Micheal Cobley

Interstellar Tactics




Battlestar Galactica's Last Half-Hour: An Epic Failure Of Storytelling

You have got to be kidding me. No way, not now, not never, not ever would a true story end in that way. Okay, so let’s recap – after years of flight and struggle and death and despair and pain and loss and grief, after a climactic battle where the Human survivors and the rebel Cylons go toe to toe with the Cylon’s Cavil faction and succeed, after they finally reach a beautiful, habitable planet….they all decide that technology is eeevilll and that they have to discard it, send all the ships off to destruction in the sun, then head off to live pre-technology lives in what turns out to be the distant past of our Earth.

Please, just frak off.

The idea that these 38000 survivors from a technological civlisation would simply abandon it all in favour of a primitive existence is, quite frankly, insultingly idiotic. What was going through Ron Moore’s head when he came up with this gargantuan, brain-dung of an ending? Think it through – how terrific is the hunter-gatherer lifestyle going to look when suddenly you fall and break your leg in a compound fracture? What about dental caries and other teeth problems? What if you need to get your appendix out? Or if a woman goes into labour and there are complications – without all that tech that got dumped how could you know what’s wrong, and how could she and/or the baby possibly survive? Don’t you think that among those 38000+ people there would a few who would stand up and say, “Are you out of your tiny frakkin mind, Lee Adama?” These are the people who rioted over food shortages, went on strike, and were just generally obstreporous – isn’t it plausible that a sizeable fraction of them would profoundly, strenuously disagree and go off and found their own city?

That’s what is known as genuine, authentic consequences, which is what Ron Moore would have written about if he hadn’t had such a catastrophic failure of nerve. And laid bare the fact that he didn’t really know how the story was going to end. We’ve been here before, of course, with the Matrix Trilogy, with that dumb as a bag of bolts ending where all the anguish and struggle and fighting and Trinity’s death lead to….a stalemate with the Machine. Which also proved that the Wachowskis did not know how to end the story in an honest, plausible manner (and when I say honest, I mean dramatically honest).

And as you might guess, my feelings on the whole Deus Ex Machina justification for all the visions and presences and pseudo-mystical blah – ie that God done it! – are scarcely printable. I had thought that the episodes Revelations, Sometimes A Great Notion, and A Disquiet Follows My Soul, were intended to kick the legs out from under the whole mystical foretellings of both the Cylon monotheism and the Lords of Kobol polytheism, kind of a bonfire of the prophecies. How wrong I was. The Six in Baltar’s head, with all that creepy monomaniacal God’s Plan freakery, was the actual, in-context underpinning for everything. Moore himself claims to be agnostic, but you’d never have guessed it from BSG. Personally, I could have just about accepted some kind of immanent spirit of humanity trying to move the pieces around, or even some kind of overmind, just about anything except god and angels. That combined with the irredeemably inane ending left me feeling cheated, robbed and FEROCIOUSLY PISSED OFF!

Of course, there is another word to describe this state of mind. Once, a mate of mine called John, seeing I was down in the dumps, asked how I felt. “Disillusioned,” was my reply. “Great!” he said. Taken aback, I asked what he meant, and he said, “Well, think about it – what is the opposite of being disillusioned, and which of those mind states would you rather be in!”

Which is exactly right – it is far better to see things as they really are, rather than cling to illusion. It is just sad and appalling that, in terms of the overall dramatic shape, the four seasons and the miniseries and the film were all undone by that final half-hour of ill-conceived story denouement. And the truth is that I can’t let it go, just cannot put it aside and move on to something else, not yet. I have to have something more, a better ending, a true ending. Even if I have to write it myself.


Another couple of subarguments came to mind since posting the above. Doc Cottle – what do you imagine his response would be to the suggestion that all his medical equipment and files and drugs and so forth are to be just sent off to burn in the sun? Most likely, not a polite one since he would still be treating the wounded from the battle they’d just gone through!

