Warning: Spoilers ahead.
I’ve just watched the finale of Battlestar Galactica, and I’m a little bummed. Bummed, because there’s no more story to be wrung from characters and a setting I’ve followed slightly obsessively over the last few years. And bummed, because the finale did a lot of things right — but also a couple of things so wrong, so at odds with the series’ long-term storytelling logic, that it feels a bit compromised.
I’ll dispense with the full-blown recap. You can find that here.
What the finale did right: The final battle between the BSG crew and the cylons, of course. Yes, this show was always about more than explosions and the space fights, but it never transcended the thrill of a computer-generated dogfight. We got all we could’ve wished for in the final faceoff — including a twist ending to the battle that illustrated, once again, that good intentions can be sent devastatingly awry for the most benign of reasons. That’s Battlestar for you, a reminder that it’s always easy to frak things up.
What went wrong: Angels.
Turns out that Baltar’s Head Six and Caprica’s Head Baltar that we saw throughout the series were neither delusions, nor were they communications sent through an implant. They were angels. And Kara Thrace, who had apparently died, only to return to help guide Galactica to Earth? Well, she was probably an angel too.
Good gods. Talk about your deus ex machina.
One of the things that made BSG so refreshing after the various Star Trek series had exhausted themselves creatively was its merciless storytelling logic. Creator Ron Moore had vowed to stay away from an “alien of the week” show model — there never were aliens — and he eschewed other conventions like time travel. Galactica was, within the admittedly expanded boundaries of science fiction, relatively real. Its universe was our universe, only with better technology. And to paraphrase Chekov (the Russian playright, not the Enterprise navigator): If you saw a gun in the first act (metaphorically speaking) you knew it would be used in the third act. Probably on a character you’d grown to love over two or three or four seasons.
So to find out that Galactica’s entire voyage — the series — was steered by angels literally sent from God … well, that seems to fly in the face of the series’ own adherence to realism.
MacWorld’s Jason Snell points out to me, via Twitter, that the show has long talked about the existence of a Cylon God who has a plan. True enough. But as in real life, the actual evidence for such a god was ambiguous, to say the least. And there was plenty of reason, as in real life, to believe that the frequent mentions of God served as justifications for patently self-serving acts.
Understand, I’m not saying there’s no such thing as angels. I’m not saying there isn’t a God who has a plan. I’m saying I don’t know. Nobody does, really, and while I don’t begrudge anybody whose faith leads them to such a belief, the truth is that faith is, well, a leap. We’re never presented in real life with actual angels who explain that they’ve been working with you to achieve God’s plan for the human race. Where we discern the presence of angels in our life, it’s always as inference, not a revelation. We’re left to guess at and hope for the existence of ethereal guardians. In the finale, though, the ambiguity of real life was made insultingly literal. Galactica was usually much, much better than that.
I’ve said before that Battlestar Galactica is one of the better meditations on post-9/11 America that existed in popular culture. The finale doesn’t change that for me — at least, not yet. More than many shows, Galactica was about the ending: The crew had to search for a new home, and when they’d found it we’d know the show was over. And that’s what happened. But the series departed from its own ground rules to get us the final step of the way. That’s a disappointing way to end such a great show.
UPDATE: I just figured out what ELSE bugged me about the finale.
The final scene features Angel Six and Angel Baltar in modern day New York looking over the shoulder of series creator Ron Moore — and isn’t that a telling cameo? — to read that the remains of humanity’s first ancestor from 150,000 years ago (a Galactica survivor) had been found. They chat about the “real” meaning of the news and what humanity’s future has in store. The camera pulls back on the two walking down a New York Street, holding secrets about the world that passerby will never know.
In fact, the scene looked almost exactly like the final scene of Men in Black. Seriously. I can’t find online video of the BSG finale to post here, but trust me when I say it doesn’t look that different from this: