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.
Thu, 2009-07-16 18:13
Earning their freedom
Well, the Cylons did commit a crime against the humans with that pesky genocide. I would say that fighting alongside them to rescue Hera and fend off their fellow Cylons as well as assisting the fleet and not attempting to complete the genocide was certainly penance towards their sins... and that setting them free and earning it was all about the humans letting go of their anger/revenge towards the Cylons.
Thu, 2009-07-16 20:19
The basic idea in the comic books was that the Cylons had the humans on the ropes and pulled out the first time with a strict understanding that the humans kept their nose out of the Cylons business. The humans crossed the armistice line and the Cylons viewed that as a sign of the human's true nature. Total Annihilation wasn't a question of if after that point but when.
Tue, 2009-07-14 14:26
All of this has happened before
Leaving aside the "god" element - the whole cyclical element of "all this has happened before" would have been SO much more resonant if there had been one more cycle - ie the final Earth was ours but had finally healed over time, the radioactive Earth was where "we" went next, and the now radioactive Caprica (etc) was the most recent repeat of destruction.
I really enjoyed reading this unpretentious and thoughtful article.
A Glass half full
Tue, 2009-07-14 17:22
It happened before it will happen again.
It was foreshadowed that God & Gods were a large part of this SF story early in Season 1. There were episodes where very strange "miraculous things" seemed to happen but because it was SF it didn't seem to be anything other than contrivances. Remember "33" and several episodes where Baltar's prayers changed his and the fleets fate. Obviously, the hand of an unseen force was shown in this whole series from the beginning.. I think the letdown is that we as viewers are left to debate this. Things were left unexplained that drive the Geek viewer nuts. I know it let down many but I am glad that Ron Moore never shied away from asking questions and here several month after the last episode someone is still debating this. I think that the fact that Ron Moore was never afraid to say there is a God in a Science Fiction story even though he may not believe in one is interesting. On the other hand, a friend of mine thinks of RDM as a huge Troll and he was just giving the entire fan base the finger in the ending. I prefer the former.
Fri, 2009-07-17 08:21
When an explainably
When an explainably plausible event occurs after a prayer, it does not follow that God exists and answered the prayer. I can't remember what happens in episode 33. Perhaps it is also because I wasn't expecting God to be a major part of the story, I did not see the prayers as evidence of god, instead of just coincidence (which Baltar is adept of quickly taking advantage of).
When an astronomically improbable event occurs (regardless of a prayer), then one may conclude that God exists. Eg: Having a bunch of atoms reassemble on cue to recreate the dead Starbuck and Adama's viper.
I enjoyed the show up til season ~3. There was never a serious element of God then. Season 4 just decended into mysticism that didn't relate at all to anything from before. I began to doubt any meaningful end to BSG. Starbuck re-materializing was the nail in the coffin, but even then I held hope that it could be explained. At the time I was convinced that she was actually a Cylon, and had been resurrected, which actually could have been very interesting (Adama's adopted daughter is actually the enemy he swore to fight against, also she is one of the more interesting characters of the show). Maybe Baltar and Starbuck were the next generation of humanoid-cylons. Each had special cylon traits such as projection (seeing Six in his head), and resurrection (starbuck's ressurection), but were otherwise almost indistinguishable to humans. And it was these cylons that were to shape humanity in the future to come. I'm imagining a whole different season 4 here, without also reassembling Adama's viper with an installed "Earth radar"...
Anyway, I agree with Brad. In terms of SciFi content, I can't imagine a worse ending. It was ok in terms of its drama, but due to its scientific flaws, the drama effectively amounts to nothing. I know some people don't care that much about the scientific issues and those people enjoyed the ending. However, BSG could have been so much more for so many more people. I was let-down, and I can't recommend this show to anyone knowing now what the ending is...
Tue, 2009-07-14 17:31
I think the thing that bugged me most was how Starbuck's story played out, or more accurately, how it didn't.
We got two destinies foretold for her. One, that she would lead the human race to its end. Two, that she would be the salvation of humanity. I guess technically both of those were fulfilled when she found Earth in the last episode, but man that's a cop-out, and I certainly wouldn't call that salvation.
But the Watchtower stuff actually seemed to fit (in my view) because it was only the Cylons who heard it, and it seems plausible that a song could be retained in their CPUs. Even having the song contain a secret code to Earth was fine by me. I said that only the Cylons heard it, but of course Starbuck also heard it. But was she a Cylon?
One storyline element that they should've made into a much bigger component of the series (which was unfortunately discarded and mostly forgotten) was the "Lost Cylon Model" concept. It's the 7th Cylon model which was irretrievably corrupted and lost, although they're referred to as "Daniel" by the Cylons. And as this is being revealed to us, Starbuck begins having weird visions, with the piano and the "ghost" of her father and the song he used to play all the time, which happened to be Watchtower, which led them to Earth.
I thought that was a pretty cool way to explain Starbuck's resurrection: she was the offspring (or a corrupted/reconstructed version) of the 7th Cylon, which made her partially or fully Cylon. Her resurrection could be explained with her coming from another Resurrection Ship somehow (I can't believe there was only one).
However, Moore specifically said on his podcast that all of that was wrong. But why bother then? Why go for a very plausible natural explanation and then say "oh never mind" and go for the horrible fade-out? Why even bring it up?
And if I remember correctly, every character who had visions or seemed to be fulfilling prophesies would up being a Cylon, or had a plausible way for Cylon information to get into their heads. (Roslin had Hera's blood in her, which could explain her visions. The visions she saw prior to the blood transfusion could be explained as drug hallucinations.)
That's what annoys me most. They had perfectly good answers, and then chucked them in favor of nonsense. The natural answers were good and interesting. The supernatural ones were crap.
And one last unrelated rant. In the end, Galactica was destroyed, but we didn't get to see it. WHAT A SCREW! If the ship survived, that's fine. But if it gets destroyed at the end, I want to see it explode; it could've been even more emotionally powerful than seeing the Enterprise explode in ST3.
Wed, 2009-07-15 09:27
I think that I somehow Identified with Starbuck's confusion - that Starbuck herself didn't know what she was, that all these possibilities were somehow possible to her even though they made her angry. I know the actress had trouble with this as "truth" as well. But maybe that's what Moore was going for.
Mon, 2010-09-20 21:04
Idk, it is interesting to make starbuck more supernatural
While I do agree with you mostly, Starbuck should have been connected to the cylons her actions are pivitol to the finding earth. A way of viewing the twin destinies of starbuck is choice. After her return she started down a bad path & it took the connection of the piano player to push her out of the place & back on track. If down one road death, on the other salvation. That for me is the choice starbuck had to make for herself. This theme runs throughout it within many of the characters but most telling in baltar who's choice to either act or not act @ the end more fulfill the prophecy then she does. Personally it would have been nice to see her father/piano player as "Daniel" & starbuck actually had survived the earth crash.
One thing about the visions, if in their history prophecy existed, why would it be implausible for rosilyn to have visions whether drug induced or not. I was under the impression that part of the shock of getting to know the cyclons was their simularities towards humans, even in more spiritual concepts. (I get what you mean by supernatural but there are too many simularities within our own cultures to classify all things extraordinary with such a judgmental assessment, imho) I mean, this was meant as a spiritual story in many facets, from beginning to end. Just the idea of using spirituality within this story in an abstract fashion, using expressions that mimic our own, creates peculiar & particular thoughts within us. I can remember the oddity of hearing "gods dammit" the first time & it created a sense of wonder about the spiritual aspects of this culture. The crafted offset of things in my mind helps set that stage towards a more, for lack of better expression, divine adventure.
Tue, 2009-07-14 19:09
Other science fiction shows
I agree with you almost wholeheartedly about this disaster of an ending, albeit not in so detailed a fashion. I do have a few quibbles about Babylon 5, which you mentioned at the top. I thought "Sleeping In Light" was about the best possible ending a TV show with a strong storyline could have had, especially when combined with the last few episodes immediately previous (either season 4 or 5, though 5's ending episodes worked better with it thematically.)
Secondly, you classify B5 as a "mystery-based" TV show. While there were plenty of mysteries involved in it, and two in particular were quite important - "What happened with Babylon 4?" and "What do the Shadows want?" - they in no way dominate the proceedings half as much as the "Final Five" nonsense that BSG invented halfway through its third season, which suddenly became the most important, and uninteresting, aspect of a show which had been character-based and brilliant, by-and-large, before then.
Finally, based on your description of hard SF, I'm curious as to what you might think of a theory I've been kicking around for a while: that Joss Whedon's Firefly was actually the best example of "hard" SF in a television space opera. It had entirely human characters with no FTL travel. Yet another reason to mourn its demise.
Tue, 2009-07-14 19:47
Firefly, alas, had very poor astrophysics. Like almost all TV SF, it failed to understand the geometry of space, just how vast and mostly empty it is. (Douglas Adams said this best.) You can't have hundreds of planets all around a single star which all have human compatible climates, some of them inner and some of them outer. At best you could have 2-3 gas giants in a habitable zone, each with perhaps a dozen or two habitable moons, but that's tough to make work.
And space is vast. You would never accidentally run into somebody while moving from planet to planet. (Each path is different as your target and origin are always moving relative to one another.) You would not be able to "hide" a planet in a nebula. You could not have phone calls between planets. There would be some trips that were short (moons of the same planet) and some trips that took hundreds of times longer -- varying with time of year. The hidden Reaver planet and the big nebula just above another planet that was full of Reaver ships and how you got to the Reaver planet? That just made no sense at all. (That's Serenity, though, not the TV show, but I consider them the same thing.)
But I do admire Firefly for at least trying to not have FTL.
Sleeping in Light was an OK ending to B5, the 5th season itself (filmed after SIL) was OK but not great. The original ending, where there never was a Sheridan, and 20 years later B4 reappears and Commander Sinclair (who did all that Sheridan did) goes to it to become Valen, would have been something, I suspect. They turned that into a regular episode when they had to change out the captains.
Tue, 2009-07-14 20:08
Fast reply! I think Serenity
Fast reply! I think Serenity had to take some shortcuts for the sake of brevity, so I don't consider it to be entirely the same universe. The Reaver planet thing was a little annoying.
I thought that the vast number of moons on Firefly was, yes, implausible, but not totally unlikely. I could suspend my disbelief enough to say "We really don't know enough about astrophysics to say that it would be impossible to have hundreds of planets and moons." And I don't think it's totally implausible to have general routes between them, but I'm speculating now - yes, ships running into each other is pretty weird.
