“You know he doesn’t like that name” — Josh bids farewell to Battlestar Galactica!
So, it’s over.
I can count on one hand the number of truly great science fiction TV shows. As I look back at Ron Moore’s reimagined Battlestar Galactica, there is no question that this epic tale is high on that list. Seeing the show come to a close is a great loss — although I am comforted to know that in the often-brutal TV marketplace that’s out there, Moore & his team were able to end the show on their own terms, when they felt their story was finished. This is a saga that I am certain I will revisit many times in the year to come.
It is staggering to consider all the little choices that Moore & co. made correctly, right from the beginning, that all came together to make BSG such a masterpiece. The brilliant casting of the enormous ensemble. The decision to forgo most of the Star Trek ideas that were so innovative 30 years ago but that have become such sci-fi cliches over the past four decades (such as aliens with strange foreheads in funky suits, magic transporters, view-screens, a bridge with a big captain’s chair in the middle of it, super-duper shiny computer consoles everywhere… I could go on!) and create a retro look for the show. The fearlessness with which the writers tackled the inherent darkness of the premise — the near-total annihilation of the human race — and all of the logical questions and struggles that would come out of that apocalyptic event. (What will our society be like? Will we have a government? Courts? Freedom of the press? Where will we get fuel, or food, or water? What happens when we start running out of supplies like medicine, or toothpaste? Who will be in control, the military or the civilians?) And finally, the choice to center the stories not in sci-fi mysteries (no time-travel, no alternate universes, no weird astrological phenomena to investigate, no aliens to make contact with) but in characters. There were no cardboard cut-outs, perfectly moral characters to be found on this show. No, everyone (even the robots!) were completely human — flawed, imperfect, and capable of making terrible decisions (even our most heroic characters!).
The show has made some mis-steps over the course of its run, there’s no question about that. I, for one, felt that it nearly lost its way in the latter half of season 2, after the Pegasus three-parter concluded. There were a couple of stand-alone episodes there that were weak in the extreme, particularly the notoriously terrible “Black Market” (by the way, if you haven’t heard it, Ron Moore’s brutally honest mea culpa podcast for that episode is a must-listen). But as I look back over the run of the show, despite a couple of clunkers here and there, BSG had a hit-to-miss ratio of episodes that was truly ASTONISHING. And when it was great — as it oh so often was — ho boy, there was just nothing better on TV, sci-fi or otherwise.
So what did I think of the finale, already?
Well, I’ll try to keep my thoughts as spoiler-free as I can, but if you’re someone reading this who hasn’t seen the finale yet — or, if you’re someone who is watching BSG but is behind, OR if you’re someone who MIGHT SOMEDAY choose to sample this amazing, incredible show, then let me kindly invite you to GET LOST NOW. Believe me, you don’t want any surprises spoiled for you in any way. Enjoy today’s cartoon, and then come back tomorrow when I discuss International Talk Like William Shatner Day! (I’m not kidding about that.)
I thought the first hour and a half of the finale was pretty much perfection.
This show has been astounding me, ever since the original mini-series, with the beautiful, feature film quality of its visual effects. It seems that every week they give us some incredible sequence that tops everything that has gone before. And then they go ahead and top that the week after. The assault on the Cylon Colony was one of the most magnificent sci-fi action sequences that I have ever seen, on TV or at the movies. If the new Terminator film has robot-on-robot action that is half as amazing as what we saw here, with centurian battling centurian (and the old-style 1970’s centurians, no less!!), then I will be very impressed. The entire extended sequence was the type of nail-biting action spectacle that BSG has always done so peerlessly.
There was also a lot of humor (Tigh’s remark about it not being too late to throw all the Cylons out the airlock), great character moments (Boomer’s choice, Baltar and Caprica Six realizing that they each see “head” versions of each other), and a healthy dosage of the type of “holy shit” moments that, like the epic sci-fi action, has always been such a hallmark of the show. The realization, at long, long last, of the Opera House visions (that had been a mystery of the show ever since the season 1 finale) was just perfect, a spine-tingling moment. The Chief’s final reckoning with Tory — wow, did that get me! Ron Moore has stated, in some post-finale interviews, that the writers purposefully did not mention the Tory-Cally stuff recently, so that they would surprise viewers who had thought that story-thread forgotten. I’m usually pretty attentive about these sorts of things, but they got me good. I also loved the revelation as to the ultimate purpose of “All Along the Watchtower” — I thought that was just about perfect. And the twist about Earth, and the charred cinder of a world that we’d seen in the mid-season finale — well that was brilliant as well! I’d been thinking about that a lot, actually, in the last few weeks, as I contemplated where the show was going to end, and I’d become more and more dissatisfied with the revelations we’d gotten mid-season about Earth. It had seemed a bit anti-climactic, and so I was really, really glad to see that there was a lot more to the story of Earth than what we’d seen to that point.
