Sunday, May 11, 2008
BELIEF AND UNBELIEF
Having been present for the deaths of two of my grandparents, I have experience with the emotions that go through you at a loved one's end of days. Movies and TV shows often describe the passing of someone as "peaceful" or "beautiful." Personally, I find the wrenching apart of body and soul gut-wrenching and horrible. These were points in my life where my faith was an act of will, not a matter of "feeling" connected to something greater. The prayer "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief" was a common refrain of mine during those experiences. That's why last week's episode of "Battlestar Galactica" - appropriately entitled "Faith" - resonated with me.
In one plotline, President Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell), who is undergoing chemo for cancer, visits with a woman who is near the end of her life because of the same disease. Roslin recalls that her own mother was a fervent believer that the gods would lead her happily into the next life when her end came. Instead, her death was filled with much suffering and all she saw as she passed was darkness, not light. The woman to whom Roslin is talking points out that it was Laura who likely saw only darkness because of her loss, not her mother.
The woman then tells Roslin about a dream she had that she was being taken across a river on a boat and saw all her loved ones who had died welcoming her on the shore. This dream brought her comfort and was the reason she began believing in the recent teachings of Gaius Baltar, a seemingly-reformed Judas who now believed in the one true God. While she's talking to Roslin, the woman goes into convulsions that appear to contradict the peaceful and contented end she was talking about. But later on, Roslin has a dream where she accompanies the woman who had died to the shore where her relatives are waiting. Roslin then sees her own relatives, led by her beloved mother, waiting on the shore for her. It's not Roslin's time yet, but she wakes up feeling comforted about what is to come.
In another plotline, a cylon skin-job is shot and killed. As she's dying, someone notes that she is looking past everyone to something else. Even though this cylon is supposed to be less than human, she appears to be moving on to a different life and world promised by her God.
At the end of the episode, belief in things unseen, mysterious, or completely implausible is the connecting thread for everyone. For me, this was the richest episode of the season so far in that it dealt with other elements like forgiveness of self, forgiveness of others, and the endless cycle of violence that an eye for an eye will lead to.
But it was the look at death that made this one stand out for me. Starnge as it is to say about this usually dark TV series, I found this episode comforting, and think it will remain one of my favorites.