Themes in Battlestar Galactica (RDM)
There are many literary themes that are noticeable through the series. This article notes and summarizes them. Obviously, they are intertwined with the story lines running throughout the series.
Life here began out there
While not codified in the run of the Re-imagined Series, this theme is derived from the Original Series. It is likely derived from the works of Erich von Däniken, who is well known for his belief in the ancient astronaut theory.
It is later revisited with the discovery of Kobol (TRS: "Kobol's Last Gleaming, Part I") and the subsequent road map found in the Tomb of Athena (TRS: "Home, Part II"), as well as the Lion's Head beacon ("Torn", "A Measure of Salvation") and the Temple of Five (TRS: "The Eye of Jupiter").
You reap what you sow
This theme is related to the ideas of personal responsibility and karma. It affects every character in the series, but particular examples are noted below.
Man and the Cylons
Mankind created the Cylons as servants to fight humanity's petty wars and to address social needs that people didn't care to attend to personally. This later lead to a prolonged conflict, which brought humanity to its knees.
Kara Thrace and Saul Tigh
Both Kara Thrace and Saul Tigh share an outward problem, alcoholism. In the Miniseries, Tigh attempts to make peace with Thrace, only to have the offer thrown back in his face. Later, Thrace attempts to bury the hatchet with Tigh, only to have Tigh similarly reject her offer (TRS: "Bastille Day").
It should be noted that the two did apparently reconcile sometime during the colonization of New Caprica (TRS: "Lay Down Your Burdens, Part II"). The circumstances which brought this about are unknown, however. It was supposed to be explained in "Unfinished Business", but the relevant scenes were cut.
Baltar and the Cylons
Gaius Baltar has a unique relationship to the Cylons, given that he inadvertently aids them through Number Six and thus becomes an unwitting traitor to his species. Not only does he materially assist the Cylons in sowing the destruction of the majority of humanity, but he also becomes worried about reaping the results of his actions (TRS: "Miniseries").
Baltar survives the Fall of the Twelve Colonies and claims to be able to create a Cylon detector (TRS: "Miniseries"). He later creates this detector using a nuclear warhead furnished by Commander Adama (TRS: "Bastille Day"). This nuclear warhead is given to the Demand Peace movement and the Cylon Gina Inviere (TRS: "Epiphanies"), who would later use it to destroy Cloud 9 and surrounding ships. The resultant radiation later attracts a Cylon fleet, lead by Baltar's actual Six and Galactica-Sharon to the colony of New Caprica (Lay Down Your Burdens, Part II).
Children of abusive parents often fear passing along that abuse to their own children
The humanoid Cylon Simon says this (verbatim) to Starbuck (TRS: "The Farm"), and it comes up many times in the series. The Cylons feel that they are the children of humanity and that humanity abused them with enslavement. Now, the Cylons are attempting to create a new race of Cylon-Human hybrids (such as Hera), and they are concerned about being good "parents" to this new race. Lee Adama initially has a very poor relationship with his father William Adama (TRS: "Miniseries"), and he became distressed and pushed away from his fiance Gianne prior to the attack, when she revealed that she was pregnant with his child, because he could not come to terms with having a child of his own (TRS: "Black Market"). Starbuck's relationship with her mother was a criminally abusive one: her mother beat her regularly and broke many of her bones when she was a child (TRS: "The Farm"). Ever since, Starbuck has been a wildcard, always finding it hard to settle down in a relationship. In her own words, "I'm a screw-up... try and keep that in mind" (TRS: "Kobol's Last Gleaming, Part I"). Starbuck has always had trouble facing the idea of having a family of her own as a result.
