The first part of the Battlestar Galactica finale (Daybreak, Part I) has now aired, and next Friday will have the two-hour conclusion of the story.
First, I like the fact that they've resolved a lot of the questions that have been floating around for some time, specifically:
- Who is the final cylon?
- What about the #7 cylon, since Ron Moore had previously said that the Final Five don't have numbers, but there was a gap between #6 (blond lady) and #8 (Sharon/Athena/Boomer)?
- What's the connection between the Final Five and Earth?
- How were the Final Five created?
- What's the relationship between them and the Significant Seven?
- Why don't the Final Five originally know their identities?
- Why don't the Significant Seven discuss the Final Five?
- Why do the cylons destroy human civilization?
I would have gone a different direction in answering some of these questions–particularly the identity of the final cylon–I would have had it be Adama for reasons previously spelled out, but I'm satisfied with them having made it Ellen, given the way they've developed the story. (I'm also glad that I correctly guessed that Ellen is a cylon, though I thought she was a #6 instead of her own model.)
There are still some outstanding questions that hopefully will be answered next week:
- Exactly what is Starbuck?
- What are the angelic/virtual/head beings (Head Six, Head Baltar, etc.)?
- What's the deal with Hera and the Opera House?
- What's the deal with Hera and the future of the two races?
- What's manipulating the destiny of the two races?
- What happens to all these people in the end?
I can see different ways they could tie all these up, but at this point I'll just wait and see.
I will offer a few thoughts on the series as a whole and the last few episodes in particular, though.
First, while much of Galactica has been an interesting show (excepting the odious and morally problematic parts), my suspicion is that it won't age overly well. Future audiences may find it enjoyable to watch, but I suspect that they won't find it as enjoyable as the original, current audience.
There can be shows that, while they are groundbreaking and a dynamite experience when they are first on the air, just don't hold up that well on subsequent viewings.
A few years ago I discovered that, for me, this was the case for Babylon 5. When it first aired, Babylon 5 was really unique in two respects:
(1) It was much more realistic than Star Trek; it had characters that could have actual flaws and were willing to break rules in order to achieve goals. A scene that was iconic of this was the one in which Sheridan and Garibaldi put a black bag over the head of a Centauri telepath who has a piece of vital information and then Lyta is whisked into the room to yank the information out of his mind in a form of telepathic rape. This could never happen in any Star Trek series as of that date. Heroes in Star Trek are all too goody-two-shoes and would always find a different, legal, and ethical way of achieving their goals.
(2) Babylon 5 told a single, connected story that was substantively plotted in advance. (Though, Joe Straczynski's denials notwithstanding, it did change very significantly before the end. If you read volume 15 of his script books there is an original treatment of the series, with Sinclair in place the whole time, and it diverges dramatically from the filmed series, though it ends in kinda the same place.) This advance plotting allowed the series to have a much more layered, rich, and complex storyline than any of the Star Trek series (DS9 coming the closest).
After a few years of not seeing the series, I went back and watched B5 again and found that it wasn't as good the second time through. While it was true that it was more realistic than Star Trek, other series–like Battlestar Galactica–had pushed the realism envelope much further, and by comparison the B5 characters were still much closer to the cartoon hero end of the spectrum.
This, ironically, is one of the reasons I don't think BSG will hold up that well: In the effort to make the characters realistic and flawed, it's gone too far.
I think in future viewings, a couple of years from now when the immediacy of the first run has worn off, the characters will too often come across as cartoons of the gritty, profoundly flawed hero type (like Wolverine became in the comics). It won't be possible to take them seriously because they are so over-the-top flawed and are constantly being put in situations designed to milk the maximum amount of emotion out of a situation, no matter how implausible the results.
This problem is epitomized in Lee Adama's speech from the trial of Baltar. You know the one. His "We have become a gang" speech, in which he rattles off all of the major career-destroying actions that had been (repeatedly) committed by the main characters of the show (to that point) which nevertheless were forgiven and put out of sight in order to keep the main cast of the show together.
I understand that if your civilization has fallen and you're on the run from evil robots, everyone may get a pass on one or two things that ordinarily would be career-destroying, but at some point the implausibility is just too much, particularly if you are trying to portray the core cast as fundamentally good rather than fundamentally evil.
It would be one thing if Admiral Adama was a drug lord who ran the fleet as an actual gang–not caring how many crimes were committed by his underlings as long as they served him. But that's not the way the show portrays him or any of the other core characters (with the possible exception of Gaius Baltar). They are all, despite their grave flaws, fundamentally on the side of good.
So I think that when the series is all out on video and you can watch it from front to back without having to wait between each episode, the implausibility of all this will leap out at the viewer, and they'll see that this aspect of the show just doesn't hang together. The characters are too flawed and they behave in an over-the-top manner with too few consequences and lots of implausible decisions getting made designed to keep them from being written out of the show.
I heard a podcast by Ron Moore a while ago in which he was wondering what the parody of BSG could be. It's easy to parody the different Star Trek shows or medical shows or police procedure shows, but how do you parody BSG?
