Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Why BSG's Finale (Mostly) Worked for Me

[Please be aware that there are massive spoilers behind the cut!]

In an effort to avoid posting spoilers, I didn't even title this post as I wanted to, which was:

"Why This Atheist is OK with Battlestar Galactica's Divine Explanation".

First, I have two caveats. The first is that I have a personal connection to this show, so I know I'm not completely objective. However, it had already been my favorite show before that connection was made, so I don't think this is just my bias talking. Secondly, all of this is just my opinion, and therefore doesn't mean squat. And I actually do agree with a lot of the criticism of the finale I've seen floating around.

Before I went to Clarion West in 2000, I read only science fiction. Hard or soft, technical or social, but it had to be science fiction. I had no patience at all for fantasy, because I had no interest in magic or supernatural explanations. I craved something that just maybe could really happen someday.

Thankfully, and largely because of Clarion West in 2000, I've since broadened my reading horizons, and have particularly enjoyed Glenda Larke's Isles of Glory trilogy, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, the Harry Potter books, several Patricia McKillip titles, and so on. Trust me, I still prefer science fiction, and I still get annoyed when a tale I'm enjoying as science fiction goes all religion on me in the end, which I experienced a bit with David Brin’s Kiln People, for instance.

So now that I do like fantasy, I can enjoy different kinds of fantasy –- and to me, that's just what religion is. Divine intervention is no different than magic in my mind, and I just don't believe it does or can happen. (I mean no offense to anyone who does have religious faith.) To me, then, the entire new Battlestar Galactica series (nuBSG) is fantasy. Science fantasy, to be sure, but fantasy. I don’t believe that the events in nuBSG could happen, just as I don't believe that the events in Lord of the Rings could happen, just as I . . . you get the drift.

I have to admit that I would have preferred some things to be a little different in nuBSG's season 4.5 and the finale:

  • I expected, and wanted, Starbuck to be Daniel’s daughter, so that her head music could be explained as a bit of programming that came down on her Cylon DNA side, and so that the Cylons had a bit better reason for being so personally interested in her.

  • I wanted Baltar to willingly die to save Hera, to atone for his huge role in causing the holocaust in the first place.

  • I didn’t think everyone should have or would have given up technology and gone traipsing off on an unknown planet by themselves or in groups of two or three. I also think it unlikely that Bill would have left Lee, especially because they've just lost women they loved. If family isn't important then, when the heck is it important?

  • I thought the Tigh and Six relationship was ridiculous in the extreme.

  • I didn’t think Chief was so in love with Cally that he would murder Tory. I’m not overly sorry Tory died, but perhaps someone might have understood a little bit that she was afraid of being discovered as a Cylon at that time. Oh, and I don't think Chief would have ever voted to leave the fleet. He seemed to love the Galactica as much as the old man did.

  • I think that Boomer’s character arc was one of the big missed opportunities of the show. By the end, while I liked Athena and rooted for her, she had it comparatively easy in that she always knew she was a Cylon, she seduced Helo, got pregnant (and knew it) within a few days, and was accepted fairly easily by Adama and the fleet, all things considered. After all, she was sipping tea in the Admiral's Quarters and became a Colonial officer sometime during the year of New Caprica. If Boomer, on the other hand, could have truly overcome the shock of discovering she was a Cylon, and the shame and horror of shooting Adama; if she could have earned the same kind of trust Athena had earned, even after all that had happened, well, that really would have been something. Also, as someone else pointed out, the “dressing-down” flashback was unnecessary, and I think it was stupid. I’ve seen Adama lead the fleet honorably for four seasons, and now I seem him acting like an ass dressing down a pilot while he himself is drunk? Boomer’s “Tell the old man I owed him one” already meant plenty in conjunction with her having shot him.

  • There were tons of unresolved bits. Kara's ovaries. Daniel. Where the heck was D'Anna in the finale? Why was Kara the harbinger of death? If Hera was a true single Mitochondrial Eve, that implies that every other fleet survivor's lines died out -- isn't that a bit much? And I'm sure there are a thousand more things I'll think of as soon as I post this.

BUT here’s what I’ve loved about this season and finale:
  • Gaeta’s tragic character arc, and Zarek’s arc as well. They had to be executed, yet seeing it was gut-wrenching. I loved that I was never sure of Zarek's character until the end, when he has the Quorum murdered. Remember on New Caprica when he and Roslin were slated to be executed, and the death squad of Centurions marches over the hill? Zarek instinctively stepped in front of Roslin to protect her.

  • I loved the nods to the fans in the finale: old BSG music while the fleet sails into the sun, Ron Moore’s cameo, and fan-favorite Romo ending up as President.

  • I thought Lee and Kara’s flashbacks were great. She clearly met the wrong brother first, and this was going to haunt everyone for a long, long time. Laura and Bill's flashbacks were not as successful, but I certainly didn't find them boring. It's my understanding we may get more flashbacks on the beginning of Chief and Boomer's relationships in the extended DVD, which would be nice because what we saw back in the first season didn't suggest to me they'd been planning their dream house.

  • I thought most characters got the right –- for this story –- resolution. Other than the going off alone or in pairs, I was happy with how Bill said goodbye to Laura, how Lee had to let Kara go, how Helo and Athena could finally just raise their daughter, and how Baltar did perform a selfless act, even if it wasn’t as dramatic as I wanted.

OK. All that said, I can see why many science fiction fans are infuriated at the divine intervention explanation. A friend said, and I agree, that we don’t like it when SF writers use divine intervention to “explain their way out of something they couldn't find a resolution for.”

But that’s not what happened here, in my opinion. They didn’t start a story about genetic engineering and cyborgs, and then say three seasons later “Crap! What’ll we do? I know, we’ll make it that it was God’s plan!” Rather, they planned to tell a God/gods story all along. I’m not sure I could fault a show for being about God when they were pretty upfront all along, saying, “hey, we're going to tell this story about God, and God's plan, and God's children, and their children, both real and artificially created, and....” Do people think the show was not upfront about that? Or is it possible that science fiction viewers deliberately overlooked the fact that the show was screaming "religion!", and went ahead and imposed their science fiction expectations on the show because it had spaceships and robots?

Even the original BSG show was based on the Mormons' 13 tribes -- which I didn't know when I was ten years old, of course. I just figured they picked the astrological signs because it was neat! For me, this is a bit similar to Buffy -- in many ways I disliked the whole heaven/hell schtick. And the fact that the Christian symbol of the cross really did ward off vampires kind of "validated", in the context of the show, that Christianity in general and the Catholic Church in particular were "right", which I don't believe. But it fit within the context of the show, and I could either accept that or not watch.

In nuBSG, that ending –- including Kara being an angel – fit within the context of the story they had been telling for four years. They chose a direction from the beginning –- not the direction I would have chosen -- and once they chose it they stuck with it.

I also note that they also happened to choose one of the most clich├ęd plots in all of genre fiction -- I have criticized new aspiring writers for this very same, lame Adam and Eve plot. But that's why the execution is the thing. And the overall execution of the story that they wanted to tell was, for me, gorgeous. It wasn't perfect. But three of my other in-genre favorites -- Next Gen, DS9, and Babylon 5 -- have episodes that I'm not sure you could pay me to sit through again. Firefly and nuBSG are the only shows for which I can't think of a single episode I would refuse to watch. Pound for pound, the new Battlestar Galactica is the best television show of any genre that I've ever seen.


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