Bryan Caplan  

You Will Know the Disgrace

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Did Natasha Richardson Die fro... Me on New Hampshire TV...
[Warning: Battlestar Galactica spoilers!]

The series finale of Battlestar Galactica was a disgrace.  Contrary to the propaganda, we still don't "Know the truth," but I'm now confident that the writers didn't actually construct any truth for us to know. 

All fanboy petulance aside, though, the social science of the last half hour was absurd.

One of the great strengths of BSG has always been its realistic depiction of the ubiquity of human conflict.  Even when it looks like there's only one sensible course of action, there are always vociferous dissenters.  Indeed, one could easily argue that BSG downplays human beings' tendency to pull together in the face of a common enemy.

So what happens when the colonists finally reach Earth (the nice fertile one, not the unexplained irradiated copy) and make a lasting peace with the Cylons?  They magically and unanimously embrace Apollo's bizarre Luddite epiphany, and voluntarily return to a hunter-gatherer existence! 

There are a few instances in history of societies abandoning technology - Japan pretty successfully banned the gun in the 1500s.  But it takes centralized, brutal sanctions to turn back the technological clock.  The contentious liberal democracy shown in BSG could never accomplish such a thing - especially considering that they're giving up practically all their technology - not just advanced weapons.  The BSG's writers' only defense of this ridiculous scenario is to posit a near-universal "desire for a clean slate." 

Back in season 1, Colonel Tigh scoffed at civilians' inability to cope with the lack of water for daily bathing:
There's gonna be riots on those ships. Civilians don't like hearing they can't take a bath or wash their clothes or drink more than a thimble a day.
Now we're supposed to believe that these same people are willing to starve, freeze, toil, and fight hostile natives with their bare hands in order to get a "clean slate" from the technologies they've known all their lives?  Harumph! 

P.S. If you never started BSG, the original miniseries, the first two seasons, and most of season three remain sublime.   Don't let the writers' lazy nihilism in the final season deter you from appreciating the artistry of their original vision.
 

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TrackBack URL: http://econlog.econlib.org/mt/mt-tb.cgi/1635
The author at The Volokh Conspiracy in a related article titled Reflections on the Final Episode of Battlestar Galactica: writes:

    Last Friday was the final episode of Battlestar Galactica. In my view, BSG was easily the best science fiction TV series of the last decade, and one of the two or three best SF series of all time. It had realistic characte...

    [Tracked on March 23, 2009 5:39 PM]
COMMENTS (49 to date)
mgroves writes:

I totally agree. Somewhere during Baltar's trial, I just lost complete interest in the show. Oh well, it was good while it lasted. Lost: don't fail me now.

Stewart writes:

Great job recalling that Tigh quote.

When my wife and I watched the episode, I held my tongue. But as they directed all their ships towards the sun, I couldn't help but think about all the senseless capital destruction that was taking place.

During Lee's last scene with Starbuck, he said something to the effect of thinking that he would just sit around and relax for the rest of his life, but that he might go exploring instead. I think Lee would be surprised by how little free time they would all have in their new lives as hunter-gatherers. Given that virtually no one in the fleet is likely to have any experience "roughing it", nor could any of them know anything about the native species, it would be surprising if many of them could find enough food to eat, or even lived out their first year on Earth.

Fabio Rojas writes:

Bryan, I know you aren't impressed by it, but your post highlights one very neat aspect of the Dune series. After a brutal war, humans also reject robotics and advanced technology. But instead of becoming primitivists, people decide to make humans themselves technology. The mentats and navigators are supposed to be replacements for computers, the cursed "thinking machines." One could interpret the entire Dune series as a long meditation on the rejection of primitivism and the adoption of post-humanism.

Eli writes:

I completely agree. Throughout the last half hour, when they were all splitting up, I kept thinking, Haven't these people read Kremer (1993)?

Fazal Majid writes:

Japan banned imports of guns from the Dutch in Nagasaki, but the Japanese did not have the ability to manufacture them in the first place. If they had, any ambitious daimyo would have manufactured and stockpiled guns in secret, then used them to overthrow the shogunate.

You can't un-invent the atom bomb.

That said, the series finale was an hour too long and completely grotesque. I should have watched Dollhouse instead.

