Would You Recommend Battlestar Galactica to a Friend? Reflecting on the Series Through the Lens of its Finale


Would you recommend Battlestar Galactica to a friend?

That depends. Would you encourage them to cheer for a sports team who you knew would succeed all season long, only to suffer a heartbreaking loss in the championship game? Would you tell them to eat a restaurant where most of the meal will be great, but the last course will be practically inedible? Would you have them vote for a candidate who’ll prove a dedicated public servant for most of their years in office, only to tarnish all of their past accomplishments at the very end of their term?

Such is the dilemma of the Battlestar Galactica fan. Rarely has a series produced such a strong, complex, and compelling body of work that results in such an ill-conceived, poorly thought out, and above all unsatisfying ending. How do you encourage someone to start a journey that will feature tremendous highs, exhilarating adventures, and gripping emotional moments, but that you know will end in severe disappointment?

The answer is – with serious reservations.

 

"As your waiter, I must warn you, this plate is extremely hot."

 

Bound Up with the Mythology

For four seasons, Battlestar Galactica was one of the best shows on television. It featured engaging storylines with dramatic twists, deep moments of sorrow, and grand moments of triumph. It grappled with big topics like politics, science, and morality. It raised tremendous questions about the nature of identity, determinism, and sentience. Above all else, it featured a rich cast of strong, nuanced, and evolving characters whose fate the audience grew to care deeply about.

And it squandered all of that with an ill-considered, subpar series finale. BSG is assuredly not the first show to have a great run followed by a disappointing ending, but its underwhelming finale is still somewhat unique.

Rather than pure episodic television, or even season-long story arcs, Battlestar Galactica featured a series-long, overarching plot that underpinned every single episode. Viewers were reminded about this overarching plot at the beginning of each episode: the Cylons, a group of androids who had once rebelled against humanity, had returned to eliminate their creators. Their reasons were unknown, but after destroying all of human civilization, they began hunting down mankind’s last survivors, a wayward fleet of ships and refugees in search of a new home. And they had a plan.

This premise offered a wealth of questions and possibilities. What was the nature of the Cylons? What did they hope to accomplish? What was their “plan” exactly? Would the fleet find the prophesied safe haven called Earth? If not, would they find a new home? Had the Cylons infiltrated the fleet? Would the last remnants of humanity be able to build a new society out of the ashes of the old one?

Every episode of Battlestar Galactica proceeded in the shadow of these questions. From the most dramatic season finale to the smallest, most personal standalone episode, those overarching mysteries were lurking in the background, waiting to be resolved.

And that’s why the finale of BSG gives me such pause when deciding whether to recommend the show. Ronald D. Moore and his colleagues gave their audience an ending that not only failed to satisfyingly answer all the questions it posed, but which brought the show’s major storylines to such a poorly-conceived conclusion that it cast a pall over everything that came before.

Each step forward in the story was inextricably linked to its the final chapter. As a consequence, the show’s mythos, which had been steadily and breathtakingly built up episode-by-episode, came tumbling down in one disheartening finale. The collapse of that underlying structure did not merely leave a sour taste in the mouths of its fans, or simply end a beautiful song on a bad note. Instead it undermined every prior episode of the show that had been built on that foundation.

 

"Hey wait! I know that guy! It's international film star Colin Farrell!"

 

God From The Machine

The easiest and most frequent criticism of the show’s finale comes from its near-literal deus ex machina ending. Despite that critique, there’s a fair argument to be made that Battlestar Galactica’s creators nodded toward divine intervention from the very beginning of the show. Moreover, the choice to involve a godlike being who guides the plot in a work of science fiction is not, in and of itself, a flaw in the storytelling. In fact, much of the show proceeded quite artfully with that possibility in mind. But there’s a difference in how the influence of the divine manifested itself through most of the series’ run and how it was portrayed in the finale.

For the bulk of the show, the presence of the divine was intentionally questionable. Did Laura Roslin truly have visions, or were they a side effect of her cancer treatment? Were the near-blind guesses about strategy, supplies, and survival the result of a supreme being tipping the scales or were they just good fortune? Was the reborn Starbuck a godly instrument or instead some sophisticated Cylon plot? Even when the supernatural was explicitly invoked, the audience was never sure about the extent to which it was in play.

And that’s because even if the audience could assume divine intervention, it was intervention through breadcrumbs. Those visions, those breaks, those bits of good fortune, were all nudges in the right direction, rather than superhighways to a specific endpoint. The protagonists did not simply receive some supernatural deliverance, but instead had to question and work to use those hints and bits of help.

