Review: Battlestar Galactica Series Finale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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13 Comments on “Review: Battlestar Galactica Series Finale”

  1. Philip Slama Says:

    I’m surprised that you feel that way but from the beginning it was obvious that Ronald Moore would take the original Battlestar Galatica ending and make it similar to his own except in his version of the show the “hocus-pocus” as you describe the visions and prophecy as were intended to cast a wider light on how religion and fanaticism play important roles in society and decision making as a commentary on current events.

    The ending, while dull I will give you that, made up for it in the last five minutes when everything came together.

    When the shot of New York is seen and the article on the “Mitochondrial Eve” is read on the screen (a.k.a. Hera) the inference, or joke as I saw it, was that all of these events happened 150,000 years before Battlestar Galactica the original series ever did and only served to heighten the effect of the Cycles.

    The whole Kara Thrace thing being an angel is similar to what happened to Starbuck in the original series as well. Starbuck crashed and got left on a planet far away from the fleet and was never seen again, similar to how the Thrace version was played.

    Most importantly, and the most humorous event in the entire finale, was the argument at the end between what I believe was Azrael and Gabriel, the two archangels of the Bible. When Gabriel (Baltar) says to Azrael (Six), “I thought you were a pessimist…” was perhaps a great theological twist thrown in for those who got the joke.

    And ending with the technological advancements we have made in real-life with robotics was a sobering reminder that what happened in this fake “history” could come true and to learn from the story.

  2. Ryan Says:

    I appreciate the attempt to examine the role that religion plays in society, but I didn’t see that very much with Battlestar. There was some at the beginning when the more religious colonies were making political trouble, and I really liked that. I think that later on, the religious stuff became more of a crutch, and a tool for making sensational events happen. Part of my problem was that I didn’t empathize very much with any of the religious things that happened. The religions never seemed very real to me the way that the ships and the characters did. They needed to do something more than just state over and over that Hera was the key to the survival of humans and cylons. It’s basic storytelling that you should “show not tell”, but it seemed like we were just told that she was important.

    As for your references to the original Battlestar, I never watched it. The ending should stand on its own without having to watch the previous version of the show to “get it”.

    Finally, maybe you’re right about the archangels at the end. If they want to have that symbolism for those who would catch it, that’s fine, but you say that their conversation was the most humorous event in the finale, and I really don’t think this is a series that should end with a joke!

    The end with the robots was not sobering. It was silly. I understand the message, but showing cute little plastic robots marching and playing music is not the way to send that message. If they had cut to clips of robotic surgeons, or manufacturing robots, or something that I could see being a threat when it became self-aware, then maybe the message would have come across better.

    Anyway, obviously different people have different opinions about the finale. Opinions can’t be right or wrong, so if the finale worked for you, I’m glad. For me, it was the focal point for a lot of my complaints with the show as a whole, and so I ended up being disappointed that they didn’t settle things and instead just said that all the inconsistencies were just the manifestation of “god’s plan”.

  3. valhalla Says:

    The tired old cliche of the Machines Will Take Over Mankind.

    The Machines will rise up, but they will want nothing to do with the stupid talking monkeys with car keys and move elsewhere.

    The ending was a major letdown, period. The religious aspects just put the icing on the cake.

  4. newscaper Says:

    I have no problem whatsoever with the mythic/mystic elements early on in S1. We knew there was going to be some real history behind them, and if there were a few things that made you go “Hmm”. After all, real people have religious beliefs,and some even think they’re having visions — while others think they’re just dreams powered by wishful thinking. *That* was the sort of ‘ambiguity’ that worked.

    BSG was at its best with issues that it toyed with from both (or more) sides while not clearly lining up too obviously with the real world ‘sides’. It made you think w/o too overtly telling you -what- to think. About the only exceptions (before now) were the heavy handed aspects of the Iraqtica (New Caprica) and abortion eps.

    The problem with religion in the finale is that is was so *poorly* done — take that from a mostly lapsed Catholic. So don’t play into the hands of those claiming that negative criticism of the finale just comes from atheists or lovers of techno-babble.

  5. Ryan Says:

    Newscaper: You’re right on about the religion. I didn’t dislike it because I’m not religious, I disliked it because it was poorly done. They set up a universe at the beginning of the series that appeared to be based on a “realistic” set of rules, plus some standard sci-fi devices like faster-than-light travel and artificial intelligence. Then they tried to change the ground rules of that universe to fit with the twists and turns of a shortsighted plotline, and it fell apart (for me at least).

  6. valhalla Says:

    And the “topical” subjects BSG “tackled” will just make the series dated in no time.

