Thursday, April 16, 2009

Not In Our Stars: The Betrayals of the Battlestar Galactica Finale

(Greetings Colonial Refugees and Rebel Cylons - this is my first post as part of the Sitrep editorial team. Now that the show is over, I am excited to see this blog become a space for fans to continue to uncover the rich and complex meaning of different aspects of the show, and what it has to say about us (in addition to keeping on top of Caprica developments, DVD releases, books and articles that cover the show, etc). To that end, my first post is a little provocative, to spark some debate and get us all talking... )


Not In Our Stars: the Betrayals of the Battlestar Galactica Finale

by Sam J. Miller

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves...”

Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene ii

The episode ends, and I stare at the screen. I've prepared myself for a soul-shattering ending, for horrible things, for these characters who I love so much to be dispatched in ways that make me sob and tremble and nod my head because I know, as much as it hurts, that it all makes perfect sense.

Because a huge chunk of what made Battlestar Galactica such a shockingly brilliant show was how much it rejected the cliches and easy answers of standard mainstream storytelling. Because characters were faced with real, challenging dilemmas, and things never ended in a tidy, cheery way. Because good people did terrible things. Because desperately flawed men and women somehow managed to be heroes, or find love. Because things were messy. And ugly. Just like life. Just like all great art. Yet the finale of Battlestar Galactica turned its back on all that, opting instead for the kind of shiny happy ending we associate with a far lower grade of television fare, and which its beautifully-damaged characters didn't deserve.

I'm on the losing side of this, I know, from the ton of time I've spent on message boards and blog comment pages, trying to come through my own sense of grief and loss and betrayal. Most fans loved the last episode. I loved the first half. The Caprica flashbacks were wonderful. Watching Roslin emerge from her grief and choose the life of service that would ultimately make her President and the savior of humanity was wonderful. Galactica jumping right in, inches away, face to face with the Colony. Boomer's moment of redemption. Hybrid Sam tricking the other hybrids. And finally—the song—Starbuck putting the pieces together—jumping Galactica to Gods know where—the ship's back breaking...

And that's when I started to feel sick. This lush green blue paradise, this answered prayer, this FUCKING! HAPPY! ENDING! Such bright sunshine was utterly out of character for Battlestar Galactica. The show's darkness did not derive from the lightless vacuum of space in which it was set, but rather in the hearts of the characters. Old Man Adama's words, uttered in the miniseries, became Battlestar Galactica's first article of faith: “we are the flawed creation.” We must answer for our mistakes. We get what we deserve. Passing into the promised land so easily, it felt like we'd suddenly switched to a whole new show. As the writer Alexander Chee said of the finale, “It felt like getting the fortune you don’t want from the fortune teller, not because you fear it, but because it is simplistic, and you know the fortune teller is lying.”

Battlestar Galactica resonated so deeply because it was it had the guts to be as dark and disturbing and depressing as the modern world itself. It was the show that could finally show us how ugly we are. I've always felt that the show was just 'finding itself' until the Pegasus showed up at the end of Season 2.0. It was always dark as fuck, but it also had whole episodes of humor and lightness (Ellen playing footsies with Lee in Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down) or glib political soap opera (Colonial Day) and spirituality (the Kobol arc)... and then here comes the Pegasus, with its gang rapes and magnificent evil lesbian and the plot to kill Adama, and Roslin saying "we have to kill her..." and from THERE, the show never faltered, as far as I'm concerned. there was never an episode that broke that vibe of unrelenting harshness. Sure, some were weaker or slower than others, and some were not SO focused on the ugliness, but even a more "laid back" episode like Taking a Break From All Your Worries is really all about torturing Baltar. And for me, the most brilliant perfect moment in the entire series was the discovery of nuclear-wasteland Earth at the end of Revelations. That exemplifies the extent to which Battlestar Galactica refused to coddle its viewers, or give them easy answers, or make them feel better about themselves and the world they live in. “So you've spent all this time looking for Earth? You've pinned all your hopes and dreams on finding Earth? You think all your problems will vanish when you find Earth? Well here, motherfrakker, here's your Earth—now what?” Our problems are in ourselves, not our circumstances or in the stars, and it's naïve to think that finding a new home or winning a million dollars will make us all into perfect beings.

Battlestar Galactica's strength was its darkness, and the series finale betrayed that darkness.

So. Three weeks go by. I fume and rant and rave. At meetings, I brood quietly until the end, at which point I lean across the table and say “do any of you watch Battlestar Galactica?” I read the endless back-and-forth in the comments field at the Sitrep, and on message boards, and the hundreds of reviews and analysis from all the people who fell in love with the show and are now dealing with this same profound loss.

Finally, I talk myself into watching it again.

And it was a good decision. Because by now at least I'm not surprised or shocked by the awful bits, and I can focus on the good things. And I'm crying like a baby for most of the last hour and eleven minutes.

The Starbuck ending worked, for me. The whole painstaking build-up. Plus I never wanted her to end up with Apollo, and I liked the realization that they were more brother and sister than anything else. Her use of the song to find the coordinates that lead humanity to Earth was a good fulfillment of all the “Kara Thrace and her Special Destiny” mumbo-jumbo, as well as the bigger-picture role of that song, beyond its centrality for the Final Five. Her sudden disappearance left me feeling suitably gobsmacked, and left just enough ambiguity and mystery to not feel cheap and easy.

