Friday, 3 April 2009

End of Series Review - Battlestar Galactica

It's been quite a ride. Two weeks ago Ronald D. Moore and his showrunning team unveiled the resolution of their epic sci fi drama Battlestar Galactica, which has, over the last four years, taken us from elation to frustration and back again. It was fair to assume that the finale would provide several things; big action, much death, that weird version of "All Along The Watchtower" that is only recognisable as such because Dylan's lyrics have been clumsily shoe-horned into the surrounding dialogue in ever-more-ridiculous ways. What wasn't clear was whether the resolution would swing the needle of my enthusiasm-o-meter back to despair. For the sake of that investment in several hours of TV, I really hoped Moore had saved the best for last. To give you a hint of my feelings about the finale, here is Tigh to give voice to my inner me.

I've detailed my frustrations and hopes before, hopefully with some kind of optimistic clarity. As we knew that there were only a few episodes left, there was more chance that pointless and tedious digressions would be absent, replaced by some propulsive, plot-heavy action. From time to time that's what we got, with the mutiny two-parter providing some action and dramatic resolutions, as well as that familiar failing of sci fi TV: clumsily enacted moments of machismo designed to please the kind of nerds who consider Red Dwarf to be the acme of sophisticated humour. I can forgive that when it's the wonderful Edward James Olmos doing it, but a lot of the cast has always struggled to sell the sillier action beats. As much as I enjoyed those episodes, and loved the Zarek/Gaeta drama, I sure did cringe at times.

Overall, though, this season was about the reckoning between the questions posed and the answers given, and whether they would be satisfying or not. The success of the whole series hinged on that, in much the same way that Lost will next year. As that show continues its stellar run, my hopes remain high. BSG, on the other hand, has flirted with throwing me from the saddle a number of times. Thus I went in with lower expectations, thinking I would be left unsatisfied by the answers. Nevertheless, I don't think I expected something this half-arsed and silly, and I certainly didn't expect that those frustrations would be mixed with moments so satisfying that I would yelp, shout, and sob. Even so, it’s telling that the most potent visual of the finale - a shot of an exhausted and broken Galactica flopping about in space with flotsam and jetsam falling of it - was an accidental metaphor for the show as a whole. What had seemed for years to have been a sturdy and dependable machine was riddled with invisible flaws that, with its final surge to the finish, snapped into pieces.

I will say one thing, though: I'm kinda glad that my attention began to waver a couple of seasons back, as greater investment in the show might have been a waste of time. Though the mind-scrambling exposition-storm that was No Exit made very little sense to me due to insufficient obsession with the mythology, it also meant that I was less likely to be horribly disappointed by any failure to answer questions to my satisfaction. In the days following its broadcast, some fans have been very angry or upset, and others have defended it on forums or comment sections. Some of the points made are fair. Some of the fanwanking might have something to it. Nevertheless, with alarming regularity people will excuse one plot-point or another with a comment about "suspending disbelief", stressing how the lazy answers didn't bother them, often in a tone that suggests they really really bothered them but they don't want to admit it for fear of allowing into their brains the possibility that a lot of the leeway they have given the show in the past was undeserved.

[Canyon - Or they suggest that you're a pathetic idiot for expecting or wanting answers at all. You see, it's all about the human drama, and the show's creators are above having to answer your pathetic little questions about the numerous plot points they raised and then didn't bother to answer because they're fucking lazy and don't seem to think it matters to maybe plan ahead on a multi-year story when you can say OH WELL IT WAS GOD at the end of it all. Except when the human drama's power is ruined by saying that none of that drama mattered because God did it, and some of the humans were angels all along! Some were corporeal and seen by everyone and some were only seen by one person and couldn't touch anyone but God, God did it! IT WAS GOD, OKAY, HE IS MYSTERIOUS AND CAN COME OUT OF ANY BOX HE WANTS AND JUST ACCEPT IT NYAH NYAH NYAH I CAN'T HEEAAAARRR YOOOUUUU. Hm, I'm a bit angrier about this than I thought I was.]