Lots of hyperdramatic situations with massively flawed characters doing career-ending things that manage to not end their careers.
That's the parody.
There is also another reason I think BSG won't age that well, and this one is based on its similarity to Star Trek rather than its differences.
Ron Moore was a veteran of Star Trek and, in particular, one of the producers and writers of DS9.
At Star Trek they have a writing technique known as "breaking the story." What they do is take an initial story idea from one writer and then sit around a table with a bunch of writers and make suggestions and brainstorm what the story ought to be. The final version of the story may bear little resemblance to what it was originally pictured as. (This is also one reason why so many Star Trek episodes have multiple writers listed.)
Joe Straczynski has been very critical of this writing technique, arguing that it dilutes the original vision for the story as all of the writers try to get their fingerprints on the result. It also results in horse-designed-by-committee type stories.
Moore, however, has carried over the technique from ST to BSG, along with another Star Trek writing convention: making it up as you go.
While Moore and company had general ideas about where they were going on certain things a year or two or even three in advance, the overall shape of the BSG story is something that they invented as they went–unlike B5's pre-plotted (though changeable) story arc.
It's clear from listening to his podcasts that Moore took a lot of ideas, or proposed a lot of ideas, in the "breaking the story" sessions that he just thought were neat at the time, even though he didn't know where they were going with them.
Examples of these things include the visions in the Opera House, Caprica Six's pregnancy, the role of "All Along the Watchtower" in the show, and bunches of other key things.
They were just things that came up during the course of the show. Moore thought they were neat and included them, intending to figure out what they meant later on.
The patchwork nature of the plotting shows. I suspect it will be even more obvious on repeat viewings, but it is particularly evident in the last ten episodes of the program, where the writers are pushing to tie up all the major loose ends.
For example: Hera is obviously key to the future survival of both races, and she is a uniquely valuable MacGuffin as the only human-cylon child. She's what's driving the show toward its finale, with the attempt to rescue her from #1 and his cohorts.
But we had a problem–or rather a couple of them–until just a few episodes ago: There were two other cylon children–Chief Tyrol's apparently human-cylon son and Tigh's unborn son that he and Caprica Six conceived. With
them in the picture the uniqueness of Hera, and thus the dramatic fulcrum of the series' finale, wasn't there.
Wipe out both rival cylon kids at the last minute. So it turns out that Tyrol's son wasn't his son after all and Caprica Six's baby "spontaneously" aborts just as Ellen shows up and starts confusing Tigh's affections.
Those are reasonable plot fixes to get Hera's uniqueness back (although I very much did not like the heavy handed and sudden way Caprica Six's baby miscarried; there were better ways to set that up), but why did they need to do this in the first place?
Because they were making it up as they went along.
They'd already given Chief Tyrol a wife and a baby before they decided he was a cylon, so they had to get the baby out of the picture as a human-cylon hybrid in time for the finale.
Same thing with Caprica Six: Moore just liked the idea of her getting pregnant by Tigh and didn't know where to go with it. When he realized he wanted Hera to be the fulcrum of the finale, he had to get rid of Caprica's child, too.
None of this would have happened–or at least it would have happened in a better manner than it did–if Moore pre-plotted more and took a less "fly by the seat of your pants" attitude toward writing the show.
I felt particularly bad for writer Jane Espenson a few weeks ago when her final episode of the series–Deadlock–aired. This was the episode in which Ellen came back to Galactica and Caprica Six's baby died. On fan surveys and among reviewers, this episode did markedly worse than the preceding episodes, and I don't think it was because of Espenson's writing talents. I think it was because she was handed a dog of a story document that required her to do way too much and in too awkward a manner.
And the whole get-rid-of-the-other-two-cylon-kids problem is just one of the writing issues hitting the fan now. There are multiple other ones, caused in large part by the writers frantically trying to tie up too many loose ends in a short space of time.
Could Galactica and the Fleet come to incorporate allied cylons and their basestar? Sure. But not as quickly as they showed it all to us. The two-episode mutiny story arc was a gesture in the direction of realism, but in reality it would have taken a lot longer to forge the kind of integrated human-cylon alliance that we now see functioning.
Could Baltar and his groupies become a major political force in the fleet even after the debacle of his previous presidency and trial? Sure. But not as quickly as they showed it. It came basically out of nowhere.
Some episodes are so rushed that they are leaving scenes on the cutting room floor that provide crucial background, with the result that the aired ep can seem unintelligible at points. (E.g., Adama's giving guns to Baltar and his group. What on earth would motivate that? At least a little bit of light would be shed on the situation if they'd included the deleted scene where Adama and Roslyn discuss the fact that the security situation on Galactica has become so dire that their only alternative may be using cylon centurions as the ship's security force.)
So, like the Galactica itself, I think the storytelling is becoming rattled and the seams are showing as it hurtles toward its end.
This is not to say that there isn't still a lot of interesting stuff happening or that I won't conclude that I enjoyed the finale.
It is to say that, while Galactica has been a groundbreaking show in the history of televised science fiction, it does have flaws–some of which may approach those possessed by its characters.