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.

Mitochondrial Eve

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:

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.


I have nothing useful to add other than to say that this was an extremely well written essay. Good job.

Brilliant essay on the huge fall of BSG. I am still extremely annoyed at this awful ending months after it was shown.

We spent the final two years of BSG watching each episode and then discussing it every week for an hour or more, even making a flow chart and diagrams on one momentous occasion. I can't say *how* long it's been since I had a TV show that drew that much discussion (aside from Firefly, and that was post-cancellation re: the cancellation). I watched that final hour and felt cheated, but I also felt so crummy about it I didn't feel even like discussing it. Thanks for a great summation... well thought, and I agree on all points. I think I might even be willing to talk about it now.

I actually stopped watching 'Battlestar Galactica' once mid-season four hit. I did not begin the series until several years after it went off the air, but I was drawn to what I knew of it and I decided to finally give it a whirl. I fell in love with it--I began having dreams about it, and my whole world began to revolve around the lessons I was learning from it. I have not felt as connected to a character as I did to Starbuck in a long time, nor as completely in agreement about the dangers of both war-logic and military-as-law that the show expressed. I was excited about the possibilities inherent in facing the problems presented by any class society. I had hoped for an endgame that included linking the devastation wrought by the Cylons, invented to be humankind's ultimate slaves, with every other race of beings perceived to be "less" somehow than another and treated accordingly. I figured we would get a discussion of the ways that class oppression influences those whose lives are most limited by that oppression, and some acknowledgment that the term "colony" itself is a reference to the incredibly acts of violence perpetrated by colonists. With the wisdom of Zarek's arguments, the Cylons very clearly intelligent and emotional and even empathetic life forms, and the experiences that both Helo and Tyrol had with racial/class prejudices alive and well on the ship I figured that was where Moore was going with it all. Making Baltar some kind of hero to so many people on board the ship only increased my belief that we were all headed towards the realization that the Cylons had not only rebelled against their masters, but in fact had revolted on behalf of oppressed people everywhere. I figured they would be the penultimate Slaves freed from Egypt but returned to demand that either the Pharoah free everyone else too, or the Pharoah's entire society would be destroyed.
I really, REALLY liked that idea.
I particularly liked the idea that Adama, for all of his seeming decency, was not such a stand-up guy. I liked the idea of a science fiction series which did not valorize the military as producing heroes, which I do not believe that it tends to do.
I wanted a rebellion that would work with the Cylons deliberately in order to create a society of justice and peace for everyone, where people whose last names were not Adama could have the opportunity to inherit control of the Fleet. I wanted a society to be created where Kara or Sharon could have risen up the ranks in spite of their births and tendency to question their superiors' orders. I wanted a rebellion Sharon could participate in and Kara could lead on the human side, one that was not cruel or punitive but was instead wise and willful in the way Zarek once seemed to be. I wanted a return to the genuine discussion of real-world issues that marked the first year of the series and in my opinion made it the best show on television.
I was hoping that we would gain some understanding of the fact that cycles of violence repeat because people choose to perpetuate them, not because some great Gog in the sky wants us to but because at our core we want to. We don't know how to stop the violence. We don't know how to connect emotionally with people who we have been taught to blame for everything that has ever gone wrong in our lives. We don't possess the understanding in this reality that every colonizing society sets themselves up for the possibility of cultural genocide later on, and that it is their own fault for attempting to treat human beings like robots.
Human societies who take pride in sporting the label "colonist" have been expanding far beyond their natural limits for years.
That expansion comes at the expense of the other peoples of this world, forced into hard labor to benefit the militaristic exploits of the men and women who have raped them and burnt their homes to the ground and taught their children how to kill.
I also wanted to see Hera stolen by Boomer because it seemed inevitable, because it perhaps was--and because she was not safe where Laura Roslin was. I wanted to see some suggestion that we are marked by our blood and that we cannot be conscripted into specific slots in other people's worldviews just because they want us to be, and this goes double if they are our parents.
If anyone on this show was God, I wanted it to be the Hybrid, and she was a terrible God whom I desperately wanted dead.
I got none of my wishes.
This became a show about buttering up to a defunct and technology-obsessed society. Humans have been obsessed with the his- and her-stories of our origin for eons. It's time to let it go, to stop focusing so hard on the past that our attempts to uncover the answers to our questions about the past overshadows our search for meaning in the here-and-now, let alone our quests for a future we can live with. I realize I sound like some sort of socialist nutcase, here, babbling on about how this should have been a show about class and probably race and instead it became a show about religion. I believe strongly however that religion is often used as a mask for issues of class, as it has been wielded against colonized peoples to try to numb them to the realities of just how bad their lives are. Religion teaches us that the violence others who consider themselves our superiors wield against us is "for our benefit", that we are victims of martial law or militarism because of "our need for protection."
This show could have been about the way colonizing cultures use technology to suppress other peoples right up until these peoples rise up and fight for their freedoms back, effectively destroying the planet and the best parts of one another.
This could have been a show about the relationship between the U.S./Great Britain and the Middle East/Africa. Moore wimped out.
The problem with flying by the seat of your pants is that eventually you are called upon to take a stand on an issue of great import to the lives of thousands if not billions and if you do not know what your stance on this topic IS because you have not been paying any attention up 'til this point, then when you are finally called upon to give your opinion you will not know what to say. Rather than bravely sticking by his own creation, Moore took the easy way out and abandoned his own ideology as expressed up 'til that point. He went for the commercial sell rather than the satisfyingly brilliant conclusion.
For that I shall never forgive him.

I stopped watching midway through the fourth season because I could see the show's decline and it was breaking my heart.
I felt that any further involvement in the show without major changes in staff taking place would only shatter me further.
Turns out, I made the right call.

Really scary! I just watched the ending and my take was almost exactly like this.

Right now I am coming up with another ending in my head, because the one we got ruined everything for me.

I agree. The ending was so stupid that it still bothers me every time I think about it. In my mind I try to imagine another ending--for example, the Cylons come back and some of the main characters have realized that they made a big mistake and leave Earth.

I guess there was way more wrong with it, but the "lets go back to nature" ending is so old hat it feels like it was pulled out of an old hat.

The only thing I have been able to come up with in regards to the interbreeding, animals (cats & dogs), etc is that the Kobol Humans (and animals and plants)originally came from Earth II. Possibly taken by the "Supreme Being" and used as an experiment in evolution. This would explain the much smaller sample of fauna and flora on the colonies versus Earth II (Adama's statement from the raptor as he flies Rosilyn around). Some sort of programming or artificially introduced technological advances off of a master blueprint would work too. This would explain the technology similarities between Kobol, Earth I, Colonies, and Earth II (It would also explain the references to written works, poems, songs, etc from the Hybrid utterances). Someone (Something) seems to be using humans again and again to re-live a certain type of civilization. Seeing what will happen (if anything) different each time it is done. The time frame of the humans off of Earth II is about 6000 years. this is a drop in the bucket compared to the existence of the human race in whole. Perhaps there was an original civilization that these four civilizations were patterned on, one that this entity, the "God" of the head characters was part of. It fits the facts as I understand them, and allows me to swallow the ending a little easier. The whole toss the technology thing sucks, and I cannot imagine any parent subjecting their children and their grandchildren to barbarism. That part I cannot rectify with my theory. Not even going to try.

Yes, I spend a bit of time in the essay on the abduction plot (Kobolians came from abducted humans from our Earth) and it is the best plot if you are going to set this in the past, but alas, there is not a whiff, not a hint of this plot in the show. Just Baltar's statement that it must be a miracle.

I have read those comments about how humans (and other fauna) could have been abducted from Earth II originally and introduced to the environment on Kobol. I think this all sounds pretty good, but I have yet another idea.

During the series, someone read a story from the Colonials holy book which stated that after the humans on Kobol were told that they would enter a dark age sometime in the future, they build a ship, the Galleon, and left the planet to form the 12 Colonies of Man.

This says a few things about the people who lived on Kobol:

1. They had the technology to build a sophisticated spacecraft capable of carrying huge numbers of people, food, water, basic supplies, medical and scientific supplies, building materials, and manufacturing equipment. Even if the ship made multiple trips to transport everyong, it would have to be very large and durable.

2. Their civilization had survived for a significant amount of time (decades? hundreds of years?) at an advanced stage to have the knowledge necessary to accomplish such a task. At some point they had even constructed intelligent machines (or the original flesh-and-blood Cylons), had a conflict and survived in an advanced state. There would have been a lot of trial and error as they progressed.

3. Their civilization obviously had explored space sometime in the past and had continued to do so for enough years to be able to gain experience with interstellar navigation, hazards, etc., and to guage the probability of finding other habitable planets.

4. For some reason, everyone (every country, city state) on the entire planet of Kobol agreed that it was a good idea to leave. You would think that if Earth were evacuated today that at least small breeding populations would stay behind, especially if the environment was in no danger. There should be humans all over the galaxy in the universe of Battlestar Galactica!

