Saturday, March 21, 2009

The BSG Finale

BSG. The finale was a contrived sentimental load of horse manure. It reminded me of nothing more than the end of Kafka: The Musical in the pilot of Home Movies, in which God says, in a booming, cheery, patronizing voice "Hello Franz Kafka! My name is God! I think you're going to like it here!" BSG has always been good at avoiding typical sci-fi junk such as fetishizing the technology. In retrospect the acting was the thing that made this show great. The acting was good for the finale but it was overshadowed by the decision to avoid sci-fi endings, such as the black hole as a time travel gateway, by going into sentimental melodrama, and relying on gestures toward divinity to justify lazy plotting. Things that were atrocious:

The planet shown at the end of season 3, the one where you could see North America, turns out to be different from the planet Kara found, the one that turned out to be radioactive. Removing all hope from your story for ten episodes is a serious thing to do and it needs to not be a fake out.

After so much conflict among the fleet, everyone universally agrees to get rid of all the technology and live among, and breed with, cavemen. In a show that values realism Earth appears in the most idyllic verdant green fields. Essentially all the characters reach heaven, where they happily forgo all their earlier conflicts to live in a green and pleasant earth. This is not even the same show anymore.

Kara was an Angel the whole fourth season, who disappears in a field when Lee turns away for a moment in the most absurd cliche. The Baltar that appeared only to Six and the Six that appeared only to Baltar turned out to be Angels that like Kara, were working for God to lead humanity to their new home. A key reveal -- when both Six and Baltar can see their Angels together -- was handled like a screwball comedy moment that had no connection to the show around it -- or anything before. "God" is the answer to any questions you may have had. To our mere mortal eyes it may appear to be lazy plotting that an asteroid bumps a ship with dead Racetrack and Skulls inside causing their bodies to shift in such a way as to launch the nukes at the Cylon colony at the exact moment our heroes leave -- so as to wipe out the bad guys without it being anyones decision. But it is just God's plan. It was also God's plan to have the Bob Dylan song contain the co-ordinates to the real earth. If you "assign" numbers to the notes, as Kara did, isn't that arbitrary -- how for example do you decide which note gets to be "one"? But it doesn't matter because her assignation was guided by God. Why did Kara lead them to the wrong earth first? Because that was how God wanted it. The worst thing the finale did was to resolve all the ambiguity of the show into an absurdly happy ending where gesturing toward god resolves every ambiguity and conflict and coincidence.

And the show ends by updating to modern Earth, New York City, for a robot montage. Will the cycle that our characters tried to break be broken. Well dear viewer -- the choice lies in your hands! Be kind to you robots! or Maybe don't make them in the first place. Idiotic. Suddenly this complex ambiguous drama where where the line between good and bad is constantly redrawn now wants to deliver a MORAL MESSAGE? AT me? Was the idea to ditch the tech pointless since we ended up building robots anyway? Also Hera's significance was that she was the "Mitochondrial Eve." This is deeply dumb. The show could not even let Helo die -- everyone gets a happy ending, even the centurions. The ending was basically "suddenly, by divine grace, peace washes over everyone." This is how a child ends a story.

The show was also padded with flashbacks that, in an interview with the creators, turned out to just be backstory from the show bible about the characters that they never got to use. So they were basically a pointless info-dump -- use it or loose it, I guess was the philosophy.

The only parts of the finale I enjoyed was the robots beating on each other, Al from Quantum Leap shooting himself, and the fact that Tyrol's wife's death came back into play when you thought it would all be forgotten about. The Baltar becoming a farmer was ok -- the moment was well handled. I guess I can see that all the roles he has had -- scientist, politician, jailed revolutionary communist, Jesus, Bin Laden -- have all been him trying to avoid this one true calling. I guess. He just does not feel like a character that makes much sense. And what was the point of Adama giving his cult guns a few episodes back?

