March 21, 2009

Battlestar Galactica: "Daybreak Pt. 2"

(My apologies. Family and work responsibilities prevented me from updating this blog, but I have been keeping up with both Galactica and Lost, and I wanted to comment on the Galactica series finale before going back and filling in the holes that I am leaving by "skipping ahead." With that said...)

"Earth is a dream..."

Well what exactly am I supposed to do with that? My instinct is to say that "Daybreak Part 2" (and Part 1, really) is an impeccably directed, terrifically acted, fantastically scored, balls-to-the-wall...piece of dreck. An episode that while technically sound and at times even great, drops so many balls that it hurts, maybe even cripples, the experience of watching the entire run of the show for the last five years.

Too harsh? Perhaps.

But when a show you have been following with so much passion and emotion gives you an ending akin to the very worst treacly, preachy mess you can think of, an ending that actually uses the open-ended, nonsensical nature of the plot points introduced during the show's last three years to point out the "presence of the divine" before failing to explain those same plot points in any kind of satisfying way, what would you call it? I imagine that some of you might just use a stronger word than "dreck". Making matters worse, there can be little doubt after this one that the creators of Galactica are very skilled at the more technical aspects of their craft.

From the opening salvos of the Colony attack to the last moments we get to spend with Adama (note I didn't say the very last minutes of the episode), "Daybreak" is a testament to ambitious television making. But the writers simply didn't give these tremendous actors, directors, and all the other people clearly pouring their hearts and souls into the project something substantial to work with. And that is a real, real pity.

Because this episode takes its dear sweet time in doing anything substantive (long-form flashbacks will do that to a show's momentum (see, for all its greatness, Lost)), I don't think a great deal of plot synopsis is necessary. Suffice it to say, all of the main characters get elaborate Lost-style flashbacks to Caprica before it was nuked, those volunteering to stay with Galactica (including "surprise" volunteer Gaius Baltar) jump to the Colony and rescue Hera, Starbuck leaps Galactica to Earth, our Earth, by playing All Along the Watchtower on the FTL drive, and the characters give up all their technology to live with Neanderthals in our ancient past.

The end.

But even in that short synopsis, the major issues which cripple the finale are apparent.

First, it's difficult for me to see the presence of an Earth-2 as anything short of a complete cop-out. Much of the impact of this season's high-water mark, "Sometimes a Great Notion", was predicated on the idea that the "Earth" the fleet found in that episode (actually the episode prior) was our Earth. That we, the audience, could take lessons from the fact that we were actually Cylons, not colonials. That, like the humans in "Planet of the Apes", we had destroyed ourselves.

These revelations helped give a different perspective to events onboard Galactica. They gave the series added emotional resonance. And they were all lies.

Having the fleet arrive on the "real" Earth (at least the one with an Australia) and having Adama simply name it Earth to reflect the fact that "Earth is a dream" is a cop-out plain and simple. It is, in my opinion, patently unacceptable slight of hand that treats the most dedicated members of the audience(those likely to have been the most vociferous in their support of the low-rated program) with little more than contempt at their dedication.

Unfortunately, this is but one half of the finale's dual dose of ill-conceived plot points. Even more problematic is the methodology the writer's used to get the fleet to Earth 2 in the first place, and just what that methodology means to the meaning of the show.

A couple years back, M. Night Shayamalan (when he could still do no wrong) made a movie with Mel Gibson (when he could still do no wrong) called Signs. In that movie, the presence of God and the divine was established in the way the members of a small rural family, unbeknownst to them, had been providently given the tools to ward off an alien invasion in the coincidental idiosyncrasies of their seemingly insignificant lives. In other words, the plot of Signs eschewed one of writing's golden rules by deliberately using the concept of "coincidence" as a major plot point.

Unfortunately, while it is may make for interesting late night philosophical discussions, the concept of coincidence as the "footprint" of the divine is a fundamentally flawed premise on which to rest a scripted narrative. This is because coincidence on its own is essentially random. That's what makes it "coincidence" rather than "plan". By making random happenstance the thesis on which your story is premised, you can't help but make your audience a bit nihilistic as to the meaning of it all. After all, if the whole point of a story is that "God's plan is mysterious and unknowable" what point is there in trying to suss out any other meaning?