With this in mind, couldn't it easily be possible that some group (or more) of their earlier explorers have made their way to Earth II.

This leaves more questions / possibilities. Here are a few that I could think of:

1. They could have crashed there, but only managed to create a society which failed, leaving only scattered humans alive there living as hunter-gatherers.

2. They could have landed but decided (or fought) to split into two groups with one group leaving with the spacecraft and all of its technology. Did the second group survive at all? Were their records lost to time?

3. They could have landed but split with the main group staying behind to begin a new life and the others taking their spacecraft back to Kobol with some fauna to announce they had found a new world for colonization. Did the second group make it back? Were their records lost to time?

4. They could have taken children along and crashed, leaving mostly the children to survive ala "Lord of the Flies".

5. They could have arrived, set up a society and then faced wars in the following decades that destroyed their society and sent the survivors back to square one, like the situation in "Mad Maxx" or the Eloi in the "Time Machine", continually declining.

All of their technology and buildings that were left behind would have been buried, rotted, or molded away in a manner seen on "Life After People", which shows this happening very quickly in less than 1000 years.

6. They could have met with some degree of success, built more spacecraft over the centuries and continued to explore space, becoming lost to Kobol and the eventual 12 Colonies. They could have left stragglers who declined into the hunter-gathers seen in the finale, able to survive as nature's bounty increased over time.

I think number 2, 3, and 6 could be expanded into new series to explore those ideas.

No, this doesn't work at all. Humans and the other life on this Earth evolved over a billion years. It did not arrive relatively recently on an Ark. That's pretty soundly proven.

Sorry for the misunderstanding. My explanation takes into account human evolution and development, and it assumed:

1) Humans (within the context of the fictional Battlestar Galactica) had evolved or developed over millions of years on Kobol BEFORE any space travel to Earth, Earth II, or the 12 Colonies had taken place.
2) There were some plants and animals evolving/developing on Kobol throughout these millions of years.
3) There were many plants and animals evolving/developing on Earth as well throughout these millions of years.
4) There were a few plants and animals evolving/developing within the 12 Colonies throughout these millions of years. Some may have been transplanted there from Kobol or Earth by humans during their travels.

My explanation simply describes the movement/travel and further development humans from one planet with plants and animals to another. It questions some of the circumstances and possible outcomes of human exploration.


This doesn't work. In fact it's one of the most extensively debunked concepts in all of history! That's because certain groups want to insist on ark theories, so scientists have spent much time they would not normally spend showing that they can't work. I have earlier posts on this if you really need more, but the literature is incredibly extensive. Life evolved here from single cells. It came from nowhere else. The single cells might have come from elsewhere, but nothing more complex.

Okay. I do 'not' believe that Battlestar Galactica is a true story. Nor do I believe that our ancestors came to Earth from another world.

My above posts and speculations are only meant to apply to the fictional universe depicted in the show. To be honest, I wonder if any of the writers had considered some of the ideas I mentioned.


My idea was that Earth was the original homeworld of Humanity, and Kobol was the homeworld of "the gods". These gods came to Earth and took samples back to their home for some unknown purpose, then planted them on Caprica where they developed into a space fairing civilization who eventually spread out to the other 11 colonies of man. Over the course of their history, the story became corrupted and Earth became the "13th Colony", when in fact it was the original homeworld. Something that the Colonials don't discover until they find the ruins of Kobol and eventually Earth.

Deus ex machina doesn't mean "God in the machine" but "God FROM the machine." Otherwise, an excellent breakdown of why I really hated the ending: I think you hit all the criticisms I had (and the MTE criticism was new to me, but I knew when I was watching the episode that it seemed wrong).

Editor's note: FIXED

Well unless one of the show's writers has already spoken to this point I always thought it was a time loop. That when Starbuck teleported everyone it sent the fleet to our Earth 150,000 years ago and not a separate planet like our Earth.

Had time travel fairly high on it. He failed partly, as perfect prophecy is a red flag for time travel, but he didn't go all the way to a full time loop. (One would hope not, after he worked on so much Trek including "All Good Things.") He's said it was collective unconscious, so that pretty much rules this explanation out.

So he doesn't like Time Travel plots and instead he resorts to the collective unconscious. Really? No, REALLY?

While I think the whole collective unconscious idea is bullshit when trying to explain a connection between songs and languages in our real universe and Moore's imaginary history for it, in a totally imaginary world, where we are all descended from synthetic digital beings, you can pull off the collective unconscious explanation as you now can throw in some explanations for genetic memory and interconnection.

Time travel, on the other hand, unless done very well makes your story inconsistent, and by tossing out causality deprives your characters of causality.

Again, this is just in a fictional universe where we are all descended from Cylons. We are not, so so you can't explain Dylan writing "All along the Watchtower" as a race memory of an ancient song.

What if the show was set in the future and 150,000 years later is even FARTHER in that future? After all, there's no National Geographic with that story in our timeline - maybe it's not an alternate history? Why would there be a new New York just like the old one? Simple, because of all the cyclic "this will happen again" themes. Sure, one large coincidence, but what's one more familiar moment from mysterious forces?
It would have only taken a few words from one of the angels about how it all looked so familiar, like the last time they were on Earth. Maybe even a few words about having to transplant a few thousand to yet another Kobol before things REALLY repeat themselves.
Played out right, it could have been ambiguous which part of the cycle we're actually living in. People would debate if we're in the older one that the angel refers to, or if we're the later one echoing a familiar past from before a great fall.

I have to say, if I have to work that many mental gymnastics to come up with a reasonable ending, then the ending failed (I actually had done similar with the Matrix and still believe my ending and explanations were better than the real one...)

We could have imagined the end as being in our own past or in our future, except for one thing. They show us news footage from MSNBC. That identifies the time frame and places BSG in the past.

Billboards in Times Square of Lil Wayne have happened before and will happen again.

So say we all.

I agree that the ending was disappointing, and colored perceptions of the entire show.

I'd also add that the 4th season had little going for it (aside from the rebellion and its resolution) other than the mystery of who/what/why/when.

The ending was a cop-out.

Indeed will not go down as the best season of the show, but it did have some things of good merit.

  • I'm one of the few who liked turning some of the human cast into ancient Cylons, and what it meant for them.
  • The battle with the colony was kick-ass
  • The darkness of the ruined Earth in revelations was good, though not it being a fake Earth
  • One word: "Jump!" and many other well crafted and dramatic surprises

No. Actually, The Colony Battle SUCKS like hell.

--> There was No reinforcement basestars ((which they most likely had MANY DOZENS if not Hundreds)),

--> There was No vastly military superiority ((Silly numbers of raiders... And this is their home for God's sake !!!))

--> And so-called millions of copies of 7 models... They were nowhere to be found.

In fact, I dare to say, the whole battle had to be made much different than this.

Because this one, was full of CRAP from beginning to the end.

Not to mention "The Colony is a giant space base" nonsense...

Must admit, I found the Colony battle was one big wank. It was too showy and overlong. Too many people got sucked in by this and forgot about the crap story. Nice bit of marketing...

Trivial, superficial & shinily shallow, yet oh-so-important to me: many effects shots in the colony battle were really shoddy. As someone who works in vfx and watched the series with respect and awe, almost all of these sequences had lighting and compositing issues that I had never noticed to this degree in any other episode.

In my humble opinion, the series finale to Farscape is quite possibly brilliant. I've heard it was all accidental as well, them ending with a "Too be continued" tag. I assumed it was intentional since it fit in with the shows tradition of just throwing a curve at the viewers. That's why I too see the Writer's strike ending as a great alternative to the actual one and will from now on pretend as though the second half of season four doesn't exist. It's the same response I have when people try to convince me there was a fourth Indiana Jones, or two other Matrix movies.

See the three part mini-series "Peacekeeper Wars" for the actual end of the story.

I really enjoyed this. When I first watched the ending I wasn't really upset...I thought to myself, oh...they went there...well I can see that. I guess I shouldn't be so surprised... but months later with plenty of time to think about it I've grown to hate it, and you have very well made almost all the arguments for why (although the confirmation of deities always bothered me).

I had really hoped to find out (assuming the desolate Earth was Our Earth) that the "final five" were humans who experimented with uploading their brains into robot/synthetic bodies to escape death, making their "children" and eventual evolution come full circle with the quasi-interspecies breeding that resulted in Hera. You could even take it another step and explain that those 5 were chosen, with their new resurrection abilities and highly engineered bodies as the only ones' capable of humanity's first iteration of the FTL drive, thus leaving all natural human life on Earth to eventually kill itself. Or maybe the resurrection abilities were available to all humans, and the only way the final 5 survived is because they left on search for a new planet because we knew Earth was becoming uninhabitable and the technology simply died out with humanity during it's final war?

