Battlestar's "Daybreak:" The worst ending in the history of on-screen science fiction
Battlestar Galactica attracted a lot of fans and a lot of kudos during its run, and engendered this sub blog about it. Here, in my final post on the ending, I present the case that its final hour was the worst ending in the history of science fiction on the screen. This is a condemnation of course, but also praise, because my message is not simply that the ending was poor, but that the show rose so high that it was able to fall so very far. I mean it was the most disappointing ending ever.
(There are, of course, major spoilers in this essay.)
Other SF shows have ended very badly, to be sure. This is particularly true of TV SF. Indeed, it is in the nature of TV SF to end badly. First of all, it's written in episodic form. Most great endings are planned from the start. TV endings rarely are. To make things worse, TV shows are usually ended when the show is in the middle of a decline. They are often the result of a cancellation, or sometimes a producer who realizes a cancellation is imminent. Quite frequently, the decline that led to cancellation can be the result of a creative failure on the show -- either the original visionaries have gone, or they are burned out. In such situations, a poor ending is to be expected.
Sadly, I'm hard pressed to think of a TV SF series that had a truly great ending. That's the sort of ending you might find in a great book or movie, the ending that caps the work perfectly, which solidifies things in a cohesive whole. Great endings will sometimes finally make sense out of everything, or reveal a surprise that, in retrospect, should have been obvious all along. I'm convinced that many of the world's best endings came about when the writer actually worked out the ending first, then then wrote a story leading to that ending.
There have been endings that were better than the show. Star Trek: Voyager sunk to dreadful depths in the middle of its run, and its mediocre ending was thus a step up. Among good SF/Fantasy shows, Quantum Leap, Buffy and the Prisoner stand out as having had decent endings. Babylon 5's endings (plural) were good but, just as I praise Battlestar Galactica (BSG) by saying its ending sucked, Babylon 5's endings were not up to the high quality of the show. (What is commonly believed to be B5's original planned ending, written before the show began, might well have made the grade.)
Ron Moore's goals
To understand the fall of BSG, one must examine it both in terms of more general goals for good SF, and the stated goals of the head writer and executive producer, Ronald D. Moore. The ending failed by both my standards (which you may or may not care about) but also his.
Moore began the journey by laying out a manifesto of how he wanted to change TV SF. He wrote an essay about Naturalistic science fiction where he outlined some great goals and promises, which I will summarize here, in a slightly different order
- Avoiding SF clichés like time travel, mind control, god-like powers, and technobabble.
- Keeping the science real.
- Strong, real characters, avoiding the stereotypes of older TV SF. The show should be about them, not the hardware.
- A new visual and editing style unlike what has come before, with a focus on realism.
Over time he expanded, modified and sometimes intentionally broke these rules. He allowed the ships to make sound in space after vowing they would not. He eschewed aliens in general. He increased his focus on characters, saying that his mantra in concluding the show was "it's the characters, stupid."
The link to reality
In addition, his other goal for the end was to make a connection to our real world. To let the audience see how the story of the characters related to our story. Indeed, the writers toyed with not destroying Galactica, and leaving it buried on Earth, and ending the show with the discovery of the ship in Central America. They rejected this ending because they felt it would violate our contemporary reality too quickly, and make it clear this was an alternate history. Moore felt an alternative universe was not sufficient.
The successes, and then failures
During its run, BSG offered much that was great, in several cases groundbreaking elements never seen before in TV SF:
- Artificial minds in humanoid bodies who were emotional, sexual and religious.
- Getting a general audience to undertand the "humanity" of these machines.
- Stirring space battles with much better concepts of space than typically found on TV. Bullets and missiles, not force-rays.
- No bumpy-head aliens, no planet of the week, no cute time travel or alternate-reality-where-everybody-is-evil episodes.
- Dark stories of interesting characters.
- Multiple copies of the same being, beings programmed to think they were human, beings able to transfer their mind to a new body at the moment of death.
- A mystery about the origins of the society and its legends, and a mystery about a lost planet named Earth.
- A mystery about the origin of the Cylons and their reasons for their genocide.
- Daring use of concepts like suicide bombing and terrorism by the protagonists.
- Kick-ass leadership characters in Adama and Roslin who were complex, but neither over the top nor understated.
- Starbuck as a woman. Before she became a toy of god, at least.
- Baltar: One of the best TV villains ever, a self-centered slightly mad scientist who does evil without wishing to, manipulated by a strange vision in his head.
- Other superb characters, notably Tigh, Tyrol, Gaeta and Zarek.
But it all came to a far lesser end due to the following failures I will outline in too much detail:
- The confirmation/revelation of an intervening god as the driving force behind events
- The use of that god to resolve large numbers of major plot points
- A number of significant scientific mistakes on major plot points, including:
- Twisting the whole story to fit a completely wrong idea of what Mitochondrial Eve is
- To support that concept, an impossible-to-credit political shift among the characters
- The use of concepts from Intelligent Design to resolve plot issues.
- The introduction of the nonsense idea of "collective unconscious" to explain cultural similarities.
- The use of "big secrets" to dominate what was supposed to be a character-driven story
- Removing all connection to our reality by trying to build a poorly constructed one
- Mistakes, one of them major and never corrected, which misled the audience
And then I'll explain the reason why the fall was so great -- how, until the last moments, a few minor differences could have fixed most of the problems.
Before examining these, it is worth examining some important elements from the history of great science fiction in order to understand the metrics of greatness that I am using.
A defence of hard (and soft) science fiction
The term "hard" science fiction has two meanings. The first is SF that sticks to the laws of physics and reality. In true hard SF, you never do what is currently understood to be impossible, you try to find a way to make everything plausible in terms of science. (This is not enough to be hard SF of course, since romance novels also stay true to physics!)
The second meaning is SF that revels in the science. It often loves to explain the intricate scientific details, and in stereotypical form, is overloaded with expository dialogue. "As you know, Bob, the characters will often explain things in silly ways because they are really talking to the reader." The story is about the unusual science it explores more than anything.
This latter subset deserves some of the derision it gets. It's hard to do well. Worse, the more it tries to explain the science, the greater chance it has of getting it wrong, or becoming quickly dated. In Star Trek, the term "technobabble" was created to describe the nonsense you would often hear when Geordi or Data would explain how something on the Enterprise worked.
In Moore's "naturalistic SF" he wanted to keep the realism but eschew the over-explanation. In fact, not explaining things at all is often a great course. This is the right course for TV for many of the reasons listed above, and often even for written works. The 1984 novel Neuromancer, considered one of the all-time-greats of the SF genre, was a novel about computers, AI and cyberspace written on an ordinary typewriter by William Gibson, a man with minimal knowledge of these areas. Because of this, he avoided explaining the details of how things worked, and as a result his novel has stood the test of time better than most novels about such topics.
Even those who love hard SF often tolerate various violations of the laws of physics. The most common is faster-than-light travel, or FTL. So many stories, including BSG itself, need FTL to work. There are other common tropes. Generally even fans of hard SF will undergo what is called a "suspension of disbelief" on the impossible thing in order to enjoy the story. The more impossible things, however, the more disconnected the story is from reality.
A connection to reality allows a story an important opportunity for relevance to reality. It allows the statement, "all of this could happen." It allows stories to explore real issues, bad and good things that are really possible as a result of our science and technology. I contend that SF that does this is SF at its finest.
This is not to say that you can't explore real issues in non-real SF and even fantasy. Or even real SF issues. Some great SF has done this entirely through allegory. Some SF is written not to be about the future at all, but the present, and simply uses an unrealistic future to tell a message about the present. That future need not be possible to deliver that message. But there is no denying that it helps.
Sticking to reality also offers things that fantasy does not. We all know that when accused of something, it is easier to tell the truth consistently than it is to spin a consistent web of falsehood. A story that sticks to reality has a much better chance at being consistent in its setting. The writer may be tempted to rewrite the rules in a story -- and they certainly can -- but this brings two curses. First, your new rules must compete with the real world's to make your setting as impressive, and secondly there will be too much temptation to solve story problems simply by making up new rules.
Sticking to reality may sound like a constraint on a writer, it may sound too limiting. But in fact, I feel it's the reverse. Constraints can improve a story. A story where literally anything can happen has no suspense and little mystery. Writers of "mainstream" fiction, constrained as they are to real settings, are in no way constrained or limited in their ability to write great fiction.
This is why, even though readers will suspend disbelief on a story's fantastic elements, they must be introduced at the start of a story. If a writer resolves a problem by bringing in a new and unexpected fantastic element at the end, the audience feels cheated. In the broad sense, this sort of ending is called a Deus ex machina, where something unexpected comes out of the blue. (This literally means "god from the machine," and there is some irony that BSG literally featured a religion that came from the machines.)
If a story begins by showing us a wizard, we understand immediately that we will see wizards and magic. If a story with no magic introduces a wizard with no hint that magic was coming, the audience rightly feels cheated.
Even "soft" SF, not so constrained to the rules of physics, has its rules. All good fiction must be consistent within itself and the writer's contract with the reader.
I repeat my contention that realistic (or "hard" if you prefer) SF offers the best means to explore the big issues of science and technology in fiction and what they might really mean. Today there is a large sub-genre of hard SF with a focus on artificial minds, uploaded minds and copyable people. Writers are exploring what this means, what it means to be a thinking being, what it means to be human and not human. SF writers have done that a lot, particularly through the use of aliens, but this is today's nexus. Indeed, since Frankenstein itself, SF writers have been exploring the question of humanity creating artificial life.
This does not mean there can't be great non-realistic SF or fantasy. In fact, sometimes these genres can produce some of the greatest works. To do so however, they usually lay out their magic at the start. We know at the very beginning that Gandalf is a wizard and the world of Lord of the Rings is full of elves and hobbits. From the beginning, there is a sort of "negotiation" of the suspension of disbelief between the reader and writer; a contract of sorts. We would be equally upset with battlestars appearing in Lord of the Rings as we would be with Nazgul aboard Cylon heavy raiders.
Still, while all levels of fantasy can produce greatness, there is a special relevance that can only be produced through realism. Non-realistic stories must gain their relevance through allegories. They present a world which is not ours, but has parallels that teach lessons about the real world.
They may also plainly entertain and indulge interesting fantasies. It is not bad to simply entertain. The best SF will have it all -- realism, great characters, compelling stories, drama, elements which speak to our own understanding of our world and technology, mystery and all-around good writing in the perfect balance. Nobody ever combines all these perfectly, and probably nobody ever will, but there is still a goal to strive for and be measured against.
Values of great mystery
BSG was not just an SF show. It was a mystery. The story held many secrets, and fans were teased with clues about these secrets. A great mystery offers tantalizing clues, though usually enough to support several theories. The mystery should be compelling, though it should not completely overwhelm the story and its other elements.
At the end of a great mystery, when the secrets are revealed, the reader or audience should have an "aha" moment. In this moment, it should become clear not just what the answer to the mystery is, but also how the whole story was leading up to that answer. The answer should be, in hindsight, clear and inevitable. Things that did not make sense should suddenly be perfectly logical. At the same time, the ending should provide a satisfactory resolution to the major dramas and conflicts of the story, leaving few loose ends, particularly around the clues.
Now on to where BSG fell down.
Failure #1 -- God did it
(And no, in spite of what you think, this wasn't telegraphed from the start at all.)
Divinity in fiction
When gods become active characters in fiction, the rules change again. The earliest dramas, written by the ancient Greeks, regularly had the gods meddling in the affairs of mortals. In many of these plays, the mortals were just pawns, doomed to meet a divinely willed destiny. Plots would be resolved and characters' fates settled through the sudden intervention of gods.
We know these endings as "Deus Ex Machina" today. This literally means the appearance of god in the machine, but from a literary standpoint, it refers to the relatively sudden introduction of powerful (often divine) external forces to resolve a plot. This has long been felt to be bad writing, even a cheat. This school of dramatic criticism is so old it goes back to Aristotle, who wrote:
It is obvious that the solutions of plots too should come about as a result of the plot itself, and not from a contrivance, as in the Medea and in the passage about sailing home in the Iliad. A contrivance must be used for matters outside the drama—either previous events which are beyond human knowledge, or later ones that need to be foretold or announced. For we grant that the gods can see everything. There should be nothing improbable in the incidents; otherwise, it should be outside the tragedy, e.g. that in Sophocles’ Oedipus.
The presence of divine characters in fiction is troubling, unless your goal is to write religious fiction, which is usually aimed at believers of the religion or at best at potential converts. When not writing religious fiction, divine characters spoil the story. While some may disagree, divine intervention is a rare or non-existent thing in our universe, and certainly not something that is overt and obvious in modern times.
Worst of all, divine intervention robs all the other characters of meaning. The story is no longer about how they struggled and overcame adversity. They did not battle their mortal and natural adversaries and triumph or fail. Rather, things came out as they did through divine will.
This is particularly true when divine intervention or prophecy leads to an unlikely event. If, for example, it has been divinely willed or predicted that various characters will gather on the bridge of Galactica, with 5 glowing on the balcony and others playing various roles, then almost every single thing that led up to that result must also be due to divine intervention, and not the wills and actions of the characters. You can look back at the story and for every event, you will likely find that had the past gone differently, the divinely required event would not have happened, and so all the past becomes the reflection of divine will.
In Battlestar Galactica, it gets more extreme. There, we are told that 2,000 years ago Anders wrote a song, and that 30 years ago, that song was put into the head of Starbuck. More recently it was put into Hera. The notes of this song, turned into a series of numbers, punched in at a very specific location in space at a very specific time, would send a ship many light years to appear over the moon of a planet that, a starting a billion years ago, had been the subject of very carefully guided evolution aimed at producing an identical genome to life evolving on another planet.
You change almost anything about the BSG story and this event doesn't happen. As a result, all the events of BSG have only one meaning -- fulfillment of the divine plan. I prepared a list of the amazingly many events that now must be attributed to the God of Galactica to illustrate this more completely.
Of course, all fictional worlds are deterministic, and they all have a authorial "god" who writes their story. Sometimes the author even inserts foreshadowing and prophecies of what is to come. But this is quite different from a writer entering the story as a character who is making things happen. The latter only happens in more satirical "break the 4th wall" sorts of stories, and it's fairly hard to do well. (Moore compared the 4th wall to the wall between man and created machine, but if it was his goal to realize this, it did not work.)
When gods appear as real characters in fiction, their job should not be to resolve the plot, but rather to create it. It's OK when the gods create the problems our heroes will resolve. We want to read the story of how they resolve them and what journey they take.
Gods can be fascinating characters, but they can never be truly comprehensible. They exist better, as Baltar says, as a force of nature. Man vs. nature is a great plot. Man vs. god is an incomprehensible one.
It should be noted that one way that semi-divine beings have been making their way profitably into science fiction is through the notion of natural beings that are so advanced that they are as gods to us. Like supernatural gods, who exist outside of time and physics, these natural gods -- sometimes former humans or advanced AI computers -- are still beyond our comprehension. They are still constrained by reality, however, and that can make them interesting as elements in a story. As Vernor Vinge wrote, it is still a mistake to have a super-mind as a point-of-view character, and their actions should remain mostly off-screen to set up challenges for our more human protagonists, but they can still spice up a story. Because Baltar says at the very end of BSG, "You know it doesn't like that name (God)," some have wondered if the God of Galactica is in fact a non-supernatural, highly advanced being. This seems unlikely when you consider the scope of its powers, but in any event no further evidence for this position was ever given.
In the long run, using deus ex machina is a cheat. It's the easy way out of plot problems, and it must been seen as a failure. When you can say "god did it" you can write just about anything. The author takes on too much power, including too much power to do things that make no sense.
The Ghostbusters law
Many argue that the appearance of the divine is hardly a surprise in BSG. Right from season one, Head-Six tells Baltar she is an angel sent by god to protect him. Characters regularly reflect on remarkable, improbable events. Indeed, nobody watching the show was unaware that somebody very powerful was pulling strings and manipulating events behind the scenes. Indeed, the original series also featured god-like beings altering the destinies of the characters.
The presence of religious characters is good -- real societies all have them, and frankly they are ignored too much in some SF. That many characters espouse religious views does not imply that those views are true, any more than it does in the real world. In spite of the fact that lots of people in our world tell me Jesus is coming soon, I will still be highly surprised if he actually does.
Thus, many were shocked to have the string-pulling force be revealed as a supernatural god. I believe this is a result of what I would call Ghostbusters law.
If somebody asks you if you are a God, you say yes!
The corollary, particularly in any sort of realistic science fiction is this:
If somebody says they are a god in an SF story, they usually aren't.
SF is chock-full of non-divine beings that pretend to be gods or are mistaken for gods. It's a cliché of sorts. So nobody can be blamed for being surprised when that string-puller turned out to be a supernatural God and its angels, or being surprised at just how much of the story came down to the interventions of this god.
It would have been more unexpected if the god had been one we are familiar with. Real religious fiction which might be about the Judeo-Christian-Muslim God would not raise an eyebrow when the divine appears. We are not surprised or bothered when God acts in The Ten Commandments or Touched by an Angel. But it's hard to figure out the reason for the introduction of an entirely invented god that nobody actually believes in. The message that "Some god nobody has ever heard of has a plan for humanity" is simply not a meaningful one for any audience.
There are some who don't agree with the Ghostbusters law rule, and feel the "god's plan" nature of the plot was well foreshadowed and should not be considered a surprise. I do see their case, though I don't agree that is the interpretation an typical SF fan would take. A more common interpretation was "well, that could be a real god, but it won't be, because that would really suck as an ending, and Moore is better than that." Under that interpretation, it was a surprise, and we were, in effect, asked to suspend disbelief on the fantastic elements far too late in the story. Even if you love the role of the divine in BSG, it makes little sense to keep the reality of the god a secret until the end. If you know it's god behind it all, and suspend disbelief from the start, you can focus on the story and view god as a proxy for the author. Leaving the proof to the end is unlikely to create a strong positive reaction, and very like to engender disappointment.
