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Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

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Battlestar Galactica’s Series Finale

Ben Scarlato

Ethical Technology

March 21, 2009

[Warning: contains spoilers for the Battlestar Galactica series finale]  After five years, Battlestar Galactica finally brought itself to a close with a finale that did not disappoint. In the IEET’s poll, you were divided between whether the series was biocon or transhumanist, or whether we should wait for the end to determine its biopolitics. The final episode had both bioconservative and more technoprogressive elements, but after two hours it was quite refreshing to see some of our modern biopolitical issues quite explicitly addressed in the final five minutes.

Watching the video of the United Nations’ Battlestar Galactica panel this week, I was reminded just how much has transpired throughout the series. In the first two seasons, we rarely saw the Cylons recognized as persons, and they were referred to as “it,” while prisoners were raped and tortured even when they only offered misinformation. The third season opened with the Cylons’ occupation of the human population on New Caprica, and while some of the protagonists turned to terrorism, Adama for the first time gave the Eight model called Athena a Colonial uniform, and she was instrumental in freeing New Caprica. After Athena told Adama that the reason the Cylons wiped out the Twelve Colonies was that humans still fight and kill out of pettiness and greed, her husband sabotaged the humans’ attempts to unleash a genocidal plague on the Cylons. Adama neglected to punish him.

Over its four seasons, Battlestar Galactica has done an excellent job of honestly presenting people’s strengths alongside a myriad of human weaknesses and corruption, as well as Cylon strengths and weaknesses. It is important to understand the mistakes we make and be fully aware of just how flawed we all are. The key to improvement lies in learning from our mistakes so that they are not repeated in the future, and where it is the case that we are unable to learn from our mistakes no matter how many times we make them, as is so often the case in BSG, we must fundamentally alter ourselves so that we can move forward.

In the series finale, we see Adama determined to launch a dangerous rescue mission for the human-Cylon child, Hera. As the preparations for the assault are made, it is remarkable just how enmeshed the humans and Cylons have become. The new admiral of the fleet leaves for the Cylon baseship to command the fleet from there, while Galactica herself is rife with Cylon technology. CIC looks completely different with all sorts of tubes and wires connecting the hybridized Anders in his Cylon tub to the ship. The moment that most vividly depicts these changes is seeing dozens of Centurions aboard Galactica, all lined up and ready to fight alongside the humans.

As the assault commences on the Cylon Colony, we are confronted with yet another of the many difficult situations that Battlestar Galactica has given us over the years. While President Roslin waits in sickbay to die of cancer, she tries to help Ishay tend the wounded. Ishay tells Roslin to use a marker and place a black X on the foreheads of those who are beyond help, but as Roslin tries to stem the blood gushing from a badly wounded man’s chest, she cannot mark him. Ishay must intervene so that they can effectively use their resources to save the most from the flood of people wounded in the assault.

Within the Cylon Colony, the Eight Boomer switches sides yet again and brings the child Hera to her mother Athena, before being killed by Athena. Trusting the conflicted model Eights has been challenging throughout the series, but it is interesting to compare how different individuals have approached it. When Cavil is betrayed by Boomer, he says that trust had nothing to do with it and that he merely underestimated Boomer’s need to engage in gestures of futility. On the other hand, when Adama gave Athena a uniform in the Colonial Fleet and she asked how he knew he could trust her, he said “I don’t. That’s what trust is.”

After Hera is brought aboard Galactica, a deal is negotiated to allow the humans to keep her in exchange for giving Cavil resurrection technology. The Final Five Cylons connect their minds to convey the secrets of resurrection, but in so doing Tory’s secret of having killed Tyrol’s wife is revealed. The connection is broken, Tory is killed, and Cavil’s forces see betrayal. In an instant, the alliance between the Cylon factions is broken, and we see one of the Cavils take his own life instead of waiting to let his organic body deteriorate into death. After this the Colony is destroyed and Starbuck jumps the ship to Earth, though it is unfortunate that the episode did not dwell longer on how so many of the Cylons were left to perish without resurrection technology.

It was gripping watching Roslin’s death on Earth. As she and Adama flew over the lush green expanses of primitive Earth, Adama noted that Earth contained more wildlife than the Twelve Colonies combined. It is important to be reminded just what a beautiful, valuable planet we have here in Earth, and that we hold not only the power to preserve its nature and peoples, but to make to make it better.

Remarkably, Lee’s suggestion that the fleet forgo starting a new city and instead cast aside their ships and technology to start anew on the land of Earth is embraced by the people. Lee desired to break the cycle of machine uprising, and give the primitive people of Earth the fleet’s wisdom but not the dangers of their technology. As for the Centurions, it is agreed that they have earned their freedom and they are allowed to take the baseship and go out on their own, even risking that they might return to wreak destruction again. It would have been disappointing had the series ended there, for while Lee’s strategy of living without technology may have worked for many thousands of years, what is needed is a permanent solution and, as is clearly evidenced today, Lee’s was not. Ideally, a more prudent strategy would have been to carefully study the risks of technology and implement safeguards to mitigate those risks.

However, the series does not end there and the last few minutes are some of the best of the series. We flash forward to our present day, where we see a man, executive producer Ron Moore, reading a science magazine about Mitochondrial Eve (Hera), as the angels Six and Baltar look on. Six comments on the commercialism, technology, and decadence of society, but she is surprisingly optimistic about the future of humanity as she believes that any complex repeating system will eventually produce something new. The final scene includes a montage of modern-day robots, and while Six’s argument is not entirely convincing, not least because the deviation from the cycle might mean annihilation rather than something better, it is beautiful to see the series end on a note of such optimism.




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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