Monday, March 23, 2009

Battlestar Galactica: Series Finale

Since premiering as a mini-series in 2003, Battlestar Galactica has been one of the best shows of any genre on television. With consistently great writing, acting, and directing, BSG shattered the stereotype that science fiction can't be character driven. At its high points, moreover, the show was one of the few around to approach the mythological grandeur of Lost.

Nevertheless, I was nervous as I tuned in to see the series finale. For all of its merits, BSG faltered the last season or two in fulfilling the mythological promise of early episodes like Kobol's Last Gleaming. I was particularly disappointed with the revelation of the Final Five cylons and their backstory, a complaint I'll return to shortly. The penultimate episode, which was all loose ends, seemed to confirm my fear that BSG couldn't possibly tie things up in a satisfying way.

On the whole, however, I was satisfied with the finale. There were problems, particularly where the flashbacks to Caprica were concerned. The show tried to contrast the Colonials' empty existence surrounded by technology on Caprica with their embrace of a primitive existence on new Earth. But the shots of the strip club were absurd -- simultaneously heavy handed and prude. Memo to Eick and Moore: if you can't show nudity in a nudie bar, pick some other setting to make your point.

What I liked was the premise of the Colonials abandoning their technology and interbreeding with the primitive population on Earth. My favorite science fiction uses myth and science in mutually reinforcing ways. There are many legends of heavenly beings who fell to Earth and taught skills like farming and math to primitive humans. Among my favorites is the story of the Nephilim, whom the Old Testament describes as sons of God with a taste for mating with daughters of men.

The master stroke was making Hera mitochondrial Eve. We often think of cavemen as our ancestors. In fact, as Brian Sykes describes in his book Seven Daughters of Eve, recent mitochondrial DNA analysis suggests we Homo Sapiens evolved separately between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago. About 80,000 years ago, we swept out of Africa in a mass migration, displacing and eventually extinguishing other Homo species like Neanderthalis. Now we know why: cylon-human hybrid vigor!

Some complain about the abrupt disappearance of Starbuck -- BSG's version of the Sopranos' fade to black. I personally bought it as a metaphor for Lee's relationship with Kara, whose free spirit remains forever out of his reach like the pigeon he chased around her apartment on Caprica. I also appreciated the pay-off for the prophetic dream of the Opera House. Having events play out on the "stage" of Galactica's bridge while the Final Five watched from the "balcony" was a nice twist.

Unfortunately, that brings me back to my beef with the story of the Final Five. I frankly never believed them as brilliant scientists, particularly Ellen and Saul Tigh. And making them the last five survivors of the Thirteenth Tribe struck me as too clever by half, as did the revelation that the Thirteenth Tribe was actually cylon, not human. If I were Eick and Moore, I would have shifted the focus from the Final Five to the Cylon God, whom I would have made a renegade Lord of Kobol.

In my re-imagining of the re-imagined mythology, the Lords created humans for cheap labor, much as the latter would later create cylons. The aforementioned renegade Lord led a revolt on behalf of humanity that culminated in their exodus from Kobol. He guided the Thirteenth Tribe to Earth, then retired to an isolated island in the western ocean, only to watch the Tribe repeat the terrible cycle of events from Kobol by creating cylons and annhilating themselves with nukes.

The renegade Lord left Earth hoping to warn the other Twelve Tribes, but was intercepted by the cylons. Realizing he was too late to prevent war with the Colonies, he helped create humanoid cylons, who worshiped him in return as their Cylon God. As such, he was able to delay the cylons' annihilation of the Twelve Colonies long enough to find and plant the clues for the route to new Earth. The Final Five were his sleeper agents, unconsciously facilitating humanity's exodus until they awoke.

The Cylon God's plan would have culminated in humanity's realization on the original Earth that they were once slave labor themselves on Kobol. The Cylon God himself would probably be dead, killed secretly in some betrayal by brother Cavil, who caught wind of the covert plan to guide humanity to new Earth. But we also would have learned that the Cylon God created one of the Final Five in his own image. The fifth would have been revealed as Gaius Baltar, rather than Ellen Tigh.

Anyway, that's how I would have written it, but I suppose that's why Eick and Moore get the big bucks. Like I said, my criticisms and alternate mythology aside, I was reasonably pleased with how they wrapped up the series overall and look forward to the upcoming television film Battlestar Galactica: The Plan. What did you all everybody think?


Anonymous said...

Hi Big. LantzDogg here. I was pumped that you decided to write about the last episode of BSG.
Personally, I was pleasantly surprised by the finale. The writing has been so choppy this season that I just thought the writers might blow it. They didn't (for the most part). The fact that they went the route of not having a Disney-esque ending of peace with the cylons, thanks to Galen’s revenge on Tory, and the epic chaos that ensued, really elevated the series ending in my mind. I mean really, did you expect Cavil to blow his head off? Great stuff. Perhaps that was an offering to the loyal viewer for the decision to make Helen the final cylon…the MOST disappointing revelation I can remember. Helen? And then in the end, she really didn’t play much of a role. Would have been so much more riveting to find out that it was in fact Adama or Balltar…but Helen?
I will skip through my feelings about the action, the killer battle scenes, which I am confident the die hard BSG fan felt good about in this last episode, and concentrate my remarks about the mythology, particularly about Starbuck:
What I took away from her sudden disappearance at the end was that Starbuck was in fact the manifestation of the Archangel Gabriel, a guiding angel for humanity. She was the highest of all angels, charged with sharing the “greatest” news, but in this scenario, not the birth of Christ, but a way to earth, and a new beginning (genesis?).
The bible tells us that Gabriel started wars and was the “strength of God.” Both of these are apt descriptors for Starbuck. She was the strongest of the humans, the most fierce, the most likely to start and finish a fight.
Gabriel is the patron saint of messengers (Starbuck, the ultimate messenger).
I am taken by Leoben’s statements in previous episodes, “everything has happened before, and will happen again” not just to mean that humanity would follow the same path, but in fact that Starbuck would again lead humanity to a new civilization.
Gabriel took human form while on earth, ascending into heaven upon completion of his mission…and descends onto earth when needed. Starbuck leads the tribe to Old Earth; reincarnated to lead humanity from Caprica to New earth. Hence, Starbuck is left with a wonderful feeling when she last sees Apollo, knowing she has completed her mission, and she then ascends back to the heavens…only to be reincarnated 150,000 years later when Nuevo Earth goes down that same path.
I am confident that I am down a path far from the writer’s intent. But I like it.

