Following a link in Inara Pey’s blog, I’ve come to the 2016 SL Science Fiction Convention. This is good because it gives me an excuse to vent about the ending to Battlestar Galactica without having to contrive a reason for discussing a TV program on a virtual reality blog. Ahem.
I recently made my way through all four seasons of Battlestar Galactica, having had it recommended to me by Canary Beck. Becky’s been busy outworld lately so I haven’t had the opportunity yet to put her on trial for this abuse of over fifty hours of my time. Becky, if you’re reading this, I hope you’re happy: that’s more than two days of my life I will never get back. Thanks. Thanks a lot.
If you haven’t yet watched the series yourself, this is your warning that there are spoilers ahead.
To someone raised on a strict diet of Star Trek, which is wholesome and nutritious for the young, enquiring mind (or, at least, used to be), Battlestar Galactica feels in the first instance not only like the doner kebab you stop off for on the way home from Friday night clubbing, but also the subsequent indigestion. Where Star Trek put books and paper and a pencil in front of me and asked me to consider things outside the boxes fashioned by human society, Battlestar Galactica threw its drink in my face and slapped me hard and demanded to know what the frak I thought I was doing wasting time thinking about stuff like that, and was I in fact thinking about another woman? It is raw and visceral. It is sweaty and grimy. It is the Polaroid photos pinned to the wall and the rock and roll mix tapes and the crushed-out cigarette butts and the lined-up shot glasses of science fiction. If Star Trek is about the human mind then Battlestar Galactica is about all the lights and the darks of the human soul. In short, it took a while to get used to.
By the end of season three, however, I was convinced it was one of the most brilliant, one of the most breathtaking things I had ever seen.
And then season four got under way.
I’m not going to go into all the plot logic because that would take forever. In any case, that’s not what my fist shaking is all about. In any case, the plot was pretty much bonkers from the start and you just accepted that: there were deus ex machina devices whizzing around all over the place like out-of-control Vipers as the writers tried to patch up all the holes created by their earlier dramatic twists – and with no less desperation I fancied than that with which Admiral Adama himself (my God, how I fell in love with Admiral Adama) tried to keep his fractured fleet together. There were some frankly ludicrous liberties taken with character continuity, perhaps best embodied by Caprica Six, the gorgeous female Cylon who started off the series as a cold, ruthless machine who could casually reach into a passing pram to snap the neck of the child within and who ended it up as some sort of tea drinking hippy who, it turned out, had actually back then been a caring lover who even went so far as to sort out the care arrangements for Gaius Baltar’s demented father – presumably, it was really Cavil who was the evil one the whole time and all that nuclear annihilation of not one but twelve planets’ worth of human beings was – what? – less a brutal genocide and more of an idea really that the less evil cylons sort of just went along with at the time? Yes, that all made perfect sense…
No, the plot was bonkers and you just accepted that. Everyone accepted that, including I suspect the writers, their adoption of Bob Dylan’s ‘All along the watchtower’ as both a rousing theme and at least two of the many magic wands employed more than slightly hinting at their struggle: ‘There must be some kind of way out of here,’ said the joker to the thief, “there’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief.” Too right.
I can forgive all of that, and I can do so in a heartbeat. I can do so because the human characters presented in Battlestar Galactica were just sublime. I loved every single one of them, from Katee Sackhoff’s messed up Kara ‘Starbuck’ Thrace – who has to be one of the most complete female characters ever seen on TV – to Michael Hogan’s miserable, bitter, alcoholic and yet utterly loyal Saul Tigh. Yes, I thought, Yes! This is the right way to portray people in science fiction. Galen Tyrol. Felix Gaeta. This is how to show that people can be dreadfully, dreadfully flawed and yet still worthwhile human beings. These were real people, about as far away from Star Trek characters as it’s possible to get. Unwashed. Sweaty. Doing what they think they have to do. I’m sorry Star Trek; I do still love you; but you have to admit that the most three dimensional character you ever came up with was probably Miles O’Brien, an Irish stereotype who should have been incapacitated from the post-traumatic stress of what you put him through, but who still looked fresh as a shamrock at the start of each episode. No. The characters on Battlestar Galactic were nothing short of brilliant.
