Battlestar finale anything but "jaw-dropping"

by Paul William Tenny

Battlestar Galactica, "Revelations"
Syfy Portal said that "Revelation" -- Galactica's mid-season finale and last new episode until 2009 -- was going to have a "jaw-dropping cliffhanger." In quoting a TV Guide interview with Mary McDonnell, the BSG set expectations pretty high for the rest of us. The episode would be "very powerful", and was an "an astonishing piece of work."

Perhaps in the eyes of her creators, BSG has accomplished much in the years since it debuted on the Scifi Channel as a wonderfully imagined and updated mini-series event. On this I must disagree. Those accomplishments have been overshadowed by an inability to sustain constant expectations that just couldn't be met. Sadly, it won't be remembered for what it did.

Instead it may be most remembered for what it couldn't do.
It didn't captivate us, surprise us, didn't engross us, and for some, did little to entertain us since rocketing to the top of the sci-fi genre on cable -- even if it isn't really science fiction -- and that'll be its ultimate legacy.

Though there plenty of criticisms to be had for the second, third, and so far fourth seasons, what happened last Friday can probably sum things up nicely and succinctly. My jaw hasn't dropped in years, either metaphorically or literally. There were some shocking moments to be sure, but only a few here and there and not enough to make up for what has otherwise turned into the worlds darkest soap opera. BSG has turned formally award-winning dystopian satire into a literal dystopian nightmare where the only persistent question ever asked and answered is "who is frakking who?"

It probably goes without saying that the focus on finding out who the final Cylon models were came too late, and in too big a gift to hold any real emotional value. We know there are only 5 not known to the public, and so they immediately dump four of them on us so that they can play guessing games on the final model for an entire season. What that did was put them in a position of dragging out a single arc over an entire season, which usually doesn't work very well unless your name is Tim Kring, or J. Michael Straczynski -- and even they can't do it every time out.

Ron Moore, whom I absolutely adore and admire, simply placed too much emphasis on character intrigue while ignoring the audiences need for more forward plot progress. BSG isn't a serial drama so much as it is an episodic drama with "mystique" if you will, a lot like the Stargate franchise, though with other obvious differences that I don't need to get into right now.

The problem is that character intrigue only works with true serial dramas -- you can't drive mostly self-contained episodes forward by making the character relations even more complex than they were a few minutes ago -- you need a story with a beginning, middle, and end. That's not to say it has to be self-contained overall, because you can use B and C stories in the episode that aren't resolved at the end to give you this lingering since of impending doom or doubt.

But those techniques are story driven, not character. I guess it's kind of like driving a car in the wrong gear. You can do it, but you'll burn the transmission out pretty quick and that's kind of what happened to BSG.

The quest for Earth was never about story and all about character -- nobody ever actually had a good reason to find it other than that they wanted too -- and so it's not the device that the show's producers think it is, or want it to be. I don't care if they find it, never did. Why would I? This isn't an Earth-centric show, it's BSG -- a rag-tag fleet on the run from killer robots, that's the show. Nor could you ever really give it to them in a satisfying way (for fans.) Earth can't be technologically advanced, otherwise you've just got a third player in the mostly-won war and just puts the main characters -- the focus of the show -- in the middle with nothing cool to do or say.

If Earth is a primitive backwater planet as it was in the original series, it's nothing but an anchor or dead weight that distracts us from new, innovative stories.

Moore picked the middle ground by giving us nothign at all, which I understand since that's basically the only option he had from the beginning, which is also why it was a bad idea to try to end the season that way. It wasn't a surprise since Moore told fans in interviews before the fourth season premier that they'd find Earth, that was already settled.

He didn't say that they'd find it in 4x10, by the way, and that's something to consider -- this may not be Earth at all in which case I hold out some hope for the back 10 episodes coming in 2009.

My point here is that nothing anyone on the other side of the fence of S4 has been true. It hasn't been jaw-dropping, astonishing, powerful, or revealing. It has been entirely predictable and disappointing and shows no signs of getting any better.

The one bright spot in the finale, though, has to have been Edward James Olmos's brief performance of major grief. That the Adama character which used to be the driving force of the show has been reduced to a sniveling pile of grief on the floor, indecisive, controlled by his emotions, and mostly not making the big decisions anymore I think does a huge disservice to the natural resource that is Edward James Olmos. It was amazing to see what Olmos did in this finale, but only serves to remind me why I'm so at odds with BSG these days.

We so badly need more of that but instead all we're getting is meta-philosophical, boring crap that seems better suited to Lost than it does Battlestar Galactica.
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