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Thursday, April 02, 2009

For Frak's Sake: In defense of the Battlestar Galactica Finale

Anyone familiar with BSG should have seen it coming, and anyone who read RDM’s glowing review of The Soprano’s finale should have expected something equally daring and that the finale of BSG would be the most divisive ending of a TV show since we heard “Don’t stop believing.” BSG ended with a far more awesome song selection, but the message and talk back boards on the nerd sites have exploded with more blacklash and angry outbursts than at the trail of Gaius Baltar. The ending of the show wasn't perfect. There were definately wrinkles and plot lines that could have used more time. But the finale did justice to the show, and its characters, as well as posit some huge arguments about human nature and our place in the universe.

What follows are the spoilers of the entire series, so unless you've seen it, don't read past this.

Here is my defense of 7 points of controversy:

Seriously, if you haven't already stop.

1. Cavil
The way Cavil shot himself was something I initially disliked strongly. It was scripted that Tigh would kill Cavil, avenging how Cavil betrayed him, his wife, and his quasi-son. One thing which Moore and BSG has been criticized for is improvisation. In my view, this has been the show’s strong point, that the show, like the characters journey has been a collective experience and investment. Some of this season’s more powerful moments have been improvised or suggested changes from actors: Zarek’s execution of the 12 after they voted against him (initially they voted him president then he executed him, but Richard Hatch’s version allowed for a final chance for the 12 to finally show a backbone, and redeem themselves by refusing his mutiny); also the whole bit with Gaeta and his stump worked out powerfully in the mutiny storyline.
Dean Stockwell had the idea that Cavil would shoot himself. This initially seems very out of character. And that’s why it’s precisely a brilliant decision. Cavil hated his human characteristics. He wanted to become a perfect machine, but his human characteristics, notable having a body, stood in his way. His genocidal attempt to exterminate the colonials was part of this.
One of the things which is sort of a common rule of science fiction, and if I’m not mistaken of machines in general, is that they cannot self-terminate. It is not a logical decision. So, to have Cavil kill himself demonstrates that in the end he made a decision that a machine would never make, and one of the more uniquely human decisions there is. That when presented with the most pressing life and death decision of his life he went with his human side, provides and ironic and philosophically meaty end for the show’s antagonist. That Cavil was the Cain character of the show perhaps intensifies this. Cain’s most ironic cry “I am free!” when he finally kills Abel; the point at which he has become the most manipulated by Satan and given over his free will to become subject to the consequences of justice. In away, this was Cavil’s similar statement. He was “free.” His body escaped having to deal with pain, but he gave up his long quest for immortality through technology.

2. Hera
This is one of the more antagonized choices; that the whole opera house and Hera story lines seemed anti-climactic. I’m not sure what fans were expecting, I mean she did turn out to be the genetic mother of the human race. The answer is that why her? Couldn’t any of the survivors have fulfilled that role? Yes, and no, and maybe. First, that goes against the whole idea of the show, finally posited in definite terms in the finale, that each of us has a divine purpose which we may not be aware of, and ranges from the small and fleeting (Baltar being prepared the entire series to make that speech to Cavil), to the long and epic (Kara preparing all her life to lead humanity to earth).
Hera was perhaps more important for what she represented to the Cylons. She was, unless they could have captured the final 5, the only way for their civilization to continue in perpetuity. With resurrection technology gone, their only hope was to see how she genetically came to be.
If anything, the finale was about the existential leap of faith, the point at which people can “live the art of dying.” Adama, Roslyn, and Kara explicitly, and everyone who volunteered for the suicide mission, had made that decision. The Cylons: Cavil, Simon, and Doral, could not figure out how to deal with death. They could not accept it, or let go. Hera represented their best chance to continue to avoid that decision. The Cylon’s failure to learn how to die, a lesson learned by the Cylon rebels, eventually proved their undoing.

3. God
This, above anything, set off more problems with diehard sci-fi fan than anything else. Though, did they forget how surreally prominent God and Satan were in the original series? What Moore did in having God, or Gods explicitly part of the whole show’s mythology took the space opera/sci-fi sheer from the tropes of the genre, just as much as using real bullets, or having decidedly naturalistic camera techniques. It reduced Sci-fi for what it really is: the exploration of spirituality in archetypal or generalized terms, often using a science based generality as God. Think about it? Outside of the horror film sci-fi has God in it more than anything else. God is present in all sorts of subtextual forms from the alien intervention films of the 50’s, to the god in the machine of the Matrix films. Moore just called his dues ex machine what it was. He didn’t dance around the fact: this is about Gods and angels and “I’m going to call them just that.”
It was, in a way, the last and most startling naturalistic decision this naturalistic sci-fi series made.
The show was dark. Maybe the darkest show that’s been on basic-cable. People probably wouldn’t have had as large a problem if the show had killed everyone off. Part of me liked how Edward James Olmos thought the series should end: Galactica finds earth, only to be destroyed by the American Military. But to end the show on a happy, hopeful note, was the biggest twist of all.

