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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.