Roslin has always been one of the most complex and interesting characters to me, and the finale did not do justice to her role as the leader of the fleet, the civilian counterpart to Adama's military authority. What happened to the kick-ass Roslin whose steady hand and icy determination saved the human race from extinction time and time again? The dying leader who really did lead the caravan of the heavens to its new home? If the new non-wasteland Earth had any value, it's this—it fulfilled the prophecy, it gave Roslin her resolution. I mean, come on, I know she was dying, and all, but this is Roslin, for gods' sakes. She can kill somebody by narrowing her eyes. Adama could have turned to her and said “you did it.” Even better, she could have whispered to herself “I did it.” After all the hard decisions she had to make, arriving at Earth was her victory.

In Resurrection Ship, Part Two, when Adama asks Athena why the Cylons hate us so much, she refers him back to his own words. “You said, 'Man never asked itself why it should survive.' Maybe you don't.”

That's what sticks in my throat, watching us arrive at paradise. What if we don't deserve a happy ending? What if going through hell is no guarantee you'll get into heaven? What if, in the end, our mistakes and offenses are so great that we can't come back from them? If anything, the fourth season showed us the human race becoming even more desperate, dark, and violent. Like hunted animals. Matching the Cylon genocide with a genocide of our own, by destroying the Hub. Betraying our rebel Cylon allies by keeping Three for ourselves, after she was resurrected. Organizing a mutiny against your commanding officers, assassinating the elected representatives of the people as soon as they disagree with you. It would be one thing if the human race was learning from its mistakes, and deciding collectively not to be that selfish, flawed, greedy, violent, terrified community whose arrogance and aggressiveness sparked the Cylon holocaust in the first pace. Maybe then we'd deserve to have all of our dreams come true and end our days in a fertile sunny African valley instead of blown to bits in the dark and cold of space.

Lots of fans expressed outrage at the extent to which "God did it" was invoked as a final explanation for so many of our big questions. Head Six, the Opera House, what-the-frak-is-Starbuck. To me, the problem isn't god(s). The problem is a simplistic god, an ultimately benevolent power who is guiding everyone to a happy ending. I'm an agnostic, but I always loved the show's religious themes—because they were complicated. Think of Caprica Six, with a crazy glint in her eyes, telling Baltar "God is love”—right after God commanded the Cylons to commit genocide! That's a real, challenging, complex look at what god is—a force that commands men to love one another, and a force that men use to justify killing each other. That's what Battlestar Galactica always had up its sleeve—the idea that God might be a bad-ass evil motherfrakker who really is planning to wipe us all out. The idea that God might be a lie we tell ourselves to make us feel better.

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves,” says Cassius, trying to talk his comrade into rising up against Julius Caesar. We take responsibility for ourselves, and we accept the consequences of our actions, because to live any other way is to doom ourselves to keep on making the same mistakes. The reason a deus ex machina feels so fraudulent is because it steals the power away from the characters. Their punishments and their victories are no longer determined by their actions and their characters, but by the artist's lack of guts.

One source of Battlestar Galactica's astonishing intelligence was the way it took such supremely kitschy source material and turned it into something so stark and real and dark and bare. There's so little, even amidst all the death and tragedy and emotion, that ever felt sentimental or mawkish or easy. So to see Ron Moore, God himself in the Battlestar Galactica universe, standing there reading a magazine at the end, was exactly the kind of kitschy too-clever winking-at-the-audience bullshit that the show had so studiously avoided all along. And if Battlestar Galactica managed to break out of the science-fiction ghetto, winning over crowds of critics and brand-new audiences who had never before paid much attention to the genre, it was in large part through its studious avoidance of the standard cliches of TV science fiction. None of the Star Trek magic is at play here—machines that give you anything you want, or transport you to wherever you want go. No one in Battlestar Galactica sits back in a comfortable chair and drinks Earl Grey; they try to make a coffee substitute by roasting algae, but it's just not the same. In fact, there are really only two things in the Battlestar Galactica universe that are not currently possible with our own technology: faster-than-light travel, and artificial intelligence that equals or surpasses our own.

Yet the finale dug deep into the treasure trunk of science-fiction cliché, and came up with a couple classics. The idea that human life originated on another planet, or that Adam and Eve were aliens, is so hackneyed that many science fiction magazines include it in their list of themes that they reject out-of-hand because they've been done to death (“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” anyone?). So while I guess that being the mother of the human race as we now know it is a suitably major “reveal” for Hera, justifying all the hushed-voice talk about how important she is since before she was born, it also felt a bit too familiar.

And then there's that other science-fiction cliché, the one that has never been important in the Battlestar Galactica universe, and that all of a sudden becomes the ostensible motivation for the complete abandonment of Colonial civilization. Specifically: that technology is bad, dangerous, and we should abandon it. Granted, this cliché came out of the mouth of Lee Adama, who has always been full of crap and given to grandstanding, but still. It was trotted out front and center, and no one disputed it.

Galactica has always been too smart for this kind of easy analysis. The rebellion of the Cylons does not teach us that technology is evil and should be avoided—it teaches us that we must temper our use of technology with understanding, love, rationality, respect. The Cylons did not rebel because technology is evil; they rebelled because we enslaved them and made them fight our wars and dig our ditches and when you do that to sentient beings, you're going to piss them off, and you can be damn sure that they're going to fight back. We must not use technology to exploit and oppress others, for in doing so we sow the seeds of our own destruction. This is the lesson that Battlestar Galactica brought us, in the aftermath of 9/11. Sooner or later, the day comes when you can't hide from the things that you've done anymore. Violence begets violence, and technology will always be used to build better land mines, bigger bombs, tinier cameras to invade people's privacy, scarier biochemical weapons to use on civilian targets, etc. Think of how many scientific breakthroughs, including the internet, came about as a result of military spending—and think about how much of our national budget, even now, is spent on the military. Science is not value-neutral; we must not pretend that science and technology are inherently harmless or, worse, inherently good. Plain and simple: we must be responsible in our use of it, or we will destroy ourselves. We will continue to oppress others, who will, in turn, oppress us. All of this has happened before, and will happen again.

