Thursday, 30 April 2009

So, I Guess That's That

As I said in this post, for years I have been soaking in a morass of shoddy prose, poorly researched science and arts stories, trivia so trivial it doesn't even deserve to be called trivia, and mean-spirited, transparently biased opinion from nasty men and women with empathy deficits so bad that I'm surprised they're not serial killers. And now, I am released.

Though my escape from this quicksand-pit of faux-knowledge has its downside (a very big downside, obviously), it also has a big upside too. I never have to read the Sunday Express ever again, or endure Peter Hitchens' deranged honking (though his 29th April ode to America was unexpectedly touching, despite some madness breaking out here and there), or stare goggle-eyed with disbelief at Christopher Booker's conspiracy theories. Even though I'm kinda curious to see who will win the gilded shit-crown belonging to the one-true Glenda Slagg (formerly owned by Lynda Lee-Potter), I'm done with Carole Malone and Allison Pearson, who can contradict themselves every week for the rest of time, for all I care. I'll also never get to find out if Sam Wollaston ever joins a writing class to jazz up the dreariest "funny" prose in England.

So now it's goodbye Richard Littlejohn, you blustering homosexuality-obsessed buffoon. Au revoir Julie "Mrs. Tony Parsons" Burchill, with your Martian logic and your reflexive/risible contrarian streak. Farewell Kelvin Mackenzie, you absurd curio from another age. Auf wiedersehen Garry Bushell, and all of your adamant - and unconvincing - denials of bigotry, not to mention your shitty, shitty jokes. Arrivederci Deborah Ross, you solipsistic word-fountain. No tears at our separation, Charles Moore, you inconsequential rattle-throwing windbag (looking forward to reading your missives from jail after your licence-fee martyrdom goes horribly wrong).

Don't let the door hit you in the ass, Amanda Platell, you repellent, small-minded phony/failure. So long Crazy Liz Jones and your equally awful ex-husband Nirpal Dhaliwal, and extra goodbyes to your attention-seeking, column-filling "feud", which allowed Fleet Street's assembled hacks to tongue-bathe themselves for a month or so. Never darken my door again Lowri Turner, responsible for some of the worst journalism in world history.

Take care out there, Catherine Townsend, tawdry fantasist sex columnist extraordinaire. Your increasingly outrageous sexual escapades have been sorely missed. Live long and don't prosper, Martin Kettle, you laughably biased Blairite. Don't try to get in touch, Rod Liddle, for I shall not miss you, nor your swinging-dick public image.

Adios Jon "Gunty" Gaunt. I shall not miss your ill-informed ravings, your attempts to become a cross between Jeremy Kyle, Rush Limbaugh, and a disembodied, yapping mouth connected to a bucket full of rattlesnake venom, plutonium, dark matter, pondscum, and dogshit. Get out of my life, Melanie Phillips, and take your defensive, ignorant, and belligerent worldview with you. And Simon Heffer? Forgive me for betraying my coarse manner in this way, but please go fuck your fucking self, you berserk oompa-loompa. It would be greatly appreciated by me and the rest of us here in the 21st century, who are enjoying modernity and don't need your screaming ab-dabs from the past. Thanks in advance.

Naturally, there were sapphires gleaming in the Everest-sized shitpile. I'll still be buying the Saturday Guardian, so I'll get to read Ben Goldacre's Bad Science column, as well as The Brooker's Monday columns and Screen Burn (once he's finished justifying the licence fee with Newswipe, that is). Matthew Norman's nuclear-level sarcasm will keep me warm, as long as he doesn't leave the increasingly poor Independent (well done Roger Alton, you wrecked another newspaper). Every Friday I will check to see what's going on in the brains of Peter Bradshaw (5 stars for In The Loop! Good work, my son) and Nigel Andrews (Two stars? WTF?). I shall keep an eye on Sarah Dempster, who, eve since her tenure at the Scotsman, has been slowly been building a reputation for wit and passion that shames her colleague Wollaston.

I'm not sure I'll be able to keep reading George Monbiot's weekly column, simply because I'm already going to be feeling low and though he's a terrific journalist he can really ruin your day. There's a very very good chance I'll keep up with the magnificent Caitlin Moran, still the only journalist who can talk about celebrity culture without making me want to kill myself by dropping 300,000 copies of Top Santé onto my own head (though kudos also go to the highly entertaining Marina Hyde). I was also fond of Jeremy Clarkson's Sunday Times columns, but that might have been because they were an oasis of vibrant writing in the middle of an Arrakis-sized desert of nothing; outside that arena they might not stand up to scrutiny.

I might once have thought he was utterly without merit, but I've grown to enjoy Johann Hari's column; his recent piece on Dubai was chilling, essential reading. I'm also in two minds about Nick Cohen, whose slide into David-Aaronovitch-territory masks the fact that he can still be a fascinating, passionate writer. The same goes for Robert Fisk, whose rage can be intoxicating if you're not careful. Though I never really realised it at the time, I've enjoyed many columns by Deborah Orr, who has quietly been a sane voice in the Indie. Now that he has been (foolishly) let go by the Telegraph and (wisely) snapped up by the Guardian, I look forward to reading more by Sam Leith, who was the only reason to read that dreary Middle England rag.

Other than those examples, it's a lucky escape. I surely won't miss the transparent campaign against the BBC by News International's roster of worthless junk pamphlets, or the woeful research in the Observer, or the Independent's slide into even more irrelevance than it had already been sliding into. Even better, no more exposure to the most inept newspapers in the world, by which I of course mean the Northern and Shell disasters, the Express and the Star, which pollute the soul more completely than being employed as an assassin by Dick Cheney. Best of all, I can wave goodbye to the Mail and the Mail on Sunday, publications so evil and mendacious that reading them daily is like enduring serialisations of The Turner Diaries and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. With swastika-shaped bells on.

So I can at least rejoice as I fly, like an eagle, out of the lovely old building that has been my workplace for ten years, safe in the knowledge that I don't have to put up with that shit any more. Long ago I had already begun to realise that I was not reading the credible opinions of hyper-educated denizens of Brainworld, but in fact was enduring the puddle-shallow witterings of a bunch of overworked shlubs whose hectic output was such that they would never be able to keep an eye on their views from week to week, meaning we, the readers, were never sure exactly what their consistent beliefs were. As a result, we could never trust a thing they wrote.

