In that spirit i want to do some in depth analysis of some particular episodes that I will be rewatching, mostly the ones that really hit me when I first watched the show a few weeks back.
Obviously this is going to contain massive spoilers - not only for this episode but I will definitely be referring to conclusions of story arcs etc. so don't read it if you haven't seen or intend to see BSG.
The Hero’s Journey
Much of this analysis is going to be referring to the much misunderstood idea of the Hero’s Journey. This was proposed by Joseph Campbell in his book ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’. Known to be the very basis of the Star War movies, the hero’s journey has become quite influential in Hollywood (for better or worse). Unfortunately most people who use this do so without understanding it, and it has led to a lot of extremely formulaic fantasy/sci fi literature and TV.
What BSG gets right is that each individual story thread and the story as a whole is a complex intersection of unique and yet interdependent hero’s journeys.
The idea is that all classic mythology is basically one story dressed up in the cultural clothing of the time/location – the hero’s journey. When Campbell first proposed this he split the journey into several different sections.
Each hero we will be looking at today inhabits a different stage of journey. Interestingly, mankind as a whole is also undertaking this journey in BSG. The journey itself is what I believe is meant by the use of “All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again”. Also though, that is a nice literary reference to another Hero’s Journey story – Peter Pan – which is full of the same sort of metaphorical content I’m going to be looking at.
Kobol’s Last Gleaming part 2
I’ve chosen this episode because watching for the first time this was when I suddenly noticed the true nature of BSG. The Biblical, metaphorical nature of the show really comes out in full force in this episode so it’s a great place to start.
I could and probably should begin with Kara Thrace - the most prominent and obvious hero in BSG – but I’m not going to.
Instead I’m going to start with the suddenly Biblical story of Boomer.
Boomer’s backstory to this point:
Boomer is a cylon, although she has lived her whole life as a human.
Here is a clip (horribly presented with new age music) of a retelling of story that Campbell loved.
Slowly throughout the series, her true nature has been revealed to her, but she outright refuses to accept it leading to scene in Kobol’s Last Gleaming Part 1 where she is torn apart by denial and shoots herself following her encounter with the destructive force of nature that is Baltar.
Recovering in hospital – she is asked to take on an extremely dangerous mission to destroy a Basestar using a nuclear bomb. She can approach the Basestar because Adama is in possession of a cylon transponder.
So, without further ado, Boomer heads into the abyss
This whole story thread is a big reference to the story of Jonah and the Whale.
In that particular Bible story, Jonah is a prophet sent by God to fortell the destruction of Niveneh. Jonah has doubts though, and decides to flee from his responsibility. For this he is punished by God and a great storm is sent which results in Jonah being eaten by a whale. He spends 3 days in the belly of the whale (the abyss) where the true nature of reality is revealed to him and he accepts God’s plan for him.
In storytelling terms, the parallel is completely clear and didn’t really need to the visual clues to guide us to the point, but watch this and you will see what I mean lol.
Refer back to the Hero’s journey diagram above and you will see a clear pattern here. Into the abyss – revelation occurs and Boomer accepts her place in reality- accepts her cylon nature. The abyss is not the main object of this story – the revelation is and its inevitable effect on the hero.
Interestingly this thread continues with the same connection Jonah. After his revelation, Jonah goes to Niveneh and foretells their doom, which leads them to repent to God and save themselves.
Boomer ends up returning to the cylons and setting off a chain of events which leads to the redemption of both mankind and the cylons.
OK so while Boomer heads into the abyss, the prodigal Kara Thrace has just had her call to adventure is about taking her first steps on a very well trodden path indeed.
That’s right, its Luke Skywalker all over again as she heads to the destroyed ruins of her home to get what she needs for her journey – in this case the Arrow of Apollo which will point the way to Earth. The main difference here being that Kara already knows of the destruction of Caprica – but the motif is the same. Here she has here first confrontation with an awkward truth that is going to plague her through the entire series.
Before that though, there’s the small matter of the threshold guardian.
There is a clear reason for the existence of the threshold guardian in storytelling. It’s the defining moment where the hero realizes that they are now on a quest and they cannot turn back. Kara was one pilot among many, she shared the pain and duty of her brothers and sisters on galactica. She is now on a spiritual quest that will redefine her place in the world. Her fight with Six – and the subsequent discovery that the cylons are far more human than they seemed - here is significant in that it is the point of no return. The mission has brought her tantalizingly close to some sort of massive discovery, and the only way now is into the eye of the storm (something which comes up far more literally for Kara in a later series).