I should give the producers a certain amount of credit. They shocked and surprised me with this ending, because the one thing I never expected Battlestar Galactica to do was fall back onto kitsch and cliche and sappiness and sunny smiley New York City to make us feel at home.

But I'll be honest. In the end, the real source of my heartbreak is not in the content of “Daybreak.” Pure and simple, it's in the fact that the show is over. And while I don't buy the hype that the finale could not have met all of our expectations for it, after a second viewing and a lot of soul-searching I can accept that even a 100%-satisfying ending would not have eased this ache I carry around with me, on the bus in rush hour traffic or watching some vastly-inferior television show, realizing that I'll never see Michael Hogan's astonishing left eye again, or hear Roslin say that something is “essential to the long-term survival of this fleet,” or share the Old Man's disappointment in his son. That is what we're privileged to have shared. That's what has forever changed the landscape of television drama. That's what we'll always have, long after the betrayals of Daybreak have ceased to annoy us.


40 comments:

jadedshock said...

This lush green blue paradise, this answered prayer, this FUCKING! HAPPY! ENDING! Such bright sunshine was utterly out of character for Battlestar Galactica. The show's darkness did not derive from the lightless vacuum of space in which it was set, but rather in the hearts of the characters...Passing into the promised land so easily, it felt like we'd suddenly switched to a whole new show.Life isn't always depressing though. Sometimes it *is* the lush green pasture that the crew finds on earth. I think we forget that in light of all the struggles we face each day (and in the case of the show, what they faced for 4+ years on the run). So the ending, in a way, is appropriate for the show and as a reflection of life as a whole. Sometimes we DO get beautiful things, even if we feel we don't always deserve it.

Kate said...

YES! this! yes! I liked the ending, right up till they revealed the dang continents on the shiny planet and then everything went sideways. It worked, but only with a crowbar.

What you say here makes so much sense! I want this version As Well. This is real and true to the story that was built and that we slogged through (sometimes). After all that work and all that hell that sweetness and light simplicity was the answer? thank you for giving words to my confusion!

izzy said...

I feel your pain man, but in response to the "evil technology" speech by Lee I personally found it masterful, why because in many respects it's so true we lead oftentimes with our heads, never stopping to question whether we should. The Atomic bombs, microwaves, the Industrial revolution, all wereborn out of Mans unique relationship to nature and the environment. It is a beleif that we are subject to it but not subservient to it.

I am a christian and really I think you missed out on that theme(Not to say this is a secret tool by evangelicals to prosyletize the masses). The theme was Grace undeserved. Sure they didn't deserve a new home, they should have died among the stars a slow ignoble death, where the last thought would be "Is this how it ends, one last breath? Can I give one final effort?" As the Last breath is drawn from the body.

It is precisely the fact that they didn't deserve another chance, that made it so moving.

As to Roslins death it was very Biblical( you can view the promised land, but you may not enter) In this case sure she entered but never really got the chance to enjoy it.


Ultimately though this ending was about forgivness. Somtimes you need to just let go and wash your self of the dirt that stains your soul, because that knowledge in and of itself is an inhibiting force in your or society's development, yet ultimately it is the self-fulfilling prophecy.

An eternity amongst the stars, leaving only arrogance and Hubris as road marks to redemption. Truly in this road of suffering there is a way to forgiveness.

noybusiness said...

Whatever Lee may have said, the message at the end isn't technology is evil. In fact, technology is inevitable. It's "let's make better choices with regards to technology than the Colonials did."

New York is sunny and smiley? In what alternate universe? There was a homeless person.

Black Eyed Gurl said...

"What if we don't deserve a happy ending? What if going through hell is no guarantee you'll get into heaven? What if, in the end, our mistakes and offenses are so great that we can't come back from them?"

Seriously, thank you. This is one of the best personal views for the end of BSG that I have read. It made my heart break just a little more. If it makes you feel better there's a Battlestar shaped hole in my heart too.

Also a note: The message was never that technology is wrong; the real message was that human or machine, sentient or not, slavery is wrong. You can only repress a group so long before they fight back.

I am prepared to wage war against my cable box any day now with the way I abuse it constantly.

Again, thank you. This was awesome.

small but perfect said...

On the subject of Roslin's diminishing:

I honestly think it was the writers' intent to have her waste away, I railed against it, and I got very very angry at seeing her become so weak, such a shadow of her former self. But then I thought back to all the people I've watched die from cancer (too many in my family) and realized this is how it goes: great people reduced to nothing. That's what disease, especially cancer, does. It's not pretty and it's always disappointing, sad, anger-inducing. So I think it was a gutsy move on the writers' part to have Roslin simply waste away and in the process utterly disappoint us as viewers.

Grant Gould said...

Heyya, Sam - Welcome to the Sitrep. :)
I agree with almost everything you said.. I felt very similar and still do. I guess the one point I disagree with you on is Kara's resolution/disappearance/etc. I thought it was pretty corny and unsatisfying.

