After 5 years, BSG has come to its end (in this incarnation). As you’ll see below, it appears that over its life it spawned a host of debates and rather strong opinions. Spoilers ahead!
Q: BSG has ended, and no one appears to be thrilled with the finale. What would you have done differently, if you could run the show?
Chris Roberson’s books include the novels Here, There & Everywhere
, The Voyage of Night Shining White
, Paragaea: A Planetary Romance
, X-Men: The Return
, Set the Seas on Fire
, The Dragon’s Nine Sons
, End of the Century
, Iron Jaw and Hummingbird
, Three Unbroken
, and Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War II
, and the comic book mini-series Cinderella: From Fabletown With Love
. His short stories have appeared in such magazines as Asimov’s
, and Subterranean
, and in anthologies such as Live Without a Net
, and Forbidden Planets
. Along with his business partner and spouse Allison Baker, he is the publisher of MonkeyBrain Books
, an independent publishing house specializing in genre fiction and nonfiction genre studies, and he is the editor of anthology Adventure Vol. 1
. He has been a finalist for the World Fantasy Award four times–once each for writing and editing, and twice for publishing–twice a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and three times for the Sidewise Award for Best Alternate History Short Form (winning in 2004 with his story “O One”). Chris and Allison live in Austin, Texas with their daughter Georgia.
Um, written a decent finale? Perhaps one that wasn’t a steaming pile of dogshit? Honestly, that was like a trainwreck wrapped inside a clusterfuck topped with a healthy splash of “Fuck the audience.”
Okay, perhaps I should step back and contextualize a bit.
At one point, I was convinced that Ron Moore had been sent to save us all. After penning some of the best episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, he was a writer I would follow anywhere. But then with the launch of the “reimagined” Battlestar Galactica, he was suddenly taking us places I as a viewer never even knew existed. For those first few seasons, Battlestar Galactica was not just the best science fiction series in the history of television, but was arguably one of the best television series of any genre.
That held true up until the first few episodes of the third season, with the liberation of New Caprica. Everything up to that point was taut, clever, and engaging in a white-knuckled-sitting-on-the-edge-of-your-seat way. The story was an express-train barreling down the track, only no one in the audience knew where it was heading. And then, almost immediately after the surviving colonists were rescued from New Caprica, things seem to have gone off the rails.
I sit on a lot of fannish panels at conventions, talking about books and comics and movies not with any kind of authority but just as one fan speaking to others. At the WorldCon in Glasgow back in 2005 I was part of a panel on BSG with a bunch of other writers and fans, speaking to a packed auditorium. For more than an hour we ranted and raved about how great the series was, discussing the implications of this or that plot point, spinning out fascinating theories and hypothesis about just what the Cylons’ “Plan” might be.
And in that single hour in Glasgow, I think we put more thought and attention into how the plotlines of BSG might develop than Moore and the rest of the writers ultimately put on display.
By somewhere in the middle of the third season, as characters began to act in increasingly arbitrary ways in order to serve the needs of the plot, I began to suspect that this was not going to end well. With the airing of the two-part “Resurrection Ship” only a year before, I’d opined on my blog that one of the things I loved most about the series was that “I have no idea what’s going to happen next.” But when the unexpected happened on the show at that point, it was still in retrospect inevitable. The characters each had established personalities and prejudiced, and acted accordingly.
As the third season wore on, and then the fourth season was inflicted on the audience, the unexpected still happened, but it was seldom if ever the inevitable outcome of previous events. Instead, characters seemed to make sudden and arbitrary decisions because that was what the plot required of them. We need someone to play some Inherit the Wind scenes in Baltar’s trial? Why, look at that–Apollo has just rediscovered his grandfather’s law books and professed a (previously unsuspected) lifelong desire to practice law. Conflict between characters was often generated by having one or both of them behaving in uncharacteristic ways, and the large-scale movements of the fleet itself was often due more to arbitrary factors than any compelling story reasons.
This tendency only intensified as the fourth season ground to a halt. Having picked five of the cast at random and designating them the “Final Five” missing Cylons, and teaming the colonial fleet up with a group of renegade Cylons, for most of this last season it seemed as if the writers were simply marking time. What revelations there were had little to do with what had gone before, and were inevitably cast aside almost immediately. (“Earth was destroyed millennia ago? And they were all Cylons?” Within an episode or two, all but forgotten, and I find it hard to remember any character stopping even for a moment to say, “Hey, what was up with that?!”) We need Starbuck to receive some cryptic clue, perhaps in the form of a familiar tune? No problem, we’ll just reveal that she learned how to play piano from her father, and just forgot to mention it until now.
