Daily Nos: Battlestar Galactica’s Ending Revisited

In any early Daily Nos I expressed disappointment with Daybreak, the ending to the 4-season series, Battlestar Galactica.  This led howls of protests from several fans of the show.   What I present before you is an unfiltered email chain between several boosters and critics of the show’s ending.  My hope is that they offer more food for thought than some of the scattershot message boards floating around the internet.  For future visiters of this post, I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as we did.  I’ll admit that through the course of the dialogue I’ve come to accept that the ending, which I’m still not impressed with, doesn’t undo the mostly positive experience of watching the show.   Before you duck below the thread…obviously massive SPOILER ALERT.

Chris:

Here are my thoughts…

  • Gotta give some points for an attempt to have an ending.  Too many shows get cancelled halfway through or throw something shiity together at the end. The entire last season of BSG was gearing up for the final and i appreciate that kind of planning in television
  • That being said I found the conclusion terribly unsatisfying. Not quite on the level of LOST but close.  Reasons why below
    • Too many loose ends
    • Unsatisfactory character resolution
    • Illogical actions by characters provided a real Deus Ex Machina to help writers wrap it up
    • The emphasis on religion/higher power <— i say this not because I have a problem with religion in fiction necessarily but I always felts the shows emphasis on that flew in the face of its otherwise hard-science fiction sensibilities.  The fact that the ending of the show emphasized faith more than science I found disappointing
    • Writers tried to go too far in explaining origins of humans and this explanation, while i’m sure it sounded good during a blunt session, just doesn’t make complete sense.
  • Does this ruin the show for me?   No, I would still recommend it because of how much good stuff there is leading up the finale.  The show is well written, well acted, has great production values and tackles some interesting philosophical questions.   In this case I think the ride is worth the shitty destination.  When i do recommend it I will usually add the caveat – “it’s a great show with a really shitty ending. do with that what you will”

———————————————-

Ben:

Chris,

As Janos said, thanks for getting this kicked off.   I’ll start by saying I found the ending of the series quite satisfying, both because of the weirdness of the themes expressed and because of how well the ending fits within the series as a whole. I’ll address “weirdness” in a followup e-mail, but for now I’ll just say why I thought the ending was appropriate.

First, I disagree that the last season of the show was about setting up the finale — I think the show was unique in how cohesive and unified it feels thematically, and for that reason that all seasons of the show build to the finale.  To start, I think it was clear from the end of the miniseries that this was going to be a show about finding Earth.  However long it took, however we ended up there … that was where we were heading.  Likewise, from the start, I was convinced that BSG wasn’t set “in the future,” such that when Galactica got to Earth, they would find spaceships or Starfleet waiting for them.  That seemed like a long shot (meaning, we weren’t going to see the Mars Defense Perimeter shoot down an incoming fleet of Raiders.)

This is even more true in retrospect because of the questions and issues laid out by Adama (including in his big speech) in the miniseries itself — the dangers of technology outpacing morality, does humanity deserve to survive as a species?, we have to answer for what we’ve done, etc.  In turn, those themes became the huge underlying themes of the series: death, rebirth, a clean slate, a fresh start.  The entire ongoing treatment of resurrection — as a technology, as a gift/curse, as a tactical consideration — played into these themes.  And they were present in a lot of oblique ways as well, such as when the idea of re-settling the bombed-out colonies was proposed, or when Starbuck was on Caprica — for many, many reasons, there was simply no going back for these characters.  Which in turn strongly suggested that this was a show about finding a new home and a new beginning.

The show certainly hit the technology-is-bad angle hard early in the series (networking of computers), though this theme was eventually replaced in favor of the idea of humans and cylons joining together: Helo and Sharon; Hera; the alliance; all the way up until the exchange between Adama and Cavil in the finale.  (Incidentally, the finale’s treatment of Hera as genetic Eve for our current hybrid species is highly satisfying to me, and justifies the show’s treatment of the character.  The shape of things to come, indeed.  I’d be interested in hearing about why you think this didn’t make sense.)  But there were also plenty of hints throughout the show that the producers considered a simple agrarian life to be a noble one.  Balthar’s whole backstory supported that idea, as did the occasional complaints about how the other outlying farm colonies were treated by Caprica.  Arguably the Chief and Boomer’s dream house was a farmhouse, though that’s ultimately unclear.  The interaction on New Caprica between Roslin and Adama was all about finding a quite place to settle — in the end, isn’t all any of us want a nice cabin and to drag our feet through a cold mountain spring?

