Emotionally Satisfying. Intellectually Empty.

Spoiler Alert: The following concerns last night’s BSG finale, which tore away the skiffy veil of the preceding four years to reveal the bastion of fundamentalist religion festering beneath.  Cast thy gaze aside if you are a spirgin and haven’t yet seen the episode.  This post will still be here when you come back.

I suppose it may have been too much to hope for, that all those loose ends would weave together.  Kara’s death, resurrection, and mysterious leap across the galaxy; Head Six and Head Baltar;  Hera; All Along the Watchtower; The Opera House; The Temple of the Five.  (And maybe it’s just me, but I personally would have liked to know how Cylon skin jobs can have fiber-optic ports in their wrists, and bands of LEDs along their spines that light up during sex, and nobody notices any of these things during autopsy.)

Too much to expect, I know.  And maybe I wouldn’t have been expecting so much if Ronald D. Moore hadn’t gone out of his way to build those expectations.  If he had just let the head characters fade quietly away (a perfect spot would have been during the Pegasus arc, when Baltar transfered his attentions from the perfect hallucinatory Six to the gang-raped flesh-and-blood one), instead of putting them front and center throughout so much of the fourth season.  If he hadn’t kept reminding us of hybrid prophesies and shared dreams.  Hell, Moore even told us we’d learn why the characters all spoke English and wore conventional earthly suits and ties (which I had assumed, up until that point to be merely a narrative convenience).

My first sense that something was amiss came with the whole final-five backstory:  tacked-on ret-con, it felt like, a scattershot flurry of unrelated answers to a dozen different questions rather than a single elegant Eureka moment weaving disparate threads together.  But okay.  Put that behind us.  Move on.  You wouldn’t be rubbing our noses in the technical specs of Starbuck’s zombie viper if it didn’t matter, if there wasn’t some explanation for all those other mysteries.  And so we watched enraptured as the 3-hour finale unfolded, and for the first couple of those hours, we were not disappointed. Pieces seemed to be moving into place: a naked singularity at the edge of the final campaign? Yes!  Wormholes, time travel, a veritable utility belt of potential answers right there at the climax.  And lo, it turned out that Ronald D.Moore did have an answer for everything, a single unifying answer that dotted every i and covered every ass, an answer almost mind-boggling in its stupidity simplicity:

God did it.

Yup.  That was the big reveal, to past mysteries and to others freshly minted. Head Six, Head Giaus? Angels.  How did D’anna see the Final Five at the Temple? A vision from God.  How did the song that switched the FF into Cylon mode happen to contain the jump coordinates for Virgin Earth, a place neither Cylon nor Human had ever been to?  Must be a miracle.  What are the odds that the colonist stumble onto a world “a million light years away” from Caprica that just happens to not only support a humanoid population, but one genetically-indistinguishable from the colonists? “One might al\most see a divine hand at work.”

How did Kara Thrace’s body end up on nuked Earth after being crushed in the atmosphere of a gas giant light years away?  Not even worth addressing.  Why’d she come back in a brand-spanking new viper, why was that viper fine-tuned to the black box on Nuked Earth?  God wanted her to lead them to the Thirteenth colony.  So why did she keep getting lost when let off the leash?  Why didn’t God just give her perfect knowledge?  And while we’re at it, how can the constellations for the 13th Colony (as revealed on Kobol) be an exact match for both the 13th colony and our own Virgin Earth if those two worlds aren’t one and the same?

God works in mysterious ways.

It’s not that I object to the incorporation of divine elements per sé.  Lots of fine fiction starts from supernatural premises, and I have no problem with it when done properly.  But this is not one of those times. This is waving God in my face to try and cover up cheap and shoddy plotting.  Every inconsistency, every mistake can be magicked away by invoking Divine Intervention. Speaking as a storyteller myself, the only narrative trick that might be more egregious would be  “Adama woke up on Caprica, and it was all a dream…”

As the credits rolled, there were a few feeble and defensive mutterings among the assembled that BSG was about magic realism, always had been, and you had to accept it on those terms.  Except not even the characters in that world accepted it on those terms.  They used religion as a means of social engineering, or they accepted it as part of their own personal background noise, but this wasn’t fucking Hogwarts; these folks were empiricists, and they wanted explanations, damn it.  So do I.  And it’s a pretty feeble retcon to try and redefine the very genre of a show to excuse the fact that your writers painted themselves into a corner.

Moore, my man, you really let me down.

And yet, I liked so much about about this episode.  The plotting may have been offensive, but the character arcs were beautiful.  Roslyn’s death; Adama’s cabin; Baltar’s final, modest redemption. Even the ascension of Kara Thrace touched me emotionally; Sackhoff is a brilliant actor, and it pisses me off that anyone so wise could have been out of high school for barely a decade. The battle scenes kicked all kinds of ass.  And though I don’t know why the Opera House was chosen for Metaphor Duty, I do think they pulled that element off quite nicely.  I’m not quite willing to believe that forty thousand tech-dependent couch potatoes would so unanimously choose to torch all their technology and start living in mud huts, but okay:  the planet was heartbreakingly beautiful back then, and after all, this was a civilization that had twice learned the hard way about the perils of advanced technology.  The narrative underpinnings may have been a tawdry cheat, but the facade on the screen was a thing of beauty.

Bottom line:  My heart was more than satisfied.  My head wants to kick Ron Moore’s ass into next Tuesday. What did you guys think?

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Saturday March 21 2009at 08:03 am , filed under ink on art . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

62 Responses to “Emotionally Satisfying. Intellectually Empty.”

  1. You know I warned you that the chritian mysticism in BSG was much stronger than you were admiting to yourself (this was in your last BSG post Jan 31st). Of course I was wrong too. I thought it was going to be something like a Hindu version of Dick’s Valis, a computational universe working itself out via an evolutionary matrix where a supra consciouness running on quirk and quarks continually recreates itself over an infinite set of multiverses a la Lee Smolins Black Holes. Or something. I could come up with some other stuff. I knew God was going to figure into it but I was NOT expecting them to wave a magic wand and say: It’s GOD except “it doesn’t like to be called that” and then…nothing. I knew the jig was up when Balthar gave his “leap of faith” speech to Cavel. OH NO! I thought, tell me it ain’t so! Instructions not only to Cavel but to the viewer, that we are all going to have to take this on a leap of faith. Bullshit.

    I did think that it was otherwise very skillfull, but it utterly failed intellectually. If they wanted to go with fucking mysterian religion at LEAST they could have thrown in some GOOD christian mysticism. Or good robot mysticism. something with some meat. But instead the whole plot becomes a tissue of conveniences useful for telling some good stories but without any coherent metaphysical underpinning. Starbuck has always had a destiny, and the destiny was to have a destiny that is unexplained to anyone.

    The short short version of the BSG’s God vision is as follows: man and machine are in conflict. This is a metaphor for the subject/object in philosophy. It’s Dennett’s heterophenomenology vs Chalmer’s hard problem instantiated in robots and men. They duke it out. They need to learn something. God’s plan is that they learn it. What are they supposed to learn? That it’s God’s plan. What is God’s plan? That they go around in circles until they learn it. What is it? God’s plan. What is God’s plan? etc.

    What I find frustrating is that there is interesting mythology and philosophy that could have enriched their mysterian nonsense. If they were so content to shovel bullshit they could have shoveled bullshit of a much higher grade. It’s almost like they didn’t take the philosophical conflict that undergirds the man/machine conflict seriously enough. There is so much ore there to be mined and they decided to mine it with a magic wand.

  2. Will “The Plan” explain THAT plan, then?

  3. Well, there are those endings that make you wish you never had started watching it all. This one even makes me ponder whether to give up Lost now, before it’s too late to step back from watching another finale where it becomes glaringly obvious that the writers had not the first idea what they were doing only a few eps back, and try to make up for it by pressing a few tears out of your eyes.

    Your words ring so true, Peter. Thanks for perfectly expressing what I thought.

  4. Leona and I reacted much the way you did, Peter.

    I’m still looking forward to The Plan (which was delayed from summer to fall, sigh), but I can no longer naively expect Moore to ever provide answers to the pointlessly huge number of questions he posed. Instead, I just have to hope it somehow catches the feeling, the drama, the tension of the miniseries and the first couple of seasons, before the show became a big frakking mess that apparently could only be resolved through one deus ex machina after another.

    Bad show! Stay down! I won’t be around for Caprica, that’s for sure.

  5. I agree. I wanted Kara Thrace to be Daniel, the cylon line that Cavil eliminated. Cavil supposedly “contaminated the amniotic fluid in which all the Seven copies were maturing and then corrupted the genetic formula”. My idea was that somehow that transformed Daniel into Kara, maybe only the Y chromosomes were damaged. And that somehow Kara/Daniel went unnoticed and Kara resurrected somehow on Earth. A lot of hand waving sure… but it’s better than her being a frickin’ angel.