With the penultimate episode and the series finale, the worst tendencies of the past season and a half were put on full display, but without even a hint of the elements that had made the show so terrific in its first few years. The plot itself is littered with absolutely baffling decisions, and while they are really the least of the offenses on display here, I can’t resist listing just a few:
- Boomer suddenly has a change of heart and rescues Hera, but only after it’s no help to anyone to do so
- Tigh offers the resurrection technology in exchange for Hera, but only after forcing us to listen to Baltar rambling on about “God’s purpose” for a full five minutes
- The Cylons, who defeated the Colonial fleet back in the destruction of the 12 colonies by exploiting wireless networks, somehow find it necessary to borrow the Galactica’s corded phones in order to call messages back to the Cylon colony
But these kinds of inanities are really the least of it. This is a show that has made terrific use of flashbacks since the original miniseries, and we’ve spent a lot of time in four seasons and change with each of these main characters. Why, then, did Moore feel it necessary to invent new backstory for each of the principles in these new flashbacks? Remember that time that Adama almost quit the military to go work in the private sector, but changed his mind? No? Perhaps because it has very little bearing on his character, and if it’s been mentioned before it slipped right past me. But at least it gave Edward James Olmos a chance to one up the requisite “Admiral Adama Cries” scenes that have appeared in so many recent episodes with “Admiral Adama Cries While Vomiting On Himself.” We get the bewildering story of the time that Roslin’s entire family was killed and so she went on a blind date with one of her former students–and who knew that in the Twelve Colonies “blind date” meant “come to my house where we’ll get drunk and screw”?–and then decided to go into politics after all. And why? I don’t know, perhaps it has something to do with the fact that it took Roslin exactly as long as the series ran to finally succumb to the cancer she was revealed to have back in the first episode… but then, wouldn’t it have made more sense to link her flashbacks into that, instead? Strangest of all, perhaps, is the brief glimpse of those happy alcoholics, Saul and Ellen Tigh, getting plastered together at the strip club.
The scene with Saul and Ellen typifies just why these new continuity inserts were necessary, I think, since it established an idyllic past of sorts, a beginning to the journey whose final end we’re about to see. But the problem is that, despite the fact that there are scads of Saul and Ellen scenes over the course of the first few seasons of BSG, there simply aren’t any idyllic scenes that set them up as the happy couple that’s going to walk off together into the sunset of the primordial Earth. Colonel Tigh is an angry bitter drunk, and Ellen is his shrewish and manipulative ex-wife. We’re supposed to be happy for them that they’ve reached this destination together, and the only way for that to work is to give them some brief moment in their past where they seemed like happiness was attainable, so that now they can attain it.
(The less said about the weirdly cued flashback between Apollo and Starbuck the better, I think, except to say that it featured Starbuck revealing her deepest, darkest fear to Apollo… a deep dark fear that she would then never mention again, apparently.)
There was a lot of budget on display in this finale, with the huge ship-to-ship battles and the armies of deadly Cylons (though, that said, there seemed little left over to pay for some of the other scenes–the climactic moment when the Final Five joined hands to blend their memories had all the panache of a high school production of Frankenstein, and the dispersal of the surviving colonists on the primordial Earth was staged as “Twelve guys with rucksacks walk across a field”). What wasn’t clear, though, was where the writing budget had gone. Time and again characters would stop the action to declaim at each other, as when Roslin sums up her previous four years for the doctor, or Baltar preaches to Cavil, or Starbuck gives her cringingly out-of-character farewell to Apollo (“I’ve reached the end of my journey”? Really?).
I don’t mind all of the supernatural hoodoo, honestly. Moore and company have insisted on piling all that nonsense in since very early on, and there was no reason to expect that they wouldn’t bring it back into the finale. But “supernatural” doesn’t mean “nothing needs to make sense.” And while I admire the valiant attempt to tie in the Opera House dream sequences from earlier in the series, it falls a little flat when all of those portentous visions appear to add up to “You will walk through bright spotlights in the Galactica, and open a door.” And really, what was the big significance of Baltar and Caprica Six ushering Hera through the door, only for her to immediately be taken at gunpoint by Cavil?
Ultimately, though, this whole series appears to have been about two things, if I’m reading the finale correctly. The textual meaning of the series, what the story has been about on the surface, is getting Hera to Earth so she can grow up and be a mommy. (And really, I can’t help but pity poor Hera, who has been a central McGuffin for years but apparently never developed as a character in her own right, a mute and possibly severely mentally disabled child who wandered aimlessly through the plotlines without uttering a word.) And if we missed this fact, the narrative helpfully points this out to us with blaring lights and sounds, with Ron Moore himself holding a National Geographic featuring “mitochondrial Eve” while a newscaster explains the importance of Eve… and then a minute later the narrative explains this to us again when the “angel” Baltar points out that mitochondrial Eve had a Cylon mother and human father. Oh, wait? You mean…? That was that little girl?!
(Parenthetically, I loved the fact that when Hera appears in the CIC, Adama points at her and says “That little girl!” As though everyone wouldn’t already be on a first-name basis with the little girl they were all sacrificing their lives to save.)
Sheesh. And then, having bludgeoned us over the head with the forty-five-minute-long reveal that “OMG they are our ancestors!” the narrative allows the two “angels” to pause for a moment and reflect whether this can all happen again. After all, it happened before on Caprica, and on the “original Earth” before that (wait, did it? The original Earth was inhabited entirely by Cylons, until destroyed by parties unknown in a nuclear holocaust. Is that the same thing that happened “before”?), so it could happen again. And then… Asimo! And Roomba! And Robosapien! OMG NOES! ROBOTS WILL ETE US!
Seriously, are you kidding me? What about the final union between creator and created, between man and machine, human and Cylon? Wasn’t that somehow “God’s” plan? But then…
Okay, went off track a bit there. What was the question again? “What would you have done differently?” Honestly? Anything other than what they actually did. Something good, maybe?
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