Since the end of the second season I have been more and more critical of it, thinking that season finale, packed as it was with huge events and compressed time, was a sign of a lack of strong leadership in the writing room. Coming after weeks of treading water, massive amounts of plot were crammed in, when they might have worked better spread out through the weeks before. It was about that time that I started to fret that Moore wasn't paying enough attention to the show, and realised I was having trouble keeping track of the mythology, not to mention some of the motivations of the characters. Over time the characters became a little sketchier, and I realised some of them could do pretty much anything and I wouldn't be able to judge whether or not they were acting in or out of character. Who is Helo? An angry guy in love with a Cylon? Was there much else there? What about Tyrol? Another angry guy in love with a Cylon? And Anders? A confused guy who turned out to be a Cylon a few episodes after I had forgotten he was in the show. I've said it before and I'll say it again; I dropped this show from my hyper-fandom list when I realised that I only cared about what happened to Bill Adama, Laura Roslin and Gaius Baltar. The rest of the crew could have stayed on New Caprica and I wouldn't have noticed. Though that might have robbed us of the delightfully grouchy Romo Lampkin, an instant fan favourite played by Mark Sheppard.

By the time the third season had rolled around, I was getting confused on a weekly basis, especially when various different models of Cylons appeared with only hair colour to distinguish them. I would have been able to follow the various characters if I'd been more enthused, but by the time Tyrol was wandering around a temple talking about prophecy, my patience had worn too thin. By then I was only hanging on in the hope that the third season finale would kickstart the show again, but what we got was worse than too much plot. We got a little plot, and a lot of silliness. Dylan? The improbable reveal of the four Galactica Cylons? Starbuck's return (as she was my least favourite character on the show, I was greatly displeased by that)? Only the courtroom scenes during Baltar's trial interested me, even if the resolution, with Baltar acquitted, struck me as a stretch.

It was becoming apparent that the show was being made up on the fly with no one keeping an eye on continuity -- surely a deadly decision for something with a mythology almost as complex as Lost. I'm not one of these fools who thinks the entire show has to be mapped out to the last comma before the first frame of film has been exposed, and I'm not assuming shows cannot ever make course adjustments (as that would be delusional), but a common refrain from BSG acolytes was that Lost was being conjured up episode by episode and that immense continuity could not be trusted (a criticism that seems ever more hollow and wrong with every new episode of Lost), while BSG was being planned with meticulous care and attention. I'd long suspected that was not the case, as the details of the mythology were being disseminated in such a random fashion, with nothing being explained for weeks at a time and then thrown at us in mad splurges, something that was happening long before the insane episode No Exit, which was ten episodes worth of revelation packed into 45 minutes of hectic talking. To add insult to injury, that was the episode that made a mockery of Moore’s previous claims about the origins of the Cylons, which he gave during an interview with The Fandom.

The idea is not that there was likely an original human model that they were copied from. The idea was that these models of Cylon were sort of developed out of their own study of us. The Cylons on some level looked at humanity and said 'You know what? There's really only twelve of you.' If these are the twelve, and sort of if you look at them they each represent different archetypes of what humanity is.

When Tyrol was named as a Cylon, I lost faith entirely. As he is married to a human, did that mean there were now two hybrid children? One of the funniest moments in the fourth season came when Tyrol found out his child was actually the daughter of Cally and Hotdog. As retcons go, it was pretty shameless. Anyone thinking it had been planned in advance would probably be upset to hear Ronald D. Moore admit that it was a retcon in this interview with Maureen Ryan:

MR: Why did you need to establish that Nicky is not the Chief’s baby?

RDM: Well, we’re starting to sort of resolve some of the plot threads and provide answers to things and one of the questions was, “Is Hera the only hybrid, the only Cylon-human child, or not?” If Nicky was a Cylon-human child, what does that mean? Now there’s two of them. It was important to the mythology of the show that only Hera be the only one. We had always sort of said that.

MR: So you had to sort of retrofit...

RDM: Yeah, we had to retrofit that. We knew that was going to be a problem back when we decided that Tyrol was a Cylon. We said, “OK, how are we going to deal with that?” And [someone] said, “Well, maybe at some point we just find out Tyrol’s not the father.” And we all kind of laughed. And then we said, “Actually, that’s a very elegant solution to it.” We just say, “Tyrol’s not the father,” and we move on.

And that’s kind of how the show is. We take these gambles, then we take time to make sure it fits in with what we’ve got. Or we try to at least address it and make it fit into what we’ve got, so the mosaic is still consistent.

Just to makes things even more shambolic, Moore had to explain away the Cylon numbering inconsistency with another hastily added line of dialogue about how an entire Cylon line was boxed because of Reason X. They couldn't keep the numbers straight? And then had to pass it off like this? From what I can gather, the real fans were adamant that this was a fake-out, and Daniel really would appear, or was Starbuck's father (which would mean Cylons could have kids after all, thus rendering the majority of the show moot).

