Battlestar Galactica ends. The very next morning, everything looks to me like something from the show.
In the last episode, Earth is found, or rather, a planet they rename Earth, as if the old, destroyed one didn’t exist. They rebrand. The survivors act almost immediately as if this is the planet they wanted to find all along, free of the history and damage of the old one. This alone as a plot point strikes me as one of the most cogent comments on how we live now that I’ve seen in film or television recently.
There were many times in the course of the show’s life when it felt like the show was the only thing on television that could tell you what our own lives were actually like, but to do so it needed a kabuki dance of robots and spaceships and people saying “Gods!” or “Frak!”. The Bush years really did feel like being trapped on a space ship, unable to leave, racing against ever-diminishing odds of survival. For it to end this way, it felt like they may as well all have died as they smiled at the sky on Fake Earth. It felt like getting the fortune you don’t want from the fortune teller, not because you fear it, but because it is simplistic, and you know the fortune teller is lying.
To celebrate the Battlestar Galactica finale, my friends make a Battlestar cake, which we eat as the ship falls apart in the last episode. On Facebook and Twitter, paeans of grief float by in the comment feeds. Many of my friends still wonder, why did I feel anything, even when the show disappoints so much at the end. But we were experiencing a collective emotional projection. In the only place we’d found to do it.
Much like the show’s characters. The show’s parallels being acute even in the face of its oddly underwhelming last episode.
Near the end, I expected to be over-identifying with the half-cylon, half-human hybrid child, Hera. She is implicitly half-Korean (Grace Park plays her Cylon mother, and Tamoh Penikett is her father, a white man). But it was always the plight of the Cylons, who resemble humans almost exactly, that stuck in my head more. Their experience was more familiar, like the experience of being of mixed heritage, in America and in Asia both. Either hidden, because people assume you are like them, because of your appearance. Or, if you are ‘found out’, cautiously tolerated and viewed constantly as an imposter. And never as quite human enough to be “just” human.
Being gay has also been like this.
Someday everyone will be like you, I remember someone saying to me as a child. About my mixed ethnicity. I think that’s why I liked science fiction so much. The idea that in the future, that feeling would go away. I keep checking to see if it’s here, and I think it almost is. When William Gibson wrote a realist fiction novel, that increasingly seems to me the sign that Cyberpunk would be the new social realism. Which I think it now is.
Have you ever heard Junot Diaz talk about science fiction and his experience moving here from the Dominican Republic? He said it’s like time travel, but he said it in a more complicated and interesting way. Anyway, you’re saying similar things. And both help me understand why the two kinds of books I ever want to read are SF and old-school social realism. Great post!
Andrea: I have I think. I’ve heard him speak at a reading at Hampshire. Maybe I’ll ask him about it. He should turn it into an essay. And, thanks! I appreciate that compliment.
Well, you know I understand exactly what you mean!
Alex, thanks for this analysis, which gets at a huge chunk of what depressed me so much about the finale. The show had always been so good at showing us how ugly we were, and what it means to live with the consequences of our own ugliness, and now all of a sudden… everything’s okay? a real betrayal of the darkness and honesty that made this show so meaningful and brilliant to me.
I don’t understand why so many people didn’t like the ending. Why is it that so many people are enamored of certain kinds of endings? A lot of people like only like happy endings, some people want “realistic” endings. I thought at first that this one was a happy-ish ending, but now that I look back more, I’m thinking it was the perfect ambiguous finish. Its seems to have turned out well for the cylons and humans and hybrids that landed here, but the “story isn’t finished yet” part is what I like about. They intimated that “our” story still has a way to go before its done. So stop ragging on the finale.
My friends and I have talked back and forth about the finale, one of them feeling much of the same sense of an awkward break of the shows’ realism and character complexity. Which I get. On the other hand, I was somewhat happy to see the characters happy- naively simplistic on my part I admit, but after everything they had been through, I liked seeing a sense of peace. Structurally, I always thought after Hera was introduced that they (the creators of the show) would go for a ‘we all-human and Cylon-need to get along to move forward in the world. The end was a deviation of BSG’s moral ambiguity and complexity but I found it intriguing that a hard science fiction show would dive into a very humanistic ideal of faith as a source of forgiveness and renewal, when it’s primarily used as such a blunt weapon in our own reality today. Maybe it was an example of themes dominating over characters too much. And I wonder, what would the finale have been like if it did follow the full previous moral ambiguity/darkness to the end? Abandon Galactica with anyone still alive going off into the unknown in the Raptors with only the blind determination to exist? Would we have liked that scenario or one like it, in its execution more?
