Finale Thoughts

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.


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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:

Mark Srednicki said (Sept 26, 2007):

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.

-cvj

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9 Responses to Finale Thoughts

  1. Paul Guinnessy says:

    Compared to the series finale for Deep Space 9 it wasn’t that bad. I agree that it would have been more interesting if the whole angel subplot wasn’t explained but as you pointed out, the writing was better than a lot of other stuff on TV.

  2. Paul says:

    To be honest, with so many people suddenly suprised at the presence of a seemingly supernatural force/power on the show I really have to wonder what show they’ve been watching all these years. It was heading in this direction since the mini-series itself, made perfectly clear to me that, in their universe at least, the religion of Colonials & Cylons alike had a cachet & reality to it that it may not have in this one.

    Not that that power has to be necessarily “God”. “It” doesn’t like that name, apparently. You could just as easily believe “It” to be some super-evolved ur-Cylon/hybrid entity with an interest in shepharding it’s mutual Cylon & human & hybridised-to-the-nth-degree descendants towards surviving their own impulses & an eventual breaking of the cycles of birth, death & rebirth. The final scene with the Head entities in modern NYC certainly implied that that was their goal, but weren’t interested in directly making it come about. I took that more as a realisation of the Platonic ideal of the divine, a demi-urge rather than the Judeo-Christian active participant in mortal affairs.

    So I interpret that “150K Years Later” ending not so much as a stereotypical Frankensteinian “Look at the doom we’re blindly marching ourselves into”, but rather as the Virtual Six herself said; Maybe this time around the cycle things will be different. Perhaps things will change & the cycle will be broken. It is, as the sequence implies, entirely up to us.

    I didn’t love the finale unconditionally. I’m still unsatisfied as to just how special the hybrid Hera was compared to how special they built her up to be & the resolution of the Opera House vision I also found wanting. But within the context & history of the show the revealing of a third power shaping the events in it is something I can hardly complain about & indeed was entirely expecting all along. For a show that self-admittedly they flew by the seat of their pants, I liked that resolution well enough.

    One last thing, Caprica Six’s Head Baltar didn’t suddenly appear out of nowhere. He first appeared way back in the second season episode “Downloaded” & made a handful of appearances subsequently, even appearing to the real Baltar in one instance.

  3. Clifford says:

    Hi Paul,

    You’re right about the head-Baltar not being newly appeared. I do recall him appearing before, and I overstated his suddeness in this final episode, but it seemed like it was another detail that they’d introduced earlier, and then forgotten to follow up on for a long time, and then just sort of threw it in at the end to tie it up with all the stuff they were using religion to solve. Unsatisfying.

    I don’t agree that it was a foregone conclusion that a “higher power” resolution was on the cards. Having characters who are driven by religion is totally different from using religion itself as a plot resolver. Please see my remark:

    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.

    Cheers!

    -cvj

  4. Mark Srednicki says:

    Ah, Clifford, I’m sorry to read that you were so disappointed. My big complaint about the series, which I didn’t watch religiously (pun intended) until midway through season 3, was the lack of logical consistency on so many things. (Examples: Why did no one suspect that Kara was a resurrected cylon when she reappeared from the dead? Why did Adama accept Tigh’s claim to be a cylon at face value, immediately dropping a number of quite cogent objections that he initially raised? And on and on.) But, I could either reject the show on that basis (a perfectly reasonable response), or watch anyway. The rewards of watching were, for me, the ocaisional moments of great emotional power. One that comes to mind was the time Baltar was injured on a cylon ship, with Laura treating his wounds. Semi-delerious, he reveals that he was the one who gave the human defense codes to the cylons, enabling their genocidal attack. Complex expressions wash across Laura’s face, and she silently begins removing his bandages, allowing him to bleed uncontrollably … before having a vision and a change of heart.

    I found similar emotional power in the final scenes on earth. The decision to abandon technology means the end of Colonial civilization: no art, no science, no culture will survive. And they are breaking up the society they do have; everyone is going off in ones and twos and threes, to live alone. In a sense, this is the nihilistic end they all feared, but now they embrace it, because it is the only way forward that they can see. (And it really doesn’t make sense that everyone would buy into this, and hunter-gatherer life is a good deal more harsh than they seem to be expecting, but again I’m going with the emotional flow over logic.) For me, it also helped that having them arrive at our earch in the far past was precisely the ending I was expecting.

    As for the religious aspects, I was going to say something very similar to what Paul wrote above. It should also be pointed out that “beings of light” were part of the original series, and so we should have expected them to figure in the reimagining. In the original, they were established as Vorlon-like aliens, but I like that their exact nature was left unsettled this time. It now seems clear that this was the intended nature of Head Six all along, rather than just something that they threw in without knowing how they would resolve it later (like the 12 cylon models).

    Maybe someday RDM will team up with JMS, and we’ll get a show with the best aspects of both B5 (well planned plot arcs!) and BSG.

  5. Clifford says:

    Hi Mark,

    You are more forgiving that I am I think. I was, overall, rather let down principally because they had reached the kinds of heights of which you speak, so to see it all thrown away (in my opinion) by using holy messengers seems like lazy and unsatisfying writing to me. The presence of such elements in the previous show is not, by itself, an excuse to transport it wholesale over to the re-imagined version.

    Yes, there are episodes (several) in which I have delighted in the emotional power that they have been able to deploy, both in the quality of the writing and the quality of the amazing cast… I’ve been a champion of the show for that reason, speaking highly of it to all and sundry for those very reasons. I guess that is why I am more powerfully disappointed than some… I don’t know.

    There were indeed powerful and delightful moments in this episode too, such as the one I referred to -Adama and Roslin at the end- and excellent delightful humour that they are so capable of as well (the scene between Laura and the doctor before she goes off to join the assault, or the banter with Baltar when he talks about “breeding with the natives”).. but it was all numbed for me by the poor resolution of the big (and ever growing larger) questions that they’d been raising all through the show, and the failure to deliver on several promises (such as that rather lame playing out of the temple scene that we’ve been waiting to understand for three seasons).

    I am very glad that you did indeed get into watching it and that you saw some of the great stuff that they did too. I will still recommend the show to anyone who is thinking of going to watch it from scratch on DVD… It was indeed some of the finest writing on TV for a chunk of time there…

    Cheers,

    -cvj

  6. Mark Srednicki says:

    Clifford, I think I am more forgiving because my expectations were much lower than yours. I do look forward to catching up some day on this series from the beginning.

    And tonight, it’s back to Jack and Chloe!

  7. Clifford says:

    Ha Ha! Yes… Looking forward to them, in fact. Definitely a Monday highlight!

    Cheers,

    -cvj

  8. Mark Srednicki says:

    Apparently there are some people who haven’t yet recovered from the end of BSG …

  9. Clifford says:

    Excellent… It is clearly a followup to another piece on a similar subject and theme, here.

    -cvj