Wednesday 4 March 2009

Battlestar Galactica: What We Know

This is a post meant to expand on the revelations from the last few episodes of Battlestar Galactica. Needless to be said, this post contains spoilers up to episode 17 of of Season 4 of the series, so if you are behind with the series do not read on. For the purposes of this article there are also some mild spoilers for the pilot of the forthcoming spin-off series Caprica.

The Story So Far
Over 4,000 years ago (from the end of Season 4), the twelve tribes of humanity lived, apparently in peace, on the planet Kobol with their gods, the Lords of Kobol. The planet was a paradise where vast, great cities had been built along with stunning structures, such as the infamous Opera House located in the City of the Gods.

Kobol, birth-place of mankind.

As with all such paradises, there was a serpent in the garden. In this case, it was the secret of creating artificial life. According to legend, the Lords of Kobol had created humanity but had not meant for humanity to learn this secret themselves. Somehow, they did and created a new race of sentient, biological machines. These genetically-engineered beings could not reproduce naturally, so their creators gave them the technology of 'organic memory transfer', which allowed them to 'download' into new bodies upon death. This new race, which was almost as human and flawed as their progenitors, eventually became known as the Thirteenth Tribe and were apparently welcomed into the company of the other tribes.

The Opera House in the City of the Gods on Kobol.

However, the Lords of Kobol were furious over the use of their knowledge without their permission to create this new race. The Thirteenth Tribe left Kobol, either banished or forced to flee, and crossed the interstellar gulfs looking for a new home. The Galaxy being largely a barren and hostile place, it was some time before they discovered even a borderline habitable world, located at the heart of a difficult-to-traverse star cluster. On this planet they built the Temple of Hopes and prayed for guidance. Almost immediately they saw a supernova blossom in the sky, in the distant Ionian system. Believing it to be a sign, they headed in the direction of this supernova.

The planet where the Temple of Hopes was built over 3,000 years ago.

The Thirteenth Tribe discovered an inhabitable planet that was more suitable for life, and they named it 'Earth'. Over a thousand years passed and the Thirteenth Tribe prospered. They discovered how to reproduce naturally, and the resurrection technology was discarded. With no need to travel beyond the system, FTL technology was also apparently lost.

Earth, adopted home of the Thirteenth Tribe of Kobol.

Back on Kobol, an Oracle named Pythia prophesied that the human race would be destroyed and reborn many times over, that the shape of history would repeat itself again and again until the Cycle of Time was broken or humanity destroyed. Civilisation on Kobol seemed to falter and start collapsing, with human sacrifice becoming commonplace. Despite this, knowledge of the Thirteenth Tribe's expedition found its way back to Kobol and a planetarium was built depicting the night sky as seen from Earth, including the twelve constellations which the Thirteenth Tribe had named after the other tribes. In time the tribes took these constellations as the sigils on their flags.

Back on Earth, the Thirteenth Tribe created a race of mechanical servitors to work for them and used them as slaves. The AI governing these robots become stronger, smarter and more powerful. Five scientists (Galen Tyrol, Tory Foster, Sam Anders and Saul and Ellen Tigh), members of the same research team, suddenly started having unexplained visions of people who were not really there, that no-one else could see. These 'messengers' told the five scientists that a great cataclysm was coming to Earth, and they needed to reinvent the resurrection technology of their ancestors to escape from it. They worked day and night on the technology for a long time, eventually creating a working resurrection system which they placed on a ship in orbit. Only these five scientists received the treatment necessary to make the resurrection technology work.

The original Earth Cylons (based on a concept for the abandoned 2001 revival of the series).

The mechanical servitors on Earth achieved sentience and rebelled against their creators. A nuclear war followed and the entire planet was devastated. The five scientists were killed, but their personalities and memories 'downloaded' into genetic copies stored on the orbiting ship. With the planet devastated and nowhere else to go, the 'Final Five' members of the Thirteenth Tribe set a return course for Kobol, but with no FTL they could only travel at relativistic speeds. Accelerating to well over 99% of lightspeed, they were able to make the trip in under two thousand years, whilst only a few years passed for them on the ship. They retraced their course to Kobol, stopping at the planet in the star cluster once again to visit the Temple of Hopes.

One of the Final Five in the Temple of Hopes.