    Don’t 60% of Americans believe in angels?

  6. Thanks for the spoiler alert. I carefully avoided reading the post itself for now.

    I almost gave up on BSG catching up the Arrow of Hermes crap, and only kept going because people whose SF-specific opinions I valued (including yours) seemed impressed. I’m now entering the good part of Season 2.

    Reacting just to the title of your post, I was already suspecting the irrationality would screw up the ending even from back here toward the end of Season 2.

  7. I agree with too much of PW’s sentiment for this post to be interesting. The invocation of deity was egregious and a little sickening.

    What bothered me the most was the failure to really explain the recursive nature of the man/machine conflict throughout history.

    Since nuked earth wasn’t the ‘real’ earth as we know it does that mean there are a lot of other nuked earth’s and nuked colonies lying around the galaxy?

    Also they set free a ship full of centurions and at least one hybrid. What the hell have they been up to for the 150k years between the discovery of the new earth at mankind’s next foray out into space? Also they had a hybrid on board and presumably they would know where people had settled. Hell with their technology and 150,000 years you could reinvent civilization from scratch ten times over.

    I was hoping that instead of Sam flying into the sun that he would jump off into the wilds of space and arrive somewhere with a shit load of other discarded fleets drifting aimlessly.

    All in all I liked the opera house reveal, more for it’s cinematic if not thematic presentation, but dumping everything on the god wagon just seemed retarded.

    Though of all the big errors there were a few little ones that irked me the most. For starters they implied that Hera was mitochondrial eve AND that she was buried with her father and mother. Wouldn’t that make ATHENA mitochondrial eve (assuming the genetics carries over?)

    The end sequence with Angelic Baltar and 6 talking about New York like the places they’ve seen before just made me a little cranky. There’s a very religious sort of thinking that makes people paranoid whenever a city becomes big, influential and free (morally bankrupt.) It’s almost like they ripped out some pages from the bible belt indoctrination primer and slapped it onto the script.

    However I did like the pristine appearance of the new earth and the idea that people could make a choice to break the cycle and start over with a clean slate. I just don’t get why the entire series displays people acting like the blood thirsty brutes that we are and then suddenly morph into a bunch of non-technical hippies right at the end. Oh well.

    Still beats the ever living fuck out of the original series.

  8. I feel like Dorothy just pulled back the curtain and revealed that the wizard was really a mouth breathing cretin whose previous incredible feats were mere accidents.

  9. Since the series first incorporated earth, I downright begged for it not to turn into (as nerds call it) a “shaggy god” story. I did. I thought we were in the clear when it turned out Earth was radioactive. But then we saw Africa (before we saw North America for the broken Earth…apparently “thorough” is not in the job description of the recon crews on galactica and they figured a single hemisphere was sufficient). And, to my horror, protohumans. At that point, I yelled a mental “goddammit” and the episode was ballistic from there, falling under the force of cliche, only to end with a message so on-the-head it would make M. Night Shyamalan blush.

    And I agree, the whole lets-give-up-technology thing seemed hilariously implausible. Of all people, the characters should recognize that the trajectory of intelligence is inevitably upwards, all they did was add 150,000 years to the countdown. But regardless, if it were me, I’d give it about a day until I realized what a huge mistake I had made. Or at least until the first epidemic of dengue or the first harsh winter sets in. But it was very emotionally satisfying, and, I suppose, fitting.

    Also, Seth, your idea of a derelict graveyard of abandoned ships is great. That would cut the treacle at the end of the episode pretty effectively. Dozens of giant warships of varied design and names, but all just reduxes of the same series of events.

  10. Although, I should comment that I don’t think the recursive nature of man/machine conflict should’ve been overtly explained. I tend to think of it in the same way that living things will never do away with viruses or cancer. They are inevitable consequences of the nature of the system. Indeed, I’d venture to say that any system thats evolutionary and relies on information that can be altered, regardless of its nature, will end up with virus or cancer equivalents.

    I think they’re suggesting the same thing for any kind of system with intelligent agents. At least, that’s one of the most common outcomes…intelligences begets intelligence, conflict ensues, reset initial starting conditions, rinse, repeat.

  11. I too thought the ending’s heavy reliance on God, or whatever “it” likes to be called, really dampened the ending. I’m willing to accept a little bit of divine intervention—at least they acknowledge a deus ex machina—but there were a dozen ways to have ended the show that would have been better than how they did it. The emotional, character focused ending, was really quite well done, even if it was a bit of a kick in the gut that half your favorite characters are going to die alone.The greater victory of the species surviving eclipses that.

    My theory was that Daniel was Kara’s father, that Cavil somehow missed one of them, and that the mysterious destiny of all the characters was because they were all somehow linked to a collective Cylon subconsciousness.

    Seth: It was angel Baltar that made the remark, and he only said that Hera lived in Tanzania with her Cylon and human parents, not that they were buried together. Though even if that were the case, if they couldn’t extract DNA from Athena, then even if they were positive the skeleton were her mother Hera is still mitochondrial Eve.
    Though since Ron Moore decided to go that route, tying in the Cylons and Colonials into real life genetic history, how the hell did he miss that Australia wasn’t settled by humans until about 45,000 years ago? Though their spreading out be a rather amusing solution to the multiregional evolution hypothesis. And if I’m not mistaken, the Chief decided to go to Scotland in the middle of an ice age.

    Really, though, the thing that bothered me more than “God” being the answer to the questions we all had about the show, was the fact that there were so many questions they simply didn’t even attempt to address. Like how it is that Kara is the harbinger of death and the one to lead humanity to its end and not to be followed? OK, she led them to their “end”, you got us there Mr. Moore. One could say that the hybrids don’t really have humanity’s best interest at heart so even though we were led to believe we can believe them, that’s not really so. And who was the pianist? Kara is an angel that sees other angels?

    As for the glowing spine, I just figured that was just symbolic, reminding the viewer that they’re truly not human, despite how they act, rather than a literal luminescence. It would, after all, be a bit of a giveaway if you’re doing a Cylon from behind, or if you were in a dark room.
    The USB port in the Eights’ wrists might be unique to their model, so since they already know Sharons are Cylons there’s no need to cut them open to make sure.

  12. What a let down! This is Rama Revealed all over again. Well, at least BSG had good production values and was interesting to watch, whereas the Rama sequels were irredeemable turds. But it’s the exact same ending! And the Adam and Eve thing so carelessly thrown into the mix, a trope so overused it was considered a cliche as far back as the 1940’s.
    And honestly, God’s plan in BSG is The Dumbest Plan Ever.

    As for the USB ports: bad writing on account of that episode’s writer – that ability was shown only this one time.

  13. Seems I’m the first to represent the dissenting opinion here. :)

    As Ron Moore said in “The Last Frakking Special,” BSG is all about the characters. The premise of the original series was the structure upon which the writers built the back story and then added what they felt were contemporary touchpoints for their potential audience, imho. These touchpoints were carried mainly on the backs of the characters. In that light, the final episode makes a great deal of sense, both logically and emotionally.

    May I remind readers that there is a lot of handwaving in written SF, and that many of the best-loved SF novels are character-centered? This is not to say that no one should care whether the science makes sense, of course, but that the science and the fiction should work in concert to tell a good story. This is entertainment, after all…Hollyweird, right?

    I think that Moore et al had to walk a very fine line between too much stereotypical TV content and too much intellectual content. The viewing public isn’t stupid, but I think that Moore chose the right direction because the show brought in a lot of viewers who wouldn’t otherwise have watched a “sci-fi show.” The characters, as in “ER,” are what kept viewers coming back.

    Let’s face it, there’s no perfect novel and no perfect TV series, though several have come close (and a matter of opinion as to which ones). BSG represents the same kind of paradigm change that “Babylon 5″
    brought in the previous decade: it’s been proven that audience will stick with a show that has a specified time limit (although in BSG’s case that may have been set after the shows began airing, and not before, as with B5). I don’t think either of those series ever “jumped the shark,” and I applaud the creators and producers for not letting that happen.

    As for the spiritual aspects of the series, I think Ron Moore and the writers were following the old dictum that says if there’s a gun on the fireplace mantle in Scene One, it had better be used by the end of the last act. The gun, in this case, imho, was spirituality and the unknown. This theme was woven through the entire series, from unbelief to belief and back again, especially in the character of Laura Roslyn. If the series had ended with a purely technological explanation, I, for one, would have felt let down that such a major theme was dumped at the last minute.