I've seen the finale three times now.. I've liked it more with each viewing. I still LOOOOOOVE the first hour. :)

radii said...

Sam, not only was the Daybreak ending a betrayal of the earlier story but it now has created an asterisk to the series.

From now on, when referring to how great a show Battlestar Galactica was, one must include the aside - except for the ending or except for the final season.

Ron Moore will never live it down - it will be an albatross around his neck the rest of his career. At conventions and other places where science fiction fans interact with him for years and decades henceforth he will be questioned and criticized for such a cheap sellout.

If we were to amend Adama's speech a little bit from the mini Does his career deserve to survive?

Mike Bara said...

What he said. Here is a re-write of Daybreak II.

http://bsghowitshouldhaveended.blogspot.com/

Levfreak said...

Hello everyone. I've been reading for a while now the comments left here on the whole issue of the

abandonment of technology and I would like to add my 2 cents.

Consider this: the defensive capabilities of galactica are basically gone, there are no fuel sources for the

other ships, so keeping them operational would be impossible, same goes for anything technological within

those ships, without an energy source almost everything technological the colonials had would be useless.

What kind of technology could they have salvaged and maintained? On the long run they would have ended up

with broken machines without the ability to repair them, by consciously giving up what was basically an

extinct way of life they could enter their new lives with the right mind-set, things need to be built from

zero with the resources available to them from that point on to ensure whatever was built could be rebuilt

and improved over time by the following generations.

Also, keep in mind that trying to hold on to technology at the state the colonials were when they reached

earth would automatically make them become the superior species in the planet compared to the primitive

humans (something that from their previous experiences treating the cylons as inferiors eventually leads to

violent confrontations), or at the very least, it would ensure the divide between colonials and second-

earth-humans would never be bridged (why would a colonial individual from an advanced civilization choose as

a mate one of the lower beings of the planet?)

Another point has been voiced by others and is a very simple and yet compelling one, after 4 years of living

inside metal boxes wouldn't you do anything to never step into one again?

Of course the case could be made about the disadvantages of abandoning technology, mainly health issues, but

remember back to new caprica, they did not abandon technology, and even before the cylons came to visit the

colonials were not particularly happy (or healthy).

Kate said...

As an anthropologist, I have to mention other things that drove me crazy with this episode (and I'm so with you on your analysis, Sam).
First, there's humans on Earth. Reactions? Typical colonialist bs. "amazing, they've got DNA just like ours. must be a miracle." "they look primitive." "but they do have burials." "Well, no language, but we'll teach them ours." Yes, thank you BSG crew, you've done such a great job of your world, why not fix this one?
Plus, if they've got burials and H. sapiens DNA, then they've got language already. Consult an anthropologist for the gods' sake! This is just the kind of justification used to take over the world.
I was left wondering if Moore is some kind of secret evangelical. In the end, it was an anti-science / only fundamentalist religion and miracles kind of ending.
And don't get started on Hera as mitochondrial Eve. Oh, my, gods. Clearly the writers aren't all that well-read.
One bright note -- Gaius and Six as surrealistic avatars of Zeus and Hera (the wife, not the cylon/human girl). There they are, millennia later, walking down the street, Six in that dress ... Very funny.

Justin said...

Interesting essay and, while I don't agree with much of it, it is nice to see you writing for this blog now.

I loved the finale from the moment it was first aired and it has only gotten better with each viewing. Like you implied, that was the final twist ending, that most everybody survived and they found (another) Earth. I was also fully prepared for almost all of the BSG crew to die and was shocked when they didn't. Seeing the continent of Africa on that little blue planet they arrive at will always be one of the absolute highlights of the series for me. Not that I didn't love the dark stuff as well, but I'd become so emotionally invested with these characters, that it was nice to see them get a happy ending, even though the human race may not have deserved one.

On a side note, I'm agnostic as well, but the use of unseen forces, or gods, or God, on this show always worked for me. Go figure.

This all may make me a homer, but I truly loved the finale - even after reading all of the arguments against what supposedly didn't work.

Nothing about the fourth season will ever be an "except" for me.

Matthew said...

What a thoughtfully, well-written, clearly expressed piece of ignorant tripe. (The review, not the episode.) You sound exactly like the whiners who condemned the first two Star Wars prequels because it wasn't Darth Vader killing Jedi babies from moment one, or those who were disappointed the JMS left questions unanswered at the end of Babylon 5. Seriously, while I don't think the end of BSG is perfect, in retrospect most of it makes perfect sense and works beautifully. Your problem, and the other groups I identified above, is that you can't get over the fact that it's not YOUR show and YOUR story to tell, and you're disappointed in the show runners because it's not how YOU would have done it. Seriously...get over it, dude. They ended it on their terms, and dared to offer a glimmer of hope that was weighted and laced with irony and possibility. And anyway, how dare you say that after everything those characters went through in the story, that they got to heaven too easily, and didn't "earn" it? Seriously, your logic is deeply flawed.

Matteo

danielhaymes said...

It seemed I loved the ending for many of the reasons others despised it.

However, this analysis of the ending is the first intelligent criticism I have read from someone who disliked the ending, and for that you must be commended.

Lucy-dono said...

The thing that bothered me most about the ending wasn't the ludist point of view, or the "happy" ending nor the "Hera is our mitocondrial mommy" thingie...