Why am I banging on about this when most people already know it? Partially because I'm a Lost fan who is still stinging at being called a big jerk for loving it by fans of a show that was often guilty of the crimes they think the time-travelling network show has committed. Mostly it's because it gets at the heart of why the series finale was such an exasperating experience. No matter how much I had despaired of the sticking-plaster fixes littering the final season, I still suspected the finale would give real answers to the questions posed throughout. It became obvious a while back that the easiest way to resolve all of the mysteries is to involve a higher being, something that was guiding all of their paths, or, as with Lost, time had been bending back on itself which explained why the characters were seemingly our descendants in the future while also being our ancestors in the past. As with a lot of speculative fiction, I looked forward to finding out what that force was, even if the explanation was potentially hokey.

I could never have imagined that Moore would have the "God" character be nothing more than "God". That's all. The humans were guided by God. So were the Cylons. The visions were angels. Starbuck was an angel. Moments of vast import, such as the Opera House and the song and Hera, were little more than plot devices to manoeuvre the characters into position one incremental step at a time. Why didn't God, who was obviously greatly invested in this whole shebang, get more directly involved? Oh, that's right. "It" moves in mysterious ways. Just like our God! Suddenly the reasoning here is just as reliable as the religious tale-telling in the real world.

Listen, I can fanwank like a champ. I'm King Fanwanker. I've done it for so many shows and films and books and comics that it isn't even funny. I can make up primo fanwank at the drop of a hat. Sometimes it's even convincing. However, Moore's decision to explain away every single mysterious occurrence with the explanation that, "It's God's will" doesn't make those things mysterious or worth pondering. When you take time out to explain why there was such sturm und drang about Hera's significance, you're just making excuses for the show, not pondering its ambiguity.

Why the visions? “God willed it!” What is the Opera House? “It's a vision of the CIC!” Why? “Erm, because it was important!” What significance did it have before that? “Importance!” But how did it affect the character's actions in the finale? “It got them to the CIC, obviously. Duh!” But it didn't; Hera did, just because she was running in a certain direction. “That's because of God's will, stupid!” And what part did she ultimately play in the final confrontation? “She transcribed the song that gets them home!” Couldn't Starbuck have done that? Shouldn't she have done that, seeing as she's an angel or emissary of God or something? Maybe she isn't, in which case why is she having visions and disappearing all the time? “Dude, because she's not an angel! She's something else!” But what? You can't just explain that away with the phrase, "Stop overthinking it!" Fiction needs rules to mean something. This, in its final moments, ended up meaning nothing, and that nothing is not restricted to this one episode. It cascades backwards, through the whole show. Moore either didn’t know where he was going, or knew all along. If it’s the latter, that taints everything that has gone before.

Too harsh? Imagine if this had happened in other stories you love. At the end of Die Hard John McClane is about to jump off the Nakatomi building, and says, "Oh, God. Please don't let me die." Sounds like a prayer to me. Imagine if, after doing everything we know and love (such as shooting Huey Lewis in the brains), he goes downstairs with Holly, gets to meet Al, and then, just as they're about to leave, Karl bursts free of his captors, trains his Steyr Aug at McClane, and a girder falls out of nowhere and crushes him. Straight after that, Ellis appears at McClane's side and say, "I owed you one, Johnboy," and then disappears. Weak metaphysical sauce.

The other problem with the God solution is that it doesn't add unexplainable mystery to the show. Critics aren't complaining that the questions haven't been answered; they're complaining that they have been answered, and badly. There is nothing to debate or mull over. It was just God's will all along. There's not a wide range of interesting theories you can come up with to explain away the peculiarities of the show. There's just one answer; God wanted it that way. And there's only one question that arises from that; why did God do all of this complicated stuff to guide humanity? And that has the same inconclusive, vague, and unsatisfying answers that the real world faces. Maybe someone wracked with faith would love the finale, as they can feel a deep connection with this explanation. Good for them. However, in the real world, according to their belief system, these questions are asked of a mysterious God who will reward you with eternal life for putting up with his confusing message. With regard to BSG, you're defending a fallible human who offers you nothing except a spin-off starring Eric Stoltz.

