In the Open discusses "Sometimes a Great Notion,” the first of the last 10 episodes of Battlestar Galactica. The episode explores the dark night of the soul which the fleet enters after finding Earth a barren wasteland.
For many of those in the BSG universe, their faith that Earth held their salvation is tied to their religion. The loss of Earth leads them to question and reject that religion, too. This is not an uncommon experience for us, either. For some of us, suffering leads to questions about God's character or existence. For others of us, it's when things don't work the way we think they should that causes us to reject or question God; our worldview or doctrine falls apart and, with it, our trust in God.
But if we allow them, these moments can strip away
those places where our understandings of who God is are wrong, allowing
us to experience and understand more of the truth of who he actually is
and what he can do. Job, whose suffering plays out in some of the most
painful detail in Scripture, comes to a greater understanding of who
God is and his faith is strengthened. For the disciples of Jesus, the
darkest moment of their lives exposes their false beliefs about Jesus
being a political messiah—which opens the door for them to discover
just how much greater he really is in the days that follow. God wants
us to know him, and if we pay attention, he will use our darkest
moments to reveal himself as the Person he is—and he is good.
The reference to Job is spot-on. Nothing we've seen yet has rivaled the depths of despair that the discovery of Earth has wrought. The fleet—and perhaps especially Laura Roslin—are quite a bit like Job right now, feeling abandoned by god(s). In a key scene in "Sometimes a Great Notion," Roslin burns the pages of the Book of Pythia one by one. This religious text has guided her every action for the last two and a half seasons or so, so this signals a big change in her character—the abandonment of the faith that has sustained her. In this respect, she is not like Job, who doesn't abandon his faith (though he does get angry about it). I was reminded of the sufferings of Emilio Sandoz, the Jesuit protagonist of Mary Doria Russell's brilliant novel The Sparrow, who faces a similar crisis of faith after his own Job-like sufferings.
Ever since watching the 10-part webisode story "The Face of the Enemy," I've been thinking about the absolutely absurd depths of despair to which the show keeps bringing its characters. (The story—mini-spoiler warning!—reveals some dark, dark things about Gaeta's time as a double agent on New Caprica, tarnishing what little silver lining remained on that little cloud.) In a post a couple weeks ago, I expressed my hope that BSG not have a downer ending that leaves the characters purposeless. (The fact that they're feeling that way now, with nine episodes to go, implies that it won't—surely something's going to change in the remaining episodes.) But perhaps the happy ending/sad ending dichotomy shouldn't really apply here. The ending of Job is neither happy nor sad—it's just puzzling. Job demands an explanation for his situation, and God responds by putting him in his cosmic place: "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?" (Jb 38:4-5).God's response to Job's complaint is essentially, "Who are you to demand answers?" And perhaps that's where BSG will end as well—with a statement, either from the one God or the many, that explanations won't make it better. (Of course, not everyone has been satisfied by God's answers to Job, even the folks who compiled the book in the first place—hence the inconsistent explanation of the prologue, which blames the whole mess on Satan.) At this point, even if the characters somehow wrangle a "happy" ending out of their situation (as Job seems to, assuming the epilogue to his story wasn't tacked on by another dissatisfied reader), it will be bittersweet at best. Maybe a transcendent conclusion is the only satisfying one, at this point.
In other BSG thoughts—new theories abound after last night's episode, of course. Currently bouncing around in my head is the thought that the entire human race could be Cylons, with the 13th model being so perfect an approximation of humanity that it has an infinite number of faces. Alternately, the 12 Colonies could have been flawed attempts (by the Cylons) to recreate the demolished Earth, kind of like the enormous resurrection in Philip José Farmer's Riverworld series. Another possibility: the entire show to date could take place within a computer simulation, kind of like that described in Frank J. Tipler's The Physics of Immortality and Nick Bostrom's essay "Are You Living In a Computer Simulation?" The resurrecting aliens of Riverworld believe they had a moral obligation to resurrect the dead once the technology to do so existed—and if the Cylons are in the position of simulation-creators, that certainly puts their moral status into a different light.
For more on Riverworld and technological afterlives, see chapter 9 of The Gospel According to Science Fiction.