That's before we get to the piss-poor science reporting (as regularly exposed by my new hero Goldacre), or the generally shoddy practices of many journalists, editors, and proprietors, as revealed by Nick Davies in his superb book Flat Earth News. When I started reading newspapers for a living, I thought I was going to learn a lot about the world, and I did, but only because I was coming at it from such a position of ignorance. If I have learned anything truly substantive since those first few years, it's because I was intrigued by a subject and endeavoured to find out about it on my own time. Midway through the decade, I realised that trying to educate myself using newspapers was futile.

And so I turn my back on the British press, but not without singling out my other favourite pieces of the past few weeks, written by journalists not included in my Hall of Fame above. I was particularly pleased by Gaby Wood's article about In Treatment, bemoaning the fact that the UK has yet to pick up this wonderful series. As an In Treatment addict, I fully understand her frustration. When it eventually arrives on TV, please don't be put off watching it by the absurd protestations of former ITV director of TV Simon Shaps, whose howl of rage at how unfair it was that no one in the UK media press was willing to compare Lost in Austen and Whitechapel with The Sopranos made me simultaneously enraged and amused recently. In Treatment is the best performed, best written, best directed show on TV right now. It would be a crime to miss it.

Also pleasing was this Times blog post that dared to suggest that gaming is not necessarily as bad for kids as studies suggest, if by "suggest" you mean "are often distorted by lazy journalists who understand that scaremongering plays into prejudices and sells papers". It's rare that games are treated with any kind of respect, and articles are often written by journalists who know nothing about gaming, so this article from The Independent on Guitar Hero and Rock Band was hugely appreciated. Except for the odd lapse into hand-holding, it's a fun little piece with a lot of interesting little snippets from programmers and developers, not to mention fans and the obligatory critic. As I fear I will spend my next few days obsessively playing both games in order to drown out the dissonance in my brain at my new situation, it acts as a nice bridge between the two states. Let's just hope that second state is an improvement over the first.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

The Annual Culling Of The Shows

When I say culling, I'm not referring to us cutting back on shows. Don't be ridiculous. We're so far behind on most shows that we're following that it is tempting, but it's not going to happen any time soon, because I hate to give up on anything. Of course, I'm actually referring to that awful time of year when the networks pass judgement on the underperforming programmes on their rosters, slicing out much-loved cult faves and giving the kiss-of-life to some real oddities that no one is really passionate about. Hollywood Reporter has a report on the status of many shows here (this information is arranged in a more pleasing list format by Herc in this AICN Coaxial post), and it contains good and bad news, as ever.

Most upsetting is the unequivocal cancellation of Reaper, which has improved by leaps and bounds this year. Having shaken off first season nerves, the showrunners and performers have allowed more oddness and format-shaking looseness in, with some episodes doing away with the ponderous soul-hunting stuff in the cold open in order to follow the protagonists as they bumble along in their super-amiable way, and others just running with gags that would never have occurred last year. In a recent, very entertaining episode, more time was expended upon Sock (seeking chemical castration to prevent his lust for his step-sister) and Sam (dealing with his zombie dad's attempts to bond with him) than was spent on what would once have been considered the A plot, which was just fine by us. Nevertheless, that burst of energy came too late to save it. Sam, Sock and Ben (and Ray Wise, of course) will be missed.

The woeful state of Jerry Bruckheimer's roster of shows surprises me. While the CSI franchise is not going anywhere (especially now that the original series is on such consistently great form, courtesy of Morpheus), Without A Trace and Cold Case look like they're in trouble, with one of them probably cancelled. I get that this is due to the financial pressures of running both shows, but they always seemed like they'd be around forever, like bigotry and flatulence. I say that despite the fact that I watch neither of them and have exactly zero interest in them.

I'm much less surprised that Eleventh Hour is facing doom. It's only just started airing in the UK, on Living (which means watching it exposes me to endless adverts for Grey's Anatomy; a seriously nauseating experience, especially with Kevin "Journeyman" McKidd popping up every couple of seconds to remind me of our favourite recently cancelled series). A less apt channel I cannot imagine, as Eleventh Hour has yet to display a pulse. Is this the most boring show on TV? Yes, despite the insistence of the ever-present Clicking Clock Of Teh Doom, it's much less silly than Fringe, but it's not like it gets the science right even in such unambitious circumstances, so it hasn't even got that going for it.

At least Fringe, while being full of risible science, is not ashamed to forget about realism and just go all out, showing us people turning into rampaging porcupine monsters, or macrophages that burst out of your mouth and crush your windpipe on the way out, or teleportation devices that are just fucking wicked cool and if you don't agree then I'll never love you. Eleventh Hour, on the other hand, is sober but utterly joyless. It also features a lot of googly-oogly eyes, as Rufus Sewell and Marley Shelton have intense ocular orbs that scare the piss out of me. Not for much longer, though. Farewell, Dr. Hood and Thingy Gunbabe. I hardly knew you or cared.

Two other shows I don't watch are Num3e7501019 or whatever the hell it's "called", and The Unit, pictured above (that's First African American President David Palmer carrying what looks like a life doll for people with a fetish for deli-shop owners). While Numbronics has a few fun character actors on it, I cannot understand how a procedural about numbercrunching has managed to last for five seasons, and is likely to come back for another. I saw the first three episodes, and tuned out because I couldn't see how the concept could sustain itself. And yet there it is, running even longer than the similarly restrictive Bones (though of course the charm of that show, apparently, is the chemistry between Boreanaz and Deschanel). What happened to the Numberation format to make it run this long? Was I wrong to drop it? (This is a rhetorical question; I'm not going back to it no matter what I hear.) Maybe a long-running character will turn out to be a serial killer, to the delight of its many fans. Or am I thinking of another show?

