The freakishly popular television series Battlestar Galactica is nothing if not addictive (it can take over your whole life, apparently). It has its ups and downs, of course—feverish, 24-style plot-twists (yay!) matched up with often creepy, tongues-a-blazing sex sequences (boo!) and God-talk that can verge on self-parody. And yet … we must. keep. watching.
We were cruising through Season 2 when, last night, I had an epiphany. Arguably the two most interesting of the show’s characters are Sharon “Boomer” Valeri, a fighter pilot who turns out to be the enemy, a semi-human Cylon; and Dr. Gaiuis Baltar, an endlessly worrying, waffling, whining scientific “genius”* who is madly in love with a different semi-human Cylon, a blonde bombshell who goes only by Number Six. What makes these “people” interesting is that they are forced to travel across cultures—from human to Cylon, or vice versa—in order to survive. Boomer falls in love with a human and decides, against her nature, to assist the Good Guys, while Baltar seems under the spell of the Cylons’ religion (or is it just their hot bodies?) and struggles with his own loyalties.
Blah blah blah, I know. But this is exactly the story of Virginia, and the New World more generally. The historian Karen Kupperman employs these cultural back-and-forths as one of the central themes of her book The Jamestown Project (2007). She writes of a number of people “who found themselves placed involuntarily in cross-cultural situations—often at radically different destinations from those they intended—where the ones who survived lived by their wits.”
Take the story of the Spanish conquistador Juan Ortiz, for example, who was captured by Indians in present-day Florida, and rescued a number of years later, but only after he had almost entirely “gone native.” He mostly had forgotten even how to speak Spanish! He ended up joining back up with his fellow Spaniards, but then died a few years later. Or how about the story of Paquiquineo, the Indian who joined the Spaniards, converted to Christianity, and then, nine years later, returned to Virginia, only to kill the missionaries?
These are much the same stories as Boomer and Baltar, recycled from history into science fiction. It’s hardly a new trope, but does allow for a real and sometimes deep examination of what it means to live.
Oh, and speaking of recycling stories, the image above shows one episode in the tale of our man Ortiz: when an Indian woman, the daughter of a chief, in fact, saves him from execution. Hmmmm … where have I heard that before?
* This show asserts his genius while only ever demonstrating the opposite.
ABOUT THAT HEADLINE: Regarding “limn,” I give you “I Am Michiko Kakutani.” Regarding “frak,” I give you the Battlestar Wiki.
IMAGES: Top: (left to right) Sharon “Boomer” Valeri (Grace Park), Dr. Gauis Baltar (James Callis), and Number Six (Triccia Helfer) from the television series Battlestar Galactica; bottom: “Martyrdom of Johannes Baptista de Segura” in Matthias Tanner, Societas Jesu usque Ad sanguinis et vitae profusionem militans (Prague, 1675); “Indian Princess Saving the Life of John Ortiz” (Philadelphia J. T. Lloyd, 1859)