Fare thee well, Six and Gaius.
Much to John Sherck’s chagrin, we were not on time for “Battlestar Galactica’s” finale when it aired last March. But with the release of season 4.5 — and the generosity of Erik Brueggemann, who loaned us every season after the first — we finished the series last week with fellow “Battlestar” fans addicts Mark and Katie Andolina. (Their TV is, shall we say, from a more current century than ours.) Since then we’ve been letting it soak in. We’ve also been reading up on what others have said about the finale, which — no surprise here — sparked a good deal of controversy. We’ll throw our two cents in for what it’s worth. (Fair warning: There will be spoilers.)
It wouldn’t be fair to say we were dissatisfied with the ending; initially we were simply nonplussed. We’ll grant that there was virtually no way to pull off a satisfactory ending to a show as sprawling as BSG was. For a show that delved into survival, religion, science, power, politics and love — sometimes all in the same episode — it would’ve been nearly impossible to do all of those themes justice in the space of 140 minutes. (We watched the extended, unaired episode of “Daybreak.”) We’ll also grant that satisfactory endings to TV shows are an astonishingly rare breed.
The pre-attack flashbacks on Caprica were an inspired way to frame the story, but we also questioned why they were necessary to reveal now. Laura Roslin loses her family in a car crash and wanders into a fountain, then sleeps with a former student and decides to return to politics. Bill Adama wants to retire but can’t take a lie detector test. Gaius befriends an androgynous-looking lad from next door and can’t stand his curmudgeonly old man. A hammered Saul Tigh chortles while his exhibitionist wife Ellen dances on the bar. From a plot perspective, none of these stories pay off. (We kept expecting the driver of the car that killed Roslin’s family to be a big reveal — Adama, maybe.)
As Dave Powell reminded us, though, the show was always character-focused, and what those Caprica scenes captured was less plot than mood. For one, there was heavy drinking. Everyone was self-medicating to cope with pain, loss, regret and failure, even though the universe was, literally, at peace. By the end, these are changed characters, redeemed through cataclysmic events, charged with purpose and meaning. When we see them on Earth at the very end, they are at peace.
We didn’t get a clear answer about who (or what) Kara Thrace was, and while we were told not to expect one, we couldn’t help it. Was she an angel? A devil (the harbinger of an endless cycle of violence)? Just a plain ol’ resurrected human being? We can live with ambiguity on these kinds of things, but what nags us about Starbuck is that we don’t believe creator Ronald Moore had answers either. Her departure — vanishing into thin air when Lee’s back is turned — seemed about right for an inspired but sometimes maddening character. ( “What do we do with Starbuck? Everyone will want to know.” “How about this? One minute she’s there, the next — poof!” “That’s great. Write it!”)
Gaius was our favorite character throughout, and certainly the one who would’ve been the most fun to play. His climactic speech in the CIC was a marvel when you consider the arc he traveled during the series — from self-absorbed, God-mocking cynic to a man who could step outside himself, and a genuine believer. Erik B. made us appreciate this moment as a high point in the series: Two of the smartest (if not the two smartest) characters, Gaius and Cavil, engaged in a battle of wits between religion and science, hope and cynicism, idealism and pragmatism. It’s really a testament to BSG that an argument between two superior intellects could be more riveting than the apocalyptic battle between humans and Cylons (and Cylons and Cylons) raging around them. It was a brilliant show of ideas disguised in sci-fi trappings. (Alas, some of those sci-fi trappings in the finale were rather cheesy, notably the Cylon-on-Cylon battle scenes which only served to distract us from the human drama.)
The template that seems the most relevant to view BSG against is Exodus: the remnant searching for home. If we use this analogy, Roslin was the fleet’s Moses, and she, like him, died before she entered the promised land. Just as the Exile was a time of reckoning for the Israelites, the exile from Caprica is a time of reckoning for the fleet — a time in which they must answer the question Adama asked in the first episode: Is humanity worth saving?
There are other things we could nitpick at, but let’s acknowledge they’re just nitpicks. (Our major nitpick with 4.5: The reintroduction of Saul and Ellen’s dysfunctional marital drama. But measured against the brilliance of the Gaeta takeover episode and “Someone To Watch Over Me,” the episode when the mysterious piano player — Daniel? — teaches Starbuck to play and together they compose “All Along The Watchtower,” we’re more than happy to forgive insignificant little nitpicks.) Rolling Stone called “Battlestar” the most subversive show in television history, and it’s hard for us to disagree. (Though “Alf” could be rather subversive in its own right.) We regret being late to the conversation, but at least we showed up. Those who have spent more time than we have contemplating the lessons of “Battlestar” are, as always, encouraged to chime in. Those who are secretly judging us for being geeks: We invite you to watch the first 30 minutes of the series with us anytime. We guarantee you’ll be hooked.
Question for discussion: What’s the best TV finale of all time?