Space Is Mostly Empty – So Too Was Battlestar Galactica


“Begin with the end in mind,” is a well-used adage when managing a project or writing a novel. The end of Battlestar Galactica, for all the hype, all the anticipation, was as vacant and un-inspired as so many other shows on television. It began so well; established a sense of mystery and completeness; and when the curtain drew back we saw it for what it was – another example of mediocrity. We accept that long-running T.V. shows are written in committee and the story unfolds with a limited degree of continuity. With a well documented termination point, I had hoped that BSG (Battlestar Galactica) was in a class of its own. Sadly, I was wrong.

The dark secret of BSG was that the writers didn’t know what the mysteries meant. “It has all happened before,” is so very true. Like the Star Wars epic – the writers, given enough rope, would hang themselves on it. “It will all happen again,” as producers will pitch shows to executives and try to establish an audience with an engaging story regardless of whether there is steak somewhere beneath the sizzle. Art and intellect put in the back seat while the marketing department steers the direction that programming takes. Even the best shows on television ultimately fail to deliver. Unlike a novel designed to tell the complete story of a journey, a television show is designed to catch an audience as fast as possible with the appearance of originality and the promise of something different. Without intellectual integrity they are doomed to dissatisfy.

“Weeds,” “Sopranos” and many more shows that built up interesting characters and scenarios either wander off-topic writing into a corner or lose their edge and relevance. All for the lack of an ending. An ending gives context and allows a writer to build interesting events into the beginning and middle of a story: threads revealed later that change the context of the beginning. This juxtaposition challenges assumptions and overturns prejudices that we have had on the journey.

Who was Kara Thrace? Why was she the harbinger of Death? Why were the skin-jobs made? How does the timeline flow together? What is Baltar’s vision of Caprica? Where does it come from? How does it happen again? When did it happen before?

I was expecting a twist where the Galactica jumps backwards through time to Earth before the founding of the pyramids. Semi-predictable sci-fi fare, but at least it connects some of the dots. It has all happened before because Earth is colonized before Cobol, and Cobol colonized before Earth, both will be ruined and both will be saved. Add a temporal connection between Baltar and Caprica and we are part-way to answering some of the questions above.

Instead, the final episode, devoid of any real secrets to reveal, went on a two-hour indulgence into the back-story of the characters. Back-story that could have been woven in had the writers known the end at the beginning.

What do you think? Let us know!

Strange then, given all of this, that many people recommend that in a roleplaying campaign you not have a too clearly defined ending. That apparently takes the freedom away from the players to shape events.

Whenever I start a new campaign, I have a clear vision of how it starts and how it all ends. Everything in the middle is up to the players (except for a few predetermined events intended to establish the flow of the storyline).

I have a bad habit of comparing absolutely everything to roleplaying since it's my preferred medium of storytelling. I'm a total pain in the ass to watch TV shows and movies with as I constantly make gaming referencces through the whole thing. ("oh snap! Sam just failed his tumble roll and now Dean is SCREWED!")

It's not as bad as all that. I guess I could kind of see how things weren't going to be wrapped up in a neat little package as I watched the fourth season, so my expectations were a bit lower for the final episode than yours. Every time I'd start to speculate on how great the conclusion might be, I found myself thinking back to the first season and how the Cylons used to have super-strength. I found myself asking why that was. How was Leoben able to bust out of those handcuffs during his first encounter with Kara anyway? If Cylons are so very nearly genetically identical to humans, what's the science behind that? Humans only get super-strength in situations involving copious amounts of PCP or (on rare occasions) loved ones in danger. Shouldn't Leoben at least had injured wrists afterward?

I can buy into the hand waving pseudo-science of Cylon resurrection if for no other reason than because it contributed so much to the plot. Not only is there a weaker pseudo-scientific case for Cylon super-strength, it also contributed almost nothing to the plot. So (I reasoned throughout the fourth season) if the writers are able to make a huge mistake like that why should I expect the final episodes to be a thoroughly satisfying explain-a-thon? They would never be able to explain everything because some of it was already gibberish.

The hints that anything difficult to explain would resolve with "God did it" were starting to get pretty heavy anyway. Anyone remember Head Six literally picking up Baltar? Remember how the show went out of its way to show us the Apollo POV shot of this? Invisible friends don't do that and Cylons don't do that, but the Flying Spaghetti Monster sure does.

So I'm not crushed by the BSG ending, but I am somewhat disappointed. With all the mysticism that kept coming up I think the writers would have been better off with an ambiguous "2001" style ending. When you consider real human history (which the ending purports to kick off) the BSG finale was way more brutal than if the colonists and Cylons had massacred the pre-language humans then built cities with their ground up bones while sipping fruity drinks made from their tears. The colonies were the closest thing to utopia that the show had and it was established that the colonials have a similar history to our own already. So why did nobody notice that abandoning their civilization would mean providing their decedents with the joy of being eaten by large predators, killed in their 20's by the common cold, enslaved, subjugated, etc.?

The show frames this "going back to the land" as redemptive and poetic, but it strikes me as massive suicidal nihilism with no reasonable explanation.

"The hints that anything difficult to explain would resolve with "God did it" were starting to get pretty heavy anyway."

