Sunday, March 29, 2009

Epic Reviews: Daybreak Part 2

It's fitting that the final episode of Battlestar Galactica, Daybreak Part 2, ends up being one of the most controversial of the entire series.

Maureen Ryan, The Watcher, Chicago Tribune:

There was the first hour, and then there was the final hour. I had different reactions to each hour. But overall, I loved it...

No other show has reached into the core of my being and made me physically feel so much: Fear, nausea, anxiety, excitement, tension, exhilaration, joy. Sometimes I cried, other times -- as during much of the first hour of the finale -- it made me want to stand up and cheer.

Throughout its four seasons, through the wobbles and the detours and the shocks and the amazing moments and the revelatory beauty, this show mixed action, philosophy, human emotion and compassion in a way I've never encountered before.

Jon Favreau:
Spoiler BSG: All in all, top marks. Thought they did a great job all around. I'm glad it came together with thought and emotional resonance.

Alan Sepinwall:
From this seat, the finale expertly blended all the things that made the series so wonderful: action, great performances in service of well-rounded characters, contemporary politics placed in futuristic settings, and a healthy dose of spirituality.

It's that last, though, that I suspect may lead to some grumbling.

God, or the gods, or whatever you want to call the divine forces of the "Galactica" universe, has always played a role in the series, but that role was particularly dominant in the finale. Unanswered questions about the nature of characters like Kara or the spectral Baltar and Six? God's responsible. What was all that stuff about visions of an opera house that Six, Athena and President Roslin shared? God showed it to them. How did Kara know how to get the fleet to the new Earth? God told her. How is it possible for human beings to naturally evolve on a planet a million light years away from where all the colonial humans originated? Baltar suggests a divine hand. Etc.

....But here, at the end, after four years of waiting for answers on some of these questions (particularly the nature of Head Six, who's been causing trouble since the "Galactica" miniseries in 2003), I imagine some fans aren't going to simply accept "God did it" about Head Six, or about the existence of another planet that could be called Earth.

Me, I went with it. The answers are interesting on some level, but what I'll take out of "Galactica" is the emotional experience more than any plot mechanics. I'll remember Roslin and Tigh having a pointed debate about the use of suicide bombers when they were living under a Cylon occupation on the planet of New Caprica. I'll remember the horror on Cally's face as she realized she was married to a Cylon. I'll remember old men Adama and Tigh standing shoulder to shoulder as they prepared to hold off a coup on Galactica, Kara letting go of her status as top-dog pilot when she realized she didn't need it anymore, Lee giving a speech explaining how humanity had devolved from a government into a gang, or Roslin holding Baltar's life in her hands and choosing forgiveness over revenge.

And from this finale, I'll care more about Baltar coming to grips with his past (sins and all), or the glimpses of the lives our characters left behind when the Cylons nuked the colonies, or Adama tearfully placing his wedding ring on Roslin's finger moments after her death than I would have about getting a more concrete explanation of what happened to Starbuck after her ship exploded.
Definitely read Alan's review in its entirety.
Todd VanDerWerff, The House Next Door, is, as always, comprehensive:
“Daybreak, Part 2,” the series finale of Battlestar Galactica, is about as audacious and ambitious a piece of television as I’ve ever seen. There’s basically no way the episode doesn’t end up being deeply polarizing (and, indeed, it already is), but outside of a few small moments, I found it pretty tremendous, first a fittingly epic action ending and then a sweet and enigmatic series of character endings...[I]t really does come down to whether you’re more interested in watching the show for the characters or for the mythology. If you’ve been spending the last few weeks trying to figure out how discontinued Cylon model Daniel fits into things, you were probably sorely disappointed. If you’ve been spending the last few weeks, however, trying to figure out how the writers were going to close off the problematic Baltar (James Callis) character arc, then you were probably deeply satisfied. “I know about farming,” indeed.

I suspect what’s going to drive most of the anger over this finale is the fact that episode writer (and series mastermind) Ron Moore pretty much just issues a blanket “God did it!” to answer many of the series’ biggest questions. To be perfectly honest, I wrestled with whether this was an elegant way to close off the series’ obsession with mysticism or whether it was just a deus ex machina that served to cover up the fact that the series didn’t know the answers to some of its questions when it started and had built those questions up to such a degree that no answer would be satisfying. What tipped me over to the former, actually, was two things: the description of God as a force of nature and Head Baltar saying in the episode’s final scene that God “doesn’t like to be called that.” In a weird way, this avoided making God too much of a writerly conceit or an actual deus ex machina. It brought him, somehow, more down to Earth and suggested that, perhaps, he was of some other species, just hoping that some other species would get past its growing pains so someone would finally evolve enough to give him someone to talk to. To that end, he’s shepherding over and over and over and over and maybe this time (with us, specifically), he’s on the verge of getting it right. Battlestar has always had a weird strain of Gnosticism running through it (particularly in Baltar’s sermons), so the notion of God as a sometimes altruistic and sometimes destructive force that operates independently and can never be fully comprehended by our characters managed to plug into the series mythos fairly well.

