All Part of God’s Plan

They're all in blocky Heaven now.

Initially, my plan for today was to review the first episode of “Lost” I’ve ever watched all the way through — which for most people was the last episode of the series. While it seems clear to me that the events of the Island happened and the characters were reconnecting in a place before death, there’s something else that popped into my mind while watching the show:

“It’s all part of God’s Plan.”

The presence of the church, the presentation of a traditional Heaven, all the scuttle I’ve read about the Island being a sort of Purgatory, and a character named John Locke all lead me back to something I’ve never really discussed in an open Internet forum: the end of “Battlestar Galactica” and the problem of God in drama.

Early on in the series, in fact, its third hour, we are introduced to the possibility of a supernatural force exerting its will upon the characters. The Six in Gaius Baltar’s head makes it clear that God has a plan for him. The series actually follows through on that. God’s Plan consisted of Gaius taking a child into Galactica’s CIC so the final acts of violence between man and machine could be carried out.

Hu-wah?

He took a child for a walk

Early in my writing education, I was warned about three endings that are, without a doubt, bad.

  1. It was all a dream.
  2. They were all cows.
  3. God did it.

These endings are cheap ways out. Each allow you to shrug aside your narrative burden as a writer to some unknowable thing in the hopes your audience will be so awed by your leap of cleverness that you never have to account for events in your story. Why did Della forget she had access to the back account? It was all part of God’s Plan. Why did Alex become a completely different looking person half way through? Dream logic. Wait, these characters I became involved with despite a conspicuous lack of description were otters all along? Why were they working for an accounting firm?

Oh, it was all part of God’s Plan.

While some would say “God’s Plan” works because the Almighty is, by definition, unknowable, it breaks the rules of good drama. By bringing God into the mix, he — and I’m consciously choosing to use a male pronoun — becomes an actor within the confines of a narrative reality. God has to obey rules like any other character and his abilities and limits must be defined. By invoking him, an author imbues the Lord with human qualities and goals. The words “God’s Plan” are not enough. The burden is now on the author to justify calling down God into his story.

Star employees at Randolph and Lowe

Galactica fails to do that because it sat on the fence in regards to the existence of God. While the Cylon characters certainly had their faith, the people behind the show wanted to have a way out of that solution. Looking back on the show, it’s interesting to see how little faith they actually had in their own premise. Consider all the narrative cul-de-sacs with Lee Adama, the complete waste of New Caprica as a setting, the abandonment of Caprica 6’s pregnancy or the last minute patch job explaining why we never see model #7 and the show is crushed under its own weight.

But no worries, it’s all part of God’s Plan.

What does this have to do with the end of “Lost?” Well, a fair amount, actually. While always trying to maintain that it was a drama, “Galactica” became obsessed with its own mysteries at the end. Was Starbuck dead? What was the meaning of the opera house? Why do characters hear “All Along the Watchtower?” These, and other questions, drove the bulk of the final season and none of those answers truly feel organic. They also sacrifice the characters. Except for Bill Adama, Rosslyn, and perhaps Anders, the rest of the characters are just abandoned. Like Kara Thrace, they just evaporate whether they state a goal for themselves or not. From my one episode of “Lost,” I get that the core characters never disappear. The ending focuses on them instead of answering a lot of questions about the island’s mysteries. I’ll admit after giving “Galactica” my faith, having no mysteries resolved is refreshing.

All part of the blocky plan

The greatest mistake “Galactica” made was announcing the existence of “The Plan” at the beginning of every episode. Despite the fact that series Grand Poobah Ronald D. Moore would mention on his podcast every week that he left the overall design of the series very loose, the pre-credit announcement of “The Plan” was a covenant with the audience. While I’m sure “Lost” fans will say there was a similar pact, the show does not promise answers or a greater design in and of itself. Its title sequence consists of a single word that delivers on its promise. Both shows flew by the seats of their pants, but only one definitely told you there would be a grand design.

The rules of TV narrative changed during the run of “Lost” allowing for both it and “Galactica” to end. Both ABC and SciFi (as it was known at the time), let the people behind both shows to choose their endpoints instead of continuing to milk the concepts into complete irrelevancy and the loss of their audiences (see “Heroes” for that example). Both shows end with a definitive belief in an invisible world beyond our comprehension. While “Lost” is successful by keeping its mysteries in tact, “Galactica” failed by encouraging you to have faith in solutions.

I suppose it was all part of God’s Plan.

About Erik

Erik Amaya is the host of Tread Perilously and the former Head Film/TV writer at Bleeding Cool. He has also contributed to sites like CBR, Comics Alliance and Fanbase Press. He is also the voice of Puppet Tommy on "The Room Responds."
This entry was posted in Projected Pixels and Emulsion and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to All Part of God’s Plan

  1. bluedrew says:

    Having managed to miss both series (where do I turn in my geek card, BTW…I’m sure it’s been revoked), I’m writing from a place of ignorance, but I’m curious. Back in my school days, I remember being taught that there were 4 main conflicts in fiction. Man vs. man, man vs. society, man vs. nature and man vs. self. Somewhere along the way, the third one was morphed into man vs. God/nature. I don’t know if that was just me or if I was actually taught it by someone. Anyway, what I’m curious about is whether what you are talking about would be characterized as poor use of the man vs. God/nature conflict, or if you’re just talking about using God as an unasailable excuse to explain undue weirdness.