Prakhar Goel writes:

@Fabio

Different circumstances. The people in Dune fought against the machines to the bitter death. This set up considerable public opinion against the machines. Secondly, in dune, technology was only rejected to the extent that it imitated the human mind. The people in dune had no problem with high-liners (by all accounts, a massive feat of incredibly advanced technology) as long as said high-liners were not controlled by some central computer/AI/brain. They even had advanced martial arts robots as long as the working inside were "purely mechanical." It wasn't a problem with technology so much as advanced computers (which they replaced with mentats).

In fact, I venture to guess that most current technology (with the exception of the central servers which could be replaced by highly trained mentats) would be perfectly acceptable to the people of Dune.

@Fazal

Yes. Yesterday's Dollhouse was amazing. You can still watch it if you don't mind using torrents.

Zac writes:

I can honestly say I've never been so disappointed in a finale in my life, 'all fanboy petulance aside.' It is difficult for me to even say that the finale did not ruin the whole series for me.

If anyone takes Bryan's advice and decides to watch the early (and good) parts of this series, just remember not to put any stock in finding out answers to manufactured mysteries (Cylon identities, meaning of prophetic imagery, etc).

Strange that the survivors of the 12 colonies were able to mix with the natives and ultimately build thriving civilizations. I must assume it had nothing to do with their underwhelming work ethic - on New Caprica, these people were still living in tents after a year of settlement.

@Prakhar- You can watch Dollhouse on Hulu.

Steve Miller writes:

I'm glad I haven't watched the show in a year.

It's a shame what happens to these kinds of shows. But isn't life too short to faithfully watch every episode of a show you know is going downhill fast? Is there any doubt about Lost anymore?

I'm going to make a bold conjecture: if an episode (in two parts at most) isn't watchable for someone who has never seen the show, well, you're never going to get the payoff you're looking for.

Steve Sailer writes:

Polynesians went from farmers back to hunter-gatherers when they reached New Zealand, because there were all these flightless 500 pound birds to be hunted (now extinct, of course).

Matthew C. writes:

Stewart, hunter gatherers have more free time than any other society on earth.

That aside, the luddism of the final episode is absurd. There is zero chance of all the colonists abandoning their technology to dig grubs out of the ground. . .

Sonic Charmer writes:

I must be the only person who enjoyed the finale and wasn't much bothered by the Luddite decision. Since when are we bothered by the Galacticans making (admittedly) stupid decisions we don't agree with? How about the settling on New Caprica, the ridiculous trial/exoneration of Baltar, etc.? At no time has this series been about, like, a group of people who choose wisely in a way that pleases us emotionally. Why would they start now?

It's also worth keeping in mind that, given that the writers chose to have them show up on Earth in our past and become in part our ancestors, them going Luddite was pretty much the only possibility. Anything else and you get inconsistencies such as why we haven't ever dug up the ruins of Galactica, or at least some Centurions - and, perhaps more importantly, why it took so long for us to develop civilization. If you're making a story where advanced people show up & become part of our past, you must have them give up or lose civilization and technology one way or another. Having them do it based on the stupid sentiment of one of their stupidest but most-respected & good-looking tribe members (Lee Adama) is as good as any other way, I suppose.

I basically view the series as a tragedy: the downfall of a civilization. First the Cylons almost wipe them out, then their stupidity and reactionary Luddism pretty much takes care of the rest.

I agree with everyone here that it was a stupid decision. Where I part ways is that this doesn't make me dislike the show. If it did, I'd have had to stop watching long, long ago. But if you think about it, human society collectively making stupid decisions is hardly the most unrealistic thing about BSG.

Neal W. writes:

Yes, hunter gatherers actually have a good amount of free time because they were so adept at h'ing and g'ing. Between a primative HG and a primitive farmer, you would pick the HG lifestyle because you would be healthier and live longer and work less harshly.

I agree with the original post though. No way I would give up the tech just because Apollo said so.

Also, their lives on the planet were obviously brutish and short because Hera only lived to be a young woman.

Boonton writes:

A few thoughts:

1. Trashing the ships might now have been so silly. It's clear in the BSG universe life supporting planets are very rare. Unless they were going to hold out for yet another planet stocked to the with ready homes and cities (perhaps after a burst housing bubble? ;). The ships were never going to be used again and were probably falling apart anyway. Leaving them in Earth orbit would have just been a hazard and would deny the Galactica a grand send off.