It would be one thing if God had never been involved in the series and it took a late left turn into murky New Age mysticism in the last half-season, but God has always been in the details on Battlestar, like it or not. To a real degree, God has filled in for the technobabble Moore has often proselytized against. So, to that end, I’m not sure this WAS a classic deus ex machina (wherein the gods save the protagonist by, essentially, appearing out of nowhere).

...For a while, I was concerned that the action sequence’s geography was completely inexplicable. Aside from the opening shots of the Galactica appearing right next to the colony, the subsequent shots of guns blazing and ships launching to do battle felt too chaotic by half. But episode director Michael Rymer kept slowly expanding our focus from the tight, docudrama style framing that has been the series’ hallmark to take a more epic view of what was going on as more and more of Adama’s (Edward James Olmos) ultimate plan was revealed. This was the show’s biggest action sequence since the marvelous Galactica-dropping-into-the-atmosphere moments of Season Three’s “Exodus, Part 2,” and this episode mirrored that one by never having Adama spell out his plan for the audience, choosing instead to let us see the plan as it unfolded without a hitch until Helo (Tahmoh Penikett) got shot in the leg, Athena (Grace Park) stopped to help him, and Hera raced off, leading to everything almost falling apart. The episode also made good use of the long sequence of all of the units checking in with Tigh (Michael Hogan) to set up that Lee (Jamie Bamber) was HERE and Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) was HERE and Roslin (Mary McDonnell) was down in the sick bay and so on. This made it clear how the characters were split into smaller factions, which allowed the later explication of the plan coming together to work as seamlessly as possible.

But, really, there was just so much great, geeky STUFF going on in that whole middle hour that I’m tempted to just list all of it. (I mean, they had Centurions fighting each other! Awesome!) The final five using Anders (Michael Trucco) to override the other Cylon hybrids ended up being an inspired choice and brought back one of my favorite incidental characters. Boomer (Park, again) twisting Simon’s (Rick Worthy, an excellent actor who never got enough to do on the show when he was on) neck when she finally turned on Cavil (Dean Stockwell) and rescued Hera was a nice little moment for her, as was her final sacrifice when she turned the kid over to her mother (dignified by the show with a flashback to the heady days of Season One, when she was still struggling to come to terms with who she really was). Hell, I even liked Baltar and Caprica Six (Tricia Helfer) looking over at their respective angel/demon/things and realizing that each had been plagued with one for so long. And I REALLY liked the arrival of Baltar, Six and Hera into the CIC, where things had obviously gone very, very wrong but we only saw the very tail end of it with Adama gritting it out and the blood of Cylon and human alike on the floor.

...The reveal that Earth was a bombed out wasteland in “Revelations” had struck me as one of the series’ strongest moments, and reducing the fleet to utter despair in the wake of that revelation was the kind of gutsy decision the show was famous for making. (Actually, at first, I thought that there were two identical planets in the universe, one bombed-out and the other lush and new and with prehistoric humans wandering its savannahs, which would have been too preposterous for even me, but a quick revisit of “Revelations” confirms that the show played fair. We never actually see enough of dead Earth to prove conclusively that it’s our Earth. It’s just HEAVILY SUGGESTED.) But that ended up being the right idea from a storytelling point of view, since it left the audience thinking that any new home for the characters would be an improbable ray of hope, so, of course, that improbable ray of hope ended up being what we always thought it would be, arrived at after we had mostly forgotten it even existed.