Where are you getting your information about the original ending? I was big into following the show during its run, and while the Sinclair/Sheridan thing was always a little bit dubious, I'm not sure that it was to the show's detriment, particularly with the ending. Sheridan's death, and the celebration and melancholy that it entailed, created an emotionally fulfilling episode - one which I doubt would have been as effective if Sinclair wasn't dying, but instead becoming Valen.
Compared with the other SF finales I've seen - ST:TNG (all right), Buffy (laughable), and BSG (ridiculously laughable), Babylon 5's emotional resonance strikes me as brilliant.
I'm with you on season 5 in general as "ok", but the last couple of episodes immediately before the end set up a kind of "The heroes are gone, everything is lesser now" kind of feeling, which actually calls to mind Tennyson's Ulysses, which was a theme on the show.
Tue, 2009-07-14 20:46
Our current models of planetary formation and orbit, though not perfect, make it difficult to pack a lot of planets or moons close together. Put them close and their gravity starts perturbing them, making orbits unstable. Planetary and moon formation seems to follow a rule called bode's law which has each planet roughly twice as far out as the previous one, though there is still controversy about this.
Since the habitable zone of distance involves around say a 4:1 ratio of distances (which means a 16 to 1 ratio of sunlight intensities so we are stretching it a lot) you just can't squeeze a lot in there. And they had better all be huge planets big enough to have lots of moons. A small planet like Earth could not have a ton of habitable moons and it would take up one of the 3 planetary slots you get in the Goldilocks temperature zone.
So you would need to find a system with 3 giant planets, one a bit too hot, one a bit too cold and one just right (like Venus, Earth and Mars, but bigger and further out from a brighter star) and try to fit as many moons as you could around those planets, but you could still not get hundreds, and the trip between the giants would be quite long. (Like today we need 3 days to go to the Moon and 8 months to Mars.)
As to B5, JMS told the story once of how he described his planned ending to B5 to friends (before it started shooting.) He wrote about how the ending made their heads pop off, it was so mind blowing etc. If you read it (I could not find it easily right now) it is very clear he's not talking about Sleeping in Light, or the end of the Shadow War or anything like that. It's clear to me and many others that he could only be describing what became "War Without End," the return of B4.
The kicker that makes it clear, though JMS denies it: Sinclair is 20 years older during Babylon Squared (exactly the time period to Sleeping in Light) and they explain it as some bizarre time field, when there is no logical or plot reason for it. You would have to work to make me believe that Babylon Squared was not filmed with the 20 years older Sinclair shocker with the intent that he would return in 20 years, not 2. Delenn is not shown to avoid showing her new hair and she would not age much in any event.
Tue, 2009-07-14 21:07
As a matter of interest, while I have not seen some of the shows that people mention here, let me sum up some other results.
A number of other shows from the older days of TV were episodic and never really had endings of any sort, even when not suddenly canceled.
Tue, 2009-07-14 21:18
You liked the Buffy ending?
You liked the Buffy ending? I'll grant that I'd only seen a few episodes when I saw it (although they were from the middle to end of Season 3, which seems to be a consensus Best-Of for the show) but I thought it tried to do WAY too much in too little time...and the scenes of little girl Slayers playing softball were almost as hilariously bad as the dancing robots at the end of BSG.
You didn't answer the question in my first message about what you considered the "mystery" to B5. Back when I was a superfan, there was a group of fans who were totally invested in Sinclair and his destiny. They analyzed Babylon Squared over and over, and considered War Without End to be the best part of the show.
I apologize if this seems like a pretty big assumption, but based on your take on how the original ending could have been better, and the description of the show's "mystery" (which is possibly or probably Babylon Squared), I wonder if this is the angle you approached it from. I don't think this is a bad thing, I liked Sinclair. I liked Sheridan too. I'm just wondering if that's the angle you're coming at it from. Like I said, I think Sleeping in Light is more emotionally resonant by ending with death.
Tue, 2009-07-14 22:01
The Buffy Ending
I did not think it was as good as the show, or as other season-enders, but it was decent. Dramatic, with real consequences and it did bring the story arc to a satisfying point of departure at which we could leave it. But it was good, not great.
Yes, the mysteries in B5 involved Sinclair, Valen etc. as well as the Shadows & Vorlons & Lorien. But they did not dominate the show the way the Final Five dominated BSG.
Thu, 2009-07-16 15:22
Reading this finally triggered my impulse to write about how Battlestar Galactica messed up its ending, and it did so based on its overall storytelling methods.
By the end of BSG, the show was almost completely different from its stellar starting point. Consistency, both in storyline and in characterization, had been thrown out the window. Is there any wonder, then, that the ending was a crushing disappointment? The methods that Battlestar Galactica used to maintain interest and build intensity were, just like the fantasy mega-epics, initially thrilling, but eventually tiresome. This kind of storytelling is the rough equivalent of a microwave dinner. It's fast, it requires very little work, and it's edible. But it's no likely to be anywhere near as good as a meal made with care.
Wed, 2009-07-15 18:03
DS9 ending was awesome.
I felt that DS9's ending was probably about the best TV sci-fi ending there could be. I'm not particularly interested in relitigating the B5 vs. DS9 wars--long story short, I'll concede that the former had a more compelling grand arc but DS9 was better for longer and created a richer universe--but DS9 had like a ten episode final arc that was incredibly strong, and while I would have liked the finale with the prophets to have been just the least bit bigger I felt it got the job done nicely.
In the end, I suspect that DS9 will age better than BSG. Indeed, it already has. The Earth coup episodes were some of the most prescient and truthful depictions of national security ideology run amok ever on television, and I always felt that, while BSG was interested in religion mostly in the context of its mythology, DS9 tried to show how it linked with politics, and personality, and interpersonal relationships in ways that BSG never cared about. Galactica assumed a lot of weighty themes but often underdelivered on them, in my opinion.
James Anderson ...
Fri, 2009-07-31 05:50
DS9 bowed out gracefully, didn't really end
I was and am a huge fan of DS9 and am very disappointed that there never was a DS9 cinematic movie, or even a TV movie or two to wrap up some of the big, dangling threads left by the series finale (e.g., the "kinder and gentler" Ferengenar with Rom as Nagus, and of course, Sisko being lost in the wormhole). Without addressing those and other key developments that happened int the last season, DS9 seems to me to remain unfinished. My only hope is that sometime in the future, CGI will mature to the point where "new" episodes of old live-action ST series can be created entirely in the computer, allowing us to revisit DS9 despite the fact that the original actors will, by then, be too old to play their roles -- perhaps even be dead. At that time, ironically, I suppose I will myself be too old to care, but I'll certainly buy a ticket or a DVD if they are able to do it in the next several years...
Fri, 2010-04-23 12:11
"Serenity" didn't have FTL; "Firefly" never addressed it
The TV series never addresses the issue of how the characters go from world to world; they Just Do. (In fact, the actual cosmography of "Firefly" isn't defined in the series itself.)
"Serenity" claims that it's all a single star system, but that was several years after the TV show.
Fri, 2010-04-23 21:45
No, the show also laid it out
While the show did not go into great detail about it, the show did describe that this was a different star system from Earth-that-was (obviously) and that it had inner planets and outer planets, and there was obviously no FTL within the system. It missed out on the problem that you can't really have inner planets and outer planets have them both have a climate suitable for humans with sunny shirtsleeve weather days.
Tue, 2009-07-14 19:14
RDM = Random Deus ex Machina
RDM = Random Deus ex Machina
Tue, 2009-07-14 22:07
The best of all possible endings
How could the giant black hole not figure in the ending?
I think the best ending would have been for an end to the Cycle of Time to occur... by flushing humans and Cylons down the black hole.
The worst unresolved plot for me was this second plane of existence where the dead live. Going down the black hole would have provided an opportunity to plunk everyone onto that second plane of existence. It also would have made the involvement of God significantly less stoopid.
It would have been appropriately dark. It would have provided an answer to what was God's plan, and why did the Cylons and humans have to be in the same place at the same time at the very end. And some miraculous escape of Hera plus a few of her rescuers to Earth might have even allowed RDM to do his ending without it being as stoopid.
Also, the Roslin ending was all wrong. Roslin is Moses, and Moses never set foot in the Promised Land. Period. I would have liked an ending where Roslin helped rescue Hera, and she a few lucky others limp to Earth in a Raptor and Roslin dies before they break atmo. It would have tied up the obvious Moses parallel and made her death more poignant.
Finally, wasn't the show's great big question, "Are we worthy of survival?" Why is the final answer to that question so stoopidly ambiguous? On the one hand, it starts out a resounding Yes, as God plops our heroes down on a lush planet full of apes to mate with. On the other hand, the two angels walk through modern day society glowering and yukking it up about how awesome it's gonna be to eradicate humanity AGAIN.
Tue, 2009-07-14 23:32
How would a black hole help?
I am sorry but I am unable to grasp a thought of how people crushing into a (very small) black hole would help plotwise. Of course if you consider a black hole to be everything that a black hole isn't, you can do anything, but if a black hole is a black hole, I can't see how it would help.
Tue, 2009-07-14 23:42
Finally, wasn't the show's
Finally, wasn't the show's great big question, "Are we worthy of survival?"
Exactly! This question was one of the most interesting parts of BSG, and it was practically dropped in the last season. On the surface the end seems to answer "yes! humanity deserves to survive!" and yet none of colonial culture survived, which seems more like a no. After years of fighting to keep their society going, to preserve democracy, they just settle down and let everything fade back to the state of nature. So... humanity is worthy of survival, but only if they do 150,000 years of penance? The ending really did seem to say that colonial society had failed and "god" was going to basically obliterate them and try again with the new society that eventually arose on Earth. And that's a pretty depressing end to a show that asked us to care deeply about these characters and their larger mission of preserving their society.
Tue, 2009-07-14 22:17
The dumbest science screw up on the show
The absence of aliens is the single most unscientific element on BSG.
We are told there are at least 17 habitable planets (12 colonies, Kobol, Earth, Earth 2, New Caprica and the Algae Planet).
On not a single one of these planets did a distinctive life form evolve. Really? I'm not necessarily talking intelligent or even highly evolved life. But, is it realistic to think that all 17 habitable planets only took to plant and animal life that was clearly recognizable to the Colonials?
We're not talking about marginally habitable planets -- even Earth 2 and New Caprica would have had some surprises. Heck, New Caprica should have had distinct megafauna, ala Hoth. We're talking about extremely habitable planets, that don't host so much as a single organism that surprises the Colonials.
Tue, 2009-07-14 22:32
There I can't agree
We don't know enough about the prevalence of life in the cosmos to judge if it would be very rare or very common, so I think a writer is free to write that as they like. Not having aliens was a good thing in my view.
