As a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction, it’s no surprise that I find myself drawn to it when it appears, sometimes in unexpected places. My current favorite television programs, Lost and Battlestar Galactica, while strictly not post-apocalyptic in the way most people expect, still contain many of the elements that make post-apocalyptic fiction so attractive.
Battlestar Galactica is the easier case to make in this respect (especially after the recent season premiere). The overall story begins with the destruction of most of humanity, leaving the survivors to search for a new home. While most of the trappings of the show are science fictional—space ships and robots and jump drives—it also has the kind of retro look that we see in post-apocalyptic fiction—transistor radios and phones, for example. While BSG lacks the backdrop of a shattered planet (well, most of the time) and the images of survivors climbing through ruins (again, most of the time), it is still, at heart, a post-apocalyptic story of people trying to find a home in the face of a social collapse. It’s ultimately a story of hope and one that succeeds in being one. Against the science fiction backdrop, amidst a struggle for survival that has turned into a war, Battlestar is still a story of humans. A story about what it means to be a human. And whether humanity is something that is solely the province of our race. And that’s one of the things I enjoy most about post-apocalyptic fiction. It’s often about the preservation of the human race, but a compelling subtext is the question of whether the human race is worth saving, and of the search for what is worth saving.
Hope, you say? But I watched the premiere last Friday and I saw no hope there! True, the writers seem to be now playing with the idea of the collapse of hope. In a way, the show is more post-apocalyptic now than ever (especially considering the image of a ruined earth complete with blast shadow). Before, humanity had to recover from an external threat. Now they are struggling with something far more internal. Still, I think that the hopeful element exists. That is why we still watch, to see where they go from here. Or else the Galactica would likely be scattered all over Earth’s surface already.
Which brings me to Lost. Some might scoff at the idea of Lost as a post-apocalyptic show—it takes place in the present day, doesn’t it? But look at the existence of the Lostees on the island so far. They survived a cataclysmic event, a plane crash, were marooned on an island with very few amenities or supplies, and must explore a region filled with strange creatures, marauding bands, and the remnants of old technology. For the Lostees, their world is starkly post-apocalyptic. They must find a way to survive and to co-exist. They must form their own society, their own chain of command, and they must do it amidst threatening circumstances. One key difference is that, for some of them at least, they have the hope, the real hope, of returning to human society. The return to civilization is much easier than in the typical post-apocalyptic story.
Or is it?
Lost isn’t really about the world that we inhabit. It’s about the world of these characters. And as those who watched last season saw, that return to civilization is not quite as easy as it seemed. Alongside the wreckage of the airplane crash lies the wreckage of the characters’ lives and it’s their struggle to work their way through that ruined landscape that makes the show more than just an island survival story.
Like Battlestar, the case could be made that Lost, with the new season, is even more post-apocalyptic. For those still on the island, the amenities they’d come to count on—the shelters, the supplies, the methods and procedures they’ve been used to—are no longer in play. They must learn all over again how to survive. And they must do it in an environment that is continuously changing.
I’ve talked previously about post-apocalyptic settings and their future. I wonder after looking at these two examples if instead of full-blown post-apocalyptic worlds, we’ll see more examples like these—settings with post-apocalyptic flavor, but with a slightly different focus. Me, I’d be a fan of both.
Battlestar Galactica Season 4.5 (the last run of the series) is currently airing Fridays at 10 PM (Eastern) on the SciFi Channel. Lost’s 5th season airs Wednesdays at 9 PM (Eastern) on ABC.