From there, the series settled into a long series of perhaps slightly TOO indulgent goodbyes, hinged on the premise that the characters would fly all of their technology into our sun and then settle down as best they could among the natives and slowly, over the generations, lose the idea of who they had been. Obviously, there probably could have been more debate over Lee’s crazy idea of everyone just giving up their tech (the final hour seems to randomly turn technology into the enemy until you really think about what the episode is trying to get at), and I’m not sure everyone would go along with it just that easily, but it DID make a kind of internal sense. After so long wandering the wilds of space (the three-hour finale opens with a shot of the entire friggin’ Milky Way with good reason), I can buy that enough people would just be content to settle down on that impossibly green and blue world (seriously, have we EVER looked that lush and verdant?) and frolic through what appeared to be the default desktop wallpaper from Windows XP for the rest of time that they’d pretty much do whatever Lee said. I also get that Moore didn’t want to turn the final hour into some sort of hamhanded “Technology: Yes or no?” debate, but the sudden jump to “We shall fly our ships into the sun!” ended up too quickly jumping to the “no” side of the question and added to the sense that technology was being demonized, however inadvertently. On the other hand, they still have enough knowledge for now to at least build houses for themselves, to dig into the earth and grow things, to survive at a level above that of the hunter-gatherers around them. (And that final, lyrical passage of Anders flying the fleet into the Sun was just beautifully done by the VFX team, as was the shot of the Centurions heading off in the basestar to whatever awaited them.)

But no matter, because the character stuff down on our Earth was just gorgeously done on all levels, and it finally incorporated the flashbacks that had been interspersed throughout the three hours in a way that made them seem less like fascinating episode padding and more like the proper sendoff for the characters the show had always been about. Last week, these flashbacks struck many as indulgent. While I didn’t share in those concerns, I could definitely see where some would have them. The final two hours (even that action-packed middle hour had some of this material in it) more properly placed all of that in the context of the idea that this story is about these people and we’re going to see how they got started on the journey that led them to the Galactica (Roslin joins a presidential campaign; Adama rejects a cushy office job to go back to being a commander; Lee and Starbuck almost have sex but are interrupted by his brother/her fiancée sleeping on the couch; etc.). Too often, characters in TV shows or in science fiction works take on a too easily acquired mythic status. This can be one of the things people like about science fiction or about television, but Battlestar has always been careful to undercut that. If nothing else, these flashbacks serve as the ultimate reminder that for all of their moments of brilliance and bravado, these people are still just people, and their journeys have been full of pain and heartache.

And all of those flashbacks had a mirroring scene in the final hour that, once again, made them feel much more significant in the show’s structure as a whole. Anders talked about perfection, his smile lighting up the screen, right before he flew the ships into the sun. Tigh and Ellen (Kate Vernon) mused about the idea that they might just get some time to be together right before they finally had world enough and time. Adama, bristling at having to take a lie detector test, rejected the cushy desk job that would result, then finally found a few small moments of peace on a new world with the woman he loved. Roslin, of course, was finally able to let go of her inner strength (that she had drawn upon in the wake of her family’s death) and just … pass on gently in a beautiful little scene. (And while we’re handing out acting awards, check out Olmos and McDonnell in that scene where they’re watching the gazelles. Both are absolute perfection.)

I’ve made much of my desire to know what Starbuck had returned as in the last few weeks, but I found the show’s complete non-answer perversely perfect...

And, good God, then there’s Baltar, the character the writers often had no idea what to do with through the back half of this season. (I’ll go along with Moore’s assertion that Baltar had to be put in charge of his cult just so he could start to accept the role of the divine, but I REALLY HAVE NO IDEA why they ended up being so politically powerful OR why they were just randomly given guns back in “Deadlock.” I guess the writers just wanted to give Callis shit to do. Which is no big deal, since he’s so great, but it still would have been cool if it had, y’know, MADE SENSE.) “Daybreak” probably did the most to right his character more than any other. His flashbacks showed just what sort of person he was running away from becoming (his feisty farmer father), while his storyline—of joining the mission to rescue Hera and brokering the uneasy truce with Cavil—was the first time he’s been well-utilized since “The Hub.” His scenes with Six, though, threaded throughout the episode, putting a capper on a relationship that has always burbled away in the corner of the show and managing to make their reconciliation seem believable. And, ye gods, his breakdown after saying “I know about farming” was worth four seasons of deception and writerly indecision.