In contrast, the possible cancellation of The Unit saddens me despite my utter ignorance of it. Why? Because this year creator Shawn Ryan treated TV watchers to one of the classic seasons of one of the greatest shows ever created. The final season of The Shield was a nerve-destroying tour de force, and to think he's lost one show (on a high) and then maybe lost the other one without fair warning makes me unhappy on his behalf. For providing us with such a thrilling conclusion to The Shield, he should win awards, not get thrown off TV with such disregard. Fingers crossed that, if worst comes to worst, he can come up with another show as great as The Vic Mackey Glower Hour (twice as thrilling as The Jack Bauer Power Hour, even on a good day, tension fans!).

After a whole season of speculation about being dropped by Fox, it looks like Terminator: The Needlessly Long Title Involving The Important-Sounding Word "Chronicles" is finally being cancelled. That, and Dollhouse, have suffered the fate of Friday Night Lights; running to overtake the expectation of imminent extinction. While FNL has, happily, been renewed for two more seasons, T:TSCC is not going to be so lucky. Perhaps Fox only really needed it to dilute the impact of the upcoming film in order to damage its box office chances, if their behaviour over Watchmen is anything to go by. Ironically, even though I was enthusiastic about T:TSCC when I saw the pilot, I only watched one more episode. Of course Torchwood, which I was comparing it to, got worse than even I could imagine, and yet I watched it all the way through to the hysterical end. What's up with that?

Surprisingly, Dollhouse might make it to a second season, which would probably be surrounded with even more chatter about cancellation. The only thing people have linked to Dollhouse more than those early, awful episodes is the expectation that it will not last. While once that was irksome, it's a testament to the quantum leap in quality from the sixth episode on that cancellation would now be a tragedy (in terms of TV show potential, not actual real tragedy). The last two weeks have provided more brain food than any other show on TV that isn't set on a mysterious island. As long as Dollhouse 2.0 is allowed to continue to explore the distortion of the moral norm caused by Dollhouse tech and not just have the ever-unappealing Dushku wandering around in bondage gear prior to some poorly edited fighting, a second season would be welcomed with fireworks and Bacchanalian parties (and, sadly, a flurry of woeful fanfic). If the show is not going to play to its intellectual strengths (yeah, I said it), why bother giving it another chance?

As I said earlier, we're inundated with shows, even more so now that In Treatment is back for two and a half hours a week, so maybe I should be glad Cupid is being axed. I never watched the original starring Jeremy "Mercury from The Metal Men" Piven, so I have very little awareness of what the show is like, but we're talking about a remake of a failed show, replacing the undeniably watchable Piven and the equally appealing Paula Marshall with Bobby Cannavale and Sarah Paulsen. I'm having trouble mustering enthusiasm for this, and now that it's been cancelled, that enthusiasm dims even more. If I do watch it, it'll be out of loyalty to the man who brought us Veronica Mars (though that wasn't enough to make me watch 90210).

Still, I can't imagine that it could be worse than Castle or The Unusuals. Despite the charmkrieg that is Nathan Fillion selling almost every shitty joke and laboured flirt-op (and proving he is indeed better, better than Neil, at so many things it's hard to conceal), everything else about it is to entertainment as formica is to wood. A lot of unimaginative shows feel like they are made by machines, but the machine that made this is constructed out of string and cardboard and powered by irradiated rats. Still, at least it's not The Unusuals. ABC's website made this sound like a drama featuring a bunch of unorthodox cops whose rarified skillsets allowed them to solve crimes no one else could. Canyon thought it was meant to be a straight-up comedy. That it satisfied neither of us is a sign something went haywire as soon as calloused fingers typed Fade In.

It's telling that, in the pilot, you see a clip of Bruce Weitz on TV in some kind of sitcom, as the show also felt a lot like Hill Street Blues, but this time with a team comprising nothing but the weirdos like Renko, Belker, and Buntz, but lacking the stable characters like Furillo, Coffey and Esterhaus. The first hour, directed with typical ineptitude by Stephen "The Reaping" Hopkins, was interminable, cutesy, unimaginative, uninvolving, edited into incoherence, cloying, drab, desperately quirky, and, most annoyingly, filled with terrific, wasted actors, like Jeremy Renner, Harold Perrineau and Terry Kinney. Such talented guys. Oh, and Adam Goldberg is in it too. Erm... ::tumbleweeds blow by::

So, if we lose that, no biggie. Better Off Ted, however, is just about the most lovable show on TV that isn't Reaper, and even if it's not as funny as 30 Rock, or as clever as The Office, it's still worth rooting for, especially as series creator Victor Fresco also gave us Andy Richter Controls The Universe, and I'd feel bad for the guy if he was responsible for two great sitcoms cut down in their prime. It has cemented our love of Portia DeRossi, who is just wonderful as the android-like Veronica Palmer, and has managed to satirise soulless corporate culture in such a non-abrasive manner that we almost love our monolithic overlords by the end of it. It's mild stuff, but compared to the laugh-void that is Parks and Recreation, it's Arrested Development meets Seinfeld. I've got my fingers crossed for it.

Sadly, I doubt anything can save my favourite new show, NBC's bonkers soap opera/religious fable/alternate-reality-curio Kings, which would be unmissable even if it was just 45 minutes of Ian "Swearengen" McShane walking around his "palace" muttering to himself, but manages to excel by featuring Ian "Swearengen" McShane walking around the city of Shiloh, capital city of the Kingdom of Gilboa, scheming against his foes (including Brian Bloody Cox!), railing against a preacher (played by Eamonn Bloody Walker!), and trying to predict what God wants of him in order to protect his eroding power base even when that makes him act against the interest of others. As with Dollhouse, no one expects it to make it to a second season, which is heartbreaking. In a season as dreary as this one (where the only other new shows worth following are the frustratingly erratic Fringe and the fluffy Mentalist) it's been a revelation. No matter how the other shows fare, knowing that the Sword of Nielsen Damocles hangs over such a promising head is enough to make me wonder why the hell I bother watching TV when ambition is so often rewarded with dismissal.

Self-indulgent whinge #268 over.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Thrown For A Loop By Satirical Genius

There are a number of reasons why Armando Iannucci's feature debut, In The Loop, is automatically one of the best movies to be released this year, at least from this humble blogger's perspective, which is a relief after I went on about it in these two posts. However, there is one super-special personal reason, which I'll get to in a bit. First, a list of things to love about this magnificent movie...

