We’re in the final stretch of the popular television drama Lost, and everyone’s wondering if all of our questions will be answered. I’ve been enjoying the hell out of that show, and I can’t wait to see how it all wraps up!
It reminds me of another groundbreaking television program, where bits and pieces of mysteries running throughout the show were presented as episodes went by, all leading up to some grand conclusion that promised to explain everything. That show was the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica. (SPOILERS AHEAD! Do not read any further if you haven’t finished watching the entire series!)
It’s been almost a year now since the BSG series finale, and during that time, I’ve come to realize something very important:
I was wrong.
The two-part ending, “Daybreak,” shocked me just like every other fan, for better or for worse. I decided at the time that while it wasn’t perfect, it was still a great ending. In retrospect, I was definitely viewing the finale through rose-tinted glasses due to my love for the show. I’ve had this problem before, as I’m only human. I made the same mistake with the 2007 Transformers film and Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. I liked them at first, but only later did I realize how crappy they really were! This change of heart sadly applies to the BSG finale, as well.
I had written up a big post defending “Daybreak” late last summer, but I think that was just a kneejerk reaction, or worse, a subconscious way of trying to justify my own thoughts and feelings on the matter. Articles and reviews I’ve read since then have completely deconstructed every feeble defense I had thought up. I’ve had no choice but to accept the superior and correct logic of those articles, and I have actually removed my original post; that’s something I almost never do. I may sound like an asshole on this blog, but I still have to admit when I’m wrong! Besides, that post made me sound like a mindless fanboy (you know how I hate that), and quite frankly, it was embarrassing.
So…why was I wrong about the BSG finale? Aside from problems within the final episode (which I’ll get into momentarily), another issue was the fact that I considered BSG to be the best science fiction television program ever made. As such, I had built it up to lofty heights within my mind; most other fans had done the same thing. From there, the only logical place was down; we just didn’t realize at the time how far it could’ve fallen. I have no one to blame but myself on this particular point.
On to the problems with “Daybreak” itself. The finale started out great, but in the last hour, the whole thing fell apart like a house of cards. It was revealed that everything that had transpired in BSG all boiled down to one thing: “God did it.” Now, that may seem like I’m painting the series with a broad brush, but “God did it” has become the commonly accepted description of what happened, and sadly, it’s accurate. BSG‘s finale was a deus ex machina in a very literal sense! (Note: BSG‘s God is clearly not any god or gods found in our real-life religions; it’s just been referred to within the show as “God” for simplicity’s sake, I’m assuming.)
During the decisive battle aboard the Cylon Colony, we discover that all of the prophecies and visions experienced by various humans and Cylons alike have led up to the scene where the Final Five are standing above Galactica‘s bridge. That’s fine and dandy, and made for one hell of a powerful piece of cinematography…until it was revealed that God had put these visions in the characters’ heads, and directed all of the humans’ and Cylons’ paths throughout their journey. Did the characters act according to their own free will? Not according to “Daybreak.” If the characters truly had free will, then the events of the finale would have been impossible. In fact, in order for those events to unfold as we saw them, God must’ve been pulling the strings behind virtually every single event during the series to make things happen according to its grand plan, including the Fall of the Twelve Colonies! (Former EFF chairman Brad Templeton wrote up a list of events that required divine intervention in order for the series to proceed; there’s an astounding number of them.) This, far and away, is the finale’s biggest flaw, as it casts aside all of BSG‘s drama, mystery, and tension on the whims of a deity.
A perfect example of this is the case of Kara Thrace (aka Starbuck). She committed suicide during the third season, but mysteriously reappeared alive and well at the end of that season. We knew something brought her back, but we didn’t know what, or how; it was another enthralling mystery to add to the pile. Well, it turns out she was then resurrected by God to bring the humans and rebel Cylons to the new Earth, and shortly after she got there, she just vanished. That’s nothing but a cop-out, and this particular plot point is one I’ve always had a problem with. (I honestly think the writers just didn’t know how to resolve her storyline anymore.) Plus, the fact that she was unwittingly trained by God since childhood through the Music, the paintings of the Eye of Jupiter, and so on simply to punch in the coordinates to Earth at a very specific time just ended up being silly.
I realize that some fans might want to fall back on the old science fiction cliché that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. If you go that route, God and its “angels” (the visions of Six and Baltar) are easily classified as a technologically superior alien race that’s been helping the humans and Cylons for unknown reasons. (BSG writer and fourth season co-executive producer Jane Espenson believes this is the case.) Even with this explanation, though, you’re stuck with same problem as “God did it”: the characters aren’t the driving point behind the show anymore, as their actions are subject to whatever entity is secretly controlling them and orchestrating every event.
