Saturday, March 21, 2009

"Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing"

Doubtless many will opine on the series finale of Battlestar Galactica. Here's my measly two cents:

The two-hour series ending episode of Galactica was, to say the least, underwhelming. It was noise and bombast and then emotion and irony and it fell far short of being in any way satisfying. Long ago it became painfully obvious that the series writers were making things up as they went. As a viewer of much television over many years I have developed a certain tolerance for this modus operandi. It is common practice for most TV writers to plot for the short term. But worse than "making things up as you go" is unmaking things up as you go. When you establish some fact about a character or create a new situation in your universe we expect those new facts and situations to have some permanence. This didn't happen on Galactica. Characters constantly underwent personality changes or found themselves in new and unlikely situations only to change again at the whim of the plot a few episodes later.

It happened so much it became tiresome to watch Battlestar Galactica. Remember how Lee Adama became commander of Pegasus, then a lawyer, then inexplicably the president of the Colonies? This was after Baltar went from eccentric scientist to vice-president to, you guessed it, president. And let's not forget the most painful and obvious "unmaking" of all: In season 3, Starbuck finds Earth--a planet that exists in our exact solar system and looks exactly like our Earth. The refugees reach Earth only to find it a radioactive ruin. Earth, it seems, is a lost cause. But in the finale, Starbuck guides the fleet to another Earth. Again, it looks exactly like our Earth (same continents, single large moon, etc.). We're supposed to believe (now) that the first Earth was false, despite the painstaking detail that earlier established it as the one and only Earth. This final "plot twist" of a second Earth is unforgivable. It is shameful and insulting and damning evidence that the writers had little faith in themselves and no regard for their audience.

Few shows have started out so well and ended up so poorly. The first season-and-a-half of Galactica was superb. It invited repeat viewings if only for the sheer power and excitement of the battle sequences. But the show was so much more than fancy effects. The characters were complex and flawed and the mythology held such promise.

The Cylons had a plan! The colonists had clues to find Earth! But we soon learned that there was no plan (or too many). And the clues to finding Earth were arbitrary.

Many will debate exactly when Battlestar Galactica went awry. For me, it was one specific moment: When Commander Cain is eulogized by Starbuck. Suddenly Cain, who behaved like a tyrant, was depicted as a hero. Why did Starbuck praise Cain? No normal character (especially Starbuck) would ever think well of such a dictator. It was here, at this moment, that character development was sacrificed for the arbitrariness of plot. No longer would characters act according to the events around them. No longer would they develop in way that made sense. From this point forward they would behave as the plot demanded. As a result they became cardboard cutouts or worse, puppets whose actions were completely at the whim of writers who did not know where the show should (or could) go.

I loved Galactica for a time. And though there were some good and great episodes in the seasons that followed the Pegasus arc it became impossible to overlook the slipshod way in which the show was handled. The last episode encapsulated this disregard for plotting. Everything felt contrived. Throw-away scenes from earlier episodes were shoe-horned into an increasingly nonsensical plot and for awhile you wanted to turn away in embarrassment for everyone who was involved. In the end the writers could only rely in the ultimate deus ex machina ending (God's grand plan) to establish any kind of lasting closure for their seasons-long storyline. It was sloppy, amateurish writing and a sad end to a once great series with wonderful potential.

R.I.P. Battlestar Galactica. Yours was a long and painful death.


  1. I just watched this for the first time. I was so confused... :-S

  2. I so completely disagree with this review that it's not even worth saying.