1. It was free.

Yes, I got free tickets from a Sunday Times promotion, and got to see it at the lovely Ritzy in unlovely Brixton. The assembled upper-middle-class white people, perhaps fans of India Knight’s column, or that incredibly ugly typeset, seemed to thoroughly enjoy the movie, and we lower-middle-class white people did too. It was all very congenial, even with the C-word flying out of the screen with alarming regularity.

2. The easy transition to the big screen.

I'm sure the cinéma vérité style of The Thick Of It has its detractors, but whatever your feelings about it, it does make translating the show to a bigger screen fairly easy. No matter how modish the style has become, it's kinetic enough to keep the eye distracted from a film that is basically a bunch of people talking to each other a lot. The swift pace and aggressive performances keep the pace up for almost the entire movie.

Even so, Iannucci has fun with the contrasts between cramped and grey Britain, and the golden glows and grandeur of Washington. Even though the characters are stuck in depressing buildings, you still get the sense that Washington is a far more glamourous place than Whitehall. On top of that is one of the funniest visuals of the year; repeated shots of Malcolm Tucker scuttling around Washington, a sheaf of papers in his hand and mobile phone stuck to his ear as he bellows and shrieks torrents of foul abuse at everyone.

That said, would it pass the Billson test? It’s drab, frenetic, composed with what looks like slap-dash haste (though was probably worked out with great care), and certainly seems more interested in the spoken word than the visual aspect, but this is what the show is. Besides, even if it’s not The Fountain in terms of visual splendour, the script by Iannucci, Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Tony Roche and Ian Martin is a marvellously complex thing, easily as tight and satisfying as their script for the recent specials (finally available on DVD, staggering-genius fans!). What looks like an unconnected series of sweary set-pieces gels in the final act with great precision. Billson’s criticism of British screenwriters is as angry as her comments about directors, and just as accurate:

A lot of British film-makers assume that screenplay equals dialogue, and because the Brits still haven't caught on to William Goldman's maxim that "Screenplay is structure", we get endless exposition and a plodding procession of scenes unfurling like stage plays. Scene begins, there's some dialogue, scene ends, next scene begins, more dialogue and so on. Lawks-a-mercy, we might as well be watching a Restoration drama at the Old Vic.

In The Loop might feature more dialogue than a dozen movies put together, but at least there is plot there. I once attended a screenwriting discussion headed by a very nice lady from the BBC, who said that drama spec-scripts would usually only attract attention if the plotting was tight. With comedy, however, scripts could be poorly plotted but would be considered a success if they were at least funny, which most comedy scripts sent to the Beeb were not.

In The Loop is that wonderful rarity; a movie that has a funny line almost every thirty seconds, but also works like a narrative machine from beginning to end and, as a bonus, features some of the most fascinating and believable characters of recent times. I’m not saying Iannucci didn’t do a great job as director, because I think he did. What he should be most proud of, though, is that remarkable script. When the film finished I said to Canyon that it was this year’s In Bruges. I can think of no higher praise.

3. The peculiar anti-continuity continuity.

Though I thought it might be baffling to have Chris Addison return as a different character than he played in The Thick Of It, he is pretty much the same arrogant-yet-cowardly loser as before, just with a new name. At first this choice was mystifying, but as In The Loop deals with a different department within the government, new characters are necessary if we're not to waste half of the film explaining why these people have switched jobs, especially when it is going to be seen by many more people who saw the show (at least, I hope so). Having Addison play Toby and not Ollie is, thankfully, no big deal.

He's not the only one. Several cast-members appear as new characters who share similarities and narrative links with their previous incarnations, most notably Olivia Poulet as Toby's girlfriend (she played Ollie's Tory girlfriend in The Thick Of It), Lucinda Raikes as a reporter (though we don't find out if she's working for the Daily Mail as with the parent series), Alex McQueen as an ambassador with the same social ineptitude as his Thick Of It character Julius Nicholson. It's not all the same. James Smith gets a promotion, Joanna Scanlan (as seen below) gets a demotion, and Will Smith (no, not that one...) gets a tiny role that nicely pays off his parallel universe character arc from the recent specials.

Only two characters remain the same: Peter Capaldi as Tucker, and Paul Higgins as Jamie, who is only in the movie for a few minutes but tears his scenes apart with even more feral nastiness than in the original series. His arrival late in the movie was greeted with a murmur of upper middle-class approval from the Sunday Times readers in the audience. There was no response from the audience when a familiar voice announced the start of a conference about fifteen minutes into the film. I could very well be mistaken, but the voice (belonging to an unseen man) sounded a lot like a former Thick Of It cast-member who hasn’t been in the show since before the specials, for very well-publicised reasons. IMDb, not surprisingly, has nothing to say on the matter.

4. The amazing cast.

Having everyone come back for this movie, even in an altered state, is a pure joy. By now they know how to do this hectic, profane comedy in their sleep, and it's a relief to find that the two British additions to the cast, Gina McKee and Tom Hollander, are both wonderful. This is not exactly news, of course. McKee is so good that when it seems like she's dropped out of the movie about twenty minutes in I was gutted (she comes back later, thankfully). Hollander is remarkable as the hapless Simon Foster, his craven vacillating providing much of the comedy and plot movement. Even though I adore Malcolm Tucker, I had feared the movie would overuse him, thus denting his impact. Luckily the rest of the characters are inept and venal enough to become just as fascinating as him.

Some criticism (that I really don’t agree with) has been thrown at the movie for moving the action to America (more on the colossal shitbag who said that below). Expanding the scope of the Thickniverse was a clever move from a financial point of view (hello American viewers who will not know what hit them), as well as in terms of narrative and satirical possibility, but it also meant a new set of actors who have not worked under these conditions before. While the UK actors gambol over their lines with precision borne of years spent working on this show, James Gandolfini and his fellow Americans speak much slower. It takes a while to adjust to the change in pace in America, though this is not a criticism of them. Everyone excels, especially Mimi Kennedy as Assistant Secretary for Diplomacy Karen Clarke, Anna Chlumsky as naive intern Liza Weld, and the great David Rasche as the menacing Linton Barwick, who bangs heads with Malcolm Tucker a couple of times.