I agree. There were signs that they didn't have it all together so far as consistency. But the huge religous undertones also serve to set up either an entirely scientific explanation or a combined one. Let's weigh this out against another show, same genre, with a much smaller following: Firefly. In Firefly there are a number of things that never really get adequetly explained. The reliance on the Old West metaphor is pervasive. While it creates inconsistencies it serves a higher artistic purpose. The wrap-up to the series (the movie Serenity) answered both the identity of the girl and the origins of the reavers. It adds context to everything we had seen to that point.

It would be easy to go back and pick out problems with continuity and logic, both large and small. I'm not inclined to because the entire experience left me satisfied. There was a message and there was a story. The story had a beginning, a middle, and an end. Beyond that there was also a sense that events would continue to unfold.

From an RPG perspective I wouldn't want to box my players into a specific ending. I have no problem setting up an interesting end-game though. I know that I am slowly bringing two good forces into conflict. Whatever side they choose, whatever they do, these two sides are coming to a terrible impass. Events are effected by the ending. Writers love to talk in terms of fate because it explains the creative process by which they write, builds tension, and evokes emotion. Fate, really, is the process by which we write the ending into the beginning.

For a show to talk about "destiny," and "God has a plan" so much and fail to deliver is terribly disappointing. Yes, maybe I set my expectations too high. The writers set out the expectations. Inconsistency is not sufficient warning that the writers have been lying. Perhaps it should have given me more pause for concern ... perhaps.

I dunno. Personally, while it wasn't my favorite moment in television, I liked the finale. Why? Well, I think it's probably a taste thing. For me, having all the questions answered is less important. Though I don't believe in God, I knew that His existence was a major part of BSG and so was willing to accept it and his place in the explanations. What I was and always will be most concerned about is the ending given to the characters. I wanted their storylines to end in a way that fit them and felt right. And I think they did. I loved Roslin's death. I loved where Baltar had now come. To me, that's what they were going for. They were bringing what's always been the most important part of BSG full circle - the characters.

Now, in fairness, there were definite problems. I, for one, expected a whole lot more people to die. For a show as characteristically dark as BSG, I expected a lot more people to die, and would've liked a few more. Can't say as to who, but I would've liked a bit more blood (I think the climax should always have someone die in dark stories). I didn't care much for all the speeches, and would've much preferred the "angels" to stay behind the scenes. I don't think Cavil would've gone for Baltar's speech at all (I wouldn't have). And I really didn't care for the final ending. That was way too intrusive. Kinda like, yeah we got it.

However, I still feel satisfied. The one thing I cared most about was resolved and I've certainly received a lot worse treatment from stories. As for them abandoning technology I'm still not sure how I felt about that. The idea of a system repeating itself over and over eventually falling off balance is interesting. You wonder if they abandoned it in previous time cycles? I don't think they did, given that the final 5 were working on resurrection technology when the previous planet was wiped out.

Anyway, in defense of tv in general. I'll give it to you that the majority of tv is banal. However, there are excellent stories, with good endings included, to be found in the medium. For instance, I highly recommend the Wire, a show that is deeper and better than many celebrated movies. The 60 hours that show lasts are highly recommended and well spent. Also, it ended last year with an excellent ending. Lost is pretty cool right now and I think it's obvious they're heading toward an endgame. I'm watching Oz right now but I'm only at the end of the first season and it's got 6, so I can't tell you if it'll last. I think you're right in saying that the majority of tv's problems come from not ending quick enough. Any show that lasts more than 6 seasons is going on for far too long. I might allow 7 in a pinch, but that's a rare exception. Every medium should have an endgame. Part of the brilliance of the Wire is the fact that each season is a separate story from the others. It pays big time to watch them 1-6 but you don't have to. There's always an endgame cause they know how each season will end at the beginning. I wouldn't recommend this to every show, but it's definitely a good way to deal with that problem.

So, yeah.

Hello all! I must say that I really enjoyed BSG. I was sad to see it end. The final season, I thought, ended well. I predicted (and I don't mean this in a fat-headed kind of way) that it would end with them finding Earth in the distant past. I think I'm safe in saying that Galactica 1980 (if you remember that spin-off show from the original series) was so bad it was blasphemy! The worst thing would have been the crew finding Earth c. 2009 and finding themselves featured on reality TV...

To Tzuriel's comment, I would agree to an extent. Then again, a lot of my favourite characters *did* die. Gaeta, for one; also Kat and Cally. I think the series was better for the fact that (for example) Bill Adama survived. As an old soldier, an 'easy way out' for the character would have been if he had died in the assault on the cylon colony.

One of the great things about the ending was that despite all their struggles, the characters end up being essentially 'back to square 1'. The expectations of the characters who were hoping to find Earth as a kind of military stronghold were quashed, but at the same time, they had found their new 'home'. It's that kind of story compromise that I enjoy in fiction (and I use it a lot in writing roleplaying game scenarios).

I do the same thing. I use game rationale to explain characters disappearing and reappearing in the story. Dues ex machina must be the GM fudging a die roll.

And sometimes I have a campaign goal discussed with my players and planned out before I start a game, and sometimes I let things progress as the players direct. It all depends on the type of story I and the players are telling.

Well, I have to agree. The finale was a let down. It would've been better as a regular episode.
The show had so much potential.

Wondering if Caprica will wind up the same way. Then again, it will be on the SyFy network (cringe)
so maybe i'll be less critical of it.