Wed, 2009-07-15 15:42
lets be charitible here.
lets be charitible here. It's a TV show. It's expensive enough to ship everyone out the the backwoods of the greater Vancouver region for location shoots, when you have to start populating said woods with CGI megafauna it starts getting into movie budget territory. It would also be a distraction from the story. Hell, if you're not willing to accept that you can argue some kind of cosmic seeding from an ancient migration in an earlier cycle of the Story.
The 327th Male
Tue, 2009-07-14 23:23
One thing I think you failed to criticize enough in your deconstruction is the motivation of the characters. Why would Lee Adama suggest that they abandon their technology? Why would he and Bill Adama separate, never to see each other again? Why would Tyrol choose the life of a hermit? Why would the colonists and their representatives, who continually disagree on every possible course of action throughout the entire series, suddenly make a unanimous decision to become neo-luddites?
Wed, 2009-07-15 11:46
I decided not to do a long list of the things of this nature, as the article is already long and others have covered that, and there isn't a great deal of deeper examination to be done on these things. I agree with most of them. I did point out how odd the Luddism is because the only real (script) reason for it is to warp things to set them 150K years in the past.
There are many more character actions I can't fathom but I did not want to make a long nitpick list of them. You already know them if you watched the show, I suspect. Though I was tempted to point out that it's odd that Baltar gets all sentimental about farming knowledge talking to the woman who knew, helped, and then murdered his father.
Sun, 2009-07-19 21:00
I'd compare RDM to a magician who creates a big flash to get your attention and whirls his hands to confuse you. That's fine if you can pull the rabbit out of the hat but RDM lacks that ability to deliver. He kept things going with the "best show on television" mantra and a sucked a room full of writers dry but he lacked focus and lost touch if it was ever really there to begin with. That explains it for me at the series and character level. We got trolled.
Wed, 2009-07-15 07:21
It was Time Travel.
I just got as far as failure #4 and have an explanation, which is no more satisfying but does help to make sense of it (at least to me).
The eradicated/irradiated earth they saw was our Earth. Starbuck made an FTL jump using magic beans(notes) inside the event horizon of a Black hole, which made them jump through time. Look, I hate even my own explanation, but it works, because there is no way you can convince me the first planet wasn't earth.
While the FTL jump in the proximity of a black hole is pretty weak, it is what happened. The problem I think was the show was already running way over time (although there certainly were many other scenes that could have been cut to save this one) and you didn't get to see as much of the black hole and how close to being spaghettified the Galactica was.
It was our future eradicated earth and our past earth- this is still awful in every other way described, but it solves the past/future issue.
Wed, 2009-07-15 11:49
Time travel is evil
Don't get me started on Time Travel. Time travel is the worst of TV SF. So many TV SF shows do it, because it's certainly fun and exciting, but it comes at a huge cost to the consistency of the show. And that's why Moore promised he would not do it, and while he broke promises I still will hold him to this one.
Understand as well that with the show now over, while we can imagine alternate explanations, and we often do, this is just imagination. There's no basis for them in the show. The same applies to the tweak I describe -- a note that the Kobolians must have originally come from our Earth. It fixes a huge problem but there is no hint of it in the show.
Wed, 2009-07-15 14:20
I'm not convinced.
A friend tried to convince me that irradiated earth was not our Earth, but it clearly had our continental landmasses... until later on when it did not. In the "maybe-this-will-be-the-finale" episode Revelations, the fleet over the planet is looking down at Earth, our Earth, THE Earth. When Sometimes a great notion came around the Landmass changed, retconning the whole thing.
Is it up to us to decide exactly what that planet was? Are we to accept that they simply changed their mind and that it was Earth only if they didn't get to continue the series? I don't buy it- I saw Earth, and Earth it remains, meaning the black hole forced a time warp out of an otherwise standard FTL jump. If we buy the cut and paste retcon, then fine it wasn't time travel, it was something infinitely more lame and less explainable.
Also, regarding the sudden and ill-advised luddite movement- not only did they throw away everything an advanced society NEEDS to survive, but they basically murdered Anders. Also, let's not forget the machinery of the ancient world- Slavery. You stated that the colonials and Cylons could never get along with their history, which is an issue I had as well, but I think it just as likely that the natives would either be none-too-pleased with their strange new visitors leading to strife and unrest or so in awe of them that they would submit to them as gods. Either way, they would become slaves to the superior colonists or at least to the Cylons. Slavery was the heavy machinery of a pre-industrial world, and even the most technophobic of Aerelonian farmers would need to get things done, and sooner or later some 6 would demand a pyramid built in her honor.
Speaking of Cylons- they let the centurions just fly off, hoping they don't come back and wipe them out? Hasn't this happened before...? Also, if they trust the Centurions so much, why didn't they let them keep the Anders-helmed Galactica, which would surely have healed with Cylon goo and a Hybrid controlling the process? One of the things I was really hoping to see was the evolution of the beloved Galactica, mirroring the integration of human and Cylon species/societies.
Then there is the biggest Cylon problem of all- forgive me for not citing specifics, it has been quite some time since I debated this, but they only took out two Cavil/Simon/Doral BaseStars with the Colony. There were certainly more than two BaseStars chasing down the remainder of humankind and the Cylon rebels(2s, 6s and 8s). Cavil is still out there- unless of course he was left behind, say about 162,000 years in the future.
I like calling Hera "Midichlorian Eve." I think you can gather why.
Wed, 2009-07-15 14:49
I can't agree
There was much debate among fans after Revelations as to whether the planet had been confirmed as our Earth, and one of the main points that kept the mystery was that nobody could identify any landmass (or star patterns, not that this mattered) on that planet. So if you identified a land mass, let us know. A lot of people looked quite hard.
Then Moore said "It's Earth" in his 10-things special, but of course he was being tricky, it was the Earth of the colonial scriptures and now he would get to paint it as Earth mark 1.
We don't know what happened to them right away, but we do know what happened in the long run:
Thu, 2009-07-16 08:34
That's funny. Imagine if they used the Close Encounters theme instead of Watchtower...
Wed, 2009-07-15 17:01
I'm pretty much with you on
I'm pretty much with you on most of your essay, Brad. No surprise there. It's difficult to add anything that I haven't said before but Ron blew it and that's what most people will probably remember. I've seen the pilots for his two follow on series and they sucked. I'd rather just forget about the guy and move on.
The last 10 seconds of The Matrix with immature flyby didn't ruin the movie but on top of the messed up sentinel scene marred what was an otherwise great movie. Similarly, I enjoyed Die Hard with a Vengeance but the bit after the telephone box scene ruined it. I have a sneaking suspicion that BSG ended up suffering from too much ego and going on too long. Ron killed a franchise before it had a chance to go to the next level.
I'm really cheesed off that Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles got axed. That had some truly fantastic moments in places and touched on human and AI natures in a closer and more resonant way than BSG did. The only other big Sci-fi is Doctor Who. After RTD ran that into the ground rumours suggest it may get a reboot with the new producer. My guess (hope) is the timeline gets reset so all that Rose and Lord of the Rings fantasy nonsense can be forgotten. We'll see.
I'm finding sci-fi is very disappointing at the moment.
Wed, 2009-07-15 18:06
I liked The Sarah Connor Chronicles as well. I liked how it tried to explore AI from a nonhuman perspective--the question wasn't "How are the terminators different from humans?" so much as "What are they, actually?" Good stuff.
Thu, 2009-07-16 08:31
That's pretty much on the
That's pretty much on the nail. I've seen comment which suggests that SKYNET went bad because it was given impossible conditions and, of course, there's the later on screen "dereprogramming" of Terminators. You've got nutjobs and brainwashed followers there straight away. Perhaps, SKYNET has to be destroyed and the Terminators "rehabilitated" but once you get beyond that things look different.
Human narrative history is littered with tales of Shangri-la and heroes. Before a fan backlash caused a rewrite it looked like both T:TSCC and Terminator: Salvation were heading in that direction. After the cancellation of the television series and change of movie direction things look different. It's difficult to say whether TV scheduling or movie direction was "right" or "wrong" but we may have missed something here.
Personally, I'm left in a place where I'd just like to wipe the decks of old franchies and get something new. What we're getting isn't very satisfying.
Wed, 2009-07-15 19:55
There's another problem with
There's another problem with the ending of this show, and one that I think really strikes to many of hte problems.
Cavil. See, in the beginning, the first couple of seasons, moral agency is very important. What decisions do you make, HOW do you handle this? Do you fight for yourself, or for society? Do you accept that the Cylons are human, or that the genocide of mankind was wrong, or do you continue shouting the party line. Those were some of the best episodes...is it wrong to torture a cylon? If Roslin is happily ordering them spaced, and deciding to hide Hera, what does that say about humanity?
But the problem comes in Cavil's story arc-- he lobotomized the centurions, betrayed and mind wiped the final five, evidently totally deceived the other Cylons-- and we find out about this in the last season. Suddenly, HUGE segments of the shows grounding are lost. The question of the Colonies moral guilt or lack there of is lost, because we know know that Cavil was going to attack, out of spite and revenge. The attacks go from potentially the vengeance of a slave race to one mans hatred...but more so, it removes any moral weight from the Cylons, who Themselves had no choice in the matter. The moral ambiguity vanished-- much as if you did a fictional story set in the South where we find out that racism is due to some secret mind control device being used by a secret cabal of madmen-- the question of how does the United States deal with racism, the very real questions of guilt and repentence are short circuited by that fact.
Sadly, Cavil's subplot turned to series into a Black and White pulp story in a very important-- and not good way. It was a lazy bit of writing and I think sadly foreshadowed the worst part, the ending in Daybreak which was lazy and hateful.
Thu, 2009-07-16 08:35
I can agree with the broad
I can agree with the broad thrust of that. Additionally, I've read the comic book series "The Final Five", and the whole thing was a mess. It waffled, it twisted, and right at the end its resolution was just bullshit. The Cavil focus dragged the whole thing off the mainline people were expecting and it can't even be solved with a retcon after the fact.
Thu, 2009-07-16 15:56
I agree 100% with this.
I agree 100% with this.
They took an interesting, nuanced character and turned him into Paradise Lost Lite; after the lazy, knee-jerk moralizing of No Exit, I saw the "moral message" of Daybreak coming, though I must say that I was surprised and disappointed by the lengths they went to.
I mean, the fact that BSG ended in an offhanded, barely-acknowledged genocide is astonishing. Did the writers forget the lessons of Downloaded and Flesh & Bone, or do they actually think that it's OK to simply slaughter people who are "evil"? Er, wasn't that exactly what made Cavil "evil" in the first place? Wasn't it also what Tyrol was doing to Tory? And weren't the humans and "good" Cylons also doing it throughout the entire program? If so, then why did it earn Cavil a God-imposed death sentence, when everybody else got a pat on the back for it?