Gandolfini is also terrific, playing straight comedy in a way he’s not had a chance to do before. One of the highlights of the movie is the showdown with Malcolm, one of the few moments in the film where the humour pauses. I don’t remember specifics, but I do know I held my breath throughout.

5. Comedy heritage.

This superb cast, most of whom have worked with Iannucci before, either on The Thick Of It or earlier works, reminded me of the repertory of performers that would appear regularly in the films of Preston Sturges, whose hyper-modern comedies still feel fresh even today. While In The Loop has been compared to Yes, Minister (obviously) and old Ealing comedies (I'm not 100% sure about that, but I'll go along with it), I'd say Iannucci has been influenced as much by Sturges as anything else.

The frenetic pace, the irreverence, the seriousness of purpose (for example, Sullivan's Travels and Hail The Conquering Hero are pointed comments on social issues as much as they are kooky knockabout fun), and the beautifully wrought plot and characters, are all reminiscent of Sturges' films. Considering how that great director's work is not as well known in the UK as it should be (at least as far as I can see), it's strange to see someone dabble in the same waters.

6. There's a lot more where this came from.

Apparently a lot more footage was shot than was used. Though the final product is structured so well that a director's cut would probably not work anywhere near as well, we can hope for a lot of deleted scenes in the DVD. Until then, here are some scenes with Jamie being a total scumbag. Navigate within the window for more scenes (the first two are in the movie, but the movie discussion and confrontation with Gina McKee are not).

7. Topicality.

It’s obvious from a look at any synopsis that Iannucci and co. were inspired by the Dodgy Dossier that got us into the Iraq War, but I was unprepared for the level of extra detail he would add. With Tucker standing in for Alastair Campbell, Simon Foster is a movie version of Clare Short, vacillating over whether or not to resign in protest over the push to war. One of the funniest moments in the film comes when Foster convinces himself it would be braver to stay on than it would be to resign, but the depressing thing is that that’s almost a direct transcription of Short’s thinking, as explained far down in this fascinating article by Iannucci about the making of the film. This being a comedy, there is, sadly, no Robin Cook analogue.

The joke that got the biggest roar of approval, though, has to be what must have seemed, at the time, to be a throwaway joke about expenses. Even more surprising, after this week's controversy about Damian McBride and the smear-mail cregarding David Cameron , shouty spin-doctors seem even more topical. It goes to show how well the filmmakers understand the thinking of our leaders. Speaking of which...

8. Every time Malcolm Tucker swears, Alastair Campbell winces.

In polite conversation I make no secret of the fact that I think Alastair Campbell is primarily responsible for one of the darkest moments in recent British history, namely the campaign of dishonest bullying aimed at the BBC in order to dodge some awkward questions about the march to war, a series of events catalysed by the dodgy dossier used to such wonderful satirical effect by Iannucci and co. During that period, his embarrassingly brazen avoidance of responsibility, desperately squirming out of danger by setting the easily controlled British press after the BBC, was sickening to watch, especially when the press not only jumped into line like a brainwashed army, but would occasionally comment on how effectively they had been manipulated, as if to pay tribute to Campbell's Macchiavellian genius.

For fuck's sake, all he did was act like a kid trying to escape a bollocking for firing a spitball at teacher by pointing out that Jenkins has a nuddy mag in his desk and is far more deserving of the birch than he is, the difference here being that any Etonian headmaster would ignore such a desperate attempt at diversion and then wallop the living shit out of the kid, instead of letting him off and expelling poor Jenkins who was just holding that copy of Razzle for James "Portly" Fortesque, honest sir!

As if Campbell's despicable and immoral face-saving exercise wasn't bad enough - an exercise which, let's not forget, lead to the death of a renowned scientist and complicated all investigation into the march to war, dragging the conflict out at the cost of many more lives - the BBC has since kept bringing the sociopath back, over and over again, to host shows and participate in interviews and generally act like it's no hard feelings. Well fuck that, there are fucking diamond-hard feelings, and I'll bet there are plenty within the BBC too. His actions have damaged investigative journalism and engaged enquiry in England more than any logistical or financial shortfalls listed in Nick Davies' Flat Earth News, and it's doubtful we'll ever see a restoration of backbone in the fourth estate. Of course that could just be me letting pessimism overtake me, but that's an easy thing to do post-Hutton enquiry. The whole sorry experience damaged my perception of politics and journalism to such an extent that I cannot see my faith ever being restored, especially now Paul Foot has sadly left us.

Of course, it's blatantly obvious that Malcolm Tucker is based on Alastair Campbell. Only an idiot could deny it. An evil idiot at that. Yes, the man himself was invited to see it with "Zoot Suit" Kermode, and was bored by the film. I also like how he criticised Iannucci for not understanding how certain things worked in politics.

Of course, politicians and advisers have their own ambitions. But they have more than that. Some of the scenarios - like a secret meeting being overwhelmed by attendees because its existence has been announced on TV; or Tucker being able to keep out of the papers something a minister said on radio; or the minister being confined to the back row of a meeting while officials take centre stage - would have benefited from advice from someone who has been inside a government loop or two.

What advice? Like this? [From the Iannucci article I'd linked to above]

I'd established contact with a political blogger out in DC who fixed me up with US State Department staffers and Senate workers and Pentagon officials and even a CIA guy, who could brief me on the ins and outs of Washington life. At least two people told me that Condoleezza Rice was a bit rubbish. She got rather star-struck in Washington and never really stood up to Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Both of the guys I met said: "And, as a result, people got killed." The CIA guy added: "And that's what really pisses me off!" and as he said it, for the first time in our meeting, he looked rather frightening. He had the look of a man who knows how to empty someone else's bowels out by simply touching a vein.

That sounds like he knew what he was doing, Mr. Campbell. Yes, his hilariously defensive comment piece was the thing that inspired me to write this post (well, that and the sheer awesomeness of the movie) but pretty much everything that I wanted to say about Campbell's snippy response to the movie is summed up in this comment piece by George Pitcher.

