Saturday, March 21, 2009

BstarG - Requiem For A Series

The final episode of Battlestar Galactica was aired last night, and Mel and I watched it with the lights down, the sound up, and dueling senses of elation and sadness. We've been fans since the miniseries aired what must be seven or eight years ago, and have followed it loyally ever since. There's something about a good television series that you pick up exclusively from on-air broadcasts - the pacing is spaced out (although with cable shows, sometimes that spacing can last nine or more months, even between *halves* of seasons), and you have time for each episode to sink in before you go on to the next one. 

Spoilers will abound, so if you haven't seen the finale consider yourself warned. Here we go:
  • Resolution to plot lines. If there's one thing that's going to irk fans, it's that a few of the hanging plot threads were not resolved as you might think they should have been, or to your satisfaction. For us, the whole Starbuck question - if she's dead on Earth, who's running around shooting bad Cylons? - was more or less sidestepped. I'm unsatisfied with her being an angel (they seemed to know who they were, Starbuck struggled with what she was), and having her disappear from New Earth was extremely frustrating. The angels (Caprica inside Baltar's head and vice versa) also seemed a little convenient, not to mention that their sudden desire to see the Cylons and humans find peace right before Tyrel strangled Tori seemed like a bit of a 180. 
  • The final jump to New Earth. Boy, did that seem like a deus ex machina, and a weak one at that. I must have missed how they came up with the rendezvous point before going on the raid on the Cylon colony, but to have all of the ships pop out conveniently over the *one* nice planet they found on the entire voyage? A little precious, if you ask me. That and the conveniently genetically compatible humanoids on the planet. While Baltar made some comment about the hand of God at work, I felt more like I was watching Tartuffe with Louis the Sun King descending at the end to magically clean up the mess than Bstar G. 
  • WTF were all of those old-school Cylons doing running around? They looked terrible. And there were more of them on the Battlestar than defending the colony, which struck me as odd. 
  • Ron Moore's cameo shot at the end. Gratuitous and unnecessary, could have been  left out entirely. He's gotten a huge amount of air time on the various specials, webcasts of con panels, etc. No need to stick him in the final except as a private joke, and it left a bad taste in my mouth.
  • Caville's suicide during the final shoot-out at the C-in-C. 
  • The entire idea that Cylons could build a Resurrection ship, even with outside help, and not be able to reproduce it later. There's this thing called "Reverse Engineering" and I'm pretty sure that the Cylons could have done it in this case. 
  • I know things are tough, and companies are trying all sorts of new revenue streams, but I don't think that being reminded that every prop used in the show is being auctioned off online is going to help with my suspension of disbelief. Almost certainly a Sci-Fi channel stunt, it felt cheap and tawdry, and the ads for the last few weeks were truly relentless. 
There were a lot of good things about the finale, lest you think I'm a total cynic (which I am):
  • Tori pays for her killing of Tyrel's wife. That her cruelty would result in the cycle repeating was a nice touch, although I'd have liked to have seen Tyrel express deep regret that his rage had brought down what might have been an end to the cycle of violence. 
  • The description of "mitochondrial Eve" at the end, although whether that was Hera (in which case we are all half Cylon) or Laura (who we saw buried minutes before, segueing into the news reports on Eve's grave) was in some doubt. Seeing as Laura had no children, that seems a strange choice.
  • Overall, I felt that the finale brought the series to a "clean" close. Galactica all but a hulk, unable to jump; knowledge that, indeed, Earth was *not* the radioactive husk found earlier but instead given that name in tribute; that we were evolved from the colonists (and if Eve was indeed Hera, then also from Cylons, although I'm unaware of any bioengineered portions of my anatomy). 
In all, I felt that there was probably about 30-40 minutes of episode that had been cut to fit it into the timeslot, even at two hours (including ads).  A couple of the final ten episodes have felt that way to me, and I'm hoping that the DVD sets clean things up a bit in that regard with extended episodes. Much of the storytelling felt rushed, when it wasn't introspective to the point of curing insomnia, over the last several episodes. I think that two more episodes might have allowed a better flow. 