Kara’s story arc is the best example of Campbell type thinking. Every stage of the hero’s journey is accounted for – her companions, her trials, death and rebirth, transformation, the elixir: it’s all there very explicitly – and very much in the sense that Campbell intended in his book. Especially pertinent for this Kara’s rebirth – but I will go into that in a future blog.
At this point in the story, Gaius is going through the first of a number of transformations. His character, by the way, is brilliantly realized and says a number of important things to us about the nature of humanity and our moral journey. Also he’s proper funny.
If I was to look at the story of Gaius Baltar in terms of metaphor, its easy to see that the inspiration lies in Eastern philosophical ideas such as reincarnation and karma. Baltar takes on a number of forms throughout the series, each one a material being with no interest in the welfare of others and no emotional or spiritual connection to the world around him. The divine being that haunts his thoughts slowly guides him through his constant reincarnation as he is reborn again and again in various roles, each time reverting to type – self-interest, accumulation of wealth, power, hedonism etc.
I implore you to watch this short clip of Campbell explaining the chakra system in terms of western thought and apply it to the character of Gaius Baltar.
In terms of this episode – Gaius gets a glimpse of The Garden. The religious and mythological symbolism is laid on very thick – almost to the point of clumsiness – here. Unfortunately I can’t find video or images of this scene online right now so I’m going to describe it the best I can. Don’t take my word for it – you can find the whole episode on Dailymotion, go have a look for yourselves.
Baltar, having crash landed on Kobol with some engineers, is knocked out and experiences what appears to be a vision. It begins with imaginary Six dressed in white standing over his prone body and speaking. The imagery here is angelic, of course.
“You saved me, you saved my life”
“Care to return the favour”
“Are you in need of saving?”
“You wondered why you were chosen? Why God chose you above all other humans to survive and serve his purpose? Now is the time to find out why.”
He gets up and is in a brilliant, bright green garden. They walk through the garden and find a temple. Here, six shows him the face of the future of humanity.
“Life has a melody, Gaius: A rhythm of notes that become your existence which are played in harmony with God’s Plan.”
Does this phrase strike a chord with those of you who have seen the whole series? It certainly should given Kara Thrace’s dramatic, and slightly odd, role in the conclusion. Music is a metaphor in literature, used to symbolize our connection with the natural world. The biggest part of the hero’s journey is the death of the material being and rebirth of the spiritual being. The death of the alienated human and the birth of the natural product of the universe. Kara uses ‘music’ (intuitive knowledge of nature common to all humans, that which we block out) to guide humanity to their final home – after she has been through her transformation. I believe the role of Baltar here is that of the reluctant hero, undergoing a karmic cycle of death/rebirth and rising/falling until he finally understands the truth of the universe on a non-intellectual level.
There is an altar and baby, which Six tells him is their child.
Its important to note that this is not just a vision. In terms of the rest of the show, it is the foreshadowing, a vision of the very future of humanity in this show’s lore – and is central to the premise – the point – of the whole idea. The hero’s journey, the mythology, our religious ideas, it all comes down to this scene- what is revealed to Baltar here is the whole thing.
The synthesis of cylon and human was always going to the end game of this brilliant show. Baltar is shown it in no uncertain terms in this, the finale of the first season. This ‘end of the cycle’ idea in which two or more separate entities are combined is a huge religious theme. As cheesy as it sounds, it is the revelation that we are not separate, alienated, lonely beings but that we are all part of the same thing (drops in the ocean if you are in Cloud Atlas – waves on an ocean if you are Alan Watts). Only by living this way can we find ourselves in the promised land.
Of course, after the garden is always the fall, and the fall of Gaius Batlar lasts pretty much the entire series as he tries to assimilate that which he has been shown (the knowledge of eternal life?)
Well I hope this has demonstrated to you some of the things I think BSG is trying to get across and maybe helped you see some of the iconography that is so incredibly common in fantasy and sci fi stuff.
If you enjoyed it, let me know below and I can do some other episodes, or something from a different movie or series.