    As in many things, it’s damned if you do and damned if you don’t. I think Moore and company should be proud of their show. And I love the idea of Katee Sackhoff driving off the set in her pilot’s uniform on the last day of filming. :) (In the last special, she said that’s what she planned to do).

  14. “BSG represents the same kind of paradigm change that “Babylon 5″
    brought in the previous decade: it’s been proven that audience will stick with a show that has a specified time limit”

    Not really. Battlestar Galactica has been gradually bleeding viewers ever since the miniseries. It was an initial hit, not a long-term hit. To Skiffy’s credit, the reason it managed four seasons (as opposed to the original series’ one) seems to have been the ecstatic critical response, more than the audience response.

  15. As an outsider to the BSG community, let me say this: there’s a difference between good characterization with a dash of handwavium and, saying “Every time you notice something like that, a wizard did it!”

    Which was really funny when Lucy Lawless said it in Treehouse of Horror X, but less so when a show that briefly starred Lawless actually does it *for real.* Can you have mystical ancient beings in your SF TV? Yes. Farscape did it very well. The difference is that the mystical ancient beings gave the main character knowledge of a MacGuffin that could be grasped with science, not with luck or faith or Dylan. In fact, we see several scenes of the other characters attempting to reproduce the MacGuffin’s conditions with scientific experimentation. They almost get there, several times. So on the one hand, there was a very “human” story about identity and love and trying to find/make a home, but there was also a galactic struggle for innovation against the backdrop of war between two species whose very metabolisms guarantee that they will never be able to occupy the same planets peacefully. In that way, the show was very much about the ethical and political implications of technological innovation, without a wholesale abandonment of science at the end. Having seen the devastating impact of the MacGuffin, nobody shoots their vessels into the sun. Nobody decides to live without antibiotics or electricity or tampons. They just decide to leave the MacGuffin alone. End of story.

    So that special mix can be done on TV — with humour and moral ambiguity and grace, and little if any reliance on God or Gandalf. And it can be done on an even shorter timescale: Cowboy Bebop is the perfect example. By episode 26, we’ve been given a beautiful vision of an interstellar, posthuman future complete with FTL jumpgates and cyborg eyes, that still contains humans who are hopelessly mired in their own tragic flaws. Is the show mostly about human foibles? Yes. Do we still get interesting stories about how science and technology might impact our future among the stars? Yes. Can you have your cake and eat it, too? Absolutely.

    To turn an old phrase: No showrunner is worth your tears, and the ones who are will never make you cry. I’ve heard people talk about this series like it’s an abusive-but-compelling ex, the kind you can’t help coming back to despite her ultimately hollow ethics. As someone who only saw the show in bits and pieces, I could understand the attraction, but every time I heard “Well, it’s going in a really weird direction, but I’m going to hang with it,” my expectations diminished. Making excuses is a bad sign. Rationalizing is a bad sign. In the end you can only sit back and watch the inevitable downward spiral, as the title becomes a shadow of its former self, its promise ultimately squandered over time like the youth and beauty which once made it so appealing.

  16. Making excuses is a bad sign. Rationalizing is a bad sign.

    Spot on. I continued watching this show because there are very few SF shows that actually get to end on purpose instead of being chopped, and there had been good in episodes past.

    What I liked: the Opera House playout was filmed beautifully and I bought it. Despite the lack of explanation for the shared dream. The last scene between Adam and Roslin brought a tear to my eye, to my surprise. The battle scenes were fine. I thought about Kara typing in the jump coordinates to that ominous music and dreamed about it that night.

    However: how did that music get in Kara’s head again? Nothing was explained, you just got resolution after resolution without a lot of time to think about whether it made sense, which it didn’t. And ack, who frakkin cares about all the Caprica flashbacks? The worst part of BSG is the soap opera overwroughtness (is that a word?) of the characterization. We get it! People are grim! They’re up against the wall! They’ve got painful pasts! Suck it up and move on, people. There’s enough interesting drama to be had from this series without turning into an episode of Desperate Housewives when Ellen finds out that Saul’s been getting it on with Caprica. Maybe they should have taken all that time spent in worthless backstory and tried using it to explain what the frak was going on with New Earth?

    And yeah, back to nature’s nice and all, but so are antibiotics. And agriculture. And transporting people to their new colony on something besides their FEET. I just couldn’t buy it.

  17. And two more things: why did Cavil kill himself? Totally inconsistent for that character.
    And why did Adama and the Chief decide that they never wanted to see another human being (including family) for the rest of their lives? Kind of an extreme way to take a vacation, if you ask me.

    Pant, pant… okay, I think I’m done now. I’d better go back to my life. Much more of this and no one will think I have one.

  18. The “back to nature” dream would’ve lasted until the first toothache. Root canal with sharp sticks and a couple of rocks, yeah sign me up for that.

    I never could work out how come a race of FTL starfarers couldn’t cure breast cancer or grow someone a new eye (or why Cylons couldn’t grow new things automatically – if you’re going to build a super-race organ/limb regeneration would surely be one of the first things you’d build into them).

    Also I was fascinated by the fleet’s dependence on radio to transmit news, and Baltar’s propaganda – even the receivers were often so delightfully retro; I hoped we might find out why video was not used, but we never did, guess God didn’t think video was right or something…

  19. My reaction was basically the same as Watts. Cringed at the “leap of faith” speech, and groaned when h. erectus strolled across the screen. And the ending … talk about a literal deus ex machina.

  20. “why did Cavil kill himself?”

    Because the awesomeness of Gaius’ speech proved to him theat god exists and he couldn’t handle that so he killed himself.

    “Root canal with sharp sticks and a couple of rocks, yeah sign me up for that.”

    I’ve had that dentist. “This is going to pinch…” Yeah right… Fucker.

    “I hoped we might find out why video was not used”

    I seem to remember during Gaius’ trial seeing reporters with camcorders. One of the early pots points was the reason Galactica survived the initial attack is because it lacked some of the more modern tech. It was old and technologically obsolete.

  21. as an addendum, I posted this at another board:

    Whatever “it” is, it fulfills the literary function of a god by trivializing the actions and motives of the characters. The fact that all of the prophecies came true strongly suggests that the characters never had any real free will … this, to me, retroactively destroys any drama the series may have had, because it tells us that everything that happened prior to the fleet’s arrival at our Earth went exactly according to plan. Galactica was never in any real danger, all the people who died were supposed to die, and the “chosen ones” like Starbuck were just following a script.

    Maybe it’s just me, but that kind of dramatic determinism just kills any sympathy I might have had for the situation of a particular character (and in BSG’s case, all of its characters).

  22. faust Said: The short short version of the BSG’s God vision is as follows: man and machine are in conflict. This is a metaphor for the subject/object in philosophy.

    And it’s actually being handled more skillfully in the Sarah Connor Chronicles. If only anybody watched that show.

    Peter Saunders Said: I won’t be around for Caprica, that’s for sure.

    I will. Because I never learn.

    brenda Said: Don’t 60% of Americans believe in angels?

    66%, according to the last numbers I saw. More than the number that accept evolution, even the theistic kind.


    B.T. Murtagh
    Said: I’m now entering the good part of Season 2.

    And you know, a lot of these episodes— the ones dealing with choice vs. necessity, security vs. liberty, torture ethics, the whole post 9/11 analysis— those eps will stand the test of time regardless. I will continue to laud the series on those grounds. But the whole final-five search-for-earth arc that started around season 3? I’ll never be able to enjoy those elements upon repeat viewing, knowing how ultimately hollow the payoff turned out to be.

    Seth Said: Also they set free a ship full of centurions and at least one hybrid. What the hell have they been up to for the 150k years between the discovery of the new earth at mankind’s next foray out into space?

    More proximately, I found that whole Centurion backstory thing either unconvincing or deeply unethical. We are told, after all, that it was the Centurion models that first developed self-awareness, that entered into the deal with the Final Five, that developed the paradigm of the One True God. And yet, the skin jobs lobotomized them with these “telencephalic inhibitors” that Cap Six unplugged at the start of the civil war. How did that happen? How did these newly-arisen sentient beings allow their own progeny to dumb them back into mindless cannon fodder? How did the skin jobs justify the enslavement of their own kind? And why did the Final Five, who presumably had traveled all these thousands of years to warn the colonies of the perils of meat-machine conflict— why did the Final Five let that happen?

    I bet the writers never even fucking thought of that. This is what happens when you make things up as you go along.

    Nick Said: Although, I should comment that I don’t think the recursive nature of man/machine conflict should’ve been overtly explained. I tend to think of it in the same way that living things will never do away with viruses or cancer. They are inevitable consequences of the nature of the system.

