From the start I loved the modern iteration of Battlestar Galactica. It was gritty and exciting, filled with passion and despair.
Somewhere along the line that went wrong. And the more I think about it, the more it highlights the centrality of character to every aspect of story telling.
You’ve got to have faith?
Religion exemplified the problem with BSG.
At the start religion played an interesting role. This was a sci-fi setting in which the characters had an old-fashioned faith. Their relationship with that faith, and how it affected their understanding of current events, gave them extra depth. I loved it.
But then faith slipped over into fact. The plot started being led by ancient prophecy and holy books. The role of religion in the show had taken a radical shift, and it was one that completely changed my understanding of the characters.
Subjectivity adds depth
When their religion was a subjective matter, a faith choice on which characters could legitimately hold differing opinions, it gave them depth. It was a layer of the world that added richness, nuance and variety to the show’s diverse collection of soldiers and refugees. It made them interesting.
Destiny removes agency
When their religion became an objective matter, driving the characters towards a pre-ordained destiny, it removed that depth and took away the characters’ agency with it.
As we saw that elements in the religion were objectively true it became harder to see belief in religion as a choice characters made. It also took away the possibility for divergent views. Now a character who didn’t agree with the religion was objectively wrong and being stupid.
Worse, the element of prophecy and destiny deprived the characters of control over their own fate. They were moving towards a pre-ordained future. The choice wasn’t theirs. They were less in control of their actions, and so less interesting.
This is why I almost always hate prophecies in fiction.
What a shame
This wasn’t everything that was good about the show at the start, or that went wrong along the way. But what it highlights is that plot or setting can change our understanding of characters, strengthening or undermining them. As both writers and readers, it’s something to look out for.
So, now that I’ve got you thinking, can you see other examples where the shape of the setting directly affects the characters in this way? Share some examples, help me think this one over.
Thanks to Joe Kawano for the question that inspired this post.