Conversations with Dead Women

In the finale of Battlestar Galactica, father and son are abandoned by their respective loves. I would say “the women they love,” but in Battlestar that would be redundant. All sex ends up being about the survival of one species or another, and although one of sex’s enthusiastic practitioners says that “love has nothing to do with sex,” it seems only to occur between man and woman.

Then again, filial love is the strongest of all. Son weeps at father’s admission that he cares whether son lives or not. Mothers chase daughters across ship and dream, gorge their eyes out when torn away.

Only at the end do the show’s queen and princess in-spirit die, but from the beginning the men are haunted by dead women dear to them. One is a full-fledged character.

It’s a curious gender reversal of Dorothy Parker’s “Sentiment,” in which a woman melodramatically suffers through her memories of a man. In fits she realizes that many of her memories of him are probably counterfeits of her imagination. She wishes he were there to correct her imagination with his real presence, and then she imagines him there telling her “don’t sentimentalize.”

Battlestar’s hauntings are vertiginous in a much nerdier sense: the question is not are they true, but what classification of thing are they? Is she a figment of his imagination, a chip in his brain, her spirit, God, something else? Fans of the show were reportedly disappointed by the finale not because it flattened all complexity, but because it didn’t reveal the real mechanics behind the show’s mysteries. There’s something especially funny about interrogating the clockwork of a universe populated with religious machines.

These apparitions are so generous. Conversations with absent people sounds like a perfectly serviceable definition of consciousness to me, but these are not the insinuations of those you only later recognize, but hallucinatory. Embodied solidly enough that you might find yourself being “fracked” by them. Poe would find it terribly poetical, which worries me.

Watching some shows, I wish character’s minds weren’t so obscured. Watching Battlestar, I find myself wishing my own experience of consciousness felt so unequivocal.

Every year, the aforementioned father, Adama, summons his dead wife. They chat. Actually it’s more fraught than that. Like a good feminine principle, she undermines all of his clear-cut rules. Hence she must be put to rest at the end of the day/episode. Ultimately, her purpose is to reinvigorate the moral ground on which he stands by taking it apart and slipping cleanly away.

There are some entertaining fireworks--watch Baltar, whose interiority makes up about a quarter of the show, as his brows go from worried to unconsoleable--when these haunted men encounter the living women whose ghosts they banter with. It's especially upsetting to the drunk who sees his dead wife's face in the face of a Cylon woman he sees in the brig. (This show takes fantasy's role in love very literally.) She becomes pregnant and then, his wife returns.

This awfully intimate relationship with the deceased does not necessarily favor the living. When one man's wife dies, he remembers only what a dumbshit she was. Everything becomes to him a doomed, misguided fiction; he yells at Adama "you want to make a dead woman into an angel" and mocks "your precious ship." The ship is the only thing keeping them alive, but he's right--their attachment to living is pretty funny.

The show's tendency toward annihilation is perhaps its most pleasurable aspect. We go to blockbusters to confirm our lust for spectacular immortality (see e.g. Elysium and every superhero movie). We watch television to bask in the reflection of our own desire for life to stop.

An addiction to a lengthy serial drama has the happy effect of bringing life to a halt. It's no wonder that Battlestar, whose addictiveness is on par with Damages and Buffy, allegorizes the viewer's dependency on it.

The Galactica is on a journey to Earth, where humanity's struggles will end. I don't especially want them to find Earth; it would be the end of the show and I've have to step back out into the sunshine. The Cylons are the enemy and so a godsend (pun intended) for an addict: they keep making it very hard to arrive at the end of the story. Their constant interdictions are the lifeblood of the show's drama.

They find a shitty but hospitable planet before they find Earth. All the show's heroes don't want to stay there, but they do for a year (in the gap between seasons). Then the Cylons come back to conquer them. A relief! That planet was getting boring. It was even filmed in the drab colors of the everyday.

And before they find the Earth they'd hoped for, they find a planet called Earth that's been nuked into oblivion. It's all wrong, but it's an omen of things to come because a verdant Earth means a nuked supply of episodes.

An endearingly angry pilot named Starbuck is prophesied to lead them to Earth, and she hears through the Cylon grapevine "you will lead them to their end." She's devastated by this. What's the contradiction?

Her husband receives a bullet to the head, which is just short of lethal and gives him access to the memories of his past life--essentially, the backstory of the Cylons. It kills him to keep talking, but he's really excited about telling this story. The doctor has him wheeled away to remove the bullet and he screams at Starbuck: "don't take this away from me!" How can I not sympathize? Who wouldn't take a bullet to the brain for a tale?

When they finally do arrive at Earth (shit), Adama's son has a crazy idea: he wants everyone to settle on the surface without any technology, just some provisions to get started. Baltar says "I'm surprised how amenable everyone is to this plan" and Adama, "never underestimate people's desire for a clean slate." Given how this episode is taking shape, I couldn't agree more. Please, send the ships into the fucking sun. I never want to see another minute of this. The show exorcizes itself!

I don't have the newfound love of life that those who have neared death are rumored to gain, exactly. It's more of an aesthetic rejection of not-life. Which is exactly what the God(s) at the show's annoying Matrix-y close espouse regarding humanity. They think the 21st Century's technological renaissance (itself a questionable notion) is a sin that deserves a reboot of the species. I get the impression this is Ronald D. Moore's contention, too, which makes me want to ignore the nuance or at least ambiguity of the 60-some hours I watched. Moore apparently regards the entirety of human history as a fall from grace. Give me a break. (Ha.)

20 August 2013