2. Given #1, you'd think they would at least land some of the smaller ships to provide some decent shelter like they did in new Caprica. Perhaps they are overestimating just how friendly Earth's climate is.

3. The series has a habit of leaving important stuff out of the story only to be recalled later in flashbacks. It seems like the humans were dividing up into large groups with only a few characters truly going it alone. Since the colonists haven't had a planet they actually evolved from since the original Kobol, the pattern seems to be to found huge cities as soon as one sets up shop on a planet. Diversifying with smaller settlements makes sense...esp. if the cyclons do ever attack again.

4. How much technology do they have left? A few episodes ago the last tube of toothpaste was the prize for the pilots to accomplish an important mission. If that's the bonus for the society's ultra-elite what does the rest of the people have left? Water, air and processed algae for food and nothing else.

jb writes:

This approach was, indeed, the only way to resolve the connection between our past and their future.

And, in theory, the approach worked, as they survived for 150,000 years without another cycle.

But it didn't have to be Earth that they found at the end. They didn't have to walk down this path, and generally, it was a pretty unsatisfactory ending.

Ah well. I've rarely found Series Finales to be fully satisfying.

Froggy writes:

I agree with the general assessment that the finale was disappointing. Although I thought the whole series was a disappointment, but I'm in the minority there.

I would imagine that most of the remaining 38,000+ will die pretty soon; I don't think people can easily shift from a life of being provided food and comforts to hunting-gathering. What do you think would happen if we transplanted any US city 150,000 years into the past? So, good job, Apollo.

Sonic, you said "I basically view the series as a tragedy: the downfall of a civilization. First the Cylons almost wipe them out, then their stupidity and reactionary Luddism pretty much takes care of the rest." Doesn't this make you wonder how they built such a successful interplanetary civilization in the first place?

8 writes:

Maybe the BSG finale was accidentally insightful. If you read Spengler in Asia Times, he argues that quite a number of peoples have chosen extinction, judging from demographics. Europe's reaction to WW1 and WW2, and Japan's reaction to WW2, has been quite similar. The crew of BSG and their cylon friends chose suicide. They tried to wrap it up in a happy message, but it was a profoundly nihilistic ending.

The reason BSG was not intentionally insightful is because God openly intervenes in the end and saved both races, but in the end they each chose suicide, with only the more mechanical cylons flying off into the sunset. I didn't detect any reverse psychology by God designed to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Or perhaps the pagan humans and monotheistic cylons were worshiping the wrong god(s).

Joel Schneider writes:

I too thought that the return to hunter-gatherer technology was laughable. However, I think that I know what the writers were going for. The big reveal was that this series was a retelling of the Flood myth with Noah (Adama, with his weakness for the drink) and his cantankerous family. God did not like all the corruption (e.g., pole dancing) and decided to wipe out most of humanity and start over with a small group of flawed people.

Sonic Charmer writes:

Doesn't this make you wonder how they built such a successful interplanetary civilization in the first place?

One answer:

Of course not. Look at us.

Student writes:

"Contrary to the propaganda, we still don't 'Know the truth'...."

I think RDM basically wasted all the episodes after the mutiny and I think the finale was weak in a lot of respects, but I'm definitely not as negative as you.

Maybe you don't like the God stuff. "God did it" fits in with the logic of the show. Just because you don't believe doesn't mean that the notion can't work creatively. Actually, this is one of the few (maybe only?) time where I have seen the conceit worked, with the angels, Kara, the resolution of the Opera House, etc. And if you accept that God did it (and the characters' realization of that), then sending the fleet into the sun works for the show.

At the end, it was a relief to see them get off Galactica and Colonial One and walk around on Earth. Just visually it was a relief. So on that note, choosing to live without the ships is irrational, but consonant with the rest of the series.

I definitely hated the scene after Adama at Roslin's grave. The latter is where it should have ended. I would have liked more answers. I thought they gave up too early in 4.5 on advancing the plot. But this finale was acceptable. Definitely not a disgrace.

Daniel J. Elmore writes:

I think that this finale was the best series finale I've ever seen.