There may be more to think about. This is a first reaction. Perhaps because of the way the show has been in the past we can imagine the characters will still have conflicts -- Ellen and Tigh surely don't live happily ever after since they are pretty dysfunctional. But the show does suggest that they do. Perhaps an ambiguously identified god is the right ending for a show with so much moral ambiguity -- but to me it just feels like all the ambiguity was pushed onto this higher, ineffable, level so our characters could be happy. Perhaps the fact that we do not know if the cycle has been broken or not is a good ending -- but the semi-direct address -- the aim to go SEE! this is RELEVANT! this is about YOU -- feels ridiculous to me.

I have to give this an F. Seriously. LOST, I am looking at you to be taking notes on how NOT to end a show.

[UPDATE: I talk about the objection that the show has always been about religious stuff in the comments. ]


Adam said...

I couldn't agree with you more. The fact that all my lingering questions were basically answered with "God did it", is incredibly disappointing. If Lost ends up using similar psuedo supernatural means to explain the last of its many mysteries, instead of some fairly solid psuedo scientific ones, i'm going to personally hunt down and beat the writers into submission.

Geoff Klock said...

I am not sure science answers are the way to fix the problem. There are satisfying supernatural answers -- but vague gestures toward "God did it" is not one of them.

scott91777 said...

I don't keep up with BSG but I was skimming over this and I was curious, What Bob Dylan song was it?

Gordon Harries said...

Scott: 'All Along The Watchtower' was a musical refrain over the course of the last two seasons, apparently.

Geoff Klock said...

Brad made a great point on the phone -- "If you had told me a year ago that this show would have ended with angels and cavemen, I would not have believed you." Let me also say that the finale should have been called Touched by a Robot Angel.

Christian said...

Sounds like that godawful Stephen King Book/Made-for-TV-Movie/Comic, The Stand. That ends with the Hand of fucking God detonating a nuke. After watching eight hours of it, I felt completely ripped off and angry. I can't even imagine how you guys must feel.

Eugenia said...

Same problem here. All that religious crap just don't hold water. And also, I don't want Lost to supernatural things to explain mysteries either, it has to be pseudo-scientific. Nothing else works with me in the scifi realm.

Scipio said...

Hm. I dunno. The tribes, the prophecies, the dreams; hasn't BSG always been a religious drama that tricked you into thinking it was sci fi? I mean... even the original series...?

Geoff Klock said...

Scipio -- no you are right that religious stuff has always been a big part of the show. But there is a difference between religious motivations and interpretations and the show saying -- God exists and he did all this stuff. Be nice to robots. Bye.

It is a bit like the futurama episode with Bender in space and he meets "god" and god says that you have to have a light touch -- too much interference and you take a way free will, too little and people lose hope. BSG had him interfere too much in the end, when up till that point the balance had been perfect.

Triumph of the Underdog said...

I was mortified by this. Up until the part where Baltar started preaching to Cavil, I was thoroughly enjoying it, but suddenly I felt weird, betrayed and insulted. It was the TV show equivilent of finding out the hot girl you've been chatting with online is really a fat dude sitting in his mom's basement.

I'm embarrased - now all those people I've been pestering to watch the show cause it's great will get to the end and say, "WTF dude? Angels?"

Really, if me and my few friends who are familiar with BSG were messing around and spent a day making a list of the worst possible endings for BSG, we STILL couldn't have with an ending this bad.

Also - did Cavil JUST want to be able to resurrect again and that's it? That really ENDED the war for minute? Strange, because he had resurrection technology before the war started. And Olmos just chose to stay up a cabin for years and die alone? He really doesn't want to spend time with anybody? I can understand the Chief not wanting to be around people, but Olmos?

OH! And Tigh says to the Chief, "If someone had done to Ellen what happened to Cally...etc." That's just weird. I seem to remember someone DID needlessly kill Ellen. Tigh! Sheesh. Just stupid.

I think I'm just going to find a point somewhere at the back end of season 4 and tell people to watch the show up till there and then make up their own ending.

Anonymous said...

