Tweetable Takeaway: “Battlestar Galactica” piled on so many mysteries it could only answer them by giving up on answering them.
By: Dana Leigh Brand, Contributor
There was a period in my life of about six months when BATTLESTAR GALACTICA consumed my very being. There was the initial torrid romance, the falling out, the horrible breakup, and the months spent trying to put my life back together afterwards. I’m happy to say I’m recovered now. I’m over it. Which, luckily, means I can discuss it with less bitterness and a little bit more objectivity. Though, still plenty of rancor.
Battlestar Galactica was smart. A reboot of the groan-worthy Battlestar Galactica series from the 1970s, BSG (of 2003) similarly follows a ragtag group of apocalypse survivors as they travel through space looking for a new place to settle. Incorporating a heavy dose of fictional religion and humanistic mysticism, the first two seasons of the series largely follow the plot of the original show. BSG was also lauded for confronting contemporary issues of the Iraq War in ways that were relevant but, because of the sci-fi setting, more thought provoking than politically polarizing. The show is heavily mytharc based, with the opening credits claiming that the Cylons (robots who look exactly like humans but “download” into new identical bodies every time they’re killed) “Have a Plan.” As it turns out, the Cylons didn’t actually have any kind of plan. And neither did the show runners.
It’s nothing new to hate the series finale “Daybreak.” It’s kind of cliché to hate it, at this point. But the three-hour finale is such a distinct break from the rest of the series that it retroactively rewrites a majority of the show. In a sci-fi or fantasy series where the universe rules are made up to begin with I have one cardinal rule and it’s this: never break your own rules. The only way to maintain a coherent fictional universe is to stick to the rules that govern its world-building. “Daybreak” takes the BSG rulebook and throws it out the window, laughing and pointing its finger at the audience the entire time.
By the end, series creator Ronald D. Moore was claiming that the series was always a pure character drama, so that all the finale was attempting to do was wrap-up every character’s narrative satisfactorily. Not only is the notion that BSG was solely a character drama complete and utter bunk (the series was so steeped in its own mythos that it inspired the likes of Lost for goodness’ sake), but every character was flattened into a two-dimensional mouthpiece for “Daybreak’s” new ideals. Lee Adama, who had always been practical, starts spouting off about the evils of technology and advocates that all of humanity rid themselves of everything from spaceships to medicine to become more “pure.” Uh, guys, you presumably just landed on primitive Earth, and you’re going to willingly give up all your medicine? That’s not the only example of idiocy but, since Lee Adama was my favorite, that’s the one that still stings. In the same vein, an entire fleet of spaceships full of almost exclusively white people coming down into the middle of Africa to bring civilization to the natives is an incredibly suspect plot decision. And Cylon-human Hybrid child Hera as Mitochondrial Eve? That’s not how that science works, guys, come on.
Yet even in the face of all of that, my biggest issue with “Daybreak” is that, to wrap up all the mysteries, questions, and prophecies of four years: God did it. Yes, one big ol’ deus ex machina from hell. That’s not to say BSG doesn’t have religious themes. The thing is, Battlestar Galactica spends a painstaking amount of time establishing that every religion in its arsenal can and does have an element of truth. There is not one true religion. Not for the course of the entire series. Except, of course, until we get to the last three hours when having one true religion becomes convenient. All that mystery about Kara Thrace’s death and return? Well, she’s an Angel of the Lord. Duh. What do you mean you didn’t see that coming?
Gaius Baltar and his mysterious hallucinated version of Cylon Model Six are a similar kind of terrible. The majority of the series is careful to leave the nature of Head!Six as ambiguous as the nature of “true” religion–that is until “Daybreak.” Who wants to watch a show where an actual angel is talking to this guy? Isn’t it better if we leave the uncertainty? Perhaps she is an angel. Or maybe he’s just crazy. The doubt is what kept Gaius Baltar interesting rather than just solidly despicable. If you re-watch the series from the start reminding yourself that Head!Six is really truly an Angel of the One True Lord then there’s no point. Baltar becomes just a sanctimonious Messiah so self-absorbed one can’t help but wonder what The Lord was thinking. It’s a shame, too, because Baltar’s amorality and self-preservation instinct are a large part of his sleazy charm, but with an Angel on his shoulder he just comes across as, well, sleazy.
Additionally, while the majority of the series takes place on dark, grey, claustrophobic spaceships, the finale ends on bright, wide-open, green space. It’s a masterstroke of emotional manipulation, (Bear McCreary’s hopeful score helping right along) because if things look and sound so pleasant, then the audience is glad for the relief of so much tension built throughout the series. There are very few happy moments on Battlestar Galactica. Even the sight of grass is enough to stun the brain into swallowing “Daybreak’s” nonsense for a moment. That’s what happened to me.
My personal favorite alternate ending that acknowledges “Daybreak’s” existence goes like this: humans and Cylons land on Earth. They all promptly die from disease, exposure, and consumption by wild animals. I find this more satisfying than the garbage Moore tried to feed me.
Battlestar Galactica took a heavy emotional investment. The characters were so compelling and the situations they dealt with so intriguing that it seemed like the payoff for that investment would be huge. What really happened was Moore throwing his hands in the air and having a good laugh at everyone who took it so seriously. I find that the major problem with BSG‘s terrible finale isn’t that it’s terrible, but that it invalidates pretty much the entire show from beginning to end. So if there was anything you liked about the series at all, chances are if you watch through to the end (and who doesn’t watch through to the end?) it’s completely screwed. And for me, well, that ruins the whole thing. I haven’t been able to re-watch it in years. I guess I’m still a lot more bitter than I thought. If you’d like to read some reviews of “Daybreak” that are more well-spoken and less full of rage, I suggest Roz Kaveney‘s and Brad Templeton‘s.