Baltar (or, at least, the “Head” version of him) also figures into the coda, which leaps 150,000 years in the future to the present (and now I feel sort of silly for saying only Lost would have a title card like “Thirty Years Earlier”; thanks a lot, BSG!). As Head Six reads over the shoulder of Ron Moore himself about humanity’s earliest known common ancestor (who turns out to be Hera, natch), she and Baltar commiserate about how our world has approached a level similar to the one the Capricans had reached, that we are on some sort of precipice wherein we might be smote or we might be spared. The robot montage that follows is a little goofy (and also inadvertently contributes to the sense that Moore has suddenly decided all technology is evil), but the pan from two homeless people past a racecar over to the screen displaying the robots is telling, I think. The homeless, forgotten by a society moving faster and faster, and the race car, which was impressive to many just 50 years ago but is now passé, are both symbols of a world that is constantly pressing forward, rarely stopping to ask just where the hell the end point is... And then as “All Along the Watchtower” (of course) blares the two angel/demon/things walk off into the Times Square crowd, gradually swallowed up by the mass of humanity (or, more properly, human/Cylon hybrids), until we can just barely see the platinum blonde head of Six amidst the crowd. And then she’s gone. Considering how prominently Helfer has featured in the show’s advertising, it’s about as good a visual metaphor for the end of a TV series as I think I’ve seen.

...I am struck by just how Jungian it all ended up being. “All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again” is as good a pop cult explanation of the collective unconsciousness as I’ve ever heard, and if we accept that the Galactica crew met and mingled with our ancient ancestors, then the series’ constant mash-up of assorted classical literature and religious reference points takes on an even more amusing spin, as we imagine that these storylines were passed on to our ancestors and eventually took form in new shapes, arising again and again, the rough edges hammered off, until we had the myths and legends we now take for granted.

Much has been made of the show’s embrace of major social themes and plot points that recalled current events, but it also combined a heady brew of pulp fiction, religious mysticism and solid character drama. It closed with a note of hope, with a few moments of hard-earned grace. This ending, rooted as it is, so heavily, in our ideas of ourselves is somehow perfect. They aren’t people “just like us.” They ARE us.

Jacob, TWOP:
What a silly, bloated, preachy, half-assed mess. It's embarrassing to see such great actors saddled with such unvoiceable, pointless activity, for so very, very long. After all the talk about holding something back and pacing yourself for the marathon, one would think the creators would follow their own advice, but then, this episode could have easily been written in 1992 when TV still had an excuse for sucking, so maybe they did.

...However, if you thought the answers to series-long questions would be given their due, rather than snapped together like Lego around somewhat unnecessary character-building flashbacks -- and if you, like me, don't really care for robots, shooting, or TV science fiction -- there wasn't a lot here for you. I'm not going to say it was "bad," because what does that even mean, but I will say that I personally enjoyed it slightly less than "Crossroads," which I enjoyed slightly more than the episode where Lee dates a hooker, but slightly less than a root canal.

I've never understood "they're making it up as they go along" complaint about shows, because that's how stories work: you build a story a word at a time, you're always making it up as you go along. But there's a way to do this with reverence toward what's gone before, creating a greater whole out of the sum of all your parts, and there's a way to do it after a long night of coffee: assembling the pieces you've got on the table in front of you in a way that you think might fly, just to get it off your desk. Letting the plot "figure itself out" has lent itself to great intuitive leaps -- and the finest television show I've ever personally seen -- but it's also led to these last two season finales. So if this poor showing is the end of the marathon, I'm grateful they paced themselves as well as they did, for as long as they were able. I don't think we'll see a story this wonderful again in our lifetimes, and we are privileged to have taken part. And that's really what matters.
Also, check out TWOP's gallery of unanswered questions.

FearTheReaper of Suicide Girls had an even harsher reaction in a review titled, "Battlestar Galactica Finale Sucked Ass":
There were so many gaping holes and carelessly tossed away plotlines in the finale it was sickening.

...I’m going to avoid the first hour of the repeated shocking conveniences that occurred during the battle, but they were amazingly weak. Thankfully, the creators set up the show under the umbrella of “It’s all God’s will,” so they could dump a turd on my screen and then say, well, “That’s what God wanted.” Um, no. Fuck your Dean Stockwell blowing his brains out and your dead person launching a nuke and the fact that “Opera House” didn’t actually mean anything. Just because its God's will, doesn't mean it has to be lazy and stupid.

...Crazy lazy writing. Absolute shit.
Richard Vine, The Guardian:
They promised it would all wrap up. And it did. Somehow, out of all the doom and gloom, death, destruction and nihilism we've had, Battlestar Galactica finished with something approaching a happy ending. Most of the major questions were dealt with in some form or another. Most of the character arcs were resolved – along with some plot points that seemed to have been left floating through the universe.

There's so much to get through in this two-hour finale, so do pick up anything I miss. Overall, it was a pretty satisfying conclusion. Even given the Lord of the Rings style endless ending(s), the promise of getting another 20 minutes or so on the DVD still sounds tempting.

