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March 25, 2009

Battlestar Galactica - Love & Hate

Ah, the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica: starting in a cloud of SF Fan doubt, blazing its way into our lives as a gritty well made Science Fiction show, gathering far too much media attention for 'reinventing SF' and finally tailing off in a disappointing cloud of religious mumbo-jumbo and the discovery that there was really no plan at all, just a vague idea to rehash the most clichéd of all SF plots, along with the writers ambition to stretch the show out as long as possible because it paid the bills.

So much to love and so much to hate.

Bring on the Love & Hate list...

Loved

  • The budget. This was no cardboard set Sci-Fi channel TV special. But a full-on big budget, out in the open  Science Fiction television show. Which was a bit of a shock.
  • The realism. No cartoon characters, no inverse tachyon beam sweeps to get them out of trouble. Just a group of humans in a few tin-cans running for their lives.
  • The apocalypse. I loved the initial attack on the colonies, loved the full-on apocalyptic-ness of the escape. The panic. The indecision. And eventually, the pure focus of just trying to survive.
  • The space battles. Cool spaceships having fights! The CGI was good, the shakey smash zooms stolen from ILM, the chaotic nature captured well. Swarms of Cylons attacking! Nice.
  • Cylons as sexy women. Maybe it's a bit passé now, but remember when you first saw a Cylon and it was Tricia Helfer? Hard as nails robot seduction agent assassins. And then they threw in Lucy Lawless who was equally hard and a bit more scary. The makers knew how to get some press, and a whole load of fanboys.
  • Baltar. The first season, with Baltar on Galactica, feeling guilty, seeing Six, wondering if he was insane. Great stuff. Then he went a bit too quiet in his Jesus phase but returned to his old self in the finale. I even forgive the Six and Baltar Good Omens angel act, because of Baltar.
  • The paranoia. When no one knew that there were only a finite number of Cylon models, and anyone in the fleet could be the enemy. That was cool. Intense paranoia fuelled some great story lines.
  • The every day coping. Once the fleet were on the run, hiding, the stories of every day living began to arrive. Forget the high and mighty of the fleet, the interesting stories were about how the everyman coped, how the small ships survived, what kept them going, what made them angry.
  • Caprica. Going back to a ruined world, drenched in over-saturated post FX. Seeing the ruined city. Great apocalyptic scenes.
  • The plan. Remember the hope that the Cylons had a plan? That the writers had a plan? That there really was some all encompassing arc that would blow our minds.

 

Hated

  • The repetition. For two seasons the show was full of new ideas and interesting story lines and then the plots began to repeat, with minor variations. The fleet trapped in a tedious day to day life, we were trapped in a tedious rehash of melodramatic situations.
  • The occupation. The whole idea that the Cylons would occupy a planet that humans had settled seems ridiculous. Explain it away however they might the writers could not convince me that the Cylons wouldn't just kill everyone. And the analogy to Iraq was so heavy handed it made me cringe (see below).
  • The heavy handed serious topics. Science Fiction is about today, it is an examination of our world through speculation, but BSG was just too unsubtle. Too caught up in its mission to tackle serious issues to wonder whether those issues could be handled in a subtler more thought provoking way. Unfortunately it made me feel that TV was a sledgehammer compared to the scalpel of SF literature.
  • The dubious moral debates. I get that the idea was to be grey, not black and white. But sometimes I couldn't help feeling that actually the writers were right-wing lunatics who would actually like military rule "for the good of mankind". Those stories left me annoyed and feeling like I should disown BSG.
  • The religion. What a load of religious bollocks. Gods or God or one God or destiny. Please. Utter rubbish.
  • The hype. Newspapers and magazines proclaimed that BSG was re-inventing Science Fiction. Without ever being aware of what Science Fiction was before. Yeah, it was great that SF was getting some attention, yes it got annoying very quickly. And even worse the writers started believing the hype and forget to craft a serious Science Fiction plot.
  • The Music. Do we really need all that pseudo-celtic flute and pan-pipes? It's not Riverdance. And then there was the pseudo-eastern music. And then there was misusing Jimi. Really terrible.
  • The Final Five. The last season hung entirely on the premise that I cared about who the Final Five were. Why should I care? I couldn't care less. It wasn't a cliff-hanger it was just desperation. In the end the Final Five were just an excuse to drop an unappetising dollop of exposition on the viewer, at one point pretty much consuming an entire episode with an explanation of the back-story that the writers had constructed and never got around to actually showing us. Amateur.
  • The plan. There was no plan. Near the end of season four they pretended that there was a plan, but they were lying. There wasn't. Why bother pretending all along? It would have made a better story if the Cylons just wanted to kill humans. No plan, just a mission.
  • The finale. An episode of using up their CGI FX budget. Then a too quick "let's be friends". Then a box full of Deus Ex Machina. Then a load of sentimental slush. Then they have either the cheek or the naivety to do the Adam and Eve plot. Yeah that one. The one that has been done a million times and is now so old it's not even funny. They didn't even add anything new. Top it off with confused messages about God and Creationism and a scene stolen from The Matrix. Is that the best they could do?