That doesn't quite apply to Starbuck, though. Moore's plan for her could only have been more vague if Katee Sackhoff had been required to spend the last season communicating through a series of shrugs. I am very pleased that Starbuck saves the day by playing Keyboard Hero (All Along The Watchtower on Hard, 2% complete), which sends Galactica to our Earth. It was obvious for weeks that something like this would happen, and I don't think that's bad per se, though some have complained, which made the fans come out in defence by saying Lost was guilty of something similar when Charlie turned off the Looking Glass station by inputting Good Vibrations. The difference there being that the console had been programmed by a musician, and not God. And that didn't include Starbuck programming the machine and saying, "There must be some kinda way outta here," which was so painful to see that I unleashed a cat-scaring "NOOOOOOOO!" that shook the very heavens even unto their foundations.

Anyway, yay Starbuck, right? This moment, with her saving humanity, was brilliantly foreshadowed in Razor, when, according to Battlestar Wiki, a Cylon hybrid states that Starbuck is "the herald of the apocalypse and the harbinger of death, that she would lead the human race to its end, and that she is not to be followed". A mistake, right? Let's just take a moment to read everything Moore has to say about that in this interview. Apologies for putting it all in there, but I think it's all very salient.

Maureen Ryan: I know that you don’t let yourself be guided by what you think the fan reaction might be, and you do what you feel is right for the show, but the ending of Kara – her just disappearing like that. That’ll certainly be a starting point for debate.

Ronald D. Moore: Oh yeah, it’ll be controversial. There will be people who will absolutely hate it and think that we failed in our mission. We debated it in the [writers] room, I thought about it a long time, and I had sort of the same answer. And the more I struggled to give definition to it, the less satisfying it became. There various avenues we went down, discussions, saying she’s specifically this or that. And every time it felt uninteresting and kind of pedestrian.

It felt like, if she’s truly connected to the Eternal, if she’s connected to this other power, this other thing in the universe, as long as you know she’s connected to it and she’s fulfilled her destiny, brought us to this place, brought us to two Earths, really, that’s enough. That should just be left to your imagination, left to your inquiry, left you to try to fill in the blanks we leave. That was my answer and I’m sure -- I know – people will debate it.

MR: It worked for me, but I also wondered, has she been a Head character this whole time?

RDM: That’s a legitimate way to look at it too. We talked about that, that is a legitimate way to read it.

MR: But the Head characters can’t actually interact with the world, so it’s not quite that.

RDM: This is a different thing, so it doesn’t fit neatly into that category either.

MR: The more I think about it, the more I think the Starbuck debate might set the Internets on fire.

RDM: I have more than accepted the fact that there will be people who will never quite get over that.

MR: I had this experience the day after the finale, I was walking around in New York and became very emotional all of a sudden. I was thinking of that final scene between Adama and Kara and Lee and then the moment where Kara winks out of existence, and I thought of the phrase, "The father, the son and the Holy Ghost." Having been raised Catholic, that just had so much resonance for me.

RDM: Yeah. I think it's rooted firmly in traditions like that. We talked about that about that very idea, the Trinity, and Kara as somehow being representative or at least connected to that idea. We talked a lot about the resurrection of Christ and its mythology and how that plays into a woman who literally dies and comes back to life for a certain purpose and then leaves again and gives hope that there is something else. She sort of lives in all those kinds of thoughts.

MR: And thank you for making her a woman.

RDM: Yeah. [laughs] There you go.

MR: You're really a pagan, that's what it is.

RDM: Yeah, I kind of am.

MR: There's part of you that likes ticking off the fans a little bit, right? [laughs] Do you ever anticipate it? Are there moments when you go, "I'm OK with this development, it works for me, and I think it'll really tick people off!"

RDM: As long as I'm pretty secure in what it is and the reasons why we're doing it, as long as we're not doing it just to tick them off. This is very much in that ballpark. We had lots of discussions about it, we explored lots of different avenues, and they were just all unsatisfying. If she just sprouted wings and flew up to the clouds, it would not be a satisfying ending. It just wouldn't. We never heard and I have yet to hear a concrete definition of Kara Thrace that becomes more satisfying than what we have.

What we have a has a sort of poetry and mystery to it and preserves the mystery and sort of lets people debate and think and wonder what she meant and where she came from and what that was all about. And it's also clear that she was about getting them to their salvation. She was the harbinger of death, and brought them to that, and she was the harbinger of life and brought them to that as well.