The problem was that all the "bad guys" died and where punished in someway, thus the "good guys" found a new home and survived. I honestly thought that Athena would die rather than Boomer, being the survival personality of the latter and that Athena was really traumatized by the "Helo-Boomer" incident in the Bathroom and so on.

I hoped that Cavil would obtain what he wanted and create an even better cylon race, evolving by their own hand and seeing where they were going to end.

I wished Admiral Adama and Roslin would have gone to the stars and died with their beloved Galactica. And if she had said "I did it", it wouldn't have gone with his character because she didn't care anymore. She found home beside the Admiral, she found a family in the crew.... she didn't need to find Earth.

And Starbuck... dont get me started. I really wanted her to be Daniel-Seven'th daugter, but Ron has consistently told us that its just a number mixup they had with all the 12 models. Being a little consistent with TOS, that starbuck disapeared and was an "angel" did make sense, but that much disinformation still bothers me. I would like some closure with her in some way or another.


But well, the final episode is there. We can't change it... we have to live with it. Just like unfair, dark and bleak life is. XD

(Sorry for the crappy english, im a little bit rusty on that).

Jack said...

I have watched Daybreak three times now, and it's only gotten better on those repeated viewings. I think the main problem I have with a lot of the criticism of the ending is simply that it wasn't GRIMDARK enough for them, that it didn't meet the standards of the series for pushing boundaries.

But was it really a happy ending? Really?

Let's see. The rebel Cylons are all doomed to extinction. Tyrol is going to die alone in, apparently, Scotland. Lee has just been abandoned by his father and Starbuck. Roslin dies, just when she and Adama have finally found an end to their road together, and Adama doesn't even notice when she diesThe surviving Colonials have turned their back on technology, 37,000 people suddenly reduced to hunter-gatherer status. The script itself says Hera was a "young woman" when she died. Sure, the show is suddenly out in the open and bright, but the ending itself is actually sad and depressing. It says Only by giving up or losing the things you most value can you be saved. You will find paradise, but it will be the last thing you expected and you can't live there unless you destroy who you were before.

"Daybreak" ends on a hopeful note, yes, but it's a bleak kind of hope. I think people are suddenly offended that a story that's always been structured as a spiritual journey...ends in a spiritual fashion. Makes me wonder how closely some people actually watched Galactica.

Budo said...

@Jack: FINALLY. Reading the previous posts felt like I was taking crazy pills... the original poster literally lost me at "happy ending". I don't care how well you wrote it, if you think it ended happily, it all crumbles down to nothing.

Logan Gawain said...

Uh, @Matthew, are you actually saying Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones are worthy works of art?

Please don't defend BSG using Lucas's garbage prequels as an example.

There's a lot right with Daybreak, and a lot wrong with Daybreak. Sam's essay is a balanced look at it. Sam's writing speaks for itself. You don't really address his points, you just pound your fist on the table screaming.

That's fine.

I think you can see other commenters here either agree or disagree with the essay, but are all quite civil and offer intelligent observations.

I'm really proud that we can have an intelligent discussion like this on this site while all being polite to each other.

Logan Gawain said...

@Danielhaymes, glad you liked it. That's why I asked Sam to join the team.

kappamaki33 said...

Interesting article. I think I liked the finale more than you did, but I see where you're coming from. Personally, I thought the happy/dark ending balance worked out all right because, yes, they get to live the rest of their lives with fresh air, but those lives are going to be brutish and likely short--not that life in the Fleet would have been much different on that last count.

I do agree with you on the odd thematic note the show ended on. It felt strange that a show that used technology/Cylons as metaphor used it so literally in the end. It wasn't what I was expecting, and I'm not yet sure if that's good or bad--I guess I'll find out when I re-watch it on DVD.

I do disagree with you completely on one point. I think Roslin does have her "I did it" moment, just not in those words. I think her last lines, "so much life," are exactly that moment. She started out the series saying "we need to have babies," she found a plant sprouting on the dead Earth and clung to it--to find a place with "so much life" and potential is fulfillment for her.

lamaga09 said...

Very interesting and deep essay. However, I didn´t see the finale as a happy end. Some people died, vanished, chose a lonely life. Others found freedom, family, a love lost. But I have doubts about humanity as a whole, I don´t feel I have a conclusive point of view.

I saw it much more as a fresh start than an happy resolution. Just a new opportunity, a new cycle, but no securities at all. Less a gift and more a new chance to find a path, a path which maybe could be the same (or not), with similar (or completely different) mistakes, and regardless, an identical destruction as a result if humanity doesn´t pay attention to itself.

All this has happend before and it will happen again? I didn´t find a clear answer in the finale. We have penicillin and atomics bombs. And cute robots.

(sorry for the grammar, english is not my first language)

prberg said...

Thanks for the great in-depth post. I think you have hit on alot of the points that some of us have been thinking regarding Daybreak.

It really did feel like the show went off course (I personally feel that alot of season 4 was not the best of BSG) when it fell into old scifi cliches. Throw away your technology! It is evil! I would argue that it's not the technology but how we use/develop it. Watch out for intelligent robots... they will take over the world!

When Ron said in the podcast, that he wrote some scenes just because he thought they were cool.... that lost come credibility for me. (The bird flying around Lee's room, Caprica Six walking around 'Times Square').

I hate thinking that the conclusion of BSG will make me feel less excited about the show... but that's how I (and some others) feel. We are allowed to express our opinions, we will 'get over it', but we are free to talk about how the ending could have been written differently.

Thanks for the great article Sam and welcome to Sitrep.

