29 March 2009

Review: Battlestar Galactica Series Finale

Posted by Ryan

I just watched the series finale of Battlestar Galactica last night. I’ve been toying around with posting occasional reviews on the blog, and this seemed like a good place to start. Be warned, there are going to be spoilers, so if you have not seen the episode, don’t read on.

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First off, my thoughts on the series as a whole, so you know where I’m coming from.

I really liked the beginning of the series, when the plots were more focused on survival and the characters and more “realistic” things. It was refreshing to see a show that was clearly sci-fi, but did it in a realistic way. Yes there were evil robots out to kill the human race, but the plots were about things like where to get water and how to rebuild a working government. And then came the visions and the prophecies and the oracles and the “final five”. More and more as the series progressed, the plotlines seemed to focus on things like this. I got really tired of this, but every once in a while there would be a good episode with minimal hocus-pocus and good drama and action, so I kept watching until the end, hoping that somehow the prophecies and mysticism would be tied off in a satisfactory way that fit in with the more grounded beginning of the show. Unfortunately, I was disappointed.

I will say this: the series finale was a good microcosm of the entire show. There were parts that I really liked, including a really awesome space battle (though the reason for waging it was pretty iffy to me). We learned more about the key characters, which was strange for a finale, but worked for me. But then the end of the finale was amazingly bad.

I had suspected for a while that the writers of the show did not have a coherent goal in mind, and that a lot of the business about prophecies and mysticism and the final five throughout the series was a symptom of them writing shortsightedly. Instead of focusing on an overall story arc for the series, it’s as if they just wrote whatever they thought would be cool, continuity be damned. This led to a lot of unanswered questions before the finale, but I had seen the good early episodes and hoped against hope that it would all come together. Instead the finale just confirmed my suspicions. It was one of the biggest copouts I have ever seen.

After all of the build-up over four years, in the end we are told that all this weird stuff happened because God did it. Starbuck, one of the most interesting characters, is revealed to be some sort of angel and then abruptly disappears. The 30,000 survivors of the human race discover a lush and habitable planet (that just happens to be modern-day Earth) and instead of settling down in a city and attempting to rebuild their shattered lives, they somehow agree to spread out across the planet, without any experience in surviving in the wilderness, and “go native”. They discard all of their technology, sending their beautiful fleet on a kamikaze mission to the sun rather than putting it to good use on Earth. Hera, who is supposed to be the key to the survival of the human and cylon races, ends up being irrelevant; just an excuse to have a big space battle. Cavil, who is supposed to be the evil cylon terrified of true death and bent on rediscovering the ability to resurrect, promptly and unceremoniously blows his brains out when things don’t go his way. And after a sad and quiet scene with Adama sitting by Roslin’s grave that would have made a poignant ending even after all the nonsense, we are torn out of that contemplative place and confronted with a final scene of comic relief, and a ham-fisted warning that robots are evil.

All of this reeks of lazy storytelling. Setting up a bunch of confusing and unresolved events and then finishing by saying, “Well, I guess it was just God’s plan.” is almost on the same level as the classic terrible ending: “And then I woke up and it was all a dream…” It’s extremely frustrating to see a show that I know can be good, killed by inches as the writers gradually let it spiral out of control.

Isn’t it possible for a sci-fi series these days to be serious, and good, and maintain that quality for more than a couple seasons? Apparently not.

Update: George R. R. Martin, a writer whom I admire, just posted a blog entry that essentially supports what I’ve said here, but is much more concise. Key excerpt:

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA ends with “God Did It.” Looks like somebody skipped Writing 101, when you learn that a deus ex machina is a crappy way to end a story.