Now that this series is over, I'm looking forward to the new series Caprica, although there's a very dismal history of spinoffs of successful sci-fi shows on television. Think of everything Chris Carter has done since the X-Files, including the most recent movie, or the short-lived sequel focusing on the Rangers in the Babylon 5 universe. ST:TNG was probably the most successful, although to be honest none of those spinoffs ever captured my imagination for more than a single season (I liked Enterprise the best, and it lasted for the shortest period). While there are some good people in the show, I think that many will ignore it because there's no exotic world (other than a little advanced tech) to draw sci-fi fans in. The best stories take a mundane element and set it in an exotic setting, which Bstar G did admirably, and the setting in Caprica may not be exotic enough. We shall see. 

Farewell to thee, Bstar G. While I felt that perhaps Ron Moore was right when he said that it was all about the characters as his writing team struggled to find a way to end the series, it did so with some cost to cohesion and plot. Oddly, I felt that the series finale of X-Files, a show that arguably started a precipitous downhill slide in the fourth season that ended with the star characters all but out of the show for the last two seasons (8 and 9) was a stronger finish. At least it was better than the final Seinfeld or Sopranos episodes which were insults to their viewers in more ways than I care to remember. 

Of the series that will pick up the slack, my faves are Lost, Damages, Mad Men, Chuck, and Friday Night Lights. Battlestar, however, will always hold a special place in my heart for it's unflinching examination of the War on Terror and American adventurism under the Bush/Cheney Administration at a time when we all needed a big slap in the face to remind us that there better be a very good rationale if the ends are going to justify the means. The characters in Bstar G were all horribly flawed, just as all of us are, and they made some good decisions over time as they made bad decisions, and they had to live with the consequences. Americans like to pretend there *are* no consequences for our actions, and if nothing else this series has forced us to see that lie for what it is. 

I just wish it had ended a little better. 


Ken said...

Well, since that weekend we played BSG at Salishan, our family really got into the series. For me, the ending was OK, but just OK. Some of the things that were not satisfying:

* The end of Starbuck's story.
* Remember Daniel?
* I can't imagine throwing out my tech to sleep with stone-age humanoids...

I listened to most of the podcasts, and it was clear that each episode was written out of "Now this would be a great thing to do to one of our characters and confuse the audience." So, I'm not surprised that it didn't come together too well at the end. Like you say Doug, maybe the un-cut versions will illuminate.

Dug said...

Daniel was intended to be a lead-in to the follow-on series, "Caprica," which is going to be broadcast in 2010 (the pilot will be straight to DVD/Digital Download in May 2009). As such, I didn't expect a lot more from that, although you'd have had to pay attention to the off-air discussion to be aware of the situation.

Despite my seemingly anti-religion tirades, I had absolutely no problem with the uncertainty surrounding the "head" characters that Caprica and Baltar kept seeing. That was at the whim of a deus ex machina, to be sure, but one that I didn't feel that I needed to understand, much as I feel about the Divine in my own life, whatever it may be. However, having Starbuck simply disappear without having *any* more explanation than she was necessary? About as unsatisfying as someone telling me that the Bible, through all of it's myriad translations and other edits, is the unfiltered word of God. Moore says he's prepared for the backlash that creative decision will engender, but I don't think he will be. It was a cop out. Not as bad as the Sopranos cop out, which extended to the entire series, but a cop out nonetheless.

And dude? I don't like *camping*. Although I understand the belief that maybe if there were smaller communities it would be harder for humanity to screw things up again. In truth, it only delays the inevitable.

You'd think that, if this has happened before and will happen again, that the Higher Power would eventually get it right. That, or we're all just here for entertainment purposes.

I expect that the DVD will provide better flow for the final three hours more than anything. My understanding is that an hour was added after the original scripts were written, and I think that the overall arc was hurt as a result.

I can only hope that Lost has a better finale, although given how Abrams & Co. screwed up Alias *so* badly I'll believe it's good when I see it.