    That’s actually also been said about the existence of parasites in general. Parasites tend to evolve in evolutionary multispecies simulations even when not programmed into the scenario; what’s more, sex appears shortly afterwards. One school of thought has it that sex evolved primarily as a countermeasure against parasites and disease.

    Freyr Said: …Hera is still mitochondrial Eve. Ron Moore decided to go that route, tying in the Cylons and Colonials into real life genetic history…

    And even that twist, which I’ll admit is kinda cool (Hera was literally the fate of the species, which is one Significant Portent that paid off at least), was cheapened by the miraculous coincidence that colonists and Cro-Mags could actually interbreed. Personally, I think it would’ve been much better if they hadn’t been able to do that: if both worlds had developed humanoid morphologies through convergent evolution, but the genetics were incompatible, so that Hera alone was able to interbreed (perhaps thanks to the same kind of universal-donor compatibility that proved so useful in staving off Roslyn’s cancer. Hera’s hybridized offspring would prove fitter than baseline competitors, and Mitochondrial Eve’s progeny would sweep the globe.

    Yes, the biology there is still pretty weak (even independently-evolved humanoid body plans are pretty damn unlikely), but it would have still shown more thought than 90% of the evolutionary “biology” that finds its way into popular culture. And it would have been far superior to Baltar’s “One might almost see a divine hand at work” cop-out.

    And if I’m not mistaken, the Chief decided to go to Scotland in the middle of an ice age.

    Oooh. Good catch, if true.

    Michael Grosberg Said: As for the USB ports: bad writing on account of that episode’s writer – that ability was shown only this one time.

    Twice, at least. During “Scattered”, when Athena sent a virus to the attacking raiders, and then again during “Crossroads” (I think that was the ep), when she linked in to the brain from Starbuck’s kidnapped raider to enhance the jump capabilities of the raptor rescue mission to Caprica

    Janbo Said: In that light, the final episode makes a great deal of sense, both logically and emotionally.

    “Emotionally”, perhaps. Logically, no frakking way. By RDM’s own admission, they stuck elements into the story with no idea how to explain them at the time. I can buy the premise that Kara Thrace Mk II was some kind of angelic entity; what I can’t buy, even given that premise, are all the empirical inconsistencies that accompanied her death and return, nuts and bolts that remain completely unaccounted for even if she is an angel. How did Kara’s viper end up crashing on Earth after being crushed in the atmosphere of a gas giant uncounted lightyears away? If the reconstituted Kara was supposed to be some kind of supernatural guide to earth, why was she so shitty at that job? Why does she not even know who or what she is for most of the rest of the series? The list goes on and on.

    The revelation of supernatural intervention should answer these questions. RDM’s episode left every last one of them hanging, and smugly tells us that it’s not the clay’s place to question the wisdom of the potter. It’s just bad, nigh-well incompetent storytelling.

    As for the spiritual aspects of the series, I think Ron Moore and the writers were following the old dictum that says if there’s a gun on the fireplace mantle in Scene One, it had better be used by the end of the last act.

    Come on, Janbo. What about the magical viper on the mantelpiece? What about the Opera House on the Mantelpiece? What about— well, you get the idea.

    Peter Saunders Said: Battlestar Galactica has been gradually bleeding viewers ever since the miniseries.

    Except I believe that its ratings did improve over the final stretch, did they not?

    David S. Said: I never could work out how come a race of FTL starfarers couldn’t cure breast cancer or grow someone a new eye … Also I was fascinated by the fleet’s dependence on radio to transmit news … even the receivers were often so delightfully retro; I hoped we might find out why video was not used, but we never did…

    As brenda said, the tech was deliberately retro; this was a society that had learned the dangers inherent in advanced technology, and had deliberately turned back the clock in self-defense: Galactica was full of clunky corded phones and manual valves because such simple machinery could not be hacked by Cylon virii. During the miniseries, Battlestars which had forsaken that philosophy in favor of state-of-the-art technology were shut down in an instant by Cylon transmissions, and simply blown out of the sky.

    I actually regard that conceit as one of the most brilliant things about BSG. There’s no end to the number of sf shows that use anachronistic technology: the Nostromo‘s CRT displays, the Colonial Marine’s great 40-column-LCD-smart-guns-of-the-far-future control panels in Aliens, Star Wars‘ galaxy-spanning empire that somehow hadn’t yet figured out how to keep paint from peeling. Art directors go down this route because we subconsciously grant greater verisimilitude to things we’re used to seeing day-to-day; Luke’s land speeder looks real because it looks used, lived-in, beat-up in a way we relate to. Compare the shiny corridors of Star Trek: The Motionless Picture to the grimy bilge where Parker and Brett hung out: the Enterprise look is more consistent with a truly advanced technology, but we still feel in our gut that the Nostromo is more real, somehow.

    BSG indulged our gut feelings, and at the same time presented a plausible rationale for anachronistic tech in a star faring civilization1. I will continue to be impressed by their ability to both have and eat their cake, until such a time as Caprica premieres— at which time I will decry that show’s insistence on the same retro tech, even though it takes place before the Cylons taught them not to trust the shiny.

    1I suppose I should admit that Firefly did too, or risk another contentious rant from a certain member of the Puppy Brigade…

  23. Damn, I almost forgot the biggest and longest running mystery that was never explained – right back when Caprica was attacked Six and Baltar are blown to smithereens by a nuke at Baltar’s house and yet Baltar somehow survives to board Galactica and starts having the visions of Six, etc. Later on I assumed he was a resurrected but not yet activated Cylon, mystery solved, but in fact he never was a Cylon, nor one of the Final Five, nor an angel like Thrace, so… ? Bastards.

  24. I said:

    “BSG represents the same kind of paradigm change that “Babylon 5″
    brought in the previous decade: it’s been proven that audiences will stick with a show that has a specified time limit”

    Peter Saunders said:

    “Not really. Battlestar Galactica has been gradually bleeding viewers ever since the miniseries. It was an initial hit, not a long-term hit. To Skiffy’s credit, the reason it managed four seasons (as opposed to the original series’ one) seems to have been the ecstatic critical response, more than the audience response.”

    Critics aren’t part of the audience? :) I’m not privy to the thought processes of studio execs, but if a show is making money for a network, one could reasonably conclude that the show would stay on the air even if the audience percentage isn’t much above midrange, on average. Anyone here know how this works?

    As for a show bleeding viewers, one could say the same about any show. I know I’m not the only one who got pissed off at “Lost” at the end of the first season. :)

    BSG wasn’t perfect. But it had a great cast (I mean, Edward James Olmos, for cryin’ out loud!), and subversive plots, and real people. If I manage to write the BSG article I’m considering now, I’ll post the URL here, in case anyone is interested in reading it. :)

  25. I said: “In that light, the final episode makes a great deal of sense, both logically and emotionally.”

    His Squidness replied:
    “ ‘Emotionally,’ ” perhaps. Logically, no frakking way. By RDM’s own admission, they stuck elements into the story with no idea how to explain them at the time. I can buy the premise that Kara Thrace Mk II was some kind of angelic entity; what I can’t buy, even given that premise, are all the empirical inconsistencies that accompanied her death and return, nuts and bolts that remain completely unaccounted for even if she is an angel. How did Kara’s viper end up crashing on Earth after being crushed in the atmosphere of a gas giant uncounted lightyears away? If the reconstituted Kara was supposed to be some kind of supernatural guide to earth, why was she so shitty at that job? Why does she not even know who or what she is for most of the rest of the series? The list goes on and on.”

    1) Having recently read Robert Sawyer’s novel *Calculating God*, I might suggest that the Viper crashed on Earth because Kara Mark One had fulfilled her purpose, and it was time for Mark Two to begin hers.

    2) Would you have believed “a more perfect” Kara Thrace? Exactly. Kara Mark Two had to be every bit as messed up as the original in order for Adama and other characters to believe she *was* the original. If she knew what she was, initially, there would be no drama. Why should her discovery of her purpose be any less than the Final Five’s discovery of their Cylon-ness?

    “The revelation of supernatural intervention should answer these questions. RDM’s episode left every last one of them hanging, and smugly tells us that it’s not the clay’s place to question the wisdom of the potter. It’s just bad, nigh-well incompetent storytelling.”

    You’re entitled to your opinion. :) I would ask you this: how do you know it’s supernatural intervention? “It doesn’t like being called that,” Baltar reminds Caprica in the last episode. If “it” isn’t God, as this line implies, then what is it? Ah, the mystery deepens…

    Second question: why do there have to be answers? I recommend Bruce Sterling’s *Tomorrow Now: Envisioning the Next Fifty Years* (published in 2002), for further reading on this question, in particular the section titled “The Student.”