Yet in the finale, that entire scheme is turned on its head. Our protagonists are effectively powerless to change the outcome of their story. The god of Battlestar Galactica sets things in motion such that our heroes’ actions have little-to-no bearing on their safety or success. Instead, a divine puppeteer is pulling all the strings.

To wit, the Cylon threat was not destroyed because of anything Adama or Starbuck or Apollo did. But rather, all of their problems were solved because of a seemingly random, yet divinely-orchestrated event. The fleet did not find their new home through careful scouting or even by following some gentle guidance from on high. They simply received the coordinates directly, via divine inspiration, along with a bafflingly perfect world to settle on.

 

"Old Glory Robot Insurance can give you peace of mind when facing the unexpected."

 

The supernatural power invoked to wrap up the largest plot points of the story robbed not only the ending, but the series as a whole, of any agency from its characters. And that’s why the “victory” at the end of the series felt so hollow. Our heroes did nothing to earn it. They were bystanders to the eventual outcome. Their happy ending was simply delivered to them on a silver platter.

Even worse, it’s implied that they were always destined to reach that point. All the struggles, all the effort, all the pain and drama and challenges that the fleet faced in the prior four seasons were wholly fruitless because no matter what our heroes did, they were fated to end up at that particular destination.

Without getting into a theological debate, in a work of fiction there’s a significant difference between a supernatural presence giving the protagonists the chance to succeed versus mandating the outcome. The god of most of the series was a referee–someone who made sure that all parties obeyed the rules and who assisted and punished as was appropriate. The god of the finale was the power-mad commissioner who declared a victor completely independently of the competitors in the game.

And that’s problematic because at its heart, Battlestar Galactica was a show about its characters, about their struggles, about their trials and tribulations. We, as an audience, need to believe that the choices they elected to make, and were forced to make, mattered. We need to believe that their successes and failures were not arbitrary, but instead that they were the result of sacrifices toward achieving a larger goal.

We need to know that these characters’ missteps and mistakes had weight and consequence. The divine presence of the finale not only makes it so that the actions of those characters were almost wholly irrelevant to the conclusion of their own story, but even worse, implies that all of their prior actions were just as irrelevant because, come hell or high water, that story was destined to reach a predetermined ending.

It was entirely possible for these characters’ stories to still have meaning in the shadow of a divine presence, but the God Entity from Futurama put it best:

God Entity: Bender, being God isn’t easy. If you do too much, people get dependent on you. And if you do nothing, they lose hope. You have to use a light touch, like a safecracker or a pickpocket.
Bender: Or a guy who burns down a bar for the insurance money.
God Entity: Yes, if you make it look like an electrical thing. When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.

 

The answers to all of life's questions come from T.V. robots in space.

 

And They Have A Plan

Ironically, in a show that posited a supernatural being who had mapped out the events of the series long in advance, the show’s creators were making everything up on the fly. “God” may have had a plan; the Cylons may have had a plan, but the writers sure as hell didn’t.

Ronald D. Moore has come out and admitted that he and his colleagues on the show were making up the story as they went along. He’s explained that when they began the series, they had no idea who the secret Cylons were going to be and only a rough idea of what the Cylons’ plan was. At best, this was a misguided way to run this type of series, and at worst, it was a slap in the face to the show’s fans.

When watching the series, there was a always sense of a hidden web of cause and effect beyond what was shown on the screen. The viewers were given the impression that the actions of the protagonists were causing ripples whose effects were unseen and unknown, but no less significant. By the same token, there was a clear sense that there were many events happening outside the audience’s view which nonetheless had a major impact on the course of the series. Each new reveal, each unexpected twist, was supposed to show us a piece of that larger puzzle.

Then the audience came to find out that the show’s creators barely had a clearer view of the big picture than they did. Every grand reveal and shocking twist was improvised. The show itself intimated that there were complex rationales behind every occurrence the audience witnessed. Instead the creative voices behind the scenes were just spitballing their way to the end.

One of the joys of watching BSG is encapsulated in a word I keep coming back to – building. There was a grand, constant mythos being constructed: the big mysteries, the overarching plot points, the teased answers to the show’s most significant questions. With each new episode the audience would uncover more of what seemed like a larger story in a larger universe of events.

There was a greater whole that we were trying to get a glimpse of. Something that would make us able to look back at the earlier episodes and catch the little character details that didn’t occur to us before, the subtle actions with bigger consequences we could see coming down the line, the hints and contours of the story that were there from the start, but which we didn’t know to look for yet.