...I could buy – even enjoy – the sight of Head/Angel/Demon Baltar and Six wandering through Times Square and checking in on humanity 150,000 years later, but the sight of those Sony Aibo robots (or whatever they were) clunking around modern shop windows just didn't do it for me. Too jarring, too much of the real world, and the now all of a sudden. And as for Ron Moore's cameo at the news stand, well, that really felt like a rare blunder – one of those things that probably sounded quite amusing in the writing room, but played out as totally distracting if you know what he looks like. He was way too prominent in the shot, almost winking at the audience right at the very end – he might as well have had a big T-shirt on saying "I wrote this!", or "Mwah ha ha! I'm the real God of Kobol!!!"
Tim Goodman, San Francisco Chronicle:
Although the merits of this "Battlestar Galactica" finale are likely to be debated by die hard fans for some time - specifically over loose ends, convenient turns, and unexplained motivations - what I liked most about it was how convincingly it opted for the finality of two key issues of the show: religion and technology. No matter what you take away from "BSG," what fueled your interest over four seasons, which characters or traits were the ones that sucked you in the most, creator Ronald D. Moore was decisive on these issues: 1. A god, or higher power, and angels of a divine nature, influence the world we live in. 2. Technology, particularly the technology of machines, is not the answer. While stopping short of preaching the "machines are bad" mantra, there was an overarching theme about allowing technology to bring mankind beyond an appreciation of life's inherent shortness, its flawed limitations. Any attempt to go beyond that, to erase human nature and seek perfection, power and limitless "life" was a bad idea that would lead to destruction and failure.

And all of that got wrapped up in a happy ending.

But to have many of the key final twists and explanations come down to what can best be described as divine intervention was, for me, very much unexpected. Stunning, even.

As a critic, it was a little too pat... I doubt the "revelation" that Starbuck was some kind of angel, heaven-sent to guide Galactica (containing both humans and Cylons and Hera, who's both) back to Earth (a completely undestroyed earth from the early-man days) is going to make many people happy. For that matter, neither is the other "Earth" idea. But again, two things are at play here. The notion of gods and angels with Kara. And a feel-the-purity-of-mankind arrival in unspoiled Africa, 150,000 years prior to the "fall of Caprica." In both of those instances, the missing ingredient is technology/machines. For a sci-fi show, this ending is very much rooted in spirituality and flesh. That might cause some controversy. But Starbuck as an almost unexplained phenomenon - killed, reborn (but not Cylon) to fulfill a destiny, then dissipating into thin air? I'm not sure that twist can be given a free pass. If fans are upset about the convenience of the "angel angle," they probably have a right to be.

It's also notable (and confusing) that Six and Baltar, at least in the versions that appeared in each others heads, also seem to be angels. The fleshly Baltar and the noble Six - who strapped on the guns with the rest of the brave in Adama's suicide mission to jump into the Cylon Colony and get Hera from Cavil and company - they both ended up in Africa with everyone else. It even looked like true love (not manipulation or ego/sexual gratification). They were going to be farmers. Their other versions - the "head" versions as insiders refer to them - ride it out through the endless cycle to somewhere near 150,000 years after setting down in Africa and Six - with optimism - declares that the cycle that has been going on forever will likely end. It's a statistical thing. History won't repeat itself forever. The end.

For a series where mythology has been central, this explanation - while still an explanation, let's be clear on that - may not satisfy die hard fans. We got an answer - just not the one maybe we were all looking for. Six and Baltar, in that incarnation - along with Kara - were angels who drifted in and out of the story for four years, causing mayhem and confusion, then periodically did good, using their influence to get the humans and the Cylons to a place (let's call it Africa) where there's a glorious opportunity for a clean-slate do-over? Hmmmm.... Angels? Divine guidance? Sure, why not? But not everyone is going to be that forgiving.

Mike Murphy, Press Democrat:
I loved it.

"Battlestar Galactica" ended Friday with a two-hour finale, and while the episode wasn't perfect, it left me almost completely satisfied. I might be in a minority though. A quick look around online forums finds a whole lot of upset fanboys (and girls). A Television Without Pity recapper even gave the episode an F. I'm not quite sure what they were expecting. I say, relax, take a step back and appreciate the series for giving us five years of brilliance. Topped by a brilliantly fitting finale.

...The problems many people seemed to have with the episode focused mainly on Starbuck and the religious theme.