I simply just wish they had ended it with the end of season 4.0 and never had 4.5 :/

Specifically relating to the loss of technology and the impact the Colonials and Cylons could have had on Earth 150,000 years ago...I think if they'd arrived at Earth, out of fuel for sufficient and safe landings, it could better explain a populace that had next to nothing and could therefore have little effect. If the few who survived the landings broke up the ships for tools or what have you, it's possible that some of the materials would have sufficient time to, I suppose, erode away. Much of the true science escapes my scorn, but placing their landing on Earth so far in the past and knowing what humanity has gone through until now left me very unsatisfied for the reasons you stated, we didn't learn anything from it.

Understand that one would write the Luddite ending if one really wanted it, but it needed more setup, more political foreshadowing. My more objective complaint is that 150,000 years ago has everything wrong about it, and the only reason for that date is a mistake about MTE.

You could also write the Luddite ending in the future, and work it very well. The cycle begins with the 21st century, and maybe, just maybe is broken by Apollo -- that can be left open ended, or you can show a scene of the angels in a future city that is not New York. Writing it in the future leaves no requirement for complete erasure, and you can have some factions go tech and some go back to nature.

A truly successful Luddite movement would need to actually be technological, like the Mennonites, who have picked a level of basic technology and try to stick with it. (Though they accept certain obvious things from modern tech like medicine. They aren't stupid.)

That's because you need to have enough civilization to educate and pass the message down. Apollo's plan makes a statement, and then erases it.

A successful Luddite ending might have been possible had only the Galactica arrived at Earth II, somehow losing contact with the rest of the fleet. The few surviving people (human and Cylon) might have been weary of fighting, scared of continuing the technological cycle and decided to abandon technology altogether... that could have been credible. Of course, you would still have had all the other inconsistencies and unanswered questions.

The problem with that idea, is that it's not just the tools and equipment that they'd bring-- it's the knowledge base. We have to remember that a basic First Aid book today (and in the Colonial fleet) puts the holder above probably 99% of human history in terms of medical knowledge. Communication (language and writing), farming, the idea of domesticating animals, etc, would place the Colonial colonists far above the natives.
Even if you assume that they lost everything down to say the period of the neolithic revolution, look at how FAST things moved from that point-- from Sumer to the Space Shuttle, Cuniform to computers.
Had they survived for any period of time as a culture, those advantages would have become insurmountable, their population would have taken off and in the "present" our two angels wouldn't have been walking through New York on the Island of Manhattan, but New York on the Ringworld capital of the Empire of Humanity.
The only way to forestall that is to assume that they didn't-- they died off fairly quickly, save for some survivors, such as Hera who ended their lives breeding with beings that had no language.
The worst thing about this ending from a historians point of view is that it doesn't harken back to anything good about mankind, but relates very closely to things like the Cultural Revolution and the Killing Fields of Cambodia, both noted as attempts to set the clock back to "Year Zero."

What were the options bandied about on the SCIFI forums?

(a) It was all a conspiracy by the Cylons to send 'new Humans' in search of Earth and that BSG would arrive and discover Earth and the Old BSG waiting for them..."Aint that Battlestar shipyard in lunar Orbit pretty."-Cue the Cylon dyson sphere jumping in to encompass the entire Solar system.

(b) The Watchtower song reference was to the Necronomicon says that the constelations were created as watchtowers for the Ancient Gods to watch against that which dwells in the void known to the greeks as Chaos. If you hear the song you are in proximity to a 'watchtower'. - Cue something more scary than the Cylons.

(c) The Eye of Jupiter painted by Kara Thrace describes a 'String' at the centre of a black hole. A singularity, for those who know their string theory, is a point of change in possibility. The String at the centre is debris of change in possibility. -Cue the fleet jumping that singularity so that the 'think they are hippies' listening to the watchtower music are all gathered in a room on the Galactica and the 'fifth cylon' magically appears in the room surrounded by Tory, Tyrol, Tigh, and Anders as they emerge from the jump point.

A couple things often missing:

A starship arrives at an alien planet. What do they do? They do NOT straight head onto the surface for many reasons - they might be killed by the environment or the life there and so on. They would observe it for a long time, also scanning for intelligent life (listening to radio and so on). In this case, they find Earth, expecting it to be full of advanced human life. They did not see anything on the Moon and nothing on the orbit, this should have raised a LOT of suspicions. They could not see cities from the orbit. They might even suspect that Cylons have done something bad there.

This applies to the "fake Earth", too, completely. Why do they bother to go to the surface, if it is obvious that it is the wrong planet?

Unfortunately most of the people (both the colonials and natives) would be wiped off anyway because of all the diseases, just like native Americans experienced. Colonials would have known it, especially after they abandoned their medical technology and facilities. How did they explain this to their citizens?

Also, if they (for any reason), show a familiar star pattern, why is it a present pattern instead of what it was 150,000 years ago? Stars move constantly and you wouldn't recognize the night sky of our ancestors. (Answer: because it was a big error anyway.)

And even though the continents won't move so much during 150,000 years, there are still changes. Ice ages and other things constantly shape the coastlines and you would see some differences. I live in Finland and I know that this are has been reshaped many times over and over again.

You might also want to speculate on what the Colonials think about the obvious divine intervention. If it is clear that there is one or more gods playing a part in the play, wouldn't the colonials have wanted to investigate and find out who or what is behind it? In an unsure situation, is the abandonment of all technology and all their history and knowledge the best way?

somebody else came up with the idea of the galacticans and cylons dying from some natural bug, which killed the war of the worlds movie, but would work here. they all simply got a flu bug and died off 150.000 years ago, leaving a child hera, who survived only until early 20's or late puberty, then died/was killed by primitives.

i still don't mind and actually love the ending, but i'm blind and biased, more blindly in love with the characters and the previous four years that i would love almost any ending.

i wonder why they didn't go back to get d'anna?

Well, that was the book ending to War of the Worlds, so....

Something I wished they had addressed, but they copped out with the "god did it" defence, is the fact that the flora and fauna on the various colonial worlds would have been vastly different from themselves. Even without genetic research, which I was a little unclear whether they possessed or not, taxonomic research should have told them they were vastly different creatures from the native fauna. Which shouldn't have been that surprising since they called their worlds the 12 Colonies. Again pointing the future. Even the presence of dogs and cats and even pidgeons didn't necessarily derail this position as they could have arrived with the original colonists. There's simply no getting around the fact we share 25% of the same DNA with lettuce or Mushrooms. But of course, god did it.

I personally found this idea really intriguing as it has huge sociological implications. It would mean the Chariots of Fire theory is suddenly a distinct possibility for the origins of humanity. Whole religions have been brought up around less. The show generally did religion well but this would have been worthy hook to hang their hat upon.

A well thought out essay. Well done Brad.

Yeah, the folks I was watching it with were pissed during the last hour. :)

To me, the finale would have been much better if it had included three other changes:

1. At least one of the Lords of Kobol (if not "god") was also somewhere in the fleet, had been there from the beginning, was actively helping to guide and protect the fleet, and was ready to actually give some answers at the end.

2. If they couldn't reach the rest of the fleet after they jumped to Earth-2. A heart-wrenchingly good reason to abandon ship, and a good dodge to the question of why the entire fleet would be willing to go Luddite.

3. If Racetrack intentionally nuked the Colony, instead of having her dead body do it in pretty much the most convenient accidental discharge ever.

"1. At least one of the Lords of Kobol (if not 'god') was also somewhere in the fleet, had been there from the beginning, was actively helping to guide and protect the fleet, and was ready to actually give some answers at the end."

I always thought this was going to be the smoking Doctor Cottle. While I agree with many of the criticisms in this article, the big disappointment for me -- not mentioned by the critic -- was that Cottle was never revealed as a super-secret uber-proto-cylon, God's avatar, a Lord of Kobol, or any other ancient and powerful player who had been causing things to happen behind the scenes since the beginning. There he was in the final scenes, and all he got to do was confirm the primitive earthlings' similarities to us, including burying their dead. Moore & Co. could have left him out of the scene entirely and had Baltar rattle off that little bit of exposition as a lead up to his "interbreeding" comment. So I was hoping that Cottle's appearance signified an imminent revelation of the kind that I had anticipated over several seasons. But no. Ultimately, Cottle was just another spear-carrier, and that was too bad.

All the points about the bad science are very well made. The very idea of a 'collective unconscious' is just so woo-woo West Coast! Most of the problems could have been resolved more satisfactorily if Moore had set the show in our future. If Kobol was a colony of Earth, and the colonials our descendants then both the biological and cultural similarities could have been explained in terms of known processes of cultural and genetic transmission: 'All Along the Watchtower'? - easy. For some reason Moore decided to stick slavishly to the ancient astronauts idea while changing just about everything else. He even stated this fairly early on and it always had me worried from season 1. In terms of contemporary science fiction, many of the supposedly divine interventions could have been explained in terms of the activities of some older post-singularity intelligence far transcending the Cylons. For example, why not have made the 'head characters' into AI programs that ran on the brains of those they appeared to? I'm still inclined to think that the 'God' of BSG is a descendant of the freed Centurions manipulating its own past...