Brian, isn't happiness research against you on and almost everyone else here (or at least not for you)? If real wealth and happiness are as unrelated as is claimed, maybe the crew made the right choice: become hunter/gathers and enjoy the extra leisure time.

Remember what life looked like on the tillium refining ships? Or the episode that focussed on the lives of the fighter pilots (i.e., using drugs to stay awake due to the long hours)? Or any of the many scenes of people hopelessly lying around with nothing to do. If you're boxed and useless, then even hunter/gather is a step up.

Then there is the God situation. Even religious humans tend to push God back into one compartment of their lives. But at least some of the characters have experienced a visible manifestation of God. Don't underestimate how life-changing that could be. Far more than our current experiences with God I would say, and even they can be life-changing.

Finally, there are the cylons. None of their ships looked like they emphasized comforts in the first place, and most of all, they've just gone from being immortal to being mortal. They're going to see God soon enough. Maybe not messing up His planet is the smart thing to do.

Daniel

I was disappointed by the finale as well, although I understand why my friends liked it. It wasn't just the sudden decision to become noble savages, it was the way they used cinematography to make it clear that this brilliant decision, when my favorite part of BSG was that it allowed for the existence of hard choices with no good solutions. Having a clearly right decision, with God directly telling some characters they did the right thing, was a cop out.

The Cupboard Is Bare writes:

They noted that the inhabitants of BSG arrived on Earth 150,000 years ago. I checked that against the timeline for homo sapiens over at Wikipedia and found that 150,000 years ago:

"Mitochondrial Eve lives in East Africa. She is the most recent female ancestor common to all mitochondrial lineages in humans alive today."

So, basically, what the BSG finale suggested is that our ancestors originated from another planet. The BSG humans were originally polytheistic and, based upon many of their names, influenced Greek and Roman mythology. The Cylons were monotheistic and converted some humans along the way, and their influence would have been the basis for today's monotheistic religions.

Studd Beefpile writes:

The decision for willful ignorance infuriates me. The whole series was based on the notion of "this has all happened before and will all happen again." The only way to break such a cycle is to remember what has happened before and work to avoid it. Ignorance will only ensure it happens again. Even if they had to abandon their tech, the very least they could have done would be to leave Galactica in orbit with copies of the ship's logs to be found by future generations.

The worst part is it didn't have to be so ridiculous. There are numerous historical moments when they could have showed up, realized they lacked the industrial basis to sustain their technology, and then decided to "go native." They could have arrived 10k years ago and been responsible for the emergence of agriculture and metal working. They could have been the Greeks, responsible for democracy. Hell, they could have been the aliens who built the damned pyramids. Casting Hera as mitochondrial eve was a nice touch, but it means that everyone else has to revert to barbarism and die out. I found it incredibly depressing.

Ultimately, all of season 4.5 has to go down as wasted. Kara's mystery is not only not solved, it's made worse. We still don't know anything about the Gods of Kobol. The mutiny episodes were great but they changed NOTHING about the final outcome of the show. Individually the episodes are great but together they represent a massive failure of vision.

Urstoff writes:

Baltar has enough intellectual capital to get on quite nicely, but isn't making tools for cultivation kind of against the whole point of leaving all the technology behind anyway?

Urstoff writes:

Also, I assume that the much better equipped natives simply killed all the colonists and took Hera as prize. Lucky her.

Lee Kelly writes:

No TV series should run for more than five seasons, and most no more than three. With this expectation, I think we would all enjoy far better qualtiy programming.

Tired writes:

This is certainly of interest to many people.
But does this post belong on this blog?
"Library of Economics and Liberty" means what?

The Cupboard Is Care writes:

@ Tired:

I like the idea of taking occasional timeouts to find out where our other interests lie. They post a decent number of topics every day, so there is certainly something for everyone. :)

abe writes:

The sixth episode of Dollhouse was in my opinion the only truly good one so far. Dushku and Whedon promised that the series would hit its stride with the sixth episode, and it certainly delivered. The previous episodes were made to cater to Fox's demands that things initially be kept as simple as possible. The result was some truly mediocre filler. Truly, THIS should have been the pilot:

http://www.hulu.com/watch/63740/dollhouse-man-on-the-street#x-0,vepisode,1

There's two BSG alumni in this show (so far). =D

abe writes:

truly!

sabrina writes:

Well, I don't know, I think if I was stuck on a Thilium mining ship for 4 or more years floating around in space, with a bunch of sweaty people, eating processed algae, being hunted by killer robots, jumping around without hope, purpose or meaning, just getting some space, air, and true independance might be a lot more appealing than it would to me and my tech loving self right now.