Consider as well a rather minor tweak. What if the other set of gods (the Lords of Kobol, with the same names as the Greek gods) had been real, and the "one true god" had been false, or simply a conceited Olympian. If Zeus has created mankind on Kobol and duplicated it on our Earth, and was annoyed that humans have stopped worshiping him here and getting ready for our destruction as the cycle repeats. Would that satisfy?
While I won't pretend to be a big fan of religious fiction -- though I have enjoyed many books with supernatural and divine backgrounds to them -- my criticism is not simply an expression of that taste. Good religious fiction still has the characters responsible for their own destinies at some basic level, even if it is just their choice to believe. (We don't see that here among the major characters. Baltar becomes a believer, but only after scores of miracles pushed in his face.) I feel that even if you love spiritual or religious fiction, this was not good religious fiction. If you read some spiritual message from the god and its actions, let us know in the comments.
As many people still feel the god was just an influencer, and not a puppet-master, I have written a sidebar on whether one can truly be just "influenced" by an intervening god.
(And yes, I'm aware of the irony that in the fantasy story of Ghostbusters, Gozer actually is a demigod, though the kind humans can defeat. This is not at all surprising in a story like Ghostbusters, though. Great supernatural fiction, but as a comedy, subject to entirely different rules.)
Failure #2 -- Science errors on plot-turning elements
No work of SF is likely to be perfect in its science, no matter how hard the author tries, since no author is perfect. Even the best trained scientists are never perfect.
There are also different levels of error. There may be mistakes that even the high-school educated may see. There will be mistakes apparent only to those with a general scientific education. Some mistakes may spoil it only for somebody who did their PhD thesis on the topic at hand.
There are also deliberate mistakes, where the creator of the story knows what they are doing is incorrect, but decides they must break the rules to make their dramatic point. (A typical example would be ships making sound in space while they fight when viewed from outside.)
We can, and must tolerate mistakes that are very obscure, or which are not central to the plot. And we tolerate the deliberate mistakes for various reasons. We should be less tolerant, however, of mistakes upon which the whole plot hinges, especially if they are easily fixable and would be revealed with just a brief check with a science advisor.
Not that Hollywood doesn't screw up like this all the time. In fact the TV show Mythbusters does a show every month or so outlining how ridiculous some key scene in a Hollywood action movie is when compared to reality. We can still enjoy these scenes of course, and even come to expect them, but they change our story from a real one to a caricature, and lessen its chances for greatness and relevance. Only a minority of science-aware viewers may find the story spoiled by the unrealism of the mistake, but the long-term legacy is spoiled for everybody.
The key error I am going to speak about may seem rather obscure to you. But it deserves extra scrutiny because the whole story was warped, in my view, to fit the mistake, and that was a great failure.
Moore decided that he wanted to set the show in the past, and that he wanted Hera, the human-Cylon hybrid child, to be the ancestor of all humans living today. There are a lot of problems with making this work, even if you get the core facts right.
Moore had heard of the concept of Mitochondrial Eve (MTE). Unfortunately, he somehow got the idea that this woman is supposed to be the most recent common ancestor of humanity, and thus he should make Hera be MTE. Moore's cameo character is holding a copy of National Geographic, and the Angel-6 reads from it, "Mitochondrial Eve is the name scientists have given to the most recent common ancestor for all human beings now living on Earth."
This is, however, not true. (In fact, had Moore bothered to check the Wikipedia page for Mitochondrial Eve he would have noticed that it clearly names confusing MTE for the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) as the #1 mistake people make about her.) Moore and others may have been attracted to that error because the name "Eve" conjures up a Biblical Eve, and in fact the scientists who came up with the name have come to regret the associations that come with it. In reality, MTE lived perhaps 140,000 years earlier than the MRCA. While MTE is an example of a common ancestor for all living humans, most people are not clear that almost all the non-childless people living at the same time as MTE were also common ancestors for all living humans, as were almost all the people living before her and almost all the people living after her for almost 140,000 years. She is nothing particularly special in that sense. In fact, almost all the non-childless people from a few generators before the MRCA was born (probably 140,000 years after MTE) are also common ancestors of all living people. Grazier, in his book "The Science of Battlestar Galactica" admits that MTE and the MRCA were incorrectly confused, but goes on to make the completely incorrect statement that MTE is the only woman of her period to have descendants today. In fact, almost all the people of that time are ancestors of the entire human race today. That's a rather huge difference.
Moore wished Hera to special, but as I described, MTE is not. What makes her notable is that a quirk of inheritance means we can estimate when this particular common ancestor lived, because your line (and everybody else's) to her is only through women and never even once through men. (We can do the same for a common ancestor along strictly male lines -- he lived tens of thousands of years after MTE, but again, long before the MRCA.)
Why do these details of genetics matter so much? Because Moore warped the whole story to fit them. He had read (correctly) that it is estimated that MTE lived roughly around 150,000 years ago. And so he decided to set the whole show in that era.
Now, as I'll explain in more detail later, setting the show in the past was a terrible idea -- one of the main elements of the original show most in need of "re-imagining." However, if you are going to set the show in the past, 150,000 years ago is a poor choice. It's way too early. It is over 100,000 years before the real flowering of our culture sometimes referred to by anthropologists as "The Great Leap Forward" (GLF.) While the GLF is not a fully accepted theory, what is known is that there are scant records of humans having much that is advanced in any way at those times -- good weapons, agriculture, complex language, writing, domestic animals, civilization and many other things are not just absent but far in the future for those people. They either arose gradually, or in the GLF theory, in a relatively short burst around 50,000 years ago. They definitely didn't come in a big burst around the time of MTE, as might be the result of a sudden colonization by advanced alien cousins.
This requires that the colonists left no trace of what they were. This in turn demanded that the colonists destroy all their technology and quickly become a simple society. This is the element that many fans found least believable about the ending. There were, at best, just a few hints of this sort of political desire among the colonists. If this was to be the ending, there should have been more foreshadowing of it, with presentation of a powerful Luddism movement among the colonists. But even with such a movement, as Lampkin says, there should have been far more objection. All those of any advanced age or with any history of illness would have something to say about sending all the hospital facilities into the sun, if nobody else would.
However, to fit the timeline, this had to be done. Any space-faring society would have left remnants of itself on the Moon and in space. The complete destruction of the fleet made sense in terms of the way the story was warped, but did not make sense in terms of being a believable action of all the characters.
In fact, it generally requires that everything of colonial civilization got erased. In spite of what Apollo says about teaching the natives their language, none of that came through to today. Their culture disappeared completely. If they started farming, it vanished. If they used better hunting weapons like composite longbows or crossbows, they vanished. All their stories, all the lessons learned about the dangers of creating robot slaves -- completely gone. While both versions of the story suggested a connection between the Lords of Kobol and the Greek gods, there can be none. We've traced the history of the Greek gods back to prototype versions in Indian cultures that are different from the colonial ones. The Greeks didn't get their names and ideas from ancient Colonial legends that survived 140,000 years.
Had they set the arrival closer to the time of a later common ancestor, say 40,000 to 60,000 years ago, they could have avoided all that. Colonial culture and language could have made a contribution to ours. We could have had legends and technology they invented. The fleet could have been the secret reason for the Great Leap Forward. This is not a plot I am thrilled with but much better than what we got. . In fact, the only reason the MRCA is dated that long ago is because native Australians and Americans (who were isolated from the rest of the world around 10,000 years ago) are still the cousins of Afro/Eurasians, otherwise MRCA would have lived even more recently.
This complete cultural erasure, all to fit the date of MTE, kills the value of setting the show in the past. If the message, as seen at the end, is that we must examine the consequences of building and enslaving artificial life if we are to avoid an endless cycle of war, then the story finished with the destruction and falsification of that message. All that the colonists learned was lost. All they gave us was some DNA.
You can read this blog post for more details on Mitochondrial Eve.
Hera's Mitochondria, interbreeding, and Arks
Or did they do even that? Adama is correctly shocked to hear that the colonials can breed with the natives of our planet. In spite of the fact this has shown up in TV SF before, particularly in Star Trek, it is absurd. You are much, much more closely related to a mushroom than you are to anything alien. Baltar is quite correct when he states that this could only be a result of a miracle.
And it's an immense miracle. "Astronomical" barely describes it. Our DNA is the result of billions of genetic accidents that favoured one ancestor over a non-ancestor due to better adaption to the many different environments in which those ancestors lived. For two species to evolve compatible DNA on two different planets requires a huge amount of divine intervention, over the course of a billion years, with interventions every step of the way. This is no hands-off sort of miracle, the sort sometimes called "theistic evolution." It's a very detailed "intelligent design" of our form and genome. Not just our environments but all the accidents (for evolution is full of random accidents as well as happy ones) had to be the same on both planets.
Understand this is not the same as the concept of parallel evolution, where two different evolutionary lines deliver a creature with wings because wings are useful. Bats, birds, bugs and Pterodons may all have wings but they are genetically very different wings, and they can't interbreed at all. And they are much more closely related than aliens would ever be.
This is a particular failure because the creationist concept of intelligent design is one of the most pernicious types of anti-science out there. SF stories like to play around with things like paranormal abilities and other pseudoscience all the time, and it's fine when it's all in fun. Nobody thinks they should teach telepathy in school as an alternate theory because they show it in TV shows. But people do want to teach that we are the result of careful divine manipulation in school, and they need to be stopped, so seeing it present in what could have been a great SF TV show is somewhat disquieting. I am not keen on dictating education policy to TV shows, but this is one area that is important, if you believe in the value of good science education as I do.
Indeed, in general the idea that humans are the result of an Ark that landed in (relatively) recent history is both one of the most discredited ideas in the history of history, but also one of the most likely to resurface again and again because of the religious motives of those who push it. If a good SF show has any duty to get its science right, it wants to avoid the Ark theory in all its forms.
As I noted above, all of this was put in the show only to fit with the incorrect idea of who MTE was. But if you want to go deeper, it becomes clear that Hera didn't really contribute any special DNA. Because the Mitochondrial DNA (MTDNA) pass effectively unchanged from mother to children, all humans have essentially the same MTDNA. The only differences are a few mutations, about 20 of them (different in each line) since MTE.
But we don't just share our MTDNA with other humans and with MTE. We also share it with all the other life on Earth, just with more mutated differences. As such, while two human's MTDNA is almost perfectly identical, it is also nearly identical between a human and a chimpanzee. You may see the problem with the new BSG mythology -- in that story, while humans got their MTDNA from Hera who was a synthetic being from another world, our cousin apes got theirs only through their ancestors on this planet. Yet both MTDNAs are the same. So Hera's DNA, whatever it was, had to have been effectively identical -- at least in the mitochondria -- with the DNA on this planet, making her contribution insignificant.
There is a strong irony here. Had he declared Hera to be any other common ancestor except MTE, his story would be slightly more credible. Because ape MTDNA and human MTDNA are near identical, we can be sure that MTE's mother was native to this world. It's on the other DNA where you could try to play games, though they would still be ridiculously unlikely games. Turns out the line of women to and beyond MTE is the one set of people we can prove aren't alien, and that's who he picked.
Under a stricter scientific analysis, the whole reason behind the big plot twist -- Hera's contribution to our DNA as mother of us all -- becomes insignificant. If it doesn't, you have a world where it's been discovered that humans and apes do not share all their ancestors. This is a world where creationism is taught in schools because there, it's actually true. A world where the church is probably a lot more powerful. Some might like that better, but it's not our world.
Failure #2a -- Broken connection to our reality
Making mistakes like this is one of the big dangers of the "secret history" sub-genre of SF, which I will outline below. It is so difficult that Moore failed, and created instead an alternate history. His goal, he said, was to create a connection between the BSG characters and ourselves, and he tried to reach that goal by making Hera be our ancestor. Yet this is impossible. She can't be, even with the aid of an intervening god. So in the end there is no connection between them and us; they might as well have been in a galaxy far, far away.
I have a blog post on what the most meaningful connection to our reality is.
Is this too nitpicky?
Many viewers were not aware (just as Moore wasn't) of who MTE was. In fact, many viewers, even with Baltar's statement of the astronomical odds against it right in the show, were not aware of how odd it is to have the same race of people on two planets, able to interbreed. As such, they were not bothered by these issues upon viewing and were better able to enjoy the ending.
This happens to most of us frequently. You watch a show with a dramatic and action-filled ending, and get a good entertainment experience from it. Shortly after, however, you think it through again and see it is full of holes, not just technical mistakes but complete logical inconsistencies.
We still enjoy the ending while watching, but the long term legacy of the work suffers when these plot holes are present. Indeed it is the role of critics to define that long term legacy with more close analysis. While in some sense everything can be answered with a "god did it," it is precisely because this is true that using a god is a failure.
You are allowed mistakes of all sorts in the episodes. But you must get get things right in the premise of the show, and in the ending that gives it meaning, if you want to rise to the top.
Failure #3 -- Collective Unconscious
The show was full of elements from our culture. They dressed like us, their technology looked like ours. They used our idioms, and even quoted lines of Shakespeare from time to time. Their gods were the same as the Greeks had, their military rules were similar. On the surface, this might be treated as a translation for the audience. After all, often we see shows where the characters would obviously not be speaking English, but of course the actors do -- what we see is translated to be familiar with us.
However, many fans also thought that perhaps this was because there was a real connection between them and us. After all, they were hunting for a planet called Earth, and you can't do that in a story without connecting it to our planet. For many, the obvious connection was that this was in our future, as is the case in most SF. Moore even released tidbits to say that indeed, these parallels were not coincidences.
Much of this came to a head when Bob Dylan's "All along the Watchtower" entered the show. One might treat this as simply a 20th century song appearing in a TV show -- after all, all the music in a TV show is really written by modern real-world composers, this just happened to be one you had already heard licenced from a famous composer. But no: Moore told us that there was a real connection to the song we knew.
But in the end, that connection, and all the others were explained away by Moore as follows:
"Everything from our system of justice to our clothes to the phones on our walls to quite literally the music some of them hear can be seen all around us, so clearly their lives and their existence were not for naught. The show is making a direct connection between them and us and positing the idea that many of the things in our lives are somehow descended through the mists of time -- through the collective unconscious if you like -- down to us today. In addition, we are all blood relatives to both Colonial and Cylon-kind and therefore their existence is more than simply an ancient curiosity, it's family history." - RDM
Anders wrote "All along the Watchtower" originally on the 13th Colony Earth -- though guided by the divine so that the code for a jump to our Earth would be encoded in the notes. Then Bob Dylan wrote it again, plucking it out of the "collective unconscious."
This is, to put it bluntly, bullshit. This is not the Jungian broad concept of repeated ideas. This is a song, duplicated note for note, word for word. You can make up what you want in a story, of course, but to explain so many things with such a handwaving answer is an insult to the audience. This answer is deeply unsatisfying, and diminishes not only the legacy of the colonials but adds an unwanted determinism to our own culture.
The circular suggestion that we have a race memory thanks the the Cylon abilities we inherited is cute, but in the real world, there's no evidence of projection or digital memory. The fans of psychic powers have pushed this idea for a long time, with no actual experimental success.
Failure #4 -- The Future vs. a secret history
In the 1970s, Chariots of the Gods, which talked about ancient cultures having contact with ancient alien astronauts was a popular fad. The original 1978 BSG combined this thought with some others to tell a story of how humanity originated out in space, and came to Earth -- and how there were yet "brothers of man, who even now fight to survive" still out there.
This was a silly idea even then, but TV audiences were willing to buy it.
In reality we know that humanity evolved here on Earth, and that we are closely related with all the other life on Earth. No SF show trying to be realistic should show otherwise. To set a space opera in the past, it is necessary to either assume a secret "Atlantis" style culture that rose and fell without a trace, or to imagine advanced aliens who came to Earth and either abducted humans from it and/or gave them advanced technology which was also lost without a trace, at least on Earth.
This is a sub-genre of SF known as "secret history." The story is supposedly set in our reality, but there are big secrets from the past that we don't know which form the basis of the story. BSG attempted this. You will also find it in stories like "The X-Files," "Men in Black" and "2001: A Space Odyssey." In its most extreme form, such as the "Company" series by Kage Baker, the secret history is carried out by time travelers who work to make sure they never do anything that will change the history they know from books.
Secret history is fun, and has a long tradition. In fact, the "Adam and Eve as alien astronauts" story was very popular in the early days of SF. So popular that most SF editors would discard such stories as cliche on sight today.
Secret history is also difficult to pull off. One false move and you create a world which just can't be the antecedent of the real world. With such a wrong step, you move unintentionally into the genre of "alternate history." Alternate history is also very popular, and often tied closely to SF, even though in many ways it can be entirely different. It gets categorized with SF because it involves a similar sort of imaginary world-building that appeals to the same sort of fan. In addition, once the past is changed, it usually has to play by the rules.
All fiction is, in a sense, alternate history, if only for a few invented people, but real SF-style alternate history usually makes a big change in the nature of the world, and this is an important part of the story. Alternate history is popular enough that in 2008 an alternate history novel, The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon, won the Hugo award for best (SF/Fantasy) novel. It also won because it was far and away the best written, with wonderfully constructed characters and very impressive prose. (This may go against any stereotype you have that hardcore SF fans will always choose rockets and blasters and technology over good characters and prose.)
But secret history that fails into alternate history is of only limited interest. This is not a path to greatness.
As I described above, Moore warped the story to set it in the past, but many fans, including myself, were convinced that the story was set in the future. In fact, we were pretty sure the show had telegraphed that to us in no uncertain terms, but ended up being quite wrong.
A story set in the future would have been better not just because of my tastes, but it also would have met Moore's goals better. Moore wanted to generate a real connection between BSG and our real world. He felt, for reasons I don't quite understand, that a future setting didn't provide that. Since most SF, including most meaningful SF, is set in the future, I find this surprising. Future SF, if done with realism, says, "This could be our future." This is a story of what might actually be, something we might have real concern over, something we might learn from. When BSG, at its ending, has the angels lament about the path into the future our society is taking once again, that's the only moment of non-allegorical relevance to our lives. Set in the past, BSG tried to be a story of "this might have been" and became "this is fun, but never was."