Work said...

Of course, people are entitled to their own opinions. However, this continuing whining and bleating over the ending is, quite frankly, beginning to seriously irritate me. This constant over-analysing, nit-picking etc. really does kill the enjoyment of the show. So *what* if the ending wasn't the perfect ending in your eyes? For someone of us, it was as a good enough sendoff for characters we've loved for the last 5-6 years. The finale had me breathless with the tension and weepy like a little girl - very few shows *ever* have had the power to do that. And kudos to Ron and crew for creating a show that did that.

It's gone. And we'll have to deal with that.No more chances to expand on the story. No more Galactica fix - just the stories we have to hand. Be thankful we have this rich story to go back into whenever we feel like it.

I hope to God that Sitrep doesn't degenerate into a site where whiny fanboys spend eons nitpicking and criticising - if so, I (and I suspect others) will drift away. Would be a sad day if that were to occur. All I ask is for a bit of perspective, people.

Alyssa said...

This is a great article, and I agree with pretty much all of it. Daybreak was like a punch in the gut for me. I LOVED BSG, and I LOVED the first half of the final season. But the series finale greatly, greatly disappointed me. Which is fine in the grand scheme of things, because it doesn't diminish the brilliance of the show. It was still kind of sad for me though, because I really did think this was going to be the one series that I could look back on and say that I legitimately loved it from the beginning to the bitter end.

You know, it's been tough to be in the "disappointed with the finale" boat these last few weeks. As a fan, I was already mourning the loss of the series, and wasn't expecting to also be mourning the lack of a satisfying close to the story. Certainly for me, I've been wanting to talk through that, not to become a nitpicky fangirl, but to get it out of my system so that I can go back to enjoying the rest of the series without disappointment hanging over my head. I don't think that's whiny or wrong. (Honestly, I just can't fathom that an ending with such controversial concepts such as the overwhelming level of control from "God's hand," the relinquishing of all technology, and a Hera-as-Mitochondrial-Eve WOULDN'T be divisive as heck for the fandom.)

I think the only thing I'd disagree with in this post was that what we saw was a "happy" ending. It may have been a shallowly pretty ending, but I honestly can't see where completely giving up on the work necessary to escape the cycle and leaving humanity to go through the drek of our past history was a happy outcome. Nor can I fathom any way in which all of the Colonial fleet didn't just die off within a few short years, anyway. To me, that was the biggest disappointment of the finale. These people just...gave up. After four seasons of watching them struggle to be worthy, and four seasons of political and moral dissent and debate, they just...landed on a pretty world, and all of that just magically went away for them. They gave up, in every way there is to give up. That, to me, was a much more tragic ending than any of the gloom-and-doom scenarios I'd imagined out, that's for sure. :)

neverAcquiesce said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bombsonengland said...

"Roslin has always been one of the most complex and interesting characters to me, and the finale did not do justice to her role as the leader of the fleet, the civilian counterpart to Adama's military authority. What happened to the kick-ass Roslin whose steady hand and icy determination saved the human race from extinction time and time again? The dying leader who really did lead the caravan of the heavens to its new home? If the new non-wasteland Earth had any value, it's this—it fulfilled the prophecy, it gave Roslin her resolution. I mean, come on, I know she was dying, and all, but this is Roslin, for gods' sakes. She can kill somebody by narrowing her eyes. Adama could have turned to her and said “you did it.” Even better, she could have whispered to herself “I did it.” After all the hard decisions she had to make, arriving at Earth was her victory."

Since you used a quote from Ressurection Ship, Part Two, in your article, I'd like to respond with one:

"Just goes to show you - never give up hope." - Laura Roslin

The thing is, season 4.5 is about her giving up hope. Season 4.5 is about Adama and Roslin finally being broken by the weight of the despair they have faced. Even though they stick it out, even though they get to Earth in the end, Roslin is at the end of her life and exhausted - and from the tone of Adama's final scene, I think he is in a similar place.

"The problem is a simplistic god, an ultimately benevolent power who is guiding everyone to a happy ending. I'm an agnostic, but I always loved the show's religious themes—because they were complicated. Think of Caprica Six, with a crazy glint in her eyes, telling Baltar "God is love”—right after God commanded the Cylons to commit genocide! That's a real, challenging, complex look at what god is—a force that commands men to love one another, and a force that men use to justify killing each other. That's what Battlestar Galactica always had up its sleeve—the idea that God might be a bad-ass evil motherfrakker who really is planning to wipe us all out. The idea that God might be a lie we tell ourselves to make us feel better. "

I don't think the series definitively answers that statement is cleanly as you like to think. The final scenes of the series, while a bit hackneyed and heavy handed, make it extremely cleasr that "all of this has happened before, and all of it COULD happen again." A little bit of a simplistic message for BSG, but I don't see how that equates with "God leading us all to a happy ending" - how is it a happy ending if the point of the finale is that the end is not written yet?

"And then there's that other science-fiction cliché, the one that has never been important in the Battlestar Galactica universe, and that all of a sudden becomes the ostensible motivation for the complete abandonment of Colonial civilization. Specifically: that technology is bad, dangerous, and we should abandon it. Granted, this cliché came out of the mouth of Lee Adama, who has always been full of crap and given to grandstanding, but still. It was trotted out front and center, and no one disputed it."

I don't think that the finale argues that - and I personally hope that moment is a bit expanded upon in the extended version of the episode, because I do think it was a bit too neat.