Like Signs, "Daybreak" suffers from these same nihilistic tendencies.

Why was the Colony destroyed? Because a piece of debris happened to kill a Raptor pilot while her missiles were armed, before another piece of debris happened to jostle the dead pilot in such a way as to launch the missiles when it was most beneficial to the colonials.

Why did negotiations between the colonials and the Cylons break down? Because one of the "Five" had killed another of the Five's spouses and that secret was revealed at the perfect time to cause mass mayhem.

How did the fleet find Earth 2? By "playing" All Along the Watchtower on the FTL drive.

Who played that fateful song? The dead (yet strangely corporeal) spirit of Kara 'Starbuck' Thrace.

And how is this all explained? In a wooden soliquily given by the terribly underserved character of Dr. Gaius Baltar, who points out all of these coincidences and strange events (including the presence of the "Head" people), as proof of the existence of the divine.

Unlike Signs, however, Galactica had five full years of back stories and open plot points to make hollow with this feeble attempt at a wrap-up. And the answer to any and every question ever posed by Ron Moore and company was apparently "God."

What are Head Six and Head Baltar? Uh...angels? Demons? Gods?

What is Kara Thrace? angel, maybe?

So Kara actually killed herself when she inexplicably flew into the Maelstrom in Season 3? it would appear.

And how did she come back? God.

Who gave Starbuck the coordinates to Earth? God.

How did Starbuck originally wind up on Earth (in Maelstrom)? Uh...God's ability to transport matter.

Why didn't God lead Starbuck to Earth 2? Unknown...God's plans are mysterious.

How is Starbuck the "Harbinger of Death" (as foretold by the Hybrid)? Unknown...possibly because she ended Cylon resurrection, though it seems odd that the creators of the show would highlight this portion of the prophecy a few episodes ago if that is the case. Nah...must be God.

Who are "they" in the Hybrid's prophecy and why must they not "follow" Starbuck? Not only do I have no idea on this one, it appears that the producers of the show simply dropped this from the prophecy entirely. Starbuck does little in Season 4 that anyone should not follow. She leads humanity to "its end", but not to its death. Why would humanity not follow her? In truth, I think the prophecy's "they must not follow her" was simply a smokescreen designed to encourage distrust of Starbuck, and the writers felt that they could explain it away as innocuous at some point in the future. That being said, never before have I seen a show so completely ignore a portion of a prophecy that it spent such large amounts of screen time establishing. Even the beleaguered Alias made token efforts to explain the "she will rend the greatest power unto utter desolation" prophecy. Galactica's effort here was a joke.

What is the "truth of the opera house?" No idea. That the Galactica's CIC is the opera house? That Hera is the key to everything? Must be God.

Who is the Dying Leader? You could certainly read that Galactica was the dying leader, given its "death" in this one, but I think Roslin is the more correct answer. She does die before Adama builds his cabin so you could argue that at least this prophecy was fulfilled.

What triggered the Final Five in the nebula? Uh..."All Along the Watchtower", weren't you watching?

Right, but what is "All Along the Watchtower" in the narrative of the show? Uh...a message from God containing the coordinates of Earth 2.

Convenient. And how did Hera get the musical score to "Watchtower" (and was it Dylan's version)? God (and, no, it was McCreary's version, couldn't you tell?).

See what I mean? Like Signs, the entire purpose behind the inexplicable events on the show seems to have been to give form to the show's concept of divine will. And like Signs, that explanation for everything can't help but feel hollow in the end.

So what do I do with this finale? There can be little doubt that Galactica on the whole has given me many more good memories than bad. From debating with a friend the rightness of Roslin's attempts to steal an election she knew she must win, to the raw awesomeness of Galactica falling through the atmosphere of New Caprica before jumping to safety, I can't change the fact that I loved this show. And the action portions of "Daybreak" do more than enough to evoke those fantastic memories. But the plodding flashbacks, the nonsensical narrative, and the (literal) deus ex machina ending, hurt everything that came before.

I guess in many ways it is the age old question of whether it's the journey or the destination. Do the earlier events on Galactica lose some of their luster knowing that, in the end, it was all a function of God's unknowable will? Undoubtedly. But is the impact of those events ruined? Not quite.

