Last week, National Geographic made a surprise cameo in the pivotal closing moments of the series finale of Battlestar Galactica , the SciFi Channel series that tracks humanity's search through space for a new home after cyborgs called Cylons destroy their home planet. The episode ended with a 150,000-year flash-forward to modern-day New York City. So what had seemed to be a futuristic show was actually prehistoric. The humans of Battlestar Galactica were our ancestors, not our descendants.
Viewers saw executive producer Ronald Moore at a newsstand reading a special mockup issue (above), created by our art department and using text provided by the show. Fans may note that the text of the mockup is different from the text on the show. The producers made some additional changes so the magazine explains how an archaeologist discovered the fossilized remains of “Hera,” a half-human, half-Cylon child who landed on planet Earth with the rest of the survivors. The suggestion is that Hera is also "mitochondrial Eve”—the name scientists give to the genetic mother of humanity. Which means that in the world of Battlestar Galactica , we humans are all part robot!
This scene has the fanosphere, and Battlestar fans on our staff, abuzz. We talked with executive producers Ronald Moore and David Eick to get the back story.
Battlestar Galactica fans at the magazine were pretty excited to see the magazine in the final moments of the series. Why did you put this pivotal information about Hera being mitochondrial Eve in National Geographic ?
Ronald Moore: We wanted the last voiceover to be in the form of a journalistic article. It was about an archaeological find. It was in Africa, and we wanted it to have a beautiful map on it. It felt like National Geographic was the obvious choice.
Are you regular readers?
Moore: I'm not a subscriber, but I've read it down through the years. I used to have a big stack of them, used to leaf through it. The photography was always outstanding, and inevitably there was some article that would grab your attention make you sit down and actually read it.
In particular, did you read our March 2006 article about tracking human migrations via genetic mutations? This line in particular seems resonant: "Scientists now calculate that all living humans are related to a single woman who lived roughly 150,000 years ago in Africa, a 'mitochondrial Eve.' "
Moore: When I was doing research online culling through different references, I think I did get linked to that article at some point. I remember there being an article and I think it was an archived National Geographic article that I stumbled across while looking up information on the concept. That line kind of sounds familiar.
You did your research online but the characters are reading the magazine at the newsstand.
Moore: It's just more visual. It’s more interesting. And we wanted it to be outside and on the street. It was either that or they're reading it off their iPhone and that didn't quite seem as interesting.
Some fans think the finale switcheroo—the show is set in the far past, not the distant future, with Hera as our ancestor—was inspired by a National Geographic article, and that when Ronald Moore is on camera reading the magazine, that shows the moment when you came up with the idea for the finale.
David Eick: Oh, you mean reading an article and then being inspired to go make Battlestar ?
Eick and Moore: No
Moore: Nice theory but, no.
Eick: I have to say is that is one of the more interesting theories that I have heard, as wrong as it is. That's a fascinating one.
If Hera, who is half-Cylon and half-human, is mitochondrial Eve, then we are all a little bit Cylon, right?
Moore: Yeah. The idea was that all of us are related to both the colonials and the Cylons. And in essence Battlestar is a bit of family history for everyone.
Eick: It's also sort of uncharacteristically positive and optimistic message because we had labored in the early part of the season to establish this mythology that the reason why the Cylons couldn't procreate is because love was necessary. They had all the biological equipment but didn't have the emotional connection. It's like the Beatles' song writ large: All you need is love. Love is all you need.
And so the idea that we are all partly Cylon sort of reinforces the notion that only through love could human and Cylon procreate, so on some base level that's kind of what makes us who we are.
In the “article,” archaeologists don’t find other artifacts, like high tech flight suits that the pilots wore when they got to earth.
Moore: They just haven't been digging enough.
Starbuck—the hotshot pilot who died and then was alive again, and in the finale just vanishes—has people asking, what exactly was she?
Moore: You know we just made a decision to be ambiguous about exactly what Starbuck was. That there was a certain mystery about who and what she was. I liked the note that we ended on. She knew that her journey was over. She had completed her destiny, and it was time to leave. I mean we also know that she literally died and was resurrected. And that there is a certain obvious resonance with a certain Christian myth and notions of life after death. Ultimately she's connected to the divine. She's connected to something else that we can't quite understand or connect with fully. And the more you try to explain it the less satisfying it becomes.
A signature detail in the pre-Earth civilization is that papers don't have right angles. Do you think our magazine’s yellow border would look as good with the corners cut off?
Moore: I think so.
Eick: No. This is where we vehemently disagree.
What do the humans in the show have against right angles on paper anyway?
Moore: Now that's one of the deepest mysteries of the entire show. That is the Da Vinci Code of Battlestar Galactica.
Eick: That's purposely left unsolved just to torture the fans. All I know is the prop guy from the miniseries who had that idea lived in infamy for the next five years, with assistants shaving corners off of everything in sight, saying "I want to strangle whoever had this idea."
“Frak” is a common swear word in the series. Now that we know the series took place 150,000 years ago–what happened to the word “frak”?
Moore: That's a good question no one's ever asked me. When did frak get dropped? I don't know.
Are you familiar with the Genographic project that the National Geographic Society runs? You can submit a cheek swab and trace your ancestry–maybe all the way back to mitochondrial Eve. The staff would like to send you a kit if you’re interested.
Moore: Sure. That would be fascinating.
Eick: Yeah I'd love to do that. It sounds great.
Images in Magazine Mock-up: National Geographic stock