I had a passionate five year love affair with Battlestar Galactica. From my trepidations first date with the mini-series, though the inevitable ups and downs in our relationship, until that final moment when the whole thing just quietly fizzled out. It ended on my birthday.
The conclusion of a long-running show with complex interweaving plotlines must be terrifying to the people responsible for shepherding it to the inevitable conclusion. Most shows never see the end coming. A quick bullet to the brain ends them while nobody is looking. Occasionally, producers will see the writing on the wall – random rescheduling and preempted airings, low ratings, and the like – and will make an effort to wrap up as many loose ends as possible so that the fans won’t be left hanging. When the “Terminator” series got the axe at the end of its second season, the show-runners made a heroic effort to end the series gracefully. Ever optimistic, they still left the door cracked open just enough to allow them to continue if the opportunity ever arose – and if “Terminator: Salvation” had been a blockbuster hit, it might well have gotten a green light, but the film tanked and the TV series was officially deceased after the film’s opening weekend.
So, when producers have the foreknowledge that the next season of their show will be the last, you’d think they’d scheme and plot at the height of their ability. Battlestar had plenty of things going on, much of it operating on a human level, some of it verging into mystical territory. There were plenty of questions that needed answers, and some questions that were best left as mysteries.
Sci Fi (now going by the horrific re-brand Sy Fy so that they can justify airing even more non-genre reality programming) threw a spanner into the works early on by choosing to drag out the final season for an additional year by taking a ten month break between the first and second half, but that shouldn’t have had a huge impact on the production. All twenty episodes were filmed on a normal schedule, and Sci Fi just shelved the back half until they felt ready to say goodbye to their flagship cash-cow show.
The first half of the season was filled with strong episodes and lead to the discovery of a devastated Earth in the cliffhanger finale. Since I (and I suspect many others) had guessed that this would be the ultimate outcome of the *end* of the series, it seemed like a huge twist and a portent of even darker days to come.
And things got pretty dark. Dualla dead by her own hand, Zarek and Gaeta hauled in front of a firing squad. There was some pretty amazing stuff going on.
But at the same time I felt a growing sense of trepidation. As each episode aired and the conclusion drew closer, the show seemed unable to confront any of the big issues directly. We veered wildly as the story became focused on Hera, and spent a lot of time bouncing between ever more human Cylons and expository nonsense pouring out of the final five. Oh, and the valiant Galactica, which has survived direct nuclear strikes, hurtling through atmosphere, and countless Cylon assaults, has suddenly worn out.
I still had hope, right up to episode nineteen…
With two shows to go, the second-to-last episode spent its precious forty-four minutes in flashbacks that told us absolutely nothing about the situation at hand. It was a reminiscence, and indulgence that allowed the writers to present us viewers with some back stories of the central characters. Under any other circumstances I would applaud an episode like this – season three’s “Unfinished Business” (the boxing episode) was a highlight of the series for me.
But with the fate of the human race hanging in the balance, and precious little screen time left to tell that story, it wasn’t the right time for character building. In all fairness, I didn’t know at the time that the episode had been made as “filler” when the network had shifted gears and told the producers that they’d be allowed to air a two hour conclusion. What had been episode 19 suddenly became the first half of episode 20, and the vacant slot in the schedule had to be filled with something that could be shot quickly and cheaply.
With a combination of both expectation and fear I started watching the final show. I knew there were just too many things left unfinished to be dealt with properly in a mere ninety minutes. And, of course, I was right.
It all goes downhill pretty damn quickly. Skip past the flashbacks to the attack on the Cylon base – which is floating at the edge of a black hole (gee, the huge Cylon civilization seems pretty paltry). Glactica, fragile though she might be, rams nose first into the impregnable fortress. A moment later, Anders and the rest of the Five put the entire base to sleep. Wow! What an incredible solution! Ron Moore is a genius for coming up with that one — except he did it back in 1990 when the “Star Trek” episode “The Best of Both Worlds” aired. The only difference? The Cylon base doesn’t explode, suggesting that Ron has learned to restrain his god-like powers.
Within moments, Hera is rescued and Athena shoots Boomer (or maybe it was Boomer shooting Athena… they all look alike to me), and everyone runs back to Galactica. Then Hera wanders off in the middle of a firefight and is saved from marauding Cylons by Balter. It is revealed in this moment of crisis that the mysterious opera house door we’ve been seeing for the past few years is actually… [ponderous drum roll]… the entrance to the Galactica’s control room. Wow. That’s underwhelming.
Cavil has somehow managed to bypass all the defenses, reaching the CIC before most of the others, and catches hold of Hera before anyone can stop him. Human-hating Cavil quickly agrees to a cease fire and the Five agree to give him resurrection – except that in order to burn a DVD for him the Five have to link minds, which reveals Tori’s responsibility for the Chief’s wife’s death, and he’s so enraged that he immediately kills Tori and the DVD burner craps out.
While nobody could stop the chief, the folks in CIC are easily able to dispatch the remaining Cylons in the room, though Cavil inexplicably eats a bullet rather than put up a fight. That done, the hand of god intervenes and causes some nuclear missiles to spontaneously fire from a nearly destroyed Raptor, and the entire Cylon base (which is, may I remind you, sitting at the edge of a black freaking hole) starts to pop like a balloon in an oven.
Adama orders a jump, and Starbuck taps in the notes from the mysterious music that everyone’s been fixating on for the past year or two. And suddenly the Galactica is safe and sound above a nice little retirement community.
When everyone else arrives, Adama declares that all the ships will be destroyed and that the entirety of their civilization will go native – no soap, no medicine, a life of grueling manual labor, early death – and everyone agrees (perhaps some of them find hairy native pre-humans attractive).
Adama takes the last Raptor for himself (at least he’ll have somewhere to go when it starts raining) while most everyone else wanders away half-heartedly. Except for Starbuck, who vanishes into whatever higher plane of existence she was resurrected from.
Flash forward ten-thousand years as two gods in the guise of Six and Baltar roam around present day Earth making snarky comments.
Curtains down. Lights up. That’s all she wrote, folks.
So what, in the end, did I think of the show? It had a few touching moments, lots of explosions, and did an enormous disservice to a series that has told some of the most compelling stories I’ve watched on TV. If there was a singular error on the part of the producers it was in trying to pack all the big answers into a single show, rather than more effectively spreading them through the entire stretch of those last ten episodes.
A lesser evil is that they tried to be clever, to not present the fans with any of the more obvious potential answers. Let’s face it, there was an enormous amount of conjecture floating around the internet about the directions the story could have taken, and a few were pretty dang smart. The writers had obviously considered making Starbuck’s father the missing member of the Final Five, and had laid a few breadcrumbs pointing in that direction, but instead choose to bring back Ellen (which makes everything he went through after poisoning her seem sort of trivial) because that would be something “completely unexpected”. Sure it was unexpected, but it was unexpected because it made no sense (and led to the frankly ghastly scenes of Cavil ranting on about defective manufacturing).
In all, the show deserved a better end, perhaps a much gentler one at that. I’d have been happy to forgo the big space battle in exchange for a verbal fight – imagine what the show might have been like if the Humans and Cylons had actually tried to negotiate a true peace with words instead of cannons? Impassioned argument was always the hallmark of the show’s strongest scenes – need I remind anyone of Lee’s amazing monologue in the season three finale – and there was a tragic lack of it at the end of the series.
No, I can’t say I was happy with Galactica’s swan song – it was like an awkward last dinner with someone you’re breaking up with. At least I can look back at the series and mutter softly to myself “We’ll always have Paris…” and think about the good times.