Well, some of the best writing on television (irrespective of genre) came to an end recently, and since I raved about it back at its height some time ago (and maybe even encouraged some of you to watch it) I feel I ought to comment a little, now that the series – Battlestar Galactica – has ended. If you’ve not seen the finale (or even several of the episodes leading up to it), please do not read any further if you don’t want to know plot details.
What do I think of it all? Well, the short version of my remarks is simply: Sometimes I hate being right. If the truth be told, it was manifestly clear that that ending of “some of the best writing on television” I referred to in the opening paragraph took place long before Friday’s season finale. The cracks had begun to show earlier, with deep chasms showing up by a short way into the Final Ten episodes, but I decided to give the writers a chance to dig themselves out of the holes they’d dug. As episode after episode went by, I became more doubtful, and more fearful of a Star-Trek-type solution involving some random piece of made up science or technology coming in to rescue the writers. When there was a mention in the penultimate episode that the base they were going to attack for the big final battle was near “some kind of naked singularity”, I rolled my eyes. Was that how they were going to explain Kara/Starbuck’s return all sparkly and new, and the other body of hers that had crashed? How were they going to tie that all in with the “harbinger of doom” remarks uttered so many times? Give ‘em a chance, cvj, I muttered, give ‘em a chance.
The clearest sign that things had begun to crumble was the obvious loss of a clear arc to which things were adhering. It must have been obvious to everyone watching that several of the big plot revelations in the last ten episodes were just random stuff made up at the last minute! What was really annoying about all that is the fact that it was trying to look like it was what they planned to do all along, but it was so transparently not the case in so many examples. By time they got to revealing that Helen was the last hidden cylon I knew they’d totally and utterly lost their way. From then on the series rapidly descended into a shambles. They’d no idea what they were doing, and in fact there were times when it felt like there were moments of writers panic in the way things lurched from one thing to another, again with many examples too annoying to bother to list here.
So come the final episode, I’d pretty much decided that they’d fail to figure out how to bring the thing to a satisfying ending, fail to properly account for all the important details they’d designed in, and were in danger of having to invoke the aforementioned Star-Trek type option.
… and sadly I was right. But rather than even try to fix various things (such as the mysteries of Kara/Starbuck, and the meaning of all the symbolism and parallel dreams in the temple, or the origin of Baltar’s recurring vision of Six as a sort of guardian angel or advisor), they just gave up. Utterly gave up. They largely pretended, as far as I can tell, that much had not happened. I can’t decide if that is better or worse than at least being seen to try to figure it out and then failing in the effort. The last part of the show on the wrong Earth (which from our perspective and, in a rare nice piece of writing in Adama’s voice, is essentially the correct Earth) could largely have been dropped, for all the satisfying content it failed to supply. Ending things near the end of the battle after Galen breaks off the link between the five and, in the only truly satisfying moment of the episode, snaps the neck of the utterly annoying and poorly written final-five cylon Tori for murdering Calli in season four, would have been maybe a far better way to go. I thought they would have then let them all fall into the black hole and run the titles. Leave it to us to decide how it all looks back somehow… That would have been messy, but less annoying than much of what they did – Starbuck just vanishing after saying “my work here is done” (or whatever she said), and so forth. I was so annoyed with everything that I did not properly savour the grief and mourn the passing of the excellent Laura Roslin, and wallow in the sadness of Admiral Adama’s situation, building that cabin they’d talked about for her even after she’s gone. I knew that they were going to do that, and wanted to properly feel all the emotions of the moment. But I was robbed of that by all the random poorly executed stuff. Perhaps I will try to watch that bit again once I’ve separate myself from the feelings of annoyance.
What was the Star-Trek-type rescue for the writers? Not a direct copy of Scotty, Spock or Data or Geordie coming up with some technical sounding mumbo-jumbo in the engineering section to save the day in some piece of utterly lazy writing, but the equivalent thing: Mystical pseudo-religious mumbo jumbo instead. This might be the single worst thing of all by far, in this unravelling of the tale: Baltar’s Six in the vision is clearly supposed to be some sort of guiding angel, not metaphorically, but for real, and is even joined by a Baltar-type companion, who was implied to be in Six’ visions all along. Evidently Starbuck/Kara was an angel too. How convenient for the writing, or from another perspective, how huge a cop-out. It is courageous writing to weave religion into a story like this, into the character’s belief systems, and try to explore how it came about, and what it might motivate, but it is precisely the opposite type of writing that uses religion and its associated randomness to resolve plot difficulties. The show went from the one to the other, sadly. Suddenly it became clear that we were watching a long episode of “Touched By an Angel” all along. The joke was on us the viewers.
The angels Baltar and Six appear in present day earth 150K years later to do some annoying preaching almost directly to camera for the few of us who must have fallen asleep and couldn’t see the obvious “oh what bad things will we do with our technology this time around – will we ever stop?” moral that they decided was the Big Message. Utterly unsatisfying, and moreover, thoroughly insulting of the intelligence of the audience the show had assembled after all these years. No, don’t slap us in the face with an obvious wet fish that we can all see up front. We were smart enough to see that message from episode one, season one. Leave it alone to quietly cast a shadow over everything on its own, rather than writing it in boldface across the screen. That was just adding insult to injury, frankly.
Anyway, I’m very sad that they messed this up so royally. But to be honest, I knew it was going to happen eventually, and am pleasantly surprised that they more or less got as many as three and a half solid seasons out of it before the tailspin began. Recalling an earlier conversation here on the blog more or less summarizes it all:
I’m worried that, unlike B5, the writers don’t have an ending in mind …
to which I replied:
Yes, that is a concern, but the details of the journey are rather splendidly written. I’d get the miniseries and the two first seasons and watch those. They’re a pleasure to watch (in plot and character development especially), even without an ending. In fact, I expect that it will begin to degrade pretty soon, so I’m just savouring the early seasons…
…and so it came to pass.