In many ways, I feel that the show I thought I had been watching, like the characters' "Earth", was but a dream. Taking Adama's lead, then, I'm simply going to rename things to suit that dream. From now on I will be referring to Lost as "Battlestar Galactica".

There, that solves everything.

Once again "Battlestar Galactica" is the best show on TV.

Mission Accomplished.

Quick Thoughts:

Caprica - Perhaps I'm just a cynical person, but the flashbacks in this one served so little purpose that I can't help but think they were designed solely to establish Ron Moore's ability to pen his prime-time soap set on pre-nuke Caprica. Another mission accomplished, I suppose.

The Head People - I think in the past I would have spent some time determining whether or not Head Six really wanted Baltar to join the rescue mission at the beginning of this episode. But since I think it's apparent at this point that Ron Moore and company really had no particular plan in mind (divine or otherwise), I don't think I'll waste your time. As far as I'm concerned, the scene towards the beginning of this one with Baltar and Head Six was included purely to add some drama as to whether or not Baltar would stay behind (as if there was ever any doubt).

Quick Forgiveness - Was anyone else bothered by the fact that Chief Tyrol got off so easy for his murder of fellow "Final Five" member Tory? I mean, not only is murder as vengeance generally unacceptable even in the fleet, he also murdered one of the last five members of an entire race (the Earth Cylons certainly seemed significantly different from their colonial counterparts) and jeopardized what, at the time, seemed to be the only chance for a brokered peace for humanity. And his only penalty is being relegated to Scotland to invent prehistoric golf? Doesn't seem right.

The Importance of Being Hera - Ok. So retroactive continuity aside, we are really to believe that the Head people (angels?) were simply maneuvering Baltar and Caprica Six so that they would "save" Hera during the Colony raid (did they actually save her from anything)? That simply does not match up with everything else they have done throughout the history of the series. I mean, why did Baltar need to lead a cult, for just one example. Also, aside from the fact that Hera's running about the ship in the middle of a firefight was as inexplicable as it was frustrating, what makes her so important? I get that she's the future of the races and all, but let's say, worst case scenario, that she were to die. Both Helo and Athena survived. What's to stop them from making another one?

Helo's Resurrection - Okay, so Helo wasn't actually resurrected in this episode (which is apparently more than I can say for other characters on the show), but weren't we to assume in the scene where Athena is applying the tourniquet that Helo would die if she left him to chase after Hera. That's what's implied when she state's "you'll bleed out", right? And then, when we later see Athena and Hera reunited, they are both shaking from the shock of it all, Helo nowhere to be seen. Yet, in the final moments of the episode we see the full family reunited, giving us the only truly happy ending of the entire series. How was Helo saved? I sense a last minute editing change...

Boomer's Redemption - So Boomer works with Cavil to return Ellen and steal Hera, but on the way back to the Colony, Boomer gets a heart (three sizes too big) and becomes attached to her doppelganger's little girl. She then kills a Simon who is working on Hera before returning her to the fleet and dying at the hands of Athena. Really? Boomer changed her mind about the Cylon endgame solely by virtue of her long road trip back to the Colony? I guess Cavil should have parked it a bit closer to the fleet, eh?

The Coward's Way Out - Speaking of Cavil, how anti-climatic is it to have the main bad guy simply blow his own brains out during the climatic final act of a five year marathon? And why did he do it anyway? Surely the Cylons had been in worse positions than the one facing them at the Colony (at least before the nukes). Just anti-climatic.

Coda - Though it doesn't have the sweeping impact of Moore's "God is the answer" initiative, I would be remiss if I didn't point out the huge error that was the "150,000 years later" Coda. I mean, the show had, for all practical purposes, just ended with the majestic shot of Adama at his love's grave with Bear McCreary's drum-fuelled score leading us out the door, when all of a sudden we are in Times Square witnessing a meta-commentary on the state of the world with Head Six and Head Baltar (and, most meta of all, Ron Moore himself) and video clips of toy robots? This is how one of the "best" shows in science fiction history ended? A mistake on all counts.
More after the jump...