Mark Clouden said...

Meh. Starbuck vanishes. Divine intervention at every turn. Just like with Lost, I did not watch for the first 3 years, then got caught up in a marathon setting (thx to bittorrent). So I was lucky in that I could skip ahead for BSG when the going got slow. While I watched at normal speed all episodes from this last half of the season, I found myself fast forwarding through the last episode. In that same limited attention style...

Battle scenes: Boring. No tension whatsoever - the raptor/viper/raider bits in particular. Waste of a good portion of the time.
The strip club: Sheesh. One more rebel yell and I was going to just stop watching.
The day job: Was there really any reason for the admiral to be retiring? So why did we have to watch his decision process so closely? No tension whatsoever.
The boarding party: Nothing like blind chance to secure your victory. Although the returning of the favor was actually a good bit.
The deal gone bad. Great part actually, Galens revenge, Cavil blowing his head off. Both were done very very well, not overdone. If you werent watching closely, you would have missed Cavil, so desperate to not live the mortal life, just deciding to off himself. Those two bits actually stuck with me after the show. The speech though - while no complaints about it, it always bothers me when time stops while the wise man speaks. Adama has the situation under some control, and who invited the negotiator?
A DNA match???: Sorry, divine intervention. Woohoo. How about a moral dilemma instead?? Why arent the native population the neandertals, and the humans showing up are the reason why they died out? Too much trouble I guess.
Did I mention?: Starbuck vanishes??? At this point, who cares, so why add in one final open question?

Aside from my overwhelmingly negative opinions on the final episode, I do love the idea of the show. Great carrier battles in space struck me as wicked cool as a kid, and given the trilogy of epic sci-fi - *Wars, *Trek and BSG v1.0, I would always go with Adama and company. Just sorry it got bogged down so much along the way.

Gareth said...

Well I must say I was happy with the culmination of events. I won't go into depth of detail in regards to mythology but I will say that all in all BSG was a fantastic journey from start to finish, bot within and outside the show, a real labor of love. In regards to the final episode - and more specifically the final 40 minutes - I am pleased that they decided to emphasize the beauty of their new found Home, there was a true lump in my throat as Adama and Roslyn flew across the waters, cliched perhaps but something I would have wanted for them regardless.

There was a show around in the 80's (it covered all aspects of science and the human race, but for the life of me I can't remember the name) that ran the theory that eventually Humans (and all civilizations) reach technological proficiency and ultimately destroy themselves (they ran multiple calculations (again I can't remember the name of this show, but it was fantastic) through Nuclear war. I couldn't help but be reminded of this when the final credits rolled on BSG and I found myself agreeing with the writers choice of ending.

As for Starbuck, I think the beauty of this lies in whatever you want to believe yourself. Me? Well I think she finally found peace. I'm gonna miss the frakkin' show, you will be missed BSG, but not forgotten.

EDIT: found the show I was referencing:

Anonymous said...

Have you ever read the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy books by Douglas Adam's?

Moore borrowed way to heavily from them for the Finale.

Including the 2nd earth,Aliens landing and interbreeding with cavemen, etc.

David said...

I am a huge Battlestar fan, but truthfully I watched only three of this final "Seasons" episodes, and then watched the finale. I loved the show but couldn't find the time after the hiatus - I think once Kara Thrace found her corpse on Earth, it was basically done. In a good way, of course, but done.

My point is one of worry and also one of resignation. After last night's Ho Hum Lost episode, I am worrying about the inevitability of the "reveals" being on par with BSG reveals - basically, seemingly insignificant and random. Take for example, who is the fifth cylon? Ellen Tigh. Ok, it works on some level, and it was explained, and it "fits," per se, as much as the end of the series "fits" the rest of it. It's what Moore et al wanted, but I didn't necessarily agree it was the best possible outcome (and judging by your fanfic proposed new ending, you feel similar).

So, in relating this to Lost - what if Jacob turns out to be as interesting as Ellen Tigh? "Jacob is... Jack!" or some such nonsense - vaguely explained, ultimately non-essential. Of course, I ultimately trust Lost scribes, and believe they have created my favorite show in television history, no question. But as BSG, an incredible show in itself, proved, not many ever deliver on the promise of greatness.

Cris said...

I liked your ending even better. You should get those big bucks. Cris

neoloki said...


Not that you will ever read this but Lost over came your fear of Ellen being Jacob, lol. Mark P. as Jacob is/was? brilliant and has only brought more depth to the character.

I was ok with the ending of BSG. Agree about Ellen being the 5th as just asinine. Also, All Along The Watch Tower just bugged me as being thematically important. The song has to much pop culture relevance to introduce it into a separate mythology. That coinciding with the reveal of the final five almost did BSG in for me and it wasn't until today that I actually finished the series.