I will also say that the attraction of a fresh start on a new planet is made plain throughout the series by numerous other characters in different ways, both in the New Caprica and the “real” Earth plot arcs.  Taking all that into consideration, I think finding humanity spreading out across the tabula rasa of Stone Age earth was probably the only way the show could have ended that would have fit so well with its main themes.

Second, on religion, I have trouble believing that you didn’t see a religious outcome coming.  I defy you to name an otherwise secular show that has more religious themes more intertwined with its plot (in other words, Touched by an Angel doesn’t count, although obviously BSG could offer some competition in that department). This was truly pervasive religiosity, too.  There was the show’s constant, repititive use of the “leap of faith” motif.  Helo trusting Sharon on Caprica; Starbuck following Roslin’s vision there in the first place; Boomer and Caprica Six; I’m leaving out about a thousand more examples.  This isn’t unique, see “Lost”, but it’s important.  There was also the fact that religion appeared regularly throughout the show, in countless ways: the president was a religious cult figure, the abortion/Gemenon subplots; Leobhen; the destruction of Kobol; and the fact that Galactica was following the Book of Pythia to earth.  None of that seems to be standard sci-fi to me.  I’m probably underselling it by listing specific instances of religiosity — I mean, the Cylons have a one true god, whereas the Colonials worship the old gods … can you get more “The Ten Commandments” than that?

Finally, there is that fact that it was pretty clear all along that Balthar had an angel watching over him.  I would argue that this was strongly suggested by the end of the episode in Season 1 where Balthar’s accuser (in fact his angel) disappears off Galactica with no explanation.  That being said, there were other indications, such as the fact that basically everything that came out of the character’s mouth was a demand, suggestion, or offer that he give himself over to God’s will.  (Bolded for effect.)  Or the fact that this character had foreknowledge of major events, and made sure Balthar got through numerous tough situations.  Or, there was this subtle hint from Season 2:

Baltar: So who or what are you, exactly?

Six: I am an angel of God sent here to protect you. To guide you, to love you.

Baltar: To what end?

Six: To the end of the human race.

Later, once Caprica Six started seeing Dapper Pinstriped Balthar, there was clearly no more dispute, especially because Angel Balthar really did ONLY guardian angel-type things (in contrast to Angel Six, who had more work to do, shall we say).  So yes, the show had guardian angels watching over its characters from the beginning of the show.  It also had a main character who came back from the dead, who was described midway through season 4 as “an angel burning bright with the light of God.”  More fundamentally, I feel like the show was always, always, always about the tension between faith (religion) and reason (science), and I feel like faith was winning more of those battles than it was losing.  So I just can’t agree that the religious elements of the finale were in any way a surprise or inconsistent with the main thrust of the show.  I feel like if you watched the rest of the show and didn’t get a sense that there was a higher power watching out for humanity as it made its way to Earth, you were missing something.

More to come!

Best,

Ben

——————————————–

Janos:

Ben,

What got me through four seasons was not the fighter scenes, which were dully predictable, but the intricate plot developments.  That’s why their failure to pan out was so discouraging.  The finale made me feel like clues I’d latched onto through-out the series, especially season 4, were essentially meaningless.  The use of “God” and “God’s will” as an out for these unfinished plot lines was simply not good enough, even for a show that was full of religion and mysticism.  Sure, some moments are telegraphed, like Head Six saying she was an angel (though comment boards following that episode are hardly in agreement that she is telling the truth), but others make little to no sense.