Meanwhile, the situation on Kobol had continued to deteriorate and eventually the planet was visited by a cataclysm of unknown (but definitely not nuclear) origin. Known only as 'The Blaze', it seems to have rendered the planet uninhabitable. The Lords of Kobol constructed a great 'galleon' to take the Twelve Tribes to a new home, a remarkable star system with no less than twelve inhabitable planets, but apparently did not travel with them. At least one of the Lords, Athena, killed herself in grief over what had happened. The Twelve Tribes set out and colonised the new star system, settling the planets of Aerilon, Aquarion, Canceron, Caprica, Gemenon, Leonis, Libran, Picon, Sagittaron, Scorpia, Tauron and Virgon. However, the stress of the exodus saw civilisation falter and almost collapse shortly after the Colonies were settled, with technology levels significantly reduced (possibly to the level of gunpowder and wooden sailing ships, if not further). In time, the Colonies recovered, ventured back into space, reestablished contact with one another and, in some cases, fought significant wars.

Approximately sixty years ago, the Twelve Colonies began to use robotic servitors, just as the Thirteenth had done on Earth millennia earlier. Initially these robots were simple, mechanical slaves assigned to onerous chores and dangerous mining work, but the work of brilliant computer programmers such as Daniel Graystone saw the development of far more intelligent and sophisticated models, which he called 'cybernetic life-form nodes', or Cylons. Caprica developed the first Cylons and created a whole fleet of ships and fighters for them to use to fight on Caprica's behalf.

Daniel Graystone (on the right), creator of the Cylons, on Caprica 58 years before the Fall.

The creation of the Cylons had proven too complex for Graystone's skills, so an AI recreation of an actual human's brain was used to give the Cylons sophisticated reasoning skills. Unfortunately, the human chosen was a member of a secret cult of monotheists, who rejected the concept of the Lords of Kobol as gods and instead believe in the existence of 'One True God', a loving and omnipotent being who did not want life to be enslaved. The mechanical Cylons inherited this belief and came to resent their 'enslavement'. Fifty-six years ago the Cylons rebelled against their masters, and a bloody and long war began.

The original Colonial Centurions. Fond of capes.

The Twelve Colonies united against this threat and for twelve years they fought their own creations. The Cylons were vicious, skilled and had powerful weapons, but luckily their ships do not appear to have been armed with nuclear weapons. Against this, the Colonies' own militaries were initially hard-pressed, but the construction of twelve powerful capital ships known as 'battlestars' helped turn the tide in their favour and the war eventually became more of a deadlock between the two sides.

The Cylons, united in their belief of one loving God, decided that to achieve perfection they needed to recreate themselves in God's image (that of a humanoid) and began experiments in creating organic models of themselves. The experiments, some of them using captured human subjects, were not successful. They did succeed in creating a race of half-mechanical, half-organic beings called 'hybrids' whom they used to pilot their baseships, but otherwise these beings seemed to be insane.

Battlestars Galactica and Columbia engage a Cylon fleet during the First Cylon War.

At this point an unidentified, slower-than-light ship entered the Colonial system, rapidly decelerating. The Final Five members of the Thirteenth Tribe had found their way back to Kobol and from there to the Twelve Colonies. The Five had guessed that the tribes would eventually repeat the mistakes of the past and recreate artificial life, so had set out to warn them. But when they reached the Colonies the war they feared would happen was already underway. They approached the Cylons and offered them a deal: to stop the war in return for the Five helping them perfect their humanoid models. The Cylons agreed, and twelve years after it began, the First Cylon War ended. The Colonies recovered and rebuilt, and the Cylons vanished into space behind an 'Armistice Line', warning the humans not to cross it. The humans established Armistice Station nearby and extended an invitation for the Cylons to meet with them in annual, peaceful trade negotiations, but the Cylons never responded.

In reality, the Cylons established new bases of operation far from the Colonies and the Five helped them in the construction of eight humanoid models, all equipped with the resurrection technology and all having countless multiple copies. The first to be completed was John Cavil, based on Ellen Tigh's father. He helped them finish the development of the others, but Cavil was unhappy with his humanoid body. Ironically, he'd actually have preferred to have been a machine. Cavil's unhappiness with the situation continued to develop as the other models - Leoben Conoy, D'Anna Biers, Simon, Aaron Doral, Number Six, Daniel and Sharon Valerii - were created. Cavil came to feel that the mechanical Cylons' belief in God (passed on to several of the other humanoid models) was flawed and ridiculous, and that humanity needed to be destroyed for its role in enslaving the mechanical Centurions. One of the last straws seems to have been Ellen Tigh's favoritism shown to the #7 model, known as 'Daniel', an artist. Cavil destroyed the Daniel line of Cylons, wiping out all of the copies and (presumably) destroying the prototype.

Cylon Humanoid Model #1, John Cavil.

