Last night was the series finale of Battlestar Galactica.
Elise and I are hopelessly devoted to the show. After watching the miniseries from Netflix we went all-in, picking up the DVDs on our fifth anniversary before eating sushi in a snowstorm and ensconcing ourselves at home to devour the first two seasons.
We have been addicted ever since. Intriguingly, it’s the only piece of media we’ve ever both been equally obsessed by. I like Buffy more. She likes Alias more. I like Tori more. We hardly ever meet in the middle.
It’s been a wonderful thing to share over the past two years, so much so that it even unexpectedly snuck into our wedding vows. After a terrifyingly thrilling first half of a final season last year, the Sci-Fi network held over the final episodes to air in a single sprint from the night before our wedding through yesterday, Gina’s birthday.
Elise and I have watched each one, and with each our dread has mounted. After a strong kickoff of melancholy and mind-bending revelations, each further meandering turn of the plot seemed to steer us farther away from an exciting resolution to the series.
Having finally arrived at that resolution, I can say that it wasn’t worth the trouble. Any future fan of the show should just end things with the mid-season revelation that earth is a bombed-out husk. Or, for a happier version, proceed directly from Galactica’s jump to husk-earth to about forty minutes from the end of last night’s episode.
Whatever you do, just don’t watch the entirely of the ten pointless, miserable, badly executed hours of television that came between those two points.
(spoilery stuff starts here)
In that interstitial time the decline has been steady. Not only have entire episodes passed by sans plot, but even previously trustworthy elements like dialog and lighting have taken a nose dive.
There have been seeming hours of Edward Olmos crying, drunk, or drunkenly crying. Endless montages of damage to the interior of the ship. A mutiny whose sole point seemed to be to dispose of two primary characters who didn’t fit into the final chapter of the show.
That’s not to say there weren’t any good parts. The mutiny was terrifying and efficient. No Exit‘s theatrical staging and execution were a thrill. The revelation of a missing cylon model and Kara’s subsequent piano aptitude combined to form the best shocker the show has ever delivered … which was hilariously refuted by show-runner Ron Moore, who has repeatedly backtracked and said that the “Daniel” model wasn’t meant to be Kara’s father!
After all of that, as of two weeks ago the show did manage to paint itself into a somewhat interesting corner. Hera, the supposed future of humanity and cylonity, had been kidnapped (again) by a suddenly (again) rogue (again) Boomer. Meanwhile, the damage of their exodus rendered the Galactica nearly inoperable, and capable of precious few future jumps.
If at that point you had read me the following summary, I would have told you that Moore was a genius, that the slow setup was entirely worth it, and that Battlestar Galactica would end in an epic, operatic blaze of glory:
After nearly transferring his flag to the basestar, Adama has a change of heart about the fate of the Galactica. He decides its last mission should be to save Hera and possibly destroy The Colony. Most of the crew decides to join him, and through their conviction and the literal and figurative fires of their most intricate battle they forge a path to the destiny of the human race – a pristine, unmolested earth.
Upon arrival, the Galactica crew dissipates to the proverbial wind, having each served their purpose in shepherding their civilization to a new home. Laura and Galactica both pass away as expected. In a shocking final revelation, Kara – as the personification of the ship and all her struggles – also disappears into thin air.
So, just reading that summary, I would say, “Wow.” And then I would blinkblinkblink for several minutes, because it is just too perfect. How could you possibly frak up such a succinct act-out for such a landmark show?
Well, Ron Moore and a room full of salaried staff writers apparently could.
Despite hewing exactly to the above summary, the entire finale was a ridiculously ornate cliche built upon a foundation of many smaller cliches.
Let me see if I can accurately sum it up for you. First, there was last week’s tepid offering
Daybreak, Pt 1: We found The Colony! Meanwhile, saving a little girl from the Cylons is totally worth the lives of the most qualified people in the fleet! Let’s draw a line down the middle of the hangar bay! No, Cottle, you can’t come, but Lee – the only person qualified to be Admiral OR President – climb aboard!
PS: We couldn’t think of anything bigger and scarier than The Hub, so we went and watched some other sci-fi shows, and decided that it’s a Vorlon Ship made of biological material! And, it’s on the verge of a black hole that isn’t a black hole, but a naked singularity, where almost anything can happen! Isn’t that cool! I bet all the B5 and DS9 fans in the audience will love it, just like they love peanut butter and jelly!
PPS: OMG, AND FLASHBACKS!!!SAFDASFASDF
Which lead to the following
Daybreak, Pt 2: Let’s make up an elaborate plan based on Ellen’s apparently photographic memory of the hallway layout of The Colony! The plan involves inserting our two teams at arbitrary points on the ship to look for Hera in an unknown location! Let’s insert a completely pointless B-plot about Laura working in sick bay, because teachers are just like nurses! Let’s do a roll call! Let’s have Baltar be a stock marine stand-in for the sake of convenience, since he clearly has no other use to us on our hardest mission of all time! Caprica too!