Let’s start with Kara Thrace.  She didn’t know what she was, but apparently she was an angel.  Not an angel like the other angels, who can’t be seen, but the kind of angel that shoots people and hooks up with Lee Adama.   I still don’t understand how her fighter, which was lost in a star cloud, wound up on the old earth.   Most importantly, I don’t know why all the hybrids called her a harbinger of death.  I guess she was involved in the raid on the Cylon base, but so were lots of people.  Her leading people to earth, using piano keys taught to her by a mysterious man (possibly her angel- an angel squared? Possibly an early cylon, though she is not a cylon?), doesn’t exactly scream “harbinger of death” to me.

Then there’s the five original cylons, who for all their fanfare don’t actually do anything of significance as a unit from the time of their self-discovery to the end of the series.  They do stand above the crowd in the “opera house” scene.  Talk about a letdown.  We’ve seen visions of the opera house what, a half-dozen times going into the finale?  In the end it barely advances the plot for even a second- Six and Baltar rescue Hera, just so Cavil can capture her minutes later?  Some vision.  Even Six has to ask, “is that it?”  For all of Six’s grand designs for Baltar, the two of them play a pretty insignificant role in saving humanity down the stretch, and have no obvious role in leading people on new earth.   Wasn’t Baltar supposed to lead mankind?

Which brings us to Hera.  Look, she’s the product of a cylon and a human banging.  Not that big a deal.  Now we have friendly cylons living amongst humans.  Can’t they all just bang each other to produce halfies?  Couldn’t Helo and Athena bang again?  I fail to grasp the significance of Hera, beyond the sad fact of any child being kidnapped.  But wait, she’s the mitochondrial Eve?  So what happened to every other person who landed on new earth?  Did they all die off without reproducing?  I can see how that would happen, when you abandon all of your technology and send it into the sun, even though you aren’t certain that there aren’t still cylon base-stars out there itching for revenge (surely not every last bad cylon was at the hub).   I don’t mind the “going back to the land” idea, since they would have had to do so eventually anyway, but to scatter people immediately without the only technology they know seems like a suicide pact that a group of civilians who recently rebelled over hot showers and an unfavorable judicial system accept rather willingly.

You could nitpick away the rest of the episode too, like Roslin living to see new earth, even though the prophecies said the leader wouldn’t make it there.  It’s just an avalanche of plot holes in a series that kind of looked like it was making up season 4 as it went along.  I don’t need every TV show to be perfectly scripted, but compare this laxity to the tightness of plots in The Wire.    There were remarkable episodes throughout the BSG series (along with plenty of clunkers), but to me the finale is so phoned in that I can’t imagine watching old episodes again like I might watch an old Star Wars movie.   The interviews with Ronald Moore I’ve read since finishing the show has done nothing to make me think that these inconsistencies are by design, rather than poor execution.  I have no problem with God being the answer.  But my problem, and I think Knight’s, is using “God” as the answer because the writers wrote themselves into a corner with no other conceivable explanation.

-Nos

——————————————-

Steve:

i’ll jump in here and say that i can understand some disappointment with the final season. that whole plotline with gaeta leading a coup d’etat, dee’s suicide etc., were painful/ridiculous and felt like the writers were just killing time. as for the deeper issues such as starbuck being an angel, or the resolution of the five cylons plotline, i agree that these could have been done better. like janos, while i was watching the fourth season i had the distinct sense that the writing had deteriorated badly from the previous three. however, i understand that the crappy and disjointed feeling of the fourth season is partly explained by the writers strike and various production problems related to it.

but as for the major themes of the actual finale itself, i don’t understand the disappointment. BSG was not ‘the wire,’ but comparing it to the unmitigated disaster that was the ‘lost’ finale is hyperbolic. i guess i’m with ben in asking: where else could you have reasonably seen the ending going?

it sounds like chris (not sure about janos) would have been more satisfied with an ending that repudiated the show’s ‘faith’ theme. e.g. the final dark proof of the futility of faith is that everybody dies. or maybe that they survive, but don’t find earth at the end, and we are made to believe that they end up wandering through space forever. there is no higher power protecting these people. angel caprica six is a figment of balthar’s imagination, or cylon implant in balthar’s brain, etc. some definitive statement that this faith stuff has all been bullshit, or some cylon trick and the science and reason are the only thing we can count on.

