Thursday, March 26, 2009

Battlestar: A Lack of Stuff


Spoilers ahead.

I am a big fan of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA.

Certainly one of the best things to hit television in decades.

Artistic excellence, exciting storytelling, depth of character.

Socially relevant in a way that only the best of art can be.

Which is why it is a bummer that the finale was so lame.

Television without Pity posits the questions and gaping holes left by the episode. I’ll leave most of it to them. (Besides, they do their analysis with pretty pictures.)

My biggest disappoints were setups without payoffs.

The existence of Daniel. The boxing of Xena Warrior Princess (we were told repeatedly that she was only boxed, and could come back – and of course she doesn’t come back). The identity question of Starbuck.

And the biggest waste of space: the Opera House. After leading us on with visions for years, the importance of the Opera House turns out to be:

Nada. Zilch. Zingo a bingo. If Gaius and Six were not there, it wouldn’t have changed a thing. Athena and Madame President lost a lot of sleep over nothing.

Okay, now let me defend the finale, followed by the reason that my defense of the finale doesn’t hold water.

Sure, the last hour was a snooze fest, but the battle sequence was pretty exciting, right?

Yes. And no.

Yes, in real time. The battle sequence while watching the battle sequence was very exciting.

But like the Opera House teaser, the battle sequence becomes less and less exciting the more one thinks about it. And here’s why:

Lack of stakes.

Only one significant character died (or was even injured) in a significant way.

In retrospect, it is clear that no one was in any real danger. The writers weren’t willing to risk anything in the finale.

And if they aren’t willing to take risks, well, it just isn’t that exciting.

(I think of Wash in SERENITY: “I’m a leaf on the wind…”)

Let’s add it up:

Cost of Galactica’s final mission: nada. (Even the death of the ship doesn’t count, as she only had one more jump or so left in her.)

Gained from her final mission: nada. Unless you believe that 30,000 humans and cylons would forget to breed, leaving only a rescued hybrid to create the new human race.

Me? I’m thinking that sitting on a primitive planet without any technology to provide entertainment, someone somewhere at some point is going to think, “Hey, I’m bored. Wanna contribute to the creation of the new human race?”

Just my thoughts,

Sean

4 comments:

David Goulet said...

Set-ups without payoff. That describes not only the finale but the very essence (and hence problem) with the series. It was fine in the early going, hooking us into the story, but produced nothing but frustration in the end.

You live by the unresolved set-up, you die by it.

Anonymous said...

Judith explained THE ENTIRE SHOW five minutes before the finale. Her story was ten times better than anything I saw. Even "The Last Frakkin' Special" was way more interesting. You hit the nail on the head. Stakes, consequences. Plot reveals character! Where was that plot?! Can't wait to go back and experience the magic before the fall...

Tam

Omar Poppenlander said...

So strange. I loved the show too, but thought that (most of) the payoffs were there in the finale.

What do you mean it doesn't matter if Gaius and Six aren't there for Hera? Gaius becomes the mediator who resolves the war. What do you mean that there were no stakes? We lose Torry, Anders, Sam and Starbuck all in the final hour. Admittedly, two of those characters we knew were dying anyway, but still . . .

I agree that the question of Hera's importance is never properly resolved (unless you count the "button" on the end about her being the ancestor of all of us). But outside of that, I found little to complain about.

But then, the show was never about exciting battle sequences for me.

Gaffney said...

Omar,

The show was never “about” battle sequences for me either, although when they did them right, it enhanced the show.

And the more I think on it, the less satisfying the finale was for such a show of ideas.

What I mean about Gaius and Six not needing to be there for Hera is just that – they do not save Hera, and their Opera House actions have no effect on Hera. Nor on the President of Athena, who suffer nightmares about this moment.

Hera is not what takes Gaius and Six to the CAC – they are going there anyway. Let me put it in reverse: if Hera weren’t there, it would not have mattered.

The recurring nightmare/vision/prophecy had no payoff.

Oh, and Gaius does not resolve the war. A group of cluster nukes hitting the Cylon base ship resolves the war.

And my point about no stakes was about the final battle – so those who died post battle don’t count – and were even less stake driven.

Saying we lost Starbuck is like saying we lost Apollo because we he went to earth – she didn’t die, she just went elsewhere. And she went elsewhere for no other reason than the writers had no clue who are what she was.

Sam Anders was not lost as a consequence of the action—he was euthanized despite the fact that he could have continued living a very useful life guiding the Cylons through space. And for what? So that he could guide a cluster of ships into the sun, despite the fact that pointing, momentum and autopilots could have accomplished the same task without a loss of life.

I assume you meant Laura as the other dying character that was lost – again, not as a stake in the battle, or a “stake” in anything. She died of natural causes, not as a consequence of action. Much like Adama’s death twenty years from now, when he gets pneumonia.

And can you explain to me why Adama can’t visit his son ever? Why does the guy have to live alone? For a show that explored so much about community, for the final decisions to be anti-community struck me as odd (and false).

I said there was one significant death, and that was Tory’s. And that is because her death was the final resonation of the theme – that unless we have a fundamental shift of direction, we will continue as a people to lean toward violence as a solution.

Tossing technology is not that fundamental shift of direction – Tory wasn’t killed by technology, but Cain-&-Abel old school style. So the one important death still did not resonate past the moment as well as it could have.

And ultimately, I do not buy the big idea of the last hour – that those 30,000 people that were squabbling over who gets what Galactica part (in fact have been squabbling over everything since the start of the show) would agree unanimously and without question or discussion to remove themselves from all their comforts – including medicine, shelter, the means to obtain food – in order to camp out for the rest of their natural lives. I get why Apollo wants to do it – I don’t get that he convinced every living human being, as well as the advanced Cylons, to follow that example.

I am disappointed because of the great potential – and the feeling that the endings were less about fulfilling the heart of the show, and more about running out of time to come up with satisfying pay-offs.

Hope that answers your questions about how I saw the finale.

-Sean