Why were fans like myself so convinced it was in the future? It is not simply the tremendous and literally miraculous warping that was needed to set it in the past. The show told us so. The climax of the first season actually took place early in the 2nd season. This was the conclusion of their chase to and on Kobol, where they finally activated the Tomb of Athena. They were shown a 3-D projection of a planetarium of sorts, meant to be the sky of the mythical Earth they sought. On it was the real Zodiac of our Earth (though not exactly right as some will point out, and not right for 150,000 years ago either) and the ancient names of the 12 tribes of Kobol. Those names were our names for the Zodiac, and we were told the original flags of the 12 tribes were the star patterns of the 12 constellations of the sky over Earth.
This was no casual revelation which an overzealous fan might read too much into. This was the biggest "revelation" scene of the entire show to that point. If you were to try to piece out the mystery of Earth, this was clearly the scene to do it from.
And here, the 12 tribes of Kobol had, as their flags, the stars of a lost colony of which they knew very little. And they were our stars with our names. There was, and still is, only one interpretation for this -- the culture of Kobol and the colonies originated not on Kobol, but under the sky of our Earth. (At that time there was no intimation of an different, earlier Earth.) It would be like visiting all the nations of the British commonwealth and noting the Union Jack in the corner of all their flags, and not concluding that Britain was where their culture originated. Adama even refers to a nebula as "M8," which is not a translated name but rather an 18th century astronomical catalog number.
There could be only one clear interpretation. They came from our Earth, and they were in the future. But this was of course not how it turned out. How could this be? After the show ended, science advisor Kevin Grazier gave an interview in which he said, "oops." This was one of their biggest mistakes. He knew it, and tried to get it fixed, he says, but to no avail.
All shows will make mistakes. Some will even make mistakes in their big moments. But if a show that has a mystery at its core makes such a mistake and knows it, it is only proper in the internet age to fess up. Moore did this a few times. When he misjudged how fans would read the revelation of an 8th Cylon named Daniel, he immediately made public comment to shut down the speculation. He corrected other mistakes along the way. But he let this one, the biggest of all, stand.
To this day the scene in the tomb makes no sense. The 13th colony not-our-Earth we eventually saw was lost to Kobol, and they themselves didn't even know the way back, and could only travel below the speed of light. The flags and names of the tribes couldn't possibly have come from the sky of another planet, like the first Earth or our Earth. Other than through truly bizarre divine intervention again.
Remember, this was no minor comment made by an actor that got magnified by fans. This was the big climactic revelation scene, the one that practically had a blinking sign on it saying, "here are the big clues about Earth." And it put the show in the future. When you added all the modern cultural references which appeared in the show, including All along the Watchtower, and the fact that science all but demanded the show be in the future, I will contend that fans who felt it would be set there were right, and still are right, in spite of how it ended up being written. All those things were explained away as information in the "collective unconscious."
A show set in the future would have had the chance to tell the story of how the cycle of war began with us. How our own society created intelligent machines and fell, with a ragtag fleet fleeing the ruined planet to Kobol or Earth-2 or some other world along the way. It would have made their story be our story.
Remarkably, the show could have ended up that way -- set in the future -- until the very last 3 minutes. This is why the ending was such a huge fall. The show provided very few clues that it might be set in the past. In fact, I would venture there was only one thin clue -- Hera's type-O blood, not found anywhere else on the colonies. (This in turn is a less important scientific error, though Grazier claims it was the clue we should have noticed.)
Failure #5 -- It's the characters, stupid
Moore often defends the ending by saying that, while writing it, he put a mantra up on the wall: "It's the characters, stupid." He decided not to focus on the big story elements and concentrate on telling the characters' story.
This is a perfectly good, in fact superior way to tell a story. He gave himself good advice. The problem was, he had this change of heart after creating a mystery-driven story rather than a character driven story.
He didn't abandon the characters that viewers tuned into see, but for the last two seasons the show introduced a variety of big mysteries and amplified others. What was Earth? Who was pulling the strings behind the scenes? Who were the final five? What was the special destiny of Hera? Who were the beings in the heads of Baltar and others? There were many more mysteries.
These are the hallmark of a "big mystery" story. There have been many popular "big mystery" TV series. Shows like Lost, the X-Files, Babylon-5, Heroes and even non-genre shows like the "Who shot JR?" year of Dallas. You can, and should, have good characters in a big-mystery show, but there should be no illusions that the mystery does not take over a healthy part of what drives the show.
Character-driven shows usually take the simpler approach. They don't have big central mysteries. Oh, they have some suspense, and some secrets to reveal (usually secrets about characters) but in general they don't keep big secrets from the audience and make the audience focus on them. They don't start every episode with "One will be revealed" or "And they have a plan."
In fact, some of the best character dramas reveal the ending right at the start. You are not in suspense about how it will end, but instead about how we will get there. I've seen a number of great shows begin with a character's death. There was never any doubt during MASH that the Korean war would someday end. That didn't hurt the show, in fact it made it better.
So if you really want character driven drama, then reveal many of the secrets, and get on with telling us how the characters chart their course to the ending we already partly know.
BSG started like this in a way. Both versions of the show began with a quest for a planet "Earth" that they knew nothing about. We, the audience, knew much more about it than the characters ever could. We didn't know what year it would be until the end, but even with this knowledge we would have enjoyed watching the journey to a fate we knew more about than them.
In addition, as addressed earlier, the ending revealed that almost every tiny action the characters took (especially Starbuck) was to fulfill "God's plan" and was often the result of careful and clever intervention by the god. This deprives the characters of their free will and humanity. In a character-driven story it is the strengths and failures of the characters which generate and resolve the story, not the tweakings of an interventionist diety.
Failure #6 - not a great ending
Many others have written about other failures of the ending, failures that don't involve most of the concepts I've laid out above.
Common themes include not believing that they would really abandon all their technology and leave the Cylons with a ship. The loss of meaning that came with the complete destruction of their culture.
More than their culture is destroyed though. It's clear that their society must have fallen quite quickly. Hera, it is said, died a young woman. She is probably not the only one. Without technology, their lives might well have been nasty, brutish and short. While Hera went on to have descendants, it may be that all the other sub-colonies, stupidly scattered to other continents (all of which were vacant at that time, and which contain no traces of H. Sapiens 150,000 years ago) died out fairly quickly. The ending seems happy, but is actually a tragedy. Apollo says “we can give [the natives] the best part of ourselves” but this never happens. Indeed, even in their main colony in Tanzania, there is no evidence of any modernity. No art on the walls of caves. None of the flowering that comes from language and its ability to permit teaching and transfer of knowledge. No sign of farming, fishing or even slight advances in arrowheads and spears.
We can also speculate one reason they would die out. I don't think they would really get along, the Cylons and the humans. Leaving aside resentment over genocide, the Cylons are a race of supermen. They are super-strong, super-smart, can communicate digitally by touching and presumably don't age. Can you really build a society of equals with two populations like that, with the resentment of genocide behind it? We have had a pretty hard time on the real Earth where we just try to imagine that some of us are genetically superior to others.
This came after a tremendous amount of hype for the ending. Network executives issued a press release every few weeks about how mind-blowingly dark but good it was, how everybody wept who was involved in it. Sometimes high expectations like that are the worst thing to set, because one can't help but being disappointed. The ending was not dark, and none of the characters we cared about died except the ones we were expecting for a long time -- Sam and Laura.
Most fans were disappointed with both the fate of Starbuck and what we didn't learn about what she was and what she meant. It would have been nice to see her with Six and Baltar in New York (if we were to have that ending at all, of course) to show that she got a new, immortal angel existence.
Up until they landed on Earth and saw the early humans, the ending was quite exciting, though it left a great deal of loose ends. But all long stories leave loose ends so I'm not going to nitpick those. Though I must express disappointment at how meaningless the great and mysterious "truth of the opera house" was and at how the negotiated peace settlement (now that's an unorthodox TV ending) turned into just more battle and Cavil's permanent suicide after Tory's strangulation. Laura and Bill's fate was moving and Starbuck's ending is hard to objectively like or condemn -- it is an artistic choice.
Some fans liked the ending. But a fair number of fans not as concerned with realism, and not as bothered by the religious deus ex machina still found the ending a let-down. But I will leave it to other critics to outline those problems.
Here are some other critical reviews of the ending:
- Robert Bland at Tor.com expresses the problems with divine intervention better than I do, I recommend this one highly.
- Not in Our Stars from Galactica Sitrep
- Television without Pity is of course always critical.
- A SuicideGirls critic was not very kind
- The Vancouver Sun agrees about how the ending was a big fall to a great show.
- Annalee at I09 is troubled, but still feels the characters made their own destinies.
- This forum comment about the futility of the ending (See Post #18) is unusual in that Moore answers it.
This is not to say that there were not many positive reviews, in fact I believe overall fan feeling in polls was more positive than negative, at least at the time of airing. However, a panel at the World SF Convention in August was surprisingly vitriolic.
How it could have been great
I've noted that one of the great disappointments of the ending was how close it came to greatness. How might we change it to make it great? Remarkably the editing needed would be quite minor. This is a testament to Moore's ability to do a pretty good job of "making it up as he goes along." More has admitted he frequently did stuff he felt was cool with no idea what it would mean, and made up the meaning later -- sometimes well and sometimes badly. But he does clearly have a talent for doing this, even if he could not pull off the finish.
Note, I describe thoughts here not to suggest this is the only ending that would have been satisfactory, but rather to show how simple changes that work are possible. One can be a critic without claiming to be a better writer than the professionals, and I make no such claim here. I would have enjoyed seeing superb writers run with concepts such as these.
In the future
The show could have been set in the future with just a few minor tweaks. In fact, until the caption "150,000 years later" appeared over New York's Central Park, you could not be sure it wasn't. The primitive humans that the colonials found actually make a lot more sense as remnants of humanity on a ruined and returned-to-nature Earth many thousands of years in the future. It makes sense why colonials could breed with such cousins, and already have dogs and cats in such a situation.
A cute ending might well have borrowed from one of the better endings in all of SF moviedom, Pierre Boulle and Rod Serling's ending to "The Planet of the Apes." That ending was particularly clever because it greatly surprised audiences, even though with a little thought, they would quickly realize it should not surprise them. All great twist endings have you saying, "of course!" when they are done.
In Planet of the Apes, Taylor (Heston) arrives on a planet that has apes and humans on it, and the apes speak English. When you think rationally about this, it is immediately clear this can only be in the future, as they don't have our life on other planets, and certainly don't speak English. Yet we are so used to aliens speaking English and looking just like humans in the movies and on TV that we just accept that without thinking. When it is revealed that this is a ruined Earth, we are shocked, but soon realize it could never have been anything else -- a masterful twist ending.
BSG had the opportunity to do this because many fans, thanks to the plot of the 1978 version, were expecting it to be in the past -- even though there actually were almost no clues pointing to that. I think it would have been a fun ending (and a nice homage) to have panned over a buried Statue of Liberty. Then, if desired, the view could have gone back thousands of years to meet "Six" (or rather her DNA source) in modern New York, playing her as a programmer about to embark on building AI, in fact building the super-AI that would become the god of the show. (OK, so Lady Liberty might be a bit corny to those who didn't get the homage concept. Giza would do just as well.)
This one small difference to the last few minutes would have made the show realistic and given it a connection to our time. It would not truly have been necessary to show what happened to us, we would know that somehow we colonized space and ruined our own planet, almost surely in a war with machines. We would have seen and discussed the lessons of the show for years. Instead, most of the more serious fans demoted the show from great to average.
That's important. The great SF books and dramas of our time colour a lot of the public debate about science and issues. Nobody has to explain virtual reality any more after The Matrix. The risks of technology-invaded privacy are clear to everybody after reading 1984. HAL in 2001 and Data in Star Trek, among others, made the public much more cognizant of A.I. issues. And BSG added a lot to the debate about the nature of what it means to be conscious and human by presenting AIs as sexy, emotional beings with more feelings than the humans.
This is damaged, sadly, when a story breaks with reality and falls down. Now BSG will be remembered as being as much a story about characters and robots playing out the confusing plan of an invented god than a story about what "mind" really means.
I would not have had a god at all, but if I were to have one, I would have made it a non-supernatural god. Many SF stories of the last few decades have played around with the idea of creating artificial beings so smart they are as gods to us. So smart that they can look at our brains the way we look at a the brains of a calculator -- able to design it, change it, predict what it will do. These stories are interesting, and constitute some of the most important SF being written today. BSG would have had another shot at greatness had it followed this path well, since now TV show has yet to address these topics at anywhere near the depth found in the written literature.
In the past
It is still just barely possible to have set a great ending in the past. The best way to do this would have been to introduce the god of Galactica as an alien. These aliens would have abducted humans from our Earth 5,000 to 10,000 years prior to the story, and seeded them on Kobol. There, they would have lived with the gods (aliens) and grown their society. They would have created a race of artificial beings who colonized the 13th colony and called it Earth, and through their own struggle, and possibly the limited intervention of the alien godlike being, would have found their way back to their home.
All you need for this situation is a remarkably tiny change. When Adama asks how it is possible that they can breed with the natives, Baltar can simply answer, "It isn't. Our ancestors on Kobol must have originally been taken somehow from this planet thousands of years ago." He could even add, "Perhaps a divine hand had a role in it" if you want to retain his religious mood.
Could this be what Moore intended?
There is the slightest hint that Moore was considering this. He has the demon-Baltar declare at the end, "You know it doesn't like that name" when Angel-Six refers to "God's plan" as she has so often in the course of the show. This leaves a trace hint that the god isn't supernatural. Moore says in his podcast that he liked leaving that ambiguity in. However, he never answers it. And had he wanted to do it this way, had he wanted to lay it out as a story of alien or divine abduction, he could have easily done so, at great benefit and no harm to his story. It's hard to imagine him liking the interpretation that realism-oriented fans have of the "god did it" ending that was delivered.
If this was the intended backstory, it should have been given to us, either in the show, or in post-show commentary. It was not, so I can only assume it is just something we could have wished for.
Note that this ending, while superior in not requiring the intelligent design and massive divine intervention, still suffers from a lot of the lack of connection that any story in the past does. However, it allows the colonists to breed with the natives who stayed behind, and it allows Hera to be one of our many universal ancestors without throwing science out the window.
The writers' strike ending
As some viewers know, the episode "Revelations" which ended the first half of season four with the crew discovering a ruined Earth was an emergency backup finale for the show. At the time, the writers' guild was on strike and there was no end in sight. Had it gone on longer, they would have had to shut down the show, close leases on the studio lots and tear down the sets. They might not have been able to finish the show. So they tweaked Revelations as a possible final ending.
Now it's not a great final ending because, as you might expect, it is both a little rushed, and it leaves a huge number of plot threads unresolved. Viewers would probably have excused this due to the circumstances. In many other ways though, it's a better ending.
There would have been no confusing question of having two Earths. This would obviously have been our Earth, in the future, after ruinous wars. The show would end with the lesson that the cycle had been going on for some time, and had begin on our planet. It would be bleak for the characters, for they would have nowhere to turn, and face little but fleeing from Cavil again. Indeed, when the show returned, a few episodes covered exactly those matters.
The worst ending ever?
As I wrote at the start, I deem this the worst (most disappointing) ending based on how far the show fell in the last hour. There have certainly been endings with worse science, worse deus ex machina, worse characterization, worse mumbo jumbo and many other things.
I savage BSG's ending because it began so well. Moore's talent in making things up as he went along, hoping to find cool ways to resolve them, is actually a great one. He's better at it than just about anybody else out there writing SF TV.
But this does not excuse the ending. It suffers, not just under my standards but under Ron Moore's. He promised a show that was was true to real science, character driven and not overwhelmed by SF clichés like time travel, technobabble, aliens and godlike powers. He promised a show connected to our world. Instead he delivered a show whose ending pivoted on bad (and even dangerous) science, with all events due to something that's either a god or godlike alien, all precisely following prophecies made ages ago, reducing the characters to puppets. And in the end, it had no connection to our world.
This would be no more than "yet another SF TV show that made mistakes" if the show hadn't started so well, and gotten many, including myself to declare it was on track to be the best SF show on the air, possibly of all time. Aside from disappointing fans, the show abandoned its chance to be more than a TV show. It could have been, like a few special great works of SF from the past, something that affected the world's perceptions and dialog about key technological issues like A.I., robotics and the technology of war. When discussing the question of conflict between man and machine, all we can say now about BSG
Is it fair to demand all this accuracy, realism, meaning and relevance from a TV show? So what if Moore didn't deliver what he hoped to deliver. Can't it just be drama? Can't it just be entertainment?
It can be. But if it is just that, it won't be the greatest SF show ever, and that's a pity.
Tue, 2009-07-21 12:16
Nothing about the S3 fakeout?
I'm surprised it wasn't mentioned. It's the thing that annoys me the most about the ending. Starbuck said that she had been to Earth and would take the fleet there and then the camera showing us this Earth. It damn near explicitly says that this is the Earth that she had been to and then it turns out that it isn't this Earth?
It was a cheap move.
Tue, 2009-07-21 15:24
BSG was carrying me to
BSG was carrying me to around that point. What really ticked me off was the Final Cylon cock tease. The story had stumbled a bit by then and the mystery of the opera house was still unresolved. When BSG returned and turned into the mother of all cock teases as it ploughed, no, divebombed into the ground it got the feel of a bad late night TV movie that you'd mistakenly invested in and hoped would come right at the end.
