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THAT Battlestar Galactica Finale (SPOILERS!)

November 23, 2012

One of the weird features of living out here in the sticks in France is that our TV and movie consumption gets massively skewed. We tend to gorge ourselves silly on the year’s movies in a 2-week DVD orgy around Christmas, and humongous TV series that everyone watches as they go out on broadcast tend to catch up with us in boxed set format often a year or two late.

The final series of Battlestar Galactica had this in spades. In fact, here at Brown Dirt Central, we just watched the final episodes of that awesome series last weekend – what’s that, 3 years late? And for the past week I’ve been mulling it over in my mind, trying to work out what I thought about it, and put some thoughts down on paper / the screen. These are those thoughts – this post contains tons of SPOILERS – so if you haven’t seen the finale of Battlestar Galactica yet, or simply don’t wish to be reminded, then stop reading now! 🙂

Right – that’s that. I’m assuming everyone still reading is inured to spoilery. So here goes. 😉

First – what were they thinking? Or, perhaps more fairly, what happened? Now I know that the writers’ strike back in 2007/8 had absolutely hosed the Battlestar Galactica production during the first part of Season 4, to the extent that they decided to cut the season short to a mere 11 episodes rather than 22(ish). When watching Season 4, you can just see the tightness of the writing start to creak and slide – the laser focus on characterisation and theme becomes blurred, lots of shots get spent on lingering distance shots or closeups, and a worrying increase in flashbacks to retcon / shoehorn character events and decisions (and even then some of them stop making sense). But even as far as the return of Starbuck, things are still getting pretty darn compelling and messianic.

But then that godawful end to Season 4 – the arrival at earth. Who thought it would be cool to write up the whole thing in one episode, and throw plot consistency out the window? Was it some mad attempt to wrap everything up in 40-odd minutes, just in case they never got the second half of the season after the strike? I guess, looking back on the sheer wonderfulness of the previous 3 seasons, I’m forced to conclude so; I can think of no other reason, for example, why you’d arrive in earth’s solar system, then crack open the champagne and have a mega-party without even, you know, running a preliminary planetary survey! Or even, you know, looking out a frackin’ porthole! “Gee – we’re at earth! Let’s party – we can always check if the cylons beat us to it or if the place is a frackin’ radioactive wilderness in the morning!”

I can forgive a lot for a good story, but that was lame. And it showed on the faces of the cast – they were sacrificing the integrity of the plot and their characters for some unspecified production-led exigency, and it hurt. But, because we all knew it was the writers’ strike, we let it slide. BSG would be back, to wrap up the story, once the awesome writing team was back in harness.

There’s a lesson for all writers in that single event. When the writers turned up for Season 4 Part 2 (“The Final Season”), the writers had a shit-awful job of unpicking that mighty frack-up for the first several episodes. Let’s just summarise for a moment: in one single episode, at the end of Season 4, the series had completely blown its mega-wonderful, awe-inspiring climactic return to the birthplace of frackin’ humanity, and, worse still, had publicly stated it was a lame-ass location worthy of no further treatment – it was a radioactive wasteland, and no one could live there or, gods forbid, film an exciting climax to a wonderful series. Zip. Nada. Zilch. Fracked.

So, the “Final Season” begins with everyone wondering what the frack to do next. Including, presumably, the writers. Now, to give them their credit, they did a good gods-damn job of portraying the survivors’ descent into frustration, pointlessness, and despair – mutinies, suicides, depression, hysteria, pogroms, prejudice, mobs. I’m as sure as hell that paralleled the sense of betrayal they must have felt – that one previous episode closing Season 4 had fracked them so badly.

