05 May 2008

Laying down your burdens and finding redemption

This past week's Battlestar Galactica episode "The Road Less Traveled" explores the theme of struggling with your past, laying down your burdens, and finding redemption.

Kara "Starbuck" Thrace is a hot shot pilot and the poster child for self-destruction. She draws good people to her like the Adamas (father and son), Anders, Helo, but she often abuses them and on the few occasions where she realizes what she's doing, she simply tells everyone "I frakked up" and goes back to her self-destructive behavior. In the end, it seems like her only redeeming quality is being the best pilot in the fleet. Starbuck is the female version of the prototypical abusive husband. Last aeason, we found out that her behavior had its roots in an overbearing, narcissistic, equally abusive mother.

Leoben, one of the Cylons, is the only "person" who understands her. In this episode, he appears in a badly damaged raider and is taken prisoner. Starbuck, the commanding officer of the ship Demetrius, brings him onboard. A crew member dies after the raider explodes in a seeming accident. Starbuck storms into Leoben's cell and punches him in a fury. Leoben tells her to finish it and kill him. She tries to continue beating up Leoben, but she can't bring herself to do it.
Leoben: It doesn't help, does it? Nothing feels quite like it did before, I know.

Starbuck: What are you doing to me?

Leoben: All of your life, you forced back the truth by lashing out at everyone. Anesthetizing yourself with ambrosia to empty your fears. But you've lost the taste for those petty things.

Starbuck: I'm the same person!

Leoben: No! The ... emptiness can only be filled by taking the next step on your journey.

Starbuck: What happened to me the two months I was missing?

Leoben: I don't know.

Starbuck: You recall? The pain, my mother, it had to mean something.

Leoben: You have to make peace with your past.

Starbuck: Why?

Leoben: Because that part of you is gone.
Starbuck isn't the only one with personal demons. Gaius Baltar, the anti-hero who played a major role in humanity's destruction, has become a preacher of the One-God religion in the past few episodes. Baltar reaches out to former flight deck chief Galen Tyrol who is having a very hard time coming to terms with his Cylon existence and his wife's death. Baltar tells Tyrol:
I know it's hard to...make sense of things sometimes. In my own life, I...in my own life I've joined the fleet as a scientist, as a skeptic, as a...supposedly a man of reason. Only to have fate turn that all on its head. But I understand now that there is a purpose to it. We change. We evolve. Maybe we even learn something along the way. (pauses) I have committed...unconscionable crimes. And I have been offered one last chance at redemption, because I chose to accept my fate and not fight it anymore.
Battlestar Galactica is very much about bad things happening to people (whether they did it to themselves or it happened to them) and how they deal with their problems. Starbuck seems to reach a turning point where she's left behind self-destructive behavior and looking for the next step: redemption. Baltar's already taken that step. And as Baltar and Leoben say, the key to finding redemption is to accept the past, accept that the past is part of who you are even if it's horrible and make peace with it. In the ministry, people often call this process "laying down your burdens" (this phrase incidentally is the title of an earlier Battlestar Galactica episode.)

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