The opera house, Earth, and Tomb of Athena were all on-screen narrative signposts that said something. They had a form and invited curiousity, and following that track would lead to an expected yet still surprising conclusion. I'm generally convinced that Ron was milking that along with the best show on television crap and puffing his cigarettes because it gave him a buzz. But the only thing he was listening to at that point was the voice in his own head and the warm air blowing from the critics. Expectations were crystalling and he fumbled the go no-go point. That's entirely his fault so the excuses about character and it being the show he wanted to produce are a text book study in EPIC FAIL.
Brad's done a good job of sifting through some of the facts. It's a big job and I wouldn't like to do it. That effort's paid off for him on one level because I've enjoyed reading his theories and a lot of the comment in here much, much more than vewing BSG in series 3-4. I've read all the BSG comic books and they seemed to just go through the motions and never properly answered anything that the on-screen mess left behind. The Final Five comic book isn't even worth bothering with beyond idle curiousity as it's no better or worse than random fanwank.
As for the much hyped 'Plan' movie coming down the pipe I have difficulty seeing it as anything more than a semi-detached and almost petulant finger from the producers. This is just a personal perspective but I'll suggest that anyone with any sense will have had nothing to do with that project and would have spent their time looking for ways to erase BSG from their resume. People have a nasty habit of remembering clangers and party boors, and after the dazzling introduction and whirling around the room little more than that in the final analysis.
Fri, 2009-07-24 11:08
That was a fakeout
I wonder if they had not really planned the fake Earth at that point?
However, to be fair to them, all the zoom out/in showed us was, "yes the real Earth is out there" and it largely promises that the show is going there. This was why most people felt we would get the real Earth at some point, after the fake Earth.
For real technical nitpicking, the Earth in Crossroads was the modern day Earth, not one of 150K years in the past. It contained the man-directed modern Mississippi delta. 150kya I think the delta was actually an indentation. And the Sahara was a sea.
Wed, 2009-07-22 17:49
I did see that kind of ending coming from mid season 2
With all the references to ancient mythology, the different religious systems somewhere in the middle of season 2 I was expecting this ending ever since.
I only shortly doubted my assumption, when they found Cylon-Earth, but in the end I got confirmed.
I don't think the ending is a bad one. Frak, it's fiction and rather good one. The whole series was built around the premise shown us in the end. End it in another way and you miss the whole point of BG.
Just my 2 Cents
Wed, 2009-07-22 20:39
Absense not nonsense
Zen is the absense of clinging, or letting go of possessions, preconceptions, and so on. However, one doesn't have to be stupid about things as that paradoxically misses the point. You don't need to go here, or rush there, or do this, or not do that. BSG's ending tapped into, arguably, the worst aspects of the pseudo return to grassroots and nehilistic culture that's become fashionable in some parts. Or it could be a stroke of genius that will remain unappreciated for an eon. Who knows? It's difficult to say.
I personally think it was a cop out - a handwave that RDM grasped to get himself off the hook. It was a feel good for no effort ending that the too deeply committed could buy into with all the consumability and fuzzy wuzzy feelings that go with that. It doesn't matter that the story came off the rails. It doesn't matter that the audience was manipulated for mere marketing reasons. The Pied Piper handed out a one-click install for the backwards rationalising meme and some people couldn't resist clicking it.
Next time RDM could save everyone the bother and just ask us to mail cheques to him but that would be too obvious and not so many people would fall for it.
Wed, 2009-07-22 21:19
Agree/2 further points
This is an excellent essay. As a BSG fan, it gives me no pleasure to say I agree with your conclusion. I would further add:
- The show's flaws did not suddenly manifest in the finale. There were signs along the way. These signs became more obvious around mid-Season 3. Particularly with Crossroads Pt. 2, I think the die was cast. At that point, we had left realism in favor of a contrived, mystery-based plot. No matter how it wrapped up, there was little chance of returning to the riveting realism of Season 1.
- It also should be said that throughout the entire life of the show, the writers would go to great lengths to set up major premises and then never follow through. Examples would be the breeding farms of Caprica, the Plan (nonexistent until retconned in 2009), and the Cylon withdrawal from the colonies - a singularly important political event that the writers took 2 episodes to develop, never to be mentioned again. The finale was just a continuation of this trend. What did it matter that Gaeta's coup failed, or that Apollo was having doubts about whether he would be a good leader or a smart leader, or that Baltar's cult acquired weapons? None of these things turned out to have any relevance since they all wind up abandoning their society and embracing a 25-year lifespan.
- Of all the problems with the finale, the greatest is the breezy and relaxed abandonment of all ships and technology. You have dealt with this, but I would add that there were many other societal elements who would have every reason to vociferously object to this proposal. They would include everyone who had a stake in the existing society, including: the ship captains (recently elevated to quasi-governors), the pilots, the scientists, the knuckle-draggers whose value comes from maintaining the ships and machines, and, oh yeah, the hundreds of people who had been wounded in the battle that had just taken place. In a further sign of how far the show had fallen from the pilot, there is no mourning -- nor even a decent mention -- of the wounded and the dead. Instead, these folks presumably all happily agree that a working sickbay should be ditched in the sun. And all of this on the basis of a 2-minute speech by a 30-year old former pilot who is best known as a beneficiary of nepotism and as the make-believe lawyer of a hated traitor. This is less a writing error than an insult to an intelligent audience.
- I disagree that the finale could have been fixed with minor editing. You might have been able to move it into the future. But it still would have been horribly muddled, with the complicated and wholly unnecessary backstory of Earth I and the Final Five (a story so convoluted that they had to dedicate an entire episode just to explain it). Frankly, I thought the show would end by playing the Adama-as-Moses theme - leading the people to the promised land but not entering himself, i.e., sacrificing the Galactica and himself. Instead, he plants a garden.
Fri, 2009-07-24 11:02
Things you can't fix
I agree there are many things you can't fix. I didn't want to spend a lot of time on the sort of things you describe because they have been covered elsewhere and in many cases are matters of taste.
The truth is, any drama today on this scale will leave a pile of loose ends. Once you have shown the climactic event, especially a battle, you don't have time to resolve the other subplots properly. The right answer is to not have so many subplots, or to resolve them before the main plot, but in episodic TV this seems almost impossible to do. Some however, have no excuse. Baltar's army with the guns was introduced just a few episodes earlier to mean nothing.
Fri, 2009-07-24 12:46
What bugs me is you get a similar mindset with Microsoft. Each new OS is the latest and greatest that fixes all the problems, and the old OS gets shuffled off the map and updates always leave a ragged end. It's a stretch but I'd compare your "worst ending in TV sci-fi" essay to Paul Thurrott's "where's XP Service Pack 3" essay. They both hit the target and leave the producers with more questions than answers.
I was an early adopter of Windows 2000 and feel burned the way that was handled. Since then my interest in Windows versions has dragged out longer and longer. I only switched to XP over a driver and forced obsolecence issue, tried Vista for a month before ditching it, and Windows 7 is too slow, fat, and expensive to be worth the hassle. I'm not sure what it says about TV sci-fi but if the trend continues we're heading for a another Vista.
Fri, 2009-07-24 11:05
What will never be
SF set in the future can be "what will never be" but the more realistic it is, the closer it is to "what might be." It is not binary, not so long as the scientific errors aren't what the core of the plot hinges on.
BSG could have been a story about conflict between man and our future artificial life creations. Even though FTL probably never will be, the issues examined don't depend on FTL. It's harder to make that application in the past, especially if the ending tells us the message is, "we already did this, and the artificial DNA is in us now."
Sat, 2009-07-25 20:23
What was the point?
While I agree on everything you said Brad, my biggest criticism of BSG, despite the heavy handed use of an actual meddling god, was what is the ultimate point of the story.
When you create a story focused around characters and have your audience come to care about them and what happens to them, you lock yourself into the happily ever after scenario.
This doesn't preclude the loss of some of them, because loss and sacrifice is the human condition and expected, yet the ending needs to strongly reflect the journey and pay homage to the struggles that ultimately bring our characters to their just rewards.
And this is where BSG ending falls apart, it assumes culture and humanity are two completely separate ideas, and one can be separated from the other especially in the face of common self interest.
We are are who we are because of the culture we are brought up in and our experiences, you can't just excise one for the sake of the other, it just doesn't work that way and never has.
The premise of BSG is fairly straightforward; Twelve human colonies on twelve different planets with twelve distinct cultures get attacked by their own creations which seeks to exterminate their creators.
The survivors of these planets, flee the pogrom on ships seeking the mythical thirteenth planet where they hope to seek sanctuary and/or protection from their relentless enemy.
And when they reach their final destination, after many hard won victory's and defeats, what do these survivors do?
They commit cultural and technological suicide!
If the shoe was on the other foot, would we burn the Mona Lisa, pull down the Sistine Chapel, throw away all the discovery's that men and women over countless century's often died for so we would know just a little bit more about the world around us, would we deliberately forget the works of Shakespeare or Beethoven?
Would we do the Cylons work for them?
I think not, it's the antithesis of everything we are and hope to become, you can't reset history and hope for a better outcome, because while humanity is prone to make the same mistakes, history at least gives us the chance to avoid the worst consequences of our mistakes.
Apollo's solution to end the cycle isn't an end at all, but a perpetuation of it.
So I say again, what was the point? What reward did our beloved heroes get at journeys end?
From our point of view, only DNA from Mitochondrial Eve, who lived a short life despite her superior Cylon genetics.
For the rest of the colonials one can only wonder to their, no doubt, brutal end.
They left us nothing of their culture or even the tale of their journey, they turned to dust and took their story with them, we learned nothing.
There is no worse ending in any type of story, than a hopeless end that ultimately achieves nothing and resolves nothing.
They might as well have stayed on their ships and flown into the sun with them.
Mon, 2009-07-27 13:44
I would have been fine with a meaningful sacrifice
I didn't need a happy ending. There were many variations of a dark ending that would have worked. Brad discusses some.
One that comes to mind is a scenario in which the survivors determine that, because it is technologically primitive, Earth will be of no help to the fleet and indeed, the fleet's arrival would threaten to bring the Cylons to this backward and unique outpost of human life. So our heroes, after a realistic debate, opt to abandon their destination and continue wandering the stars. Or, take the same scenario, but with the fleet running out of food and fuel and the Cylons in close pursuit, the survivors opt to go out in a final suicidal mission to take down the enemy, leaving the primitive Earth as the "last man standing". These endings would have been dark and sad. They would have depicted significant sacrifice by the Colonials for the benefit of all of us Terrans. But it would have worked because it would have been a sacrifice with meaning and purpose.
Deliberately chucking your working ships, along with the vestiges of your culture, into the sun on the basis of a 2-minute speech by Lee Adama is not meaningful. It is really hard to believe that all of the people who need to sign off on a BSG script went along with that nonsense.
Mon, 2009-07-27 15:46
RDM can be a bit of a bully and the writers were getting paid for turning up. Easy math. RDM said early on that the character he'd most like to be is Adama. Later, he said the character he was most like was Baltar. I figured as much. How much that Baltar's cult thing was a good idea, or RDM just masturbating his subconsious is a matter of perspective. Good job he was only running a TV show and not a holiday camp in Guyana, eh?
Tue, 2009-07-28 02:10
I like this one
I have to say I like this ending more than most I have seen suggested. As I might imagine it:
Wed, 2009-07-29 22:23
Brian here. I posted the above accidentally as "anonymous."
Anyway, I think that an ending like this really could have had resonance because the sacrifice it portrayed would be addressed to, and would have resolved, the central conflict (Cylon v. human) driving this epic tale since the miniseries.
It also would have been a noble sacrifice; they would have died so that we (and thus the human race) could live. And they would have done so without any gratitude or recognition from the ones they had saved. In fact we would never even had known about the sacrifice but for the fact that we, the viewers, had just watched the show. In the end, these flawed people would have redeemed themselves and shown, by dying, that they were worthy of having lived.
In order to have an ending like this, you wouldn't need divine intervention, the Final Five, Bob Dylan, or any other implausible nonsense that gummed up the show in the last 1 1/2 seasons.
Contrast this (or any one of dozens of possible "dark" endings) with the mess RDM served up. "Let's have a clean slate!" and off into the woods.
Mon, 2009-08-17 19:04
...and it will happen again.
'...with the fleet running out of food and fuel and the Cylons in close pursuit, the survivors opt to go out in a final suicidal mission to take down the enemy, leaving the primitive Earth as the "last man standing".'
Try not to forget two things here: the first) The Line -- the majority of the Fleet, even of BSG's crew, opted not to go on the suicide run to the Colony to rescue a little girl. Which would you choose? After 4 years of running, finding a possible home, having it turned into a hell, and then more running, and, oh yeah, finding the REAL home and, oh, it's been nuked already...would you stand on the less-populated side of that line?
Now do the same *after* the colony assault, after the bad Cylons (because now we have 'good' ones...right?) have basically made it to the CIC and all hell's broken loose, and suddenly the Galactica jumps (were you not in the CIC, you'd have no idea why or how) and, hey look, ANOTHER Earth.
Which brings me to the second thing I'd like you to remember: New Caprica. Why did the Cylons find that place? Because of the nuke detonated by the Six a year previous. If not that, then maybe some other technological blip. Remove those, say, by throwing them into the sun, and you're just a meatsack living out your remaining years on a planet of absolutely no interest to your mortal enemies.
So let's say the bad Cylons do find this new Earth (following them from the Colony, perhaps), and the call is made to do *another* suicide attack. I'll stay in-universe at first, and ask you: who would opt to go on that run, and who would say 'why can't I just stay on this new Earth and let the warriors do the work?' The Colonial Fleet, for the most part, chose not to fight the first time; I feel they'd choose the same the next time. Especially given how close to collapse the Galactica was after the Colony assault ('her back is broken'). So here's how I'd take it: They've found a new planet, just like New Caprica. What messed them up with New Caprica? Two things: they rushed from military/martial life to civilian, complete with a corrupt-as-all-frak president; more importantly, they were sending out all sorts of signals for the Cylons to pick up. If the whole goal is to start over minus the bad Cylons, then you really have to start over. Someone earlier made the argument about being lost in the woods with your car, and would you dump that car or live in it?...Tell you what: if I'd been living in that car for years, you can bet your sweet butt I'd abandon it and try something new.
Even had the writers considered this sort of ending, or any involving further Cylon pursuit, it would have been omitted for the same reason Jackson left out the Scourging of the Shire: it doesn't make for very strong storytelling. The assault on the Colony (or the destruction of the one ring) was so clearly the climax, any action after that would have diminished it. For all its advances, BSG did end on a very standard story arc: Daybreak part 1 reminded us where we were and why (setup), part 2 was the big bad end fight (climax), part 3 the resolution of loose ends (denouement) -- regardless of how well or poorly it did so.
I don't necessarily agree with the division. I'd have preferred a shorter denouement, and more setup -- what? Yeps: Kara, for example, could have been explained better in the Daybreak setup, leaving her free to 'disappear' in the denouement, which is technically something all characters do in that phase of a story. Explaining Kara in the conclusion would have been entirely too tacked-on, so I'd rather no explanation than a bad or ad hoc one.
Finally, if the remnants of the Galactica were to go on some sort of suicide run, leaving the primitive inhabitants to be the 'last men standing', then there's no faithful adherence to the idea of '...and will happen again'. In fact, the colonials might not have even named it 'Earth'. Without their influence on our Earth, subtle as it may have been, 'all this will happen again' becomes just one more coincidence in an already full bucket of unlikelihoods.
So there simply had to be some trace of them to us -- and yeah, it was pretty airy-fairy. But in the moment, after such a long journey fraught with any matter of trial and tribulation, I was just glad it was a fairly happy ending that had some vague relevance to the gameplan from the start: escape the cylons, find earth, settle and survive. That last one demanded something like the Mitochondrial Eve angle, and I'm perfectly content to believe the rest of the Fleet 'retired' and died after living out their days on this virgin Earth. The farewells probably deserved more time (people have already complained about how this character didn't say farewell to that), but you got a fairly complete picture of the characters' fates.
Oh, and I'm also fairly sure some of the Fleet smuggled some of their tech onto the new Earth -- of course. But 150,000 years? Awfully long time for anything to endure. Which raises the argument of the Greek gods' names, etc. Selective cultural retention notwithstanding, I'm going to relegate that to the same unsatisfying (for some) explanation as Watchtower and neck ties: some things we're just destined to think up (or are Told). Explain it how you will (or won't) -- I enjoyed the revelations of The Music, the Final Five and the significance of the Galactica as the 'Opera House' (so very post-modern) far too much to pluck cards from the base.
On the other hand, this suicide run proposed ending is still better than the one RDM himself abandoned, in which Saul and Ellen basically went to war with each other...
Sat, 2009-07-25 21:28
Maybe RdM had a great idea for an ending, one that he came up with since the begining...But it leaked and he decided to change it. I encountered a page,not available now in wich the BSG universe was explained as being our future. The twelve tribes were 12 giant ships, exiled from earth, fans of greco-roman culture. They settled on kobol. In kobol, after a while, the first cylon was born. A man, later called The Count, invented a way to download a human conciousness in to a brain in an artificially grown body, The key to inmortality. The first five to undergo the procedure became the lords of kobol, living gods who chose to not reveal the true origin of their powers. Tensions with The Count became the cause for a war that destructed kobol. A group went back to earth; the Count was exiled. Then the lords took the remaining survivers to the 12 colonies to, sort of, start again...While the Count gathered his strengths and found ways to "transmit" the knowledge of artificial life to the people in the colonies....And so it goes. Most of the things that hapened up to the third season could be explained with the backstory I read and have been trying to find on the internet again. Then when they found that Earth was nuked and its population was cylon, I thought something was wrong.
Sun, 2009-07-26 22:48
The way I see it is I don't have to agree or watch another RDM production ever again. RDM can wave intentions around all he likes but if I think it's bullshit and hit the off button there's nothing he can do. What's he going to do, say people who disagree are wrong or whore himself around the sci-fi media? So, the man has an ego. Yeah well, this is not meaningful or news in itself. I can delve into any online forum and see that for nothing and with less hassle.