I have to say though that while the science and (arguably) the philosophy was Pants, there were some things about the resolution I liked a lot in character terms. BSG still seems head and shoulders above any other TV sci-fi.

Worst ending??
Have you ever seen "Space Above and Beyond" or "Enterprise"?

At least it IS an ending. We had far worse cuts.
They tried to give it a soft end where you can just be done with it.
BSG was one of the greatest sci-fi series and we knew early that it is not getting enough attention and will propably end soon.
The authors made the best of it.
Kicking BSG when it is already on the floor is weak.
The title is lurid and an clear mistake (have you ever compared any other ending?).
...but of course congratulations to your io9 appearence with it.

"It suffers, not just under my standards..."

Er, he put it in context, dude. Pay attention next time.

Yeah and the context sucks just like the topic.

Hey but the spelling was good :D

Yeah, Mr anonymous. I can see why you didn't make the effort to read it properly. Anyhoots, I hope Brad deletes these pointless retorts.

Come find me and expand on your points.

Well, Brad...

Very well put, I must say. I can't disagree with any of your points as, well, I agree with them. It is sad that Mr Moore has ruined what would've been one hell of an obituary for himself; writer of the greatest piece of science fiction television (seeing as that's his vocation). I think J. Michael Straczynski can still claim that particular treasure. I don't think I'll be making any particular effort to watch his future productions. Shame, really.

Oh, I think I noticed around 6 typos; not spelling mistakes, but bother instead of brother sort of thing (that was the last one I picked up).

Good stuff.

They did a pretty good job of supporting the "non-supernatural God" theory, since on the one hand the resurrected Pythia (and by extension, Starbuck) is actually the goddess Aurora - who, like the other Lords of Kobol, can be inferred to be mortal, since Athena committed suicide on Kobol, and the comment Head Six makes to Michael Tigh (leader of the Thirteenth Tribe) suggests that they're much like the Ancients in Stargate - beings who are uninterested with the affairs of humanity and their creations, save for their purposes, with the exception of Aurora. This could potentially have been used for an even greater vehicle to support the characters against the concept of a divine will, since they could easily have made the show about the characters defying the will of "god" or the "gods" and having it bring them to fruition.

Of course, being a comic, it's unlikely that it's canon, but it was written by many of the show's writers, and fits in very neatly with pre-established canon. It did dull the hurt of the finale for me.

The show took a turn for the worst when it made the jump-ahead in time. Other than a few well written episodes its basically been crap since then. So if you went into the finale expecting AWESOMENESS then its you're own fault.

Characters are necessary but insufficient on their own for a story. Plot is also necessary to provide characters with the motivation to move toward or away from something; in so doing, they interact in compelling and plausible ways. And that interaction is what creates a good story.

When the BSG writers substituted themes for plots in the equation, that's when (for me) the show fell apart.

"But . . . [BSG] won’t be the greatest SF show ever, and that’s a pity."

This whole work has been eloquent. Oh, and it resonates. =) My personal response to the BSG ending was to take it for what it was, and leave it at that. Your disagreements map perfectly with mine, and it's a terrible shame that RDM felt it necessary to contrive a direct connection to our reality; for me, that's where I (ironically) locate my the sharpest disconnect with the show and its characters. Right behind that one however ... is GOD DID IT. heh.

For me, BSG is still one of the greatest SF shows I've ever seen. But it could have been better, and that IS a shame.

What a wanker. By reading your whole thing I get a few ideas about why you complain so vociferously:

1) I say this as an atheist myself, but you are one of those atheists that is so insufferable about it you give other non-theists a bad name. So any inclusion of "God" in science fiction instantly makes you dislike it. See also: dislike of the idea of no free will. I believe in free will, but I don't give a shit if a science FICTION show implies there is no free will. It's interesting to think about and have discussions with other nerdy friends about. I then exercise my free will and go get a burrito instead of spending months writing a wankeriffic blog post.

2) You are a pedantic wanker. "Oh no!!! This science FICTION show doesn't perfectly match science reality!" Who CARES if MTE isn't exactly right in the show. You understood what he meant, right? 90%+ of viewers got it. Who really cares?

3) You need your show ending to explicitly spell everything out for you. Maybe Moore WANTED the ending to be ambiguous about whether it was a god or an alien or whatever? OH NOES!!! If you need everything explained to you and wrapped up in a neat little bow at the end, there are plenty of other science fiction stories out there that will do that so you can go to sleep cozy and content. And a "Planet of the Apes" style ending? A shot of the Statue of Liberty? REALLY? That is so derivative and played-out, anyone with half a brain would have been much more disappointed by it. It was BALLSY and creative to leave the ending open to multiple interpretations of what "god" is, let alone even include the idea of an omnipresent god in show like that. I love that sort of risk taking.

One specific complaint you have I feel really needs to be addressed. Your complaint about "collective unconscious". If you go by the show, we are all at least part FREAKING CYLON. We are part *artificial fucking beings who are based on COMPUTERS* at least in a small small amount. If you can't wrap your head around how that intersects with the idea of a collective unconscious, I don't know what to say

You ask at one point "is this too nitpicky?". Yes. This has been simple answers to simple questions.

1. I don't think Brad is saying anywhere that he's opposed to this as an atheist. In fact he's said explicitly many times that it's not an appropriate venue - he has no problem with gods intervening in fiction which it's good for.

2. MTE is a pretty well known archaeological phenomenon, and it's insulting to the viewers to suggest that they're too stupid to know what it means.

3. If by ballsy you mean, he had no clue what he was doing, sure.

"One specific complaint you have I feel really needs to be addressed. Your complaint about "collective unconscious". If you go by the show, we are all at least part FREAKING CYLON. We are part *artificial fucking beings who are based on COMPUTERS* at least in a small small amount. If you can't wrap your head around how that intersects with the idea of a collective unconscious, I don't know what to say"

And yet, the Cylons never have the ability in the show to communicate with each other wirelessly, nor do they ever, EVER exist as a hive mind. In fact, the show goes to huge lengths, particularly with Athena/Boomer, to show that this is the case.

You're rather a pedantic dick yourself, aren't you? It's pretty funny that you're criticizing him for even trying to criticize a show on a blog that's made, uh, exactly for that purpose. It's like going to an internet chatroom about cookies and yelling at them for discussing cookie recipes.

Coming from the point from a more-or-less agnostic (hoping there's something out there, but worried there isn't)....

JDB basically hit my main problem with this article here: The premise of this whole article seems to be that "God in the story" (and to a lesser extent, lack of free will, or alternatively prophecy)is a fundamentally flawed way to write SF. This is nothing less than an opinion, one you're entitled to have, but no more factual than JDB calling Brad a "pedantic wanker".

Which, by the way, is bad form. Saying "and also, you smell!" doesn't help JDB's case.

But basically I agree with him on what he's saying. The thing is the finally is still full of holes, and problems, but by fixating on this one issue (and secondly, nitpicking on the 150,000 vs. 40,000 years, MTE Eve/MRCA issue), you're ignoring all the real problems with the end of this otherwise good series.

The story did jump the shark somewhere in the 3rd season - the further it drove into religious territory the less interested I personally became, but it's not -because- it drove into religious territory, I personally think the story became more poorly written at about the same time. It could've worked, but there were a lot of plotlines that could have probably been tossed altogether to make a more concise story, while allowing the essential elements more time to develop. In particular, the whole plotline about the Baltar cult could've been eliminated without substantively affecting the Baltar character, and anyway was one which was never resolved at all. This is just want case in point.

God as an active, intervening character (which is different from the simple presence of God, or the supernatural in a story) is fundamentally flawed, or perhaps it is less critical to say that it changes greatly the nature of the story.

When a god is pulling the strings, when events are foreordained by this god and the god is intervening to make them happen, the the story becomes god's story, and not the characters' story. Could Starbuck have been anywhere but at the controls of Galactica when the battle ended? Or waiting for Leoben out in space to start the alliance? Or in the maelstrom, being told by an angel to accept death? Or in the rebuilt viper at the battle of the Ionian nebula? Starbuck had to be all those places, and do the things she did there. Same for many other characters (though her life, and Baltar's, are the most directly controlled.)

A tiny difference there, veering left instead of right, and Starbuck isn't where she is meant to be.

God as a present but distant force is fine. Characters who believe in God and do things because of their faith -- fine. Characters that do things because God comes into their head and manipulates them -- no longer characters, just instruments.

The problem with making God an essential part of a storyline is that it is not God that controls the story--it's the writers. The reason Starbuck gets her acclaim has nothing to do with any God in the story or in real life--Starbuck gets her acclaim because the writers wrote it that way. In most stories I think it capitally lame when events are attributed to God, because sorry, things happen because of the writer, not God.

And I agree with Brad, season 4 and the ending of the series was crap writing.

I do love the series Supernatural, and how in one season (season 5 I think) God is revealed to be, you guessed it, the writer. Now there's a good show. There's a show that can laugh at itself because they know it's all ridiculous anyway.