but if that’s your position, i’m surprised you liked the show at all. as ben noted, this show, more than almost any other, is about faith and the supernatural. and it’s not like it’s subtle either: the plot is modeled pretty explicitly on the ‘exodus.’ for them to fail to reach the promised land at the end would have been untenably inconsistent. so for me, they had to survive, and they had to find earth, and they had to start anew in the promised land, free from their persecutors. the finale accomplished all these things. i agree that some of the specifics should have been done better, but this is a biblical story, and if it takes some supernatural/illogical shit to get from A to B, i’m okay with that.

for me, the big thing that separates the ‘lost’ finale from BSG’s is that ‘lost’ suffered badly from goal confusion – first the goal was to get off the island, then the goal was to get back on the island, then to ‘save’ the island – and what ended up happening is that with each change of the goal we became less invested in the story, until it finally petered out into a bunch of shit no one cared about, ending with a whimper instead of a bang.

BSG didn’t have that problem. despite the problems of the final season, i still cared deeply about what happened (this was not true for ‘lost’). BSG remained thematically consistent to the end, even if the tightness of the writing deteriorated somewhat. it isn’t ‘the wire’, but it isn’t ‘lost’ either. and let’s be honest, the final season of ‘the wire’ was a pretty serious dropoff from what came before. ending a show is hard. not too many have done it well.

-steve

—————————————-

Adam:

I truely enjoyed all of the BSG seasons, and I particularly enjoyed the conclusion. Clearly much of the debate here is about how faith and religion played a significant role here, and some of you were let down by that.  And some of you felt that the ending was just a *deus ex machina*.  But let’s be very clear here – this whole series was about a set of robots that worshipped the one true God.  What could be more *God from the machine* than that??

The alternative to a God-based conclusion would have been something based purely in science and reason.  But that would have been completely preposterous.  There were too many things (miracles, visions, angels, prophecies coming true, magical artifacts, etc.) that happened throughout the series that couldn’t have been explained in any other way.  This was simply a part of the fabric of the show, and if you personally are a non-religious individual, the show forced you to suspend your disbelief in order to immerse yourself in this universe.  Sure, there was an ongoing debate, particularly early in the series, about the value of faith versus science, but by season 4 is was clear that faith had won in this universe, and to exclude that from the finale would have betrayed much of what had happened to that point.

I would like to argue a couple of subtle plot points here that have been discussed.  First, Kara’s status as an angel her ship:  The way I understood this was that the Kara was always a real person, but when she got in the fight with that cyclon and she got lost in the stars, she died and her plane, thoroughly wrecked but not disintegrated, floated through space before crash landing on the original (prior?) Earth.  When she returned, she was an angel (and so was her new ship?), but didn’t realize that until the end.  The angels did show the ability to be seen and affect reality at other times through the show: When the six who accused Balthar was on the bridge, she was visible to everyone.  I think there were other examples as well.  So I don’t see why Kara’s conclusion was an unanswered question at all.

Second, a question is brought up here as to why Hera was so important – couldn’t humans and robots on new earth just make lots of babies?  I’m pretty sure they discussed that the conceived child was a bit of a medical miracle, and that it wasn’t likely to happen again.  I seem to remember the doctor (who was the best character on the show) having a discussion with Roslin about this.

Third, regarding the comment that they would have been more reluctant to dispose of their technology at the end, I agree that this was kind of silly.  I think the idea was that they realized that they were so out of defense at that point that they had no chance against even a single unfriendly cylon.  And that having any technology might have made them easier to be found by the cylons.  But I agree, that’s a pretty weak area.