Sun, 2009-07-26 22:39
you made a boo-boo...
The first series is clearly set in the future, not the past. Remember the episode with the audio of the moon landing?
Mon, 2009-07-27 10:31
The first series was set in the very recent past (the moon landing was in the past, and when they got to Earth it was 20 years later and it was 1980) but I refer to the story of Earth. It had events (the colonization of Earth) in the past, as did this show as it turned out.
Fri, 2009-08-07 12:14
Thanks for a wonderful essay
I greatly appreciate all the effort and thought you put into this essay. It more than sums up a lot of the problems I had with the ending of BSG. On the whole, I loved the show and still see it as one of the great achievements of television. I can dismiss the ending, because I didn't really care that much about the mysteries. What I enjoyed was the drama of each episode. The mysteries were the mcguffins. Nevertheless, a really great ending would have, as you say, elevated this series into something truly special. Oh, well.
Sat, 2009-08-08 09:57
Fantastic essay. However, I
Fantastic essay. However, I only wish I could agree that the high standards of the show that Moore set early on hadn't faltered earlier in the series, because for me they clearly did. By about Season 3, the story of the colonies became reduced to the Starbuck - Apollo - Anders love triangle (or square, if you include Dualla) and the Adama - Laura romance. The Baltar transformation into a religious cult leader was painful to watch, as was almost any storyline involving Cally. The rebelliousness followed by reconciliation stories of Lee towards his father became repetitive and tiresome. And yet I watched every episode, because I became intrigued by the mystery that slowly but surely kept the story moving along. And what was the payoff? Very little, as this essay so eloquently argues. I know a lot of people are disappointed with the ending. All I can say is, I hope it's for the reasons that Brad has put forth above. I hope they are not merely disappointed because the Colonials couldn't find a cure to Laura's cancer or because Starbuck and Lee never lived happily ever after, because as far as I'm concerned by the end of the series it was those types of soap opera storylines that eventually took over and defined the series.
Mon, 2009-08-10 20:27
I'm glad I never took the
I'm glad I never took the show for anything more than a tv show... Show ended like 5 months ago man... Get over it.
Fact of the matter, BRAD, is that many people LIKED the ending, many people GOT the ending, so post that the ending was the worst ever as if it's some kind of fact and not just another opinion, is arrogant.
Tue, 2009-08-11 00:15
Sacrifice, Letting Go, and The END
Guys and gals,
This is very basic.
Lots of people are bitching that they would have preferred that all the colonists go on a suicide mission, wipe themselves out, and stay true to... something... Earth, or themselves, or some such 'higher calling.'
Same people can't believe that the colonists decided to set the fleet adrift into the sun and limited themselves to a primitive 25 year long life span.
Think about that. And ask yourself why an easy, ego-centric, screw you SUICIDE is a bigger sacrifice than truly surrendering to something greater.
THAT is the main point of contention. And it always surprises me. It's a particularly American brand of the cult of self-destruction. It's a "I'd rather blow myself up than admit that I was wrong and limited in my world view" mentality. Simple test - I'm willing to bet the majority of people who hated the end of BSG loved the first Matrix movie but hated the conclusion.
What part of "surrender your insignificant self-concept and petty squabbles to a greater, unknowable truth" don't you understand?
THE ENTIRE SHOW was about this. Baltar exemplified this journey of realization, and he taught the colonists this lesson. If this wasn't enough, countless MIRACLES drove the colonists forward towards an increasingly more clear (and fated) goal. And as a kicker, there's an actual ANGEL (or higher intelligence) incarnated as Kara speeding you on your way.
If upon finding earth... knowing that you got there on a prophesy...only made possibly by YOUR ENEMY... and closed by If scientifically proven transcendent forces ... you still have any doubts about giving in to something greater than yourself, letting go, and starting over...only then do you qualify as clinically insane.
If you hate this, you hate ethics, the entirety of human religious and artistic endeavor, and the spirit of wonder, mystery, and self-sacrifice that drives science.
Fri, 2009-08-14 11:37
I'm a Zen Buddhist and hate the ending of BSG and the turkeys that followed The Matrix. Both BSG and The Matrix ended up suffering because of their producers vanity. Brad and the rest of us are calling that.
Wed, 2009-08-12 21:45
Reading this page gave me
Reading this page gave me butt gas. Jesus h christ, it's a damn TV SHOW, morons. Enjoy it or change the channel, it's that simple. I watched it for all four seasons and loved every minute including the ending, despite that they might have gotten a scientific fact or two wrong. You people have too much time on your hands and you need to pull your head out of your ass and get a life. That is all.
Wed, 2009-08-26 03:55
We're happy for you.
We're happy for you that you enjoyed all of it. You're entitled to your opinion in the same way some of us thought the show went from one of the best on television to one of the very worst.
What is in less dispute is that they got a lot of science wrong. Especially if that the show was set in 148,000 BC, the night sky of Earth in about 150,000 BC+ has almost the same constellations we have now. Furthermore, it turned out that sky wasn't even our Earth. This is so wrong in so many ways.
And that's just the tip of a very big iceberg.
Sat, 2009-08-15 05:45
BSG finale morphs program into Little Cave On The Prairie
For those who think that THAT ending was just fine and dandy, consider this - if it is all God's Divine Plan then it included the deaths of 50billion back on the 12 colonies, the exodus, the dying and the pain and anguish, and eventual dissolution of the remnants of Colonial civilisation, its dispersal as the survivors go off into the wild to die of starvation, malnutrition, disease, and attack by wild predators. No future for them and their children, who will also share this grotesque fate. So, if this is all part of the Divine Plan then what you're saying is that God is just fine with all that pointless struggle and the agony of its participants. Kinda implies that in the Galactica universe God exists - and he's a malign thug.
Fri, 2009-08-21 10:08
Thank you for commenting on our site, Mr. Templeton!
As you know, I posted a link on the Republibot website to your article here. I thought this was the kind of thing my own readers should check out, particularly the more delirious "BSG Can Do No Wrong RDM Rulz!" types. I had a bunch of things to say, but it didn't seem appropriate to comment over here, so, of course, I did it on my own site. I wanted to thank you for somehow noticing my article, and for posting such a long, thoughtful reply to my own thoughts on your essay. I especially appreciate your clearing up a few points that I'd misread or misunderstood the first time out. I replied at length to your reply, but, again, I don't wanna' take up a lot of space on your site with my yammering.
Suffice to say, I think we're more or less in agreement even if we disagree on a few points that are somewhat tangental to the central issue of how the show completely betrayed itself in the end, and insulted the audience as well. In fact, I think if anything, you went quite a bit easier on the show than I would have. I honestly can't watch it anymore. The conclusion was so amazingly betrayingly stupid that it completely destroyed the entire series for me. The fact that six years of dedication to the show has been replaced by an embarased groan when people bring it up is not something I'll forgive RDM for any time soon.
Anyway, thanks for visiting our site, thank you very much for taking the time to register and comment and clear a few things up for me, and I do hope you'll stop back by and check us out again from time to time. You're always welcome.
Sun, 2009-08-23 17:19
worst ending ever
Definetely one of the worst endings to a TV show ever. I would also include the Film "Sunshine" as one of the worst film endings ever for a SF movie as well as "Supernova" Both have great beginnings and a good build up only to trash themselves totally in the last 15 minutes or so.
By coincidence i came across a you tube clip of the infamous writer/critic Harlan Ellison giving Ron Moore an award for best screenplay for a TV series for BSG. This was in 2002 i think. Those who know of Ellison will know he speaks his mind and can be highly controversial. (I like him a lot) he says to the audience (and rightly so at the time) that ron moore got the unsavoury job of turning the worst SF series ever made (a real turkey)into one of the best TV shows on TV today.bearing in mind this was 2002 i wonder what Ellison is now thinking about the end of the show. For those not in the know Ellison wrote screenplays for the best of the original twilight zone series and the best ST episode "city on the edge of forever" he is a very astute and sharp critic of TV, film and books and is one of the most renowned authors who spans both SF and fiction with PKD (philip K Dick)
Tue, 2009-08-25 10:11
An attempt at salvaging the ending
Battlestar Galactica ending rewrite.
Keep original plot (cut all flashbacks, they´re useless and we´ll use that time later on in the episode) up to when Gaius and Caprica pick up Hera and close the hatch behind them, preventing Roslin and Athena from following.
As the battle rages around them, they flee towards the hangar deck, as the cylons subtly close off all other exits. They get into the raptor and leave Galactica. As they do, the reveal happens in their heads, via the two "head beings". Cavil did not destroy the "Daniel" clyon, instead, his manipulation inadvertently allowed Daniel´s consciousness to seep, virus-like, into the minds of all cylons. This is expressed in the hybrids by prophetic visions, in the centurions by the belief in one true god and in the skinjobs by the appearance of the "head beings". As we surmised from his ability to project, Gaius is indeed a Cylon, and, as is evident from her resurrection, so is Starbuck. Through being disembodied and existing in millions of minds at the same time, Daniel gained the ability to hear echoes of previous iterations of the cycle. He realized his part in the cycle, that of the artist orchestrating a symphony, and acted/manipulated accordingly. He used the immense cylon resources at his disposal to pull a fast one on everybody and plant the two additional cylons, Gaius and Kara, in accordance to God´s (his?) plan to perpetuate the cycle. This, incidentally, explains why Roslin and Athena felt the urge to stop Gaius and Caprica from taking Hera. Just like Daniel, they perceive the echoes of the past iterations (as visions) and know instinctively that they would need to hang on to Hera to break the cycle.
While this is being revealed, cut to CIC, where things are getting hairy. Dismayed, Roslin and Athena tell of Heras escape. With the tide of the battle turning against them, Cylons about to enter CIC, Adama, cradling Roslin, orders a last, despersate jump. In the confusion, Starbuck has a moment of clarity as she punches in the jump parameters provided to her by the song. These cause Galactica to jump into the black hole, dragging with it the colony and Gaius/Caprica/Hera´s raptor.
As they penetrate the event horizon, Anders remarks: "Eternal darkness, end of line", while at the same time the crew, curtesy of Anders and the living cylon tissue, permeating the ship, projects into their own virtual realities. We see short vignettes of Adama and Roslin in the cabin, Tigh and Ellen having fun at the disco, Kara meeting Lee before she met Zak, Helo and Athena raising Hera. These moments seem to last forever.
However, Galactica and the colony are destroyed (Kara as the harbinger of death), but the raptor, having put some distance between them and the two ships, survives. We´ll use the old "messing with black holes" trick here, to have, when the dust settles, Caprica and Gaius finding themselves in the vicinity of Earth, some 150.000 years ago. As they land, dazed and confused, and find primitive humans, they realize that they have indeed come full circle, to the beginning of mankind, to restart the cycle. Their flaws (and they both have a bunch), but also Hera´s "best of both worlds" genes influence the evolution of mankind into repeating the cycle. This has all happened before, this will all happen again, a nicely closed time-loop, with many of the participants feeling echoes from previous iterations (hence the ubiquity of the phrase) and one, Daniel, a knowing participant.
Cut to the fleet which is waitng at the rendez-vous point, with Lampkin and Hoshi hoping, to the end, that the old man will make it. They learn that he won´t when they get the message from Anders, via the baseship´s hybrid: "Eternal darkness, end of line." "End of line indeed" remarks Lampkin cynically, only to be rebutted by the cylon hybrid, saying "begin new line", followed by first one six saying "No. Begin NEW line" then the cylons, saying in unison, "Begin NEW line", being finally joined by the humans in repeating "Begin NEW line", just as they used to shout "So say we all".
Final scene, cut to Deanna, on scorched earth, discarding her morose mood, looking up to the sky and saying, with a smile on her face : "THIS hasn´t happened before".
- "head beings"
- cycle of life
- importance of Hera
- importance of the opera house
- leaves a certain ambiguity as to God´s role. Was "Daniel" god? Certainly, to the centurions, but maybe he too was only playing a part
- leaves us wondering about mankind´s fate. Flawed from the beginning, burdened with Gaius´ and Caprica´s "original sin", can we nevertheless escape the cycle?
- has uplifting final scenes
- brings back Xena :=)
I tried to avoid the trainwreck while only changing the plot at the last possible moment, which I feel was when they ruined the opera house by taking away its importance.
It´s interesting to note that all the plot elements for my ending were already in place. They already provided Daniel. The colony is suitably situated near a black hole... it´s as if this was the intended ending (or something close to it), yet for some reason, it was discarded.
I am aware that the ending still isn´t really amazing, but to change that, one would have to go back to the end of 4.0 or possibly even earlier, and change quite a few things. As it is, I am using Daniel as a sort of "deus ex machina", quite literaly, actually, but in a way that is more believable in the context of a science-fiction show than a judeo-christian god who "moves in mysterious ways". Daniel, described by Ellen as an artist, would apreciate the beauty of the recurring cycle and it would be natural for such a person to want to keep it going. This idea of art also explains his use of "All along the watchtower", a song that also echoed through the iterations of the cycle
Also, black hole/time trave/time loopl has been done time and time again, but there was little choice but to go down that route. The idea of a repeating cycle permeates the show, and we absolutely HAVE to place the show in our future for any of it to make sense. This, with the presence of the black hole, pretty much demands the denouement I´ve proposed.
As for Baltar and Kara being Cylons, yes, there is an inflation of Cylons if we do this, but we can only blame the writers for this, with their "final five" act. Still, in all logic, they both HAVE to be cylons. There is no other way, short of a bona fide miracle, for Kara to come back from the dead, nor can we explain why Baltar has an ability only available to cylons.
The final scenes, I feel, are important to get an overall positive impression out of the ending. After all, I´ve just killed pretty much the entire cast and left humanity with Gaius and Caprica as their parents. ;) As such, showing that there is hope yet for a mixed cylon/human civilization, we close the show on a positive note (and leave a small opeing for tie-in shows).
All in all,I hope that I provided a better ending than the one aired. I, for one, will remember the show with this ending.
Sun, 2009-08-30 05:13
cars, names of stars, earth
I think the similarity between the cparican and our civilization can be explained. Humans here were living like animals, but they taught them language, and the names of constellations, perhaps even complex ideas like cars and robots.
That's why we call stars and mythological gods the same name.
What i did not understand was, why the hybrid said to Kara that she was the harbinger of death and leads them to their end. When in the end she led them to their rescue.
And also there were so many dreams about the oprea house, Gaius,6 and Hera, and what it finally turned out to be is quite insignificant compared to that.
Tue, 2009-09-01 10:39
That doesn't work, as the
That doesn't work, as the finale is set 150,000 years ago. There's no direct connection whatsoever between the Colonial culture (which must have disappeared very quickly) and any of the things you mention.
Tue, 2009-09-08 11:03
I disagree. We have
I disagree. We have traditions going back to thousands of years, so why would 150000 years erase everything completely?
Tue, 2009-09-08 19:06
The creatures in the show are pre-verbal. We don't think humans then were, but if they were that makes it a lot harder.
Anyway, everything was erased in the show, whether it was in reality or not.
Mon, 2009-09-14 11:36
Where was it erased?:) it so
Where was it erased?:) it so was not!
Wed, 2009-09-02 03:40
you wrote a very detailed
you wrote a very detailed essay but your an idiot, plain and simple.
Mon, 2009-09-07 23:47
MTE, Baltar's Cylon Detector, and other thoughts
Thanks, Brad, for writing a thoughtful review. I'll withhold most of my commentary until I finish re-watching the series in its entirety (I'm midway through season 2 now).
I wasn't bothered so much by issues that appeared to contradict contemporary science, most notably, your extensively described problem with mitochondrial Eve as a plot device. Perhaps this is due to my own limited understanding of MTE. However, although I agree that it could diminish fans' ability to take BSG seriously as hard SF, this was never the purpose of the show from the beginning and could even be considered a purpose contrary to what Moore had in mind.
Moore's manifesto on naturalistic SF had to do with creating the 'feeling' of reality-- of depicting a spaceship that was actually lived-in, of a crew with diminishing resources, going through problems that anyone could relate to. It was a drama that just happened to be on a spaceship. The population count at each episode's beginning, the episodes about water loss and tylium (sp) acquisition, these are just a few examples of this philosophy in action; and certainly the cracking, buckling hull of Galactica in the final season is Moore bringing this writing philosophy home. But Moore was never concerned with getting too deep into the "real" science of things. He didn't want any bumpy-headed aliens because they looked ridiculous and took the audience out of the drama of the moment, NOT because bumpy aliens couldn't be real.
It's the difference between 'truth' and 'verisimilitude.' What's that old saying? That audiences don't have a problem accepting a story with, say, werewolves, or accepting that werewolves are killed with silver bullets, but they will riot if the hero never stops to reload his pistol. Moore had written on Voyager and was annoyed with how, despite its promises, everything on Voyager retained that clean perfection of 'future-land;' and writing BSG in response to that, he was most certainly concerned with making sure that the guns ran out of bullets (indeed, the issue of limited ammo occurs while fighting the Centurions who boarded Galactica early in Season 2) and most certainly NOT concerned with, for example, whether Faster-than-light travel really could occur. I know it's tempting to say, 'well you're describing the fantasy genre, which isn't held to the standard of SF,' but from the first episode, BSG has asked of us a suspension of disbelief more akin to fantasy than hard SF.
And I mention FTL travel for a reason: the vast majority of physicists since Einstein accept that faster-than-light travel is not possible (yes, dissenters, I know about Michio Kaku's book). And yet, from episode one, it is clear that, if we plan to watch this television show, we must accept that this is a universe where FTL is possible. So how hard is it to imagine, given the ever-provisional nature of scientific knowledge, that something we don't quite understand allows Hera to indeed be Mitochondrial Eve? More importantly, who cares? This is a very fun intellectual exercise, but it's precisely the kind of thing that Moore chose to avoid in writing BSG. He chose to focus on making sure the guns run out of bullets, NOT to entertain questions about whether it was realistic to believe that the moon could be a reasonable catalyst for transformation from human to werewolf state, if you follow my analogy.