Also, there is one word which undermines the notion of it all taking place 150K years ago – anachronism, being the incidence of cultural markers appearing out of place. The 12 tribes and their worlds, named after houses of the Zodiac, the use of cultural artefacts from our past as scene props and dressing (pictures and statuettes etc), the episode ‘Sine Qua Non’ which, as you can see, is in Latin (meaning ‘indispensable condition’), a phrase which one of the characters quotes to another (Lambkin and Adama, I think). This is all convincing proof that our age is the past for the Humans of the 12 colonies. Yet Moore has the utter affrontery to claim that some kind of collective unconscious carries it all forward 150thousand years, so that Bob Dylan picks ‘All along the watchtower’ out of the ether, and later Jimi Hendrix covers it. Krap. How old do you think we are, Mr Moore – 8?

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8 Comments already, do join in...

  1. peri urban Says:

    August 10th, 2009 at 8:05 pm

    True story? Uh, what were you watching? This was always a fairy tale!

    Ships into the sun? Yeah, I thought that was strange. I’ll give you that one. But if I did have to justify that plot point for the sake of consistency, I’d do it by pointing out that the fleet was an unsustainable liability for a people seeking to find itself anew.

    I think what you might be missing here is that the whole point of the search for Earth is that everyone is free to do what they want to do. Yes, there is allegory here, and clearly the 12 Colonies’ civilisation did not survive, since there is no remnant of it in our world. But it is achingly poetic that after all the struggles they would achieve that degree of self awareness. I loved that.

    The cycle had to be broken, and one of the ways to break it was to dump technology. That made sense to me at that level, if not practically. In any case, the Admiral at least still has his raptor.

    Authentic consequences? Well, you could have that, or you could have poetry, allegory, leaving it open for the greater conclusion, where it begins to look like the cycle is starting all over again.

    Deus Ex Machina? No, you need to look that one up. DEM is when you bring in a hitherto absent force to rescue the story. The whole GOD thing had been carefully placed from the very start. WTF were you watching? The whole piece was littered with angels and ghosts and divine intervention. It was in part a pretty good study of religious and devotional conflict, both in society and in person.

    I think it’s pretty clear this isn’t God we’re talking about, the creator of the universe. He is never described as that. He is clearly some kind of supra-natural agency, but not any kind of “god” that we’d recognise. The Cylon Six angel does say that “god” doesn’t like that name. So, there’s plenty of room for us to call it whatever we will. There’s nothing in the least bit Judeo-Christian about it, so no need to get upset on that front. It is simply what it was advertised to be.

    Undone by that final half-hour? Not for me. I loved it!

  2. Lanie Grace Says:

    August 10th, 2009 at 8:17 pm

    It is a really good thing that the Cylons have a “Plan” because it is overly apparent that Ron D. Moore sure as hell didn’t!


  3. rockitboy Says:

    August 10th, 2009 at 8:53 pm

    Allrighty then.

    “The whole piece was littered with angels and ghosts and divine intervention. It was in part a pretty good study of religious and devotional conflict, both in society and in person.”

    Okay, matey, the above actually contains two assertions, that the entire story was riddled with angels and divine forces, and that it was a study in religion and devout motivations. The 2nd I would agree with, the first not – because this series was heavily and repeatedly touted from the start as a muscular SF series, and science fiction is how I and many others read it. We watched it unfold in the expectation that we would get a science fictional explanation for what we were seeing on the screen, not the hand o’ god and His divine plan. If you loved it…..gaaahh, I cant believe you swallowed that lump of brain-dung, ol’ buddy ol’ pal! I think yer just winding me up with yer usual deil’s advocaat ;-)

  4. Bazza Says:

    August 11th, 2009 at 11:34 am

    Yeah, I agree with you, Mike. I can’t deny the muscularity of the plot and the gritty acting but I think it was finally pretty half-baked, and owed more than a little to the make-it-up-on-the-fly model pioneered by Lost.
    I actually had grave doubts as early as the first series when it turned out, for the sake of plot requirements, that Six et al were so identical to humans it needed a super-duper device invented by Baltar to discrimate between them. The cyborgs’ anatomy and physiology produced about six times the strength but we-no-can-tell difference between them and humans like raddled old Adama. Oh, please!