It's worth noting, too, that Cavil never did anything the "good" Cylons and/or the humans didn't -- the "good" Cylons were willing and eager to kill what they thought were their own "parents" during Season 1 and 2, and Roslin and Adama were happy to lie to their own people, kidnap children, perform weird medical experiments, suspend democracy, and even order total genocide when it suited them to do so. This moral ambiguity was supposed to be the entire point of the show, so it seems bizarre to cast Cavil as an irredeemable baddie five minutes before the end!
The writers seem to have forgotten that the show was supposed to be about a vicious *cycle* of violence, not "the boy who was mad at mommy and took it out on all the nice, innocent people who never, ever did anything wrong". It's as if the finale was written by someone whose entire moral education was based upon the first five minutes of Sunday School... which they napped through. :P
Fri, 2009-07-17 12:51
While there is no shortage of problems, this is exactly what boils down to making it the worst ending ever.
No matter how many plot holes, whether or not it ended with time travel, etc, it boiled down to one cylon having mommy issues. I was never able to accept when Cavil decided to start messing with the centurions, so finding out he manipulated the entire cylon race made the whole conflict irrelevant. Seriously, with all that technology at your disposal, just download into a centurion- Nevermind, I could type all day if I let myself get started.
I really had no interest in Caprica to begin with, but after that atrocity I won't be watching the Plan or Caprica at all.
Thu, 2011-12-22 11:52
I just want to say: WORD. That is a great summation. While Brad has listed many flaws, and I myself have outlined some major character issues, this is a brilliant point. Creating a "big bad" -- and one that manipulates everything... well, within Gog's framework, I guess -- robs the show of its original, wonderful shades of gray. The episode where Starbuck tortures Leoben was brilliant. The show both offers justifications and critiques of torture, and makes a reasonable argument for both (along with the airlocking). Afterwards one finds oneself thinking about one's own opinion on torture. IS there ever a time when it's a great idea? Is it justified? Isn't it? And in order to ask those questions, one must ask whether or not this Cylon, this thing, is actually a person. And this is fundamental to human conflict. The dehumanization of our enemy. You can't ask non-sociopaths to keep slaves unless you dehumanize them. The show was great at examining this stuff. And then... shades of gray disappeared. The whole, "does humanity deserve to survive?" question is less relevant, or maybe completely irrelevant when the challenge they're faced with is a petulant child of a Cylon who pulls the strings of every other cylon and plots his revenge from the get-go. It's almost more contrived and damaging than Gog who pulls the strings and plots its plan from the get-go. Eesh.
Wed, 2009-07-15 23:36
This series is not over......
A well written essay even though I for the most part enjoyed the ending of BSG....but in reality this story is not over. I have a strong feeling if Caprica has a successful run on television a lot of the unanswered questions BSG left behind will be answered in Caprica. Remember that while Caprica and BSG are different shows they do make up one big story. A big reason while the story has been split into separate shows is the keep the story from getting stale like Smallville or the X-Files did after being on the air for 8 or 9 seasons.
Also the whole doing the ending in the future would not of worked because they kinda did that already with the ending of the episode "Reveleations" with the "original" Earth being destroyed. To do it again at the end of the series would have been pointless.
Thu, 2009-07-16 07:41
Starbuck and Kobol
Thanks for the great essay and giving the show the quality and quantity of thought and analysis it deserved.
One thing that really bothered me which you barely touch on is Starbuck's transformation from classic protagonist to becoming the hand of Deus ex Machina. We were in her head, with all of her struggles, self-destructive behaviour, intense ambivalence about being a leader, from the very beginning of the series. Even after she returns from death, we experience her fear and anger about not knowing what she is. Then suddenly, she becomes an angel, peaceful and accepting, and we don't know why. We weren't with her during whatever moment of realization/transformation she experiences. This is a key turning point in the story of one of the key characters of the whole series, and we aren't witness to it. I think this was the biggest failure to keep it "about the characters".
As for the prequel/sequel debate. I was expecting and was not surprised that the story is set in our distant past and not the future. My reasoning was that the tribe that Anders belonged to was capable of many things, and in some ways were surrogate gods by granting eternal life through resurrection technology. I was willing to believe in a collective unconscious that was essentially man-made (cylon-made), because they believed that we need something to have faith in that is bigger than ourselves, in order to be better people. That's what I think the Cylon philosphy/religion was about. The Cylons had the scientific ability to create a collective unconsciousness the same way they created all of the manchurian candidate cylons. But then I agree that even this storyline falls apart once they reach pre-historic earth, for the same reasons you outline.
You could explain everything in BSG without needing a true Divine Hand, but it requires such logical hoop-jumping that all pleasure is lost, at least for me. For instance, that ship of cylon centurions they sets out into the wild black yonder, it's feasible that they could evolve to become agents of the cylon-created god, and come back to earth now and then to help things along. Not much better than a Divine solution as far as I'm concerned, but still allows everything in the show to happen without an actual divine god.
Finally, something I loved about the finale that you didn't touch on, was the story arc of Anders' character. I thought that was fantastic, and I thought deftly handled a catharsis that could be described as being spiritual, without being supernatural.
Thanks again for the great essay.
Thu, 2009-07-16 08:39
According to the "Final
According to the "Final Five" comic book series, the Centurians were designed not to evolve.
Thu, 2009-07-16 11:51
I think that it's wrong to read the essay as listing the things that will be kept real. They are examples of things often done wrong, not a complete list.
In the end, if you're doing SF, you have to ask, why are you doing SF? Why not fantasy? In most cases if you're doing SF, you take on a mantle of keeping it real. Perfectly real? Obviously people often choose otherwise. But the closer the better. And more to the point, when you break the rules, you should do it for a reason, not because you are lazy or ignorant -- every show can afford a science advisor, and this show had one.
You pointed out that podcast before and it still surprises me, both that nobody saw it when there was much debate (and more the point, Moore was often asked to say when the show was set and he refused, as though he wanted people to forget this or something.) But also because of the Tomb of Athena scene, which is hard to imagine would be written carelessly (though it may have been) but which doesn't fit a setting in the past at all, and still doesn't. Grazier just lists it as one of the big mistakes of the show, but what sort of mistake was it?
Thu, 2009-07-16 12:15
My view is the Tomb of
My view is the Tomb of Athena mistake is a sign that Ron's judgement and team management had failed. From that point on he was aiming for an unworkable goal and lost contact with the audience. It just took a while for that to become obvious. To some degree that explains why I'm not too interested in the arguments surrounding BSG or whatever the people involved with it might spooge. Brain farts are rarely worth analysing and BSG ended up being, in the final analysis, a brain fart.
Thu, 2009-07-16 13:51
This is extremely well thought-out and constructed, and serves as a wonderful glossary on the goals of science fiction and its methods.
I would propose one thought about why religion / "God's plan" plays so prominently in BSG: I believe that good SF speaks to things that are occurring in the time in which is is written. Hence "Star Trek" explored issues of race, as did "Planet of the Apes;" "Star Trek: The Next Generation" explored gender issues. BSG had a lot of examinations of current events: terrorism and the 'war on terror;' the 'enemy among us' concept; what is the line between winning a war and losing one's humanity. Up until recently, the intertwining of religion and politics in the USA became stronger than ever - and BSG's exploration of religion / "God's plan" may be because of this fact.
Doesn't excuse the ending though, I was disappointed too.
Thu, 2009-07-16 16:07
Just wanted to say I really
Just wanted to say I really enjoyed this essay.
The point I especially agree on is that the writers' fascination for the idea of MTE, and their efforts to have the time fit, is what ultimately ruined the ending.
And how no one bothered to check what MTE meant scientifically... well, that's just beyond me!
Thu, 2009-07-16 16:49
BSG: The Final Edit
After returning to this topic and reading through some more of the comments I wondered if Brad might like to ditch the analysis and present an alternative ending to BSG. Assuming BSG internally went wrong at some point around the Temple of Athena how would Brad see the final series going? I'd be interested to know as I believe the earlier fan vision we discussed was much more credible than what finally hit the screens.
I'm not sure it's possible but after playing with the idea of offering to do the production work for Brad's BSG comedy idea I just thought that a fan-made BSG mini-movie that 'corrects' the show might be worth a look. This would stretch fair use but that might be made easier if clips are intermixed with static shots, dialogue, and script filler. The reason is we can nit-pick and handwave until the cows come home but you can't duck an alternative.
I've been pretyt clear from the get-go that BSG fell off the rails and I felt betrayed. This suggestion isn't intended to be a smackdown but, perhaps, some way we can make the point better and, maybe, help resolve some of the broken trust. That all depends on whether it can be done and how people receive it.
Thu, 2009-07-16 17:25
Battlestar Redactica: a Fan-edited 4.5
Someone's already done something similar. Obviously it's not entirely in keeping with the very good points and ideas Brad has here, but essentially it takes the view that it's better to end before the mess of Earth2 and attempts to save what comes before. It's not so much a fan-edit of the final episode - more like an entire fan-version of 4.5 that more-or-less ends at 4.18. Major changes include confirming Starbuck as a hybrid, changing up the Liam plotline, getting rid of the weird Nicky retcon, cutting a lot of the Emo Adama stuff and the A/R romance, that kind of thing. 4.11 and 4.15 are left alone, but the mutiny stuff and the stuff after no exit are turned into fan movies.
Maybe if enough people start making their own versions, we can forget the real one?
Thu, 2009-07-16 19:47
I'd go for tossing the entire series four and building a feature length episode. I'm not really sure series 4 can be saved so better to start from a blank slate. Plus, distributing that amount of copyright material is both difficult to justify and a bit suspect.
I'm not going to look at that reworked material but, I agree, a better alternative would help us forget the abortion of the fourth series.
RDM has suggested that BSG has ended in a way that it can't be restarted but that's not entirely true. A mild reinterpretation of the final episode's conclusion is all it would take. I'm not going to say what that is or my concept for a continuation this side of a fat cheque but it could be done.
The idea I have for a pilot is similar to the stunt Richard Hatch pulled. Some existing BSG material could be reworked but the rest would have to be new stuff. Its doable. If it was executed well enough, I suspect, people wouldn't even remember BSG. The new franchise would just wipe it off the map.
(I'm not sure if that's a challenge or me begging to be hired, but there you go.)
Fri, 2009-07-17 07:05
Well, the movie rights
Well, the movie rights holders have already commissioned a movie that is unrelated to the television series – I’m not certain whether it’s a continuation or yet another reboot. But I seriously doubt that the television rights holders are going to immediately create yet another reimagination of a show which has been an incredibly huge critical success for them – even the finale, even though that’s confusing to some of us. It’s not going to happen until quite a long time has passed. And, as mentioned, is far more likely to occur in movie form due to the separation of creative rights issues (see also Buffy).