4. Kara
It’s a story problem which confronts all sorts of genres, yet for some reason we think we need to explain things. The Columbo like rehash of the events that set a mystery story in motion, the arbitrary tacking on of a recycled backstory to try and explain the unexplainable in a horror film; are all accepted parts of their genres, though unnecessary ones. How much worse would it have been if BSG had this scene. You can’t explain the divine, and if you can you may have a problem (cf. Jung’s discussion of the paradox in Psychology and Alchemy). And if you try it comes off rather silly. Remember when George Lucas explained the force in Episode 1? The mitochlorian counts or whatever? Yeah, that’s not good.
This goes back to the whole previous section on God’s appearance in the show, which was exponentially more subtle but just as integral in RDM’s non-space-opera, naturalistic BSG, as it was in the original very space opera sci-fi fantasy. Did we really need to hear:
“Lee, when my viper crashed angels took my body, cloned it, sent it to God who sent me to earth, and then placed the coordinates into a new viper, oh, btw, he has extra vipers lying around…”
Or is it better for us to get that great shot of Lee looking around at the vast opportunities of earth, and turning to find Kara no longer there. Add to that a flashback with a rather substantial metaphor for what just took place, and you have a pretty powerful event.

5.The decisions on Earth
Next to Kara this probably drove the fanboys the most crazy. After all, this is a sci-fi show, right? Sso why throw out all the sci?
Why abandon technology? First off, this was the necessary and drastic sacrifice needed to attempt to break the cycle of creation/destruction which had been going on for centuries if not millennia.
Second, the fleet which found earth really wasn’t a fleet ready to set up a new civilization. We saw how primitive the settlement on New Caprica was, and that was even with slave labor. If you remember Kara was giving away the last tube of toothpaste in the fleet away as a prize, the food had been gone for a while from many parts of the fleet, and while in space the technological center was Galactica, which even if they wanted to, was too broken to do anything but ride off into the sun. If there were only three lawyers in the fleet, we’d have to imagine that there’d be even less specialists. All of us have and use computers. But could you build one from scratch? Even with the raw materials? Maybe even a few pieces? No.
And if everyone you ever knew was killed off by your civilization’s greatest technological achievement you probably be less than enthusiastic to start booting up again. Especially since those who did know about the remaining technology were trained to use it militarily. If you remember the other ships were picking over Galactica’s prospective spare parts for their ships. And Galactica was a military ship. Passing on military technology was not something they wanted to do.
For Tyroll, Roslyn and Adama and for most likely many in the fleet, earth was a place to die. The one change I would have made, personally, was that I thought that Tyroll should have died. That he should have been shot after he strangled Tory by Cavil before the shootout and Cavil’s suicide. If you remember Cavil the priest confronted Tyroll about his death wish several seasons ago. And with his true love betraying him, and his wife being killed, and his son turning out not to be his, it seems like it would have been a more fitting end. At least that’s me. Then again he was one the “Everyman” of the show, and I guess that may have been too much.
Why so far back? (listen to the episode podcast)

6.The Ron Moore Cameo
Moore himself disliked how prominent he ended up being shown in the final cut. But I thought it was a self-reflexive moment of genius. Here was a show, a remake of another show, with the premise that “all this has happened before and all of this will happen again,” and there it ends with Ronald Moore reading the article which gave him the idea for the finale. In a way, this allowed for the original series to be a part of this universe. It was a previous or future iteration of the cycle of creation, fall, and exodus. That Hera would not only be our most recent female ancestor, or that elements of their society would be inherited in our collective unconsciousness, but that perhaps one day it would even lead to a TV show about it all. It adds credence to the show as a fundamental tale.

7. The robot montage
The thing you’ll notice right off the bat is that the footage is of rather harmless looking robots. What this is saying is that technology in itself isn’t dangerous. It’s what we as humans make of it that creates problems. Robots can either do silly dances, or nuke us out of existence. And this was a great conclusion which really tied the show back to its audience.
Also, the use of head six and head Baltar in times square was brilliant. The whole idea of the two angels in the form of the Adam and Eve of the show in many ways, was very Paradise Lost.

If you're scrolling down to another post you can open your eyes now. That didn't make any sense, but what I meant was End Spoilers.

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