 

Maybe it was all a big metaphor.

 

But we can’t do that, because the writers barely knew where they were going any more than the audience did. Major plot points were fleshed out and then discarded. Names were practically drawn out of a hat for who the next secret Cylon would be.

The show’s creators promised the audience a skyscraper and started building it without a blueprint. All the while, they maintained that they knew what they were doing. Then they tried to go back and patch up the errors and mistakes they had made along the way. But eventually, the whole thing came tumbling down.

And that’s the other big reason why the show’s deus ex machina ending is so frustrating. The use of the supernatural did not simply arise as an organic outgrowth from previous events in the course of the series. Rather, Ronald D. Moore and his colleagues had to invoke some cosmic superpower in order to handwave the dozens of inconsistencies and frustrating plot holes that could not be explained by basic character motivations or events the audience had already witnessed.

And even then they fell woefully short.

The retcons were legion. Colonel Tigh is a “different kind of Cylon” because we’ve seen flashbacks of him as a younger man, while the other Cylons don’t seem to age. Chief Tyrol’s wife was secretly impregnated by someone else, because otherwise his Cylon-Hybrid baby conflicts with the established storyline involving Hera. The show did not even attempt to explain why our heroes saw our Earth’s constellations during their vision within the Tomb of Athena.

The Plan bent over backwards to try to explain the behavior of Cylons in early episodes that did not seem to jive with what we later learned about their culture and motivations. The finale itself only served to raise more questions than it provided answers and failed to fit with the story that had already been told. In the end, the show’s creators had to invent a being with a grand plan, because they certainly didn’t have one.

Now truth be told, there’s a reason so many people kept watching the show despite this lack of planning. Ronald D. Moore and his collaborators did an incredible job at keeping the audience hooked and coming up with compelling stories given that they were making it up as they went along. But you can only string your audience along for so long. Eventually you have to tie everything together–you have to reach some sort endgame, and that’s where the rubber met the road.

 

"Follow the yellow brick road!"

 

A Collection of Shortcuts

Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that the show had been more subtle about the divine influence. In fact, let’s set aside the supernatural elements entirely and assume that the fleet made it to their new home with enough agency to render those concerns superfluous. Let’s even assume that the show’s creators were so adept at improvisation that their lack of planning was hardly even noticeable.

All of that aside, the show’s creators still offered up an ending that failed as both a logical extension of what the audience had already seen and as a fitting resolution to the storylines the show had spent so long building.

I’ve already discussed in detail the myriad ways in which Battlestar Galactica’s finale makes little-to-no sense. But all of those problems, all of those plot holes, all of those handwaves, can essentially be summed up as the same issue:

The show’s creators decided on a destination–some point they wanted the series to end on and some message they wanted to convey–without bothering to consider whether they had adequately built to that resolution or whether it cohered with everything they had previously presented.

What they offered instead was a thematic conclusion. It was an ending that had been designed to convey certain themes, make certain points, and hit certain emotional notes, while completely neglecting to consider whether it all made sense in terms of story, character, or basic science.

My problem with the finale is that the writers seemed to have a firm emotional destination in mind, some warm, fuzzy finality, but did not really know how to get there. Instead of a steady, comprehensible build to the finale, they gave the audience nothing but a series of convenient contrivances. In the process, they made those quiet moments of triumph that are supposed to be so heartwarming feel cheap and unearned.

 

"Whatcha doin?" "Oh, you know, Battlestar stuff."

 

Not every show can have multi-season arcs set up in advance. For that matter, not every show has to be as story-driven as Battlestar Galactica. But for any show that is, there should be a believable progression to some some satisfying endpoint.

Plans can certainly change. The way that the characters and story evolve over time can mean that a show has to change course at some point. But that still does not excuse aimless drifting or far-fetched shortcuts to a contrived endpoint. When the ultimate payoff is as convoluted and unsatisfying as BSG’s was, no matter how great the prior episodes were, the whole series loses some of its luster.

Battlestar Galactica’s ending was not constructed by a divine being with perfect foresight; it was constructed by a room full of writers who had to contend with plot missteps and character shifts and loads of implications they either did not think through or simply ignored. And it meant that they could not adequately account for the series as a whole or believably reach the outcomes they so clearly desired.