The ending would have been must better if most of the characters were killed in the battle and the Battlestar and the Cylon base were destroyed maybe when the Chief learned of Callie's demise. Hera, Baltar, & Caprica 6, and maybe Lee and Kara escape to Earth using the mystical notes. Baltar & Caprica could raise Hera and then the scenario where she is Mitochondrial Eve may work better. The present day humans could find more evidence of these earlier advances. The Baltar/ Caprica figments did not need to appear 150,000 years later to tell the story. If Lee and Kara survived they could spend their days teaching the Cavemen how to drink heavily. The Kara vanishing was dumb. It would have been cool if we had realized that Lee was the only one who could see her this season, but that wasn't the case. She was a real person.

Christian said...

I'm just going to pretend that when you guys say Angels, you mean this type of angel and then never watch the last episode.

Lou O' Bedlam said...

It's not even that it was god & angels.

It's that it was god and angels and that both ideas were used as a last minute "explanation" for all of the various mysteries, because they had obviously written themselves into a corner and could think of no way out.

Good "God did this" finale: Quantum Leap. Because, from the beginning, they set up that there was some Other force at work.

The problem with BSG is that so often the people who mentioned God were obviously evil or nuts. Robots, zealots, people who believed in a pantheon of gods. We were never given reason to believe there was actually a god at work, but rather that there were all these foolish people believing in god to justify the various madnesses they perpetrated, and that the truth would actually have some kind of scientific basis.

Geoff Klock said...

Mitch -- I totally made calls apologizing for my recommendation. I hated BSG for making me do that

Lou -- inspired by you I twittered about Quantum Leap being a great finale. Notice that in that case -- like BSG a show about getting home -- you temper the potentially absurd happy ending device (God and Angels) with this more emotionally complex thing where he NEVER gets home.

Geoff Klock said...

Mitch -- I totally made calls apologizing for my recommendation. I hated BSG for making me do that

Lou -- inspired by you I twittered about Quantum Leap being a great finale. Notice that in that case -- like BSG a show about getting home -- you temper the potentially absurd happy ending device (God and Angels) with this more emotionally complex thing where he NEVER gets home.

Lou O' Bedlam said...

Right on.

Yeah, it's funny how Quantum Leap, a show that was good but never particularly complex, pulls off a more sophisticated and resonant ending than BSG, which had, for the most part, really excelled at rising above standard sci-fi fare.

Even more interesting: the Quantum Leap writers didn't originally write that episode as a finale, but as the season's cliffhanger. They had to adjust it when the show was canceled.

Yet that episode is far better than the BSG finale, which they had YEARS to figure out.

Stefan Delatovic said...

I wanted to give the show credit for doing something I had not seen before - saying that the apparent hand of God throughout the series actually was God. That's pretty cool.

But it was so poorly executed that I can't and that sucks.

I LOVED that, at the last second, war is not averted and the cycle is set to continue, using an engine built from the characters' actions past and present. That was an ending I was digging.

But jeez. Had the Baltar and Six angels been avatars of hyper-advanced amchines spawned from the previous cycle or something like that, had 'God' been a past cycle trying to prevent yet another loop. This was close to brilliance. Even though Season 4 was almost entirely horrible in my eyes, they had time in the finale to make something great.


Anonymous said...

I think I'm more angry at myself for allowing the semi-illogical plot twists and outright stupid red herrings to hook me into the BSG universe. Looking back at the laughable allegories that the writers included but couldn't deliver it should be no surprise that the ending was a Frankenstein monster of randomness. The show always hinted at divinity but what made it something we all loved to watch was the characters not the purported higher purpose. In the end it abandon those complex and interesting stories of the characters of BSG to focus on delusions of grandeur and that is why some of us are so unfulfilled.

Labwiz said...

I too was really hacked at the BSG Finale till I came across this detailed CAPRICA the SERIES DETAILED REVIEW. It really does explain why the final five couldn't reveal more, it would have shot down the pilot! The BSG Finale makes a lot more sense now.

Anonymous said...

Why the fuck did any of you even watch this show? It obviously had religious/spiritual overtones through the whole series. I guess some people just want to have shit to complain about when they blog.