So what was Starbuck? How did she just vanish? Was she an angel? A ghost? A Head Starbuck seen by the entire fleet? I don't know. But in the end, it doesn't matter. In real life, we don't always get the answers. As Baltar said, there was a higher power at work. You've just gotta believe. And I think that bit of faith is what turned a lot of people off. Not everyone can buy into that concept of ignoring logic and believing in something that simply can't be explained -- it just is. I did buy into it, so it didn't bug me much, but I can see how some people didn't.

Would all the surviving humans really have been so quick to give up technology and revert to the Stone Age? Maybe not, but again, I don't care. I bought it. Think about this: technology destroyed their civilization. They've spent the last four years cooped in ships, or in the miserable conditions of New Caprica. Now they have a bountiful new planet and can start with a clean slate. Why not? I think it was part of breaking the cycle of human-Cylon destruction. Gotta drop everything -- and I mean everything -- and start over fresh.

I finally got the flashbacks. Last week I thought they were confusing and unnecessary. But played out, I saw their value. Call it destiny, call it free will, but every main character had a chance to not be where they ended up. The flashbacks showed those crucial moments that defined their lives before the fall of Caprica, the moments that ultimately brought them all together. And they proved that Saul really liked strip clubs.

The biggest problem I had was the last couple of minutes. The present-day scene with Head Six and Head Baltar was preachy and way too in-your-face for a show that rarely was. Completely unnecessary and it ruined the flow. The episode should have ended with Adama at Laura's grave, looking out onto that new, wonderful world.

The journey ended, and I was relieved it ended on a hopeful note. This is a show I'm really going to miss.

irenadubrovna on LiveJournal has observations about the ending for Head Six and Head Baltar:
They're ANGELS. Six wasn't fucking with Gaius the entire time! Who knew angels knew how to ride it like cowgirls and throw a mean left hook? WHO CARES. NOT THE WRITERS! NOT I! Gaius is an angel too? WHY THE FRAK NOT?! ANGEL PARTY! WHO'S ON TOP?!

Did the "God did it" explanations get a bit trite and tired by the end? Yes, but like I said, I was so far beyond caring by that point that I was able to just sit back and enjoy watching Centurions kick the screws out of the classic Cylons. I'm glad I was never deeply invested in Kara or Lee, not only as characters but as a couple, because as predictable as her being the original hybrid would have been, it would have made a lot more sense than her being sent back by God to complete a "mission". I mean, really? Did she take two of each animal back onto that raptor with her? I understand that the finale was about "the characters, stupid!", but the Kara I know and kind of liked sometimes, sure as hell wasn't a puppet of "God". Of course no one guessed her outcome, because even Stephanie Meyer wouldn't think to pull that shit.

I truly have no qualms with religion, I think it's an interesting topic, and certainly an interesting choice to incorporate into a Sci-Fi show, but when literally EVERY explanation and who'dun'it comes down to GOD, it starts to feel a bit lazy on the part of the writers. I mean, two of the major questions we all wanted answers for were Kara's ~*special destiny*~ and the Six in Gaius' head. When both of those explanations come down to God's whim and magic, it all gets a little too Gob Bluth for my taste.

...Despite my tongue-in-cheek response to the final outcome of this series, I was entertained, and considering the episodes leading up to the finale, that was more than I could have hoped for.

Alex Strachan, of Canwest News Service in The Vancouver Sun writes:
Endings are hard. We know this. Even so, Battlestar Galactica's ending may have set a new standard for bad endings to outstanding series.

For the first hour, Galactica's finale was firing on all cylinders. Promises are made, and then thrown aside; treaties are brokered, and then broken. A moment in which a horrific murder from the past is collectively revisited in a mind meld, followed by a sudden vengeance killing, was among the series’ best moments.

Had Galactica ended there — in a fit of collective rage, in which everyone kills everyone else in the heat of primal passion — it would have been in keeping with the tone of the series as a whole, especially the season that just ended. It would have marked Battlestar Galactica in TV history as a series that refused to make compromises right through to the end.

Instead, the story evolved into the old "Adam and Eve" sci-fi concept, as the Galactica survivors land on an Earthlike planet and — surprise — stumble across evidence of Early Man in Africa.

The Adam-and-Eve ending is a terrible sci-fi cliche, even though Rod Serling managed to get away with it in one of his classic Twilight Zone episodes. It's creative writing 101: If you're writing a dystopian science-fiction tale, do not write an Adam-and-Eve ending. It's already been done countless times, and better.

