Saturday, March 21, 2009

Battlestar Galactica: The final curtain

So, the finale of the reinvented Battlestar Galactica series aired last night. Because of scheduling conflicts, I had to watch the 11 p.m. airing, and didn't get to bed until late. After all the seemingly bizarre and make-it-up-as-you-go plot twists that have permeated the last couple of seasons, I really had to wonder if they could pull off a decent wrap-up. The first half of this final season did not give me hope. The episodes devolved into melodramatic soap opera territory, and the epic seemed to persistently grow smaller rather than more grand. After a hiatus lasting the better part of a year, the final episodes kicked in and gave me reason for optimism. The two-parter dealing with the Gaeta-led mutiny aboard the Galactica was the best in a long, long time. They were dealing once again with concrete moral issues, rather than woo-woo mysticism or Apollo being a wuss or whatever. Gaeta's motivation was muddled, however, since his pathological hatred of the Cylons which ostensibly drove him to mutiny against Adama came off as tenuous, at best. Yes, he suffered under the Cylons, but no more than anyone else. The loss of his leg, which remained an obvious anger issue for him, wasn't caused by by the Cylons but rather by Colonials who attempted mutiny on a mission led by Starbuck. Participating in Baltar's Cylon-collaborating algae planet government--albeit as an informer to the resistance--almost got him killed. So yeah, Gaeta had issues and motivation take drastic action, but the justification for turning against Adama, rather than extracting vengeance against those who legitimately wronged him seems thin. I was also disappointed with the final appearance of Tom Zarek. After playing the former terrorist for the entire series as a ruthless yet almost idealistic agitator for justice, in his last act he turned into a simple thug, violent and brutish in his greedy quest for power. Murdering the Colonial Quorum? That was too far. Zarek always worked best when his despicable methods were morally justified to some degree. Abandoning that ambiguity at the very end in favor of a cheap, two-dimensional villain to hiss at was beneath the dignity of the show. I'm not arguing to change the fate of either Zarek or Gaeta, but the writing definitely fell short. Which is too bad, because otherwise the mutiny two-parter harkened back to the greatness of the series' first two seasons.

The string of episodes that followed were average at best. They served mostly to fill out random plot points, bring back Ellen Tigh, lay out that the Galactica is too structurally deficient to continue much longer before breaking up, stuff like that. Treading water, essentially, setting up the pieces for the final endgame in the series finale.

So, how about that finale? In my opinion, "Daybreak" was far better than it had any right to be. Certainly more satisfying than Galactica 1980. Better than the entirety of The X-Files' final season. I did expect them to find our "Earth" at the end, an Earth that was not the same as the nuke-blasted 13th colony populated by Cylons. I did not expect it to happen 150,000 years ago, although in hindsight this does appear to be their only real "out" and--unlike the majority of the plot twists introduced these last couple of seasons, strikes me as one that was in place at the time the miniseries aired all those years ago. I even remember seeing some media feature that made mention of the fact the fleet isn't going to seek Earth, because it had been blasted in a nuclear war centuries before--a hint that someone on the production team let slip a plot point by accident during initial promotion efforts. Finding indigenous humanoid life extant on the planet with fully compatible DNA was just a tad too convenient, however, particularly since if Hera is going to be a mitochondrial Eve figure the timing's off. Because 150,000 years ago, Homo sapiens had already evolved. They claim the homo species has no language, but does have tribal society and buries their dead, but even Neandertals had these traits. The hominids discovered would have to be Homo erectus, but the Galactica would've needed to arrive almost 100,000 years earlier to interbreed with that species and give rise to Homo sapiens.

Of course, all would be forgiven if two colonial refugees named Arthur and Ford were overheard bemoaning the fact that most of the colonials were unemployed telephone earpiece cleaners.

There was an egregious over-use of flashbacks, as well as a pretentiousness and a hubristic display of "we're making an important show" syndrome throughout the final three hours. Flashbacks worked well for Ron Moore in the Star Trek: The Next Generation finale "All Good Things..." but those flashbacks (and flash forwards) were fluid and integral to the plot. Here, the flashbacks are just that, serving as elements of character development that should've happened throughout the series run, rather than being shoehorned in at the last minute.

The Big Battle with the Cylon colony was okay, but too easy. There was none of the awesomeness of the Galactica-Pegasus tag-team match against the Cylons over New Caprica. That no-holds-barred imagination was missing this time out. And The whole business with the Dean Stockwell-led Cylons felt very unfinished. Yes, there were comments made that they faced extinction with resurrection technology and/or dissecting Hera, but having all the evil Cylons die off safely off camera was a cheat. Sending the sentient Centurions off in their own basestar was better. That, at least, leaves the door open for future, different follow-up projects.

Starbuck's fate sucked. Just awful. Starbuck didn't know what she was, and neither did the writers. So they make her disappear. WTF?

Ditto for the Baltar and Caprica Six "angels." These hallucinogenic figures most assuredly did not start out as such, and their elevation to benevolent supernatural status felt very much like an 11th-hour workaround to a problem nobody had a solution for.

There were a lot of 11th-hour workarounds on display here. That's a consequence of making things up as you go along with no real concern for existing continuity or how everything will resolve in the end. I have to give Ron Moore and writing staff for pulling... well, maybe not a rabbit out of the hat, but certainly not a stinking turd. The plot holes and gaps in logic have been papered over, and as long as you don't look too closely the thing is pretty and entertaining.

I'm glad I saw it, and I don't feel ripped off or betrayed (certainly not like all those LOST fans are going to in another year) but I've no real desire to see "Daybreak" again. If I've got an urge to take in three hours' worth of a SF series finale, I'll pop in my DVD of Farscape's "The Peacekeeper Wars."

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