    • Erik says:

      It’s more the latter. In the case of Galactica, God is used as a patch over hole the writers dug themselves into it. His “plan” was a get out of jail free card. An actual man vs. god plot will have god defined and explained by necessity. This is why people always go back to the Book of Job.

      Once God becomes an active participant in a drama, he might as well be Liam Neeson in a suit of armor shouting “Release the Kraken!”

  2. Justin says:

    First off, kudos for eviscerating the ending of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

    Secondly, I think the comparison between Lost and BSG is an apt one, because I think that despite a lot of similarities, they are exact opposites. Both are SF shows with large doses of fantasy, both maintained interest with maddening mysteries and both had their best episodes (33 and Walkabout) extremely early in their run.

    Over at the AV Club, Noel Murray has made a compelling argument that Lost is a story about stories, but I don’t agree. I think Lost is a story about questions. The questions of the show matter far more than the answers. The show left the whole struggle between good and evil refreshingly ambiguous, especially when Hurley (the last truly good person on the Island) became Number One and Ben (a weasely little sociopath that should have been put down ages ago) became Number Two.

    I’ll happily rant about the various dead ends, cop outs and Unkillable Russian Moments, but fundamentally, if you look at Lost as a show about questions, it’s a more satisfying experience. It’s pretty far from a perfect show, but on the whole I’d say a worthy one.

    • Erik says:

      Except the ending of Raiders points out the danger of calling upon the Lord. Belloch’s believes he can control the thunder once he summons it. He believes he has the upper hand over the Nazis and Indiana Jones. The power of the Ark will have none of that and his head explodes as a consequence. Another key difference, God’s power does appear to specifically save Indy from a plot hole. It’s there to swat the pesky ants who figured out how to use the radio.

      • Clint says:

        I’m guessing you meant to say “God’s power doesn’t” instead of does. Plus I always got a really palpable sense that if Marion or Indy had kept their eyes open they would have been just as fucked as the Nazis, considerations of good or evil aside.

        Besides God, BSG just had all sorts of incredibly weird things happen at the end. Starbuck being a ghost/hallucination? The prez having the most peaceful, painless cancer death ever, without a lick of painkillers present? For that matter, the choice to completely, universally abandon all technology. Yeah, okay, tech led eventually to Cylons… who just agreed to leave in peace. What if they change their minds and come back when all you’ve got is pointy sticks? For Adama not even to take that into consideration seemed really lazy, if not a complete character discard.

        For that matter, technology also provides things like antibiotics and vaccines. Smallpox rejoices. But I don’t know that humanity should. BSG seemed to end in a miasma of cyclical spiritualism, naive hippie bullshit, and just plain WTF that had me staring at the screen in disbelief, capped off with Six and Baltar strolling down a modern day street and burying any possible point except that God’s plan is just to repeatedly fuck with us by starting us over from nothing. Like Groundhog Day without the opportunity for actually getting it “right”.

        Lost was always about the WTF, so any WTF at the end would just be more par for the course. As for Raiders, if you really want a plot hole, ponder how Indy made that submarine ride without drowning or being captured.

      • Justin says:

        No? Then why didn’t Indy untie himself and save the day? Didn’t have to. The machine opened up and released the Krake… er… God.

  3. bluedrew says:

    A really good series of stories that deals with the Man v. God conflict is The Star of the Guardians series by Margaret Weis. I think it’s out of print, and on the surface it looks a little too much like Star Wars (laser swords, mind powers, etc.) to have much hope of being adapted for any screen, but if you follow it through to the fourth book, you get a pretty funky interaction between the spiritual and the physical.

  4. Justin says:

    Raiders ends with the most literal instance of deus ex machina I’ve ever seen. It’s bad storytelling… fortunately, the VERY end (the warehouse scene) is incredibly good, so we mostly forget about that last part. I do enjoy the idea of the Judeo-Christian god being more of a Cthulhoid entity, though.

    But yes, BSG was about a thousand times worse. It also has an incredibly memorable VERY end, only instead of something bold and fascinating, it contains the message: Don’t drop your ipod, or it will blow up the earth.

    • Clint says:

      The warehouse ending to Raiders is a gem, I completely agree. I don’t know what your own reasons are, but for me a big part of it is that, for once, the “bureaucratic fools” of the government do exactly the right thing. They don’t muck around studying the Ark, or parading it as a trophy… they just re-bury it.

      Sorry, Indy. The Ark does not belong in a museum.

    • Tim says:

      I’d say Raiders is one the few times that a deus ex machina actually worked. Is it bad storytelling because the protagonist isn’t the one to resolve the conflict? I guess, but it’s such as an awesome scene that I’m willing to forgive the deviation in dramatic formula.

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