    ” ‘As for the spiritual aspects of the series, I think Ron Moore and the writers were following the old dictum that says if there’s a gun on the fireplace mantle in Scene One, it had better be used by the end of the last act.’

    “Come on, Janbo. What about the magical viper on the mantelpiece? What about the Opera House on the Mantelpiece? What about— well, you get the idea.”

    The Viper isn’t a gun on the mantlepiece, because its presence on the decimated Earth was how Kara learned she wasn’t the original Kara. Therefore, the “gun” was “fired,” in that sense. The Opera House “gun” was also fired in the final episode; it was part of a shared prophetic dream had by Roslyn, Athena, Caprica and Baltar. Dreams often aren’t detail-specific with regard to background, right? And an opera house, to some, might infer a grand drama, a highly emotional scene…

    Okay, enough, or I’ll end up writing the whole damn article here!

  26. How great would the series have been if it had ended with the humans running their fingers through the clicky radioactive dust on nuked Earth?

  27. […] Emotionally Satisfying.  Intellectually Empty. […]

  28. Peter Watts said: “Except I believe that its ratings did improve over the final stretch, did they not?”

    Yes, but never enough for the show to become the kind of cable hit it was always intended to be, in the ratings neighbourhood of, say, The Sopranos.

    Skiffy was definitely happy with the ratings for much of season four and for the expensive finale. But look at Caprica; they want to continue this franchise on the cheap. So we get duelling family-owned corporations trying to develop AI, rather than space pilots fighting robots.

    Janbo said: “Critics aren’t part of the audience? I’m not privy to the thought processes of studio execs, but if a show is making money for a network, one could reasonably conclude that the show would stay on the air even if the audience percentage isn’t much above midrange, on average. Anyone here know how this works?
    As for a show bleeding viewers, one could say the same about any show. I know I’m not the only one who got pissed off at “Lost” at the end of the first season.”

    Critics are not a substantial part of the audience. Nor are we. These are expensive shows. They need MILLIONS to tune in. Not just niche fan bases.

    And no, you can’t just arbitrarily say that any show bleeds viewers. Look at the ratings for Battlestar Galactica from the miniseries through to the finale and you will see a general downward direction. There were blips, including a few cliffhangers, midseason premieres and a good chunk of the fourth season, but the show never quite regained the near-mainstream audience that sampled its first few episodes.

    One reason it lasted as long as it did was corporate synergy. Skiffy, which airs it in the U.S., is owned by NBC Universal, the studio that produces it. So there was always a certain motivation to make the show successful; after all, if Skiffy’s airings get a high profile, that helps sell DVDs later on to further fill Universal’s coffers.

    We all benefited from that. But I would definitely say Ron Moore dropped the ball. I can think of a few recent heavily continuity-based multi-season epics that had much more satisfying conclusions, ranging from HBO’s The Wire to Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender. It CAN be done.

  29. If it makes you all feel any better, my dad has yet to watch the end of the series because he’s still working his way through the DVDs. On the phone this evening, Mom asked if I had heard anything good about the finale. I was faced with the sudden ethical dilemma of saving my dad from the story’s unsatisfactory conclusion by ruining it for him then and there, or allowing him to make his own mind up later.

    In the end, all I could say was, “Dad looks a lot like Cavil, don’t you think?”

  30. After the finale, I certainly can no longer in good conscience recommend the series to anyone who hasn’t seen it yet.

  31. I’m not sure I’d recommend anything past the escape from New Caprica to anyone for whom the final five (non-)storyline would present a stumbling block, much less the godshit. But for people who are unlikely to get their panties in a twist about plot holes, I’d just warn them about the finale the same way I warn people about the Prisoner’s grand, impressionistic, nigh-incomprehensible (and brilliant) ending. Take in the sights, don’t worry about the plot. Or in this case, enjoy the character bits and the space battles, and try to ignore RDM’s luddism and mysticism.

    Then again, there are some people (here’s looking at you, Squid) who cannot do this. They feel plots are promises instead of excuses (forgivable in written media, a capital crime in television), and they feel personally betrayed when things don’t get wrapped up in a neat little bow. Not to say it should never happen – watching the pieces fall into place is wonderful when it works. But Ronald D Moore is not a writer who can pull that off, as evidenced by, oh, most of BSG (cf Kobol, the Final Five, and the fact that Kara wasn’t dead for long enough for us to really believe she was [unlike Ellen]). A four-year-long television series is not a novel the author can rewrite from the beginning to make things fit together in the end. Nobody in American TV, with the possible exception of the makers of Rome, really have a long-term plan (with a definite ending) which survives contact with network execs, writers’ strikes, oscillating audience numbers, cast contract disputes, timeslot shell games, and most importantly, the finished work itself.

    Aside: certain people here (Squid again) also fall for the trap of believing that if a show addresses the presence of certain problems (which the audience will catch onto anyways), it means that the show’s creators have an answer. Folly. It just means they’ve watched enough television themselves. You can see this on Sarah Connor Chronicles, too – they like making gestures in the direction of problems inherent with a time-travel show, but they still (after two seasons – well, one and a half) haven’t come up with anything close to a consistent model of causality.

  32. Raymond is onto something here. It has to do with

    1. how long you expect your series to last, and where on the spectrum of pre-plotting their work the creators fell.
    2. It’s also about the emerging pattern of TV writers using symbolism in an empty way, with no intention of using it create more meaning, just as a way to get you to watch. Symbolism as hook only.

    American television has begun to include over-arcing long-term plots in more series, because it pumps up viewership. Lost, X-Files, etc. This differs from the format in the 50’s, 60’s 70’s which dictated that characters never grow and everything be resolved by the end of the hour. Think Star Trek – it’s an excellent example of characters who go through events that should have broken or reshaped them, and yet, they remained the same.

    On the other end of the spectum, consider Babylon 5 for which its creator had not only plotted out in advance the overall story arc for like 4 or 5 years, he wrote in plot “trapdoors” in case actors dropped out.

    For instance, (in 2257?), a prophetess forsees the destruction of the space station, and several years later, e voila! Up it does. Although the dialog was terrible, it maintained a sense of anxiety and dread (and the need to find out what happened!) because when it hinted at something, you discovered you better pay attention, because you would see its resolution later. It was very literary or play-like in its symbolism about eyes/vision, good/seduction by evil, fate, and so forth. So you got the feeling someone read you a novel or a series of novels, which was pleasurable, even if the dialog stunk in places.

    Most of American TV falls in the middle.

    Having learned that the long term story arc keeps ‘em coming back for more, writers include some vague ideas about future events, but they liberally pilfer and use the same techniques you would employ if you genuinely had tightly planned in advance, as was done in Babylon 5, or such as you would use in a novel: literary references (X-Files did this alot), suggesting myth and biblical stories in names of characters and places (dude, everyone in BSG had a mythological name), and a dash of Poe-ish horror story dread.

    We wuz robbed! cry the educated members of the audience, when unlike in, say, Moby Dick, where symbols carried through, the writers of the original BSG named a character “Starbuck” just because. The X-Files writers wrote in jokes about The Brothers Karamozov and Descartes, and occasionally paid off the viewer when Mulder finds out more about The Vast Conspiracy, but in the end, they had no idea where it was going, and they wrote themselves into a corner.

    It’s the disease of the partially-plotted-out series that uses fake symbolism and suggestions of conspiracy to keep us watching anxiously. It doesn’t bother the less literary viewer, because they get beautiful actors and actresses in trouble, anxiety, explosions, betrayal, etc, and they don’t care that the plot is for sh*t. (A-Team level stuff.)They aren’t looking for it to be a novel; they don’t even read novels. It’s those with minds poisoned by college or too much reading that feel robbed.

    TV writers also have the problem that if they plot in advance the length of the series, and then get renewed after the “end,” they can’t bear to end the series when the gravy train is still in motion. I don’t know if this happened to the recent BSG series.

    Alls I’m saying is, there is a pattern to this, and since TV writers have figured out this fake symbolism stuff works, they are going to continue to use it until it stops working.

  33. I think Ray’s nailed it; I doubt Dad will really flip out over the ending, because I’m not sure how important the science aspect of the show is to him. He might actually quite like the mysticism, now that I think of it. Hmm. He’s four episodes into season 4 now, so he’ll have to wait until the 4.5 DVDs arrive. Hopefully I’ll be able to restrain myself until then. Though I may have to ask him how he feels about pre-determined universes in which decisions have no meaning. You know. Just because.

  34. You don’t have to be into science to be disappointed by the finale; you just have to have higher expectations of a payoff for all the dramatic tension that’s been established through several years’ worth of plot points.