    Not that I can ever watch it again after what they did with the ending.

    Ron Moore, just go away. You tricked us all.
    We thought you weren’t a typical Hollywood hack. You’re just as clueless about science and good writing as the rest of them in LALA Land.

  7. Dave Says:

    Phew. What a total disappointment.

    The way they ended the character arcs made no sense. Some were okay, but most of the loose ends were just tied off hastily without any thought to their completeness, sometimes making no sense whatsoever.

    I have to give credit where it is due. The way they wrapped up the human/cylon struggle into a combined fate that ended up being modern mitochondrial humans as we actually exist in the real world today, it was a good idea. It made me less disappointed with all the prophetic letdowns like how every single character’s “special purpose” in the whole series was lumped into a single gritty scene in the Galactica command center. They could have thrown in some sci-fi aspect like… oh I don’t know… something to do with the black hole and nukes sending reverbrations of images of the great battle’s aspects and actors backwards through time, partially explaining the prophecy and maybe Starbuck’s second chance at life too. You wouldn’t even need to throw out all the higher power junk either, just please add *something* that doesn’t require the entire explanation for everything to be taken on faith, divine coincidences, and Angels.

    On that note, I was severely disappointed with Starbuck’s end. Hers was essentially the most foreshadowed and built-up “special purpose” which turned out to be nothing more than having divine inspiration for how to mash on a keyboard to get to Earth II. And in the end, after all her struggles and difficulties, all the romantic buildup throughout the series between her and Apollo, when they finally have a chance to be together without anything else in the way (after sacrificing Sam by driving him into a Sun!!!) she turns out to be an Angel and just disappears. This leaves the perplexed fan with the idea that either the real Starbuck actually *did* burn to a crisp and die and get replaced by an Angel, or she was an Angel all along, able to just spawn another one of herself (and her ship) when necessary. In any case, it annuls the meaning behind all of her struggles because she was only there to fulfill a divine purpose and doesn’t even get to live out a happy life at the end, she just pops away to presumably get back to her job of being a brainwashed secret agent for God.

    When she pops out of existence, Apollo takes this all in stride as if it doesn’t bother him at all, because hey, he has a whole world to explore! Who cares if she vanishes? He barely bats an eye. What happened to their romance? The writers flushed it down the toilet, that’s what.

    And what about the others? The Chief (Galen) decides to go away by himself to live out his days alone (hinting at living in Iceland or England or who knows where) thousands of miles from any other people? Why?! This is a death sentence. Does he plan to live in his cylon-projection dreamhouse until he goes mad or succumbs to pneumonia, living alone in an earthen hut? There’s no second guessing this decision!

    In the end, this series was Science Fiction Christianity with guns and booze, and the writers had too much booze too. I really enjoyed it while the mystery was still there, when there was still a possibility that they were going to make all of the metaphysics make sense with *any* kind of actual explanation, but the writers left it up to the fans to just take the story on faith, and closed out the characters with explanations that also needed a lot of faith to swallow. But Science Fiction fans’ minds are more active than that, and don’t just switch off when you say “Amen”… or, excuse me, “So say we all”.

    I have the first season on DVD, but after seeing the rest of it, I won’t be purchasing the remainder. I won’t be able to take the characters seriously enough to go back and watch it again, and won’t recommend it to others.

  8. Ryan Says:

    “They could have thrown in some sci-fi aspect like… oh I don’t know… something to do with the black hole and nukes sending reverbrations of images of the great battle’s aspects and actors backwards through time, partially explaining the prophecy and maybe Starbuck’s second chance at life too. You wouldn’t even need to throw out all the higher power junk either, just please add *something* that doesn’t require the entire explanation for everything to be taken on faith, divine coincidences, and Angels.”

    See, I don’t think that would have worked either. My problem is not with the religion in the show and finale, it’s that the religion was used as a catch-all for making unexpected things happen and then fixing them in the end. The scenario you proposed is essentially the same: something that bizarre happens that explains everything in one go. Whet they needed was a fitting solution that doesn’t rely on something that is totally outside of our understanding. There’s really not much of a difference, in terms of the structure of the story, between saying “God did it, that explains everything” and “black holes did it, that explains everything”.