Let’s jump a bunch of raptors out of BSG with no apparent impact to the integrity of the ship! Let’s show five minutes worth of CGI shots of guns! Let’s have BSG breach the colony but not compromise air quality inside at all!
Let’s have Boomer have a last minute change of heart! Again! Let’s have all of the people meet up conveniently and escape without a problem! Oh boy, that makes this whole plan seem really elaborate and hard, especially compared to elaborate and hard plans in Hand of God, Resurrection Ship, Exodus, and The Hub!
Let’s totally forget about the part about the naked singularity, because we couldn’t think of any cool things to use it for! Then, let’s have twenty minutes of dramatic tension based on Hera being a dumbass and none of the marines she is running past noticing her! Then let’s have a dramatic showdown in the CIC where we offer the one thing to the Cylons that they really absolutely shouldn’t be let to have, again, to save a little girl! Then let’s have Tyrol dramatically strangle Tory, risking the fate of the entire human race just because she killed Cally, who would have surely had the final four executed if she had been let to open her giant bitch mouth after almost killing Galen with a wrench!
Let’s have Racetrack’s dead body launch her nukes by mistake! Then let’s have Cavil shoot himself, do a fourteen hour miniseries about Kara typing in the coordinates from Watchtower into FTL, and then mix in the best CG ever shot for television with this awesome stock footage we bought from the Discovery channel!
Let’s gloss over how BSG managed to contact the rest of the fleet while it was in fixed orbit over the moon! Let’s have the entire “human” population give up thousands of years of technology to plant crops and hunt gazelles with pointy sticks! Let’s have eighteen goodbye scenes like in RotK! Let’s have Bill inexplicably leave behind his son to talk to Laura’s grave for the rest of his life, leaving an entire raptor inexplicably remaining on Earth for people to discover in the future!
PS: ZOMGS, I have an idea how to get this puppy up to three hours!!!!111!!1!! Let’s do a C-plot all in flashbacks with Tigh in a titty bar and Laura sleeping with a former student! And, um, I guess you can do some meaningful stuff with Starbuck and Lee, too. You have have four minutes for that, but only if they have to act drunk the entire time.
The story itself was interesting, but the execution was simplistic, verging on nonsensical.
The elements I liked were the most insane and unexplained bits of business – the batshit crazy things that went so far past nonsensical that they came back around to being good television. Kara and Lee’s constant antagonism being connected to their first drunken encounter so many years ago. Romo being president. “Watchtower” being the map to awesome-Earth all along (which halfway implies that someone in the past knew about Earth and decided to encode it in the cylons in such a way that could only be decoded by hybrid offspring). Flying the entire fleet into the sun. Baltar returning to farming with Caprica at his side. Kara as a wacky rogue angel, and Head Six and Baltar tramping around in Times Square scaring tourists.
That’s a comprehensive summary of what I loved. Yes, there were some other interesting character beats, and some fine acting. I’m not calling either into question. Rather, I’m criticizing the same writers who inexplicably rushed through the fantastic plot of Revelations for learning nothing from their mistakes and doing the same thing in the actual finale of the show.
Why plot a show this well when you won’t take the time to execute it effectively? I just can’t understand. I’m convinced that if you handed my summary above to a hundred dedicated fans of the show (myself included), over half of us would have scripted a more satisfactory resolution to the show.
Everything else was a disappointment, and in being a disappointing end they recast the rest of this half-season in a harsh, unforgiving light. For all the slow development and missed opportunities leading up the finale, Ron promised the end would be worth it. Now we have him saying things like
The idea was that when Racetrack hits the nukes, they smack into the Colony and it takes it out of the stream swirling around the singularity, and it fell in (to the singularity) and was torn apart. But as we were cutting the show for time, and taking out frames, one of the things that became less apparent was that the Colony was doomed.
They didn’t have enough time to pay off the ridiculous black hole cliche they took such great pains to set up in the first place? Does that sound kind of lazy?
We spent a day just in the room just chewing over plot: “How does Lee land? How does Kara get in? Which corridor are they going down?” It was frustrating and just kind of a pain in the [butt].
I went home, and I wasn’t very happy. Took a shower and in the shower and in the shower I has this epiphany — it was never about the plot. The joy of the show has always been in the characters. The next day on the whiteboard in the writers’ room, I wrote, “It’s the characters, stupid.” I said, “We’ll figure out the plot. There will be a plot, it will be good, we always manage to pull that stuff out, let’s trust in that for now, and let’s figure out what we want to do with these people.”
I said, “I have some images, I don’t know what I want to do with them. I have an image of a man in a house trying to chase a bird out with a broom. I don’t know who it is, but I like it and it’s somehow meaningful so let’s put it up on the board.”
Seriously, I did not make that up. I found it after I wrote the entire rest of the post and it proves me to be 100% correct. They did have a good plot, and they did get lazy about its execution.
Nice to know that my hours and dollars of viewership and fandom got tossed out the window at a story meeting because plotting a sensible finale was too much of a pain in the ass.