Nice essay. Totally wrong. Point by point here:

1. Hard SF is the greatest SF, and BSG violates the rules of hard SF.

This is a semantic reduction. Drama is drama, and stories are stories. As you recapped, RDM's ruleset for "naturalistic" SF was simply a way of breaking free of SF convention in order to open up the drama. Relatability is a red herring. There's no way a character like Superman could exist, but that doesn't mean he can't speak to a certain aspect of human nature. As you point out, soft SF and fantasy can work just as well as hard SF in creating a world of subtext and meaning. BSG mixed hard SF tropes with classic biblical myth. As you also point out, mixing disparate elements of fiction make for the strongest stories.

2. Religious fiction is usually targeted at believers or seeks to convert non-believers.

The Dune series is religious fiction, science fiction, and classic literature all at the same time. And it's targeted at neither of these groups. The reason so much evangelical fiction is terrible is because the message supersedes the story. Whether you like the story and its resolution or not, you can't argue that BSG was pushing a message. This was a story about people and myth, not about making you believe in the myth. Just as Harry Potter isn't about forcing you to believe in magic.

3. God determined the fate of these characters.

Yes, but God never forced these characters to act. They were presented with signs and symbols, not used as puppets. You say it's okay for a divine being to set a story in motion but not to resolve the story. This is exactly what happens in BSG. Mythic stories use prophecy as a way to challenge the characters. To use just one example, God obviously had a plan for Starbuck, but she wasn't allowed to know this until the very end. She determined her own fate. Obviously, the plan was to use her as a catalyst to jump Galactica out of danger and to prehistoric Earth, but you're missing the forest for the trees. The story wasn't about the act of jumping Galactica. It was about the look on Starbuck's face when she finally realized her purpose. Once again, it's the characters, stupid.

4. Gods exist better as a force of nature.

As you say, that's exactly how God is described in BSG. What's your point?

5. The nature of BSG's God isn't explained.

To paraphrase yourself, great SF often leaves some things unexplained. Would you rather have seen a shot of BSG's God in his spaceship pressing buttons? And would that have made any sense if he (or it) was a natural being with incomprehensible powers? You can't have it both ways.

6. "...many were shocked to have it be revealed as a supernatural god."

As you wrote a few sentences before, the nature of BSG's God isn't revealed.

7. BSG's God isn't specific to one religion.

Again, you have a narrow view of relatability. BSG wasn't about one religion. It was about humanity's relationship with myth and what myth tells us about the nature of humanity. In other words, a mythic story with a modern critical bent wrapped in the tropes of SF.

8. The mistaken interpretation of mitochondrial Eve sours the story.

You're right about the scientific error, but this isn't a lynchpin of the plot. The greater significance of Hera was in her mixing of Cylon and human genetics. The humans of BSG couldn't have survived without opening themselves up to their worst nature (the Cylons) and becoming something more. Hera represents contentment, which carries over into the characters' willingness to settle down on Earth and seed a new civilization. All of them (or, rather, all of them who chose to have sex with cave people) became the ancestors of us. The National Geographic story about Hera/Eve is a transition device, not a plot device.

9. Collective unconscious is absurd.

Yes, but so is the concept of God. That doesn't preclude either from being used in fiction to serve a larger narrative purpose. In this case, history repeats itself despite lessons learned. This may be an irreversible aspect of human nature, but it doesn't have to be a fatal flaw.

10. BSG became about the mystery, not the characters.

This is a fault of the viewer, not the show. If you wanted to focus on the big mysteries, you could. But in the meantime, the characters were still twisting and turning and changing. Which isn't to say the big mysteries weren't pushed in the writing. They simply shared the stage. The best example of this was in the audience hand-wringing over who would be revealed as the final Cyclon. People seemed disappointed that it turned out to be Ellen. But why? Why would any other character have been a better reveal? The story wasn't about the specifics of who would be revealed as the final Cylon, but why the Final Five even existed. And what made them different than the others? It was fun to hypothesize about who the final Cylon would be, but in the end, that's not what the story was about. You can't rightly judge a story based on the metric of your expectations. The best stories don't deliver what you expect, suspect, or even necessarily think you want. They deliver what the story requires and what is emotionally necessary.

Overall, you make some compelling arguments, but many of them are self-contradictory and don't stand up to scrutiny.

  1. I don't say that you can't do great things in all the forms of drama and literature. I just say that realistic stories offer a special ability to go further. Most on screen SF is not very realistic, sometimes because of the medium, sometimes because the writers are sloppy. In this case, they could have kept it realistic, and blew it, and that is the shame.

  2. I should be clearer about this. I mean more the "Left Behind" category of religious fiction, where you accept that things are happening because of faith, the same way you accept the tenets of a religion. There is fiction for wide audiences with gods in it of course, but I still contend it's better when those divine forces are not setting the path of the characters, but rather, as in Dune and elsewhere, creating the setting.

  3. I disagree. The specifics of Starbuck entering in that jump code are so precise, based on all we are told about jump codes. The events of the opera house prophecy were specific as to who would be standing where are exact moments. Could the characters have chosen not to be there. Could Starbuck have chosen to type in the digits a bit faster? If so, the whole thing unravels.

  4. Baltar says that, to explain the god as neither good or evil, but he's wrong. The god and its angels are not forces of nature, they lay out a very specific plan, plant visions and prophecies, and make it happen quite directly.

  5. I don't complain about this per se. What I mean is I would rather the god were not a god at all, and thus had a nature which I would then want to know a bit about.

  6. Based on its precise control of events and exact prophecies, it exists outside of time and the ordinary order of the universe, so it is strongly presented as supernatural.

  7. Not sure what you mean here, I am not bothered that the god is not specific to a religion.

  8. What is soured is the date. The mistake forces the date, and the wrong date warps the story and makes it make less sense.

  9. But it's absurd as an explanation for one of the key things viewers wanted to know. Why are they so like us? How can they even have the very same songs?

  10. Every episode opened with "And they have a plan" or "One will be revealed" or similar. And most of the big questions were left to the end (though a lot were also done in No Exit.) That is not the viewer's fault for seeing a mystery.

I was not disappointed by the reveal of Ellen. The reveal that disappointed me was that the Final 5 after all the build up and appearances in secret temples etc were just puppets, and Cavil was the secret evil mastermind.

Not the worst essay ever. Just a little overblown. But to rebut your rebuttal to my rebuttal:

1. I just don't buy the argument that realism is a more effective means to relatability. I think that in this case, "relatability" is being used as a synonym for "resonance", and the latter is a better term for it. When it comes to resonance, believability is the name of the game, and BSG rarely crossed the line into unbelievability. I don't believe in a real god, but I didn't have a problem believing in BSG's God as presented. Whatever he or it was, it seems this God is some kind of force that directly intervenes in human events whenever humans are coming to the end of their life cycle. Almost as if God sets the world into motion and steps back, hoping it turns out better this time. There's something very relatable and compelling in that completely unrealistic idea. More of a hopeful, parental force than a puppetmaster.

2. In Dune, prophecy and visions are used much the same way as they are in BSG. Through the spice, Paul sees a vision of the future that inevitably comes to pass. He wasn't pushed in the direction of the bomb that took his sight, but he had to be there all the same. In his case and in BSG, signs and visions serve at most as influences on interpretation, not on motivation. In that sense, the integrity of the characters is left intact. They have free will, but they also have an idea of where that free will will lead. The opera house vision, for example, doesn't motivate any of the characters involved to end up in Galactica's CIC. But when they all finally connect their vision with where they've ended up, it serves as a signpost on their road to accepting the reality of their situation. In the case of Baltar in particular, it's a turning point in his development as a character, not an end to that development.

3. See above.

4. You have a fair point here, but I'd once again argue that characters aren't manipulated. It's as if God knows where they'll end up and gives some of them just enough of a visionary impulse to ensure the survival of humanity. Forces of nature exist to ensure the survival and balance of nature. A hurricane, for example, is just a manifestation of weather patterns and kinetic energy caused by the natural bumping and transforming of earth's atmospheric processes. In other words, it's an amoral force with a very specific path. BSG's God acts the same way. It continually saves humanity's ass, but humanity itself isn't necessarily a good thing. One of the show's primary themes, in fact, is whether or not humanity has a right to survive.

5. This is fair, but I think you're falling back on SF cliche. I'm happy to have a grand biblical epic rather than the tired Star Trek "god" who needs a starship.

6. Remember the old saying about advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic? I don't think BSG falls on either side of the natural/supernatural argument, but it's logical to imagine that if this God exists, it must necessarily be natural.

7. "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."

8. Very true. This and the constellation business should have been caught. But I've put up with larger mistakes from stories I love. And I don't think this mistake takes much away from the larger narrative.