It’s hard to envision a satisfying end to BSG that involves the crew giving up all technology, settling on Earth thousands of years ago, and becoming our oldest ancestors. It’s hard to imagine a believable finish that uses the supernatural as such a narrative shortcut. It’s exceedingly difficult to buy an ending that seems to depart from much of what had been previously established. But if it can be done, it’s at least not something that can be achieved in just the show’s last half hour of airtime.

To wit, predestination, prejudice, and the perils of technology could all have been major elements of the answer to the questions that BSG had spent four seasons asking. But the show’s resolution of those topics was shoehorned into the series’ last gasp rather than fully established and explored. The writers relied on shortcuts: on chance occurrences, on supernatural influence, on emotional beats that were decided upon by fiat rather than earned. It was all they could do to finish clearing their throats, let alone cough out the right words to express those sentiments.

 

"I'm very happy to see such a large turnout for our first fleet-wide raffle."

 

The Finality of the Finale

Instead, Ronald D. Moore and his colleagues attempted to wrap everything up too neatly. In their haste, they neglected to consider a number of the troubling implications of an ending that was supposed to have a great deal of “finality,” but which only served to ignore the complexity of what had come before.

The world of Battlestar Galactica was messy. It consisted of shifting alliances, characters who were too multifaceted to categorize as purely good or bad, and plots that tugged on numerous connected story threads. It was far too complicated to be adequately resolved with just a big explosion and a magic compass.

And in the end, that was finale’s biggest flaw. Willing suspension of disbelief could excuse the plot holes. A forgiving eye could overlook the resort to the supernatural to explain untenable plot situations. But what’s inexcusable is the way the the ending shortchanges the audience on the complexity they had rightly come to expect from Battlestar Galactica. “Daybreak” almost feels like the conclusion to a different show–something unsuitably neat, tidy, and conclusory for a series that was anything but.

Battlestar Galactica was complex. The depth and nuance with which it explored everything from grand philosophical points to simple human interactions was one of the show’s greatest strengths. And the ending swept all that complexity under the rug in favor of an oversimplified conclusion.

Seventy-five episodes of intricate, interwoven storylines necessarily offer no easy answers. It’s a fool’s errand to attempt to tie up all of the characters and stories and themes across 50+ hours of television into one neat little package. The creative voices behind the show did not, and could not, manage it. Instead, they should have embraced that complexity. They could have forgone something that felt as forced as their happy ending and given us something that was just as final, but not nearly as clean.

Battlestar Galactica was a show that strove to rise above the cliches and hokeyness in the worst of its genre. For four seasons, it was a show devoted to nuance, to plot, and to character. But in its final bow, it devolved into the worst stereotypes of science fiction – overly simplistic plot fixes through what may as well be magic, faux-scientific explanations that fail the most generous of smell tests, and narrative failures that respond to the series’ big questions with cop outs instead of real answers.

*     *     *

All of that notwithstanding, I would still recommend Battlestar Galactica to a friend. On balance, the series still provides an incredibly engaging, poignant, and thought-provoking experience that overcomes the considerable flaws in its finale. But I would do so with sincere reservations. Because I know what lies at the end of that path.

It’s still the journey, not the destination. The series’ build through four fantastic, captivating season, tarnished though they may be, is still worth a final, two-episode punch to the gut. But Battlestar Galactica will always be a show that reached the highest highs of complexity and depth, and yet could not find the right place to land.

It’s still a great show. But it’s also a shame.


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23 Responses to Would You Recommend Battlestar Galactica to a Friend? Reflecting on the Series Through the Lens of its Finale

  1. Dean FH says:

    Sorry Andrew, but you’re being way to harsh on the last hour.
    I still think the finale delivered for me personally. I suspend my disbelief just the right amount so that I can overlook any contrivances or neatly cleaned plot arcs.

    The Opera House vision becoming reality was a moment of ‘finality’ to me, because ever since season 1 we saw the Opera House. And the questions piled up over the course of the seasons. To see it finally coming to life made me shiver. Angel Six set it in motion since Kobol, foreshadowing every event witnessed by Athena and Roslin while they were sharing that vision.

    It seems logical to me that the answer to the Opera House was ‘divine intervention’. It was subtle at first, building up to that moment of truth. So, I totally bought it.
    That is what people hate about the ending isn’t it? The Opera House and Starbuck?

    BSG was always the mythos and it’s characters. In the episode ‘No Exit’ we got major answers to burning questions about the Final Five. Such an episode was not done before. Ever since the season 3 finale, I wanted to know about the origins of major events, including the Final Five of course.