As awful as that ending was, Galactica remains, to my mind, one of the high watermarks of TV drama from the past 20 years.

...The great thing about modern technology is that it allows us to watch only those parts of a DVD that are worth remembering. I will always treasure Battlestar Galactica as one of the defining TV dramas of its time. I will also make a point of shutting off the DVD player one hour into the finale, when I get around to seeing the series again.

Josh Tyler, in CinemaBlend sums it up:
Look I’m alright with Ron Moore working his own superstitious religious mumbo jumbo into his show if it’s going to deliver the kinds of thoughtful programming and incredibly deep, well developed characters Battlestar Galactica gave us. I have no problem with that. What I do have a problem with is substituting random, unsupported theology for actual story closure. What I do have a problem with is reducing everything to one big, Deus ex machina. Sure theology has always been an important part of the show, but in the end it seems Moore’s answer is that it’s the only part of the show. We’ve hung around all this time, don’t we deserve better answers than that?

Frak that. So we got screwed on the answer department. I’m a little disappointed and maybe you are too. I’m here to tell you that in the end, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because Battlestar Galactica’s final moments will always be remembered for that brilliant, closing shot of William Adama sitting alone on a hill, promising the ghost of Laura Roslinn that he’ll build her that cabin. Battlestar’s final moments will be remembered as Apollo looking off into the endless sky and imagining a life of exploration and adventure. BSG’s final moments will be remembered as the Galactica sailing off into the sun.

Tonight’s Battlestar Galactica finale was a cop out, but it was also the perfect goodbye. Ron Moore dropped the ball on plot but as always, the show delivered where it really mattered: Characters. Ignore the superstitious mumbo jumbo. No one is going to remember all the awful stock footage of robots or the ridiculous, anti-technology plot device in which the entire fleet decides for no particular reason to abandon all technology and start using spears. Scratch that, they had a reason. Their souls weren’t ready for science. Funny no one mentioned that notion until five minutes before the credits. Frak all of that. We’ll remember the people, their faces, and the lives they’ve touched. Goodbye Battlestar Galactica. I don’t care about the answers, you’ve been a good ship.

Other reviews and recaps from, Marc Bernardin for Entertainment Weekly, TV Squad, BSG Cast, Craig Newmark, Galactica Variants, 25 Word Review from Sam J. Miller, in-depth from io9, Battlestar Blog, Cory Johnson for 411 Mania, Jevon Philips for the Los Angeles Times, Jim Connelly for Screen Junkies, Kelly West in CinemaBlend, MediaBlvd, Buddy TV, PopStar Celebrity, If Magazine, Screen Rant, FlickFilosopher, IGN's Channel Surfing podcast, Jennifer Goodwin for E! Online, Alan Stanley Blair, Michael Hinman, and Christopher Oldaker, all in Airlock Alpha, the Battlestar Galactica Review Blog, BeliefNet, flowrs4ophelia reviews the finale, Ben Scarlato for the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, The American Scene wonders if BSG was espousing the "granola conservatism"/"crunchy cons" philosophy of Rod Dreher, Brad East, for The House Next Door, studies the feminism of BSG, AlterNet studies BSG as a post-9/11 parable, Robert K. Blechman ponders BSG's use of supernatural agency, a review by Annalee Newitz, for io9, the views of The Weekly Standard, U.S. News and World Report, The Register, The Perpetual Post, Open Media blog /Film, and The Deadbolt News.

As always, Galactica Science, and Brad Ideas look at the show with intellectual and scientific eyes.

Chris Amorosi, Collegian Columnist offers a historical context for BSG in the Daily Collegian.

Every fan poll I've seen since the finale shows that about 60% of the fans love the finale, and about 20% hate it, with the remainder being in-between. i09 has another poll asking how the BSG finale ranks compared to various Star Trek finales.

My own views on the finale are complex. I'm of two minds when I reflect on it. I often find myself agreeing with those who have critiqued the finale quite harshly, as often if not more than I agree with those critics that loved it. If you look at through the prism of science, mathematics and logic, you're going to see unanswered questions, and plot-holes filled up with God and angels. But, I think Ron Moore's intention was to bring Galactica to a close with a mythological ending. The final hour should not be read as prose, but instead as poetry. It was a lyrical ending with metaphors and allegories utilized, as always, to comment on the human condition. (Which is why the ending in Times Square may have been too on the nose with its commentary. Though he certainly needed to make his point about Hera's role in history, I wonder if the scene played out as too flippant in many respects. It could have been better. --More on that in a future post, I'm sure, as we continue to discuss the finale here.)