And any kind of fan project at /all/ is going to create potential copyright issues. There are three main ways you could create an alternate ending –
1) fan edit. This poses the most obvious copyright issues, and I can understand anyone’s reluctance to become involved or complete such a project due to those issues. Practically, the rights holders would have access to far more and far better lawyers and would eat that kind of thing alive if they chose to do so, but as an academic point of interest, there’s no reason a fan edit couldn’t be a lawful use of copyrighted material. It would come down to whether or not the fan edit could be construed as a “transformative work” and that is determined on a case-by-case basis. It also would vary from edit to edit as some available fan edits of movies change extremely little and essentially exist only to “trim” and “tighten” a plotline, while others, such as “Bateman Begins” (not one I personally rate as technically excellent, but a good example for this purpose) seeks to create an entirely new and drastically different narrative from that of both (primary) films used in its creation. There’s also the issue of whether the fan edit would offer critique on the original or throw new light on a new aspect of it, possibly this would also apply to edits of The Phantom Menace, for instance, that were created specifically as a form of critical dialogue with the original movie.
2) fan script/fiction. The most common form of fan “rewrite”, and the one least likely to attract legal attention. It’s tacitly accepted by the media as a positive community-building fan activity. However, the combination of the visual/written difference in medium and the fact that it’s a “flooded market” means that this may not have the impact you would want. (Note: all of these options would lack the impact of an “official” product, but if the point is to demonstrate dissatisfaction from a fan point-of-view then perhaps a fan-project is best placed for this?)
3) fan film. You could just go out and film it yourself. This obviously also entails a very dodgy area of copyright where its legality would hinge on whether or not it was “transformative” even though it might seem less obviously an issue of copyright infringement than the fan edit option above due to the fact you would not be redistributing footage filmed for the aired television series wholesale. The other downside to this idea is the logistical and financial issues involved in filming a fan film – actors, sets, equipment, etc. The Star Trek New Adventures are a good example of this kind of project on a large scale and Star Wars also has a large number of high quality fan-produced films of this kind.
Another point that’s tangential to the ongoing discussion but potentially interesting with regards to the infringement issue is the position of Lucasfilm on the matter. Despite being aware of the issue of fan edits (there are more fan edits of SW films than pretty much anything else), their only statements on the matter have been to the effect that they will act when they feel their copyright has been infringed, suggesting that they do not yet hold this point of view. In addition, they actively encourage fan film projects (obviously as long as no financial gain is made) to the degree that George Lucas himself gives an award to his favourite fan film at an annual fan film competition/award show. I believe they are all hosted at AtomFilms.
Similarly, no action has been taken against the New Adventures ST project.
But ultimately, sadly, I do not think there is any real prospect of any “official” fix for the finale (personally I was okay with most of the fourth season), and there are no avenues of fan production which do not entail one form of (un)tolerated copyright breach or another.
Fri, 2009-07-17 08:31
I can appreciate the legal
I can appreciate the legal issues which is why my proposal would be a mix of original material, storyboarding, and other devices to fill the gaps. I doubt it's going to happen so I'm not treating it seriously. In any case, I feel burned by the whole thing so don't have much interest in it anyway.
I do have some thoughts on a continuation but owe RDM and Sci-Fi nothing so they're never going to hear it. If I was going to put meaningful effort into anything it would have to involve a paycheck or be an original IP that I owned outright. Anything else is just fanwank.
Fri, 2009-07-17 10:02
In any case, I feel burned
In any case, I feel burned by the whole thing so don't have much interest in it anyway.
This I definitely empathise with.
It's a shame because really, I'd love to see a lot more fan-edits and/or projects such as the one you propose in a guerilla effort to reclaim the show, but the paradox is that it's a lot of effort to put into something when your main motivation would be the fact you didn't like something.
I hope you find something worth investing your time, creativity and possibly money in, and wish you fantastic luck with it.
Fri, 2009-07-17 11:53
Brad's got some mileage out of this and I'm happy to support that, and I enjoy reading some of the very good comment its attracted. I hoped mentioning it might prod Brad into another essay but if a fan alternative was on the table there would have to be a compelling reason to be involved. I wouldn't do it to boost Sci-Fi's stock value or kiss RDM's ass. Call me selfish.
Really, if I did go anywhere with it I'd rather reshape it into a standalone project. It's possible to take the basic ideas and reshape it into something new. That sort of thing happens all the time. My opinion is Caprica and Virtuality are mistakes. They're a drag on where the franchise could've gone. I'm surprised nobody spotted that but given Sci-Fi and RDM's lack of vision it shouldn't come as a shock.
I genuinely don't see anything else on the table. Science fiction movies have been pretty dead this year and there's next to nothing on the TV schedules. I can't help thinking that too many MBA's and accountants have been let loose and turned their own prophesies of doom into reality. If there is a silver lining to this it creates an opportunity for someone or communities with vision to take the initiative.
Fri, 2009-07-17 20:00
Beware the wank
Criticism, as well as describing avenues for improvement is one thing. Rewriting the story runs the risk of falling into fanwanking. Which can be fun, and I've done it, but it is a bit self-indulgent, unless you're very good. Some people are very good. In a sense, Moore was doing this with BSG, rewriting it, and he was very good -- even in spite of the failure of the ending.
I did a bit of this while the show was on. I fooled myself into thinking it was more than that, because it really did seem that what I was considering might well have been the writers' plan. Some of it was, which was why my view of it generated a few correct predictions, like the Final Five being old and from Earth (wrong Earth though) and thus being characters like Tyrol or even Tigh who had been with the colonies from the first war. And the prediction of Ellen. But of course, I was quite off from what the writers planned when it came to Cavil and God being the two secret string-pullers, and way it played out with two Earths, in the past.
I don't think it's hard to lay out improvements, but without a lot of work (like the famous Star Wars Phantom Edit) I am not sure what fans would get from it.
Sat, 2009-07-18 01:13
The Best Response
I was disapointed by the direction things took and breaking of the producer and audience contract. That's been discussed before so a waste of time going over again. People can mishandle a franchise and lose touch with the audience but beyond that you start getting into naked politics and that can head into self-damage very fast. Under those circumstances it's probably better just to walk away.
You've made some very good points about fanwank and expectations. A revised ending might have standalone merit but it's a lot of work and that effort's probably better off being invested in a new IP. It would have the advantage of not pissing people off and offering something new. I'm no fan of riding someone else's coat tails. It lacks credibility and you could never profit from an IP you don't own in any case.
"The best response to a movie is to make another movie."
Sat, 2009-07-18 01:30
The main attraction
Is that you don't have to change too much to make it good. That's a credit to Moore but also a negative -- why didn't he? But alas my desired ending has to truly do more than undo the final episode, because I did not like the "Cavil as mastermind" plot. What I didn't like was it made all the other characters puppets of Cavil -- the final 5 were his victims and given a mindwipe. The other 6 Cylons were also given partial mindwipes. Takes away a lot of what they were, what they meant, puts most of the evil on Cavil. So the story I wanted deviated much earlier, since I figured the Final 5 (and Ellen in particular) as the masterminds made more sense. I had this cute idea that they were posthumans who deliberately incarnated themselves as human every generation to retain their humanity. That might be too much for a TV show audience to handle. However, given Moore's plot with Cavil, it can still be made better with far fewer tweaks.
Sat, 2009-07-18 02:30
Best Minimal Change
I agree, your "best minimal" change is the most practical and least effort revision. A better end is possible but that involves dealing with the long decline. The point you'd pick is almost arbitrary and would involved gutting most of the fourth series hence my suggestion of an edit presented in the movie style.
One problem with BSG is you've got two stories. The original chase and retconned Final Five are where BSG went right but also went wrong. The Final Five could've been a big reveal consistent with the earlier chase, or taken on the more credible mythical role in full. What we got was a fumbled compromise.
Personally, I'd take the idea of an edit and do a continuation. The concept is workable and it lifts you out of the clutter of RDM's mess. It would put the whole BSG nonsense in the past, offer something new, and have less chance of pissing off the people who liked the ending. This has broader fan appeal.
If anyone was going to make that sort of effort it would be the BSG IP owners. Any fan seriously considering it would probably be better off rebranding and tweaking it into an original IP. That would shake off the copyright issues. But that's getting into something else entirely.
Sat, 2009-07-18 19:18
I think that the Final Five question - why didn't they appear before New Caprica? - is the one that is easiest to answer and maintain the show's general integrity. The main thing I didn't like about it was the retconning of five characters we already knew about, which strained credibility to the breaking point.
So I thought of two main answers which would keep much of the show intact, but not be, well, a stupid retcon.
1) The last five Cylon models were not normal humanoid models. The first three are the Centurions, Raiders, and Hybrids. Then there was a nano-Cylon, which can be transmitted to a biological entity and interact with its intelligence - Head Six and Head Baltar. Potentially, they can be different or the same entities, or for a final of the five Cylons, the fifth is their God. (Their God could also have been a networking of Hybrids, or some such thing).
2) The last five models did not wish to deal with the colonies, but instead wished to explore the universe/find and destroy Earth. Eventually, of course, the Fleet and other Cylons would encounter them, which could lead to the destruction of Earth and/or the Cylon civil war.
On the other hand, Cavil's mommy issues were quite compelling.
Fri, 2009-07-24 13:08
Polynomic Theory of Value
The Final Five happened because RDM couldn't get his head past Cylon of the week. I'm pretty sure there's any number of scenarious that could've been picked to compress those reveals and be more consistent with the original chase. It would've done away with Cavil's mother issues which I find quite stupid.
On the nano-Cylon thing: I understand the upcoming Doctor Who deals with entities propogated via communications, and the ongoing comic Existence 2.0 deals with conciousness transmission after physical death. I'm not sure how it would work but I'd take a meta-conciousness approach to the head characters: they're an emergent property - a natural, inevitable, and necessary glitch in the system.
Another thing is the Final Five could be a 'future/present/past' version of the head characters. This doesn't strictly involve time travel but does throw up the nature and flow of time, free will, and predictability that you mentioned in a follow-on topic. This also leads neatly into a 'judgement day' style end and the mystery of the opera house.
Check out the polynomic theory of value.
Fri, 2009-07-17 11:51
Reboot the reboot!
This is a pretty interesting idea. I thought the show did go off the rails, though slowly, starting with the Arrow of Apollo business. So why not do a thought experiment like "How could it go better?" But a few ground rules:
1) the new story should hold much the same form as BSG, with roughly the same plot point, like
Earth being a disappointment
Starbuck's death and return
2) The major questions of the series need to be answered. I think these are:
Who is Head Six?