I think it's reasonable - people drop out and off the grid all the time who have had a less oppressive or harrowing existence.

The GI Joe moral of the story ending was the only real let down, other than the dominance of mystical answers over scientific one.

I would have loved it as the Space-Opera they marketed it as if it ended with Adama building that cabin for Roslin. And let us fill in the rest.

tim writes:

How do I base the success of a conclusion of a show? By how much 'emotion' or 'debate' the final show generates.

Agree or disagree with the ending - by this measure it was a success.

(for the record - the ending was satisfyin)

The Cupbaord Is Bare writes:

Just as in life, I have found that the most meaningful endings do not always happen in ways we would like. It's just my opinion, but those endings that are bittersweet frequently stay with us longer because they cause us to feel more. Adama's loss of Roslin allowed us to experience the depth of their love and loss, but not before we experience their joy of having brought their family "home".

As for people dropping off the grid, I don't know that people who have lived on ships their entire lives would find themselves psychologically capable of going off into the wildernerness alone. Asimov discusses this in his robot detective stories, where a population who has lived for a very long time in close quarters develops a kind of agoraphobia, and they are not inclined to leave their living quarters. It is rumored that Asimov suffered from this problem as well.

Since the Galactica was in bad shape, leaving her (or any of the other ships for that matter) in orbit so that modern man could access the ship's logs would most likely not have worked as the ship's orbit would have eventually decayed. But as suggested in Erich von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods, it's possible that if something similar to BSG took place, our visitors/ancestors could have left information here on this planet that has yet to be discovered and/or correctly deciphered.

J writes:

What happened to all the Raptors they used to relocate people around the globe?

ajb writes:

I am soooo glad I stopped watching after the second season! The few episodes I saw intermittently (and never finished) afterward suggested I wasn't making a mistake. And this clinched it.

I prefer to think that the real BSG writers died in a meteor crash after the second season, so this great series remains unfinished, like The Matrix which never had any sequels. :)

Mike writes:

Yeah, the irradiated planet was identified as Earth and wasn't unexplained, it was a cylon world that had been destroyed in war with humans. It was pretty obvious.

You'll also notice that the irradiated Earth was never identified as THIS Earth. Adama even goes so far as to say that "This is Earth", he says and Roslin scoffs, remembering that other world. What that OBVIOUSLY means is that this is a different planet that they called Earth, a second Earth is you will. It's not the irradiated planet in the past. If it is, how the hell did the Raptor go and fetch the rest of the colonial fleet?

I could go on, but I wonder if Mr Caplan actually watched the damned thing

Boonton writes:

I think we are missing an opportunity here to do some more detail economic analysis/speculation.

1. Keep in mind that when the colonists land in Africa, they are amazed at how much game there is and how much fertile soil is around. Is hunting/gathering irrational when your numbers are very small and there's a huge amount of resources literally just laying around?

2. Aside from a few of the main characters, I don't think we should take the 'everyone split up' too literally. The decision was to divide the population up to ensure the greatest odds of survivial (not only in the wild of primitive earth but also in case the centurians came back with nukes 100 years from now etc.) The colonists are almost certainly dividing into large groups who will live in the most friendly environments possible. Keep in mind New Caprica was vulnerable because it was only a single city. When the cyclons landed they could take over all of humanity.

3. I think we are overestimating how much capital and supplies the colonialists have. Back on New Caprica, simple antibiotics were getting hard to come by. Although on Galactica's sick bay we see brain surgery and chemotherapy going on for the elites of society, odds are the few advanced goods left are being used up quickly and there's no reasonable way for the remaining people to make more (how many people and what skills are needed to, say, set up a pharmaceutical manufacturing operation? An electrical grid when there are few goods left that work on electricity? )

The conclusion I always wanted to see since the first series was for them to arrive at a modern day earth and explore how our real society would confront refugees whose existence challenged many of our basic religious and scientific beliefs. This would have been a huge undertaking, though, and it would have been very easy to have screwed it up. Another conclusion would have basically been the last remaining colonialists crashing into an early earth thereby having nothing of their advanced civilization.