Finally, regarding the song that the Cylons hear in their head (All Along the Watchtower), and is the coordinates of new earth that Kara types in at the last moment, I thought the idea here that this song was somehow part of the Cylon DNA.  In the scene in the bar where the mystery man is playing it with Kara, Ellen and Saul both recognize it – Ellen because she had heard it on old earth, and Saul because it’s been playing in his head.  So that leads you to believe that Kara was either a cylon (unlikely) or the guy teaching her the song was the angel/ghost of her father who was a cylon (unlikely), or the guy teaching her the song was an angel taking the form of her father (marginally less unlikely).  I agree that this was not clear or wrapped up well.

Chris, I’m curious about your comment of their being too many loose ends.  Other than the one about Kara’s dad, I actually thought they tied up the vast majority of loose ends.  Could you give some examples of things that you thought needed to be answered?  Maybe we can answer them as a group in case you missed or forgot something.

Comparing this to the Lost finale is madness.  In Lost, the entire series was about “what the heck is going on here.”  And then they barely answered that question.  In BSG, the entire series was about finding earth and faith versus science.  I think both of those issues were settled very definitively.

——————————————-

Chris (rebuttal):

Okay, first I’d like to preface this by saying I watched BSG in one furious extended sitting more than 3 years ago and saw the finale when it first came out. Many of the specific details about plot and characters I simply don’t remember and I also have not done much research to refresh my memory for the purposes of this email (besides reading the wikipedia article on the final episode).  I’m going to keep this brief but first of all I think you all extrapolated quite a bit out of my brief comments that does not accurately reflect what I was trying to convey

  • That I think the disappointment of the ending was on par with LOST is not true.  In fact I specifically stated the opposite.  However saying the two are incomparable is silly because really any two things are comparable but especially in this case as we are talking about the endings to two TV shows and because there are many similarities in my opinion on how the two series ended.  And Salem – while I think your opening paragraph was very clever I do believe that both used literary DEUS EX MACHINA (link to the wiki) as a narrative device to resolve either mysteries (in the case of LOST) or plot points (BSG).  I find this to be a LAZY narrative device.   Now that may be fine for some people but I found both endings to be unsatisfying for these reasons but LOST more so and I pointed this out.  These were both supposed to be smart, thought out shows and the endings to me flew in the face of that.
  • That I didn’t “see a religious outcome coming” – again, I didn’t say this. I said i found it disappointing that they emphasized it so much at the end but it’s not particularly surprising.  Religious themes and motifs were present throughout the series (as you all have pointed out), to be sure, but until the last season (if my memory serves me correct) – we didn’t see any HARD evidence of the real presence of god – that is a god directly interfering in the events of the show in any way until the last season (of course in retrospect you could go back and find all sorts of stuff I bet). It doesn’t bother me that there are characters that represent biblical parables or the prevalent “leap of faiths”  type stuff someone mentioned or parallels to contemporary or historical religions on earth – I don’t mind any of that (see LOST) but once you start to use divine intervention to resolve and push along plot points I have problems (again this the main problem with the ending to LOST).  The show could have been resolved within the context of its religious themes without introducing guardian angels and predestination or whatever you want to call it.  To just say, well GOD did this apparently so tough shit – is lazy to me.  Religion is based in reality but divine intervention is not.
  • Now w/ Balthzar or whatever (who you may say is proof of divine intervention early in the show) well that only gets established at the end. I remember thinking at the time that the whole angels/messages/visions thing was some sort of Cylon interference or corruption to confuse him into betraying humanity in order to have what was essentially a mole on the human side.  I think this would have been way better explanation than saying the “Six” vision he experiences throughout the show is actually an angel or representative of God.
  • On the subject of Baltar – he is for me is one of the most unsatisfying character arcs I have ever seen in a television show principally because he is done so well for the first 3/4s or 2/3rds of the show and then nothing of significance is done with him at the end.  He doesn’t get his comeuppance nor does he have his moment of true redemption.  You need to have one of the two based on how vile and disgusting his character is (and really well done with how self-serving he is) and how much emotional disdain the typical viewer will have for him.  This is the guy who sells out their planetary defenses, and later signs execution warrants for humans and a million other awful things. The guy is a pariah – that he didn’t die by the end of the show (even if in a moment of self-sacrifice) was personally the biggest let down.  To have him standing there at the end of the show like none of that happened infuriated me. Oh, it’s God’s will that he did all that so he is absolved from his sins?  Well then, fuck God.