    And as mentioned, Battlestar Galactica was, for corporate reasons, pretty much as ‘protected’ as it could be. Skiffy had a stake in its success, both financially and artistically, as the show helped the network build cred (much of which it is about to fritter away by rebranding to, I’m not kidding here, SyFy). Skiffy has neither stake in the Stargate franchise, which while wildly popular, is produced by MGM and isn’t trying to impress any critics.

    That being the case, I’d really hoped this series would’ve been given the kind of care and attention to detail by its producers and writers as, say, the best HBO shows have. But it wasn’t … and now we have Ron Moore in interviews sounding as confused about the plot as the fans are.

  35. Janbo said:
    Having recently read Robert Sawyer’s novel *Calculating God*, I might suggest that the Viper crashed on Earth because Kara Mark One had fulfilled her purpose, and it was time for Mark Two to begin hers.

    Putting aside, for the moment, the questionable theological inspiration one might derive from that novel, I’d have to ask: just what was Kara Mk 1’s purpose, then, and do the rest of us get to look forward to violent death the moment we all fulfill ours? Seriously, the only “purpose” the original seemed to serve was to be a kick-ass viper pilot and complete emotional fuck-up. Oh, and to be really, really hot.

    2) Would you have believed “a more perfect” Kara Thrace? Exactly. Kara Mark Two had to be every bit as messed up as the original in order for Adama and other characters to believe she *was* the original. If she knew what she was, initially, there would be no drama. Why should her discovery of her purpose be any less than the Final Five’s discovery of their Cylon-ness?

    I’ve got two problems with this. The lesser one is, nobody believed in Kara Thrace anyway. Her viper was too new; she’d incontrovertibly died during “Maelstrom”; she had no explanation for her sudden reappearance. If God’s goal was to make everyone “believe” Kara Thrace, It did a really incompetent job of that (which, come to think of it, is pretty much my objection to most of the things that get laid at God’s feet even in real life).

    But far more importantly, and getting at the real root of the issue: why, if the goal is merely to get to Earth, does it matter whether we “believe” that this Kara Thrace is the same as the old one? Why do we even need Kara Thrace, Mk1 or 2? Why do we need secret signals embedded in music? If God wants us to end up on Earth, why not just cut the mystical bullshit and put us there? Or at least send us an unambiguous message with a clearly-defined set of coordinates? Is it testing our faith? Is it just fucking with our heads because it’s a sadist? Forget the Cylon‘s plan: what’s God‘s?

    But of course, RDM doesn’t have to answer, because God is, you know, mysterious. Which, once again, is a problem I have with earthly ass-hamsters as much as Caprican ones.

    I would ask you this: how do you know it’s supernatural intervention? “It doesn’t like being called that,” Baltar reminds Caprica in the last episode. If “it” isn’t God, as this line implies, then what is it? Ah, the mystery deepens…

    I don’t think that matters. “God” is a label for Grand Force That Pulls the Strings. Could be the Abrahamic Yahweh, could be Erik von Daniken super-Aliens— it doesn’t matter. The same questions apply.

    The Viper isn’t a gun on the mantlepiece, because its presence on the decimated Earth was how Kara learned she wasn’t the original Kara. Therefore, the “gun” was “fired,” in that sense.

    Yeah, except it wasn’t actually “fired”, because it wasn’t actually a gun. We thought it was a gun, and we were expecting ballistics from it, and then it morphed into a swimming pool noodle, because a swimming pool noodle was what the plot needed at the last minute. Except even the noodle didn’t fit, so it was just dropped and forgotten. The fact that it was used doesn’t mean that it was used properly.

    The Opera House “gun” was also fired in the final episode; it was part of a shared prophetic dream had by Roslyn, Athena, Caprica and Baltar.

    Actually, I’ll give you the Opera House. What I meant to say was the Temple, in which D’anna saw the faces of the Five even though they’d had nothing to do with its construction. And IIRC, Ellen literally said that God must have just changed things somehow so that that could happen. Break me a fucking give.

    Once again: I have no problems with supernatural elements per sé, but from a purely narrative perspective the Big Reveal— whether divine or otherwise— has to make the pieces fall into place. Look at a movie like “The Sixth Sense”— you get to the punchline of that movie and you go “Oh, riiiightthat explains it.” In contrast, when you get to the same point in BSG you just squinch up your forehead and go “What the fuck….?” We’re not shown how the pieces fit together; we’re arbitrarily told that the pieces just don’t matter.

    This is not a satisfying way to end a story. Uh uh.

    Peter Saunders said:
    Skiffy was definitely happy with the ratings for much of season four and for the expensive finale. But look at Caprica; they want to continue this franchise on the cheap. So we get duelling family-owned corporations trying to develop AI, rather than space pilots fighting robots.

    Not just lower budgets, as I understand it; they wanted to get rid of the spaceships and rampaging robots because so much of the potential viewing audience simply refuses to watch shows with those elements just on general principle, no matter how good the critics keep telling them it is.


    Madeline
    said:
    In the end, all I could say was, “Dad looks a lot like Cavil, don’t you think?”

    Ah. I can see that. You definitely have your dad’s gelatinous orbs.


    Let’s Call Him “Ray”
    said:
    Then again, there are some people (here’s looking at you, Squid) who cannot do this. They feel plots are promises instead of excuses (forgivable in written media, a capital crime in television), and they feel personally betrayed when things don’t get wrapped up in a neat little bow….
    certain people here (Squid again) also fall for the trap of believing that if a show addresses the presence of certain problems (which the audience will catch onto anyways), it means that the show’s creators have an answer. Folly. It just means they’ve watched enough television themselves.

    Okay, what this boils down to is saying that it’s the Squid’s fault for expecting to see effective storytelling on television, as if BSG shouldn’t be held to any higher standard than Three’s Company. It’s not a defense of the series; it’s an indictment of the audience’s too-high expectations. But suppose Eddie Olmos suddenly turned into William Shatner, and J. Michael Straczynski started writing BSG’s dialog; would you really respond to my howls of outrage by saying we shouldn’t expect better because “it’s just television”? BSG showed us that it could do better. BSG showed us that televised sf could be fucking brilliant. And ultimately, BSG did not fail “television” standards. BSG failed to meet the higher standard it had already set for itself.

    Hljóðlegur said:
    …Alls I’m saying is, there is a pattern to this, and since TV writers have figured out this fake symbolism stuff works, they are going to continue to use it until it stops working.

    Or until we kill them in the parking lot, which quite frankly would be a lot more cathartic.

    But I fear you are right.

  36. “Let’s Call Him Ray” is onto something, to which Peter Watts says,

    Okay, what this boils down to is saying that it’s the Squid’s fault for expecting to see effective storytelling on television, as if BSG shouldn’t be held to any higher standard than Three’s Company. It’s not a defense of the series; it’s an indictment of the audience’s too-high expectations.

    Well, duh. It’s TV. TV, by definition, is Suck City. It’s lowest common denominator theater – A-Team, Three’s Company, and David Duchovney trying to make himself cry on-screen. It’s Extreme Elimination Challenge 5 nights a week. It sucks!

    I, being a broken man, have learned to embrace the suckage!

    I mentally jump into the big tub of green jello and wrestle with the other contestant! You know that the boobs are Fake, I know the gunfire is actually blanks + sequentially-fired squibs, and that cars DO NOT burst into flame before they hit the bottom of the ravine, and am okay with it when they do it on screen. I pretend that people can fire a high-caliber handgun in the same room with someone else and still have a conversation with them 10 seconds later that doesn’t sound like

    I GUESS HE FORGOT TO DUCK!
    WHAT!??
    I SAY, I GUESS HE FORGOT TO DUCK!!!
    HUH – YOU NEED A BUCK???
    WHUT!!???
    I CAN’T HEAR A THING; MY EARS ARE RINGING TOO MUCH!

    It’s not your fault you expected too much, you know. You were robbed. They set you up to expect this would unfold like a play or a novel, but it’s just TV. They bluffed ya. They dangled literary techniques in front of a novelist, and you bit. Lots of people did; no shame in that.

    The blogger also says, in response to the suggestiion that TV writers are going to continue to use fake symbolism and fake literary refs until it stops working was,

    Or until we kill them in the parking lot, which quite frankly would be a lot more cathartic.

    My feeling is that this is analogous to setting out the sweet sweet chocoloate cake on the counter all night and then grouchily squashing the roaches one at a time the next morning. Mr. Roach cares naught for us, he is there for the cake, and no matter how many you grind beneath your boot, another roach is lined up, so long as the cake holds out.

    But I applaud your exterminator instincts, friend.

