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Battlestar Galactica

March 30th, 2009

Okay, BG is now over. Some thoughts about it–below the fold so those who haven’t seen the finale yet won’t accidentally see something.Galactica was always an interesting show. Despite the story arcs, it was, like much sci-fi that came before it, a showcase for a variety of issues based in our world, with the characters and the storylines acting as proxies for real people, real groups, real actions. Interestingly, conservatives took very kindly to the show in its first few seasons, seeing it as an allegory for a post-9/11 world with Cylons representing Muslims. But when the show stopped on New Caprica and the Cylons started looking a lot more like American occupiers in Iraq, they were stunned out of their comfortable identification with the show–apparently forgetting that shows like this rarely stick to one theme.

But the show held fascination because of the realism, the unflinching regard to controversial subject matter, and its balls-to-the-wall lack of reserve when it came to challenging limits many shows had stuck to in the past. And because everybody seems to love the word “frack.”

Something that captured people’s imaginations since the original BG back in the 1970’s was, how did this fictional universe plug into our own? Were these guys from the past, the present, or the future? Did they import the whole Greek gods thing or was it handed to them? When they finally reach Earth, when will it be? That, along with newer mystery story arcs like the Final Five, the visions of the Opera House, and the endless “who’s a Cylon” guessing game got a whole lot of people interested.

So the question with the finale was, would it all pay off? One of the toughest thing for such shows to do is to come up with satisfying answers. Babylon 5 did a decent job of this–the show’s creator, Joe Straczynski, introduced mysteries (Vorlons, Shadows, Valen, Sinclair’s mind-hole, etc.), and by the end of the series, explained them in ways that were fairly comprehensive and believable. Some shows, like Lost, have big expectations for explanations to fill (what is the island, what is the smoke monster, etc.). This week, it was Galactica’s time to pony up and reveal what was behind the curtain.

So, did they deliver? The answer is, yes and no. Yes, in that they delivered a grand finale that was more than good enough to satisfy on the grounds of being a great episode, going out with a bang. But on the clearing-up-the-mysteries front: not so much.

One excellent example of this is Starbuck: who the frack was she? We don’t even know if she was a Cylon, a human, or a mix. How was she resurrected? Who or what created not only her new body but her brand-new ship and then returned her to the fleet at a critical time? Who was her father, who knew the magical tune that led to Earth? How did Starbuck know where Earth (or at least the Cylon version of it) was?

We got nothing on this–in fact, the show’s writers just made it more ridiculously opaque by having Starbuck simply vanish into thin air at the end. That suggested that Starbuck was actually a “head” character (a la Baltar’s and Six’s mental-projection counterparts), except that she couldn’t have been considering how she interacted with everyone throughout the series.

We got a slightly more solid explanation about the Baltar and Six head characters–they were “angels” sent by someone who doesn’t like being called “God.” Um, okay. And that is eventually how Galactica handled most of its mysteries: “God” did it, with little or no explanation as to how or why. This is only slightly less disappointing than ending the series by having someone wake up and it turns out that it was all just a dream.

Other mysteries were simply ignored: for example, why did Roslin have this connection into the mental projection thing, and why did she faint when they hit the nebula at the end of the previous season? And with the Final Five, so much was just never explained–how did they, apparently regular people in their Cylon world, develop the resurrection technology, and how did they build the Temple of Jupiter, with just five of them on a space ship that could not even travel faster than light?

Then there was the whole “All Along the Watchtower” string. It has since been explained as being some sort of “timeless” song that resonates throughout our existence, apparently created by god and just riffed on by people like Bob Dylan. Oh, please. How stupid can you get? The only way to make that song’s presence work would be if it came handed down from present-day “our” Earth, which would somehow eventually tie in with the Final Five Cylons.

In the end, much of it comes across as a fraud–that the writers never had any real answers or explanations, they were just making crap up with no intention of explaining it off.

Also unsatisfying was the idea that they came to Earth 150,000 years ago, and that there just happened to be a human race already there which was “compatible” with their own (again, please) and again this was attributed to god. Not only was this improbable and unsatisfying, but it made the whole Greek-gods connection meaningless–unless they wanted to suggest that names like Jupiter and Apollo and Athena were introduced that long ago, but filtered down only to the Greeks and no one else. The show’s writers explained that they thought of having Galactica arrive at the time of the early Greeks, or just at the beginnings of civilization ten thousand years ago, but they felt it was better to have the colonials come much earlier, to fit into the whole “genetic Eve” story, so that what they were became a part of all of us, that we (and not just the Greeks) were descended from what they were. That part is fine, but it completely blows off the whole Greek gods element, making it unworkable.

They also sent the entire fleet into the sun so that it would not have to be dug up somewhere. Why? What’s wrong with a future moon base digging up the Galactica and learning its history? That would have made for a much more satisfying postscript than the one they ended up using. Really: showing robots in our current culture as some sort of prelude to our creating a race of Cylons? Even without the cheesy stock footage of Asimos dancing and other stuff, that was so ham-handed as to make one cringe–not a satisfying send-off for such a well-produced series.

In the end, the writers chickened out. They went with vague, unsatisfying answers that appealed to general storytelling instincts while discarding or disrespecting much of the mythology that they had carefully built up, mysteries which had lured in fans and brought them expectantly to the end. It all worked great from a character-based standpoint–and that’s probably all the writers really cared about. But the thing is, if you draw people in with the mysteries, you can’t just discard them and say “the characters are all that matter.”

As I said, the finale was a whiz-bang episode that satisfied on an immediate storytelling level, but the show itself ended in a way that made you feel somewhat cheated when you got around to wondering what the frack happened and why.

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  1. Tim Kane
    March 30th, 2009 at 11:37 | #1

    A friend of mine worked at a gaming company. His entire job was providing back story arcs to fit the game. I don’t know why a show like this doesn’t have that kind of person(s) working on it all the time.

    One of my favorite quotes of all time, from the original Battlestar:
    Boltar: You’re just a machine.
    Lucifer: Boltar, we are all machines.

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