Within 24 hours, Campbell had demonstrated exactly why the yobbish In The Loop character, Malcolm Tucker, is so obviously based on him. Humourlessly beat up on a critical journo, then affect nonchalance at your own grim mirror-image the next day. The Guardian's Digested Read feature on Campbell's column today could read: "Honestly, I couldn't care less. Here's 800 words about how I couldn't care less."

Amateur psychologist as Campbell is, he must have turned his hobby on himself (which is after all his favourite subject) in today's column. Is it not the reaction of the bullying child in the playground that everyone eventually turns on, pointing and laughing at him, so he has to react with "Bor-ring! Can't you see I don't care?"

Brilliant. I also like Iannucci's response to the criticism:

We should have posters done. They would say: 'A disappointment, Alastair Campbell'.

Of course Campbell cares, though his faux-apathy might really have been triggered because Tucker is shown, at times, to lose track of the multiple deceptions he has created. I have a suspicion that the mad dashing, which often looks panicked, is as far from Campbell's image of himself as you can get. Nevertheless, don't forget that this is the man who raced across London and barged into a Four News broadcast to ladle further heaps of smelly lie-manure all over the acquiescent and terrified BBC. Of course, I'm making a huge assumption that Campbell is concerned with his image, but considering how vanilla his Wikipedia page is, I'm beginning to wonder if he has a hobby. Surely no one else is going to clean it up whenever it gets altered to discuss anything other than his unpleasant-sounding battle with depression, or his support for Leukaemia Research.

Or maybe the world has moved on now, and that page has remained untouched and information-free for years now. How soon we forget. At least we still have Tucker, and the thought of Campbell watching and trying to figure out how to spin the fact that he has been part of the creation of a monster, a hilarious character who nevertheless represents everything that is wrong with the world today, an amoral crocodile-man wrecking the lives of all around him just to accomplish whatever the goal is for that day. In The Loop is a magnificent achievement on a number of levels, but I take special pleasure in the mental image of that man, the one who installed Cynicism 2.0 in my soul, sitting in a screening room with a bequiffed William Friedkin fan, fidgeting in his seat as his personality is filleted with such precision. Thank you, Peter Capaldi, and thank you Iannucci and co. You completed me, somehow.

Monday, 13 April 2009

The Most Wonderful Newspaper Article Of Our Age

In my line of work, I have to read a lot of newspaper articles. Seriously, a lot. Many of them are vicious and unpleasant right-wing shrieks of terror as the world slowly disassembles their medieval belief systems. The likes of Peter Hitchens, Amanda Platell, Charles Moore, Melanie Phillips, Richard Littlejohn, Kelvin McKenzie, Leo McKinstry, and many many more yank handfuls of hair from their scalps in an effort to out-selfish each other, demonising everything and everyone that would look vaguely out-of-place in a 1950s Somerset country house. Reading their nauseating bilewords smeared across the page like a mental skidmark has been one of the more upsetting things I have had to do in this life, and tends to make me forget that not all Fleet Street pundits are Mannequins of Lazy-Thinking Evil.

This week, thanks to a link from, of all people, The Internet Commenter Formerly Known As Moriarty, I have found my favourite piece of UK journalism of the decade. Anne Billson, novelist and Buffy fan, has said the unsayable about the British film industry; it is in a terminal state, and the causes have been there all along.

I agree with so much of what she wrote that I could just copy and paste the whole thing here and just finish off this post with multiple exclamation points of joy, especially with her catty single-sentence drubbing of Mike Leigh. I love it so much I'll pretend I don't mind that she didn't give some praise to John Boorman, who made one of the most visually innovative movies of all time (as well as three of the battiest and most lovable), though I suspect she's more concerned with the recent crop of British film directors. Of all the targets she hit, this in particular struck me as a salient point:

I once heard a British film director say in an interview that he wasn't interested in telling a story visually (why were you directing a bloody film then?), and it's clear he's not the only one. Historically, Britain has produced more world-class writers than painters, and words tend to be valued far above visual imagery, if only because reading and listening apparently require more effort than looking, and so are deemed to be worthier pursuits.

Later on Billson mentions the UK directors who emulate shots from American directors for no other reason than that they liked that shot, not because it is the right shot for the scene. It's funny that she mentions Atonement earlier in the piece. Though there were some shots there that were admirable, the big setpiece single take shot of the Dunkirk evacuation is one of the most overrated shots of the past few years. I take my hat off to Joe Wright for managing the logistical nightmare of it, but what was the point of it? On a narrative level it was meaningless, even though a lot of extraneous information was handed to us.

While I understand that Wright was making a visual reference to the Dunkirk passage in McEwan's novel, it still looked stupid, with the characters wandering around the beach in circles in order to show everything off while Dario Marianelli's music did a lot of the heavy lifting. Compare that to single takes like the nightclub scene in Goodfellas, or the opening long takes from The Player, or Snake Eyes, or The Bonfire of the Vanities. Story happens in those scenes. We discover things about the characters. In Atonement, we're just checking out a beach.

This is not to say there are no British directors who have an amazing eye. Sadly, they're often not lauded in the UK and their careers stall. My favourite British style-genius of the past decade, Lynne Ramsay, created two distinctive and brilliant films, almost got to adapt The Lovely Bones, and then disappeared to work on un-named projects. Garth Jennings has spent so long making Son of Rambow made and promoted that he doesn't even seem to have anything else in the pipeline. Michael Winterbottom once made movies I couldn't wait to see, though that has sadly changed over time. Peter Greenaway buggered off to the Netherlands a while back and his movies retreated to the kind of Matthew-Barney-esque obscurity they always should have had, that weird successful period back in the 80s notwithstanding. We're still waiting for the next movie by the wonderful Pawel Pawlikowski. Terence Malick is now more prolific than he is, shockingly enough.

Many other UK directors who understand what to do with a camera (to varying degrees) have hopped over to America as soon as they could; Paul Greengrass, Martin Campbell, Edgar Wright, Roger Michell, Mike Newell, Stephen Frears, Kevin MacDonald, Pete Travis, etc. etc. The other conspicuous style-addict in British cinema, who won an Best Director Oscar this year and whose name I'm sick of reading everywhere, is probably going to spend some time in Hollywood making worthy films for a while. In fact, the only British director who wants to keep filming in the UK is Neil Marshall, bless him. His next film, Centurion, already sounds unmissable.