This one, though, I don't think was as irrational as it seems at first glance. The colonialists have a lot of expensive capital but lack the skills to maintain it against depreciation. A lot of the capital, water cleaning sytems, air recycling and machines that turn yucky algea into yucky 'food' are quite frankly not worth the effort when you find a planet with plenty of food, water and air. The 'advanced technology' consists of stuff that I'm sure they would like to have but cannot. Even something as simple as basic drugs, toothpaste etc. are probably not practical given the limited skills of the colonialists.

What this is, then, is a game of how to best spend your endowment. The answer they seemed to have come up with is use the last of the ships to find the most friendly environment possible so they and their children will have as easy a time as possible to learn how to live off the land.

Bryan Caplan writes:
Mike writes:

Yeah, the irradiated planet was identified as Earth and wasn't unexplained, it was a cylon world that had been destroyed in war with humans. It was pretty obvious.

You'll also notice that the irradiated Earth was never identified as THIS Earth. Adama even goes so far as to say that "This is Earth", he says and Roslin scoffs, remembering that other world. What that OBVIOUSLY means is that this is a different planet that they called Earth, a second Earth is you will. It's not the irradiated planet in the past. If it is, how the hell did the Raptor go and fetch the rest of the colonial fleet?

I could go on, but I wonder if Mr Caplan actually watched the damned thing

It's true that in the final episode of the first half of season 4, they don't show the Earth continents. However, in the final episode of season 3, they do show the familiar Earth continents, right after Starbuck says she's been to Earth. And where does Starbuck find her Viper and body? On the irradiated Earth in the first episode of the second half of season 4. Did they show us the wrong Earth on purpose at the end of Season 3, or what?

I stand by my claim that this is "unexplained"; indeed, smart money says that the writers never bothered to come up with an explanation.

Boonton writes:

The two earths are also confirmed by the Baltar & Six 'angels' who stand in present day NYC chatting at the very end of the show. Six asks Balter if this seemed familiar and he said yes it was like Kobel, Caprica before the Fall, and Earth. He goes on to say 'the real earth' as opposed to the planet we think of as Earth but is really more properly called something like 'New Earth'.

The show is pretty clear about the two Earth's. What is unexplained is *which* Earth Starbuck saw. Clearly her body somehow ended up on irradiated earth. The new viper she came back from the grave with, though, had pictures of an earth from a moon. At the end of season 3 we saw a glimpse of 'new earth' which confirmed an earth like the one we know exists in the BSG universe.

This makes sense if you consider Starbuck as an angel from God with a mission. She leads humanity to irradiated earth. Arriving on irradiated earth triggered the memories of the five. She then lead humanity to new earth in accordance with God's plan.

Saying 'new earth' was the same as irradiated earth just deep in the past makes little sense. If Starbucks entry into the jump drive had somehow allowed BSG to travel back in time how could the rest of the fleet join them? Also, the main characters would have instantly recognized the landmasses & realized that this earth was the same as the irradiated one only cleaned up.

What's more interesting as an 'unexplained' element, IMO, was what did the prophecy that Starbuck would lead humanity to its doom mean?

Dano writes:

"The conclusion I always wanted to see since the first series was for them to arrive at a modern day earth and explore how our real society would confront refugees whose existence challenged many of our basic religious and scientific beliefs."

I was in college when the original series was on. A bunch of people would gather and watch it in a dorm room each week. Having enjoyed the original I watched the premier of this version, plus several other episodes during the first year. However I quickly lost interest. I had heard that this series kept to the same plots as the original series, so I watched the final to see if the ending was the same.

After the original series was canceled the producers came back with Battlestar 1980. In that show, after a 30-year trek, Adoma and crew arrived at modern day earth. They discovered that earth was slowly dieing because of pollution and radiation, and too weak to defend itself against Cylon attacks. That series didnot last long before it too was canceled.

The original series was often accused of being a rip-off of Star Wars. This ending, having occurred 150,000 years ago, seems to acknowledge that it was ripping off Star Wars ("A long time ago, in a galaxy....").