Lindsay: Dramatically, the ending was disappointing and even insulting to faithful viewers—after all this time, for Starbuck, a woman who fought, bled and killed—a hero—to end with her vanishing into thin air, that’s beyond foul. She was the only woman character in scifi in recent memory with no superhero powers and no bionics, just plain gut, smarts and fury, to be a hero, and she deserved a better ending. Captain Tigh, who was set to betray his people for his friend Admiral Adama, for him to not even say goodbye to Adama is incredible, and yet that’s what the ending suggests. Their friendship was central to so many story lines–why let it drop at the end? I’m not interested in either a happy or ambiguous ending for the sake of itself and I don’t say that, either. What I am talking about is that I want an ending that delivers on what has come before and that makes a narrative sense. And what I’m arguing here is that this ending ended up mirroring our times, even as it also failed dramatically as a story.
Also, at the level of a fanboy, I don’t believe that a people who fought so hard against the very idea of letting the Cylons board the ship much less repair it would then just give up all technology and wander the planet beatifically committed to starting over without it. Especially given that Adama then …flies off? With a ship? I’m not asking for tragedy over happiness or any of this other silliness. There’s a more complicated and interesting story that went missing. I would have believed it if Adama had set fire to his ship to be sure that all technology was gone. And had then wandered off with the President to see those birds. I would have believed it if Tigh and Adama had said goodbye, or if Starbuck had managed to find out what she was and to tell Lee even a little of it. Those things I would have or could have believed. But I don’t believe this. This ending might have been ‘nicely ambiguous’ but it was false and thus had the qualities of a lie. And I hate it above all else when people lie to me and stories especially. So I’ll keep ragging on it, thanks.
Chris: See the above for the ending I would have preferred. Also, yes, it would have been nice to see them happy, at the ending of a story that made sense.
Also Chris: It was nice to see them happy, but it would have been nicer to see them with a happiness they’d earned.
I do agree with your assessment of Starbuck’s end-her final role as a quasi-Jesus parallel ran too strongly towards a Christian metaphor (in what I thought was/should have been an exploration of spirituality as an ideal, not a concrete parallel to one or another specific religion), and Ron Moore’s explanation of “she’s whatever you want her to be/believe in” was lame. On a final note, I’ve enjoyed everyone’s discussion on the last episode here, and I’m going to watch the series again on DVD, and glory in what for the most part was a frakkin’ great show. Like Buffy, it had its wonderful highs and stumbly lows. And we all differ on what those exactly were.
That is actually really interesting to do—because of what is revealed in season late season 3/early season 4, watching the whole show over again is like watching a new show. There’s much more drama in Chief’s discovery of the Eye of Jupiter, for example. Or when he and Boomer are first together.
I haven’t seen a single episode of BG, but I know its fans are hardcore devotees.
Your comment about the disappointing fate of Starbuck reminds me of a rant I saw on public access cable about 20 years ago.
The topic was the film “Field of Dreams.” A black man was outraged by the racism in the film. His argument went something like this:
The only black character is James Earl Jones, the least threatening black man ever. How convenient that the only black character just disappears. This is white people’s solution to the problem of black people. Just stick them in some corn field where they disappear. They aren’t dead. They are happily going away. They are just getting sucked into a corn field. They will be happy in some corn field and we will never see them again. Good riddance.
At first, I dismissed this as crazy. I didn’t recall any racism in the film. Then I couldn’t stop thinking about his arguments. Finally, I watched Field of Dreams again (I got it for free with a McDonalds meal). After hearing this man’s views, a film that had appeared dumb but innocuous seemed positively sinister.
So, the only mortal female sci fi hero in recent memory just vanishes at the end of the show. Maybe this reflects some de-evolutionary ideas on the part of the writers. If so, it’s just sad.
I don’t think it was malicious, though. I think they thought it was a really great idea. I just don’t think they realized, we wanted to see our hero live or die. And not just fade away.
But yes. Sad.