ReelThoughts: March 23, 2009

"Galactica's Last Voyage"

Commentary by James Berardinelli


SPOILERS!!! For the final episode of Battlestar Galactica

For about five years, on-and-off as a result of the Sci Fi Channel's irregular first run schedule (the cable network converted four seasons into the equivalent of six by breaking two of them - seasons #2 and #4 - into two pieces), Battlestar Galactica was my regular Friday or Sunday evening companion. The show represented something akin to "appointment T.V." in the DVR era. If I wasn't home when a new episode aired - and I usually made every effort to be close to a T.V. - I watched it as soon as I walked through the door. I bought the DVD season sets the day they became available. I look forward to re-watching the whole series at some point in the future - once the final ten episodes are available on DVD (and once I have watched The Wire).

In a way, it surprises me that I came to like the show as much as I did. In 1978, I loved the original BSG, but that was the love of an 11-year-old Star Wars obsessed boy. The program did not age well, and the final insult was the existence of Galactica 1980. When I watched Ron Moore's re-imagined mini-series during its debut run, I was not impressed. Some of the dislike was probably a matter of unmet expectations - it was shocking to see characters with familiar names look and act so differently. Over the years, much has been made about the change of Starbuck's sex but the biggest shift was in the nature of Baltar, with John Colicos's sneaky, power-obsessed Cylon-loving politician giving way to James Callis' conflicted scientist. However, as underwhelmed as I was on that initial viewing, I gave the mini-series a second chance immediately before the first season run started and found myself appreciating things I had missed. With my expectations re-aligned, I was able to absorb what Moore was doing rather than lament the absence of the characters I had gotten to know as a kid.

There's a tendency to mourn the end of a beloved television series, but at least BSG was allowed to exit on its own terms. The showrunners were given the opportunity not only to end the program properly, but to craft an ending arc that spanned an entire season. Too often, producers are provided with little or no notice that their series is ending and the finale shows the rushed result. For better or for worse, the ending to BSG is something Ron Moore was able to develop, fine tune, and bring to fruition. And another season might not have been a good thing. Dramatic shows tend to deteriorate after their third or fourth year (BSG showed signs of a downward trend during its third and fourth seasons, neither of which matched the intensity of their predecessors). Better to go out on top or near to it than to limp to the finish line.

So what did I think of the final episode? First, a comment about scheduling. "Daybreak" was designed to be watched in a single sitting, so breaking it into two pieces, while understandable from a commercial point-of-view, did not provide optimum viewing circumstances. It works better without the break at the one hour mark. (For that matter, it works best without the momentum-killing commercial interruptus.) Split into two pieces, "Daybreak" has an odd vibe and the pacing is problematic (in large part because of the flashbacks). Viewed as a single whole, the tone is more consistent.

I didn't love "Daybreak," but I didn't hate it, either. I thought it accomplished what it needed to do: bring the journey to its conclusion, show us what happens to the characters, and offer a note of finality. It was oddly hopeful, which has not always been true of BSG, and gave every character his or her own epilogue. Someone remarked that the number of endings recalled the protracted closing of The Return of the King, and I can't argue the point. But after spending five years (or thereabouts) with these characters, a little self-indulgence was warranted.

I think there were too many questions to be answered and not all of the resolutions made sense. Trying to resolve everything created some problematic and dramatically awkward situations. The Opera House scenario provided a sense of mystery when it was introduced, but the payoff, as unveiled in "Daybreak," was lame. Yet I'm okay with that. I didn't tune into "Daybreak" to divine the truth about the Opera House or what Starbuck really was. What interested me was learning what happened to these characters at the end of their journey and, on that level, the episode delivered. Is this a perfect conclusion? No. Is it good enough to satisfy me and keep me from thinking of missed opportunities? Yes.

To date, I still believe the best final episode of any series was for Blakes 7, but that was another show in another era. Something similarly nihilistic if attempted for BSG would likely have brought down such a torrent of ill-will against Ron Moore that he would have had to enter the Witness Protection Program. This is actually the third series finale Moore has been involved with. The first, which he produced and co-wrote (with Brannon Braga), was Star Trek: The Next Generation ("All Good Things"). The second, which he co-executive produced, was Deep Space Nine ("What You Leave Behind"). Of the three, "Daybreak" is probably the weakest overall, but BSG was arguably the most difficult of the three series to wrap up because it was so dark (darker even than Deep Space Nine) and character-based.

No final episode would have satisfied everyone. Personally, I would have gone for something grander and more heroic: perhaps Adama and a few select others taking Galactica, ramming the Cylon colony, and detonating the nukes. But I'm okay with him sitting alone outside a cabin, spending the rest of his days communing with the unseen spirit of the woman he loves. We all have our preferences for how BSG should have ended. All that matters, however, is how it did end, and there was enough in those three hours to make me feel that the five year journey was not in vain. So say we all.


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