Reverting to hunter-gatherers wasn't a satisfying ending to me either. Surely someone would (perhaps stealthily) keep some of the technology, or at least maintain a memory of it. And then the final scene warning that it begins again -- oh please!

Mike writes:

It's true that in the final episode of the first half of season 4, they don't show the Earth continents. However, in the final episode of season 3, they do show the familiar Earth continents, right after Starbuck says she's been to Earth. And where does Starbuck find her Viper and body? On the irradiated Earth in the first episode of the second half of season 4. Did they show us the wrong Earth on purpose at the end of Season 3, or what?

I stand by my claim that this is "unexplained"; indeed, smart money says that the writers never bothered to come up with an explanation.

Well it is a well known fact that the end was never majorly planned out (much to my own gnashing of teeth) as Ron Moore admitted that the decision to make Tigh, Tori, Anders and Tyrol Cylons wasn't made until halfway through Season 3, so the graphic showing earth at the end of season 3 (I can't remember exactly, so I'll take your word for that) can be forgiven a little. It may have something to do with BSG nearly getting only 10 episodes to finish the series, so it may have initially been Earth. I blame the suits for that one.

I agree that a lot of people are going to be annoyed that there are few answers, but I don't feel there was a great need for too many (IMO obviously), but most of the points about giving up tech, for me, follow with what the colonials have been though and their statement (Ep410) that they wanted to break the cycle.

For me, if you're going to be annoyed at anything, the whole Starbuck death thing is the most silly. It had been established that she had been doing those drawings from an early age and Leoben had said she had a destiny for ages, so I feel she could have achieved all that happened without the 'death', simply as a special individual who was tuned into the universe or something like that.

Boonton writes:

Battlestar Galactica 1980 was horribly bad. Most original fans disown it and don't consider it to be part of the 'cannon'. For this series to have encountered our earth would have been an amazingly complicated story (just consider how they would confront the language barrier) but I think that would have been too complicated and too much for the writers to bite off.

Do I think they would keep some technology? Yes but as the generations go by I don't think it's impossible to see how it could be forgotten. For one thing, most of the 'tech' they have is stuff they have no idea how to make. Consider the 'prize' a few episodes back of the last tube of toothpaste. Sure they would remember toothpaste but do they really have the knowledge to recreate it? I could imagine their kids indulging their 'wacky parents' when they talk about toothpaste around the campfire and then chatting with some 'native humans' to learn which leaves and plants work best.

When we stop using a technology, it gets forgotten pretty fast. We struggle to figure out how the ancients built the pyramids. Today few people, except a few dedicated hobbists & historians, know how things like steam locomotives, telegraphs etc. really worked.

To what degree were the colonialists blessed with a comprehensive library? Probably not & keep in mind from the original series they kept computer networks very limited because of the cyclon problem. It's not like they had a chance to copy wikipedia's database before they left.

Considering that most of the colonialists were in space when the first attack happened. It is likely their skill sets revolve around space faring. Unfortunately those skills are now obsolete for them.

I think the decision to divide into several groups was essentially rational. Likewise I think they would have kept some of their techology but I think they would have lost it after a few generations and 'go native'...which is not as irrational as it seems, I suspect. If I got tossed backwards a thousand years or so I'd rather hang out with some Native Americans and try to mimic what they do rather than hang with a bunch of hedge fund managers in the same boat.

I would have at least attempted to land or crash the ships on Earth just to provide resources. They would have made great shelters and were made out of tons of refined metal if nothing else. Even if they had to ditch reactors into the sun, just dropping the Galactica from orbit would have left a crater full of metal for future use.

Also, they had to have a number of technicians and engineers who would have been able to recreate simple machines. As an engineer who doesn't have anything to do with steam engines, I still know basically how they work (along with a lot of other simple machines) and just knowing that I could probably work with others to quickly recreate a lot of basic technology. So even if they gave up their technology, they'd have recreated it fairly quickly just solving problems that came up.

Boonton writes:

What I'm curious about, though, is not that they could have kept tech alive but that it might not have been rational for them to do so. If you're living in a nice climate and have plenty of resources all around you may not invest much in keeping and learning old skills. By the time you start to run up against resource constraints a generation has already passed and your stories about the 'great machines' of the old days sound more like tall tales.