9. I agree with you, but in its absurdity, the collective unconscious explanation has a certain elegance. I suppose the similarities could have been explained in a more down-to-earth way, but I'm afraid there's not really a logical explanation that would have worked in the context of the story. I see this in much the same way as I see Star Trek's technobabble. It's a means to a thematic end, so it shouldn't be bogged down in some sort of expository logic that still wouldn't make a lot of sense. In other words, it could have been handled better, but I don't know how.

10. The viewer isn't at fault for seeing a mystery, only for hinging his or her enjoyment with the show on those mysteries. I wasn't interested in them nearly as much as I was in the arcs of these characters. They served as an engine to drive the plot, and I think they did that job well.

I understand and appreciate your point that the failings of BSG wouldn't have been as significant if the show hadn't reached such lofty heights during its run, but those heights were always tempered with little problems. In the first two (and arguably best) seasons, there were things like the horrible black market episode. Baltar's trial was a dramatic high point for the series, but the logic behind it was a little tortured. BSG is the best SF show ever made, warts and all. But like every other show I love, it had its share of problems. That doesn't make it any less of a masterpiece in the end.

For a more thorough defense of the show, you can check out an article I wrote shortly after the finale aired:

I really enjoyed your essay and appreciate the debate. I think it speaks to BSG's greatness that people's feelings about its ending are so strong in both directions.

But if we're judging finales based on the achievements of the show as a whole, I don't think there's any worse than Seinfeld's.

Realism isn't the only way to what you are terming resonance. It is however, a better way, a way more likely to work. If you want to convince me that robots could be dangerous, you might tell me a believable tale of a robot revolt based as closely as you can on a real understanding of robotics. Or you might tell me a story with kitchen appliances who become sentient and electrocute us. Or you might tell me a story where robots start getting visions from a fictional god that make them think they must wipe out their parents in order to come into their own, and so they nuke everybody.

Which story is going to have resonance? Which one will help me examine the issues of artificial life? The more real it is, the better job it is going to do.

Baltar finally comes around when he sees that Six can see his inner Baltar, when he finally gets something objective. The Opera House vision is a minor add-on once he crosses that line.

The characters are manipulated. They are as less than children to God. When you trick a 2 year old into doing what you want with a candy, you don't think of the 2 year old as being somebody of will that is simply being "encouraged" by daddy to go a certain way. Or that's not even strong enough. Consider a computer program for which you have the source code, for that's what you are to God. You know for sure, "If I give this input X to the program, it will do Y." If God whispers in your ear, it's with full divine knowledge of what you will do with the whisper. You are just an instrument.

I don't want the Star Trek V God, but I would be happy with Old One or the Blight from A Fire Upon the Deep, or the Eschaton from Stross novels.

One can make an argument for this god being natural, but I think a god that can put a song into the mind of Anders 2,000 years ago which, if decoded, contains jump coordinates that take you from an orbit around a singularity to flying over the Moon if punched in at a very specific date and time, that's a being that exists outside of time and is supernatural.

As for #7, what I mean is I have happily enjoyed stories with fictional gods, but I never thought people got much spiritual relevance from them, I felt they were just plot devices. I have also seen stories (such as the movie "The Ten Commandments") with a real God from a real religion in them, and those stories have the most spiritual relevance to the many faithful. The Ten Commandments is fine moviemaking but it did nothing for me spiritually. I'm not likely to ever read "Left Behind."

There was a great way to explain what Moore explained via collective unconscious. Set the story in the future.

You may have seen through the mysteries, but when fans got together online, they were one of the primary topics. Though not the only ones of course. (Mind you I never have seen the great fascination some people have for shipper threads.)

And I sat in the who and the why camps. I was one of the few to name Ellen Tigh as I was interested in who it was, but you will note I picked her for the correct reason -- the why. However, I missed out on Moore's real plan because I felt it made much more sense for the final Cylon to be one of the string pulling forces behind the scenes, and she was just a pawn. The real string pullers were Cavil, and God.

All fair points, but you're undeniably and objectively wrong about one thing. It would have been amazing if BSG's God turned out to be the very same one from Star Trek V. Even better if He commandeered Galactica only to realize she was a clunker by that point. All those plans for nothing. Might explain why He's so pissed by the time Kirk and crew show up.

Sure, there are a few problems with this idea, but it's nothing that couldn't be explained away with a little technobabble.

Or maybe I just really want to see a series where every week the ST5 God tries and fails to capture someone's starship...

This is absurd and ridiculous. As BSG went along, there were so many metaphysical elements. So many intriguing, spiritual ideas. In the end, it's very cool and quite cathartic to get this sense of an omnipotent God who was slightly interfering along the way to bring people to their new lives. He wanted them where they ended up. And if God exists, then God doesn't owe us an explanation. He can do whatever He wants. The spiritual, mysterious aspects of the finale and the show are what I appreciated most. It really makes people think and discuss faith.

Consider instead, a giant face appeared at the end and stole the ship. HOW DUMB. No one would be discussing that. There's no life implications with that. I can't even begin to say how dumb that would be.

Regarding the Eve, what was dumb about that was the implication that she is THE missing link. As well pointed out above, all of our people who mated and had children would be part of the process of forming modern humanity, not just her. She's merely the first mix.

I feel I must point out some misconceptions.

"In Dune, prophecy and visions are used much the same way as they are in BSG. Through the spice, Paul sees a vision of the future that inevitably comes to pass."

The spice allows anyone (males at least) who takes a sufficient amount to view a skein of possible futures. That's how the Guild Navigators work. Paul's power (one of them at least) lies in being able - and willing - to force humanity as a whole to follow a particular possible future.

"He wasn't pushed in the direction of the bomb that took his sight, but he had to be there all the same."

No, Paul chose to be there. He strait up admitted to Leto that he saw the path that involved becoming the worm and refused it, due to a combination of cowardice and lack of will, in favor of the path that led him to become the blind Preacher.

"In his case and in BSG, signs and visions serve at most as influences on interpretation, not on motivation."

In BSG perhaps. In Dune, certainly not. Paul, for one instance among many, "sees" that the Emperor will be on Dune in the future and sets in motion a series of events that will topple him. If that's not an influence on motivation I don't know what is.

"In that sense, the integrity of the characters is left intact. They have free will, but they also have an idea of where that free will will lead."

Paul doesn't have an "idea" of where his choices lead. He knows damn well where his choices lead. That's his tragedy. He sacrifices his free will. Hell, he (through Leto) sacrifices humanity's free will (for several millennia) in exchange for humanity's ultimate survival.

Dune deals with religion as an institution, but aside from the very last few sentences in the very last book you never get a sense of any truly godlike being(s). There's not a God on high who dispenses these visions in order to bring about His ends, there are two people who can see the visions and have the power to make them come about which, in effect, makes them gods.

Well said.

You can't compare Dune to this BSG.

In Dune: There is religion but there is never any divine intervention. Paul has godlike powers, but he is not a god. The premise of Spice and its powers when consumed is strongly established very early in the story. Paul's abilities are also strongly foreshadowed. The story is about Paul and how he deals with the extreme responsibility thrust upon him due to his powers.

In BSG: Characters believe in a religion, but there is no foreshadowing of god's influence. Then God springs up at the end of the story resurrects starbuck, then later it turns out starbuck and the Six in Baltar's head are angels. Starbuck leads them to a planet based on a song converted into a number sequence which happens to also match the numbering sequence of the ship's ftl navigation computers. The planet has a remarkably similar and completely evolved in parallel species that is fully compatible for reproduction. Enough said...

Brad, reality != realism. BSG is not a reality show, it's a realistic show, in a possible, posited reality (plot errors aside). Maybe you could say it's a reality show in a fictional universe.

It seems to me, though, that your requirement on the show is that it would have been able to stand scrutiny towards what is actually, really, truthfully and physically possible in our reality, albeit with some extrapolations. Now if this sounds like your definition of "hard SF", then that's right, except that I don't agree to that either. I have been reading, watching, discussing, critizing and even writing a little SF throughout my life (31 years so far), and "hard SF" is not SF that only operates with current or near-current (thus, close-future) science, but is rather SF that tries not to make up new, completeley baseless scientific developments, but still does have a rather big leeway for extrapolation.

In that sense, BSG is hard SF, but no, it's not reality (nor did it ever aim to be, nor did any other SF novel, TV show, movie ever written or produced). As AmSci has said, the nature of the BSG god is never explained, and barely, if at all, posited at. What if it was all a big simulation (Matrix?). What if it was something that once started out as a "supercomputer" and then became something entirely different, capable of influence across the entire universe? What if it was, in the end, just fate, and the fact that Kara was an angel has no direct relation to the actual "god"?

I find it very interesting that the Cylons went through an inverse evolution of mind, inverse to the way the human mind went. They started out as machines, thinking completely logically, basically not thinking at all but just processing algorithms. Then they were given a conscious mind and emotions. They started thinking "What comes after the algorithm? Is there more to it than just this file of data in my memory banks? I can feel, but it serves no purpose to processing... what is the reason? What do I do with it? Where can it lead me, where can I go?"