6 Comments

I hated this show from the start, but it quickly won me over, and for about two years it was great. Then I felt it lost it's way following the New Caprica arc (Which I loved), and the last 35 episodes or so have just been an increasingly deep morass of "Who cares?"

The finale was set up forever, yet still felt horribly abrupt, and proved that the writers had just been kind of jerking us around for years for no good purpose: Why is Adama popping pills? What was Baltar's 'Human Solution' that involved giving guns to his Baltarts? We'll never know, it was all just a big case of keeping the ball in play without actually going anywhere with it. They were just deliberately running out the clock until their big, overblown, incoherent, dramatically cheating *STUPID* finale.

I *did* like the religious aspects of the show, though you've got the inherent limitations of religious stuff being written by people who are themselves clearly not religious, so much of it felt false. Not false in the sense of wether or not there's a God, but false in the sense that it lacked the heft of a belief system that could give people the strenght to go on in the face of this kind of adversity. It was mostly new agey greeting card twaddle, rather than something people would live or die for. But it had its moments of poignience.

And that "Ancient Astronauts" crap at the end - groan - I know it's inherent in the original series from the 70s, but still - groan. If it was embarasing 30 years ago, it's embarasing now.

I did like the occupation, and I eventually grew to like the music, though for the first half of the show's run I totally would have agreed with you on that.

I'm sorry, I'm rambling, I just felt compelled to comment since we're mostly of a mind based on your comments here. My review (Which I feel is entirely too positive in retrospect) is online here if you're interested
http://www.republibot.com/content/episode-reviews-battlestar-galactica-daybreak-part-2-season-4-episode-20-series-finale

I agree on (almost) every point.

I agree on every point, but think there are even more points.

Actually, I should say that since seeing the finale, I've been reading as many posts, articles and overviews as I've been able to find, and this is the best I've seen so far. Very succinct; good work.

I've yet to see anybody... and I mean anybody... make a serious suggestion as to how a show that had garnered such a massive following and adulation from the press that wouldn't have been disappointing to some.

Personally, as a fan from the pilot episode, I loved it all from start to finish. Yes, there were episodes that weren't the quick-paced militaristic type... but if that's all you really liked from BSG then you were never gonna like the ending unless it involved a thousand Base Stars and two hours of space battles.

I think they handled the ending fairly well, with a great deal of compassion for the characters who were involved and wrapped it all up so there is no doubt that this is the last episode of Battlestar Galactica.

As for the "stretching the show out cos it pays the bills"... I could be wrong, but I believe the makers of the show opted to end it on series 4 and stated as much over a year ago. The show is so popular now that I'm sure if the money men had their way with it it would have run and run and run. Personally, I applaud the writers and producers for having the balls to say "This'll be it, folks... we're closing it down" and then giving us a closed story with no room for the studio to try and shoehorn in another series afterwards (though no doubt we'll see various spin-offs now).

In a couple magazine interviews, RDM et al made it clear that they'd hoped for two more seasons (Presumably 4 ending with the discovery of earth, and 5 ending with the big finale). They tried really hard to sell the Sci Fi Channel on it, but the shows' ratings were never what we'd call a "Hit" here in the states, and it started bleeding viewers in season 3.

Sci Fi wanted them to wrap everything up in another miniseries, but they agreed to a compromise: Do it all in one last season, rather than two.

There's another TV movie in the works right now called "The Plan" which is set during the early day of the show from the Cylon's point of view, and there's a prequel series that no one seems to have any excitement about called "Caprica" That's in production now after having spent about 3 years in "Development Hell."

I didn't love the show for the battles - though they were nice - I loved it because it was a worm's-eye view of the apocalypse where everyone is panicked and screwed up and occasionally fanatical. I loved it because it was a study of how things fall apart, which is always more interesting to me than, y'know, Star Trek or boring stuff like that. I guess what bothered me about the finale was that it felt like they were trying to impose a Star Trek solution on a Battlestar Galactica problem, and it felt false.

Conversely, the finale for M*A*S*H* still gives me a lump in my throat to this day, the finale for Babylon 5 makes me tear up, the finale for Star Trek:TNG is really, really good (While the series was generally steadfastly boring), and even the finale for "The Prisoner" - while definitely not a crowd pleaser - is at least a fertile discussion ground for debate and interpretation 40 years later. I just don't see the BG finale having that kind of shelf life.