That's taking the cake and eating it if I ever heard it. Still, at least Moore acknowledged that. I can live with it. However, agonising about Starbuck flying away instead of vanishing totally misses the point. It's not her mode of departure that's egregious, it's the fact that giving up on resolving what she is, not even giving a hint of what she has become, is an abdication of Moore's storytelling responsibilities. Even if he had just dropped in an ambiguous comment, and not one he has stated is a dead-end (sorry Starbuck's-dad-was-a-Cylon fans), it would be better than this non-resolution. If people are calling her an angel (not like the other angels; a special angel!), it's only because there is little else to call her. You can come up with anything to explain what she is...

  • She's actually God but she doesn’t realise it because she bumped her head lifting an unliftable stone she had created.
  • She's a intergalactic sentient sat-nav.
  • She's Dirk Benedict's inflamed spleen.
  • She's Gaia, who was sick of stupid cavemen romping around her back.
  • She's a wish come true, a wish made by Roslin during her hallucinations.
  • She's Bob Dylan's muse.
  • It's all a dream!
  • She's actually the Devil, and Earth is actually Hell, as life without sweet tech is surely unthinkable.
  • She's the solution to an equation created by the collective unconscious.
  • She's just Starbuck, but she's very good at camoflaging herself in grassy conditions.
  • She's an emissary of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
  • Or Krishna.
  • Or Buddha.
  • Or Xenu.
  • She was a delicious cake, and Apollo ate her.

And so on.

No matter who sent her there, there are still problems. If she's an emissary of this other thing in the universe, why does it not give her more information to get the job done right. Oh, that's right, humans have to have free will. Her too, even though she's no longer technically human? Is this why she shoots Gaeta, shags Anders and dumps him, makes everybody miserable, and then vanishes? Why do all that? Because God wanted to preserve her as she was. Why, to redeem her? So she was brought back to become the person she was in the first place? Why her? Why is this important for God? Because it loves her? Because she was meant to have great significance but her destiny was thwarted? Do you see what's going on here? I've progressed from fanwank to fanfic. We've not been given enough information to go on, thanks to Moore and his decision to leave her origins as blank and vague as possible, so now we're doing the thinking for him. It's nice he's given us a mental work-out, but there are more important things to work out in life than filling in the blanks in a poorly sketched out narrative. That's Moore's job, so we don't feel like we've been horribly horribly cheated.

I have no problem with a little mystery in a show. Usually mystery works best when you're unsure whether the fates of the characters is as happy as it should be (look at the ends of The Shield, Buffy, and Angel for closed-and-yet-at-the-same-time-kinda-open-and-ambiguous endings of great power). Sadly, this truism about mystery in a story has been utterly distorted by BSG's fans. Ambiguity about the ultimate fates of characters is fine. The problem comes when much of the show has no concrete explanation because there is a huge, mysterious hole in the middle of it.

Even if you were willing to give the show a break for that (which I'm not), it's worse when every remaining mystery in a show is explicable using one vague catch-all explanation that is not even unique to the show. There are a lot of people out there who explain away any inexplicable phenomenon as being part of God's plan (and a lot of explicable phenomena too, unfortunately), and it's unsatisfying in that context too. That everything up to this point has been part of God's plan, and all of the characters were merely enacting its wishes, means they were little more than leaves blown on a mighty wind. Robbed of their agency, their troubles become little more than side-effects of being puppets of a larger force. The show becomes, at best, a sickly tragedy; at worst, a pointless sideshow. With robot fights.

When I saw No Exit I was flabberghasted by the manic download of crucial information, and appalled that the showrunners hadn't thought of a better way to explain the secrets of the Final Five. After seeing the finale, I look back with nostalgic goodwill. No Exit may have bombarded the viewer with a huge amount of answers -- perhaps too many to fully absorb -- but at least the information we got was solid. Event X happened because Person X did Action X, which set off Event Y, which changed the motivations of Person Y, who then undertook Action Y, etc. Perhaps that's less pretentious than angels stating the obvious about how modern society is all decadent and what-have-you, but at least it's actual storytelling, for fuck's sake.

It's not like Moore forgot how to do this. We finally got to see why Starbuck and Apollo walked in boring circles around each other for four seasons, because they once almost had sex and then didn't because of guilt. That revelation was neatly done, and showed the behaviour of recognisably human characters. Sadly, to those of us who were hoping that Zack Adama would turn out to be the final Cylon, as we predicted in this post, it was also rather mundane, and doesn't justify the hours and hours we spent watching Apollo and Starbuck try not to have sex with each other. Having Zack as the final Cylon would have at least justified all of that. Still, at least Ellen Tigh remained an annoying dope even in her new body. A nice touch.

