Friday's episode of Battlestar Galactica was basically just one giant exposition, a massive pile of answers about the Final Five. But it left us wondering whether this show ever really had a plan. Spoilers ahead!
Of course no back story could ever really live up to the dramatic build-up of four seasons. For years we've wondered why the cylons went (literally) ballistic, and what that had to do with thousands of years of human/cylon conflict and galactic diaspora. And at last, in the episode "No Exit," Anders' brain injury unleashes a flood of memories that explain what the Final Five were all about.
As Starbuck and the final four cylons listen, Anders moves between mega-exposition and brain-injury babble reminiscent of hybrid speak. It turns out the final five worked together at a company on Earth where Ellen rediscovers the ancient cylon technology of resurrection. Apparently the tech had been forgotten on Earth because cylons could reproduce naturally, but Ellen and her crew are worried about an apocalypse (which they hear about from some creatures nobody can see except them - though the apocalypse itself is still never explained) and so they set up a way to download themselves to a Resurrection Ship when Earth nukes itself. OK, that helps explain the Earth backstory.
Then things get even weirder. It turns out that the Final Five spent centuries traveling across the galaxy to find the twelve colonies and warn them to treat their AIs well or they'd be the victims of a terrible cylon uprising. When they arrive, the centurion rebellion has already happened and the five strike a bargain with the centurions to prevent more bloodshed. They'll create 8 humanoid cylon models for the centurions, which turn out to be the skinjobs we know and love (minus a new, mysterious Number Seven called Daniel who was a "sensitive artist"). Apparently the centurions, like the final five, believe in "one true God" who created humans in his image. To honor this God, they want nothing more than brethren who look like the God-created humans they've been murdering. (Um, yeah.)
At this point, Anders' exposition in the episode is intercut with even more exposition from an Ellen model who has been awakened from the goo by Cavil. It turns out that Cavil was the first humanoid model Ellen created for the centurions, and he has some serious mommy issues with her. (Having sex with her back on New Caprica is just the tip of the iceberg for our freaky Oedipal skinjob.) As you can see in the clip above, Cavil is angry that Ellen imposed her idea of God on his body. He wants to be a machine, to fully embrace his identity as a non-human. Plus, he's angry that Ellen made him in the image of her father John (she calls him John, too). And he's jealous of Ellen's other cylon children, particularly Daniel, whom he destroyed long ago.
In many ways, this episode turned Cavil into the Big Bad of the series, which rang false. Apparently Cavil grew so enraged at Ellen and the rest of the Final Five that he had their memories erased and dropped them onto Caprica so that they could learn a lesson about how lame these allegedly God-made humans are. (This BARELY makes sense, given Tigh's long history with Adama - one is still left wondering how the Final Five were dropped to Caprica at different points.) It also seems as if Cavil erased memories of the Final Five from all the skinjob models except his own.
What this means is that the destruction of the colonies, the cylon slave uprising, and the whole cylon vendetta against the humans, is basically the result of an atheist son being pissed at the way his religious mother imposed her beliefs on him. We've gone from justifying the cylon's bloody war with a (somewhat understandable) quest for vengeance to justifying it by saying it was all the result of a sadistic, power-hungry mama's boy mindwiping everybody and turning them into his war puppets.
I think this is a big mistake. Turning the whole human/cylon conflict into the brainwash-enabled creation of one angry cylon really drains a lot of the interesting politics out of this show. If we take the Cavil backstory at face value, the show becomes a Dallas-style family melodrama instead of a political epic about clashes between colonizer/colonized and slaver/slave. I know what you're thinking: Why can't it be both, ala Dune, surely an excellent example of family melodrama that's inextricably linked to geopolitical strife? I absolutely think BSG can be both, but "No Exit" did a pretty clumsy job of bringing the two together. It was as if the Cavil/Ellen conflict wiped away the larger human/cylon conflict in this episode, and turned all the social dilemmas we've seen into the unintended consequences of Cavil's mindwipes.
But we do see hints that broader social issues are still on the simmer. Adama has made Tyrol into the Chief again, admitting that sometimes a cylon is the best man for the job. And Tyrol is going to integrate cylon biotech into Galactica to prevent the ship from falling apart. So human and cylon cultures are being integrated together in a way that has seemingly never happened before.
And Roslin is definitely retiring from the Presidency: She's asked Lee to do the "heavy lifting" for her in government, and to assemble a new Quorum - perhaps with representatives from each ship, rather than from their abandoned planets. Members of the Fleet will embrace their new identities as citizens of ships rather than citizens of colonies.
But we still lack some crucial information, so expect more exposition in our Final Five Weeks of BSG. The story of Kobol, the original colony, remains murky. Based on what Ellen and Anders say, it seems that the human on Kobol created cylons who rebelled against them the way the centurions did on Caprica. Some of the cylons from that original Kobol conflict fled to Earth and founded their colony. Ellen claims ignorance of the temple on Kobol where D'Anna saw images of the Final Five, and says God must have put their images there.
The relationship between Cavil and the rest of the cylons still needs to be explained. How exactly did his mindwipes work? How did he plant the Final Five on Earth? How did he get the skinjobs on his side? Why did he murder the Daniel line of cylons? (And is Starbuck a genderbent Daniel?)
And we also don't know what's going to happen when Cavil opens up Ellen's brain and tries to yank out the secret to recreating the Resurrection Ship.
My hope as we enter the homestretch is that show creators Ron Moore and David Eick conclude by exploring how Battlestar is ultimately about two groups' search for social justice - not about a sadistic little boy who blew up the world(s) because he's angry that his body isn't made of steel.