Still, I'm surprised Billson doesn't mention the Scott Brothers, as they are surely two of the most influential directors of the past twenty years even if they have made movies that many people consider beneath contempt. Their style has been adapted and ripped-off more than almost any other filmmakers around; surely that's something the patriotic UK film buff can be pleased about. That said, I can understand why she doesn't mention other style-heavy filmmakers from the same background (i.e. advertising), such as Alan Parker and Adrian Lyne, who barely have a good film between them.

Sadly for the UK, Ridley and Tony Scott stayed away while their films became more interesting (Tony Scott had a run of fun action movies in the early 90s, and Ridley makes a lot of flat but ambitious films I feel compelled to see, such as Kingdom of Heaven and Black Hawk Down), and Alan Parker came back to run the UK Film Council. Disastrous. It would have been the worst of all worlds if Adrian Lyne had made anything in the last seven years. I will never forgive him for his disastrous adaptation of Lolita, which remains one of the five worst films of the decade. Yes, worse than Fatal Attraction, Nine and a Half Weeks, and Indecent Proposal glommed together into a big lump of misogynistic Silly Putty, and then bounced off our eyeballs for over two hours. The man is a menace to society.

Why am I dragging up all of this bile? Because last week I saw possibly my favourite British movie of the last ten years, and what's most horrible is that I don't think Billson would like it, primarily because it's not that visual. More on that tomorrow...

ETA: And by "tomorrow" I of course meant two days from now...

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

It's Trek Day!

At the beginning of the year, in my Shades of Caruso Listmania quadrilogy of obsessive list-making, I gave Cloverfield the Best Marketing Award. Bad Robot and Paramount Pictures did a fantastic job of generating interest in their film, and by giving nerds at the Nerd Mecca of the Alamo Drafthouse a chance to see the first public screening of the new Star Trek film, complete with guest appearance by Leonard Nimoy, they've done it again by putting those relentlessly hatey buzz-killers on the back-foot, if only temporarily. Even with the release of a bunch of exciting trailers, old-skool Trek fans have been deeply upset about the franchise revamp, and this resistance has been the focus of much of the online coverage. With one fell swoop they put that on hold, and managed to generate far more enthusiasm about the movie than with the usual round of premieres and what-have-you.

They've also made me, and a lot of people, very very jealous. Just the act of scheduling a screening of Wrath of Khan, with Kurtzman, Orci, and Lindelof in attendance, and then bringing on Nimoy to announce a sccreening of the full movie, shows they care about the franchise and the reaction of the fans. How cool would it have been to be there? How playful an act? It's no secret to readers of this blog that I think Damon Lindelof is a great humanitarian, but knowing he was involved in a trick this cool makes him even more awesome.

Of course, when the movie comes out there will be even more back-and-forth about whether the film is any good, and if it is a big success (which seems guaranteed by now), there will become a bizarre schism between old and new fans that will generate so much online debate that it will make all who stand on the sidelines wish that we could tap the wasted energy pouring off outraged and entitled fanboys when they get pissy. Whatever. I just hope it's better than JJ Abrams' directorial debut Mission Impossible The Third, which was technically proficient and featured a McKee-tastic plot constructed with the best punch-card computations money could buy, and yet felt like the most expensive episode of Alias ever. As much as I enjoy Abrams' shows, they can often feel like lucite sculptures instead of flexible armatures. (This metaphor makes perfect sense to me. Sorry if it doesn't translate.)

The enthusiasm during that screening has proven to be infectious. As a result of the numerous online reviews, I am now totally psyched about the forthcoming release, even more so than I already was. My childhood love of Trek was obsessive, and even after I stopped watching the TNG spinoff series (due to being at university in a series of pokey rooms without TVs), that affection remained. One of my most cherished childood memories was of the day my mom came to my primary school to take me home because of an unnamed family tragedy.

But there was no tragedy! It was a cunning ruse to get me out of that hellhole and take me to the first screening of Star Trek: The Motion Picture at our local cinema. How cool is my mom? Of course, I was pretty unhappy about the pace of the movie (the image used above is the one of the most exciting scene in the film, which tells you all you need to know), but even so, I tripped out on Doug Trumbull's amazing effects, and at least wasn't traumatised like this poor viewer. I also still remember the first time I saw Wrath of Khan. Best major character death in nerdfilm history? Very possibly.

So, today has become Trek Day, thanks to multichannel TV. Search For Spock was on Sky Movies this morning, and even though it's not my favourite Trek movie, it was just the tonic. Though it's far too uneventful, especially coming after the rightfully beloved Khan, there are some wonderful moments (the death of Kirk's son, and the destruction of the Enterprise), some great FX work from ILM (especially the lovely matte paintings of Vulcan at the end), and some classic Shatner acting. Knowing that Trek is liable to be found everywhere on satellite TV, I went from there to Virgin, where they were showing the Voyager episode Warlord, which was notable for its creative use of nose/forehead prosthetics and some flirting with girl-on-girl lip-action (not consummated, those cowards).

Aired right after that was the second half of the final episode of Deep Space Nine. I had never seen past the end of the fifth season of DS9, so I was in two minds about watching it, but hell, this is Trek Day, so I left it on while I trawled Wikipedia and Memory Alpha for information about what the hell was going on. Gul Dukat looks like a Bajoran? Garak is in charge of the Cardassian Resistance? Ezri Dax is involved with Bashir? Hell, anyone at all is involved with Bashir? It was a lot to take in. And what the fuck? Sisko "dies"? Screw that. Nobody messes with Ben Sisko.

Still, it didn't seem as contentious an ending as that of Battlestar Galactica, even though comparing the two is unfair due to BSG's greater ambition. Plus, this is an unfair criticism, but DS9, for all its strengths, looks horribly dated compared to Ronald Moore's later series. Anyway, it was nice seeing it, but it pales into insignificance next to the original series. It's an amazing coincidence that Sci Fi (or should I say SyFy) was showing one of my "favourite" episodes from TOS: the Trek-Meets-Taming-Of-The-Shrew craziness that is Elaan of Troyius.