At least these are the questions I imagine I would have on a subconscious level if I had started out as a machine, were given sentience and emotion, and the mechanical part would have been hidden in what would be an analogon to the human subconscious. And I think that part was executed brillantly by RDM, even through all the mishaps, weak episodes and weak plot threads.

And RDM gave us the fascinating answer: They would start beliving in (a) god. Just as we do, even though we arrived on the exactly reverse route at our current state: we started out as mostly feeling, reacting, "emotional" beings (here I mean precursors of emotions in animals, lower animals, perhaps even plants), superstitious and believing in a god because we were not able to explain the world around us in more rational terms, draw more connections, and arriving at where we are now, where science is the predominant theory to explain the world around us (please not my lack of differentiation between religion and science, which is intentional).

RDM left the question of the nature of god entirely open, and IMHO it has not been proven, til the very end, Kara disappearning or not, that such a god in fact exists. The show's ending requires a leap of faith on so many levels stacked onto levels that you won't arrive anywhere while nitpicking (and once you do these leaps of faith, the ending is not so bad at all.)

But let's get back to hard SF: RDM positied a god as viable element of hard SF, namely in the same way I brought science and faith together in the 2nd-to-last paragraph. If you go one step up, you have Cylons who started believing in a god when they lost complete rationality, and humans, who started "believing" in science once they gained rationality. Humans gained rational, connected thought (think prefrontal cortex), and thus science seemed to make more and more sense to them, because the connections you could draw about nature from observing it rigorously scientifically, were pleasing to our prefrontal cortex. As with Cylons, though, a god seemed what they needed now. They already knew the rigor of science, the minute processing of data, observation and creating correlations, and a single Cylon can probably perform any scientific task better than a group of 10 humans. Then they gained emotion, and conscious thought. They needed something to explain all of this. How is it possible I can feel? Nothing in my cold machine program can explain to me why I have these emotions, and what they are for. What world view would satisfy the condition that there must be a purpose to love? A strictly machine-like thought, btw.

So what do we learn? I think, the message is, that it doesn't matter what you believe in, but where it leads you ("It's about the characters, stupid"). Now I can see that to some, this might sound just as twaddly wish-washy as RDM's actual ending of BSG, but I dare you to think about it, and see how it is "nothing" ("meaningless") and saying "everything" at the same time.

BSG is not hard SF. But when I praise hard SF, I do write that the closer you get to its ideals, the more relevant you can be to our real world. You can have a story with FTL like BSG or Star Trek, but then tell an otherwise real story when you get to the remote planet, and still be relevant to the real world. Your message is not dependent on the fake science (the FTL) and so it is not diminished.

BSG however tried to make its connection to the real world (ie. Hera as mother to us all) through bad science, and so that connection suffers. Had they tried to make the connection the normal SF way (in the future) the bad science would not have as much of an impact, as long as the connection doesn't depend directly on it. The story about A.I and humanity in conflict does not require FTL, so FTL doesn't spoil it.

Anyway, I am not sure you have the story right. The Cylons started as the upload of an emotional teen-age girl. She 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.

The humans have thought up religions perhaps, the Kobolian one, though other things suggest that one had a real basis too.

The humanoid Cylon minds came mostly, it seems, from the 13th colony Cylons, who were never robots as far as I can tell. Their emotions, sexuality and more came from the Final Five raising them and providing initial mind templates. The comics suggest something further, I don't know if it's Canon. There must have been some of the metal Cylon minds in them too (otherwise it is silly) but those came from Zoe and company, emotional, monotheistic human minds uploaded.

Nothing big here, but I wanted to address point 3:

Ever have a deja vu? Have you dreamed at some point in the past that you would be doing exactly what you are doing in the present? If so, did you have any choice in fulfilling the conditions of that dream? Was it a predetermined consequence of your actions or did you simply envision the future? Did your lack of any conscious choice in the matter preclude any notions of free will you may have had? In short, do you feel like a puppet in these situations? Probably not.

Great post, but for me the greatest failing of the entire final season of the show was in unraveling years of viewer investment in the story. Your points are more than valid, but to my mind the biggest disappointment was in realizing that there was, in fact, no overarching plan for the show and its themes. Those same precious "characters" spent years agonizing over questions that ultimately had no answers, and were dismissed offhandedly by RDM and company within the show's final moments.

All those episodes agonizing over visions of the "opera house" and their significance, and they are written off in the final moments of conflict as a simple hallucination of the Galactica's bridge? Weak, weak sauce. It was heartbreaking when, running out of time and in one single episode, Galactica's powers-that-be rushed to cram half-hearted explanations for all those dangling plot threads into an hour of non-stop infodumping by two characters who suddenly just "remembered everything." Gee, imagine how much more interesting it could have been if we had actually experienced the answers to these mysteries rather than having a roadmap for the show's entire backstory dump in our laps in two simultaneous, vaguely coherent streams of exposition?

The shows achieved new heights of science fiction throughout its first 2.5 seasons or so, then jettisoned it all by admitting that all the intricate plotting was mere smoke and mirrors. To be fair, the Network Formerly Known as SciFi has to bear some of the responsibility: agonizing hiatus after hiatus, pointless direct-to-DVD movies, and ridiculous "half seasons" that resulted in the need for silly cliffhangers (the Final Five, the "Planet of the Apes" moment) that needlessly complicated the plot and were never satisfactorily explained. This just increased the steady disappointment when Moore and Co. *finally* returned and revealed that they hadn't spent the last couple of virtually inactive years actually constructing satisfying answers to their web of mystery. Instead, they waited until the last minute and tacked on an incredulous bunch of fluff that insulted their long-term viewers.

Ah, well. We still have a mini-series and 2.5 seasons of great scifi. I'll just pretend this last bit never happened.

I am not bothered the show wanted to move to exploring the origin of the Cylons, which is what the final 5 plot was about, so I think we got more than 2.5 good seasons. But that exploration did not end well.

However, I did not spend a lot of time in the essay on the loose ends and other missing pieces because they have been covered elsewhere and the essay was getting pretty long. But I also found the Opera House to be quite silly and disappointing after all the buildup it got. Oooh, "the dying leader will know the truth of the opera house." God felt it was so important to deliver this vision and prophecies about it to many characters, and it's just an image of how some people will be standing for a few moments, and has nothing to do with the opera house, or Kobol, or the nature of the final 5, or the role of Hera? That did suck.

I wonder if the Opera House on Galactica was a result of a budget cut.

Didn't the last season have only half the budget of the previous three seasons?

It would be interesting to hear if Moore & Co had other ideas for the Opera House.

Although, it's actually kind of weird that they didnt' use the Opera House set as part of the Cylon Baseship they destroy at the end.

-- awesome essay.

May I?

1. Brad did not say hard Sci-Fi is "the greatest". What he said, more specifically, is that it's the most effective form of Sci-Fi to deliver a message. If you're pushing a cookie-cutter message like "technology is bad, mkay", as RDM says he was, you want to communicate that message as effectively as possible. The message becomes muddled when God is the reason people push buttons or robots revolt.

2. If the last hour of BSG is not an Intelligent Designer's wet dream, I don't know what is. They didn't have to scream "THIS COULD HAVE HAPPENED, AND I THINK IT DID" to push the message.

3. Even if God only intervened with "signs and symbols" (the Divinely Fabricated Viper was one helluva sign), that's enough to undermine the struggle of the characters, in my book.

4. Yes, God is a force of nature that doesn't like to be called God and oversaw the execution of billions of tiny events. This cutesy suggestion is airlocked in the final scene of the show.

5. Fair enough, the show does not have to explain God, other than to confirm a *single* God exists. What about the Lords of Kobol? Were they left a mystery, or ignored out of incompetence?

6. BSG's God is not a supernatural God? Supernatural is anything outside the realm of, basically, known science or nature. AKA, ensuring the identical evolution of two species on two different planets.

7. And of all humanity's myths were rendered meaningless when they encountered the One True God. Touching, and suitably Abrahamic in a way.

8. Hera represents inflated, mystical BS mistaken for character significance. She was the only Human-Cylon hybrid apparently, and...she had curly hair. Comforting to know they risked (well, was there any risk?) the entire human race to save her.

9. The concept of "collective unconscious" is absurd when it makes no appearance whatsoever in the show. Or was the "collective unconscious" a latent Cylon ability, sustained by the "fact" that all of humanity is descended from Mitochondrial Eve?

10. The marketing of the show became the mysteries (see the Sci-Fi promo page that promised "You Will Know Truth". The focus of the show became the mysteries. This was not a failing of the viewer but the writers of the show. We stopped caring about the characters when the mysteries became more interesting (how the hell Starbuck and her Viper materialized next to the fleet was more interesting than "Oh, look, Baltar is having sex").

