Frakking Amazing, Part 2: The Humanity of Being Human

Frakking Amazing is Siddharth Talwar's exploration of Battlestar Galactica and its themes that resonate with him. Read Part 1 here.

The true attraction of any story is the strength of its characters. Our ability to empathise with a character comes from how well rounded he or she is, and whether you can understand and relate to the motivations that drive him or her. I want to take this time to talk a little about the Humans in Battlestar Galactica.

There is a lot of meat and depth to them. Not all of them are the clear 'good guys'. Some Humans make decisions that make you truly question their humanity. With this in mind, I want to discuss the two main leaders of the Humans: Captain Adama and President Laura Roslin. These are two people in very similar circumstances, but their characters are poles apart.

Though they do have matching scowls.

Though they do have matching scowls.

Laura Roslin (played excellently by Mary McDonnel) was the Secretary of Education in the government before the Cylons attacked. With the entire government dead or captured, she turned out to be the highest-ranking government official alive and thus she inherited the title of President. Completely unqualified to be the supreme leader, she is sworn in as President aboard her starship, a nod to the actual swearing in of Lyndon Johnson after the Kennedy assassination.

I admire Laura Roslin quite a bit. She has responsibility thrust upon her, unlike the actual military crew of Battlestar Galactica, who chose a life of action, and she becomes a strong, steely leader in a time of utmost crisis. She is efficient, brutal and deeply cares for the survival of the Human race. The Humans need a strong leader and she gives them exactly that. But some of the decisions she makes are a little too ruthless. She is willing to bend the rules to stay in power, or to murder a Cylon who comes asking for help. She doesn't tolerate dissent, and slowly becomes something of a dictator.

A president who turns into a dictator? Pfft, sci-fi can be so far fetched.

A president who turns into a dictator? Pfft, sci-fi can be so far fetched.

It becomes worth asking whether she actually became less human by being in power. She had to quell her humane instincts, had to push down her softness and come out as a worthy challenger to the constant threat of oblivion. At a cost. I may admire her, but I always felt she lost the most important part of herself, the thing that made her different from the Cylons. This theme has been addressed in many many films before: T2 Judgement Day, The Matrix, Blade Runner, for example, but never before with this depth. BSG gives us four seasons of a story arc to get completely in to the psychology of the character.

The writers of Battlestar Galactica loved doing this to the audience. One episode you like Roslin and find her too extreme in the next. You can always understand the context she is in and sympathise with her decisions, but only with reluctance. You want her to be different, to be better.

On the other hand, Captain/Admiral Adama (played by veteran Edward James Olmos) is the complete opposite of Laura Roslin. He grows from a hard-edged battle veteran into a gentle father figure to everyone on his crew. He becomes more human, almost a Mexican Dumbledore. Interestingly, Edward James Olmos was the first Latin man to get top billing on a major network US TV show.

Did someone say  'Mexican Dumbledore' ?

Did someone say 'Mexican Dumbledore'?

He believes in second chances, and even knowingly allows a Cylon to be a part of his crew. He loves his crew and would trust them with his life. You see him shed tears when a member of his crew dies. The more you watch the character the more it becomes clear that he wants to protect not only the Humans but their humanity as well.

Everyone who watches the show comes to loves Adam. Blunt and gruff, he's not very charismatic, but that grows into the most likeable thing about him. He truly represents the best of humanity, courage and determination in the harshest of times, but never at the cost of his integrity. His fleet and crew are the Simba to his Mufasa.

A moment of silence for the most heartbreaking moment of our childhood.

A moment of silence for the most heartbreaking moment of our childhood.

These are two people who rose to the challenge in their own way and made decisions that kept humanity alive. There are a lot of characters buckle under the weight of the events in motion around them, who see chaos as an opportunity to grab power, but completely lose control.

It is an essential study in humanity to watch these contrasting individuals express their individuality, and watch them bring our own strengths and shortcomings to light. It always makes me wonder at the decisions that such exceptional people made; would I have done the same?

Scribe: Siddharth Talwar

Captain's Log: Siddharth Talwar is a full time music making software, when he isn't dreaming of electric sheep.