    Everything that happened on Kobol and the nuked Earth, leading to the Final Five and 12 Colonies was not ‘divine intervention’. Really, in a nutshell:
    - Kobol –> Humans leave to find 12 Colonies, Skinjobs leave to find old Earth
    - Old Earth –> Skinjobs created Cylon Centurions, they got wiped out, save for the F5
    - F5 –> Set out to warn the Humans

    That is a well written history and anotation for “all this has happened before and will happen again”. No God in that I suppose.
    To diminish all that beauty because of God in the finale….well, to harsh. But I can totally buy all the arguments, while I still love the ending.
    And always will.

    • Andrew says:

      Thanks for the comment, Dean. I’m really glad it worked for you. If it’s not obvious, the ending took a lot of the wind out of my sails when it came to a series I’d loved up to that point.

      For me, the Opera House was a let down. It was sort of a “Oh, it’s that they’re all in the same room” kind of deal that didn’t live up to the build. To each their own.

      On the Final Five, I was intrigued by their reveal, but as I mentioned in the article, it’s not something that had really been planned and it showed. There were all sorts of retcons they had to pull to explain it – Cylon memory wipes and secret fathers and all sorts of extra, strained explanations to try to fit square pegs into round holes. I actually like the larger mythology about how humans and Cylons got from Kobol to their respective positions at the beginning of the series, but the explanations for the Final Five and their presence during the series felt really forced and improvised.

      The problem of the divine influence isn’t so much on the history of events leading up to the series. It’s on the events during the series. Everything we witnessed, every little subplot and twist and event, every action by the characters we came to appreciate was pointless because the god of BSG not only made it inevitable that the human-cylon alliance would destroy the bad cylons and find the new Earth, but took a very active role in making that happen. The grand path for the main characters of the series was set from the beginning, and there was nothing they could do to change or even affect it. It’s hard for that not to take some of the oomph out of their victory in my eyes.

      But again, I’m still glad that the ending worked for you, even if it didn’t work for me.

      • John says:

        I agree with most of this and the article itself but I feel that somethings are still missing from it.

        Firstly, the opera house reveal was a nice moment for me but I don’t feel it delivered on the overall buildup. I feel that the moment was lacking in any meaningful significance that would justify seasons of buildup.

        As a follow up to your 7 questions post and this one I’d like to make mention of a couple moments that highlighted both big gaping questions in the BSG universe and potential directions for the show to take.

        Were the final 5, the cylons from the 13th tribe, in touch with God somehow? I mean, they built to temple of 5 right? The magical temple that shows you who the 5 are plus the way to earth via exploding star? How did such a place get built without the orchestration of god?

        I think during the early seasons the god(s) aspect was played very well and offered a more neuanced and, plainly, more credible explanation. Down on Kobol we’re told by the sexy cylon clone lady that the Lords of Kobol are real, that the cylons have interpreted colonial texts and religions as well as other sources and discovered that Athenas and the others were real but that they weren’t exactly gods. This is sooo tantalizing to me, it offers a very interesting road to go down without the need for the literal deus ex machina. It’s kinda shameful that these aspects just disappear at some point. The Lords of Kobol have huge significance and meaning and we never hear about them again once the humans leave their local region of space.

        How is God and the Lords of Kobol related? The Lords of Kobol are real, we know they are largely because they left a roadmap to earth in the form of a temple…thing. God is real because, well, it’s his plan that took the colonials to “earth”. How does a pantheon of gods exist in a world with a solitary God?

        Finally, is Bob Dylan connected to God? Seriously. I can buy the spiel of some songs echoing through lifetimes, I really can get behind the poetry of that, but Watchtower is now a divine song, passed to the chosen few as a clue to find a new home. Is Bob Dylan connected to God in a way that allowed him to receive the divine Watchtower?

        • Andrew says:

          Hi John, thanks for the thoughtful comment. I took out a part about the Opera House, because it at least built to something. But I too was incredibly underwhelmed by it. Oh, so they’re all in the same room! That’s it? Meh.

          I agree with you 100% on the Lords of Kobol thing. I would certainly have liked seeing that aspect of the show’s mythology explored more. I vaguely recall hearing that some of it is discussed in Caprica, but that may just be Colonial history in general. I suppose that if we can have “angels” we could have demigods or other somewhat powerful beings out there. But you’re right, that was a really interesting facet of the mythology that fell out of the frame after the first couple of seasons.

