Battlestar Galactica Ends

Edit: I can’t believe I misspelled the name of the show!

Here’s my take on the end of the best Science Fiction TV series in history: it hit the right emotional notes, and it was reasonably satisfying, but it was not a worthy ending to the series, and I suspect that as we all go back and watch the whole thing through we’ll find a lot of threads left dangling or essentially forgotten by the writers.

Now, as usual, I’m more interested in what went wrong with the show than what went right. It was very well acted and generally well written, the special effects were unbelievably good, and it took on ambitious themes and generally handled them well. Having gotten all that out of the way, there’s quite a bit to criticize.

Scale

One of the details BSG kept returning to was just how many survivors remained. It starts (if I recall correctly) slightly under 50,000 and eventually drops to around 30,000. This is, in essence, the size of a small town. It seems slightly ridiculous that the writers seem to forget just how small a community they’re dealing with. The political and legal wrangles are treated as though they were taking place in a huge nation, not a small community where pretty much everyone knows everyone. While I can believe that the people in charge might have grandiose notions about themselves (they are, after all, the last remnants of their civilization) it seems like the writers might well have tried to bring them back to Earth from time-to-time. Just what proportion of the survivors constitute the press corps? Rather a lot, it seems.

Technology

The basic assumption in BSG is that humans have pulled back on their use of computers because they went too far and ended up getting Skynet … er, I mean the Cylons … as an emergent behavior of their computer system. OK, I’ll accept that, but you do not go back to analog phones and switchboards. The whole “retro-future” technology of BSG is cute from a production design viewpoint, but it makes no sense from any other perspective. We know that our current level of computer technology has not given rise to Skynet or the Cylons, and presumably the folks living on Caprica can remember that their electronic microwave ovens and pocket calculators never gave them grief. In any event, it’s quite impossible to expect human pilots with no advanced avionics to be able to defeat cyborgs flying computerized spacecraft. But they do. In the end, it turns out that Battlestar Galactica was sufficiently networked that they could just plug a Cylon hybrid in anyway. How odd.

Warning, Spoilers Ahead!

It was God What Done It

Perhaps the worst aspect of BSG was well-and-truly foreshadowed from day one, which is the centrality of religion and prophecy to the story. The final resolution is literally a Deus Ex Machina. We are to accept that the figmentary Six and Balthar are angels of some kind and that Starbuck is Jesus, and that the basic resolution is summed up by “All this has happened before and will happen again” (which was the great revelation at the end of an earlier season). It’s particularly annoying that a show with such a sophisticated take on — say — the nature of terrorism, should come down so squarely and definitely in the “there is one god” camp.

We Will All Go Together When We Go

The worst aspect of the Finale (as opposed to the series itself) is that we’re required to accept that the entire fleet agrees to throw away their technology and become hunter gatherers. I could accept some of the forty-odd-thousand survivors doing this, but every single one? These are people who were fractious in life-and-death situations, and every single one of them is going to give up advanced medicine and hot showers so they can start fresh? I don’t think so. (Having a character say something like “wow, I wasn’t expecting everyone to agree” would be OK in a comedy like Buffy, but it’s just stupid in this case.)

Hurry Up And Wait

The pacing and structure of the Finale are odd too. The rescue is resolved rather quickly, and most of the two hours is spent on scenes which could have been much shorter or simply omitted. It’s nice to have some time to wind down from the very exciting climax, and accept that the journey is over, but it’s not long before we, or I at least, are screaming for them to get on with it. How many scenes of Adama with Roslynn heading off to die (or whatever) do we need to see? (And, the wasting of time in the Finale is particularly galling when you consider just what a waste of time the second last episode was.)

I Knew Honda Was Up To No Good

The closing sequence, where Six (the devil?) and Balthar (the angel?) are speculating as to whether this latest incarnation of human civilization will self-destruct the same way the others all did, is somewhat undercut by the final shot of primitive robots in action in some kind of ad or documentary on a TV set in a store window. Battlestar Galactica (the remake) managed to touch on many complex issues, so returning to a not-so-subtle reminder of the perils of [robot] technology seems almost imbecilic. Not our biggest problem, sorry.

Unanswered Questions

So what the heck were the Cylons doing? Apparently, we’re going to have a spin-off movie or mini-series called The Plan explaining things from a Cylon perspective. I’d be fascinated to find out exactly how they can rationalize Cylon behavior.

And, when they said “All of this has happened before and will happen again” did it include the humans ditching all their technology and becoming hunter-gatherers? Because it sure doesn’t seem like the last two iterations did anything of the sort. And if the answer is no, then the final conversation between figmentary Six and figmentary Balthar makes no sense. (Really, they should have said “it turns out that even after giving up everything, they still ended up recreating Kobol” or something. And instead of ending with footage of ridiculous humanoid robots they had chosen footage of robot planes and vehicles being used in Iraq and Afghanistan…)

And exactly how was Starbuck the harbinger of doom?

