Sunday, 22 March 2009

BSG 0 DEM 1

17 comments
This is a critique of the last episode of Battlestar Galactica and contains spoilers. Do not read this if you are watching or plan to watch this series - although after this last episode, if you have not started on this series, I would say do not bother.

Spoilers after the image:
Battlestar Galactica Last Supper

OK. After four and half seasons of Battlestar Galactica we have reached the finale the revealing of who Kara Thrace - Starbuck - is and where they all end up. The season has been surprisingly good given the origin in the rather naff and incredibly dated original series. The re-imagining has been fabulous but I always had a concern with this series.

I aborted watching it half way through the first season because of the dubious religious component. It is one thing to suspend disbelief for a science fiction story and another to accept pure fantasy and there was always that threat. The fact that religion is a component of a show is not an issue. It is how it is used within that could be.

Now, I can enjoy good fantasy whether of a classical Greek myth or of the Tolkien or Pullman variety, but my issue here is that Battlestar Galactica could never make up its mind as to whether it was very good science fiction dealing with human concerns transplanted to highly unusual and original scenarios but still plausible and so solvable - or at least one could enjoy trying - in some coherent science fiction fashion. Indeed good fantasy works the same way, granted the fantastical backdrop including superpowers, mythical beings and whatever else, there is a semblance of understanding though which one could enjoy and even learn from the interplay of the characters, the challenges they face, the actions they take to resolve those challenges and the resulting consequences that occur. Still, even if the dividing line between science fiction and (science) fantasy is fuzzy, one does need to know for whatever story one is engaged in what the parameters- the limits of possibility in the fictional world -are. This was never clear in Battlestar Galactica and they took the easy option in the end.

It is here that I suspected in the first season that Battlesatar Galactica would let me down and I stopped watching it. However some friends got me to revise my opinion and I bit the bullet on my concerns over its use of religion in this series and have tried to convince others who have raised the same concern. Maybe it is us all being Brits that noticed this, and maybe our American friends - atheist or not - would disagree. Certainly the positive reviews of this last episode in the States reminds me of George Bernard Shaw's dictum - two countries separated by a common language. Contrary to the positive reposnse in the States, the final episode confirmed my worst fears, a dismal deus ex machina if ever I saw one.

Now there is still much to commend about this whole series, which makes the ending even more disappointing. There was much good acting and casting such as James Callis as the cat with nine lives psychopathic Baltar, Edward James Olmos (not the best actor but the perfect role for him), Mary Mcdonnell and the controversial (well only to nerds who liked the first version) female version of Starbuck or Kara Thrace - Katee Sackhoff. She might have overacted at times but her character became the underlying plot pivot especially in the last couple of seasons. Some of the scenarios explored such as terrorism and political intrigue were surprisingly relevant, whether by design or coincidence, they worked amongst the few filler episodes in the middle seasons. Then the key re-imagining of human like cylons was an absolutely crucial update to make the new series work.

However I feel this was all let down with the deus ex machina - in many senses - ending. Who were the imagined Gaius (by Caprica 6) and Caprica (by Gaius Baltar)? Angels. How did they get to (our) Earth 150,000 years ago? It was predestined before Kara Thrace was born. The cylon-human child magically knew too. An explanation of how they were genetically matched with human on our Earth - extraordinary yes but I could have come up with a decent science fiction explanation of that but they did not bother. The shared dream alone being acted out alone would have been acceptable, not too much license taken for that. But taking the biscuit, who was Kara Thrace knowing that she had died on the original Earth? Someone resurrected from the dead by "it" - who does not like to be called "god". Really, really lame cop out. I am underwhelmed and disgusted. In this country, we have an expression "lost the plot" and the authors really have here. This last episode should go in the dictionary as the definition of this phrase.

17 comments:

Ello said...

Weak. So you didn't like the ambiguity about whether there was a higher power, and then you didn't like the relatively unambiguous ending because it wasn't the answer you believe in real life?

faithlessgod said...

Hello "Ello"

That was not my point at all. I enjoy good fantasy as I noted in my post, regardless of me not believing that any of it can really occur,

My issue here was of being let down by the writers basically failing to deliver on the implicit pact between writer and viewer not to break the rules of type of dis-belief involved. As I said I was concerned at the beginning that the parameters here were dangerously unclear and am disappointed to find out 4 years later that I was right.

