Holiday Special: Eight Nights of Deus ex Machina 8: Battlestar Galactica

Whatever holidays you celebrate this season, I hope they’re wonderful and festive! Tonight is the last night of Chanukkah, meaning that it is just about time to break out the Santa hats in my household, and I’m pretty excited. In the meantime, welcome to the concluding night of the Eight Nights of Deus ex Machina holiday special.

In celebration of the many holidays this season, we’re exploring eight examples of Deus ex Machina. If you’d like to learn a bit about Deus ex Machina before reading this final example, check out the first post. On nights six and seven, we explored examples from Rick & Morty, and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Tonight, spin up the FTL Drive for a few examples from Battlestar Galactica.

Night Eight: Battlestar Galactica

On the first night of this adventure, I mentioned that many people consider Deus ex Machina to be the sign of lazy writing– a cheap out for the writer who’s written themselves into a corner. Although it can be a cheap trick in some cases, I would argue that Deus ex Machina is not inherently bad. It can add drama, excitement, and interest to a story. In many cases, it is planned out far in advance rather than being thrown in as a last minute solution.

Caprica after the bombing

In the cases of many TV epics, Deus ex Machina can come into play frequently, allowing the writers to create intense, highly interesting drama that doesn’t resolve until the last second. This technique gives writers the power to put viewers on the edge of their seats, wondering how the protagonists will get out of dire situation after dire situation. One such show that utilizes this literary device multiple times over its run is a personal favorite of mine, the 2014 reboot of Battlestar Galactica.

Throughout its four season run, Battlestar Galactica (BSG) relies on Deus ex Machina to get the protagonists out of many different situations and to progress the plot. Some instances of Deus ex Machina even serve as springboards for later plot developments. Although the series catches a lot of flack for their frequent use of this particular literary device (especially when it comes to the series finale), I feel like the writers do an excellent job of using it to generate more interest in their scifi epic.

Here are a few examples of Deus ex Machina used in BSG: (The remainder of this post will contain hefty spoilers for Battlestar Galactica. Although they won’t be world-breaking, sometimes it is just more fun to piece it all together as you watch).

Cancer Miracle Cure: Easy Come, Easy Go

The series follows the ragtag survivors of humanity following a mass attack on humanity by a robotic race called the Cylons. The attack wipes out twelve human-occupied planets, annihilating all human life in the universe aside from survivors who manage to make their way to the decommissioned military-ship-turned-museum, the Battlestar Galactica. Among the survivors is an educator named Roslin, who ends up becoming the survivors’ president due to military protocol that passes presidential power down a chain of command in case of emergency. Roslin, as it turns out, is the highest-ranking survivor of the twelve colonies.

roslin cancer

Roslin serves as the leader of what’s left of humanity for an extended time, helping make crucial decisions that could help them stay alive or lead to their demise. Unfortunately for her and humanity as a whole, Roslin develops cancer (just add one to a growing list of survival problems she faces every day). Just when it seems that Roslin will die from her illness, a miraculous event occurs: a baby is born.

The baby that ends up saving Roslin’s life belongs to military pilot Athena and her boyfriend (and mechanic) Tyrol. During its incubation, the baby manages to ruffle many feathers because its mother, Athena, is a known Cylon who happens to not want to wipe out humanity. As it happens, Cylons can’t have babies, but Athena’s body begs to differ and conceives with the Galactica’s top mechanic. When Athena gives birth, the leaders of the Galactica are concerned about the possible dangers of a half-Cylcon half-human baby could pose. They fake its death and convince the parents that their half-cylon baby didn’t survive.

baby hera

It’s fortunate for Roslin that the baby does survive. After her cancer begins to spread throughout her body, her doctor discovers that the baby’s blood contains a miracle cure for cancer that allows Roslin to recover and continue leading her people.

I loved this solution when it occured in the series, but I’ll admit that it does have its problems later on. Despite this amazing cure, Roslin’s cancer returns toward the end of the series. Instead of seeking out another half-Cylon-baby miracle, Roslin determines that she can’t be cured and eventually loses her battle with her illness. I don’t fully understand why the baby’s genetics offered a miracle cure once, but then this cure is never called upon again to save the dying president.

A Non-Lethal Shot to the Head

At another point in BSG, an improbable situation occurs that serves as the beginning of the end and allows for some major plot points to be unveiled. A character named Sam is shot in the head, but the bullet manages to miss any vitals upon entry. Instead of killing him, this improbable bullet coincidentally reawakens memories from another lifetime. These memories allow Sam to guide the Battlestar and help everyone understand more about the history of the Cylons and the ultimate fate of humanity.

Gone, but Not Dead

One of my favorite moments in BSG also offers a fantastic example of Deus ex Machina. In this situation, Galactica’s loose-cannon-of-a-pilot, Starbuck, gears up for a dangerous mission. Just like other situations where she prepares for missions with very low chances of survival, everyone encourages Starbuck not to take the mission. Following her desire to keep humanity alive even at the cost of her own life, Starbuck sets out anyway.

starbuck at viper

Starbuck has returned numerous times from improbable situations that should have killed her. Unfortunately, this is not one of those times. Everything imaginable goes wrong on Starbuck’s mission, and eventually the Galactica loses her ship’s signal entirely. It’s a devastating blow, but the crew knows they must move on if they’re going to survive.

Later on, just when the Galactica needs her again, Starbuck’s ship appears and saves the day. When Starbuck lands on deck, she’s astounded when her friends receive her with suspicion. At this point, they had all believed her dead. Her sudden reappearance leads many to believe that she is a Cylon, as the Cylons are able to resurrect after death.

Starbuck losing it

Following Starbuck’s amazing return, Starbuck finds that she has abilities and memories that she didn’t have before her disappearance. She becomes convinced that the Galactica needs to travel in a specific direction in order to find a safe home to land, and can’t stop herself from repetitively painting what looks like the eye of Jupiter. Her random visions help guide the ship’s navigations from here on out.




I’ve seen many forum posts and series reviews complaining about the various instances of Deus ex Machina in BSG (especially when it comes to the ending). I can see where these complaints come in, but to me, these instances were moments of intense drama and fun. I genuinely enjoyed these moments in the series and actively participated in creating my own explanations for why these situations might have taken place. Overall, I feet like the Deus ex Machina in the series enhances the viewer experience rather than detracting from it.


Do you have a favorite example of Deus ex Machina in pop culture? Share it in the comments! You can also connect on Twitter at @Popliterary, or send a message on the “contact me” page.

And as always, if you have a literary device you want to know more about, or a game, comic, show, or movie that you want to see make an appearance on the blog, leave a shout-out in the comments!

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