Though the flaccid storytelling failure that was the overuse of God might have been the thing that annoyed me the most about this finale, there were many other moments that ticked me off. Hera was not just a plot device to get characters to go to the CIC like a hare at a greyhound race. She was also Mitochondrial Eve, meaning she was the progenitor of the actual human race, i.e. us, meaning "human" and Cylon DNA have been combined with caveman DNA. Again, why? Couldn't Moore have made the "humans" the progenitors of the actual human race? Why involve the Cylons as well? Simply to wrap up the conflict between both races in a symbolic union. [Canyon - It also makes us all part-robot, an interesting fact considering the anti-robot propaganda coda at the end of the show. Watch out for drumming robot! He is your great-granddad and he is pissed!!]

That might be enough for some, but after seasons of stressing how important Hera is, we see that she is not absolutely essential in a narrative sense. Moore could have written it differently. Sadly, he couldn't without betraying all of that build-up. Again, "I'm overthinking it!", but without rules, this only means something if you force it to mean something by attributing meaning to it from an external perspective. Her importance demands she be given a big role in the creation of our race, not that she is important because of that role. It’s the cart before the horse. Besides, you'd think that GlowSpines would be a dominant gene that might linger around to modern times, so we get that effect going on during sex and not just during Nurofen adverts.

Of course, foolish me for hoping that, at some point, we would find out exactly what the humanoid Cylons were. That annoyance, however, is not restricted to the finale alone. After No Exit, where we found out that the Final Five were versions of previous humans (in a way that reminded me of the woeful live action version of Aeon Flux), I gave up on any further information about that. We're just descended from humans and robots. And that's that. Moving on...

Hera's "purpose" was not even the most egregious failing of the finale. I have no problem with our Earth being the place the "humans" find and colonise; I and many others had assumed something like this was on the horizon, and the final shots of wide-open vistas were a lovely counterpoint to the claustrophia of the previous seasons. What I do hate is that suddenly they get rid of anything that we might have found in our present that would clue us in to the prehistoric arrival of a bunch of grumpy aliens and their robot enemies, for various reasons that might have sounded passable on the page, but ultimately do nothing other than get rid of anything that we might have found in our present that would clue us in to the prehistoric arrival of a bunch of grumpy aliens and their robot enemies. That's all there was to it. No fanwanking can save that. Moore wanted them to arrive on prehistoric Earth and hang out, and the only way he could make it work was by having Lee Adama turn Amish.

It got worse. Tyrol leaves because he feels he should, and that's enough explanation for now, okay viewers? Cue goodbye moment from Tigh, who reassures Tyrol he would have done the same to anyone who had killed Ellen, hilariously forgetting that he did exactly that a couple of years ago. I have no idea what his amnesia means, unless it was an out-of-place joke about Tigh’s continued cluelessness. Anyway, Tyrol leaves, because something something. Bill Adama flies off with Laura and says goodbye to Apollo and Starbuck because he somehow has to. (N.B. The tears, they did flow, even as I scratched my head and wondered why he was leaving his son behind.)

Meanwhile, the rest of the humans split up so they have a better chance of survival. Maybe that would work, but why do they all just give up on their past like that? They've found paradise. They're not hunted by Cylons anymore. They can build anything they want, but because Lee thinks civilisation can only ever lead to death and war, and their "souls" don't work properly or somesuch idiocy, they all go their separate ways. Is this a message we should take to our hearts? Absolutely fucking not, especially as it's only there to create a montage of farewell scenes and to put a full stop on the series instead of a comma. There will be no more interactions between these characters, and therefore no more story, because I had to come up with some kind of ending and this will do community leads to robot wars in space. The utter failure of Moore to expend any energy into creating a satisfying ending to these character arcs is unforgivable.

There was a lot of that about. Anders is going to fly into the heart of the sun like a bald, wet Pink Floyd song. A bit weird having him go out like that, right? Shouldn't there be more? Why, will this flashback with him commenting on how he wants to be connected to something make it more meaningful? Sure, I love obnoxiously heavy-handed symbolism like the best of them. Throw in a bunch of scenes with Baltar hating his dad so we can see how he fell for Caprica, and why accepting the vocation of his father allows him to achieve nuclear-level redemption. His final scene with Caprica might have been one of the highlights of the finale, but cramming in the scene with his father in the previous episode was pretty mechanical. If that had been shown before, maybe if the show had used a flashback structure throughout (like some other show out there whose name escapes me), that might have worked better. As it was, it struck me as manipulative and rushed, even as I choked up, thanks to the typically excellent work from James Callis, who is surely destined for great things.