Oh, and twelve four digit numbers doesn’t give you a very precise location within our galaxy. That’s plus or minus five light years in two dimensions. So, did the music point to Earth, Alpha Centauri, or Barnard’s Star? (There are quite a few more options, actually.)

Addendum

Another blogger points out that Earth’s fauna and climate were very different 150,000 years ago (I’m kicking myself for not noticing this, but with so many self-contained clangers it’s almost nitpicking to actually consider “facts”). Even if we accept that by 150,000 years ago they mean “roughly 150,000 years ago” and that therefore they picked a time which was by amazing coincidence relatively similar in climate to our own, this doesn’t explain away all the megafauna (mammoths, 25′ tall sloths, sabertooth tigers, wolves the size of horses, etc.) that made it through to the late stone age.

  • http://brainsnorkel.com Chris

    I wholeheartedly agree. I have mixed emotions. This was not the greatest end for a great TV show, but taken as a whole it was a phenomenal effort. I feel my disappointment in the finale is mostly the result of being built up by very good TV, and by my own expectations for how the main threads would resolve.

    The series did undergo a bit of Twin Peaks syndrome, where (for example) Agent Cooper goes from superhuman professionalism, perception and analysis to agog gum shoe detective in the course of a few episodes.

    Contrast the build up to the liberation of New Caprica with the preparation for the raid on the Colony. Contrast the perils of close-in FTL work between the first series and the finale. Contrast the unstoppable centurions of earlier battles with the humans’ finale ammo upgrade (or were the centurions fooling around with experimental tinfoil armour again?)

  • Andrew Barry

    Had similar feelings about the finale.

    Was satisfied that they finally laid down their burdens – although I wonder exactly how happy they would be after the 3rd day of no hot water, etc.

    Resolutions of stuff like the whole opera house dream was just silly – ie it was instructing Six and Balthar to open the door to the CIC and was otherwise just fucking with Boomer/Roslyn.

    And yeah, the fact that they supposedly only lost 7 vipers in the final confrontation beggars belief. Perhaps off-screen the pilots had rediscovered the ancient music of “rock and roll” or discovered an old historical document of “football tactics”.

    Slight nit picking: I was under the belief that they didn’t network their systems so as to protect themselves from “teh Cylon uber-hackers”, not because their phone system would suddenly become self-aware.

    But in all of this we are meant to have faith that the Cylons had a plan, when it’s pretty clear the writers didn’t.

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  • Michael Case

    I was kind of depressed by the whole anti-science and technology angle to the thing. And I was also concerned about how *everyone* just agreed to give up civilisation like that. (And what happened to the Raptors they were flying people around in?)

    Then there’s the extremely unlikely discovery of “Mitochondrial Eve”. Who was presumably Hera, from the way the “angels” were talking about her. She was a “young woman” when she died? Kind of depressing.

    And finally, after fighting against the Cylons, and with all the worries about technology run amok, they just let the last few Centurions take off in the basestar. They decide the risk of them coming back to destroy them in a couple of hundred years is worth taking. What?

    (I don’t want to get into the extremely unlikely sequence of events that resulted in the destruction of the colony.)

  • http://loewald.com/ Tonio

    Olmos said in an interview at the end of season three that we weren’t going to find the ending happy, so if we were hoping for that — prepare to be disappointed. I wasn’t expecting a happy ending, although I actually think that a happy ending would actually have made more sense: The OBVIOUS resolution is for the humans and cylons to learn to get along and create The Culture. Can’t get happier than that!

  • http://www.bkeeneybriefs.com Bob Keeney

    Regardless of the holes in the ending and story line I still think it’s one of the best television series of all time. I enjoyed it because of the religion, politics and all the other dark subject matters.

    I think you miss the point of their politics, though. You’re exactly right that they weren’t acting like a small town. Absolutely! That, I believe, was the point. They kept trying to keep things the way they were instead of evolving to what they needed to be. They went from billions of people down to 50,000 in one attack.

    Anyway, just my two cents worth.

  • http://loewald.com/ Tonio

    I think you’re giving the writers too much credit here. They (the writers, et al) claim that they don’t present solutions, they simply present “the mess”. Well, if they wanted to present this particular mess then they should have shown some people presenting an alternative (and being rejected or ignored). The fact that no-one even observes that the problem exists indicates to me that the writers didn’t see it.

    Most of the problems with the finale come down to trying to tie up stuff neatly rather than simply leave things dangling. They could have had Apollo heading off to explore, a bunch of folks going back to nature, and other people getting into a bunch of spaceships and heading off to who-knows-where. Instead they had the whole fractious rabble agree to do one silly thing.

    I completely agree that BSG was one of the best shows in TV history, and without question the best SF show ever, which makes the ending more of a disappointment. (Contrast this with the absolutely kickass ending of season two of Damages.)