Battlestar Galactica: Cylons, Hybrids and Mormonism

The Driftless Area Review welcomes a new contributor, Jennifer Huhne.  She comes from a freelancing background and has written on a number of topics.

Considering the fact that it was originally criticized for being too similar to Star WarsBattlestar Galactica has certainly stood the test of time. It is a program that I watched when I was a child in the eighties and that my children now watch. The franchise started off in 1978, was followed by a sequel in 1980, saw a revival in 2004 and has had web series episodes released online as recently as 10th February 2013. The show features an intergalactic war between human beings and a cybernetic race called the Cylons, who are hell bent on destroying humanity. It is hardly groundbreaking in terms of its plot but perhaps clichés are what make this kind of sci-fi program entertaining. As well as managing to keep my kids and I on the edge of our seats, the program also contains a number of interesting themes. The two series that were created by Glen A. Larson have a number of Mormon Latter-Day Saint beliefs incorporated into them.

Mormon Themes

Larson was a Mormon and has included several references to his faith within the show, for example the name of the human race’s home world in Battlestar Galactica is ‘Kobol’, which is an anagram of Kolob, a planet that is mentioned in the Mormon scriptures. Marriage is referred to as ‘sealing’ in the program as well, which is a Mormon term, and there is a fictional governing body known as the Quorum of Twelve, which sounds remarkably similar to the Mormon Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. However Larson has also woven in aspects of other faiths. Several characters are named after people who appear in Greek mythology and the twelve human colonies are named after the signs of the Zodiac. As opposed to simply using the series as a vehicle to preach his own faith, Larson has intertwined elements of various different beliefs to create a patchwork quilt of mythologies.

Real Life Issues

Battlestar Galactica is similar to Star Trek in that it is part sci-fi series and part soap opera. The interaction between the characters is just as interesting as the alien races and futuristic technology and the makers have never shied away from real life issues. For example, the most recent series contains debate on issues such as human rights abuse and the threat of terrorism and episode eleven of season two sees a pregnant woman being given an electrolyte balance test to see if she has any health complications after suffering an attack that could have potentially killed her baby. Fortunately her unborn child is okay but the fact that the series deals with the potential for people to suffer real-life consequences of incidents sets it apart from other more light-hearted series. The show also deals with issues surrounding lack of medical resources, which are relevant to many parts of the world today. After considering administering individual medical tests to people in order to test to see if they are human or Cylon, medical staff decide to use a technique known as ‘group testing’, which is used in real life. Not only are real-life problems explored but real-life solutions are also presented. The show manages to include gritty, realistic plot lines whilst remaining family friendly, which is fortunate because my children love it.

Political Themes

The war that the humans in Battlestar Galactica are fighting against the Cylons contains some striking similarities to World War II. Some characters turn collaborators, some go underground and become insurgents and the Cylons’ desire to wipe a race of the map is reminiscent of the mindset of the Nazis. The fact that there is a witch-hunt for Cylon sympathizers in the later series also has echoes of McCarthyism. One of the strengths of the series is that it mirrors the real life politics of war rather than simply relying upon action to entertain the viewers. It transposes genuine moral dilemmas into a sci-fi setting, which is why it is one of my favorite sci-fi series.

The Nature of Humanity

Battlestar Galactica also questions the nature of humanity. In the 2004 series, Cyclons breed with human beings to produce hybrid offspring. The fact that they are mechanical creatures challenges whether somebody has to consist entirely of flesh and blood in order to be classed as human. The fact that Cyclons display some human emotions implies that somebody who is not considered to be fully human can still attain the morals associated with mankind. This implies that people’s personalities are not predisposed by their biology and that individuals possess the ability to rise above the limits associated with their physical forms.

Hope For Future Series

Perhaps the reason that this show has enjoyed such a high degree of longevity is that it combines religion, mythology, science and philosophy rather than relying solely upon special effects and fight scenes to maintain the viewers’ attention. It is intelligent sci-fi as opposed to sci-fi that has been created to be visually appealing without causing people to ask questions. Will there be another series at some point in the future? Judging by the popularity of the previous series and the level to which my children loved the most recent one, the answer to this will probably be ‘yes’.

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