The end of Battlestar… genius or cop-out?

ORIGINALLY POSTED MARCH 24, 2009

So, Battlestar Galactica ended this past Friday, and of course, that loud sound you heard were billions of geeks suddenly crying out in terror together at the prospect of having their Fridays available once more to not get dates.

So, what did I think of the final episode?  I know that’s the burning question in everyone’s’ mind, right?

Ahem.

Anyway… let me start by saying I f’ing LOVED the new series.  I’ll admit I wasn’t totally sold by just the pilot itself, but I am very thankful I gave it a shot when it went to series.  It’s been an amazing ride.  All the superlatives heaped on it I think are well-deserved.  A truly character-driven sci-fi drama with a multi-season story arch.  Fantastic.

Now, the finale… I think the first hour, or maybe hour and a half, was some of the best television ever produced, sci-fi or otherwise.  Truly phenomenal.  They had me the whole way…

…that is, until Cavil offed himself.  That’s when the tide turned and disappointment began to set in.

Now, you can rationalize his suicide ten ways to Sunday, and many of those rationalizations even make sense, but the bottom line is that you had a character that was AT HIS CORE driven by the need to survive, and he decides to kill himself because the situation didn’t look too great?  I get the feeling the writers were trying for an unexpected, shocking turn there.  And you know what?  Mission accomplished!  I didn’t see it coming… but I didn’t see it coming PRECISELY because it was completely out of character.  I’ve seen it suggested that if he had awoken in a resurrection pod, him being the only one hooked in and even knowing that the technology existed, that would have made it OK.  Actually, that would have made it freaking AWESOME, and would have fit PERFECTLY with the character.  But no, nothing that clever, just “Oh frack it-BOOM”.  Very poor writing.

Now, the whole God angle… let me clarify one thing: one of the things I really loved all along was how religion was a central theme.  I think exploring how faith fits into a sci-fi arena is something not frequently seen, and they did it very well in my opinion.

BUT

At the point where you say “fuck it, everything that happened was because of God”, you’ve totally jumped the shark.  No, you’ve jumped the fucker, had sex with it and didn’t call it the next day.  That’s probably the laziest answer the writers could possibly have come up with.  I really, truly believe they wrote themselves into a corner that only God could get them out of… hell, maybe that proves God exists, I don’t know 🙂

Think of it this way… and, keep in mind this applies to real life too… if God had a plan all along, and was guiding the actions of the characters in any way, shape or form, then what’s the point?  If free will isn’t truly free, then at the end of the day I don’t give a FRACK why any character did anything… in fact, for a character-driven work of fiction, getting to the end and saying “oh hey, free will didn’t mean shit the whole time” undoes all the fine character development you did because you’re telling the audience that everything that came before doesn’t matter one bit.