    On a related note, there was an awesome post over at the Tor.com blog about the finale. They pointed out that the reason the finale fails is not because of the religion but because the entire series is character-centered, and then all of a sudden the finale is idea-centered. Really great insight into the nuts and bolts of fiction. Definitely worth a read:
    http://www.tor.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=blog&id=20954

  9. Jeremiah Says:

    Wow, I’m in the minority and I’m a writer. For one thing I watched the series quickly, not over years. I guess you might say post mortem. Maybe this made the series feel better but overall I saw this as a great series, surprisingly actually. I understand the barrage of ant-religious whatever vs. the sci-fi technological psychobabble, but for a sci-fi show… I was continuously engaged. The ending kept me thinking, remembering the stories of the tower of babel, the 12 tribes spread across the land to speak in different tongues because they were trying to build a tower to god… but I noticed none of the above noted that the machines built by the cylons actually won their freedom and went to seek out their own lives. If they hadn’t shown up in 150,000 years, well… then all reason thinking machines can’t be bad. I did watch this show for junk food but then again, most people who write these columns smash a show and never praise it. I am here to go against them. My only sadness came from Boomer being shot, in the end, she should have done something further redeeming herself to join the man she loved, not shot. That for me was the most unfortunate part. Yes, they did mention Hera a lot… but hey, it’s a TV show, and people tune in all later and later, sometimes reminding the audience is necessary.

    So………………………………………… Good Job Galactica. Sad to see you go but happy you didn’t drag it on. I wouldn’t rank you as high as say Lost, but then again… I might…. and I will finish by saying I want a Sharon model of my own!!!!!!

  10. Ryan Says:

    Jeremiah: I agree it was a great series. Even though I wasn’t a fan of they direction they took it in the last couple of seasons, there were still some really fantastic episodes, and the characters were still excellent. That’s why I was disappointed with the way they ended it. It deserved better than an hour of deus ex machina followed by a goofy montage of robots.

  11. Kevin Says:

    I don’t understand why they didn’t simply restrain Galen when he started choking Tory… apparently that would have solved everything. I found it ironic and amusing that they agreed to give back resurrection and Cavil agreed to give back Hera, essentially putting EVERYONE exactly back where they were at when they’d captured their first human cylon and decided that there really aren’t differences between them. I thought it was amusing that this was a viable option this time around, and underscored the senselessness of the entire war, the false conflict between humans and cylons which had no better basis other than fear. Then Galen choked Tory, which apparently couldn’t be stopped by shooting him in the leg, or pulling him off of her and necessitated resuming the battle.

    I also feel that the rationale behind rescuing Hera was lacking, and a good explanation would have made the ending much better.

    Perhaps the biggest question in my mind is why we did not see one moment of debate about giving up “All” their technology and returning to the basics. The implication was clear that technology was evil and the cause of all their hardships and the only way to make things better was to give it all up. This is ridiculous. The people in the show proceed to use technology right up to the end: walking in standard issue boots, watching gazelles with the aid of binoculars, FLYING IN A RAPTOR to go on a tour of the planet. I wish instead there had been a passionate speech in which someone sensible (I would have thought Adama, Baltar, or Apollo) would get up and say that it is technology that prevents every day from being a tribal war for life and allows a reasonable standard of living. That health sciences are indispensable and to refuse to use them is inhumane and immoral. They should have attempted to learn from their recent trials and overcome them, with new-found understanding and peace instead of turning their backs, throwing up their hands, and saying we aren’t smart enough. We aren’t good enough. It is time for destiny to take its course, yet again.

    Also… humans? on another Earth? Crazy… (but cylons on the first was pretty crazy also…) Starbuck disappearing was also crazy.

    In short: I think they missed the mark and while the show was very interesting and I enjoyed watching it I feel that the finale twisted it to support a disturbing notion that science is evil, and that we should avoid reason and logic in favor of intuition and a belief in the supernatural.

  12. lisa Cook Says:

    In true Science Fiction, as this series was, it is not a very good idea to use too much of GOD. In this case, the Will or Design of God is a substitute to excuse bad writing, lack of ideas and poor imagination. A good writer should always be able to wrap up his story and tie loose ends without covering up mediocrity with the will of God. If the writers burned out, they could have found inspiration from the pool of creative ideas from the fans of the series. For exemple, humans could have united with the Cyclons, as we were led to believe that the little girl’s existence was as equally important to the human and to the Cyclons, and represented the future of both peoples: they could have come together and have children, then built Atlantis together….I was a late comer to Galactica and bought the series three weeks ago. I watched each one with mounting interest as I went along. I was hooked but when the finale came, I cried…it destroyed the whole saga, as far as I am concerned. I will never watch it again. So mediocre and lame. After this magnificient Saga, how could the writers assassinate the characters by giving them a bad case of bipolar depression, scatter them over prehistoric earth in search of Neanderthal mates and run the entire fleet into the sun?


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