          Again, I apologize for the vagueness of my memories, but I thought I remembered an interview where someone affiliated with the show indicated that “All Along the Watchtower” was “written in the fabric of the universe” or something along those lines. Presumably Bob Dylan received the same divine inspiration that Anders did, or just hit on the right “cosmic frequency” if you will. I realize that sounds a bit silly, but I think it’s a kind of silly concept, heh.

      • Dean FH says:

        But the characters do have their own choices. I see that Baltar and Boomer have a pre-determined path, but in their journey they still make their own choices. Everyone did. I don’t think Starbuck was ‘pulled’ into the so called maelstrom by God, I think she legitimetaly wanted to die. She made her choice, and then God decided to resurrect her to complete her journey.

        And do you think God wanted Anders to get shot, to be able to ‘see everything’? I really do not believe that. That when Anders talked to the reporter and saying he wanted to be ‘connected to perfection’, that God from that point watched over him to achieve that goal?

        I think it’s pre-determined paths mixed with coincidences and choices along that path. Was it God’s plan to kill Adama at the end of season 1? You make a valid argument that Ron Moore didn’t have a clue what he was up to at that point. But in the overall picture, I still have my doubts about the characters having no significance anymore.
        I’m glad to that the ending worked for me, Andrew. It’s nice to talk about it here.

        • Andrew says:

          We’re getting into some real determinism stuff here, but the argument would be that these individuals have the illusion of choice–that they certainly feel like they’re making real decisions–but that their paths are already set. It seems like it was the BSG god’s divine plan that the bad cylons be destroyed and our heroes end up on New Earth, and that there was little or nothing anyone could do to change that.

          At best, you could kind of think of it like a funnel. At the beginning, there was more space to change course and do different things, but they were always headed for a particular endpoint and the closer they got, the less ability they had to change course.

          And hey, if there’s one great thing in BSG’s favor, it’s that it’s given us all a lot to talk about!

  2. Mr. Skool says:

    WTF, dude. You boot my ass of your site, delete my posts, then poach my line w/o attribution…

    “Regardless, I think it is most unfortunate some individuals view the entire series through the lens of the finale’.”

    Mr. Skool 2/8/13

  3. Hobbs says:

    Nice follow up Andrew. As I’ve said before it seems to be a 50/50 split on those that liked finale and those that didn’t. It is a deus ex machina, you can’t dispute the facts. Fans of the ending may not like that answer but it doesn’t stop it from being true. That doesn’t mean you can’t like it I’m just saying it’s a fact as your follow up clearly pointed out. I don’t think you left any stone unturned.

    • Andrew says:

      Thanks very much, Hobbs! Frankly, I’m glad that people were able to enjoy in a way that I wasn’t. Despite all of my criticisms, I really enjoyed the bulk of the show, and I think that’s what made the ending so frustrating for me. I definitely see the deus ex machina ending as a weakness, but you know, art is subjective, and if it didn’t bother people, all the better for them. Thank you again for the kind words.

    • Mr. Skool says:

      Dynamite observations, Hobbsie…

    • Mr. Skool says:

      Spot on, Hobbs. Spot on! Simply splendid.

  4. Mr. Skool says:

    In an earlier post (now deleted) I mentioned that I loved the promotional BSG photo Andrew selected as the header for his follow-up article. I suggested the photo appeared (to my eyes) to be a homage to de Vinci’s Last Supper, notwithstanding the fact there are 12 figures in the photo, 13 in the painting. Given the prominence of religion(s) in the series, and its central role in the ongoing debate regarding the final episode, I thought the photo wonderfully apropos.

    Might be the dumbest thing I’ve said in a while. Apparently the photo – published prior to season four – is called ‘Last Cylon Supper’. Fine… I got the obvious. Color me red!

    Ok, getting past this embarrassing misstep, I did a little research and have determined that, as with all things BSG, there is a debate regarding the exact meaning of, in this case, the photo. Imagine. All sorts of interesting theories out there (http://en.battlestarwiki.org/wiki/The_Last_Supper) for example. Punch up ‘Last Cylon Supper’ in your search engine and have at it. Kind of interesting reading.

    One thing I did notice in Andrew’s photo, which is not in the original, is the BSG insignia over Six’s (sp?) head. This insignia (intentionally) forms a ‘halo’ in a fashion very typical of painters from the 14th, 15th, and 16th century. Fra Angelico is but one of many such painters (http://www.dia.org/object-info/eb118b14-36e4-4c51-a998-2f8a0877400b.aspx).

    Anyway, find a nice hi res photo, blow it up, check out all the detail, start asking questions, and we will get Andrew to write just one more BSG article: “The Last Cylon Supper: Come On Guys, This Is Not A BSG Blog.”

