So that happened.
Last Friday, I cautioned that the finale of “Battlestar Galactica” might be a disappointment. Now that it’s played out, was it a disappointment? As I’m writing this, I’ve read very little online reaction, because I want to come to my own conclusions relatively unaffected by the masses (in fact, I haven’t even read the 40+ post-finale comments y’all left on Friday’s column). Nevertheless, I suspect that some very much found it a disappointment, while others absolutely loved it. And I think there’s room for everyone to be right because this was ultimately a polarizing finale, and the takeaway is going to depend a lot on the viewer’s perspective and expectations.
That being said, while the finale was a mixed bag for me, the scales definitely tip towards Content rather than Disappointed. There was some disappointment, yes, but god damned the episode was absolutely breathtaking. On the whole, it was a relatively worthy conclusion to a groundbreaking series, albeit with a manipulative coda.
While watching the episode, I was totally enthralled. As I previously speculated, the first hour from last week worked much better as part of the collective three-hour finale, as it was intended to air. For some, it laid out character context for the final hours. For example, by giving us a more fleshed-out version of Baltar’s backstory and his attempts to escape the shadow of his father, Baltar’s final line of the series (“you know, I know about farming”) was given more poignancy than it otherwise might have carried. Similarly, we were able to understand that Anders’ final moments actually served as an achievement of the mathematical perfection he so desperately sought, we were able to see Roslin regain a content sense of family and hope that had been ripped away from her before the Fall, and Tigh and Ellen finally get to just be. That first hour also showed us pivotal moments that put some of these characters, like chess pieces, in the places they needed to be in order for humanity to eventually and ultimately (?) find its salvation. For instance, Adama not retiring and choosing to stay in the military, Roslin deciding to abandon frivolous frolicking with former students to join a political campaign that would result in her eventually becoming President, and Starbuck trying to figure out fate’s plan for her and ultimately ensuring that, for at least for a few Earth, Jr. generations, she wouldn’t be forgotten (more on her, most assuredly, below).
In fact, looking at the series as a character study, this finale worked incredibly well. We were given strong beats a long time coming, such as the minor redemption and subsequent execution (again) of Boomer. Helo and Athena, along with their mitochondrial Eve, finally get to be the perfect little family unit. And Tyrol, after repeated betrayals and an inability to truly come to grips with the revelation of his true nature, decides to abandon everyone for the highlands of Scotland. If you’ve always enjoyed the show as a character piece, I think the finale worked very well with few letdowns. Where the finale likely disappointed many, however, is on the plot side of things.
While the show has always had a large focus on characters, and even though Ron Moore never even wanted the “and they have a plan” tag in the early season intros (he was forced into by the network and the purpose of the upcoming movie, “The Plan,” is to address these five little words), the mythology and mysteries of the show are what kept many of the fans as enraptured as they were over four seasons. Further, these plot mechanizations are also why, on the whole, each season was generally at its strongest in the beginning and end, when the plot pieces were being put into motion or concluded. And particularly given how strong each season’s conclusions have generally been, it felt like they punted a bit, here, on the plot side of things.
Don’t get me wrong — I recognize that the show has always had a large religious element to it, and even though I’m an unrepentant and blasphemous sonuvabitch, I love that “Battlestar” tried to incorporate an unpatronizing sense of religion in with everything else that was going on. So I’m not entirely disappointed with how much God (or whatever name it is that It likes) came into play. But while the visual of the Opera House being realized was cool and well played out, it didn’t really mean much. I mean, yes, it meant everything, insofar as this moment was the climactic moment for both the human and cylon civilizations (and for the record — I did read an interview with Ron Moore where he explains that the Colony was actually nuked into the singularity, something which was apparently lost in the final edit). But if we hadn’t had all the Opera House visions over the years, I’m not sure these beats would’ve played out much differently to me, on a substantive level. Religious visions are generally portrayed as providing guidance, but the characters weren’t really acting on what they had seen in the visions (aside from Baltar and Caprica going into the Opera House/CIC, which they would’ve done anyway, as they didn’t really have anywhere else to turn). While it made sense, if you’re willing to buy into the religious angle, it just felt a little thin.
And then there were the angels.
I imagine some folks hated this through and through. Personally, I wanted a “cool” explanation behind the so-called Head Six and Head Baltar. And yet, I was a bit surprised to find that I was totally ok with the revelation that they’re nothing more than angel/demons/agents of the Almighty. (Aside: am I the only one who desperately wants a Head Six/Baltar spin-off show, featuring them as a type of modern-day Aziraphale and Crowley (Good Omens)?). The world created by this show is one where there are visions and prophecies, so why not angels appearing to folks and muddling things up, sometimes for the better, sometimes not?