And, for that reason, I can’t forgive the writers for the ending.
Leaving aside all the bollocks over how they all got to Earth, there are three things wrong with the finale to Battestar Galactica. In increasing order of severity, they are as follows:
1. They abandon their technology. We’re supposed to believe that each of the 39,000 human beings left remaining at the end of the journey, more or less in an instant, decide to give up on having things like floors and walls and ceilings and running water and heating and electricity to go and live the simple life with the primitives they discover on Earth. Just like that. No debate, no consultation, no consideration of the needs of the elderly or frail; one minute it’s just assumed that they’ll build a city as soon as they touch down and the next it’s, “Hey everybody, why don’t we instead just live as savages?” And everyone thinks that’s just groovy. A few episodes ago they were striking over working conditions and struggling with the issues of class barriers to people achieving their career destinies, but now they think it would be fab to risk their lives each day hunting for their supper and half freezing to death at night.
I’m sorry, but I don’t think so.
2. They abandon their culture. The call to the wild on a whim I can just about forgive the Last Remaining Humans for – I feel a very diluted version of this every time I embark upon a camping holiday (though if I ever thought the wild might claim me for more than a week of my time I might substantially revise that fancy); but what about their culture? What about all those books so lovingly read by Adama? What about the music? What about the recipes and the drinks and the clothing styles? What about the art? What about the shared history? Surely it wasn’t just me that considered the mission of Battlestar Galactica to be about more than just preventing a bunch of people from dying, that it was about the long-term preservation of human culture as much as it was the short term continuation of the lives of a few refugees? In Star Trek, we saw how the Kataan people, faced with extinction due to their dying sun, prioritised their shared stories and songs above all other things in their effort to be remembered as a race. In Battlestar Galactica, at the very point of victory, the humans effectively decide (again, a handful of people at best appearing to make this decision on behalf of 39,000 others, despite all the preceding stuff about the importance of democracy) to complete the mission of the cylons and wipe the human story out of existence.
Nonsense. Utter nonsense.
But the final sin is the most unforgivable by far.
3. They abandon each other. After all they’ve been through together, after all that shared pain, after all that talk from Adama of keeping the family together, the human race in the end just make of into the hills, never to see each other again. They fizzle out. Adama flies off in his Raptor with Roslin and Lee recognises that this is the last time he will ever see him. What? WHAT? What the frak are you talking about? By all means go and grab some private time with the dying love of your life, Admiral, but why in God’s name would you decide that that was that with the family that meant so much to you? Why?! And Lee, are you sure you checked all this out first? Did Adama specifically say to you that he wasn’t coming back, because I seriously think you might have got your wires crossed there. Did you try to talk him out of such an insane decision? Did you at least leave a note in case he came back looking for you?
Before Battlestar Galactica, the worst ending I’d ever seen to a TV series just had to be Lost. That whole business with the magic cave seriously pissed me off. But, despite all my crossness at that, I can’t deny that there was something satisfying in the way everyone ended up together. Emotionally, that part felt good. The two elements combined made for a finale that felt like the writers had thrown in the towel on the possibility of anything actually making sense, but knew just the same that these characters had become incredibly important to us. “We give up,” they told us, “let’s just say a magic cave did it and call it quits; but don’t worry about the characters – we love them too.” What makes me angry about Battlestar Galactica is that it betrayed its characters in a way that Lost never did, and it did so by making them behave in the last moment in a completely inconsistent and unbelievable manner. And for what? For the sake of a clever twist ending? So that the writers could boast in future cocktail parties about how clever they were at turning a show everyone thought was set in the future into one that was actually set in the past? Hi-fives everyone for being so ingenious? Back slaps all round?
Frak you, Battlestar Galactica. Frak. You.
Oh yes, and SLSFCon is really great. Here is a picture of me being abducted by aliens.