Moore stayed loyal to his principles right through to the end. The decision to make Hera be mitochondrial Eve was a choice to place drama over arcane technical details that few people know about. Now, the issues of the decision to send the fleet (and Anders!) into the sun, as well as the question of interbreeding with the Earth 2 natives... those questions and many more will have to wait until I'm done with my re-watch. I'm more concerned with examining internal contradictions, plots that seemed to have been aborted by the writers, and making an appraisal of how well Moore was able to follow his own rules, and bring us home as an audience after sending us out into deep space with plot twists such as (the most obvious one) the reveal of Tigh, Tory, Galen, and Anders as Cylons. Which brings me to the reason why I've written you.
Early in season one, Baltar is commissioned to create a Cylon detector. We know that this device works, because it detects positive on Sharon. We also know that it was a time-consuming process, and given the events of season one, there's no way Baltar ever completes his task of testing the whole fleet.
BUT, isn't it likely that, down there in his lab for much of the season, he would have followed Roslin's directive and at least tested as many key staff members as time allowed? And while you'd hardly be surprised if he didn't get to Tyrol, I'd think that SAUL TIGH, as XO, would have been fairly high on the list of people to test. It seems we're to assume one of the following: a) Saul never got tested. b) The final five somehow couldn't be detected by Baltar's process. c) Tigh came up positive and Baltar hid the results.
Which brings us to the next question, why the hell DID Baltar withhold Boomer's results? (I suppose the answer is, because the writers decided that Baltar revealing Sharon as a Cylon wouldn't make for a good episode). In season 2 when Baltar interrogates Boomer by poisoning Tyrol (imagine if he actually HAD been testing Tyrol with his Cylon detector), he mentions that he withheld her identity as a Cylon for his own purposes, but for the life of me, I can't fathom what those purposes would have been. Baltar, concerned above all with his own survival, should have gone right to the Commander and reported Sharon back in season one.
EVEN more importantly---- Baltar tests ELLEN, and from his dialogue with head Six, "I'll never tell," it is suggested that Ellen does read positive. Perhaps this is evidence that, contrary to Moore's reputation for making it up as he goes, he already knew that Ellen would be the fifth, or at least he held open the possibility. But again, why in the Gods' name would Gaius withhold this information? Furthermore, there is a time when HE suspects he's one of the final five. If he did know that Sharon, or Tigh, or Ellen, were Cylons, why wouldn't he pursue them on this issue?
Perhaps this is just the first of many things I'll notice as I re-watch the series, and perhaps it was commented on long before I noticed it. I don't know. Have I overlooked something here?
Tue, 2009-09-08 19:05
What does it mean?
Sure, you can break the rules. But when you do, you lose your connection to our reality.
There are also two kinds of impossible. There's "our understanding of physics predicts FTL is not possible without violating causality or having a fixed reference frame" and there are things that just logically make no sense. You can break the first, and then your story may be an impossible future, but if the things that matter in your story don't depend on FTL, it doesn't hurt them. When you just get things plain wrong though, then your story loses meaning. Especially if you base the meaning of your story on what you got wrong.
Moore wrote a story where Cylons were our ancestors 150,000 years ago. He says he did this to give the story meaning for us -- they were our ancestors, possibly, the story tells. But it makes no sense, so his meaning vanishes. It may seem like an obscure point of genetics, but it really isn't. Go to the wikipedia page, look where it talks about what people get wrong about Mitochondrial Eve, the first thing is assuming she is the MRCA. Moore owed us to read even the most basic articles about MTE. Because so many of the things people don't like about the story -- the 150k years, the ships into the Sun, are all based on this mistake.
I presume the final 5 don't test positive. Head Six (ie Moore) didn't want Baltar to reveal about Boomer so he didn't.
Wed, 2009-09-23 06:28
I just finished the box set, what a crap ending!
Brad great work, you analysis is spot on.
The one good thing I have taken form watching this series is to think twice before embarking on a Ron Moore story again.
The" God did it" ending here is not at all satisfying and creates more questions than it answers, nor is it very flattering of God, This God comes straight from the old testament where he has no problem with the slaughter of millions of innocents for the sake of his "plan" and there is no free will for the characters when they are Gods puppets all along.
I agree , This is the worst sci-fi ending ever and big con on sci-fi fans everywhere.
Sun, 2009-10-04 15:15
After just completing the series (which I churned through after some saying the ending was great), it's been fantastic to find this blog article with comments that accurately reflect my own feelings, especially after meeting Brad last year in Finland. It was an utter cop out and, in retrospect, I wish I had watched the last episode first. Then I would either not have bothered with the rest of the series or at least would not have had any expectations of something promising coming up.
This was even worse than the endings that don't reveal anything at all (like The Cube), which I generally put down as lazy writing. Building a mystery is easy. Resolving it requires thought. However, this was a revelation without any revelation. No mysteries were solved, because there were no mysteries, as it was all just one huge 'miracle'. It's even worse than a 'it was all just a dream' ending. The Cylons had no plan, the opera house meant nothing whatsoever, Kara was unexplained. Ugh. I too was fretting over the cliché of the "back to basics" ideal. If that kind of life is so great, then why do so few want to practise it in reality? There is no way I could be expected to believe everyone would suddenly want to give up on everything they have, and why should they? How could the books, beliefs and technology they have possibly weaken their chances of survival? That certainly wasn't the case before. Their weakness was that their technology was crap compared to the Cylons, not that they had it in the first place.
BSG was far from perfect before all of that. Some of the plot twists were highly unbelievable, and some were just plain boring, but we drove ourselves forwards for the good parts and with the belief that some final story would bring it all together with a satisfying thunk. That was not to be, and I feel we wasted our time.
Oh and I couldn't care less now about a prequel. Milking money, and I've lost interest in the characters.
Thu, 2009-10-22 19:59
I didn't need mysteries
Who asked for all these mysteries? I mean, yes, it is crap that they went down that path and then were unable to come up with a satisfactory resolution.
But a more basic issue for me is that these convoluted Lost-style mysteries detracted from the show. Who asked for these mysteries? Not me.
Here we had a compelling premise, complex and nuanced characters, each with an interesting backstory and each struggling to cope with their situation, and all of this set in an intriguing military, political, and cultural milieu. There was plenty to work with for 4 seasons. Plenty. We didn't need opera houses, Final Fives, a Final Five backstory that is impossible to believe (i.e., 5 twentysomething super-geniuses singlehandedly invent resurrection, travel across the galaxy unaided, and revamp an entire species), Bob Dylan, and all of the other unrealistic drivel that clogged up the show. Why didn't RDM have faith in his own original creation? Why try to change it into Lost in S3 and S4?
As for the upcoming movie, because it goes back to Season 1, it threatens to pollute all of those good episodes with Final Five nonsense.
Sat, 2009-10-17 14:17
Battlestar's "Daybreak:" The worst ending in the history of on-s
Sorry Brad, u need a reality check.
1. The original bsg was love boat in space and ron moore has kept faith with glen
larsons original but more importantly heavily leaned upon asimov robots /
foundation as a basis to finish off the series. Dont forget asimov provided the
ideas for the BSG second series which never happened.
2. This is cable and sci fis budget was crap
3. Ron moore needed a soft landing for the show which did it justice rather than the normal quick ending forced by cancellation.
4. Linking to the present was good.
5. Use of devine being was a good idea and squared away caprica 6
I'm not sure what you really expected, i thought the special effects were good
and shot of the moon awsom.
So get a grip and be thankful we didnt end up with a pure remake or richard hatch version. The proiposed new film sounds crap.
Sun, 2009-10-18 20:14
The Almost Nearly Final Worst Ending Ever
"The Plan" is due out on DVD this month. Written by Jane "Filler Queen" Espenson and directed by James "Wall Slide" Olmos it promises to be the final worst ending ever though given the claim it won't be the last BSG production maybe that should be the final after the final before the final Final FINAL worst ending ever.
Just die already!
Sat, 2010-01-23 21:39
Late, But Agree
Way late to the party, but I read this entire thing, and all the comments (make whatever you want of me based on that fact).
Templeton seems correct. I didn't read anything that meaningfully contradicted him. It seemed like the rebuttals were either (1) it was a great show in the beginning so you simply can't turn on it; (2) it means something sophisticated to me that the writers never meaningfully articulated; or (3) it's just a TV show.
(1) It was a great show in the beginning. However, a lot of people do think it became lazy, hack drivel in the final lap.
(2) Good for you. You're free to enjoy whatever you want, but that doesn't mean people who fail to see your vision simply don't get it.
(3) That's true. People are simply wondering whether it was a good one in the end or not.
Thanks for the effort, Mr. Templeton.
Sat, 2010-02-06 08:33
I don't watch supposedly great shows when they're being broadcast. I wait for years and then watch them all at once. I had heard BSD was great so I never watched a single episode and avoided knowing anything about it. I purchased the 4 year box set and watched the entire series over the last two weeks. I find it has incredible impact to take in in this way and can be incredibly enjoyable. There's a cohesion to the thread of a story for me; it's all fresh in my mind, the entire run. The impact on me is sometimes profound. I feel like I'm living a show (if it's a show that I can lose myself in, of course) and will dream about it every night. I did this for the wire, the Sopranos, Deadwood, Six Feet Under, The Shield, etc. And when a show is great, the impact can be VERY STRONG.
I am not exaggerating when I say I felt actually nauseous and sad after completing BSD last night. The first thing I did was Google <"Battlestar Galactica" "worst ending"> and found this masterful essay which echoes much of my own thoughts. It helps ease the pain. They built up numerous, seemingly connected mysteries and then spat upon every thread, tied up nothing; everything was just a deus ex machina, nothing made sense, people acted as they never would. The colonists just gave up penicillin and light bulbs and civilization and dispersed into tents on the savanna to little out some short brutal life on a world with foreign (to them) flora and fauna. I could go on and on but you've done much of it for me. Bah. I feel sick and betrayed.
Sun, 2010-02-07 18:24
I love Battlestar Galactica but was disappointed with it,because it was better than any other science fiction in my view especially the first few two seasons,it was way to short,it should have lasted twice as long,if they can have boring soap operas lasting decades set in one street,I'm sure they could make this last at least 5 seasons ideally 8 with even a feature film attached at the end,but regarding the end of the series,
First of all earth 1 and two seam to be both the same to me,it's just occupying different parts of the same planet unaffected by nuclear war,you can clearly see this on adama's map when he's talking about distributing his people to different parts of the planet,some area's are green,while a lot are grey from the destruction of war.
The ending while Romantic is totally unrealistic,giving up all the technology to live like pre historic man when most probably can't hunt grow crops or light fires and who in their right mind would throw it all a way and start a fresh,it would be like fleeing a a war torn country in a luxury Yacht with all the mod cons and as soon as you reach a remote island sinking it and swimming a shore in nothing but what you are wearing and carrying a small bag,you wouldn't do that by choice,it would only happen if you were ship wrecked,and have no alternative,I doubt few people would be capable of surviving today let alone people from a far more advanced society then they don't explain what happened to Adama's Viper he flew out of Galactica and the seven raptors seen on the planet's surface near to the three structures,and what happened the the raptor that Launched it nukes at the cylon colony,you see the flight crew injured,but what about the assault team and then lets not Forget how Star Bucks Viper blew up in space but was found light years away on earth or the fact we didn't find out who she really was,she obviously wasn't a ghost?
I think they should have built small settlements in the various locations that people were taken to around the planet,then they could have learned the necessary skills to live on the land while still having the security of their camps to fall back on until they built up enough confident and know how to set out on their own or in family's if they so wished, much like settlers have done in our history in say America,then we could have seen 10 minutes of small scenes set a year or two in the future with how key characters lives had turned out,that would have been a much better ending,after all why rush out a half hearted effort after all the work that had gone before,that to me made no sense to me what so ever,also it should have been set in the future like the reviewer suggest,then it would have made sense.
Fri, 2010-02-19 04:38
I think the critique of the mitochondrial eve was a bit harsh. After the ending I tended to think that the colonists weren't "human" but a different species. Modern humans, or us, are actually colonial cylon hybrids dating back to Hera. This would make sense if she inherited a proportion of their strength and passed it on to offspring.
Second Gog seemed more capable of interacting with cylons then regular humans. Baltar and his ubermind aside, or regular humans in altered states. I've also wondered if such a trait could be passed on to the new hybrid humans. If that is the case then much of this could have been a sort of breeding experiment to bring things more in line with it's will. And it could be possible again, that the earth neanderthals and colonials both shared a common ancestor some how, with all the scurrying around the colonials do.
I'm going to stick with being. Not pure foresight, but great predictive power. And the only time it engages in any real action is replacing starbuck, the rest is manipulation of people. If the gods power rests mainly in being highly predictive, and in hallucinations then it need not be a real god.
The ghost busters rule "if it says it's a god it isn't" is kind of funny in that at the end H6 says it's god, and HB says he doesn't like that.
All of this needless justification aside, it was a terrible ending.
Fri, 2010-02-19 11:04
They are human
Our definition of a species is "can breed with successful offspring." So the colonials are human, as they can breed with the natives.
Fri, 2010-03-12 20:42
Not a cop-out
"God Did It" is not a cop-out--the idea of "One True God" is fundamental to the story, laid out from the very beginning of BSG. InHead Six stated openly and often that she was an Angel of God, and she was clearly manipulating Baltar.
The same concept appears in the first moments of Caprica.
The nature, intent, frequency/degree of direct intervention of this One True God/Cylon God is not at all clear, but a key mystery of the premise overall.
So, with everything in the story woven with those threads, treating as if it was a "bolt-on" plot resolution at the end is absurd. Like it or don't like it, be disappointed by the lack of details or explanations, fine--but the God element in the story arc has been present from the beginining.
The critique above invalidates itself by defining any interventions by a God as automatic epic failure, but also says BSG was great until God was used right there at the end. The concept of intervention and manipulation by God was there from the very beginning of the show.
Sat, 2010-03-13 00:55
Bolt-on and not bolt-on
It is bolt-on from the audience's point of view, because there were so many more natural rather than supernatural explanations possible for what was shown. Just because a show has religious people is hardly a clue that their religion is true!.
But more to the point, it was bolt-on to the writers. They have admitted they really did not know what head-six was for the first several seasons. They had her say lots of things, including angel of god, but they only decided to make the god real much later.
They had not even intended much of it. Moore threw in some lines about Cylon religion and the network write back, "Machines with religion? Give us more of that."
Sat, 2010-03-13 19:40
I Think There May Be a Distinction Being Missed
What the review actually said is that a God becoming an active character is problematic, particularly in a show that got its bones from its supposed gritty realism. I don't know that any intervention by a God has to be an automatic epic failure. Even in BSG, more subtlety could have had an effective God intervention open to multiple interpretations. The problem here is that one can argue God pretty much just takes over the entire show and becomes THE CHARACTER. I'm hard pressed to think of any clear examples where something like that works in a serious drama. Strangely, the disjointed storytelling in Season 4 simply amplifies the damage; it didn't make sense because it didn't have to make sense because the whole story turns out to be about a God and his will anyway. That's messed up, like Mr. Templeton says.
And he's also right that the BSG staff themselves gave the game away. They didn't have a clear God story in mind in the beginning. It was a bolt on. Read their interviews and listen to their own podcasts (which were probably a mistake to have ever offered given how clearly visible "that man behind the curtain" becomes toward the end).
Sat, 2010-03-20 13:49
Galactica debris on the Moon?
just wanted to say how I liked your blog, and while I can't now read all the comments above I want to share a thought I had while watching the (disappointing) series finale. And apologize if someone already pointed this out.
We see a broken Galactica fly over Moon like in the picture you posted above, loosing debris as she does. Those debris should still be there, intact and waiting for some astronauts to stumble upon them. So much for naturalistic Sci-fi :)
Sat, 2010-04-24 17:27
Um...well I agree with you
Um...well I agree with you except on the ending of Babylon 5. First off, it only had 1 ending, and it was planned since the first episode of the show (these multiple "endings" you were talking... they must have been the last episode of Season 4, which was just another episode and was originally planned to be the last episode aired before the 2 hour finale, and/or the movies that came out AFTER the show had ended...which took place BEFORE the last episode of the show...so they're not another ending...). Secondly, after watching the whole show, the ending of Babylon 5 was amazing - it's the only show to make me cry at the end. YES it was subtle and slow, but it made sense in the context of what was going on in the show. An action-packed ending would have made no sense (they got that out of their system when they wrapped up the plots in season 4). I have yet to watch another show's ending that was so thoughtful and fit in so well with the overarching plot. Everything pales in comparison with B5's ending.
Just my opinion though...
Sun, 2010-04-25 02:38
B5's original ending
While JMS refuses to acknowledge it, a great deal of evidence points to an original planned ending for B5 as follows:
However, when it was decided they needed to dump Sinclair and hire Bruce Boxleitner, they rewrote the character of Sinclair, and rewrote events so War Without End has the strange time field that ages Sinclair by 20 years to explain why he is so old at the end of Babylon Squared.
This trip back to be Valen is his reward from the First Ones, not the sailing off into the sunset.
Sun, 2010-04-25 08:09
The writers' strike ending
I just watched the finale last night and one of my first thoughts after it ending was that Revelations should have been the ending for the show. It would've been a much more powerful ending than what actually happened.
Thu, 2010-06-03 02:29
BSG was religious from the start and is hardly real sci-fi
I do have to say that you have a well written essay here. I'm not here to argue about it, because it's hard to argue about differing opinions. However, I have two main things to say to hopefully change how you may view BSG:
1. I'm currently re-watching BSG, and the concepts of religion, god(s), etc, are put on the table right away. Even in the beginning of season 1, you have Head Six telling Baltar he's an instrument of God. By the end of the first season, religion/myths/god(s) all play a huge part in the series. Season 2 brings that in full force with Laura quite obviously filling the role of the leader mentioned in Pythia. It's said quite clearly in the show that the myth/religion is true (literally in words and just by how things play out).