That being said, I’m was not at all on board with Kara Thrace, angel blazing with the light of god. This, like nothing else, feels like a complete “making it up as we go along” bit of business. Shit, during the moment when she realized her purpose, the editors even had to cheat to relay what was going on to us. There was a cut to Leoban telling her she was an angel — however, unless I’m mistaken, that’s a rather old clip, and while we know that Leoban originally believed that Starbuck had some sort of mystical destiny, we also know that he seemed to abandon all that after becoming scared utterly shitless when he found the burnt viper (now with freshly rotting corpse!). So I’m not so sure he really believed, then or now, that Starbuck was actually an angel, yet the editors latched onto this clip of dialog from back-when, and threw it as us like “that’s all you need to know.” And if she’s an angel, she’s clearly a different thing than the Head Six and Baltar, who only appeared as non-corporeal visions to a single person (until the amusing moment when Caprica and Baltar jointly saw them), whereas the angel Kara was “real,” capable of living and breathing and drinking and frakking. Yet no no resolution to this, or to Kara’s nature, was provided, and ultimately she just ups and poofs.
At the time I first watched this, I was pissed. I leaned forward and muttered something like “fucking cop-out.” But, given some time to ruminate, I’ve come to grips with it — it is what it is. The biggest takeaway from the show and this finale in particular is that there’s a divine hand in the mix — yes, there is free will, but there’s also something greater which folks can choose to be a part of. And here, they did choose to be a part of it, and they were led to their ultimate salvation. And the resurrected Kara was just part of that divine hand, having led humanity to its end, just as the hybrid predicted. The only difference between this as a deus ex machina and the literal divine hand in the form of Racetrack’s corpse sending send some nukes to say “hello” to the colony is that this had been so built up and play-out over the course of a season. Because of that, I think that the “answers” were were given about Kara were not, ultimately, satisfying, but I find myself willing and able to just let it go.
Besides, whereas some of the plot tie-ups may have left something to be desired, you can’t say the same for the finale’s outstanding action and special effects sequences. The massive assault on the Colony was nothing short of spectacular. Visually, it was the strongest special effecty work the show has ever done (though, for my money, it still doesn’t top the awesomeness of Galactica dropping into New Caprica’s atmosphere simply because that moment was so, well, simple). The action of the ground troop assaults, including all the old-school and modern-day toasters, was just fun. And all of this was countered by the subsequent scenes on Earth, Jr., truly cinematic and gorgeous shots that remind you just how pent up folks have been (but for the few mostly unseen years on New Caprica) since the Fall.
As for the settlement on Earth, Jr., following the almost-truce, here too I suspect some folks were disappointed. As voiced by Lampkin, it is hard to believe that everyone would so willingly split up all over the world, leaving all technology and remaining creature comforts behind. But the writers flippantly punted that concern with Adama’s response that folks shouldn’t “underestimate the desire for a clean slate.” Ok, fine, I can play along with that, I guess, but I won’t forgive you for bitching about it.
And then, after some gorgeous shots, some great goodbyes to beloved characters (Adama giving Roslin his wedding ring might have made a man softer than I a little misty-eyed) and a perfect way to close the show (the pullback shot of Adama on the hillside), we get a heavy-handed Haggis-esque coda.
I’m ok with the notion of the angels Baltar and Six roaming around in Times Square, and I get that it was sorta necessary to give us the exposition that Hera is us, and that we’re essentially all hybrids. Fine. And I’m even ok with the discussion about how the cycle might not repeat this time. However, given how much the show had just emphasized that getting away from technology was actually the apparent salvation to break the cycle, the various robot shots at the end felt like a shot across the bow, a warning that all of this is about to happen again. It felt manipulative and left a bitter taste in my mouth, which isn’t how I want to walk away from this amazing series.
But, as with my issues as to how Kara’s truth was handled, I”ve come to peace with it. At the end of the day, this was a fantastic series, and while this may not have been the best series finale ever, it was strong enough to do the show justice. There are plenty of other things I could nit pick about, but I simply choose not to. I’m already looking forward to a time, 5 or 10 years down the line, when I bust out the DVDs and watch the show from start to finish. And when I get to these final hours, I think that I’ll still feel contented, and miss the show all over again. Which is exactly how a good series finale should make you feel. So say we all.