But I do think that arguing that that specific moment in the series argues a Luddite conviction that hasn't been present before that is a bit ridiculous. You can make the moment fit both ways - by arguing that BSG is a Luddite show (points would include the creation of artificial life wiping out no less than three entire planets, Galactica's "No computer networks" stance, the fact that ancient religion and prophecy leads them to Earth - there are plenty more) or by arguing that the moment isn't really Ludditic at all (and this is what makes me hope the moment is expanded - as I feel like that is really what the writers were going for - the idea of a "new beginning" not "OMG TECHNOLOGY = BAD").

In the end, I agree that the ending was a bit cheesy and weak, and it does bother me that if I made a list of my favorite BSG episodes, Daybreak wouldn't be on it. But I think it is an oversimiplification to call the ending horrible or a "betrayal" - after 5 years of continous moral ambiguity, I think they earned the right to answer a few questions in the end.

neverAcquiesce said...

Very nice analysis.

My disappointment wasn't in the fact that it offered hope. Hell, I applaud that, as the characters (and the audience) needed a bit of that. My problem was it all boiling down to GOD DID IT.

Kara needs to save them all! What, she died?! Umm...bring her back! She's got a mission to accomplish!That didn't sit right with me, and not because of any religious beliefs or lacke thereof. It took all the hard work, and sacrifice, these people made and threw it by the wayside. Not to mention the deus ex machina that was Racetrack's destruction of the Colony.

I'm not one to substitute my vision for the creator's vision (loved the Prequel Trilogy, by the way...sue me) but the finale didn't feel, to me, like it was the culmination of the story five years in the making.

Justin said...

@Work

Without stirring things up too much, I would have to agree with you. If this site ever does get like that, as much as I love it now, I'd be gone too. I mainly come here to read about upcoming BSG and BSG-related items of interest. It's nice having a one-stop shop for All Things Battlestar! I don't think your scenario will happen (or that it even applies yet, after all the finale was less than a month ago), but, if it did, I wouldn't stick around.

In fact, you touched upon the exact reason why I don't visit io9 too often...

Just my two cents.

Logan Gawain said...

To ye of little faith: The Galactica Sitrep, will always be the Galactica Sitrep. What does it say on our banner? "News, Interviews & Opinions".

Our mission remains the same.

Budo said...

The one thing that I keep saying to all the nit pickers and critics, and it doesn't get said enough, is: can't you just enjoy the one truly good SF show to come our way since... forever? Think about when, if ever, will someone make something that can compare to BSG in terms of... pretty much everything. If all the good that the show has brought us over the years pales in comparison to the disappointment with the finale, I doubt that you were ever able to truly appreciate the unique and wonderful miracle of Battlestar Galactica. We can only pray to the Lords of Kobol, or the Cylon god, or "the one who doesn't like being called that" that we live to see something as good again.

Z said...

My impressions to the finale were complicated, as is fitting for a show that defined itself through the density of its narrative. Most writers agree, if you didn't start with an ending, you are essentially doomed to produce one that doesn't match the rest of the narrative in scope. There are, of course, potent exceptions, but I was fully prepared to be nonplussed.

From that standpoint, I was pleasantly surprised. The first half was everything I came to like about the heroic angles of BSG. As for the "happy" ending and its contrast with the arc of the story, I have to object. It was hardly unqualified cheer at the end-Sam, Laura, Racetrack, and Boomer are dead, Kara has vanished, Bill and Galen have vanished into the wilderness, the family of the Fleet has scattered to the winds. From that standpoint, it felt consistent and satisfying with the tone of the rest of the show-we survive, but always with a cost, and was more about the rest and elation of getting a break for once than festivities.

Furthermore, it was one of only a handful of conceivable endings. The Fleet was tasked with finding a new home, and was going to continue until it couldn't. So the story ending choice were a) annihilation, which, while realistic, would have both tried the patience of even the most cynical audience and not fit with the themes of survival, b) left them mid-journey, which would have spoiled the definite arc of the story, or c) find a place to park. There really was no choice.

My issues (and something of the aforementioned sense of betrayal) come from instances, where, as a writer, and a student of science, tiny tweaks could have been made to resolve some rather glaring contrasts with the flow of the show as a whole. After four seasons of pretty intense agnosticism (or at least a dedication to inscrutability,) to have the Head People "come out" and speak to Six/Baltar at the same time, and wander NY at the end minus a character to appear to, was jarring and necessary-they should have been left in the realm of murky visions rather than hired fixers for the powers-that-be.

Having hominids placed there by divine intervention in evolution was similarly goofy-it seems that it would have been possible to make the planet in question be the original home of humanity, and had either gone through a cycle of technology and exodus (and the humans on it were the back-to-the stone age remnants) in the distant past- there was plenty of room in the million years of relatively modern man for 6,000 years of technology, or set it in the future and they were our remnants. Both would have had some scientific chin scratching, to be sure, (rather unavoidable given the Von Daniken inspired nature of the show's premise and its very evident wrongness) but both would have fit with the themes of exodus, and avoided coming down so hard on the is-there-a-god-and-does-it-care questions that defined the mystical parts of the show-and would have required reworking one minute of dialogue and affected little else. Really, to have a show that eschewed bumpy-headed aliens swap for the one thing less likely-identically evolved humans, when humanity and human creations have been crisscrossing the galaxy for millenia leaving wreckage and survivors, seemed way off key and unnecessary to boot.