  37. Squid said:
    Okay, what this boils down to is saying that it’s the Squid’s fault for expecting to see effective storytelling on television, as if BSG shouldn’t be held to any higher standard than Three’s Company. It’s not a defense of the series; it’s an indictment of the audience’s too-high expectations. But suppose Eddie Olmos suddenly turned into William Shatner, and J. Michael Straczynski started writing BSG’s dialog; would you really respond to my howls of outrage by saying we shouldn’t expect better because “it’s just television”? BSG showed us that it could do better. BSG showed us that televised sf could be fucking brilliant. And ultimately, BSG did not fail “television” standards. BSG failed to meet the higher standard it had already set for itself.

    BSG never set that high a standard for the continuing story plot points. Never. There was cautious optimism at best (and outright loathing at worst) when the first Kobol storyline played itself out in its vague and unspecific way. Character-wise, though, it was great. Return of the prodigal, mutinous son, the political reunification of the fleet, and a tenuous alliance between Adama and Roslin. Wonderful shit. Throw in a few Greek tragic references and you’re good. We weren’t actually expecting Roslin’s faith to be literalized in the end.

    This runs through the whole show – the plotting is best when it’s the characters’ doing, and worst when it’s the producer’s. In fact, I’d say that the only times BSG was in fact that brilliant were those exact stories – cause and effect due to character interaction, mixed with a little random occurrence just for the hell of it. Whenever the “mysteries” were the focus, it was mediocre (and I feel sorry for Michael Hogan for each of those eps). Yeah, BSG showed it was possible to do it – it failed its own standards often enough that I got used to it. Chalked it up to over-extended seasons (shoulda been 13 eps per, HBO style), uncertain length (we didn’t really know if there’d be a next season for sure until partway through the third) and the tendencies of RDM towards the empty symbolism mentioned above.

    And yeah, Squid, your expectations, while reasonable for a novel, are asking too much for an 84-hour movie (I think it was Olmos who said that).

  38. I thought all eyes were gelatinous orbs, not just mine and Cavil’s. I mean Dad’s.

    Furthering the trend, Dave compared me to Head Six the other day. I think it was the schadenfreude.

  39. Character-wise, though, it was great. Return of the prodigal, mutinous son, the political reunification of the fleet, and a tenuous alliance between Adama and Roslin. Wonderful shit. Throw in a few Greek tragic references and you’re good

    And that is what the average viewer tunes in for – titties, death, explosions, fate, and the soap opera aspects with which they can identify – betrayal, romance, family estrangement and reunion, basic human emotion. Plot? Meh, not so much except where it feeds the soap opera.

    Chalked it up to over-extended seasons (shoulda been 13 eps per, HBO style), uncertain length (we didn’t really know if there’d be a next season for sure until partway through the third)

    Ah ha. That was part of my question, and my suspicion – if you can’t be sure when it’s over, you can’t be sure when what you hinted at has to pay off, and how long you might have to continue to string the audience along. If you assume you’re about to get canceled, and you tie up the loose plots ends, see the prophecies fulfilled, the symbols play out, and then last minute you get renewed – hoo boy! The gravy train continues to roll one more year or even two or three, even tho’ you got nothing more to write. Yipes.

    If anyone followed Chris Carter’s Millenium, that was so evident:
    sure they had been canceled after 2 years, Carter ended the entire world, or at least very strongly suggested the ending by plague. For the third season, they had to keep writing, even though they had killed off several major characters out-right. You could really sense how lost they were, plot-wise.

  40. I like Sarah Conner Chronicles very much. I hope it doesn’t get canceled :(

  41. Peter Watts said: “Not just lower budgets, as I understand it; they wanted to get rid of the spaceships and rampaging robots because so much of the potential viewing audience simply refuses to watch shows with those elements just on general principle, no matter how good the critics keep telling them it is.”

    Perhaps. As much as the title ‘Battlestar Galactica’ carried a tad too much mainstream baggage, though, the title ‘Caprica’ (which sounds like some sort of yuppie soft drink) could really use some. Robots and spaceships are arguably an easy sell compared to a sort of alternate-Earth epic of corporate dealings. (Speaking of which, how is ‘Kings’ doing ratingswise for NBC? Yeah, not great at all ….)

  42. Let’s Call Him “Ray” paraphrased EJ Olmos thusly:

    And yeah, Squid, your expectations, while reasonable for a novel, are asking too much for an 84-hour movie

    …and while I can accept that as a general principle, I don’t buy it in this case. None of the usual “novel<>television” excuses hold up here. This was not a case of studio interference (in fact, RDM has emphasized repeatedly how supportive and hands-off the studio was). No stars walked off midseason over contract disputes, or got run over by buses. No sudden cancellation pulled rugs out from under anyone’s feet: everybody knew over two years in advance how long they had to tie up the loose ends. RDM even regarded the writer’s strike as a good thing, because it allowed him to go back and completely rewrite the back half of the fourth season so that it could be just the way he wanted.

    Knowing that, they still threw all those balls into the air with no idea of how to catch them afterwards.

  43. Knowing that, they still threw all those balls into the air with no idea of how to catch them afterwards.

    What you’re saying is that you want an “Amen, brother!” from other people disappointed that the makers of BSG had the resources to do better, but they still took the easy way, the dumbed-down way.

    You’re saying that with just a little more effort, BSG could have been literary-level. That they squandered the opportunity to transcend the SF television genre. You wanted what “The Sopranos” did for television mobsters to be done for television robots ‘n’ space battles.

    That it?

  44. Squiddie said:
    This was not a case of studio interference…No stars walked off midseason over contract disputes, or got run over by buses. No sudden cancellation pulled rugs out from under anyone’s feet…

    I know – I’m talking limitations of the format (and the related production). I just don’t believe television of that length (1×13 + 3×22) is capable of being that tight and self-contained. You’re on a rollercoaster, hurtling towards nothingness and laying down the track in front of you as you go along. Not quite saying RDM was justified in frakking it up, just saying I’m not surprised.

    RDM even regarded the writer’s strike as a good thing, because it allowed him to go back and completely rewrite the back half of the fourth season so that it could be just the way he wanted. … Knowing that, they still threw all those balls into the air with no idea of how to catch them afterwards.

    Here’s how I think it went down: he got to the point where none of the rational explanations sounded interesting enough, because (frankly) the only ones who’d give a damn are the scifi geeks in the audience, and half of them will never be happy anyways. The non-geek viewership doesn’t give a rat’s ass anyways – they don’t follow the show for the mythology. They’re more concerned with who Starbuck is rather than what. So he said fuck it, and went with the god-heavy almost-Calvinist predeterministic bullshit that he wanted to do anyways.

    And I’m telling ya, P, it was there from the beginning. I seem to remember a conversation early on with Baltar and Head Six: she says she’s an angel, and Baltar doesn’t buy it, and so she feeds him the line about the implant. i don’t have my copy of the first season on hand, so i can’t be sure, but that’s what I recall. And the stuff about the supernova and the temple, which rankled me to no end at the time because there’s just no fucking way. And probably others I could mention if I watched the whole series again from the beginning.

  45. There’s something about the rules of narrative, here. Forget guns over mantelpieces: stories have to demonstrate a change in circumstance between the beginning and the end. Otherwise, there’s no story, because nothing changed.

    So say you have this story about this seemingly-apocalyptic battle between man and machine, in which a few people are expected –destined, even– to play key roles due to their skills and social position, and then you find out that really, this battle is just a repeat of previous battles that occurred years ago and which will likely occur again. In each, men fight machines, and sometimes they work with machines, and they always come to an inevitable impasse after which they attempt to hit a reset button on existence and start fresh. In that story, nothing changes. It’s a rut. A Hegelian rut, but a rut nonetheless.

    It also happens to be the plot of the Matrix trilogy.

  46. That’s the thing – the finale was all about “breaking the cycle”. But they fail. Oh, with the fail. Here we are again, RDM says, at the precipice. I kinda have a soft spot for cyclical stories – technically, we were telling those long before we were requiring changes in circumstance for narrative cohesion.

    If I was disappointed, it was more because the end of that cycle wasn’t bleak enough for my tastes. Imagine what that finale would have been like if all their sacrifices and prophecies and heroism and grim, grim determination meant shit all, and they lost? If they limped to (our) earth (or hell, back to Kobol), broken and empty instead of hopeful and triumphant? If they had no choice but to lose their tech, because there was fuck-all left of it? If, after the 150,000 years, we weren’t presented with a way out, but simply a warning that we’re as doomed as they?

    That I’d want to see, godshit or no.

  47. I don’t know if cycles need to break and things need to change. Look at The Wire … things don’t change, but it’s still probably the best-written TV show ever (with a few flaws now and then).

