I finished Battlestar Galactica, and I have to talk about it

In this age of binge-watching, I continue to be bad at watching TV shows with any haste. I’m actually quite proud that Julie and I finished watching all 4 seasons and 75 episodes of Battlestar Galactica (BSG) in about 3 years. Although I’m about 6 years too late, I have to talk about it.

If you haven’t watched the show, there are spoilers ahead, and even if you don’t mind the spoilers, this post probably won’t make much. If you have not watched BSG and enjoy sci-fi, I recommend it.

My opinion of BSG is consistent with general consensus: it starts well in the first 2 seasons, but it takes a downward spiral after that. The finale was disappointing: humans and Cylons suddenly end hostility after resolving around a minor point. The writers tie our own ancient history as a human race after First Earth gets swapped out for New Earth in a retcon-like manner. Like the Harry Potter epilogue, I wish that that 150,000 years later had never happened. Various events and loose ends get attributed to god’s hand, which really robs the characters of all agency. They actually had no choice as every choice was pre-ordained lest the entire plot be derailed.

There were many unanswered questions after the finale, and as soon as the credits rolled, I started searching the internet for other reactions and thoughts on the finale. At first, I thought I just needed to find company in being dissatisfied, but I realized that I was really scouring the internet for answers. I wanted there to be a better, more complete ending than what I had just watched. Although I found a lot of answers, none of it was satisfying.

Because the show aired in the internet age, everything is recorded. Going through the news articles and blog posts from 2009 and before, I was not surprised to learn that Ron Moore doesn’t believe in writing ahead and comes up with the right ideas in the moment.  When the show revealed the 4 of the final 5 at the end of season 3, I felt like the show had lost its mystery. It was clear that the writers had no idea who the final 5 were until they actually wrote it, or else they would have teased more. It was disappointing to see the show (based on the premise that the Cylons “have a plan”) didn’t actually have a plan.

I was surprised, however, by how forthcoming Moore (and other involved with the show) was about the writing process and the level of interaction between the community and the audience. It doesn’t feel right that mystery in fiction should be a community process. For more conventional dramas or episodic content, I don’t mind if showrunners and community to communicate: it’s a way to actively engage with the material, and it doesn’t change the meaning of what has already happening. In a genre with long story arcs (such as BSG with its compelling mystery of the Cylon’s and god’s plan and nature), I think cross-talk between the writers and community is more harmful. I think a well-crafted mystery has that epiphany where the pieces fall into place, and the sprinkled hints suddenly make sense when put together. BSG felt like drama and plot being manufactured.

This is extreme, but I like to believe in a fictional ideal, where the writer is tapping into an imaginary but fully formed universe. As a writer, they are simply transcribing the events that they see for us (real life audiences) to view as they occur. Within that characterization, a real mystery can come together, and the audience is carried along the adventure of the fictional characters. I don’t mean to discredit the writer’s ability in this process: the existence of this universe is entirely their creation. Even so, it should be a stable plot being carried out.

The ad hoc writing style of BSG and openness of their creative process, however, is really jarring for me. It cheapens the entire experience because it becomes apparent that the story isn’t unfolding due to the natural course of the characters and events in the world: the story is happening because the writers are yanking the audience around. They can gauge the community reaction, change directions, and hedge their creative process by teasing the community with “alternate ending”.* What’s worse in BSG, the use of god as an explanation is like the writers reaching into the BSG universe moving chess pieces however they like.

As a medium, maybe TV just isn’t conducive to big mysteries. Lost is often cited as a show that got lost in itself with loose ends. From my limited TV watching, long-running shows tend to lose direction when they drag out past the writer’s vision. Other shows with promise (Dollhouse comes to mind) were canceled early, which left us with rushed or incomplete endings. Most shows don’t bother with big mysteries: instead, they use short story arcs and tie it together with long character growth (rather than long plot development). It is hard for a perfectly conceived and complete universe to endure through several years and many community reactions along the way, especially with today’s culture of binge-watching and internet discussion.

Anyways, Julie and I are planning to watch Daredevil next, so I might write again when we finish that in a few years. Despite having excoriated the writers of BSG for their lack of direction, I still enjoyed the show. I just wish it had ended better, and I hope to find another show that manages that.

* Minor spoiler, but I think Sherlock is the most recent offender in this category. Moffat and Gatiss clearly have no qualms about messing with the community as they continue to write.


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