But this is where I start to wonder. The BSG writers were top notch – awesome stories, great characters, stirring and inspiring themes. It took them a few episodes to recover from the “Boring Earth” frack-up, get Gaeta and Tom Zarek shot through the head, fair enough. But then what happened? Again, the feeling of treading water – the excitement of the mutiny and its denouement got replaced by lots of dithering on base ships, overuse of Dean Stockwell, as though they had one more story to tell – the Daybreak extended finale – and just had to somehow get there. I mean – the final Cylon, Helen Tigh? Really? Was there no idea more exciting than that which occurred to the writers? She was a relatively minor and very annoying character – not that interesting, not that deep – and now she’s carrying the whole show? And slower-than-light travel, previous Cylon rebellions? One episode (“No Exit”, I think) turned into such an infodump I just stared at the screen in bewilderment – too much information, I was losing my way. No! Slow down! Stop telling me the whole godsdamn backstory. Show it to me instead – you’ve got time! The episodes after the mutiny are okay, but feel frequently confused, sometimes hammy, and mostly irrelevant – they could have been spent so much better dealing with a humongous climax to the series.

So that when the climax came – three episodes – it was very much tacked on after the previous plot threads. Suddenly – magic code doodle tune – we get to a new planet, and this one is earth! Okay, it’s damned artificial, almost breaks suspension of disbelief, but I’ll swallow it: after the Season 4 frack-up, the writers wanted their own godsdamn earth to finish the story proper, so they fixed it. Fair enough – I get that. But the padding in those final three episodes? The endless flashbacks, infodumping relationships between Starbuck and Apollo, Laura Roslin and her sisters (huh?), Tigh and Adama? The scene where Adama collapses in an alley outside a bar, vomits all over himself, then stares at the stars with a winning smile, was so frackin’ awful that it reminded me of that classic scene from Team America, and I felt embarrassed that Edward James Olmos had to do that to an otherwise legendary character. It’s kind of like showing Marlon Brando’s Godfather wetting the bed. We don’t need it.

And then: the final episode. I have such mixed feelings about this. In the first place, it was structurally perhaps the best episode in the series (perhaps exceeded only by the final mutiny episode); it provided an emotionally satisfying conclusion to the story. It felt a bit like the end of Lord of the Rings – 45 minutes of mooning about wrapping stuff up, but, hey, I’ve been watching this series for years, I can handle a wrap-up episode, as long as it’s done well. And, by and large, on a structural and emotional level, it was – I felt like I’d been told the end of a story, and I knew how everyone finished up, and most of them lived (or died) happily ever after.

But plotwise? My oh my, was that ever bollocks. What the frack happened? Starbuck? I mean, just vanishing? It’s kind of like Perceval turning up after throwing away Excalibur and finding Arthur vanished… and… roll credits. No Avalon, no mysterious boat, no once and future king. Just… standing in a ditch, dirty, knackered, and tired, feeling confused and a little betrayed.

Were they thinking of another season? I can’t believe that – the “150,000 years later” epilogue seemed to be pretty tight, no room for doubt. So what had happened? Who had rebuilt Starbuck’s viper? Who had rebuilt Starbuck? How had she died? Where had that wacky music come from in Hera’s crayon doodles, and why? Did the magic pixies do it all? Or was it the ghost of Christmas On the Cheap?

To be honest, that bit was just… upsetting. A slight feeling of having been let down. It made no thematic or story logic sense – it was just empty. So many questions, so much promise of cool revelations, and we’re left with a gaping hole and no explanation – on any level.

Hey, I can live with it. I still rate the first 3 seasons as the best scifi TV I’ve ever seen, superceded only by Babylon 5. But the whole Season 4 / Final Season thing just didn’t deliver on that earlier promise, and I’m sorry for all the team who were involved and gave it their best – it could have been so much better. Someone, somewhere, seems to have made a decision with The Final Season, just to get it finished and out there, and I guess they carry the can for turning one of the best scifi shows ever to hit the TV into a compromised and slightly confusing jumble.

You know, we’ve just got word that the Star Wars franchise may be saved for future generations when many of us thought all was lost. I wonder if someone would like to have another stab at a remake of Battlestar Galactica Season 4 / The Final Season one day? I’d be up for watching that…

6 Comments leave one →
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  2. Arjun permalink
    April 2, 2013 5:27 pm

    I was disappointed by the ending/finale because I had thought there was an overall plot or plan. It seemed to be more of a collection of “fan service” than intelligent writing.