It's not particularly exciting, or thought-provoking, or performed well in any way, but my God it's spectacularly, almost wilfully wrongheaded. As an insight into Kirk's deeply worrying attitude to women, and his occasionally out-of-control machismo, not to mention how women were portrayed on US TV in the 60s, it is essential viewing.

Later on today Virgin is showing an episode of Enterprise, which I suppose I should watch in order to "catch 'em all" even though I have no enthusiasm for that show whatsoever. Of all of the various incarnations of Trek, that is the one with the most depressing Good Character / Gupta ratio. I'll get to that in a moment, but firstly, I have to unleash a howl of outrage from the depths of my nerdcore. There is no way - NO WAY! - that Captain Sam Beckett deserves high ratings like these compared to the feeble, barely above average scores given to Sisko in the card shown above.

Sisko would fuck you up six ways to Sunday! Archer was even crap at being captain of an intergalactic FAILcake. Anyway, that's not the main problem with Enterprise. All of the later shows had some excellent characters - Picard and Data, Quark and O'Brien, Tuvok and The Doctor (the last one being my favourite modern Trek character of them all) - and a few total Guptas - Riker and Troy, Kira and Bashir, Neelix and Tom Paris - but Enterprise had almost no characters I liked at all. Only Trip caught my imagination in any way; the rest might as well have not been created at all. I only remember the weapons officer being a hostile British jerk, and there was a sexy Vulcan in it. A sexy Vulcan? There's only one of those, thank you very much.

He's fighting to gain access to your lovebits, you know.

Virgin is now showing a Q episode of Voyager (Yay Q!!!), followed by some TNG, which means I'll have experienced all of the Old Trek (yes yes, I've not read any of the comics or books, or watched the animated series, but let's just move on). After that I might stick on Wrath of Khan, if I can make it to the end without sobbing bitter nerd tears all over the laptop. All of this has been made possible by the recent screening of the film, so thank you, Bad Robot, for totally distracting me from doing far more important things.

ETA: Nice! The TNG episode is Redemption, one of Ronald D. Moore's amazing Klingon episodes. He writes Klingons better than anyone. These were the highlights of the 1990s Trek renaissance, I reckon. Gowron is my bug-eyed hero, you know.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Hipster Douchebag Music Recommendation Of The Week Month Quarter: “Bear On The Beach” by A Camp

When I wrote about the Cardigans last year, I remarked on how the band’s creative peak coincided with diminishing sales, and concluded that it was because their last two albums – while compelling, glorious and career-defining – were unable to find a commercial niche. And if a pop band like the Cardigans isn’t marketable – not thrilling or ringtone-friendly enough for the kids, not “authentic” or “classic” enough for £50 Man, and nowhere near hip enough for those influential, tastemaking hipster douchebags – there is surely little hope of commercial success for Nina Persson’s side project, A Camp.

A Camp’s self-titled 2001 debut is often described as “country” or “country-tinged”, and that’s not a genre that gets much exposure outside specialist US media. This description overstates the case somewhat, though, and the single “I Can Buy You” surely proves that “harmonica” and “country” are not necessarily synonymous.

This sprightly tale of a sugar mommy trying to hold on to a callow young lover is one thing country almost never is: it’s arch. The Cardigans are sometimes witty, sometimes knowing, sometimes playful, but their lyrics are usually heartfelt. A Camp has given Persson the opportunity to play around with characters, telling stories at one remove from the personal. In the album’s opener “Frequent Flyer”, she slyly claims “I’m a frequent flyer/A notorious liar” as if it were a disclaimer for all the porkies she is about to tell.

Despite being a little doomy in places (it was co-produced by Mark Linkous of doomy doomsters Sparklehorse), A Camp is not hugely different from a Cardigans record. The relentless chugging rhythms of “Hard As A Stone” are reminiscent of “My Favourite Game”, while the atmospheric ballads “Song For The Leftovers” and “Silent Night” wouldn’t sound out of place on Gran Turismo or Long Gone Before Daylight. For new album Colonia, Persson has recruited husband and former Shudder To Think guitarist Nathan Larson to accompany her, and the result is significantly less doomy. Although spotted with vague lyrical references to human beings behaving like dumb animals – ie killing each other, a lot – it has a sunny sheen that makes it irrepressibly uplifting.

The bleakness of the lead single’s lyrics, which suggest that although religion is often responsible for conflict love has been the cause of far more human pain, is offset by the crystalline chords and jaunty beats, not to mention Persson’s unmistakably pure vocals. (I like the video too, which rather than being a winking parody, a smartarse 2009 idea of what 1970s music TV was like, is done with clear-eyed earnestness, believably corny effects and an authentic lack of cuts.)

Elsewhere on Colonia the influence of 1960s girl-pop is obvious in the handclap-heavy “Here Are Many Wild Animals” and the simple, buoyant piano-chord progression of “I Signed The Line”. Although it’s no more a country record than A Camp is, the album occasionally puts me in mind of Dolly Parton (that poppiest of country artists) as well as folk singer Sandy Denny. “Golden Teeth And Silver Medals”, Persson’s duet with Nicolai Dunger, has echoes of “Silver Threads And Golden Needles” (a song recorded by both Parton and Denny) and “Islands In The Stream”:

Golden teeth and silver medals
Beauty mark and scars
That is what we got
Raindrops in a reservoir
And minutes in a jar
That is what we got

To my mind Colonia’s standout song is “Bear On The Beach”, whose sombre, wintry air recalls Angelo Badalamenti’s superlative Twin Peaks soundtrack. While a meditative Persson sings mournfully of Iris, someone who has evidently grown tired of the constant battle that is life, the twinkly toy piano contrasts with a creepily inexorable bassline, evoking a sort of uncertain serenity, a calm assailed by doubt and fear.

It seems someone thinks that the song’s ominous tone, imagery of islands and bears and oceans, and themes of isolation conjure up visions of a popular ABC time-travelly drama series that Shades Of Caruso may have mentioned once or twice.

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?