Moore saved the absolute worst for last. After every character has said, "Game over!" and wandered off to die in a tent somewhere (and, conveniently, making arrangements to have their remains never get found so we don't have pre-Mitochondrial Eve alien DNA turning up in Ronald D. Moore's copy of National Geographic, confusing anthropologists everywhere), we flash-forward to modern day, to find Head Baltar and Head Six talking about how we might just make it this time, before the camera pans away from them, past a woman begging for change in front of a big window, in the middle of which is a TV showing the terrifying sight of a robot body-popping. And the drumming robot! Please don't drum on my slowly dying brain, Robot Keith Moon!

As clumsy moments go, this has to be in the top three of all time. The show had already made as convincing a case as the Terminator or Matrix movies that we should be wary of AI, but this still figured we needed another nudge in that direction. Is this why there was all of the plot machinations about characters throwing their tech into the sun, just so we could go "OMG it was Earth all along" like Chuck Heston in Planet of the Apes? Fucking hell, "It was just a dream," would have been a stronger finale (and, in some wways, a lot of the plot threads were explainable as a big lucid dream anyway, just for extra FAIL). I know for a fact I'm not alone in thinking this was a disaster for the show, with AV Club's Chris Dahlen being particularly heartbroken.

And yet, still the defenders maintain that being a bit embarrassed on behalf of the showrunners for adding such a silly coda is tantamount to being a drooling imbecile who just doesn’t get it. Of all the fanwank I've seen on the internet this week, my favourite has to be the hostile fan who says we're all idiots for not spotting that there's a robot walking the streets of Vancouver New York. See? Here's an Asian robot/glorified animatronics puppet...

...and here's a dark-haired woman walking down the street.

ZOMG the robots are already among us! Perhaps it's too late to show the robots how much we love them! Someone buy her a mochaccino, stat! My other favourite bit of fanwank was someone saying that seeing as Greek drama was so important in the evolution of the show, it's perfectly acceptable that they used Deus Ex Machina to wrap everything up. Fuck it, why stop there? Why didn't Moore stage the whole thing in an amphitheatre, with all of the actors wearing masks with tubes in them so the top tiers could hear everything?

It's inevitable, but the finale has become such a polarising thing that talking about it often descends into shouty arguments about not getting it and not being good enough to understand what Moore was trying to do. For the sake of balance, I cannot deny that there were things about the finale that I absolutely loved. On a technical level, the finale satisfied and then some. The big blowout battle was yet another FX tour de force for the heroes at Zoic, and had the highest quota of awesomeness in the recent history of the show. The sight of Galactica having the crap blown out of it after ramming The Colony was breathtaking, and wrenching, with the carnage being so total I wondered if it would just explode there and then. I particularly liked how The Colony was influenced by Giger's designs for the spaceship seen at the beginning of Alien.

On a character level, the battle included one of the best moments of the entire show, when Boomer redeems herself by rescuing Hera and handing her over to Athena. After saying she owed the old man one, Boomer goes out in style, plugged with multiple point-blank bullets by an incensed Athena, which was a flat-out superb scene. I loved it. And then we got a flashback to Boomer getting picked on by a soused Adama and Tigh. Adama threatens to shitcan her, but gives her another chance. This is the "one" she owes him. Not for, you know, trying to kill him at the end of the first season. You'd think she would be apologising for that. But no. She's making up for something we didn't see until she died. Thanks for making that more complicated and less meaningful, Moore!

My other favourite moment was Tyrol's murderous rage upon finding out Tory killed Cally during their bathtub mindmeld moment. Dooming everyone to what looks like a horrible death, Tyrol breaks the resurrection-info download so he can snap her neck, which makes everyone immediately go kill-crazy. It was a huge shocker, and made Cally's death one of the most significant events in the history of the show, as well as being a relief from her whiny bullshit. Of course, Tyrol memorably pointed out how much he hated her a while back, and had seemingly only ever loved Boomer, but we can fanwank his rage away as being the product of some kind of shock. I'll buy that. So why did Cavil hilariously kill himself? It was shocking, but it was also parodic.

