Deus Ex Machina: A Lost and Battlestar Galactica Comparison

With the UK shaking its head at America's tunnel vision toward science fiction, fans of the genre here in the States are now without a flagship television drama.  It's been almost two weeks since the series finale of Lost and somehow the world still exists and die hard fans find ways to fill their empty hours.

I felt moved to write because I feel I'm on the wrong side of fence as the bandwagon leaves the station.  The ending of Lost wasn't for me.  I thought it was cheap and focused too much on the last season and not enough on the show as a whole.  It tied up loose ends with a very soft touch and some gold ribbon, and then handed its final message to the viewers on a warm plate covered in love and chocolate and joyful tears.

And I call bullshit.

In 2005, J.J. Abrams told the world that one of the leading theories about Lost was not correct.  The island inhabitants were not in fact in Purgatory.  Co-creator Damon Lindelof did the same a year later.  As people tried to make sense of all the story lines and all the hints and side stories, it was probably natural that we lost focus and just chalked it up to something spiritual.  But the show runners said we were wrong.

Turns out, in 2005, we were.  But in 2009-2010, the tune changed.  When the bomb went off at the end of last season, we began a new and final chapter in which the characters were in Purgatory, or at least a realm in between the living and the soon to be dead.  The reality of the Island, such as it was, remained intact.  Elusive, inexplicable, frustratingly vague, but intact.  There was no split timeline, no alternate parallel universe.  It was some blissful Matrix like construct each cast member created in their mind or soul or whatever in order to meet their loved ones after they die...whenever that was going to be.

But it was only the loved ones from the Island.  Kate's mom wasn't there.  Juliet's sister wasn't there.  Hugo's parents weren't there.  Did the four-five months these people spend on the Island completely replace the love and affection they had for their families or the rest of the world?  I would appear so.

So the last season was the one that would explain it all, and it did mostly.  Except for why CJ was there in the first place and why she killed Jacob and Blackshirt's real mom.  Oh and except for the Heart of the Island.  Oh and why were Hurley's number's so important again?  So important that they infiltrated every thing in the show?  I'm sure there are more, but we know that a good deal was wrapped up in the last year and it really didn't matter to the fans what the Island was.  It was magic, it was light, it was goodness, that's apparently all we need to know.  It was Moya and Jacob was its Pilot.

Which brings me, with a worthless segue, to the ending of Battlestar: Galactica.  This show caught a lot of flak for its initial claim that it was a military science fiction show and not the spiritual space opera it turned into.  It lost viewers and the ending brought scorn from those who stuck it out.  Again, I went against the grain and felt the wrap up of BS:G was nearly perfect and if you watched it twice on DVD straight through, you would probably see that.  The main argument was that everything ended too neatly.  Starbuck came back for no reason, they found Earth on luck and the Final Five story line was made up as they went along.

There's truth to some of this.  Interviews with Ronald Moore indicate that the story didn't go where he originally wanted and that toward the end they were winging it, but that's how stories go sometimes.  We all thought Lost had a big scheme to it and in the end we were proven wrong.  It was a little unexplained well of spiritual energy accompanying a glimpse into the personal afterlife states of a handful of people.  So why can't another show be about angels and gods and fate?

Starbuck died, but was brought back for a reason.  She was brought back long before finale.  Before she died we're given glimpses of a special symbol.  She follows this symbol so that she can die and be reborn or at least delivered to the crew as a messenger, the harbinger of death.  The Final Five hear a song of Earth origin (All Along the Watchtower) which Starbuck plays on a piano.  The notes align with the drawings of a half human, half cylon child.  They're also numbers, numbers she uses to chart a course away from the climactic battle with the Cylons to a habitable world.  The battle was to save this child, one that was born early on in the series and became a rallying cry for the human fleet.  Along the way, we're reminded of the fight between the people believing in the gods and the one true God.

So to have Starbuck type in some numbers to save their ass was not Deus Ex Machina any more than the Island being a mysterious living thing with no explanation as to its existence.

I've been told I don't understand the concept of Deux Ex Machina.  In my defense, I understood it to mean that at the end of a story, some new thing just shows up out of no where to change the course of the story.  In most cases it saves the day, at least in modern stories, but it comes from a time when people actually believed in the ancient gods.  The stories would show people struggling with some task only to have it cleaned up by a god and displaying how our will and our choices don't matter.  Fate is all that matters and the gods control that.  More recently it's a tool to help creativity handicapped writers find a way out of the corner.

And thus the fans cried D.E.M. when Kara Thrace found Earth, but again I call bullshit.

Why?  Because she's not a new character.  She was with the show from the beginning.  So was the idea of gods and God, making the idea of angels not that extraordinary.  To me, it's not D.E.M. if the entire show had built to that point and it makes sense.  All the clues, all the symbols lead to their fight and their finding Earth.  Does it defeat the idea of free will if there is a God pulling the strings?  If it's done from the beginning of the story?  Did anyone in that show have a choice or were they being manipulated?  Were they being lead by God to find Earth?

At the end of Lost Jack said, "This is what I'm supposed to do."  His choices, his will, his meaning in life up until last season was to get off the Island and hopefully save as many people as he could.  Where did that get him?  Most of the people died, including him.  It was only when he let go and almost stop making choices did he become content.  Even in death he appeared happy.

Both shows started as science fiction.  Both ended with enormous ties to spirituality.  It's much like cutting edge scientific thought wherein the unexplained is turned over to The God Factor.  We understand things to a certain point, and after that we just don't know.  I think the creators of both shows started with good intentions, but in the end just didn't know and fell back on religion.  The difference is, one did that early on and wasn't ashamed of it at the end.

I'll let you decide which was which.

Carry on.