Some people abandoning technology would have been fine-indeed, a minute of dialogue about how all the high-tech was rusting and had no way to be fixed and a return to the land was inevitable would have been fine. But having them appear 150,000 years ago means that they would have given up, say, tools with handles or made of bone, not to mention the farming Baltar was wandering off to do or Adama/Athena's discussions of housebuilding, much less their nuclear weapons and starships, or the religion the Greeks presumably inherited. Again, the fix to such a glaring issue is so simple that most of my frustration stemmed from not making any of the other ten choice-have them drop off anyone who want to live under open sky a few thousand years ago and ignite the sparks of the big classical civilizations-Greece, the Bantu, whatever, that at least had farming, metal, buildings, and wheels, and maybe have anyone else take off in the remnants of the Fleet. Maybe have them decide to do a Prime Directive and only fiddle gentle with the natives, and set up all their high-tech city on a volcanic island that could bury it all when it ran down, and make it an Atlantis story. Still can have a Lee speech about the perils of technology, still keeps us from doing Galactica 1980, but makes considerably more sense.

As I said, five minutes of cuts, and my writer, critic, and scientist brains could have been wholly placated. The fact I take objection to those bits was that, by and large, the tone was so pitch perfect that I desperately wanted it to fit together just a hair better with the tone of the show.

I watched it again. I nearly cried as the camera panned out on Adama atop the hill. The show as a whole is still the best. I think I can find it in my heart to forgive a couple sour notes in the last hour of 80 of great storytelling.

But if it ever takes another pass through the editing room...

Thom said...

- Turning their back on technology:

Fits in with your analysis... it wasn't the technology they were afraid of, but their relationship with it, and probable INability as a species/society to NOT dominate the "locals". They would have in effect, immediately created yet another two-class world.


- Ron and David appearing in cameos in the Finale

Geez, let the guys take a curtain call for crissakes....

Morticcia said...

I have not been able to rewatch the finale yet. I usually watch every episode twice within the week of airing.

I can only say that it has been vastly cathartic to come across your post. Your words have distilled the murky disquiet where my BSG memories have been held at bay.

Thank you.

Cynic Bastard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cynic Bastard said...

Two things: The end *was* consistent with the series and as episode I liked it.

That been said I also felt betrayed. I'm also agnostic and I don't like the notion of a higher being intervening with my life.

If only there wasn't the last scene between Head 6/Baltar I could said that the whole thing wasn't a God's plan but our heroes viewed it as such.

But it was this "it doesn't like this name" that ruined them all. I don't care if the "God" in the BSG universe is a judeo-christian like "God" or the avatar of an "alive, self-aware, intelligent" Universe, or a transhuman or whatever!

What it matters is that all these was a plan of a sentient being and our heroes were nothing more than puppets of a transcendental puppeteer in a cosmic puppet-show.

It's very Moorcock-sque in a fundamentally different universe than Moorckock's multiverse and it just doesn't feel right.

montymoe said...

I really liked the finale. Sure it left a few things hanging but that's ok. That's what keeps you thinking afterward. Kara disappearing was perfect. The whole notion of angels or dead people returning to complete a task, warn someone or whatever is an old device so I really don't see why so many people have trouble with it. It didn't answer the questions about why her dad taught her the song, why she flew into the maelstrom, why she had visions of Leoben trying to make sense of her life, how after dying she wound up at Earth only to crash (and die again?) there but if she was returned as an angel or something else who says it only happened after she crashed on Earth? Maybe she was an angel all along which explains all the jumpy situations she was in through season three. Having her just vanish and leave Lee standing there alone was beautifully bittersweet. No goodbye, no understanding and no grave to mark. What an emotional moment.

What I don't buy is that everyone just dropped their tech. Sure, their ships were worn out but why trash them? Is NO ONE interested in looking around the solar system? Don't tell me that all the Viper pilots (and how the hell did they only lose 4 at the colony?) just gave up flying. How will they communicate with each other when all the tillium runs out and when the batteries wear down? Is no one interested in anything but a hard life of toil? And with less than 40,000 people left how is there the talent pool to pull this all off? Really though, how was there the talent pool to do a lot of what they did for the last four years?

I don't understand why Lee feels he'll never see his father again. Is that what RDM meant by that line? Does "he won't be coming back" mean he won't see him again or does it just mean he's retiring and leaving everything to everyone else? Cripes, all the raptors have IFF transponders so it wound't take 30 seconds to find him. Are you telling me that neither Lee nor Saul will be out looking for him someday, especially now that Lee has NO ONE?

I really would have liked to see one last pan around the Galactica before Adama flies off her in his viper. A nice melancholy Bear McCreary tune playing as the camera pans away from Anders and through empty corridors, officer's mess, Joe's bar, the ready room, Adama's quarters, the memorial wall (complete with the pics of those forgotten dead that were left behind) and so on and then to Adama in his flightsuit. It would have given us a nice goodbye to the old girl. Don't tell me he didn't take that walk before he left her forever! I know the intent of the finale was to be completely character driven but isn't Galactica a character too? Have we not been told as much over the last few episodes as we've watched her fall apart? My hope is that we get to see that on the DVD. I've read that there will be an extra 15-20 minutes added when it comes out.

madmonq said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
madmonq said...

Pretty much everything I've said about the terrible finale is summed up here. Only better of course.

Again, the finale was like a double wide parked next to the Taj Mahal and no one was supposed to notice. Thanks for speaking the mind of the "silent majority" ;).

I think the editors are a bit prickly about other negative reviews of the show end.

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