“Daybreak” also stretched some concepts beyond the realm of plausibility, even for a science fiction show. Case and point: the thirty-thousand or so remaining humans decided to give up all technology and live on their new Earth. Perhaps some of them would’ve gone for it, since they’d been living inside cramped spaceships for so long; but I’d venture that most of them would not. They had no problem building a small town using their existing technology on New Caprica, and I don’t see any reason why they would’ve changed their minds months later. Would the last remnants of the human race really ditch their medicine and supplies in favor of hunting and gathering, which they had no idea how to go about doing? I don’t think so. If the refugees had decided to keep their technology and form their own secluded city, that would’ve made more sense…especially if said city came to be known as Atlantis. (Since there was a battlestar named Atlantia in the BSG miniseries, the name isn’t without precedent.)
Let’s get back to the “God did it” problem. The whole mess could very easily have been avoided: just don’t mention “God” at all during the ending! Leave the characters’ visions and such unexplained, while keeping everything else intact. The humans and Cylons find the new Earth, as was expected, but as to why the prophecies came true…leave that up to the imagination. BSG‘s strength was its characters, and I don’t think that these unsolved mysteries wouldn’t detract from that. Sure, such an ending might’ve pissed off a lot of fans, but not as many as the actual ending did.
If you must explain the visions and prophecies, then perhaps since the Colonial humans clearly evolved on a world that’s not our own, some of them could havve evolved enhanced mental abilities. Characters with clairvoyant “powers” are not uncommon in science fiction, and such a thing certainly wouldn’t have been out of place here. Kara Thrace’s resurrection is still a stick in the mud, but I don’t think there was any getting around that, as I mentioned earlier.
Even Six and Baltar’s visions of angels could be explained logically; since both characters carried such a tremendous weight of guilt over their deeds, it would’ve been perfectly understandable if the angels were just hallucinations, their consciences made manifest. (That’s what most fans thought they were up until the finale, anyway.)
Last but not least…there’s another tried-and-true method of explaining away knowledge of future events: time travel. At some point in the future, the humans, Cylons, or their descendants find a way to warn their ancestors about what happened, hence “all of this has happened before, and will happen again.” The obvious problem with this explanation is that time travel has been absolutely beaten to death within science fiction over the past few decades. It would’ve been nearly as bad as “God did it.”
The problems found in “Daybreak” may affect the BSG prequel series Caprica, but so far, we haven’t seen any direct evidence of this. Religion is part of Caprica‘s plot much as it was in BSG, but as long we don’t discover that Zoe Graystone’s avatar only works because God said so, I think the show will stand well enough on its own. We know that God is pulling the strings and controlling everyone behind the scenes due to “Daybreak,” but since we don’t know specifically what’s going to happen with the new characters we’ve seen, there’s still some room for mystery.
Furthermore, none of the God stuff was part of the plot in The Plan, the direct-to-video BSG film released last fall. (In fact, I don’t recall God being mentioned at all, except for John Cavil’s sarcastic remarks.) The result? The Plan was a good story in its own right that perfectly weaved in and out of the first two seasons of BSG.
Okay, I’m done. Please don’t see this as a “Fuck Battlestar Galactica!” post. I still consider it a good science fiction television show; I just hated the ending. Sure, the acting, special effects, music, and cinematography were all top-notch; I just don’t particularly enjoy the way series creator Ron Moore and crew went about it sloppily resolving the show’s mysteries, and retconning the entire series as a result. (You know how much I fucking hate retcons.) I was so caught up in the hype that I couldn’t accept this until recently, and I feel like a fool.
Now that you’ve read my take on the BSG finale, I suggest you check out the following articles. Don’t just brush them off; they make logical arguments that you really can’t ignore.
- Battlestar‘s “Daybreak,” the worst ending in the history of on-screen science fiction, by Brad Templeton. I know the title of his post sounds overly harsh, but trust me, it’s worth reading. Templeton delves very deeply into the “God did it” problem, as well as many glaring scientific problems present in the finale. (This is the same author of the list I spoke about earlier in this post.)
- In God We Rust: Final Thoughts on Battlestar Galactica, by Robert Bland. An excellent examination of how BSG radically switched from being a character story into an idea story, and why that switch didn’t work.
- As Battlestar Ends, God is in the Details, by Annalee Newitz. Here’s a more positive spin on the ending, including mention of the technology/magic cliché.
- Not in Our Stars: The Betrayals of the Battlestar Galactica Finale, by Sam J. Miller. The author takes issue with such a generic happy ending to a series that never worked that way.
- It is finished: Battlestar Galactica: “Daybreak” – Part 2, by Norm Doering. The author speaks about the finale’s transhumanist failings and the “philosophy of ignorance.”
I just hope Lost has a better conclusion than BSG did…I swear, if the Island is God or some other such nonsense, I’m going to throw up.