Now, I didn't pay close enough attention to this when I first watched it. After carefully watching it again, though, it's quite obvious that some supernatural force was meant to play a big role. In many cases, it's meant to be an answer. The show makes that very clear early on. If you feel that they pulled the "God did it" trick right at the end, I feel like you weren't paying close enough attention throughout the rest of the series. Either that, or you think BSG is "real" science fiction, which leads me to my next point...
2. BSG isn't real sci-fi, sorry. It ESPECIALLY isn't hard sci-fi. Yes, it's more "down to earth" and "realistic" than other sci-fi shows, but that doesn't mean it's hard sci-fi. Hell, the only thing that's sci-fi about it is the fact that they're floating around in space in ships with FTL capabilities (which I feel is more added for the story rather than it being a typical sci-fi element). That's about it. When you REALLY get down to it, it's nothing more than a television drama show...just done really well. I've talked with many people who aren't into sci-fi that like the show. They all agree with me on this. Even sci-fi fans say it's a weak show as sci-fi. I think you WANT it to be sci-fi, but it isn't. There lies your problem. Treat it like it isn't and never was.
Speaking of talking with other people about it, no one else really knew what Mitochondrial Eve was. And, if they did, they said, "Well, that's not really what it is, BUT I know what was meant by it". I think you really overestimate how many people actually know what MTE is, though. No, it was not taught in my high school, and I've yet to hear about it in college. The general populace is extremely behind in information...and that's a sad fact of life.
I think you could apply most of the criticisms to the entire series. Maybe you did...and maybe you were just waiting for the finale to "fix" those issues. But it didn't, and for good reason. I think they're only issues when you're looking for something VERY specific...something BSG never was. It's barely sci-fi at all, despite that people want it to be. That alone throws out most of your arguments. Even then, the show made it very clear that things like what you see in the finale were going to happen. It's very apparent even by the second season.
Thu, 2010-06-03 02:38
Yes, I'm aware I left out the Cylons and many other things when I claimed it was hardly a sci-fi work. Yes, that's definitely very sci-fi. And though the show does revolve around them very much, it's hardly presented in a normal sci-fi way. Also, since most of the time the Cylons are presented as humans, it's easy to forget that they originated as AI, in my opinion. All in all, I feel like the shows primary focus was not in sci-fi. This is what I meant to convey in my post, and I did not make that clear. As you've stated, it's about the characters. I know you feel God and destiny takes that away, but I have to disagree with you. Still, the show is mostly focused on characters...hence why I'd label it as a drama...which is why I feel a sci-fi critique of it will naturally result in something less than what was expected.
Thu, 2010-06-03 20:15
Religion vs. god
Yes, the show had religion, lots of it. It had more of the pantheistic religion actually. Had that ended up being real (and not just ancient aliens or AIs or anything like that, but a real Zeus, real Hera, real Apollo) would that be accepted or seen as silly.
Religion is real. Religion is a big part of the real world, of culture. It belongs in hard SF. But religions belonging in hard SF is not the same as having the religion be true. The fact that there is lots of religion in the real world would still make me justifiably shocked if Zeus and Hera turned out to be our creators.
That the Cylons and other characters had religion -- great. Solving your plotlines by saying they were right --not so great.
I don't expect, as I say above, for most people to know about Mitochondrial Eve. My point is that Moore (who should have at least read a basic article that would have explained what she really was) based bad things in the plot on that mistake.
When a writer writes a silly plot, like the fleet abandoning all technology without a whimper and all traces of them vanishing, that's bad enough. When you realize he did that, placed the show 150K years ago with all that meant, because he could not even read the Wikipedia article and learn what the most common misconception about MTE was -- that's the tragedy.
BSG is not pure hard SF. Little TV is. But it was harder SF than most TV, and it said it was trying to be that, so I will hold it to higher standards. We were told to hold it to a higher standard.
Thu, 2010-06-03 15:46
Have you ever read A.E. van Vogt's "Pawns of Null-A"?
One of the earlier examples of the transfer of Consciousnes to the next of a series of bodies when one dies.
Much better than the pathetic gobbbledegook of Galactica.
Thu, 2010-06-03 20:21
Yeah, I read Null-A
Though it was decades ago.
Wed, 2010-06-09 09:44
BSG finale compared to Lost finale
Geeks of Doom has a post up (disclosure: I wrote it under the pen name Broadcasting Brain) which compares the BSG finale to the Lost finale. Here it is if you'd like to check it out:
Thu, 2010-07-01 03:22
Thanks a Lot for All Your Words
I found this from a mention in the Geeks of Doom link above. I feel kind of like a putz for never having found a foundation stone like this among the Battlestar post mortems. I’ve read the main article and many others, and must say I agree with almost all of it. Thank you for your eloquence and obvious passion for the subject. Both demonstrate those qualities that the very best of Battlestar deserves.
The use of a God itself isn’t so objectionable to me as the way this one was used. It really did strip the characters of all meaning, rendering them mere bacteria in someone’s lab experiment. Particularly when we know God’s Plan is bankrupt. Hera’s genetic contribution from the Cylon side must be diluted to pretty much nothingness to fit any understanding of the real world to which Ron wanted to link. Not that it ever made any sense to begin with — how do you solve the problem of the Other with some stray remnants of DNA? And our own history demonstrates the failure of that conceit. What could have made a difference to future humans would have been to preserve the memory and lessons of the survivors. Alas, as we saw, they threw the real treasure away in their rush to embrace oblivion, which must also have been part of God’s Plan. Which can only lead to one conclusion — the all-powerful Battlestar God is an idiot. A cruel idiot at that.
That’s the saddest part of all. A show I once admired, that had so much to say about consciousness and the fundamental contradictions it inevitably creates at the individual level, about the struggle everyone must make to reach some understanding of or accommodation with life... In the end, it lazily defaults to the oldest death wish of all, simple flight from the playing field. They gave up the God-given right to engage in that horrible, majestic struggle of consciousness and surrendered instead to animalistic degeneration. They mindlessly surrendered to the machinations of some self-defeating unknown that didn’t care one whit about them. That’s not a story about the power of faith and transcendence; it profanes everything to which a real soul, biological or mechanical, can aspire. I would almost give Ron credit for a brilliantly malevolent skewering of blind faith if the whole thing weren’t so disjointed.
What’s also interesting to me is that your essays seem almost a companion piece to the other diamond I’ve sifted from the Internet, one that’s been mentioned at least once in your essays. That would be the fan fiction “Sometimes a Stupid Notion,” or Season 5 as some call it. It picks up where Daybreak left off and takes the flaws you cite head on. You want God as a character, Ron? All right. But its manipulations are the subject, a horrible story about consciousness gone wrong, foundering over and over on the fundamental contradiction of the Other, something neither man nor machine can solve. It’s one massive fractal, with God’s creation replicated in the struggles of its pawns. Sneaks up very nicely, too, starting out by making fun of the end only to slip slide into a truly epic finish worthy of science fiction and mainstream drama alike.
I liked it a lot.
And for what it’s worth, Tyler is right about Battlestar. It wasn’t science fiction. It was fantasy masquerading as science fiction. I could have handled that if it hadn’t collapsed into such a bad, lazy excuse for fantasy. Not to mention that, even after it crashed, Ron was trying to keep the masquerade going — Jungian archetypes transmitting detailed instructions for making phones and suits and legal systems. That was even more pathetic than the show’s actual ending. One more thing along with Mitochondrial Eve that I guess he never bothered to actually read about.
I shouldn’t be so harsh, though. The first two seasons were great, and it has inspired stuff like your essays and “…A Stupid Notion.”
Wed, 2010-07-07 16:26
The Battlestar God was an Idiot...
He/she/it really was. And the Battlestar God was Ron Moore, who isn't an idiot. But he effectively made himself one by getting so careless and sloppy with the plotting and then trying to overwrite all that away in the finale, which only made it worse.
"The use of a God itself isn’t so objectionable to me as the way this one was used. It really did strip the characters of all meaning, rendering them mere bacteria in someone’s lab experiment. Particularly when we know God’s Plan is bankrupt. Hera’s genetic contribution from the Cylon side must be diluted to pretty much nothingness to fit any understanding of the real world to which Ron wanted to link. Not that it ever made any sense to begin with — how do you solve the problem of the Other with some stray remnants of DNA? And our own history demonstrates the failure of that conceit. What could have made a difference to future humans would have been to preserve the memory and lessons of the survivors. Alas, as we saw, they threw the real treasure away in their rush to embrace oblivion, which must also have been part of God’s Plan. Which can only lead to one conclusion — the all-powerful Battlestar God is an idiot. A cruel idiot at that.
That’s the saddest part of all. A show I once admired, that had so much to say about consciousness and the fundamental contradictions it inevitably creates at the individual level, about the struggle everyone must make to reach some understanding of or accommodation with life... In the end, it lazily defaults to the oldest death wish of all, simple flight from the playing field. They gave up the God-given right to engage in that horrible, majestic struggle of consciousness and surrendered instead to animalistic degeneration. They mindlessly surrendered to the machinations of some self-defeating unknown that didn’t care one whit about them. That’s not a story about the power of faith and transcendence; it profanes everything to which a real soul, biological or mechanical, can aspire. I would almost give Ron credit for a brilliantly malevolent skewering of blind faith if the whole thing weren’t so disjointed."
Exactly. Say it again.
Just because something appeals to the unknown doesn't make it profound. It really does matter how you plot that appeal.
And a very good essay, Mr. Templeton.
Thu, 2010-08-12 08:52
Mind transfer is oooooooooold
"Things RDM did right:"
"beings able to transfer their mind to a new body at the moment of death."
PLEASE? That's such an old concept. Just recently I've watched an Earth: Final Conflict episode where Zo'or transfers his mind into a human body. (aired several years before NuBSG)
Another example: The Sixth Day.
Fri, 2010-08-13 13:30
Who said he invented things
I'm just saying it's interesting and nice to see done decently. An example of not doing it decently would be aliens transferring their minds into human bodies or reading out a full human brain with 2015 technology. An example of doing it better would be designed artificial beings that were built with mind transfer from the start transferring into other bodies designed to receive that mind transfer.
(Though being able to do it FTL from a brain that can't be distinguished from a human one under a microscope is a big stretch.)
Fri, 2010-08-13 14:48
Language and mythology
To me, the language and/or god name issue is easily resolvable: Modern English language and Greek god names are used as replacement for their "Caprican" equivalents, similar to Tolkien's use of English as replacement for the Westron language. Indeed, this is how I interpreted it without thinking from the first episode.
Mon, 2010-09-20 21:36
I think this is a wonderfully written essay & well thought out & having just finished watching the series recently I find myself wanting to jump into the ideology of the overall story & plot myself.
A few thoughts of my own from the essay:
I think you said it right off about Moore, he wanted to change SciFi TV & that's exactly what he did. Especially in the terms of Gods influence. I see what you mean about plot holes for sure, but as you noted, a very large part of the story revolves around the concepts of Gods & prophecy & there was no hiding it. The whole idea of earth was based on prophecy found within in an old religious book. Most of these thoughts were pretty straight forward to me but would point out that because as scifi fans we are looking for something specific we will tend to find it & when we don't we are the first to charge it being poorly done. (I know I am very critical of scifi based on some @ times silly preset concepts) I personally don't see how this series could have ended any better, but not being clear myself on MTE I would (& did) question parts of this as being a more romanticized idea to add an appearance of depth & connection. This idea does come off as it may not have been as well thought out as it could have been. I would also like to state that I feel it was inevitable that the visions of baltar & 6 would become something more ever since "downloaded" & probably before. With the connections to spirituality the show had already set in place, hindsight becomes 20/20 once the typical SF plot thoughts of "cyclon programming" or "halucinations" get ruled out. After ruling out the expected, a more spiritual & even collective thought process does begin to emerge. Perhaps my next point wasn't as oblivious as I originally perceived & besides, she does say she's an angel.
I like the interesting take on collective unconsciousness, to be honest I had not perceived that up until now. I do think your right in the fact that it's just so damned specific to be deemed Jungian ideas of collective unconsciousness. However, I would point out that if people can & do share the same ideas even from different parts of the world, then perhaps it's possible to do so from different parts of the universe. I would even continue to try to counterpoint even myself since you brought up determinism, that there exist thoughts about universal laws within our reality. Though my understanding is that even these aren't so specific that it narrates a concept word for word. Overall, I'm a bit sketchy on this one myself, but there are some possibilities that make this less fantastic & more food for thought.
As for two earths, I believe that moore really cemented his cautionary tale by getting us to believe in his future earth destroyed. This serves as a warning that the misuse of technology can lead to catastrophe & this fits within the ending very well. Without it, I feel that some of the way the series actually did end would be lost. Yes it does seem like after the fact planning with the writers strike & all, but when you figure both earths into the concept of being a warning, the two contrasts show what has been & what could be. Perhaps what he intended by having them walk away from all tech was to show that we could break this cycle of destroying ourselves, as it was stated. ]
anyway, these are just my thoughts, once again, great article.
Fri, 2010-10-01 17:48
Just watched the ended, agree with you it was disapointing.
One thing that frustrates me is the languages of the humans is pretty much the same as what it is now. How would it revert back to the olden days style of the English language, and then evolve over time to be exactly the same as it is now, except we say 'Fuck' instead of 'Frack'?
Many other things bother me about the ending..which are too great for me to list here, and you've done a good job of pointing them out anyway.
To me a much better ending would be to have it set in the future, and the first Earth that they found was our Earth which was destroyed from a Cylon/human war thousands of years ago. The humans find the new Earth, and this time they are going to try and live with the Cylons. It'd be up to your imagination as to how that particular Earth would turn out. It would even leave it open for a sequal, perhaps with Hera as a main character fighting the return of the Cylons (the metal ones that are still out there) explaining why Hera was so important.
Mon, 2010-10-18 08:27
I liked the ending, but then I didn't try to dissect the show. This type of TV is for enjoyment, enjoy it, don't dissect it. I really liked the ending.
Wed, 2010-11-10 02:34
one thing i never understood was why kobol was not more fully explored. yeah - i know the cylons, etc. but come on. hey - we just found our home world from legend! let's leave? there should have been more there, especially the revelation of human sacrifice revealed by the 6. i always thought that was gold to mine there and they treated it like a rest stop. you put an arrow on a fallen statue and you suddenly find yourself in an incredibly sophisticated map area. cool. seen enough. leaving. really?
Sun, 2010-11-14 20:18
You guys are fucked up, It
You guys are fucked up, It was a great ending. What makes it horrible is when you over analyze it like a bunch of bitches. OMG MOOORE GOT IT ALL WRONG, I COULD DO SO MUCH BETTER! - fags
Fri, 2010-11-19 06:43
You know, some people here
You know, some people here actually use their brains. How weird, isn't it? And people with brains do not accept angels and whole high tech civilization spontaneously embracing barbarism as a reasonable ending of a show, pretending to be realistic one.
Fri, 2010-11-19 10:28
I wouldn't give him any thought...
Anyone using the terms "bunch of bitches" and "fags" in a short post is simply announcing their level of intellect and maturity for all to see.
Sat, 2010-11-27 17:34
After watching the mini series I was very excited to watch this show, looking forward to the great struggles they will undergo and all the adventures they will have in the unexplored space. Even a show solely focused on warfare would be alright, if it has sufficient scientific ideas in it. But I quickly found out that this show is just the hitseries 'lost' in disguise, with it's constant focus on mystery and .. mystery and 'feelings'. So when I read your post it was no surprise to me that the show ended, like 'lost', in such a lame, but I imagine very emotional, way.
There was nothing science fiction about the behavior of the people. There were internal struggles which are not explained but simply emphasized by tediously long close ups, am I to simply think during these intervals, he is having a moment? Or am I given time to see and figure out something about this person? I don't know.
The episode that stands out in my head is where one ship of their group disappears during a jump to run away from the robots. When it reappears they suspects it has been infiltrated. The ship abruptly breaks any form of contact, is on a collision course to the main ship, has nukes onboard AND is unmanned. The people then have to make a 'difficult' decision whether or not to blow it up. - fine - subsequently they decide to blow it up. then, the president is having some 'internal struggle' for 5 actual screen time minutes and after that the, ARMY TRAINED, pilot, who shot the ship, is having a reflective emotional breakdown about SHOOTING AN UNMANNED, NUKE LADEN, ON A COLLISION COURSE, NON COMMUNICATING,... EMPTY - ship. hahahaha, what a joke.
From a science fiction standpoint that episode was lacking in substance but the mysticism and the, I shall call them 'moments', kept it going.
Unfortunately the others were similar in nature.
Tue, 2011-01-25 22:44
Just watched the finale
You've said a lot here that articulates very well the reason why I found the ending lacking. I must say that I didn't hate it, but I was left feeling disappointment and thinking about it, it was the 150,000 years that did it for me. Everything up to that point was great. I think the episode could have ended with Adama at Roslin's grave. I would have been happy just switching the DVD off right there. The implication that colonial history ended there, that their culture died and they gave us nothing but Hera's mitochondrial DNA left a bad taste in my mouth.
If Moore had really wanted to push the Hera angle though, it would have been an easy matter to create a throwaway "Mad-Max" style ending, just a voiceover about Hera growing up to become a great leader of her people, and a scene showing us that in fact the fleet had landed on the Earth of the future, one that had been ruined by nuclear war. The primitives they found were the survivors of an earlier cycle and the fleet's arrival, uniting the branches of humanity and their children (the cylons), heralds a chance to break the cycle.
Can't someone out there make a fan edit that does exactly that? It'd fix nearly everything.