I have to agree wholeheartedly. The whole "God did it" answer probably wouldn't have stung quite so much -- even though it is still a lame copout -- if it hadn't directly contradicted the entire presentation of the show. Pretty brazen to show "... and they have a plan" at the beginning over every episode when they so clearly did not. Also to tack one of those "all will be revealed" slogans to every promo ("You will know the truth", "The truth will be revealed", etc.) when they clearly had no intention of ever revealing anything.

As mentioned, the fall was so great only because they had previously achieved such great heights.

Thanks for this.

I was disappointed with lots of BSG episodes but absolutely gobsmacked at the last hour. So much that I could never have put this much effort into figuring out why it failed.

I think you've hit several nails on their heads here. I'm one of those crazy one-god believers, but I got annoyed with BSG the further it slipped into what seemed like lazy mysticism. It wasn't true to godfree SF (which I enjoy) nor was it anything like my reality, which is mostly free of prophets and visions. I don't go to SF for my mysticism, I go there to be challenged about hard concepts and what-could-be. And I love mysteries, but I expect there to be a satisfying 'a-ha!' at the end. As you pointed out, this was anything but.


Joss Whedon might seem to wander a bit in the middle of a season but I've learned to trust that he will always come back and deliver an ending that makes sense and probably kicks you in the gut at the same time). As a result, I'll watch anything of his. Ron Moore has made me want to run for the hills when I see his name, and no longer just because of that intensely irritating, jarring, mood-breaking production credit at the end of every episode... Which is a shame, because sometimes BSG was very good.

Again, thanks for the post.

Here was my theory (I was hoping Moore was lying about denying some aspects of it - unfortunately he wasn't).

Humans made the Cylons as robots. The Cylons evolved, eventually creating biological/nano-machine symbiots (the "human" cylons) and a AI Singularity (the Cylon "god").

There were two factions within the Cylons. One which wanted to merge Cylons back into humanity, the other considered Cylons to be the supreme race and thought humans should either die out or be exterminated if they continued to war against the Cylons. Much of this was related to whether emotions, relationships, and biology were good things or not.

The "All Along the Watchtower" part and the "this has all happened before" part was because the Cylon singularity god pulled a trick similar to the one in Singularity Sky by Charles Stross - it took humans from our Earth's future and sent them across the galaxy (and maybe back in time) to start over, almost from scratch. Unfortunately, they started over by eventually recreating the Cylons (the Centurions) who in turn evolved to a point where they made contact with the Cylon God (plus by having non-biological memories, those things could have been preseved somehow). That explains the similarity in technology and the myths and legends of Earth. It also explains why the more human sleeper Cylons would remember Earth and know All Along the Watchtower.

The Six in Baltar's head was a result of "infection" by Cylon nano-machines.

Starbuck was saved and resurrected by the Cylon god to lead the fleet to Earth.

When the fleet reached Earth, it should have been at the point in our future where the Cylons were first being "created" and the experiment of the 12 colonies and the warring Cylon factions was intended to answer the question about which future should be chosen.

The thing that set BSG apart from other SFTV was insanely thought out use use of the ancient Greek ideas of cyclic events, "all this has happened before and all this will happen again" the finale was just a cleverly crafted extension of that same theme. It goes on to include the actual show in the never ending cycle, as an allegory for mankind itself. As BSG gains in popularity and ratings it became more respected, prominent and powerful(as far as TV goes i guess) eventually reaching a point where it cant escape its own hubris which led to its downfall. It was all an elaborate plan to really drive the message home.

I understand the cycle plot. This cycle plot could have been rendered with a setting in the future just as well, if not better, than the way it was done in the past.

With the cycles in the past, we are the next cycle. We've not remembered anything of the lessons our ancestors learned, unless you accept Ron Moore as the prophet of the collective unconscious bringing them to us, I suppose. And the angel says, "The question is, does all this have to happen again?"

In the future, we are the start of the cycle. Our descendants return to the Earth, and the question is the same, does the cycle have to repeat? That you leave open. You can leave it open by having them remember some of the lessons, through the fact that they welded human and cylon and many died to save Hera, that union. That they plan to live together.

Lol, i think the comment was in regards to the actual show, not the plot. he's trying to relate the rise and decline of quality of BSG as an added story method. maybe a not really well put way of saying it though?

"With the cycles in the past, we are the next cycle."

I think that might be exactly what Moore was going for, in the end. He's using his show to make a big warning statement to US, the viewers of his TV program, about What Happens When You're Bad To Your Kids.

That is obviously what he wanted, as I believe I said. I am mostly arguing that was a poor way to write it, among other things. He had already shown that message (and it was the same whether it was past or future) and there was no need to bang people over the head with it.


Many times throughout this essay you state that the plot of the original BSG placed it in the past. This is not true. While many people assumed that this was the case due to the early Greek and Egyptian iconography used on the series, at no point was it ever established that it took place in the past. In fact, no definitive era was given until the dreadful "Galactica 1980" established that the original series took place sometime in the late 1960's/early 1970's (since the child Boxey from the original was now the adult Troy when the Galactica finally reached Earth in 1980).

I forgot that the original BSG did in fact establish that it wasn't taking place in the past. At the very end of the episode "The Hand of God" none of the Galactica crew notices a faint signal picked up on one of the monitors: the 1969 broadcast of the first moon landing.

What I meant was that the story of the colonies and Kobol was in the past, that the founding of Earth from Kobol was in the past, rather than the founding of Kobol from Earth being in the future (in a more correct re-imagining.)

In BSG78, things like the Cylon war began 1,000 years ago, in our past, but the events we saw were near our present.

Galactica 1980 did set BSG78 in 1960 but you may want to say it's not canon, and you would get little argument.

I agree with everything in this blog, but there's a comment about Ghostbusters that's incorrect. Gozer wasn't killed. The ghostbusters simply closed the gate to our world.

My main problem and ultimate disappointment with the finale (well, Season 4.5, actually) is two fold and can be easily summed up in non-technospeak:

1) Overall, the lie of a "plan"

I'm willing to forgive a lot niggling little plot points because of how much enjoyment and excitement the show instilled in me over the course of five years (New Caprica/Pegasus ending being my favorite). I was an ardent and supportive fan, always trying to convert the mass "unwatched" to BSG. But it became overwhelmingly clear there was no plan for the end of the series at the start. Or if there were, it was a constantly changing, fluid plan which was all that much harder to write an ending for. And hence, my disappointment. After BSG got the series green light (post mini-series airing), a finale or ending should have been devised and subsequent seasons written towards resolution of that ending. Earth or future or past... I don't care. They should have stuck with it. That is where BSG turns out to be a really-and-truly epic failure and completely sours the entire experience for me. On that note, working in the entertainment industry, I was filled with dread when I learned that new writers came onboard about during/nearing the end of season 3 (or specifically for the finale season (4/4.5)). New blood may be good for a long-in-the-tooth comedy, but I fear it might have been final nail in the coffin for a promising show with a great premise. New writers (not a slam on the talented Jane Espenson) means new ideas and potentially disagreements or obstacles towards a satisfying conclusion. I'm not saying it was all the new writers fault but I don't believe it helped the cause for a great and satisfying ending. Their input might have swayed Ron Moore down some other garden path.

and B) a smaller but ultimately insurmountable point for me is (which Brad touched on just briefly in his essay): It is the human experience to repeat mistakes and to argue all the way to the bank. Discord is practically built into our genes and was demonstrated on many occasions during the series run of BSG on just how humanity would survive, both politically and by military means. The offhandedness of "we'll just split up and settle on scattered continents AND send all our technology into the sun" seemed as lame and unrealistic as Starbuck being an corporeal angel. The colonist fleet and factions disagreement over this unilateral (and silly) course of action could have made a riveting couple of episodes (at the very least) instead of episode after episode of Season 4.5 where not much happened. I would have been ecstatic if Apollo or anyone had even uttered a semblance of these words to explain it away: "Not everyone's going to be happy about this decision. We're going to have some loud dissenters." Maybe they executed the dissenters or held them hostage on the ships sent to the sun?? Further, in their wisdom, they gave a working space ship with weapons to genocidal robots and left themselves, the indigenous peoples not too mention their new home planet, defenseless in the process! Nothing about these plot points seem smart or well thought-out. It's just too big a leap for me or any viewer realistically make in the fictitious, argumentative universe they've portrayed.

Basically, I feel duped and strung along. It's the same feeling I had with 'LOST' after Season 2 began. I vowed to disengage from that show and all the hoopla until over. Only then might I possibly revisit that series based on how it ends.

/End of line.

I'm surprised more people aren't calling Moore out on Apollo's "We've given them their freedom, they've earned it line." You don't earn freedom. It's a fundamental right. I feel that Moore totally missed the point when he had characters that look like us, have emotions, are intelligent and we still deprive them of fundamental human rights. Instead of taking on the African/Cylon analogy -they don't look like us, so it's okay to oppress them- he perpetrated it.

Indeed. The lesson supposedly taught was said by Anders, to love your creations, and keep them close, to not enslave them.

So your point is very good. They had not learned that lesson, they still thought of them as sub-human, as inherently slaves, and something that they could free.