How are Earth's constellations on the colonial flags?
Why did the last five Cylon models not appear?
and more thematically,
Who are the Lords of Kobol and what is the Cylon god?
Does humanity deserve to survive?
Why are the Cylons attempting to destroy humanity?
Thu, 2009-07-16 16:55
Thanks so much for writing
Thanks so much for writing this. I too thought this was destined to be the greatest SF show in history and maybe even reach the height of a great written epic. Somehow, I think the show turned out greater than even the creators sought out to make and I don't think they fully considered the need to have an ending that matched up with the quality of the show ended up reaching. I was actually always expecting an ending along the following lines:
-They end up in the somewhat distant future.
-(Our) Earth is completely destroyed and they realize that this is the original Earth.
-Moreover, they realize from some kind of DNA/bone fragment analysis that the inhabitants of this Earth were pure humans (with some Cylons mixed in as well).
-And the great twist to this is that somehow they realize after looking at these two species (original human and cylon), that they themselves are a mix between these two so that all humans on the show were hybrids from the beginning.
I think this would have brought the show full circle and really made everything just one notch more interesting, in that everyone we had sympathized with for years turns out to be part cylon.
I think the finale also suffered from the flashbacks. Let me just cite one.
-Boomer tells Athena to tell Adama she "owed him one." It then flashes back and gives us a long and not so interesting reason for this whereas it could have been just left unsaid that she owed him one for shooting him.
Thu, 2009-07-16 18:12
This 'scientific' analysis is far too categorical to be useful
I really appreciate the depth and attention to detail that's been put into this essay (and the many thoughtful responses posted above.)
What I'm afraid may have been lost in this discussion is nothing short of the central theme of the entire show.
There is a fundamental non-Western, non-classically-scientific conceit at the heart of BSG - the notion of consciousness as non-local and non-temporal. There's nothing fundamentally 'unscientific' about this, but it's closest analogues to date in human civilization have come from Eastern Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoist traditions that think of history not as linear, but as cyclical and human existence not as individual and essential, but as recurrent, contingent, and epi-phenomenal - we quite literally emerge at various times, incarnations born of circumstance, before we slip back into the void, only to emerge again as those circumstances inevitably reoccur.
There's something deterministic (or Karmic) about this conception. But there's nothing unscientific about it. In fact, this conception is far more 'natural' since it doesn't need 'free will' or other spiritual notions to be true.
"All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again."
We know that our universe is just the 13 billion year old bubble of light we can perceive around us back 'towards' the big bang. We know that this probably means that there are an infinity of other universes within an infinite multi-verse. And we know that at the level of quantum mechanics, all 'states' within these universes are 'probabilistic' containing within them an infinity of alternative possibilities.
Finally, from exo-biology we know that while there's a whole lot of hypothetical forms of life out there, given the laws of physics in our universe there's a shocking propensity for things to want to self-organize in recurring patterns of 'optimal solutions' - chances are life will be found on planets within a Goldie Locks zone around their suns similar to Earth's...chances are those planets will have water and oxygen, unique elements for fueling energetic biological processes...and chances are that those biological processes will self-organize around a carbon based plan given its morphological malleability... and chances are organisms will be morphological symmetrical, have differentiated physical plants born of the symbiosis of earlier micro-organisms, all the way to the logic of photo-sensitivity and flight.
This is not intelligent design, but scientific fact, and putting it all together what you arrive at are thematic and philosophical conclusions totally in line with the BSG mythos. Humans are not unique. Eras are not discrete. Stuff will repeat itself constantly. Self and others are closer to being identical than they are to being essentially different in any meaningful sense. Consciousness is a ripple in the stream, independent of the stream, and recurring when the circumstances present themselves, which they do over and over again. Finally, a true understanding of these facts allow us to see things not as a linear 'Classically Western' scientific paradigm based on subject / object dualism, but in a relativistic, contingent, and truly interdependent or eco-systematic way.
That's what the writer dismisses as the 'collective unconscious.' But you don't have to assume that the Aztecs and the Greeks and the BSG Settlers ever directly communicated or mind melded to see that they could and would arrive at similar conclusions about the human condition, repeat the same mistakes prior civilizations made, and give rise to future configurations surprisingly similar to past ones. And you would expect civilizations on the other side of the universe or 3 billion years ago, or 10 billion years from now, or in other universes with similar laws, or in alternate quantum states / dimensions to - given similar starting conditions - reorganize in the same ways over and over and over again.
A quantum computer / advanced intergalactic race / cosmic consciousness would know these things, would understand these things. And, follow along here, while an understanding of these things would have the appearance of 'orchestrating' these things, this is by no means the case because there is NO agency and NO subjectivity outside the interdependent co-arising of the whole. There is no doing outside of being and no being outside of one interconnected whole that's always simply... becoming what it has always been by manifesting what its starting conditions always implied.
So the author of this essay is reacting emotionally based on multiple folk assumptions:
- people are discrete, individual agents with free wills (really? THAT's the greatest Deus Ex Machina of all, totally at odds with science and the whole point of a show about consciousness as a CONSTRUCT born of historical processes, non-unique, replicatable, recurrent, contextually contingent, and 100% intertwined.)
- living in a deterministic world is 'unsatisfying' (as if science or a narrative based on science cares about that)
- low probability = impossibility (a simplistic and unscientific heuristic, since every single possible outcome or instance can and MUST exist in a truly infinite multiverse)
- super-human intelligence = super-natural (not only must super-human intelligence exist, it must also necessarily operate beyond human logic and understanding, and probably be perceived in instances of paradox, temporal non-linearity, and the violation of 'immutable' human concepts... such as "time and causality have one direction"...or "time and space are ontologically distinct" ... which we know from quantum theory is totally and demonstrably NOT the case. As Einstein said, "The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once.")
That's the crux of it. And in a strange way, unless you want to give in to the fundamental original conceit of the show - that a 'prophesy' and 'visions' compelled this tribe of 'chosen heroes' to find a 'promised land' - this is the scientifically appropriate conclusion. Like a colony of ants - establishing itself, coming into conflict with other tribes, warring, crashing, relocating, starting again - this drama plays out over and over again. And just like we perceive the ants as mechanistic, repetitive, programmed, so too would a superior intelligence perceive us (even our OWN intelligence armed with a truly scientific understanding can clearly see the hugeness of space/time and the smallness of humanity.)
That's what Ron et al have done here. They have allowed themselves to imagine bigger and take on the largest scientific questions of consciousness in the universe. "Logic will get you from A to B," Einstein said. "Imagination will take you everywhere." And also, "Imagination is more important than knowledge." And finally:
"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed."
And to end positively,
"A human being is part of a whole, called by us the "Universe," a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest--a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."
Albert said that... but that's because he's a higher, more scientifically attuned intelligence, much like the God (and point) of BSG.
Thu, 2009-07-16 19:58
I've been pimping Zen Buddhism on Brad's BSG blog for ages (and am the guy responsible for creating the "internet rumour" RDM dismissed). Brad does look a bit too much through the lens of Western Christianity for my tastes and has avoided Eastern style insight into discussion about cycles, the "invisible hand", and collective unconcious. But he's been very, very hot on the important issues and discussion here seems to have been more influential than raw numbers suggest.
Fri, 2009-07-17 10:11
While I hold to no religion (and never have, though I got plenty of training about it from my ex-minister turned apostate father) I say if they want to give me Zen, give me Zen. Maybe I need to learn more Buddhism to fully understand why the BSG message was a Buddhist one. What I saw was:
Fri, 2009-07-17 10:47
Zen is about cycles, this versus that, and enlightenment. If you understand systems you should understand that. A good introduction to Buddhism is to skim read the Diamond Sutra. Most of it's padding but the basics of cause and effect, self, and the nature of reality is in there.
I saw everything you did but the main theme that lifted out for me looked different. The metronomic beat of "This has happened before. This will happen again.", the duality of Cylon and Human, and the off-screen hints that Cylon and human needed each other to kick up to the next level were key to that.
Strictly speaking Zen is a 'meta-religion'. That's why you can have Zen Buddhism and Zen Christianity. Heck, you can have Zen Atheism if you want. Traditions and affiliations can get in the way which is why, I think, trying to understand the nature of the world is more important than mere symbology.
Sat, 2009-07-18 09:56
"All this had so much potential..."
"All this has happened before and will happen again" lost its punch when it was revealed the cycle has occurred a grand total of...3 times. I'd imagined it was a statement about human nature and determinism, but no, it was a pilfered line from Peter Pan, and one that was not utilized in the slightest (much like every other symbol or theme on the show).
Fri, 2009-07-17 11:04
There is a fundamental
There is a fundamental non-Western, non-classically-scientific conceit at the heart of BSG - the notion of consciousness as non-local and non-temporal. [...] There's something deterministic (or Karmic) about this conception. But there's nothing unscientific about it. In fact, this conception is far more 'natural' since it doesn't need 'free will' or other spiritual notions to be true.
I might have bought this before No Exit, but not afterward. In the finale, RDM was clearly leaning on individualism and "free will" as a prime mover of the Cycle -- he may have made a lot of noise about his concept of God being "beyond Good and Evil" and "based on the law of averages", but the many one-way choices in the finale (such as Adama's decision to go on the suicide mission, Baltar's decision to cross the line, the Centurions' decision to fight with the humans, Racetrack's decision to activate the nukes, and Boomer's decision to give Hera back) suggest that "free will" is also involved, just as Ellen said it was.
Besides, Cavil's machine philosophy is much closer to a notion of karmic, pre-programmed existence than Ellen's free-will-based religion, yet he seems to be trapped by his own "free will" just the same, and God finally destroys him; that part, at least, is as Western as it gets, cribbed straight from Paradise Lost. In fact, "free will" is the *sole* rebuttal RDM suggests against Cavil's "twisted morality"... just as it tends to be the sole rebuttal against the Problem Of Evil in Christianity. Surprise, surprise.
IMHO, the themes you mentioned fit most of the series, especially the first two seasons, but the final season is much more Catholic than it is Buddhist. That's probably why it contradicts just about everything which came before...
Fri, 2009-07-17 13:18
Free Will & Enlightenment
This is a very good discussion.
On Buddhism - it's not a religion. It's a way of understanding the world based on observation. And the irony here is that Western science is quickly catching up to many of the ideas pioneered in the East hundreds of years ago:
Subject/object dualism has been blown away by quantum theory, from Heisenberg uncertainty to discoveries into non-locality (a photon can exist at two points in space at once and can 'communicate with itself' faster than the speed of light.)