Perhaps a real life example here would be to examine the Mutiny on the Bounty. Didn't the mutineers end up 'going native' on some out of the way island? Given that they were experienced with ships how much of the 18th century tech did they keep alive and how much did they revert to how the natives did things?

I agree about the ships. It's clear from New Caprica that many of the civilian ships had the ability to land on a planet. They could have served as shelter. Crashing the Battlestar into the planet, though, seems like an environmental disaster. Such a beast probably has a lot of toxic materials even if you assume that radioactive elements could be removed first.

Eric Crampton writes:

I'm just waiting for them to adopt the leaf as unit of currency and try teaching the locals how to play Scrabble....

Healthy Markup writes:

Some of the cast of BSG worked as voice actors on the post-BSG "Metatropolis" which was mostly whinging about the evils of capitalism and big tech in a Snowcrash to Neuromancer time-horizon. Everything is Ludditism and neo-Ludditism. Maybe it's because they live so close to Ed Begley.

I don't know how you all tolerated BSG. Fans always extol the psychological realism which may exist some time beyond the first season, but I never got past the fact that Galen Tyrol (non-idiot) wouldn't rat on Boomer. Look at that stupid ship! Tons of hot, single girls in desperate times looking for a strong man with a good, stable job (government work that doesn't involve getting shot at) and he says nothing when his girlfriend is obviously an agent of death!

Rick Springfield writes:

I thought the first hour was fun, but the second hour was a definite buzz kill. On the other hand, we have further confirmation that Tyler Cowen is a genius, since I recall him predicting this ending several years ago (ie we are all cylons, though I am too lazy to find the link at the moment).

I also find the "going native" idea a little far fetched (wasn't there an ice age 150K years ago?). Didn't Babylon 5 try this idea out (the Great Burn?)? Though as far as leaving their tech behind, if you took a random sample of 50K people, how many of them could light a fire? Its amazing they kept their ships running as long as they did. Maybe we just need better gods ("lasers, 8 o'clock, day one").

The question I needed answered to square the circle of "this has happened before.." was more info on what happened on Kobol and how that relates to what they find on "our" earth. To nitpick: didn't the first season end with the principles seeing the constellations as we would see them from our Earth? When they found Irradiated Earth those constellations matched, right? This is why the finale was disappointing, not for the questions unanswered, but for the questions answered badly.

Though, it could have been worse. They could have landed and found a Stargate.

Boonton writes:

Two possibilities exist. Maybe only some of those constellations matched *our* constellations and others didn't. Another is that new earth happens to have the same constellations. Yes the odds against that are amazing but keep in mind God is an unseen but major character in the drama.

I think one important point to consider is that a lot of tech. was going to die out no matter what. Obviously a lot of know-how involves skills that are now obsolete (managing space ships, navigation, working highly complicated machines etc.). A lot has to be invested in learning new skills. Do they have the capital to really preserve their existing know-how? I'm not sureIs there an economic model that wouldn't have a lot of knowledge being lost in one or two generations?

Another aspect to consider is that the colonalists have never known a primitive time. Their pre-history begins with a technologically advanced Kobel. Unlike ourselves who have plenty of sociological knowledge of primitive life, this is something they have probably never seen before. They might have dramatically overestimated how easy hunter-gathering is.

Mark writes:

Can someone explain to me what's so great about the original miniseries? I never made it past it. It was emotionally totally flat. The only interesting character (the computer guy) was constantly upstaged by the Cylon chick flinging herself around. The space battles were boring. The daddy/son stuff was tepid and trite, the conflict between the military and civilian leader had no tension, nor was there any believable sexual tension between Starbuck and whatshisname. The big reveal in the last episode was anticlimactic: oh boy, a minor character we don't remotely care about is a traitor!

The scenes dealing directly with the Cylon attack and subsequent exodus to the whateveritwascalled nebula were the worst. They successfully made the extermination of most of the human race by an inimical species of malevolent cyborgs seem banal. What an achievement.

I admit I am intentionally overstating my case here in order to generate outrage. The miniseries was okay, but it was basically boring. Convince me I should watch the succeeding episodes.

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