  5. Mr. Skool says:

    test

  6. Kethinov says:

    You and I are of like mind. I slammed the ending on similar grounds in my review written at the time of airing: http://kethinov.com/bsgepisodes.php?id=114

    My closing thoughts were the same as yours now: that this ending severely diminishes my ability to recommend the series to friends. I still do recommend it, but I always have to warn friends that the ending is supremely disappointing in ways that are almost hard to believe coming from a series so otherwise well executed.

    Amusingly, when I meet new people who’ve already seen BSG, I administer something I like to call “the ending test.” People whose views of the ending echo our disappointment tend to have highly developed and nuanced thoughts on other works of fiction as well.

    On the other hand, people who enjoyed the ending and didn’t notice the problems we noticed tend not to be very good, analytical conversationalists about other works of fiction either. Those are the sorts of people who watched BSG not because it was a dark, thought-provoking drama grappling with the nature of the human condition. They watched it because it was exciting, pretty, and had high production values.

    For most of its run BSG catered to both audiences. In its final hour it betrayed the former in favor of the latter. That’s why the ending was so divisive and why there’s so much disagreement about whether or not it sucked. The 50/50 split you hear people talk about is a reflection of which of those two sets of virtues of the show’s long run mattered more to a given viewer.

    • Andrew says:

      Hi Kethinov,

      I realize that all of our evidence on this issue is by definition anecdotal, but despite that, one of my best friends was the person who introduced the series to me, and he is not only a firm defender of the ending, but also one of the most analytical and insightful thinkers, particularly with respect to fiction, that I know.

      In the end, I think it comes down to the fact that a thematic ending works for some people and does not for others. I don’t think that necessarily is a reflection of intelligence or understanding, but rather of personal preference.

      For instance, my fiancee and I have been watching the third season of Downton Abbey. She is something of a period piece purist and has been frustrated by the soapier elements of it in contrast to the higher standard she holds the genre to. While I, recognizing those same elements, can appreciate it as enjoyable fluff. While not a perfect analog, I can imagine you have fans like Dean V who recognize the issues that disheartened viewers like you and I about the finale, but whose enjoyment of the ending and the series as the whole isn’t affected in the same way.

  7. Dean V says:

    So, Kethinov: You’re basically saying that I’m not an intelligent person?
    Even though I completely know what Andrew’s talking about and to certain points really understand his dissappointments about the ending, but I just see it differently?

    In other words: Art can’t be interpreted? It’s all just facts people have to understand to ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ it? And when they dislike it, they are categorized as ‘unintelligent’, or in other words: Stupid?

    Sorry Kethinov, but I’m really offended by your post.

  8. Nikolas Marinakis says:

    A lovely, well-thought out article and kudos to you sir for doing this in a way that shows how much you actually loved BSG instead of simply complaining like a lot of people do. Like you, I liked the idea behind the finale but the way it was handled was sloppy, to say the least. Honestly, the easiest way to pull it off would be to have them be an Atlantis-like civilization that either got destroyed for some reason (just like our myths) or that slowly regressed until they became a part of humanity. This way there would be a plausible way for their names and stories to be remembered by humanity as the struggles of gods, which would again point to the theory that the Lords of Kobol were the exact same thing for the 12 Colonies.

    • Andrew says:

      Thanks very much, Nikolas. On a more meta-level, the worst part of the finale for me is that it tarnished something I loved. I very clearly remember watching the final episode with a sense of melancholy. Not because of anything in the episode itself, but because this was “the end” for a show and for characters that really resonated with me. Rather than leaving that universe sad but satisfied, I walked away feeling that overwhelming sense of disappointment that’s reflected here.

      There’s still plot holes in any scenario where the colonials give up their technology, but I would still definitely have taken them dying out over Hera becoming humanity’s primogenitor.

  9. Biff says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Great summation, as was your earlier ’7 Big Questions’ post. Four years later and I still love to read about this show and what others have made of it. I pretty much agree with your analysis – a great show laid low by an awful ending. It amazes me they got it so wrong and yet RDM and the writers always knew the destination had to be Earth, or some Earth-type planet, unlike most programs that don’t have that built-in endpoint.

