Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Battlestar Galactica: The Legacy and the Finale (Daybreak Spoilers)

What a ride. Five years of Battlestar Galactica. I remember first viewing the mini-series after returning from America. Everyone here had seen it - and they were very positive about this new show. I'd been apprehensive but excited when I'd caught some glimpses of the promo material that filtered on the net having been, shall we say, a discerning fan of the original because it was clear there would be some distinct differences. But I was easy to bend - I was never a hardcore supporter of the original show. The pilot was excellent, but there was only so far the late 70s could take such a bleak premise and the show itself really plummeted at the back end of its single season (aside from the show-stopper, Hand of God). While I'd have been content to see a return to the universe, I was happy for a reboot given the shaky consistency of the old show (now missing the great Lorne Greene). I was pleasantly surprised to hear the favourable reviews of the mini-series and when I watched it fell in love with this new show.

Funny that after seeing the mini-series, the idea that a series had been green-lit on its back again caused me concern. This was an intense show - could it sustain the tension as a series? The original had failed - could the remake succeed?

Well it did. Beyond expectation. Well written, well made, well acted throughout. I have enjoyed the series from its conception. It did what both Star Trek and Babylon 5 never quite managed. In fact, funnily enough, when I used to watch Voyager I used to imagine how much better it would have been if it had borrowed from the original BSG - a ship leading a lonely trek to Earth, perhaps picking up a rag-tag fleet to protect along the way.. and who was initially involved in that production (albeit for a very short time)? Ron D Moore.

Ron D Moore has been a great series runner. The show has remained consistently strong, his commentaries have been honest and insightful. I hope they have convinced all cynics of the new show that while it may not be the show they wanted, the people doing it really cared for the product. And let's face it, the homages to the original show have been in abundance. Not just many of the designs or spattered reuse of the main theme (or more recently the opening chords on a simple piano), but in the drive of the characters. Starbuck in particular has played quite a similar storyline - she was marooned on a planet, she has had father issues (though this time minus Frank Sinatra) and as the series revealed, she didn't join the "god/gods". While this wasn't played in Battlestar Galactica's original incarnation, in the sequel Battlestar Galactica 1980 Starbuck was left on a planet marooned after helping a higher being and was intended, if a second season had been commissioned to become part of the Beings of Light that appeared throughout the original show.

It's been a great ride - so how did it end?

After hearing a few calls of derision on the net since the US airing, I was getting worried. The last few episodes had been very character driven, though a little meandering for an audience thirsty for answers. I believe with DVD retrospective goggles they will seem far less frustrating and directionless, but understandably people have been more than resentful to the lack of fast-pace and classic structure to the stories leading up to the finale. But with Daybreak, they were rewarded for those quieter episodes as the show saved the budget for its swansong.

And what a swansong. Emotion, action, answers, despair and hope. It went through the whole lot with honesty. I must admit I expected more characters to die, but we got a hefty few of supporting and major players bowing out. The effects were fantastic (great to see the return of the old Cylons) and the resolution was handled with grace. The final scenes with Adama and Roslin were as beautiful as the meeting of Athena and Boomer was brutal.

Was the final home of humanity a problem for me? No. For many I could imagine the definitive attachment to our history being an issue, but the mantra "it has happened before and it will happen again" implicitly (or in the case of this episodes mid-point, explicitly) tells us that the cycles in life are as much manipulated to repeat as they are to change. So people can speak English thousands of years ago and still speak English today, because its all part of the cycle. It's the way creation works. I particularly like the way that the god(s) in this show aren't good or evil, nor are they specific, they are an ambiguous force that doesn't require justification, just is. I think that was a very powerful perspective for TV, particularly given its propensity for absolutes - good and evil are the bread and butter of the Hollywood platter. I was happy to see this dull ideal shunned here.

But the series did fail, and that was a great pity. I was sitting watching this with my sibling and I was laughing near the end at quite how they could blow this fantastic episode in the last five minutes. I suggested perhaps an epilogue where a Raptor comes back for Hermit Adama saying they need him back in service; that unknown to him Roslin had a son and he'd been taken by Adama's evil twin brother. Or maybe an ending where the camera rises up into the stars and Ron Moore is there on a cloud winking at a camera. The latter idea was based on JMS' flouting of the dramatic illusion at the end of Babylon 5 being the guy to switch of the space station within the story - a little display of territorial ego that really didn't benefit the show and sure, the show should take priority over any in-joke? So my sister and I laughed and this ideas of how such a brilliant show could ruin the final few minutes.

And what do you know? It succeeded!

After a brilliant act-out with Adama alone on a mountain, a perfect place to end the show, we have this turgid, unnecessary contemporary scene with the head characters. It feels tacky, out of place and utterly worthless, sledgehammering a point that the series didn't need to make because it was there by inference: could we be making our OWN Cylons? Good lord, this isn't the Twlight Zone or Outer Limits - we don't need the show's message to be nailed to our foreheads and our faces thrust into a nearby mirror to understand. We get it. We could make our own Cylons. Yes, how profound.

What really staggered me by this epilogue was the sheer insult of it. The show has not once patronised or belittled its audience's ability to see the subtlety to its stories - why start on the final five minutes?

On top of this, the dialogue felt awkward and out of place, as did the contemporary setting. It just jarred with everything the show has done.

And of course, the piece de resistance.. my little gag of Mr Moore hanging in the clouds wasn't far wrong - like JMS, Mr Moore clearly couldn't escape the opportunity of having himself spiced into the final few moments and he appears awkwardly reading a paper rammed in the viewers face on contemporary Earth, again breaking the dramatic weave of the scene.

I wouldn't dare to lecture such a TV master but I would have to ask him this following questions - questions I've already alluded to but felt I need to really hammer home. I'm sure he'll see the snarky parallel I'm making. Did his appearance benefit the show's final moments? Did it add or distract from the drama? Did it do the story good? Did your appearance serve your show at all? I can appreciate the desire to give a fan-nod as you sign off your five year project, but after such integrity you've delivered over five years - was it really worth it?

It's a shame a mere five minutes can ruin a fantastic episode, but that is always the danger of any ending - you can start a story badly. You can start a relationship badly. You can start a meal with a disastrous first course, but as long as the last mouthful is wonderful, the bad start is forgiven. The same can't be said for a bad end. And as much as I have adored the show, I loved the finale and have so much awe and respect for the work of Ron D Moore and his fantastic team, it is a great, great shame that their perhaps singular dire moment had to be in the last few minutes, leaving Battlestar Galactica with a sour aftertaste on an otherwise perfect gourmet experience.

I can only hope that The Plan (shown this fall) will give us a new ending (not technically an ending, but an end to the franchise) that will fade this bitter pill of an epilogue. And I must say, of all the TV spins offs I've seen of sci-fi franchises, The Plan sounds an excellent one!

Maybe the after-dinner mints will make up for icky last mouthful of Galactica dessert.