Now, let’s discuss some specifics…

  • Starbuck was apparently Jesus.  Umm, ok.  She disappears, and Lee goes “eh, nice knowin’ ya” and that’s that.  I guess people disappearing right in front of his eyes (yeah, I know his back was turned, but close enough) is no big deal to him any more.  As far as I remember, not even Jesus did that, and if he had I’m pretty sure people would have called it a miracle!
  • Herra is apparently mother to us all.  I guess I’m generally OK with the basic idea… sort of.  Were the bones at the end hers or not?  If they were, then how exactly could she POSSIBLY be “mitochondrial eve”?  Unless she got busy with a few hundred guys like TEN MINUTES AFTER THEY LANDED.  So, maybe they weren’t hers?  Maybe just one of her descendants?  Reasonable, but then the writing was pretty piss-poor to not make this clear (in fact, it’s hinted that her parents’ bones were found near her… so either she died as a young child, those were her parents bones, in which case she couldn’t be the root of all human life, or she died way older, had a bunch of kids first, in which case those weren’t her bones… either the story is fucked up or the writers did a shitty job with it, take your pick).
  • Everyone agrees with Lee?  REALLY?!?  So, they just spent a couple of years fighting for their lives, trying to keep the human race going, but when they finally find Earth they decide “you know, this survival thing is a hoot, but you know what would be more fun? Let’s make it as absolutely hard as we can!”  I mean, I sure as shit hope those people remember how to make antibiotics because most of them are likely to die shortly after landing without it!  Oh yeah, and let’s not forget that while they put themselves, technologically-speaking, on an equal footing with the native humans, the native humans have been living a rough-and-tumble life for a long time and know the land well… they stand a VERY good chance, in my estimation, of obliterating the new humans anyway!
  • Where exactly is Bill Adama’s Raptor?  So, we know it couldn’t have self-piloted into the Sun because Anders had to control the fleet to do that.  So it’s got to still be on Earth.  There’s virtually no way he could have destroyed it entirely, something would likely have survived (I assume they built these things pretty well, being used in combat IN SPACE and all that).  It was only 150k years that passed at the end, that’s frankly not much time, geologically-speaking, so the chances that the land would have “eaten it up” isn’t likely.  Chances are extremely good it seems that a Raptor would have easily survived that time, virtually guaranteeing the human race is screwed again.  I dunno, doesn’t seem too responsible to me.
  • Lee just says “ok pops, have a good life” without so much as a SMALL argument?  Understanding his motivation is one thing, saying “ok, fuck it, this is the last time I’ll see you” is another.
  • Let’s go back to the God thing for a moment… so, at the end, the “angel” version of Baltar says “It doesn’t like to be called that”.  Here’s my guess on what happened in the writer’s room: “Hey, I know, God made this all happen!” “Yeah, cool!” “Hey, new guy, you got something to say?” “Err, yes sir… I was just thinking… what it… ahem… what it God was… something else?” “Hmm… well, we’re lazy as shit and so we’re going to stick with the hold God Did It thing, but if you want to toss in a random hint at THE VERY END that implies that MAYBE it wasn’t God after all, I guess that’d be cool because audiences love to be MIND RAPED like that”.  My point: you can’t decide on God, the ultimate dues ex machina solution, but then at the last possible moment throw in something that is NEVER explained or explored that seems to imply that what you’ve set up all along is bullshit.  Oh, and by the way, if the answer is simply that Baltar was indeed referring to God, then God is a petty prick that worries about what some creature that GOD CREATED calls him?  Is that really what the writers meant to say?
  • I’ve heard a lot of people saying things like “the genius of the ending is that it’s open to interpretation”.  That’s fanboy bullshit, that’s what that is, and here’s why: I can make up shit in my own head all day and night, and I can interpret it any way I want.  That’s called creativity.  When I invest multiple years of my life watching a work of fiction, I expect answers in the end.  Now, I don’t need REALISTIC answers, but they have to be SELF-CONSISTENT within the confines of the narrative.  Even IF you want to make the argument that God is such an answer, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s lazy and sloppy because it means the writers didn’t have the creativity to come up with something better.
  • Galen killing Tory… now… this is tough because I think it made sense, it was a LITTLE unexpected, and frankly, I could see myself acting the EXACT same way in that situation.  But, here’s my problem: all he had to do was stop himself for probably a few more seconds, and all would have been right with the world.  Instead, he gave into his anger and basically doomed two species (yes, apparently it all worked out in the end, but at the time he had to know he was effectively ending both the humans and the Cylons).  It bothers me that he did what he did because again, while I could see myself reacting the same way, I can also very much see myself showing SOME restraint, just long enough.  I doubt anyone would have blamed him for doing what he did immediately AFTER the download of the data completed!  So, while I don’t I guess have a huge problem with this, it doesn’t quite sit right with me either… if this was my only complaint though I’d have no real complaint, put it that way 🙂

Folks, let’s get something straight: this is SCIENCE FICTION.  If nothing it that should mean that there are actual answers presented.  You can then debate whether the answers are any good, but there are answers none the less.  You can invent whatever type of world-rules you want within the story, and the answer should make sense within those rules.  GOD IS NOT SUCH AN ANSWER.

It’s lazy writing, pure and simple, and it makes this show fantasy rather than science fiction.  I love fantasy as much as the next guy, but that’s not what we were watching all along.  Even when they brought in things like prophecy and destiny, there was always a hint that there was something intelligent behind it all… God by definition is beyond intelligence as we understand it, so that’s something different.

One theory that was tossed around for a long time would have solved virtually every problem nice and neat and made the ending something special… WE ARE ALL CYLONS.  Or, as things developed, we are all hybrids.  Either answer would have made pretty much everything logical and self-consistent.  All this “prophecy” and “destiny” stuff would have wound up being shared subconscious race memories and subconscious programming.  The whole repeating cycle idea would have made a ton of sense.  Some form of resurrection would have explained Starbuck nicely, and it would have explained Baltar always seeing Six (and vice-versa) in their heads.

Battlestar Galactica was a fantastic television show, one that I enjoyed watching immensely.  I think it was a very important bit of fiction and I don’t regret the time I spent watching it.  I DO however feel immensely let down by the ultimate conclusion.  That letdown is softened a bit by the fact that the first 3/4 of the finale were mind-bogglingly good!  But it’s that last quarter or so that kills me.  I haven’t even mentioned the fact that it got a bit preachy at the end, but I can let that go frankly.  I think the final God conclusion was the epitome of lazy writing, which is shocking given how much care and obvious effort went into all the prior writing.  It’s almost as if a totally different group of people wrote the last 15-30 minutes of the finale than wrote the rest of the series.

And all of that is very sad to me because while I wouldn’t go so far as to say it ruined the show for me, it definitely degrades it greatly in my mind.  I can still say it’s a landmark series, all that sort of stuff, but frankly, it went from being probably my second-favorite sci-fi show ever (behind only Babylon 5) to MAYBE my fourth or fifth favorite.  All because of the ending.

I guess you can say I have God to thank for ruining an otherwise remarkable piece of art!

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