Science Fiction, Television

Final Thoughts on Battlestar Galactica

March 25, 2009

Last Friday was the final episode of Battlestar Galactica.  I think it ended at the right time.  I really wish it had ended in a different way.

Avast ye maties, spoilers ahead — avert yer eyes if you haven’t seen the finale (and give a shit)!

The new Battlestar Galactica was much, much better than I expected it to be, and way better than it had any right to be, based on its source material.  In my view, the BSG redux started strongly, gradually improved through its first couple of seasons, peaked in a big way at the beginning of season three, and then gradually declined as it wound down.  The fourth season was a dreary, dark journey filled with anguish and alcohol, and to me it lost much of its urgency.  I was ready for it to pay off with an at least partially upbeat ending, but the one it provided stressed many of the aspects of the show I didn’t like, and downplayed  many of the things that had always captivated me.

To me, BSG was at its best when focusing on political issues, the hard choices of government and leadership, the question of what-is-human, the camaraderie of military service in war time, and the ethics of what is acceptable behavior in the pursuit of survival.  The series finale provided plenty of that for its first half, maneuvering all of the characters into position for a big final mission, providing plenty of action and excitement.  The show’s best moments came during that stretch, in particular a memorable, perfectly played discussion between Lee Adama (Jamie Bamber) and Dr. Gaius Baltar (James Callis), and a great, great scene wherein President Roslin (Mary McDonnell) says goodbye to Dr. Cottle (Donnelly Rhodes).  These scenes exemplified what I liked best about the show — the tough questions of leadership, of personal responsibility, and the deep  friendships engendered by desperate situations.  It didn’t even matter to me that the mission itself — rescuing the hybrid child Hera from the evil cylons — totally didn’t do anything for me.  Let it be a MacGuffin, motivating the conflict — no problem!

The series lost its way for me, at times, during its soap opera relationship business, but moreso when it strayed too far into fantasy territory — fates, prophecies, and spiritualism.  At times the religious angles were fine; a science fiction show entertaining questions of  science vs. religion is all well and good in my book.  And certainly Baltar’s disingenuous pose as a movement-leading Christ figure late in the run was often worth the price of admission, if only for his  facial expressions.  (Of all the characters on the show, Callis’ brilliant Baltar is the one I’ll miss the most — despite nearly a season-plus of tiresome Six flashbacks.  His unwavering, and yet constantly evolving, self-centeredness is truly a thing to behold.)

Alas, the second half of the finale, and basically the final, resonating notes of Battlestar Galactica, emphasized these aspects of the show, in particular the show’s strong but until now highly ambiguous religious lore.  In many ways, I think the finale was handcuffed by its lore, in fact, and worked way too hard to explain its many mysterious loose ends — such as the shared dreams in the opera house, and the godawful Jimi Hendrix music business (by far the series’ most execrable and inexcusable decision).  I would have much preferred a more open-ended resolution to these mysteries, leaving something to interpretation.  But the latter half of the final episode comes down squarely on the side of the supernatural, the divine, the otherworldly.  I mean, it’s one thing to tell us our favorite characters are cylons…but angels?  WTF?

Even more upsetting, the ending comes down squarely against science and technology, implying that all humanity’s problems were caused by science and technology, as opposed to the beliefs and motives of the people misapplying it.  Which isn’t to argue that science and technology don’t have their drawbacks, obviously…but is this the message we want science fiction telling us?  I’d like to think there’s more hope for reason and knowledge and progress than that.  That blatant subtext, leaving most secular thought out in the cold, depressed me more than the fates of any of the characters.  (And don’t get me started on the present-day “coda”…I’m trying to pretend it never happened.)

Anyway, alas, the finale disappointed me on many levels, and left a sour taste in my mouth on a few.   And yet, on the other hand, it did manage to do what a good finale should — say goodbye to itself.  I’m still going to miss the show, and its difficult subject matter, and its talented cast and solid production values and strong stories, and its memorable characters (especially Baltar, Roslin, Tigh, and — weirdly — Cottle).  For a while there, anyway, it was one of the best things on TV.  So says me, anyway!

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  • MoviePen March 31, 2009 at 5:43 am

    I finally got to see this (had to wait for Hulu).

    I reacted most strongly against the “Earth foundation” part. I really don’t like paradox and that’s how BSG ended. The idea that we’re watching drama about people more advanced who then became our progenitors? Not at all satisfying.

    How would I have ended it; I would have preferred something that merged the two civilizations and truly got them rebuilding, ith the implication that someday, *we* might find *them*.

    But I’m a romantic.

  • Chris East March 31, 2009 at 8:46 am

    I like your ending better. Actually, ultimately, it wouldn’t have taken all that much to make me happy–any number of alternate endings would have worked better for me, provided the episode said its goodbyes. But they let the lore dictate the ending, which led to an ending that seemed specifically engineered to disappoint me…oh well, I’ll get over it!