Battlestar Galactica: Does what we are make who we are?

I just very recently discovered and watched the first three seasons of the Sci-Fi TV show, Battlestar Galactica, the re-imagined version of the 1978-1980 show of the same name. That I write about the re-imagined version of Battlestar Galactica only now might make some of you smile, since this show has been aired since December 2003 (miniseries), and since October 2004 for the actual TV series. Point granted, I am a bit late to the party. However the specific point I want to focus on concerns the episode aired on 25 March 2007, so, I’m merely one year late!

The re-imagined version has many different emphases but I would like to explore in the following pages the specific focus on the nature of humanity. This is a recurrent theme in BSG. But first let’s back up a bit. The armoured battleship Battlestar Galactica is one of the oldest ships of the Colonial Fleet. The same day it is due for retirement, the “colonies” face the massive attack of the Cylons, an artificial race of androids created by the “colonies” some decades ago. Having rebelled and won their independence, the Cylons have come back to take the place of their “parents.” The trick, we soon learn, is that Cylons has so evolved that the latest “models” now look human, feel human, and that they can even be programmed not to know who (what?) they are or what their mission is. All along the series, the identity of diverse Cylons hiding in the fleet is revealed.

Now let me say that I have a twofold focus here. The first one is, as I said, the question of what it means to be human. My second and related focus is on the two-parts episode of the fourth season finale, “Crossroads” Several important things happen then. First, we discover that four of the human characters are Cylons, and more precisely they are among the “Final Five.” Those four are chief mechanic Tyrol, resistance leader Sam Anders, Tory Foster (the President’s aide), and more importantly the Executive Officer of the Battlestar Glactica, colonel Tigh. What is fascinating is the way they realize what (who) they are: through Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.” This song comes to them, from the inside, could we say.

Colonel Tigh for example, between two drinks, keeps mumbling the song, without knowing the lyrics. It’s just “in his head,” he keeps saying. Soon he falls into paranoia, believing that the Cylons have actually sabotaged the ship. “It’s in the frakin’ ship,” becomes his motto. Those four hear the song everywhere, as it belonged with them, as if it were not merely music, but part of their being. “It’s like part of a melody and then it goes away,” says Tyrol. It is like something coming out from childhood, long forgotten and now just remembered. The song becomes integrative part of their life and parts of the lyrics even become part of what they say in an ordinary conversation. Here’s few examples:

Tyrol, talking to Sam Anders: “It’s in my head. There’s no way out of here.”

Sam Anders, while reporting for duty: “Alright. No reason to get excited.”

Colonel Tigh, talking to Admiral Adama: “I know, I know, I can’t quite understand it myself, but, there’s too much confusion […] There must be some kind of way out of here.”

They don’t even realize that the lyrics are integrated to their actions, to their words. They are the music. It connects them and gives them a sense of belonging together, belonging with the Cylons. Or at least it  should. The second time the lyrics are heard here’s how it goes:

Chief Tyrol: “there must be some kind of way out of here…”

Colonel Tigh: “said the Joker to the Thief,”

Sam Anders: “there’s too much confusion,”

Tory Foster: “I can’t get no relief.”

Here the lyrics take up some consistency and we are now left with one of the most significant parts of Dylan’s lyrics. All along the two episodes, the notable thing is that Colonel Tigh is the one who does not let himself be overwhelmed by the song, while all others seem to be under the spell of Dylan’s words.

Finally at the climactic moment of the show, the four are gathered by the music, in the same room, and they painfully become conscious that, even though they gave all they hold dear for the feet, even though they fought in the resistance against the Cylon invasion, they themselves are Cylons, and they have been since the start. Their childhood memories are merely implanted artifices, their feelings were directed by some masterplan, and their identity has always been a subterfuge, a lie. Few minutes after that, while the fleet arrives at its “jump” destination, the Cylons attack the fleet, and this time, there seems to be no escape for the Battlestar Galactica .Nor for the four, taken between their allegiance to the Colonial Fleet and their newly discovered identity as Cylons:

– What are we gonna do?

Tigh: The ship is under attack. We do our jobs. Report to your stations.

– Report to our stations?

Tigh: My name is Saul Tigh. I am an Officer in the Colonial fleet. Whatever else I am, whatever else it means, that’s the man I want to be. And if I die today that’s the man I’ll be.

And then Bear McCreary’s cover of “All Along the Watchtower” takes off, with its unexpected tones.

For those fans of BSG, well … whatever you think of Tigh, at this point you have to say: he’s got spirit. He’s got self-confidence. He might be a drunkard, to say the least, but he shows loyalty in doubt, fortitude in adversity, identity in confusion. One thing is clear. Whether you are a Cylon or a human, you are more than that. You are what/who you choose to be. You are how you choose to act. At the end, the decisions you are making, your loyalties, your friendships, As for colonel Tigh I’d say that his sense of honour, his friendship with Admiral Adama, his sense of justice and duty, his deep sense of belonging to a Corp (the Colonial Fleet and the Battlestar Galactica) are what makes him who he is, “an officer of the colonial fleet.” Not a Cylon. This is reinforced by the redemptive function of the colonel’s “confession of identity.” During most of season three, he has been going down the depth of depression and resentment and his character has lost of his legendary strength of character. But suddenly, in the darkest time, when his own identity is compromised, when all he knew, said, thought, comes untrue, does he find his greatest strength. Tigh’s “speech” is, in many ways, admirable. When the shadow of doubt and confusion falls on the three others, he suddenly rises to the level of a charismatic and heroic character, which he has not been before.

We are the choices we make. We are the values we choose. But there is more than this, since we know that we are not merely what we choose. We also are what we are said to be. Tigh is a Cylon but declares he is an Officer of the Colonial Fleet, and as such he is willing to die. We are who we declare to be, as we have been declared to belong to God. We are who God declared us to be. It is as simple as that. This belonging into God’s communion does not rest on our nature, Cylons or humans, just or sinners, but on the declaration of God that we belong to Him.