  5. rockitboy Says:

    August 11th, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    A good point, Baz me ol mucker, thrown into highlight by recent discoveries of the lock-and-key element of the DNA in male sperm! Oh yes! Seems that while the DNA string in the sperm is tightly closed in on itself, there is a section of it which is open, allowing the egg to read the DNA and decide if its a suitable match for fertilisation. This is clearly a mechanism developed to exclude all but the male seed of the same species, and even to winnow that down to a preferable selection. So – if Humans and Cylons can have fruitful offspring, then their DNA has to be identical. Also, this knocks on the head the uttery daft Humans-can-evolve-on-different-planets blather that was proffered as justification for the 12 Colonies survivors going off to interbreed with our ancient ancestors….dear ghod, give me frakkin peace!

  6. peri urban Says:

    August 13th, 2009 at 7:47 pm

    “touted from the start as a muscular SF series”

    Baltar ponders the idea of divine intervention via his angelic muse almost constantly. Roslin and Adama are driven by prophecy. Kara Thrace is kidnapped by a Cylon that tells her she has a destiny………. And on and on!

    Nowhere in the narrative does the piece claim to be hard nosed science-fiction. That’s what some people might have thought, but I never saw it that way. I’d have been extremely short changed by your prosaic ending.

    To argue about plot niceties here is to ignore the elephant in the room – one can either live with the piece as a study of faith/religion/spirituality or one can’t.

    The reasons why one can or cannot live with it have nothing to do with one’s veracity as a writer or one’s wisdom as a viewer, nor is it to do with bad writing or conceptualisation. It is everything to do with the experiences and prejudices we all bring to the piece.

    I understand and appreciate the poetry of the piece, always viewed it as an extended allegory (as all meaningful sf is), and thought the ending was a brilliant and deft final flourish.

    I liked the whole thing.

    You only feel cheated Michael because you brought your own piety to the show, your own expectations. Like I asked at the start of my reply, what were you watching? What did you think the continual references to god and the gods, to prophecy and angels, was all about? It was all there all the time.

  7. Glennie S. Says:

    November 6th, 2009 at 1:02 am

    Being a follower of most Sci-Fi and Neale Donald Walsch’s “Conversations with God,” I couldn’t believe how many references to “starting anew” I recognized in that last production of the BSG series. It was all supposed to come together and make sense out of our own humanity.

    There are numerous remnants of the Twelve Colonies left on Earth: Greek, Roman, Egyptian mythology — the Constellations — many others uncounted). This is only if you want to take the fictional story and apply it to our ‘real’ world.

    ‘peri urban’ was right; everyone brings their own conception to the table when watching these stories, their own expectations. If you do that, you are certainly headed for a fall, if the story doesn’t play out in the same old and tired way you might expect. I can’t say BSG played out that way.

    I’m all for it.

  8. rockitboy Says:

    November 6th, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    I fully acknowledge that readers and viewers imbibe stories through the filters of their own beleifs, upbringings, cultural mindsets, callemwhatuwill, but it doesn’t change the fact that BSG’s god-driven denouement was anti-science fiction.

    Why? Because SF, at is core, hews to the line that humanity can use its rational abilities (yes, as well as its compassionate sensibilities) to perceive and understand the universe. When its doing its job, SF is about the cause-and-effect rationality of science (er, hence science fiction) and yes I know that great reams of stuff marketed as science fiction is really science fantasy, which is sadly what Galactica devolved into in its final segment.

    As for stories playing out in the same old tired ways, there aint nothing more tired and old than the ‘starting anew’ narrative. Every society has had its anti-progress, anti-rational myth of shrugging off the burdens of flawed civilisation and starting anew, whether its in Eden or the frontier or whatever. Its much more demanding to confront the actual problems of living now, much more complex, yet perhaps more rewarding.
    Peri mentioned that I brought my own piety to the show – heh, heh, well now. I would have to point out that the show I thought I was watching was one in which the motives and actions of the characters had a direct and crucial bearing on the future of the survivors. But in the context of the final truth of godlike meddling behind the curtain, human motivations and actions are diminished; the characters dwindle to pawns pushed this way and that. If gods and angels really are participants in the drama, then what else are the humans and cylons but toys for their amusement (and God and the angels are at no time challenged, nor are their motivations examined).

    So, sorry, but I can’t come out with some that old ‘hey, your opinion is equally valid’ baloney.

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