The essentialist nature of matter has been shattered by quantum indeterminacy...look deep enough into stuff and you discover waves and probablity, non-stuff. This is "Sunyata" in Sanskrit. Emptiness
Emergence and complexity theory have sparked a revolution in AI research, predicated not on fundamental building blocks but on the emergent ephiphenomena defined by lower level processes. There is no flock, only simple rules driving the birds that literally 'give rise to' the flock, just as there is no Self or Consciousness outside the firing of a neural net that 'gives rise' to consciousness. At best we are information... Cylon souls. This is called "Pratityasumadpada." Interdependent co-arising giving rise to the illusion of the permanence of upper level phenomena, when in truth everything is "Anatman." No-self.
And Neuroscience has further kicked away the pillars of 'Autonomous Identity' and 'Self.' Deep structures in the brain, old genetic drives, submerged emotional impulses - these are the 'agents' driving our behavior, while our newer rational cortical brains (and our sense of self) are the post-rationalizing centers, the meaning makers quite literally AFTER THE FACT. First we act, then we understand. First we choose, then we tell stories about why we willed ourselves to choose.
Systems theorists in the social sciences have revealed the interconnected, non-rational, and constantly recurring patters of boom and crash that mark the rise and fall of economies, civilizations, and species. Modernist notions of great men and chosen people have been swept aside by an understanding of migration patters, the role of resources, germs, the social psychology of group action, and countless other factors underlying human herd behaviors. We are all social animals locked within ecosystems whose conditions largely determine whether we become angels or demons.
This is "Samsara" - the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. And these are the Buddhas and Archetypes - the recurrence of certain individual types or roles who inevitably emerge during certain periods to play out their 'character' in that age. This is Adama saying "I couldn't live with myself" understanding that his role is to say behind and fight for Galactica. It is his 'calling' he may 'choose' to embrace. And if he does not, he is not Adama. (Sit with that a bit.)
Astronomers, exo-biologiest, and cosmologists have peered at the universe and understood two things at once - life on our planet is the most insanely improbably thing conceivable, the combination of an unimaginable number of circumstances (from our ideal position relative to the sun, to the comets that brought us water, to the planetoid strike that created the moon, to Jupiter serving as a shield against deep space objects, and on and on.) At the same time, given the incomprehensible numbers of stars even in our own galaxy, the impossibility of life is probably a given. We are neither fated to be...nor unique. There is no logic or intention to our existence... but there's an accidental inevitability to it. We are transitory, small, and insignificant... a pre-determined process like the life cycle of the starts. And like those stars we are ancient and vast and made up of the Universe.
And as astrophysics and super string theory now tell us, that's just one Universe. There's probably an infinite number of them just within a Multiverse of our Big Bang. But there may be infinately more universes on 'branes' vibrating in a quantum field just 'beneath' our own. Then there's all those other dimensions string theory predicts...
Put that all together and you can reconstitute the main tenets of a Buddhalogical world view. Everything is Sunyata - emptiness. Everything is intertwined, interconnected, and ultimately aspects of a unity simply emerging together in interdependent co-arising (they didn't know about the Big Bang, but here's to intuition!) Cylons and humans, past and present, old earth and new earth and on and on all is cosmically related. Because on a long enough time line and with a broad enough perspective all you see is Samsara - a great cycles of coming into being, going out of being, and coming again.
If you sit with this truth you may achieve Enlightenment. Clinging causes pain - Duka. Giving in, letting go, becoming fully present in the moment by losing all self-consciousness. That is the Middle Path to a truer (and I'd argue more scientifically true) way of seeing.
It's called the Middle path because it straddles two extremes - Eternalism and Annihilationism. Eternalism is the rigid categorical 'empiricist' position that deals in solids and certainties. This is the realm of ideological rigidity, be it religious zealotry or scientific absolutism. And this view always fails. Things change. Things die. Today's certainties become yesterdays illusions and misconceptions. Brad may be leaning a bit in this direction on his path! :)
The other extreme is Annihilationism - what we would call nihilism. (That's Cavil's position.) If everything is contingent, created, always already dying, non-essential, not even 'agent' or 'individual' or 'subjective' then what's the point? Screw it. Rip it down then. And this is the void Brad looks into when his Eternalism is challenged!
But what old Eastern thinking and new Western science do is bridge these extremes. Everything IS born of nothing. All of us ARE no-selves. Everything IS predetermined, unified, one. All of this HAS happened before and WILL happen again. This is cause for love, compassion, joy. This realization is the end of clinging, the end of Dhuka, the end of pain. This is letting go and sending the fleet into the sun! This is the starting point of peace, cohabitation, co-creation, and the promise of a new era, offering more of the same, but at a higher level of complexity, energy, and insight.
Fri, 2009-07-17 14:31
Cavil's not a nihilist.
Cavil's not a nihilist.
There is another "middle path" between what you call "Eternalism" and "Annihilationism", one which does not deny the self and does not rely on "giving in, letting go"; Nietzsche described it in his writings about the ubermensch, and it fits Cavil very well. *Self-improvement* according to one's own subjective metrics, even as one acknowledges one's objective meaninglessness, allows one to create one's own values and one's own "meaning of life" without any appeal to eternity *or* enlightenment. That's Cavil.
Cavil doesn't want to "rip the world down", except as a necessary second stage (Nietzsche called that stage "The Lion") toward building something better -- becoming the "best machine the Universe has ever seen". Even in the end, he seems much more concerned with making a positive step toward becoming a better machine (i.e. leaving The Lion behind to become "The Child") than he is with killing the humans, which is why he went for Tigh's deal in the finale. Cavil's speech about the supernova is anything but nihilist; the same goes for his speech in the brig at the end of season 2. The ideas there are taken more-or-less directly from Thus Spoke Zarathustra... and despite the popular conflation between Nietzsche's ideals and nihilism, they're not actually nihilist -- he conceived of the ubermensch as an *antidote* to nihilism and to the Void you're talking about. The journey toward the ubermensch is all about overcoming one's humanity, and thus the tendency toward nihilism, "Eternalism", and "Annihilationism"... and overcoming his humanity is exactly what Cavil longed for.
It's worth noting that Nietzsche also spoke of an Eternal Recurrence, but to him, the idea was to live your life so that, if each moment were to be repeated eternally, you would be overjoyed by it. That's John "Omnom Supernovas" Cavil, in a nutshell! :)
Fri, 2009-07-17 14:41
Nietzsche's perspective is
Nietzsche's perspective is arrogant and inconsistent. He wants to have his cake and eat it, and in the final analysis gets neither. That's shaken out by the most casual analysis. However, I can see how it would appeal to swollen egos.
Fri, 2009-07-17 14:59
Look, we're talking about a
Look, we're talking about a television show here. In this context, I don't really care what you or anyone else thinks about Nietzsche or Buddhism or the like. I care about whether those things have any bearing on the show.
Nietzsche is a blatant influence on Cavil's character; thus, calling Cavil "nihilist" is missing a huge part of what he's about. Whether or not Nietzsche was arrogant and inconsistent, he certainly was NOT a champion of nihilism, and neither was Cavil... and, frankly, Cavil WAS extremely arrogant and inconsistent, so I'm not sure why you're upset that I'm discussing Nietzsche in relation to him! :P
Fri, 2009-07-17 15:16
I was merely stating an
I was merely stating an opinion on Nietzsche's philosophy and influence. Nothing more complicated than that.
Mon, 2009-08-17 16:57
'Good storytelling, Bad Nietzsche'
...Wow. This thread is hot. I thoroughly enjoyed the initial essay, agreed with most of its points objectively and yet find *none* of that diminishes my love for BSG, right up until the end. So if RDM is indeed a magician, I adore that he somehow cast a trick and captivated some deeper part of me that cares less for credibility and more for visceral, primal sensations. I know 'you're only as good as your last performance', but I think anyone who can claim a four-season show *fails* utterly due to its ending has forgotten the journey itself -- and for them, the destination will be different for those who haven't. Like I said, really great essay (not a fan of the hyperbole in the title, but hey, whatever gets the fish biting, right?), and I'm flat-out not educated enough in the requisite fields to disagree with the science. More importantly, I don't feel a need to. In a way, I'm sort of RDM's perfect audience: not so stupid that I can't grasp the deeper themes, not so intellectually refined as to have my Willing Suspension of Disbelief rocked by the gaping flaws in scientific veracity or narrative logic.
I am into lit.theory, so naturally I *want* to analyse BSG as a text, but that's not fair: RDM didn't have the option to edit his final work, as any author does. With that in mind, I'm really quite forgiving of convoluted explanations and inconsistencies. God knows I think few of us are so brilliant to get it all right the first time, and that's sort of what a week-by-week epic has to do. Sure, there's forethought, planning, etc...but no amount of that can replace the ability to finish your work, look at it and then change the beginning to more aptly match the end. As it was, RDM and co. had to settle for the next-best option: make the ending match the beginning. That immediately impressed me about Daybreak part 1, even if I felt all that time revisiting the past could have been better spent dealing with the present -- if we wanted to be reminded of where it started, there's the miniseries for rewatching. In a way, I felt Daybreak, part 1 was RDM's attempt at 'editing' or even extending the Miniseries, with his ending in mind, and it worked pretty well. As for part 2, well...I'm still in the it-could-have-been-much-worse camp there. Of course I have my own ending in my head and it's *PERFECT* to me (as yours is to you...), but the one I was given did what I personally wanted of the show: resolved characters, closed the door, threw in a few last revelations (Galen-Scotland, for example), and generally concluded the journey. In short, I'd rather the characters be done justice and the story resolve less-than-cleanly than the other way around. I know that might make me a bit too easy to please, but I can't help it: some of the greatest books ever written end -poorly- as stories. Crime and Punishment has one massssive Deus ex Machina, for example. Did this diminish the quality of the work? Maybe, but it's still widely considered a masterpiece. And I'm not saying you can't have both perfect story and character resolution, but since RDM *had* to choose, I'm glad he was 'stupid' and not 'right'.
I'm also glad someone finally brought up Nietzche (although I'm also amused that there seems to be a resignation about it, because let's face it, the dude's *everywhere* in pop-critical theory). You have a finale called 'Daybreak' (there's one Nietzsche reference), the mantra 'all this has happened before, and it will happen again' (Eternal Recurrence ding!), Baltar sermonising about God being 'Beyond Good and Evil' (...three...) and, perhaps my favourite, Cavil constantly trying to transcend his own 'humanity' (hello Ubermensch). These are all fairly obvious if you know your Nietzsche at a casual level, and if not, there's Wikipedia...