Even so the deus ex machinas used especially but, not only, over Kara Thrace, were incredibly bad story telling, period. (I would hope) one would not qualify in a creative writing degree doing this and the writers should be ashamed of themselves.

Ello said...

--- Hello "Ello" ---

:D

--- My issue here was of being let down by the writers basically failing to deliver on the implicit pact between writer and viewer not to break the rules of type of dis-belief involved. As I said I was concerned at the beginning that the parameters here were dangerously unclear and am disappointed to find out 4 years later that I was right.---

Interesting. How were you able to know that they were breaking the pact, if you were unclear on what the parameters were? If I don't know where a line is, I cannot know if I crossed it, I'm not sure how you are able to.

In this case unclear = ambiguous. So if you were concerned about that, then you "didn't like the ambiguity about whether there was a higher power", or at least were concerned by that ambiguity.


About deus ex machinas
The involvement of a "higher power" in the ending was not in any way a deus ex machina, as it had been telegraphed since the beginning of the series. It was always ambiguous as to whether there was another explanation, but it was always a possibility. One that Angel-Six mentioned explicitly, very early on.
It is in fact much closer to a "Chekhov's Gun"*, as it was present in the first act, and used in the third.
The fact that Gaius and Six are Angels is also not a deus ex machina, it's an explanation that was obviously possible from early on, and that you did not like as a choice. That's cool, I liked it, there were other choices they made that I didn't like - but it's still not a deus ex machina.

Kara on the other hand... well, that's much closer. If she's an angel, then less so, Baltar said a little while ago that that was the case. I believe the creator said that she wasn't an angel though, but a person resurrected by the 'it' that doesn't like to be called God, which, though it happened ages ago, is something that has never been referenced or mentioned before.

The co-ordinates of Earth were also flagged up forever ago (well at least two episodes). They didn't save the Galactica, they merely sent them to Earth instead of a random location, so in that respect they seem less a deus ex machina as it doesn't save them. i.e. they would have survived anyway.

Just so I'm clear here, I'm not saying that you should have liked the episode. I did, mostly, but that doesn't mean everyone has to like what I liked.
My first comment was just a throwaway comment summarising part of your post, the first part of this post is a follow up to that, and a question, since you say that's not what you're saying.
The second part of this comment is just me noticing that you also called several elements in the ending Deus Ex Machina, and saying why, whether you liked those elements or not, I don't think they are.

* see http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ptitlexn9xzsjd5fif?from=Main.ChekhovsGun

Ello said...

p.s. I couldn't edit my comment after previewing it, which seemed to defeat the point, I don't know if that's standard or just me.
I say 'higher power' very deliberately, because I'm not convinced that it was in any way divine, but very possibly an advanced individual or race.

Sorry to be pedantic, but I was about to agree with you about "An explanation of how they were genetically matched with human on our Earth - extraordinary yes but I could have come up with a decent science fiction explanation of that but they did not bother" being a D-E-M, but actually again, it isn't. It's unlikely, in fact, implausible, unless it is meant to suggest that this 'higher power' is running plenty of human growing experiments. But it's not a deus ex machina, they could have easily built a city and ignored the natives. It's a stretch, but stretches are not Deus Ex Machinas.

faithlessgod said...

Hi again "Ello".

My main gripe is that even if there were a higher power (which I have no issue in such a context as here) rather than an advanced AI - maybe "The Plan" might reveal more - the deus ex machina was most definitely in the standard sense of the term (forget any puns here over "god") the device used to explain away Kara Thrace and since this was the one main thread that kept me watching and guessing in season 4.5 I was extremely annoyed at this cop out. It was very bad story telling.

faithlessgod said...

Replying to your comment regarding a genetic match: my sci-fi answer is that humans were plucked a few thousands years earlier by an alien race and planted on Kobol from where everything else followed.

I was not insinuating this was a DEM but it was weak given many attempts at a more basic scientific plausibility in this series than say Star Trek with aliens interbreeding quite often with humans (yes one episode finally explained that but that was poor and I am no ST fan anyway, BSG was far superior whatever its flaws).