The last 40 or so minutes of the finale, after Kara jumps Galactica… well, I am a little bit less enthusiastic about that. I do really love that they took their sweet time with the ending, although I also wish that, after such an intense, amazing first hour-and-a-half, that a little something more had actually HAPPENED in the final 40-45 minutes. I sort of like the inevitability of ending up on “our” Earth in the past (which was something that I had guessed as a possible ending of the series way back when I first saw the miniseries, and started wondering about where their quest for Earth would take them), although, again, I must admit to having hoped, as I watched the end of the finale unfold, for some sort of additional twist on that.
But what we got instead was a slow, elegiac goodbye to all of the (surviving) characters that we’d grown to love over the course of the show. I can’t really complain about that. This sort of closure is a key component of a successful series finale, and it was great to see everyone get a little attention. I was very worried that poor Helo wasn’t going to make it through to the end (particularly after Athena left him bleeding out in the hallway, and then WE DIDN’T SEE HIM AGAIN FOR LIKE AN HOUR!!), so I was particularly happy to see him get his happy ending with Athena. The death of Laura Roslin, which we’ve known was coming ever since the mini-series, was tender and moving. Her final flight, and Adama putting his wedding ring on her finger (echoing Laura’s vision from “The Hub”), were powerful moments. And thank the gods that we got to hear Adama and Starbuck give their familiar “nothing but the rain” back and forth (that was first introduced all the way back in the miniseries) one final time! I was waiting for that for the whole episode, and was starting to doubt that we’d get to hear it again! Whew.
I’ve read some grousing on-line about the final revelations about Starbuck, but her disappearance worked for me. That wasn’t something that I needed totally resolved. However, I will admit that I would have liked a LITTLE more information — like, if she was a “head” character like Six and Baltar after all, then what the hell was the deal with her Viper?? And who exactly was the figure who’d been guiding her all along (taking the form of Leoben back in “Maelstrom,” the episode in which she died in the nebula, and the form of her father the piano man just a few weeks ago in “Someone to Watch Over Me”)? And was she connected to the mysterious missing Cylon Daniel, or not? If her father didn’t have a Cylon (or “head” character) connection, then how/why did he teach her that song when she was a little girl?
My main dissatisfaction with the ending has to do with its pat, simplistic nature. For a show that always addressed the realistic details and problems that the “ragtag fleet” faced, this just seemed too easy. There weren’t ANY Colonials who wanted to stay on their ships? There wasn’t ANY dissent about destroying ALL of their technology? It’s all well and good to see everyone frolicking in the grass and on their respective cabin-site hilltops — but what about a month later when it gets cold, and people start getting sick, and going hungry? I would have liked to have seen at least a scene or two addressing some of those possible concerns. (And speaking of simplistic, is Adama going to build that cabin all on his own?? Come on. I would have liked to have seen one final scene of him and Lee reuniting, after both losing their respective ladies. That would have felt a bit more “right” to me than having both Bill and Lee left alone.) I also, frankly, was a bit distracted by the similarity between this ending and that of Douglas Adams’ novel Life, the Universe, and Everything. Maybe that’s just me!
But I am starting to nitpick here. The final scene, 150,000 years later, was wonderful. I enjoyed both the connections to our modern world (on-the-nose though it was) and to the mini-series (echoing Six walking unnoticed through the bustling streets of Caprica). Who knew the famed One Year Later jump at the end of season 2 was just the beginning of the show’s time-jumping!!
I think any lingering dissatisfaction that I feel rests not with the finale, which (nit-picks aside) was really a magnificent episode, and more with some of the storytelling decisions made during the course of this last season. Ever since Kara’s “death” (and I guess now I should remove those quotation marks, huh?) towards the end of season 3, the show became much more about the various mysteries that were being presented than it ever had been before. Questions such as what happened to Kara, what was her destiny, who was her guide, how did she survive… who was the final Cylon… what was the nature of the final five, how could they be cylons, what was their history… what, in fact, does it mean to be a “Cylon”… who was Daniel, and what, if any, connection did he have to Starbuck… what really happened back on Earth, and on Kobol, 2-3,000 years ago…??? Etc etc etc. For most of its first three seasons, BSG wasn’t really a show about mysteries (the way Lost is), but I felt that these questions came to dominate the show during its final year. I would have appreciated it had more of them been answered, in more substantial ways, before we even got to the finale.
Does any of this dilute my over-all love for this show? No, it does not. In fact, I can’t wait for the eventual DVD release, so that I can re-watch this final batch of episodes and see, in hindsight, how I feel everything fits together.
There have been very few television shows as relentlessly challenging, thought-provoking, and just ridiculously entertaining as Battlestar Galactica. To Ron Moore and everyone involved in the creation of this show, you have my thanks.
Say it with me now, folks: So say we all!