Cavil then tricked the Five into entering a small compartment on a Cylon ship, from which he vented the atmosphere, killing them. He accessed the resurrection computers and prevented them from downloading. He also reprogrammed the other humanoid models so they had no memories of the Five or the destroyed Daniel line, although he was unable to delete their base knowledge that there were twelve surviving models in total (including theFinal Five). To prevent the mechanical Cylons rebelling against the humanoids, he also placed inhibitors in their neural pathways, effectively shutting off their sentience and turning them into mindless slaves. Finally, he adjusted the Five's memories whilst they were in storage, removing many of their memories and implanting false ones, using the chaos and spotty record-keeping in the aftermath of the Cylon War to build fake backgrounds for them. The Five were banished into the Twelve Colonies, believing they were human. Cavil's plan was for them to experience the pettiness and jealousies of humanity first-hand, and when they died in the sneak attack he was planning they would be resurrected again and have to admit that he was right all along.

Four of the Final Five survivors of the Thirteenth Tribe.

The Cylons began constructing a vast war machine to make war on the Twelve Colonies with, consisting of dozens of baseships and newer, more lethal types of fighter and Centurion. The Cylons also constructed a substantial nuclear arsenal. Copies of the humanoid models were seeded into Colonial society at every level, in the military and elsewhere, in preparation to help with the attack when it came.

The modern, more lethal Cylon Centurion.

In the years that followed, fears that the Cylons would return had dwindled among the Twelve Colonies, although the Colonial Fleet of over 120 battlestars was maintained as a precaution. Several cautious probes of the Armistice Line were made with no evidence that the Cylons planned to return, although an incident involving the battlestar Valkyrie suggested that the Cylons were still keeping an eye on that area of space. But fears faded and an interest in rebuilding more advanced technology resurfaced, shown most spectacularly in the massive new Mercury-class battlestars. A new computer programme, developed by the famous scientist Dr. Gaius Baltar, was developed which would allow ships to communicate and network together, maximising their combat potential. Unknown to Baltar, his 'Command Navigation Program' had already been compromised by a Cylon agent, who had built back-doors into the network which the Cylons could exploit.

When the Cylon attack on the Colonies was launched, most of the Colonial Fleet was simply switched off via the CNP and destroyed at leisure. Each of the Twelve Colonies was bombarded from space with hundreds of nuclear missiles. Almost the entire population of the Colonies, approaching 50 billion people by that time, was wiped out in the space of a few hours. Only those ships in transit between the Colonies at the time escaped destruction, or those military vessels whose computer networks were offline and not compromised by the CNP. Only two battlestars, the Galactica and the Pegasus, fell into the latter category. Whilst the Pegasus escaped by itself into deep space, the Galactica managed to gather together over sixty commercial and cargo vessels with a complement of 50,000 civilians on board before it fled the system. Commander William Adama and President Laura Roslin had decided that there was only one place they could go: Earth, the fabled home of the Thirteenth Colony (whose true nature had been lost in the passing of millennia).

The Fall of the Twelve Colonies.

Unbeknown to Roslin and Adama, the five surviving members of the Thirteenth Tribe had escaped the Cylon attack to take shelter within the Fleet, their true natures - and the knowledge that Earth was an uninhabitable nuclear wasteland - hidden even from theselves. So the long search for Earth, and the relentless Cylon pursuit, began.

And unknown to almost everyone else, Gaius Baltar and the Cylon model who had betrayed him both started receiving visits from people only they could see or hear, 'messengers' or self-proclaimed 'angels of God' who were determined that both the humanity and Cylons should survive for a purpose yet to be revealed.

The series itself.
Ronald D. Moore's podcasts.
Battlestar Wiki.


RobB said...


What an awesome post. How long did it take to put together?


Anonymous said...

Wow, great work!
You really schould post it on other sides too. Lot's of BSG fans are wating for something like this since Anders' wordsalad. It would really help too clear things up.

Adam Whitehead said...

Rob, about an hour. I had already formulated the basic ideas in a thread on the Sci-Fi Channel boards.

Jebus said...

Fantastic wrap up to where we stand in a fantastic series. These last 4 episodes are gonna be INSANELY AWESOME.

RobB said...

>>Sci-Fi Channel boards.<<<

What forums don't you frequent?

Adam Whitehead said...

It's been a while since I last went onto any Goodkind boards...


Anonymous said...

Amazing history lesson. I think you nailed it. Thanks for the post, it clears up much of Ander's word salad. So, is Ander's programming essentially the Hybrid's programming. Ander's IS the Hybrid? This is what I took from the last episode. Anyone else agree with that?

Adam Whitehead said...

Anders got hooked up to a Cylon Hybrid bath, so obviously got plugged into the 'datastream' and started spouting typical Cylon gobbledy-gook.

My guess is that Anders' status as a Final Fiver combined with the datastream will enable him to interpret the stuff that drives the hybrids crazy, leading to the possible ending of the show.

Anonymous said...

Hey this is great. Thanks for taking the time to do it. I think that as soon as Anders sees that drawing Hera made, he's gonna jump the ship. To where, though?