    Of course religion and God(s) were a presence throughout the show but they are best left at the periphery and not as the central agent of the action and plot. Apart from whether you are religious or not, the depiction of this entity was clumsy in the extreme. Why would you wipe out over 99% of your creations and then doom the rest to a brief and unremembered existence on a foreign planet? For what? Some DNA mixing and then round x of man v machine 150K years later? What a ridiculous proposition. As Brad Templeton explains, god(s) makes a good story starter but a lousy story ender (if you haven’t heard of Brad Ideas and his Battlestar blog, I highly recommend it).

    All the lessons of understanding, tolerance and coexistence the Colonials and the Cylons painfully absorbed over the four seasons are flushed away on the African savannah as the survivors get purged from existence and history. Dearie me, what a mess …. I really, really became entranced by this show, in a way that not many others have ever captured me and no doubt that has added to my extreme disappointment with S4. I guess at least it made all of us think deeply about many important issues and not many shows can boast of that.

    One last sour grape – the flashbacks in the finale were absolute shockers. They offered nothing except to waste valuable air time perhaps better spent explaining why going native was the new plan and, for me at least, actually dragged the characters down. Lee and Kara almost slept together? Whoever would have guessed. A drunken Lee chasing a pigeon with a broom is analogous to releasing Kara from her Earthly existence. That’s poetry right there. Adama got hammered at a strip club and vomited into a gutter. More amazing character development.

    Bah, humbug! You came so close, Ron Moore, and then you vomited out an ending that aimed high but ended up in the gutter of crappy storytelling. In the immortal Australian vernacular, give yourself an uppercut!

  10. Andy Ronin says:

    Fitting finale to a badly written series.

    The problem with the show wasn’t the finale, if you weren’t disappointed by then, you weren’t paying attention.
    What could have been the best scifi on tv ever was ruined by bad writing and awful casting. Specifically to the writing, I don’t mean episode-wise, but over the whole journey numerous mistakes were created that ruined the story.
    Just a few …
    The original 5 created the cylons in the very beginning … and on Caprica humans develop an AI that results in centurions rebelling against humanity … so the cylon race was created twice??
    There are 12 human looking cylon models, right? … the 7 skinjobs we see through the series and the original 5, AND Daniel, the artistic one … that makes 13!, somewhere along the way they also messed up the model numbers.
    I got more and more angry with all the religious bullshit as the series progressed, so the ending was quiet the climax for me :(
    Even worse, I hold this lazy, childlike (magic … god … please!) writing of the finale responsible for the terrible results of the Caprica series, which at times became unwatchable because of the religious crap. I’m still angry about that one, I loved how they used the “teenage girl online profile becomes first true AI” idea, and the scenes that switched from centurion/girl point of view were awesome, but unfortunately it all went south from there.

    So to end, I find this discussion about the finale entertaining, though useless. At that point things were ruined anyway.

  11. Matt says:

    I necro’d your last post on BSG, so why not do it again? I am watching the entire series again with my wife, and I did recommend it to her. And I am enjoying it again myself.

    Before I recommend it to anyone (or attempt to even discuss it), I have a two-point test:
    1) Does this person despise anything and everything religious/theological? Is Christopher Hitchens their patron saint? Do they gleefully mock religion at every chance? Do they scream “deus ex machina” whenever divine providence is hinted at? If yes to any of them, BSG is not for them.

    2) Do they love technology so much that they cannot see any of its flaws? Would they remain on a sinking ship because their iPhone was not fully charged yet? Do they think the purpose of sci-fi is to get us all excited about curing diseases and building robots and flying across the galaxy in our spaceships? If yes, I would not even mention it.

    I pick these two because the haters gonna hate. And I am tired of listening to them and do not want to add to their number.

    To everyone else, I say “Enjoy. You are not going to be watching a narrative as tight as Breaking Bad or something even close to it, but its epic and entertaining and beats the heck out of How I Met Two-and-a-Half Broke Bang Theory.”

  12. Steve says:

    I have just re-watched the entire series after recieving the blue ray pack for my birthday in January. And i loved the series more the second time, as i did the first, as i cought a lot of things i missing in the original viewing.

    I though the balance of the series was excellent, and it was a believable scenario, but i was a little underwhelmed with the finale. I feel the it was too neatly tied up, when it did not need to be. We didn’t need to see them on the planet at all, just arriving would have been enough for me. I feel sometimes in a lote of modern tv shows and books, that the author / writer feels they have to take you on the full journey, and then tell you the happy ending. We don’t always need a happy ending, and we dont’ need to to be told everything that happened without using some imagination.

    I loved this series, the finale was a little underhwelming, but it did not ruin for me what was a superb series, that apart from Firefly (Don’t get me started on that little gem) has been a joy to watch.

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