Loose Ends/Plot Holes (what I remember at least)

  1. Starbuck – this is huge because what happens to her doesn’t really make any sense and was crucial to the plot.  Stuff that doesn’t make sense but isn’t crucial i can let go… no this.  At the time I remember being shocked at their refusal to address what was going on with her character in the last season. She’s an angel, hand of god, whatever?  If that works for you, fine. You’re a better man than I.
  2. So in the last episode they plug in random coordinates, make a jump and randomly find the original earth… ummm, what?  God rearing his ugly head again, I guess?
  3. So they show up on Earth and there are already modern primitive humans…. the implication is that humans evolved identically in two separate places at two different times.  While not a deal breaker I find this suggestion highly implausible
  4. The opening for every episode:  “The Cylons were created by man. They evolved. They rebelled. There are many copies. And they have a plan”  What plan?  The plan changed every season.  The entire series for me is one big loose end because the show misrepresents itself from the start.  Okay – this one is arguable.

There are sooo many I  can’t recall the specific details for and i’m not interesting in tracking them down or re watching the show – it was rife with them. Janos and Adam have touched on some. So many events that were hyped as being more important than they were, so many that were never addressed again (also LOST like) and others that the explanation is just “God did it”.   I am not blind. Obviously the show was rife with religious references and themes and you could argue now that it’s said and done that that was the overarching theme of the show but at the timeI was hoping that the spiritual vein of the series would turn out in the end to be a red herring… like so much else of the show. Allow me to explain.  The ending of the show amounts to essentially proof of God, a confirmation of the Diving Will or God’s great plan. You’re okay with this?  My problem is that if this is all predestined, and you don’t tell us that but imply it at the end it almost negates every single dramatic episode of the show. It’s the quintessential – “nothing matters” – and thus as a viewer I’m left wondering why I invested myself in this story to begin with.  What did I really learn from what happened and why do I care?  To me it’s not interesting TV because it’s not grounded in REALITY.

—————————————————-

Adam (rebuttal):

A final reply: first off, i wholeheartedly agree that my “deus ex machina” dissection was quite clever.  My general apathy towards literary themes was overwhelmed by my love of puns.

Second, in response to the deus ex machina being a lazy way out, i disagree with that in this series.  The whole series was about which is correct in this universe – faith or reason.  The fact that faith turned out to be the correct answer was both surprising and satisfying.  Surprising becausea it was a science fiction show, where reason usually wins out.  Satisfying because i dont think they pulled any thing randomly out of their ass that was just “and God just did this, deal with it.”. If you follow the acts of the God throughout ( the visions in baltar’s head, the later starbuck, the writings in the ancient texts, the song embedded in their heads, the stars pointing towards old earth, etc), they clearly pointed to a divine plan.  And that’s the key thing: there was a plan, and they gave you glimses of it throughgout the series, and in the end, they brought it together with a definitive “yes, it was God after all.”.  I think the ongoing message of “it has happened before and it will happen again” points to that plan being god alllowing humans and robots to have free will, but pushing for them to live in harmony.  It failed at least twice before, and new earth is our next shot.

Fnally, Sure, there were some loose ends, but compared to other contemprory shows that led up to a big mysterious ending (LOST, Sopranos), we got a whole lot of concrete answers here.  To me, concrete and fairly consistent answers to most of the questions of the show is a great way to end it – even if those answers rely on God pulling all of the strings.

—————————————-

I hope you enjoyed our nerdy banter.  To round things out, I recommend you check out this staggering analysis, which delves deep into issues of science and science fiction, in addition to plot issues.

Advertisements

About janos marton

A born and bred New Yorker, Janos Marton lives the dream as a writer, lawyer, historian, and activist.
This entry was posted in Daily Nos and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s