    For example, the scene where Balthar and Six carry Hera. This had been prophecized/foreshadowed in earlier seasons as something of importance, but it ended up just being a scene where Hera started running for no reason and probably could have reached the next room on her own. I felt though they had to show Balthar carrying her 10 yards w/ the music playing to satisfy fans.

    Another example was the final five? They didn’t really contribute much of anything at the end? Again their silhouette had been prophecisized as important moment, but they were really just standing in the command center not doing anything.

    The importance of Hera also seemed odd. Basically it looks like she ends up mating w/ the natives on Earth 2.0? Based on my cynicism and the fact the colonials tossed away all their electronics/defense, I suspect the mating was not voluntary. Kind of a grisly conclusion to the kid?

    A lot of these shows (and games) are about choices. Choices are important when there are consequences. In past seasons, there were several difficult decisions and choices; presidential election; New Caprica, disobeying a commanding officer, choosing between faith and logic, choosing between love and safety/comfort. All of these choices had significant impact on the characters and story.

    It felt like there were no consequences, no important choices in this episode. This suicide mission to save one girl, only Helo gets shot, and I think he’s actually walking in the final scene. Lee & Kara? Kara vanishes. Balthar and his harem/Six? Who knows what sort of resolution occured? Has he ever atoned for any of the sleazy things he’s done? Chief kills the Indian girl in the process screws over the temporary truce was in itself a neat twist; what was lame was that he ends up walking away the same. I guess it’s okay to kill an Asian?

    The flashbacks were all filler and didn’t add much to the characters that we didn’t already know at this point? This would have been better released as web trailers or DVD extras rather than close to half of the finale.

    Sorry that this is such a long post. I really felt this show had the chance to be the best drama ever.

  3. Biff permalink
    December 4, 2012 9:37 pm

    Hi Sarah,

    Just stumbled onto your blog (damn you internet – you’re too big!) and wanted to say how much I enjoyed your unpicking of the finale – well done. I realise you only caught up quite recently but I’m sure you know how divisive this ending was, it seems people either loved it or hated it. I’m in the latter camp, for the reasons you outlined here. It’s so frustrating, as this was almost the perfect show and then it just collapsed in a heap at the end. The Opera House vision that went nowhere, Baltar and his harem that also went nowhere, the unexplained events a la Starbuck et al, … just awful. And those damn flashbacks, they just killed the pacing. What did they tell us? Nothing. It seemed like a cheap grab for sympathy, Roslin losing her entire family (how convenient) and then just added more ridiculous speculation with some people believing that it was Lee who was the drunk driver. My gods …

    Anyway, it made us all think and that’s a very good thing these days but I do especially enjoy hearing what other writers think of the way the story played out. George R.R. Martin wasn’t very impressed, either.

    I’m always hesitant to recommend any commentary as I’m sure you have enough reading on your list but many people, myself included, found Brad Templeton’s Battlestar blog and his analysis of the finale (‘The worst ending in the history of on-screen science fiction’) a great read. It’s long but he writes very well and is cogent in his arguments. He is also superbly qualified to analyse this particular sf/religious/technology show, being a long-time sf buff, an internet pioneer, and the son of a preacher who toured with Billy Graham before becoming an atheist later in life. Highly recommended.

    Thanks again for your blog, take it easy.


    • December 6, 2012 12:22 pm

      Thanks very much, Biff! I’m glad you like the post – and thanks for the Brad Templeton recommendation, I’ll definitely take a good look. I think your comment about “the perfect show just collapsing in a heap at the end” is an excellent summary of the whole experience. Such a shame – I loved the show, and (for random reasons) ended up waiting about 18 months to see the final season 4.5. I kind of wished I hadn’t, now. 🙂



  4. November 26, 2012 2:11 am

    BSG peaked during the first 7 or so episodes of Season 3. After that it was a slow decline to the rather lame ending and confusion of season 4. Much like “Lost” they had no idea how to explain all of the cool things they’d introduced so they made lame explanations for a few and left the viewer wondering about the rest.

    • November 27, 2012 11:25 am

      Agreed absolutely, Obiri. It was a shame they couldn’t have used the hiatus between Seasons 4 and 4.5 to come up with some awesome explanations. Opportunity lost, imho.

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