Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Battlestars That Pass in the Night

I hesitate to write about the series finale of the latest incarnation of Battlestar Galactica. There's an old bit of advice, you see, about what to do when you don't have anything nice to say. After the second season, the show collapsed under a lack of forward planning. Each season's ending pushed the show further and further into dark corners I had no interest in exploring. The most interesting characters were railroaded out of the main plot. Later stories failed to maintain continuity and undermined the actions taken in earlier seasons. The finale played out along the same directions the rest of the show had been going: a story that for me was neither interesting nor held together. Executive producer Ron Moore said in interviews that the series finale finally came together when he realized it was a character story. In his words, "It's not about the plot." And that right there pretty much sums up the highs and lows of the series. For me, the new Battlestar is a squandered opportunity. But the truth is, for two years, there was nothing else on TV I looked forward to more.

My bias here is hard to top. I'm a complete nut for spaceships. I'm a total post-apocalypse junkie. That said, Battlestar took the idea behind a campy late 70's attempt to cash in on the popularity of Star Wars and treated the idea seriously. I love the concept, and as a kid I loved the old show. (It really doesn't hold up well to adult eyes.) In the first two years, before the show blurred the line between the humans and cylons, it was an outstanding example of some of the best traits of science fiction. It deserves all the accolates it got for treating real world subjects with frank respect. The spaceships and space battles were beautiful, yes, but the stories about people faced with holding their lives together under impossible conditions were well done. Religion and politics were treated with an equally open hand and left for the viewers to interpret. The very first one hour episode "33" stands as a brilliant, tense, dark masterpiece, and remains the single best episode. The arrival of the Battlestar Pegasus and its look at the choices made during a time of war stands as the high point of the series.

As always there are bad actors and good ones (I'll point out Michael Hogan as Saul Tigh as the exemplar for the good actors) and poor episodes along with the great ones. But for my money the first two seasons of Battlestar Galactica stand up well, not just when compared to other space operas like Star Trek, Babylon 5, and Firefly, but against TV drama in general. As for the last three seasons, I'm awfully tempted to say frack 'em. But that would be both crass and incomprehensable to people who haven't seen the show. What I'll say instead is: after a very promising start, I didn't like how the story played out, but there are plenty of people who disagree. Your milage may vary.


fergus said...

It's probably wrong of me to say so, but I found the series difficult to stomach from the get-go. (Don't judge me, I have my reasons.) But the ending pretty much took the cake. It had it's moments to be sure (and I agree with 33... ), but not enough to earn my devotion.

If they do something similar with LOST, I might not watch TV again.

I will say this... it was a better series finale than Star Trek Voyager, but that's not saying much.

Lee said...

I've just decided I'm not that sorry I skipped it. I'm one for completeness, so I would feel obligated to watch the whole thing if I got started. If that's all there is to look forward to, then oh well.

'Tis a shame though.