About to start watching DollHouse.

Ello said...

"device used to explain away Kara Thrace and since this was the one main thread that kept me watching and guessing in season 4.5 I was extremely annoyed at this cop out"

Yeah, that must have really sucked. I wasn't that intrigued by her apparent death and resurrection so I wasn't too disappointed when they chose that nonsplanation of what happened. (Yes, that's non-explanation)

As for whether it was really bad storytelling... I just don't know. On the one hand, I didn't really like it, and as you say, it seems pretty DEM and people like you who really cared about the answer to the Starbuck question are clearly even less impressed than I am... on the other hand if you look at the whole story in the light of the 'God' based revelations of the episode, it seems much less of a DEM -
When Baltar is about to be discovered early on in S1, the Angel says "God will provide" or somesuch, and indeed the person intending to out Baltar is blown up by the Cylons. That same Angel spends most of the series talking about how God will provide for them, or Baltar at least. When Starbuck returned her ship was new, only an advanced race or Deity could have done that. When she found her body, the same two things applied. When the reveal came, it was indeed a Deity or race so advanced that it seems one.
If we'd seen the 'God' figure plotting its moves periodically in the show there is no way this would be a DEM. But what we have here is a series that didn't show God, merely suggested that it was there in the background plotting its moves. Repeatedly. The Angels were shown to most probably have knowledge that Baltar did not, and be able to physically lift him where necessary, though it was ambiguous.
So does that ambiguity change this from definitely not a DEM to definitely one? I'm not convinced.

Yes that is absolutely an invitation to try and convince me, if you feel inclined. I'm unsure about her ending, but writing that has persuaded me that maybe it isn't a DEM, so I'm interested to hear your opinion.

Also the traditional use of a DEM was to give a play a downer ending, then retract the ending to retain the favour of your patron. This DEM merely explained one element that had been revealed long ago. But that's more of a historical thing.

Regarding the genetic match - that works. Though it would be more of a DEM than that same suggestion done by God or Gods rather than aliens, as the way I see it, as there have been repeated references to God or Gods, and unless they were revealed to be aliens, introducing another set of Aliens in the last episode would have been a stretch.

An alternate possible scientific explanation is that convergent evolution not only produces the same types of eyes in humans and octopus' but also the same reproductive structures in the Colonials and early humans. But this would have to be a statement that convergent evolution is more regular than we believe, or that this was a very lucky coincidence.

How was Dollhouse? I'm up to date on it, but I've yet to be really grabbed by the show. The latest episode was a little glibly dark for my current tastes, with too many of those moments where: "look something really bad is happening... but wait it really isn't, there's something that actually defeats and punishes the bad person going on, that was just misdirection". Which I once used to love, and may again, but right now not so much.
Seeing the Middleman in one episode was awesome. (Google it and watch it if you haven't heard of him, it's great, very fun and funny)
I'm just waiting for the main storyline to kick in. Hurry up Dollhouse!

Ello said...

Typo: third last paragraph there's an extra 'as' after 'the way I see it'. It is not needed.

faithlessgod said...

Thanks for this feedback. One annoying (in a different way) thing is my mates who convinced me to watch BSG have not seen the end, so no-one here to discuss it with!

Anyway not much more to say. the Kara Thrace solution which must have been planned for quite a while sucked, period. Even with the god hints and so on, they cannot justify this solution, it was a dues ex machina - without needing to take the deus literally.

I only addressed the most egregious issues but there were far more. Upon further consideration it was an incredibly bad ending this series in many ways.

As for Doll House, I am undecided but my expectation of JW is and will remain far different to here, I liked Firefly. I wonder is her wearing glasses was paying homage to Joe 90?

And Fringe really is turning into a lame X-Files. Just have to wait for new Dexter, 4 Doctor Who specials and Torchwood, I suppose.

Will check out your site when I have time.

faithlessgod said...

Oh not your site I see but Chekhov's Gun still does not justify, amongst others, the Kara Thrace resolution.

Ello said...