It is not enough just to survive, one has to be worthy of survival
This is one of the central themes of the series according to Ronald D. Moore and explored throughout the series. Commander Adama launches a coup d'état to overthrow the civilian government (TRS: "Kobol's Last Gleaming, Part II"), but becomes convinced that it was an error (TRS: "Home, Part II"). Caprica-Sharon's ambivalent treatment, whether she is a machine and thing or a human being with feelings, is a running question until the beginning of Season 3 when she is given a commission as an officer. Furthermore, Admiral Adama exposes Roslin's election fraud over the New Caprica issue and - in a reversal of roles - defends democratic principles against Roslin, resulting in Gaius Baltar's victory and ultimately the Cylon occupation (TRS: "Lay Down Your Burdens, Part II"). The show's message is, that it would sometimes be easy to instate military rule, but that civil liberties are too important to sacrifice even in dire circumstances. This aspect in particular is an allegory on contemporary politics in light of the War on Terror, where civil liberties are curbed in favor of security; especially in America, but also in Europe.
The theme in general is also shown in the prominent dichotomy between Commander Adama and Admiral Cain, who holds a "survival at any cost" philosophy. This resulted in her abandoning her own civilian fleet after stripping them for parts, shooting her own Executive Officer for failure to order an ill-advised attack, torturing enemy prisoners of war, having no regard for the civilian government, and ordering summary executions of crewmen. Cain had survived, but in the process she blurred her distinction from the Cylons ("Pegasus" through "Resurrection Ship, Part II").
Dr. Gaius Baltar provides another intriguing case study for this theme. Caprica-Six says that the thing she loves best about Baltar is that he's "a survivor". When Baltar finds out that he had unwittingly betrayed all of humanity, he is more concerned with contacting his attorney for his own legal defense. He is willing to condemn one he thought to be an innocent man, Aaron Doral, to death in order to preserve his own safety (TRS: "Miniseries"). Baltar delays reporting the results of his own Cylon detector, because he is afraid that if he reveals that it works before he finds all twelve Cylon models, he will be killed (TRS: "Flesh and Bone"). Shockingly, Baltar does on one occasion do more than simply survive, when he frags Crashdown, whose poor leadership endangers the group as a whole, not only Baltar (TRS: "Fragged"). Soon after, however, he risks Chief Tyrol's life by injecting him with a toxin to acquire information from Galactica-Sharon (TRS: "Resistance"). Finally, Baltar is corrupt enough to disastrously mislead the Fleet into settling on New Caprica because this would allow him to become President (TRS: "Lay Down Your Burdens, Part II"). Baltar is quite a remarkable survivor, but his Machiavellian manipulations make his "worthiness" for survival questionable. The audience can easily view him as less worthy of life than a Cylon.
Several times, characters directly question mankind's worthiness to survive. Commander Adama does so at Galactica's decommissioning ceremony, stating that humans still kill each other for petty reasons and that they never asked themselves why they deserve to survive (TRS: "Miniseries"). Later, Sharon Valerii refers to that speech and tells Adama that it might not deserve so. When Adama calls off the planned assassination of Admiral Cain, he says verbatim "It's not enough to survive. One has to be worthy of surviving." (TRS: "Resurrection Ship, Part II"). At Baltar's trial, Doyle Franks expresses the sentiment that mankind's flaws are what separate it from the Cylons and might make it a species worth saving (TRS: "Crossroads, Part II").
Themes compared to those in other media
- The retaliatory nature of sentient machines against humanity is a popular theme in science fiction, dating back to the 1921 play Rossum's Universal Robots which first popularised the term robot.
- Writer Philip K. Dick's Second Variety and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep are strong examples of this man-machine conflict. The Canadian movie Screamers (1995) is based on the short story Second Variety. The movie Blade Runner (1982) is based on Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. (Coincidentally, actor Edward James Olmos (who plays William Adama) co-starred in Blade Runner.) Blade Runner's Replicants are comparable to Cylons. (Replicants in popular culture).
- The Terminator and The Matrix are other popular man-machine conflicts in popular theatrical science fiction.
- The lost in space theme of Battlestar Galactica has been explored in other television series, for example in Lost In Space and Star Trek: Voyager.