During a discussion I once had about Rushdie's 'Satanic Verses', a professor asked me if the prevalent Nietzschean elements in the book are an example of 'Good storytelling, bad Nietzsche'. At the time, I knew SV a heck of a lot more than Nietzche, so I just sort of agreed but have dwelt on the concept ever since. If Nietzschean concepts are so ubiquitous (and I don't think he can take anywhere near all the credit for that), then it makes sense to me that the majority of the usage of it would be 'bad', regardless of the storytelling value. The same applies to BSG, I think: love the Nietzschean undercurrent, wouldn't think too deeply about it. I'm fairly sure Nietzsche would have been horrified at 'Daybreak' the episode, and viewed the references to his work as facile and misconstrued -- but I also doubt he'd have appreciated the story of BSG for what it was, either.
RDM is not, despite any tongue-in-cheek moments, 'God' and he can't be expected to know what Nietzsche really meant with his theories. When I saw 'Daybreak' and heard the 'Beyond Good and Evil' speech, I realised that RDM had probably dipped into Nietzsche but (perhaps thankfully) not made the man's theories his primary focus. RDM (and so many other writers to tap Nietzche) is, to me, no more guilty than Nietzsche himself for lifting the aforementioned Hindu beliefs in 'Eternal Recurrence', not to mention the Apollo/Dionysus dichotomy put forth in 'Birth of Tragedy'. The fact that I'm rewatching BSG (yay bluray) and actively starting to consider Starbuck/Kara as Lee/Apollo's Dionysus is testament to one success of the show: post-humous (if you will) buzz, theorising, critical analysis. A bad ending hasn't killed that (if anything, it's fueled it). Whether or not RDM meant to make Starbuck a Nietzschean Dionysiac figure is almost irrelevant to whether or not she stacks up as one. Heck, maybe Larson went there first.
One last thing. I saw this quote as I was reading the thread, and I'm not sure if anyone's addressed it.
"She[Zoe] was monotheistic, which was unusual on her home planet of Caprica. We have not yet seen the background for this, but there is suggestion that the monotheists got their religion due to visions from the actual real god. They did not, like us, think it up."
...I'm happily agnostic (I think the only way to be right about the Divine Whatever is in willing to be wrong), and even I rail against that last sentence's assertion. Just because it's been virtually proven in the show that they 'did not think it up' does not in any way mean that we, outside of the show, did.
Anyway, great essay -- well-written and not afraid of its own subjectivity/agenda. And a plethora of responses actually worth reading.
Mon, 2009-08-17 18:14
Any mispellings of 'Nietzsche' I ask you to forgive, or just pretend I got it right every time. That'd be nice. :)
Mon, 2009-08-17 18:17
The Pointing Finger is not the Moon
Nietzsche was insightful but a prick. He's the comic book guy of philosophy. Just another brand. Most of what he had to say has been said by Hinduism and, of course, Alistair Crowley was big on the Tao. Both went mad. The essential truth Hinduism and its derivatives, the Tao, and Christianity is about "getting a clue". Simply, "heaven" is all around us but we don't perceive it because our minds get in the way. You can't buck reality but, then again, you can't trust a damn thing. Tricky one, eh?
Apart from that, I agree, Brad helps create some good conversations and most of the contributions are worth reading.
Mon, 2009-08-17 19:41
N's biggest rival was insightful-and-a-prick: Wagner. Doesn't stop me from digging Valkyries or the Ring cycle. The Comic Book guy? Maybe, but I'd say that's discounting a lot of weight Nietzsche still carries when you appropriately throw him into a critical work. A Comic Book Guy, as you put it, is obnoxious with his insights -- there's an elitism that deigns to share its wisdom only with those who seem worthy. Nietzsche wrote for 'everyone and no one'.
'You can't buck reality but, then again, you can't trust a damn thing. Tricky one, eh?'
...Oh yes. Solipsism is calling me, but it might just be me. :)
My answer to the trickiness? It's almost painfully trite: don't worry, be happy. And I'm not in any way implying I manage to do that 99.99% of the time, but sometimes, the mind-numbing enormity of Everything and the realisation that the Almost-Nothing I am are related is pretty damn sublime. :)
Mon, 2009-08-17 20:27
Ayan Rand is thrown around by right wing politicians desperate to look like they have substance while the left waves Che Guevara to themselves appeal. It's all phony. Happiness is okay as far as it goes but you have to step beyond the words and sentiments to grasp this. Hence, the handwaving by Zen over grasping something then letting go. It's funny that as hairless apes that evolved from mud manufactured in the heart of a star we should spend out time dwelling on these things. As if it (or Daybreak) matters a damn more than this or that.
National Socialism had a lot going for it but went too far and lost its humanity. Meanwhile, the Jews have their own struggles to contend with. While both claim to be unique and special events suggest otherwise. The comic book 'Spawn' suggests God and Satan are merely brothers fighting, and this fits with the Tao and other religions like Shinto. As the West has its own conflicts and the East rises in prominence new opportunities and, perhaps, new atrocities will arise. While our civilisation can be toxic there's no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Being happy isn't a magic bullet or permanent solution to anything but it feels nice and can help.
Ho, hum. There's always next time. ;-)
Tue, 2009-08-18 00:13
Thinking up god
While obvious the believers in any particular god and the non-believers will disagree about whether or not humanity thought up their particular god, if you prefer, take this line to mean that in our world, there is no way to tell. The believers take their gods on faith. They know that there is no concrete objective evidence they can show to others. They have scriptures that talk of a day when such evidence was clear, but if they are intellectually honest, they know those days are past. They don't think they just thought up their gods, but they know they can't prove that to you.
This is different from the God of Galactica, who really does appear to people in BSG, and may well also really appear and act in Caprica. Those characters will know, at an objective level, that they didn't just think up god, no faith required. Though Baltar never really accepted it until Six said she saw the angels too.
We don't yet know whether the Caprican monotheists will be people who take their god on faith, or if they have been shown the proof as Baltar was.
Tue, 2009-08-18 13:34
Through the miracle of story
Through the miracle of story telling the god experience of BSG could just be another Hindu style metaphor. The fact that RDM broke the fourth wall by appearing in the closing scenes with the "he doesn't like being called God" quip just encourages this. That's put me in a position where I'd rather not be bullshitted or have my time wasted. If that's all it was then, please, wrap the damn thing in one episode and lets have something more meaningful.
Fri, 2009-07-17 18:10
It's nitpicking nerds like
It's nitpicking nerds like you, Brad, who just don't get BSG. You want to impose your left-brain logic on something that is right-brained: STORY AND ART. Storytelling is more than just a series of incidents that need to line up perfectly in your narrow little brain. I bet people avoid you at parties!
Sat, 2009-07-18 08:17
1) RD Moore and crew did a VERY good job with their storytelling, but Clarke and Kubrik are dead. Even THEY had NOT done an ending rising to the occasion!
2) One of many thing you and I liked about this show: the cultural similarities, i.e. clothes, guns, helmets (very much like David Bowman's helmet, hehe), but it was a burden carried from the beginning and you KNEW it would be hard to explain. The best choice is NOT to explain that. :)
3) If you recognize a hand pulling strings on the characters from the beggining, then you are accepting it actually was something. As Lee said, call it God or GodS, it does not matter. Call it The Universe or The Galaxy as sentient beings. We atheists may like the idea or not, I rather will put up with it, since I more or less accepted it from the beginning.
4) The other Earth and the colonies are not the past, are the future. The "fake" Earth is our future, like Earth after Skynet, The Matrix, Mad Max, whatever. Don't waste your time talking about interbreeding and the colonies fauna. Earth is both the origin and the ending of humanity. It's a time loop, Stupid!
5) You have a Scientology Banner on your side! And you are complaining about God in BSG? Give me a break! :D
Sun, 2009-07-19 19:27
Unimpressed by Essay
I've skimmed through the first half or so of this monster. While having coherence in grammar & spelling, the arguments you make surprisingly lack specific citations from episodes. That, alongside making claims about the series and not supporting them (how exactly was the series morphed around the idea of MTE? Why exactly is the idea of collective unconscious bullshit?), makes this piece very uninteresting to the fan of BSG that's looking for something actually enlightening about BSG.
Besides, the title of this article in no way reflects the actual content of this piece. You claim Battlestar's ending to be the worst in history, and where one would expect detailed critique of many other SF TV series, you write none. Surprisingly, most of the piece lacks actual nuanced critique of BSG, and instead is filled with philosophical ramblings and arguments that don't make any logical sense.
Sun, 2009-07-19 20:50
More than it deserved
BSG's ending is on par with an Alan Smithee movie. The fact that Brad went to this trouble to write up his conclusions is probably more than it deserved. Personally, I have as much interest in doing that with this turkey as I do with seeing another RDM production again (which is zero).
Mon, 2009-07-20 08:59
Total F'n B.S.
I read an interview where Ron Moore was answering the criticism of Watchtower by saying that nobody really knows where music comes from anyways, and it is just randomly plucked from thin air. Bullshit.
I loved the essay, but you could sum it all up in one sentence: Everything that happened in the finale was at the convenience of the writer's need to end the story.
It was like a Dean Koontz novel where the characters are trapped in an isolated town, keep coming across symbols they can't understand, and suddenly an expert in everything flies in from New York city. What happened to being isolated? (I'm talking Phantoms, yo.)
I will say this, I don't think the fact that Moore determined it was all about characters is worth considering. A story must have good characters, or nobody is going to care how it ends anyways. Good characters are a pre-requisite of good story, you can't have one without the other. It is what happens to the characters that creates an investment with the viewer, in this case it is the mysteries and danger they were exposed to. It would have been a shame to isolate the characters and say nothing needs to happen to them, but the characters were a product of their adventures. The persona belongs solely to the actors, this seems more like Moore thinking of himself as God. It would have been impossible to drop the ball on the characters at this point. Sadly, as a character story it failed big time by not resolving the mysteries and adventures that had occupied the character's lives. Character stories are all about how the character reacts to a circumstance, and how it affects them when it is over. BSG finale more or less says they all retired. Whoa.
Mon, 2009-07-20 09:43
RDM's Travelling Salvation Show
RDM's scam ran like this:
1. Position himself as the messiah of "naturalistic science fiction".
2. Preach it until people start asking questions.
3. When busted wander off into some yogi style ramble on levels of conciousness.
4. Smile sweetly and hope nobody asks for a refund.
5. Move to another town and repeat the scam from #1.
What started bugging me was how the final episode was hyped up like it was some killer blow. Ooh, it answers it all the questions. Oooh, it was so "emotional", whatever that is. Some of the increasingly obvious bad actors were spooging like they were about to win an Oscar, and the end of production party was don't ask any question just clap. Um, where's the story and why should I give a shit? Still waiting on that.