I don't know. AngelSix in 'act 1' said "God has a plan, have faith, He will save you" and in 'act 3' God had a plan and saved them.... seems Chekovian to me. But I suspect we will have to agree to disagree about that and whether it's a DEM - especially since I think that even though my point looks well founded to me, had I cared a lot about that plot resolution, and bought into the misdirection of 'what am I, am I a cylon?' I would agree with you, think it was a DEM and be pretty pissed off.

"I only addressed the most egregious issues but there were far more. Upon further consideration it was an incredibly bad ending this series in many ways"

:D I enjoyed watching it, but wasn't entirely satisfied. Upon further consideration, and a brief re-watching I find it growing on me.
It wasn't mind-blowingly brilliant like so many of its best episodes, but I've yet to find a TV series that delivers that. Trigun came close.


I've not seen Joe 90 so I don't know about that.

"And Fringe really is turning into a lame X-Files" Yes. "Just have to wait for new Dexter" Yes "4 Doctor Who specials and Torchwood" and Yes.

There's also 3 new Red Dwarf episodes coming out this Easter, if you're a fan. I have high hopes, but high fears too. The last two seasons were patchy and often weak.

Careful with the TV Tropes site - it's great, and I've wasted plenty of time browsing there, but once you find an area you're interested in and start clicking it's easy to end up with literally 50+ tabs open, and still find yourself opening 4 or 5 more tabs for each one you finish reading and close.

Ello said...

WTF is wrong with me? Dexter has repeatedly delivered the high class ending to each series that matches or surpasses the best episodes of that season. So I've seen at least one series that provides good endings.
I can only hope that they continue like that, and hopefully stay away from the supernatural twist of the novels.

Matt M said...

I've only seen the first two and a half seasons of BSG, although, thanks to the Internet, I know roughly what happens after.

The mythological aspects of the show were probably the biggest factor in my giving up with it. Like you, I'm not opposed to fantasy or myth in shows (I loved Buffy and Angel, for example), but it was the way the show used it that really put me off. It came across as incredibly vague and banal -- a useful plot device, but never something that felt developed or interesting. When Cylons started droning on about God's plan or Roslin started getting visions I found myself just tuning out after the first few times. There didn't seem to be any structured mythos behind it, just a number of devices used to get the characters where the plot needed them to be.

As with Lost, I started doubting whether the writers actually knew what they were doing or were just making it up as they went along. This meant that I couldn't really invest in it as much as needed to in order to stick with it. Which is a shame -- as the survivalist elements really appeal to me.

faithlessgod said...

Hi Matt M

You were right as I was when I aborted wathcing this the first time. Still I would recommend continuing I reckon, from you indicate, that you will thoroughly enjoy it till the end of season 4.

Knowing you will be let down in season 4.5 probably makes it more enjoyable and less annoying. The threat of these "devices" as you put it overwhelming and discrediting the show were all put off and then released in the final episode :-( You will not be thinking that these final mysteries will have a decent solution.

faithlessgod said...

Ello

Yes Dexter shows the way to end seasons. Never disappointing. Did not know of the supernatural element in the books, glad it did not appear in the series - anyway there was no Chekhov's Gun for that.

"Joe 90" was a Gerry Anderson predecessor to Thunderbirds. He wore special glasses to temporarily acquire new skills.

New Red Dwarf? Brilliant! IMHO quality will depend on if both Grant and Naylor are writing this. That I think was the significant change in the last seasons?

Trigun? Manga> Have not seen it.

Anyway wrt BSG. All the points you note as Chekhov's Gun were IMHO insufficient to telegraph the actual ending. Remember it was the ambiguity of the parameters of dis-belief that concerned me. Still they went far too far that could be justified by such devices in the last episode and the moral message is highly dubious too - although maybe it was even meant to be satire - but then I grant too much to the writers - god "it" is quite happy to destroy billions and billions of people in favour of a select few and a divine plan and left us thinking "it" might do this again?

rakerman said...

I also felt the writers were breaking an implicit pact with the fans by introducing a deus ex machina ending. Here are my thoughts: BSG finale: answer to a question we didn't ask.

faithlessgod said...

Hi Rakerman

You have a great post on this although I was more interested in your fuller development of what I hinted at, namely the satirical implications of the religious ending of BSG as determined by the writers. We both read this the same way - as satire - but I doubt that this was the intention of the authors.