’s Coming To Dinner?” the Six called Natalie also seemed oddly intent on death:

“In our civil war, we’ve seen death. We watched our people die. Gone forever. As terrible as it was, beyond the reach of the Resurrection Ships, something began to change. We could feel a sense of time. As if each moment held its own significance. We began to realize that for our existence to hold any value it must end. To live meaningful lives we must die, and not return. The one human flaw, that you spend your lifetimes distressing over—mortality—is the one thing… well, it’s the one thing that makes you whole.”

After making that statement, Natalie joined with the Colonials to destroy the Resurrection Hub and make Cylons mortal. I see many flaws with Natalie’s statement; for a start it seems she values the exhilaration of a mortal life more than truly valuing death and its oblivion, for at what point would she be able to recognize the supposed value in mortality if the belief that she was mortal was removed and she were to die unexpectedly? Further, the moments of her immortal life must have absolutely zero value if even when multiplied by infinity they still do not exceed the value of a life that is, in the scheme of things, a blink of an eye. Although the immortal characters seem disturbingly intent on death, it is heartening to at least see some of the mortal characters eventually choosing life over death.

At first even Adama, one of the strongest characters in the show, seeks the escape of death after seeing Earth laid to waste and Dualla’s meaningless suicide. One of the most gripping scenes was when Adama confronted Tigh and attempted to provoke Tigh into killing him. However, Adama’s story about chasing away foxes beautifully illustrates the choice between life and death: when the foxes were cornered by a pack of hounds some would fight, others would desperately try to swim across the river, and a few swam halfway across to be swept up by the current and drown. The obvious reason for choosing drowning is desire for death, but Adama suggests the alternative explanation of tiredness. Whether the appeal of death lay in tiredness or a desire for death, Adama ultimately resisted the allure of death and continues on in search of a new planet.

The proper response to even devastating tragedy is not the seductive embrace of death and its incomprehensible oblivion, but rather perseverance even when it seems all hope is lost. The appeal of immortality lies not in continuously experiencing the pain and disappointment of life, but in looking forward and having the time to eventually create a situation that allows for a thriving life filled not with sorrow but with the things we cherish. A better place may be a long away for the Colonials, but by clinging to life it’s nonetheless a possibility for them.

Adama’s Cylon allies would seem to prefer a mortal life to an immortal one, but at least the mortal Adama has the wisdom to cling to life in the hope of a better future even when life is at its worst.







Ben Scarlato, a former IEET intern, studied Computer Science at Rochester Institute of Technology and works as a software engineer focused on security.


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