  48. To follow up on Watts’ point, exactly what was Kara’s mission: to make sure Gaeta died before they got to Earth 2? Because if the Divine just gave her the co-ordinates, he would not have gotten shot by a suprise Cylon while watching her act like a jackass. To pad out enough story to let Helo go bland, ineffectual and superfluous? To let Lee try out a few more career paths? With a few notable exceptions, I think the character work for this last season let us down too. (Tigh, Gaeta and Dee really picked up a notch as the series went on. Also, Nana Visitor’s guest role was a kick ass performance.) Exactly why is Bill abandoning his son? So Olmos can kinda sorta relive the ending of Blade Runner? (“It’s too bad she won’t live.”)

    Ever since the stonehenge planetarium on Kobol, this was the ending I prayed we would not have…and there it is to quash my gut level high from the battle sequence. (Also, I know Moore picked the date to tie in with the mitochondrial Eve, but I think the latest belief is that humans were pre-verbal for another 100K or so after BSG’s arrival; so the settlers evidently did not have enough effect to change human development significantly; so what was the frakking point.)

  49. Just to clarify that throw-away Blade Runner comment: EJO taking off with Roslin seemed to resonate with the final scene of that movie, prefaced of course by Gaff’s comment that it was too bad that Sean Young would not live past her pre-set expiration date when he lets Dekker escape with her.

  50. Peter Saunders says:

    Look at The Wire … things don’t change

    The first season, about The Towers, I agree with you. That was thematically about “the more things change the more they stay the same” even. It wasn’t just a device, it was a major theme.

    The stevedore season was very much about change. The overarching theme of that season was that Frank’s family, union, and way of life were in the process of being swept away by the “tide” of history. In the manner of a tragic hero, Frank struggles and ultimately loses. The fates and his own tragic flaw bring the whole thing full circle – it starts with a body pulled from Baltimore Harbor, and ends with his body being pulled up. Definitely about change. Very Oedipus Rex, in a way.

    Now, that was highly literary for a TV show, although, it seems to be an amalgam of “Homicide: Life on The Streets” and “The Sopranos,” so it’s not like “the Wire” invented the idea.

    I take it Madeline was disappointed in the Matrix and BSG because of their violation of the rules of good storytelling. All the explosions and pretty people just didn’t carry the water, I take it?

  51. All the explosions and pretty people were great. At first. (In fact, I myself have been accused of enjoying explosions and pretty people too much. I tend to incorporate them into my own stories, perhaps even at the expense of plot.)

    What disappointed me about the end of the Matrix cycle was that it felt as though Neo had not accomplished very much. At the end of the first film, it seemed as though things were definitely changing in the battle between humans and the machines. The tide had turned. The movement had a leader. But the latter two films undermined this feeling by portraying Neo as a placeholder for the One, simply a player in an eternal (and somewhat meaningless) game.

    However, I should stress that the first film is a very simple, clear Western narrative that hinges upon the sacrificial king/messianic redeemer. Neo is born, dies, rises again. He comes again in glory to judge the man and the machine, and his kingdom shall have no end. What the latter two films do is, on some level, a critique of messianic thinking. Even messiahs, they remind us, need help. Neo is no longer all-powerful, and is struggling not merely against uncompromising enemies but against fate itself. He moves from a Christian hero to one of a pantheon, a world populated by seraphs and werewolves and dueling oracles. Now he’s an incarnation of something much greater, like Rama being the incarnation of Vishnu in the Ramayana (in which he uses his human form to defeat a demon who had escaped divine control through a celestial loophole, not unlike Smith). His new role means a new game, one in which an apocalyptic battle cannot solve all problems or bring down a new kingdom. Once a redeemer but now merely a champion, Neo simply takes his place in history where he will await another One (really One of Many) to take up the fight. Nothing has been won or lost, just preserved.

    So I wouldn’t say that the Matrix violates the rules of “good” storytelling. It tells a very old story — two, in fact, and it’s that bait-and-switch that I found bothersome.

  52. What I find bothersome about every man vs machine matchups is that humans invariably win.

    I mean really, in all honesty does anyone believe that human pilots could out-anything unmanned drones or smart missiles in atmo or space? Could human soldiers really outgun walking man-sized tanks of soldiers?

    Fuck no and fuck anyone who says otherwise.

  53. So I wouldn’t say that the Matrix violates the rules of “good” storytelling. – it’s that bait-and-switch that I found bothersome.

    *ding!* I see now.

    Do you suspect that the creators were flexing to meet market demands – if your audience is using your first movie as a hallucinagens party aid, might they have tailored the next two films to that, at the expense of continuity with movie #1?

    I ask because I was probably one of a handful of people in our local theater at the second Matrix movie who were in their right minds. I was watching, thinking, this is sooo visually very interesting, but it makes zero sense. Then I looked around and went, Ah ha – I am watching it with the wrong goggles on. I need some drug goggles. Then all will be revealed.

  54. Hljóðlegur: “Now, that was highly literary for a TV show, although, it seems to be an amalgam of “Homicide: Life on The Streets” and “The Sopranos,” so it’s not like “the Wire” invented the idea.”

    Well, to be fair, Homicide was based on a book by David Simon, who then went on to co-create The Wire. I think he can be forgiven for ‘copying’ the work of those who adapted his.

    I never got into The Sopranos; what did they do that was similar?

  55. I never got into The Sopranos; what did they do that was similar?

    Particularly similar to “The Wire’s” Towers crew story – it is about a group of men involved in a familial criminal enterprise, where, in the course of business, people are brutally murdered or beaten.

    When a character begins to redeem himself in the story line, this is a sure sign he is about to be murdered by an associate.

    Several of the characters appear to be sociopathic.

    A characters will develop pangs of horrible guilt about his crimes, but not enough to actually back away from the rewards gotten from those crimes.

    Characters hiding large stashes from their wives in or near their domiciles.

    Few meaningful female characters. Females are shown as money-driven, incapable of independent action, and incompetent mothers; they are dependent non-player characters, so to speak. They provide a “reason” for a male character to commit crimes, and as commenters or documenters of male lives.

    There is a strong sense of place – south Jersey, west Baltimore – with filming done in the actual place, and some actors with genuine accents of the locale.

    Characters swearing prolifically, drinking too much, and using hard drugs.

    For the sake of the enterprise, long-term friends will murder each other personally and at close range.

    Someone wants crazy disproportionate revenge for a loved one who got killed in the course of “business.”

    There are sleazy titty bars used as legitimate business “fronts” for the criminal enterprise, and this entails hookers with hearts of gold.

    Dead hookers aplenty.

    Some stupid criminals that talk too much, some equally stupid policement.

    The list goes on. Wow, Peter Saunders! I hadn’t realized how close they were until I started listing this stuff out.

    The Sopranos differs in that it is a morality tale, with the mafia shown as a spreading evil, a moral contaminant, and the action is held together by Mr. Soprano’s therapist, who acts as documenter and stand-in for the horrified viewer. I don’t think The Wire has a stand in for the viewer, per se.

    I’m impressed you managed to give The Sopranos a miss. I don’t have cable, I didn’t escape. *smiles*

  56. I saw the first episode and the vibe–mob boss visits shrink (though obviously done differently than Analyze This)–didn’t really do anything for me.

  57. I saw the first episode and the vibe didn’t really do anything for me.

    To each his own, said the farmer as he kissed the cow.

    From what I have been told, if you’re from New Jersey this show is very entertaining, because it has a keen eye for the culture and people of that state.

    And the show was very popular! This leads me to believe that New Jersey is much much much bigger than I had assumed. I now think it must be the size of Texas or Alaska. Also that it contains many many color-blind people, because they often look at plates of marinara sauce and think it’s gravy.

    Of course, this is just one mole’s opinion. You may have flown over New Jersey can tell for certain.

  58. I wonder about your opinions on Neon Genesis Evangelion’s original and final endings, those of you who followed it. That was sort of Japanese animation’s “nu-BSG thing” event a decade and a half ago,

    Myself, I’m sort of not that insulted by RDM turning to a “higher powers” solution. In my gut I know any technobabble-based one would have been an emotional watering-down.

    By the way, anyone seen Caprica?

  59. […] Peter Watts; Amanda Marcotte; laurashapiro; Matt Ruff […]

  60. I’m thinkin’ maybe Battlestar Galactica, by the end, NEEDED to be less emotional.

    Why watch Caprica?

    I mean, really? What possible reason?

  61. To get the proverbial cat killed, mostly, I guess. Also, this “Vito Corleone vs. Bill Gates with Cylon centurions around” could get to be fun, actually.

    (the pilot was somewhat boring, though)

  62. […] than fate and/or divine intervention. (The less said about that notion, the better… although some have said it very eloquently… especially when it comes to the unexplained post-death survival of Kara […]