William Faulkner said in his Nobel Prize speech of 1950, at the dawn of the cold war with nuclear destruction on his mind:
Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only one question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat. He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid: and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed--love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, and victories without hope and worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he learns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

Time will tell if the stories told on Battlestar Galactica can ever live up to Faulker's vision for fiction. But, I know the writers of BSG clearly had those goals in mind. Has there been any other show in recent years to so thoroughly explore the human heart in conflict with itself? Did the show present humans, despite their flaws, finding the endurance, compassion, and sacrifice to achieve their end? I think the answer is yes. And the stakes were large: The survival of the human race. For all the darkness that was presented over the years on BSG, I think the characters earned that lyrical and poetic ending on a grassy savanna enjoying their dream of Earth.

The characters got their goodbyes, and we the audience got to say goodbye to them. So despite the flaws, it worked on that emotional, poetical level.

In five years, in ten years, as people revisit the series, we'll truly be able to comprehend the series as a whole and come to an understanding or realization about if the series stood the test of time, and made a lasting impact, or not... Over the course of the four seasons it was bold, and groundbreaking television. So, I'll bet that it will be remembered and honored for its remarkable achievements.


MichaelHinman said...

Holy Battlestar, this is a detailed list!

That took a lot of work, Logan, but thanks for sharing that. It's great getting a look at all the reviews around the world. :)

Ian said...

A week on and I've come to the conclusion that I loved the whole episode with the exception of the robots at the end. I get the point of it, but as The Guardian reviewer said it was visually too jarring came across a little twee.

Generally I find myself really agreeing with Alan Sepinwall. As he points out, BSG was always about religion, so having the answer "God did it" is entirely appropriate. (Anybody ever read the bible? It's about religion too, what does the reader find out? *Spoilers* God did it!)

I think the overall atheism (of which I am one) of the audience has really motivated the hostility to the finale. I've long realised the irony that it is sometimes science fiction fans who have the hardest problem with suspension of disbelief.

The House Next Door review made an interesting point that I've been thinking about since last week: Perhaps the God is just another species. Could see parallels to Babylon 5 with the Vorlons and the Shadows shaping the younger races, before leaving with the other First Ones to allow them to forge their own destiny.

Certainly not the only similarity to B5 that snuck into my head. The flashbacks in the finale provided a similar implicit Before and After look at the characters as the explicit ones shown in the credits of Sleeping In Light. Plus the Cavil/Baltar confrontation in CIC was extremely reminiscent of the final Vorlon/Shadow and Sheridan/Delenn confrontation from Into The Fire. Both of which led to a new age of mankind.

On a related note, never really had a problem with Ron Moore appearing, don't remember ever hearing many complaints that it was JMS that switched off the lights on B5 either.

General Boy said...

This amusing review by The Incredible Hulk was sent to me by a FB friend. Since I am, essentially, a BSG apologist, I will be laying low to avoid being smashed. :-)

Justin said...

Thank you for this massive post, but I truly believe that only one review matters in the end: your own.

That being said, Alan Sepinwall's reviews usually make me think, which - in the end - is the only valid purpose that critics have.

Of course, this opinion may invalidate an entire segment of the Internet, comprised of people who believe that their opinion is Important and Must Be Read By Everyone.

Of course, the irony of that last sentence is not lost on me. :-)

Logan Gawain said...

@Michael, thanks. Yes, it took a lot of time to read all of them and select what to quote. In fact these passages from your review are quite true:

"But this is the way "Battlestar Galactica" was supposed to end. Give us quick closure on the overall story, but then spent an hour or so wrapping up each one of the characters. As exciting as the action scenes were in the second part of the three-hour finale, the most moving was how we left the Colonials. And by far, the most amazing scene that makes me cry every time I think about it (just like when Tigh has to poison his wife) are those final moments in the Raptor with Bill and Laura.

"It's the characters we connect to, not just the story. We have become so accustomed to action and adventure, and we begin to believe that that's where science-fiction starts and ends. If you believe that, then you should watch SciFi Channel on Saturday nights because I hear they make some original movies that should be right up your alley."

Eric H said...

Logan: Awesome power-blogging. Thanks for spending so much time on this and for the thoughtful selection of reviews from across the spectrum of opinion.

General Boy said...

I'm just enjoying the great vidcaps.

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