There was a lot of that, veering from amazing drama to ridiculous overplaying, but I'm used to that in sci fi drama. Even as a fan of the genre I can understand why a lot of non-fans think it's laughable, as much of it is peculiar or ridiculous. There is a thin line that cannot be crossed, as it will ruin any gravitas or power inherent in it, at least if you're a non-fan. Fans will tolerate a lot more clumsiness in their TV or film, hence Stargate fans thinking Richard Dean Anderson and Amanda Tapping are badasses. BSG has flirted with this many times, and once or twice went way too far in the finale. It's not the worst crime, though. When it did work, it worked like gangbusters, such as the beautifully judged scene with Adama leaving Galactica for the last time, and doing a flypast of his broken ship. Beautiful, stirring stuff.

But then Edward James Olmos has always been one of the best things about the show, along with my other favourite actors on the show: James Callis, Mary McDonell, Tricia Helfer, Mark Sheppard (how great it was that Romo Lampkin became president). Olmos' final scenes with Roslin were so powerful, so delicately handled and well-played that, if I were to give this episode a grade, their scenes alone would push it from an F to a D (and the action scenes push it up to a C).

A confession: I've been writing this post for about a week now, and every few hours I think I've been too mean about the episode. I really did enjoy it at the time, with a sinking feeling growing as the episode progressed. Should I go on at such length and with such poutiness over something this ambitious, that did entertain and fascinate me for about half of its run? Maybe I should come back in here and retract some of these complaints. Wasn't it enough that I got to spend time with Adama and Roslin, two fictional people I grew to love as if they were real?
And then I remember how disappointed I was when it was made apparent that the missing ingredient in human/Cylon baby stew was love, and how I had hoped this would be retconned or expanded upon over time. To my absolute horror, it was set in stone when Baltar and Caprica finally realised they were in love, which brought about their visit from Head Baltar and Head Caprica. God only gives humanity (and Cylonity) what they want when they set evil things aside and embrace love. So the show is based on the fluffiest interpretations of God's will possible? The presence of God in the BSGverse I can handle, but a lame hippie God like that? There is no way I can embrace that.

Perhaps I'm angry because something as disappointing as this episode stirs up worry about the finale of my favourite show. Lost has just as much opportunity to fail, and even though I think it won't I can't ignore the possibility. The show has dozens of questions outstanding that I really don't think we're going to see answered, especially with the final episode approaching so quickly. To make things worse, if the nature of the island is not explained, we're left with the same annoying hole that has ruined BSG. If it does go wrong, I would be furiously angry, but it would at least give me an insight into this oft-reported feeling that a lot of fans are not too annoyed at the finale as the journey gave them so much pleasure.

That's certainly the case with my attitude towards Lost. He's Our You and Whatever Happened, Happened were two of the weakest episodes of the show so far, but I still adored them. BSG has long been a show I was watching despite my misgivings, taking enough pleasure from it to stick with it even though it stopped lighting my fire a few years ago. As a result, that finale felt more like justification for my withdrawal than a surprising stumble at the final hurdle, though both outcomes were not what I had wanted. If Lost fails in its final moments, I know I will at least have had the journey, with the hypothesising and the book reading.

But, you know, please don't fail, Lost. I don't want to be proved wrong, okay?


Jaredan said...

Hey mate I hope all is well.
I spent a week watching non-stop rented DVDs to get caught up to watch the final episode and though I enjoyed it at the time, it does wither on the vine when analysed at all.
I was in pieces for Adama and Rosaline's last scenes, enraptured by Baltar (as usual) and the moments you mentioned were all marvellous.
But yes, not only was Starbuck an angel but she flew back in a ghost raptor made by God (top-notch engineer, handles like a dream) and we learned about how being with Apollo was wrong (even though they banged each other on New Caprica anyway).
Using explanations based in mythology or religion are fine except when you use them instead of answers.
Matrix: Revolutions is a balls up as it throws various religions into a blender then craps them all over the characters and plot and proudly displays the excrement as a resolution.
Adama exiling himself in mourning makes no sense as he has spent the last few seasons reconciling with his son and then suddenly figures he's better off without him.
I can understand people figuring Starbuck's Dad was a cylon due to the flashbacks of him teaching her some Dylan. It also makes a lot more bloody sense than the rest of the explanation.
Starbuck's disappearing act (she was behind a shrub) reminded me of Cordelia's fate in Angel, except in Angel, it made sense.
Anyway, I'd better cut it here as I'll rant until dazed.

Masticator said...

I have to say I gave up looking for some kind of overarching Meaning in BSG round about the midpoint of season three, so I can’t say I really felt let down by the finale’s lack of resolution and coherence. I focused on the good things and pretended the bad didn’t really happen. I believe it would have been about 30% better without that silly “150,000 years later” coda, though.