Thu, 2011-01-27 10:07
Just watched the series from start to finish. I'm unclear as to why divine intervention isn't a suitable ending for this series. The entire thing from start to finish was all about visions and prophecies and god -- prophecies and visions that came true again and again; divine intervention that consistently moved Baltar about. Starbuck was plainly stated as being an angel -- even the lawyer's cat was a palpable but phantom being.
In BSG "god" created humans in his same image and then said, "Have at it." He did it again and again and again and the cycle repeated. Eventually we'd speak English and Chinese and Spanish and we'd write the same songs and do the same things again and again will little variation.
I never felt for a moment while watching the series that intelligent design wasn't the core plot point. Maybe if you watched it as it was happening your own mind thought of a million other possibilities (some of which you obviously liked better than intelligent design), but at no point in watching this show did I ever feel that "fate" (e.g. intelligent design) wasn't omnipresent.
Tue, 2011-02-08 23:17
Great Job! I still am bitter
Great Job! I still am bitter over the last hour of the show. BSG was such a great show and until that point, the best SF television series ever made. I always believed the show was set in the future, that is the only way it could have made any sense. As you mention, the planetarium scene and the entire breadth of Colonial culture and technology point to this. Everything I saw up until the end literally screamed at me, that the events take place in our future and that humanity came from our earth. It just seemed like Moore always intended the show to be set in the future, then had some crazy idea when the show resumed after the writer's strike.
If he hadn't done that, BSG would be a much more compelling story and even open for some sort of continuation, instead of the terrible and thankfully canceled prequel "Caprica". I am slowly re watching the series on DVD and I'm pretending that I never saw "Day Break Part 2".
Thu, 2011-03-03 11:36
I think you're just upset over the ending not coming out the way you had hoped. I felt the same way about LOST, believe me.
In the end, I am really drawn to the finale of BSG because of some of the things with which you take issue.
I think, in a nutshell, the Mitochondrial Eve idea does pan out. See, MTE is an example of a MRCA of humanity - all of us can trace our lineage back to her through our maternal heredity. All people alive today share some degree of mutation of her mitochondria. So, in the case of BSG, what we have is a situation where none of the Colonial genes prospered on Earth other than those of Hera, even if they did breed among themselves or with the native hominids.
That makes total sense. They did not come from Earth (our Earth, that is), were able to survive in our ecosystem, but were not able to successfully propagate their genes. Hera, a human/Cylon hybrid with magic, cancer-curing blood... she was fine. In fact, any descendants of Hera's tended to do better than those who weren't related to her... hence her being the MTE.
Ditching the Tech... that makes sense, too. Think about it:
You've been nuked, chased across half the galaxy, treated like shit, shot at by your military, can't trust what's what, enslaved, consigned to death by your president, forced to uproot AGAIN and resume the race across space.
Disappointment after disappointment and finally, they set down on a world where you can breathe the air and eat the tubers and drink the water...
I'd want to tell Adama and the rest of the fleet to piss off, too. Just... leave me be. They were all sporting packs and gear when they split up, they were all carrying some supplies... medicine, tools, whatever... they didn't need to be aboard those stinking ships anymore, and who would want to?!
Burn the ships and leave those memories where they belong. Start over. I think Lee was in tune with what the fleet deep down really needed, and at his suggestion everyone saw the merit of abandoning the technology that had turned their lives into hell for years on end.
The fact that the touch-down on Earth was 150,000 years ago cements the reality of that proposition. Of course, it had to be that long ago, or they story would HAVE to be about the proto-Atlantean mumbo-jumbo.
Not good. Instead, Moore gave us what we needed. It dabbled in Ancient Astronauts, but not too much, it gave plenty of time for the gear to rot away, it opened the door for tons of discussion on what impact the fleet might have had on early, early homo sapiens... and it did so without claiming too much Truth about itself. It's arguable, and it's vague, and I think that's not only exactly what Moore wanted, but also the best way to handle the idea as a whole.
If Adama built the Pyramids, or was really Zeus, or had any lasting impact on human culture as a MAN, I'd have lost my frackin' mind. What we have instead is the fleet dissolving into a welcoming enough if not foreign environment, only to rise up and repeat the divinely impelled cycle thousands of generations later, not of their own will or by virtue of something that any of the Colonials did as people, but by virtue of that being the whole story from the get-go.
Case in point, I think you got way too wound up about the ending and expose yourself as being stiffened by your own expectations, such that when the show ended the way it did, you diatribe it as being "the worst" ending in SF history, which is not only a preposterous claim, but also a juvenile one.
Wed, 2011-03-23 20:29
Oh the humanity!
I realize I've entered into this conversation two years late and that most have either forgotten their pain around the BSG ending or gotten their angries out and have moved on. But I just saw it yesterday for the first time and just had to bitch. I fully expect that no one will ever read this, but screw it. And let me just start by saying that the first two seasons were just dynamite TV, one of the best shows ever. Which is of course why I'm so pissed off about the ending.
With that,two things really struck me about the endings incredible suckiness.
First an interesting yet stupid to point out technical point: As Brad says, you betcha that they would live short and hard lives exposed out in the wilds of Africa. My main thing is that, as a gardener, I can tell you that all of the food crops we know and love today were, at best, tiny bitter mostly inedible ancestors of our food 150,000 years ago. If Baltar was a real farmer, he'd know that he'd need to spend the next few thousand years domesticating animals and artificially selecting for larger, sweeter, more nutritious food before he could settle down to a good meal.
But I digress. Here's my real point:
The ending doesn't work emotionally. I could deal with all of the technical inconsistencies and "Gog did it" lame plot wrapups you want to throw at me if I am emotionally satisfied at the end. And I wasn't. I was much more angry and WTF-y.
What struck me was how people were just going off to live on their own instead of banding into some sort of society. We only REALLY know that the Admiral does this, but that's enough really. Why would this man just leave with his dying lover to live isolated and alone for the rest of his days? As my girlfriend says, he called Galactica's crew his family many times, so why would he abandon his family? It's really just...sad. And pointless. Just an old man living alone with his memories and broken dreams. What kind of end is that for Adama? At the very least you could have given him and Roslin a few happy years together-there's at least some emotional payoff there. Roslin was meant to die sitting on the porch of her cabin, not in a raptor-not original I know, but it would've worked emotionally.
A few more angry ramblings: Why just make Kara disappear, even if she is an angel? Throw in at least a farewell kiss for Lee-a really heartbreaking goodbye-forever-I'm-really-an-angel-of-god-kiss. Then gone. It takes Lee a second and then he realizes that his true love was dead all along and he falls over with remorse. I'm emotional just thinking about it. Plus Also, what about Ellen and Saul (besides a glimpse)? The chief? Hell even Cavil deserves a better ending-have him die for something he really believes in. I think one of the best moments in the series is where he lets his anger go at Ellen about being limited by his humanoid body (I want to smell the gamma rays!)-give him that experience, let him die happy, don't just kill him off in an instant.
Okay now I'm rambling, but point if you are going to get us emotionally attached to characters make their endings emotionally satisfying. Good characters deserve good endings. And I think the worst crime of all for this ending is that it failed to do even that.
Glad to know I'm not alone in my rage and sadness. May all future BSG disapointees find company in this blog.
Thu, 2011-04-28 13:48
Just a Seriously Overrated Show
I watched this on DVD. The first two seasons are generally well done, but it's obvious at the end they didn't have an actual story to tell. They then embarrassed themselves trying to pretend otherwise.
There is no epic interweaving of Eastern thought, or Western thought, or deep philosophical currents. It's just a pretentious con job for the gullible who can't get over how good the first two seasons seemed at the time. The science fiction content at the end is hackneyed. The Mitochondrial Eve stuff is wrong, and hackneyed even if it wasn't. The motivations of Cylons and humans alike blur into an artsy-fartsy mess that defies coherent explanation. The characters descend into arbitrary melodramatics that rob them of dramatic meaning even before the finale formally does so.
This simply isn't some profound piece of art. It's a poorly told story staving off that realization with good acting and soap opera that works until it goes into aimless overload.
Sun, 2011-05-08 18:00
Good page but I just think
Good page but I just think you had too much invested in the show. It reminds me of how I felt after watching all those wasted years of Lost. You brought up a lot of points that I initially thought about while watching the show (I just it in its entirety over a span of 3 weeks) but I just figured were nothing more than superficial and lazy errors. The fact that they dressed like us...Didn't bother me. I get the impression from watching those show that the writers aren't particularly smart guys. That, or that they wanted to tell a story and everything surrounding that story was a glossed over detail. As far as the mimicked cultures and what not, the only thing that really stood out to me was "Frack". If you can't drop the full F-bomb, don't bother at all. After all, they are writers, and I always remember a high school teacher telling me cursing was a substitute for a lack of vocabulary. With that said, I still love cursing, and Fuck is a great way to convey plenty of emotions (refer to George Carlin), but I just think that was easily the single most obnoxious thing about the show. You're telling me everything is pretty much the same except the single most illicit word in the English language?? Seriously, i bit my lip every time I heard it.
Anyway, now that I got that off my chest...The Deus Ex Machina stuff doesn't bother me. Between that and Lost and the random episodes of other recent scifi shows I've seen, it's become commonplace. It makes things easy, it gives characters a purpose that seem absolutely altruistic, and it separates these shows from daytime soap operas. It's all the same. This guy cheated on that girl. That girl killed that guy. He slept with her. She's an evil twin. It's all the same. At least when God is involved it has meaning. Unfortunately, it's just become the TV writer's tool of choice and it's something I think we should come to expect.
It kinda bothers me that the Daniel thing was never addressed. And the Kara Thrace thing was a mess. And I don't understand why Adama flew off to live alone next to a grave. And I found it insulting that the writer's tried to insinuate the angels of Six and Gaeus were anything other than representatives of God in the final lines of the show. It was probably the laziest attempt at ambiguity I've ever encountered. So yeah, there's a lot of holes, I get it. But I think anyone who reads this should heed my advice: DO NOT WATCH SERIAL EPISODES ON CABLE TELEVISION. They will always disappoint you because they are big budget corporations who have to appease sponsors while minimizing public relations disasters. Therefore, they will always be these run of the mill, hammered out finales that are all tied up with a nice bow yet don't really make much sense upon investigation. These endings are meant to elate you into submission. I was happy for Adama and Roslyn, and Helo and Athena and Hera, and Gaeus and Six, it's all nice and happy and comforting but it's also completely devoid of any artistic creativity or risk taking in story telling. It's a complete waste of time trying to interpret.
You can't look at these shows like you look at cinema or literature. You just can't. There's too much at stake besides an artistic vision or allegory or message. Watch these shows during your own time, after they end, at your own leisure. That way, you won't have built up x amount of years' expectation that can't possibly be fulfilled. Save some time. Make the networks work harder for your viewership. That's all there is to say. Otherwise, you're always gonna get the "We're in Heaven and everything is, for the most part, fucking dandy"
All in all, it was an entertaining show. Raised some internal debate regarding metaphysics and identity. Some interesting characters. But it just got stale after a while. It could've and probably should've ended a season earlier (But as I mentioned above, there are other forces at work here, and they aren't divine) As mentioned in this person's essay, using God as a driving force for the plot is just lazy and it's getting really old at this point. If you're gonna recommend it to someone, I would recommend your recommendation be this: Tell the person it's a good show but to only watch the first 3 or 4 and last 3 or 4 episodes of every season. It'll save them some time and they probably won't miss all that much anyway.
But finally. Do these networks think it's that difficult for their audiences to accept that maybe life has no meaning? Sometimes the best people don't die for a greater purpose or even any purpose at all? Stick to HBO and Showtime if you can. They're the only channels on TV producing shows worth watching in their entirety.
Fri, 2011-05-13 01:54
Hi, I know this is an old
Hi, I know this is an old essay, but I just watched the show from beginning to end and I have to say that you are spot on about everything you wrote. It was such a let down. A good mystery shouldn't end with more questions, and your essay pretty much answered all the questions I was left with. The answer? They wrote themselves into a corner with too much mysticism and left the fans with the sour taste of disappointment in their mouths. Although, I have to give some credit to the writers - its an amazing feat to ruin 60+ hours of quality storytelling in less than an hour.
Mon, 2011-05-16 18:38
There will be more like me
I guess you can consider a show as being "great" when 2 years after the end, people like myself are still posting their two cents. Being as how we missed the show on its original run, I have to thank the geniuses at Netflix for allowing us to stream the entire series of which my wife and I spent the last few weeks utterly captivated.
As far as the ending, I think the simple change of "150,000 YEARS LATER" to "5,000 YEARS AGO" prior to the NY scene would have kept the "future" notion, as well as satisfying the us and them connection.
Also, it seems that God went through a lot of work to correct the plan the HE originally conceived - a plan that apparently went awry - requiring a whole new plan for cylon and humans to live harmoniously (thus the 4-year journey of BSG), only to watch the present-day humans start screwing up all over again (enter robot montage). So... in essence, God led the gang to Earth II, only to abandon them. At least for the last 150,000 years and counting.
I agree with Brad that the concept of God in SF is a risky proposition. It's too easy to use when explaining plot lines and will invariably leave the audience with even more questions. Omnipotent characters have a tendency to do that. A comment from an earlier post nailed it by saying: "Why does God need a spaceship?"
Personally, I didn't think the conflict between poly- vs. monotheism was necessary for the progression of the story. It seems like it was more of a literary interjection to satisfy both theories of creationism and evolution in the end. It would have been, imho, just as safe to introduce the idea of ONE GOD to Baltar through scientific reasoning, rather than constant reminders from the H6. And yes, I do believe that scientific reasoning can in fact lead to the belief of God.
Did everyone catch the final conclusion that there was either one God or multiple gods, but there was DEFINITELY a higher power of sorts? So much for the Athiest vote next election.
Whether or not by design, the "Starbuck" mystery was left to the audience for interpretation. There is no question she was an instrument of God, (turns out it was a piano). As with many BSG fans, I cannot help but feel troubled by her sudden disappearance. I realize her work was done. But for crying out loud, the girl went through several near-death situations, not to mention 2 actual deaths; she was beaten up, shot at, burned, thrown in the brig, fell in love, lost her love... couldn't God let her live out the rest of her life with the others in their newfound paradise?
Is it a plausible conclusion that 39,000 people that traversed light years across the galaxy while battling machines in interplanetary conflicts would suddenly give up all technology and somehow supress all cerebral advancements and start using sticks and flint to make fire?
There is no such thing as The Great Leap Backward.
However, my biggest question is this: Why did we need Hera at all? Aside from the poignant blog regarding the true meaning of MTE, Hera was to represent "The shape of things to come". Up to that point, she was the only result of cylon and human nastification. However, I distinctly remember more sixes and eights on the fleet, namely the models used to help repair the Galactica. They must have landed with the rest of the fleet on E2. I am also pretty sure that with female cylons that looked a lot like human actors Grace Park and Tricia Helfer, there would be no shortage of willing male subjects to help ease Hera's burden of being the ONLY hybrid. I feel Hera's importance was diminished in the end. Greatly so.
And the last comment to get off of my chest, even though I fully realize that most of you saw the show 2 years ago and I'm a little late to the party...
I think Jimi Hendix's version of AATW is the best. But it was Bob Dylan's song. I was expecting Dylan in the end.
Whew. If anyone took the time to read my words, THANK YOU. I know there will be more posts from ppl like me who are just now discovering BSG. I am old enough to remember being glued to the TV for the original BSG.
BSG is one of the greatest shows. Period. I wish I could thank Mr. Moore personally for taking us on the journey. I think that our comments about the ending are not criticism in the slightest, but more of our solemn contributions to a journey that we did not want to see come to an end. Every night for the last few weeks, my wife and I would wait until our little one was asleep and turn on BSG because we HAD TO KNOW what was going to happen. We simultaneously and loudly griped when we saw the words "TO BE CONTINUED". We got teary during each episode. My wife and I shared the entire time together. It was very special.
Thank you, Mr. Moore.
Tue, 2011-05-31 02:43
"As far as the ending, I
"As far as the ending, I think the simple change of "150,000 YEARS LATER" to "5,000 YEARS AGO" prior to the NY scene would have kept the "future" notion, as well as satisfying the us and them connection."
Except that Head Six and Head Baltar were talking about Hera as being in the past.
Sun, 2011-07-03 16:02
Just watched the season 4
Just watched the season 4 DVD box I've had for a year or two but never had a time to watch before.
Jeebus, what a letdown that last episode was. It made no sense whatsoever. I thought It was obvious that the BSG was set up in the distant future (our constellations and mythology in their symbols).
Why on earth would people that have traveled light years across the galaxy while fighting the cylons would just curl up and willingly die? Just when they have beaten the odds (and the cylons) and found an habitable world? Because that's what happened. They gave up all technology, didn't try to form up cities and obviously weren't able to start farming. Farming started just 10000 years ago, so obviously the colonists died pretty quickly. With their culture, literature and scientific achievements.
Totally fracking pointless ending. I hate just these luddite hippies that think we should give up technology and start living with the stone age style...
Fri, 2011-07-29 13:53
I Don't Think That was Moore's Intent
I don't think he intended to depict them curling up and dying, which is what a factual analysis of the events depicted indicates. I just think he didn't have a clear vision of what he was doing anymore and went for an emotional appeal his story doesn't really support. Which is why it's a mess.
Interestingly, the Mrs. Ron on the SyFy forum board said it never occurred to them that anyone would think they all died. Just because, you know, they split up into small groups unable to help each other without any support infrastructure in a prehistoric world. Or that our real history they supposedly wanted to tie into contains no basis for assuming they made any contribution to us at all.
Thu, 2011-07-21 23:15
Great article. However,
Great article. However, Mitochondrial Eve IS the MRCA.
Fri, 2011-07-29 13:44
Mitochondrial Eve is not the MRCA.
Mitochondrial Eve is the matrilineal MRCA. That is not the MRCA.
Mitochonrial Eve is estimated to have lived between 140,000 to 200,00 years ago. The MRCA is estimated to have lived between 2000 and 5000 years ago.