Battlestar Galactica Season Ender

Avert your eyes if you haven’t seen it yet!

Reading over some of the fan sites, especially the official forum, it’s amazing to see the stark division of opinion on the episode, with about half loving it and half really, really hating it. There’s also a lot of discussion of the motivation for making such a radical move, with some pointing to the falling ratings of the second season episodes.

I grant that some of the second season was weaker than the first season. Even episodes that I thought were dealing with dramatically and situationally important issues (such as the growth of a black market) were developed in a weak fashion, or in a way that smacked a little too much of normal episodic television where characters have major dramatic crises that then seem to disappear in later episodes, or are developed inconsistently in various ways. That goes also for some of the ways that the second season tried to complicate the overall dramatic situation. Rather than a progressively greater reveal of the “Cylon plan”, we got some contradictory information that begins to suggest that the writers have no idea what the “Cylon plan” actually is, always a bad sign on a show that depends on suggesting deep designs underneath the apparent exterior of events. Or, to mention the black market again, we got shows that suggested one thing about the evolving situation of the fleet (scarcity growing, desperation growing) that was contradicted by the casualness with which the central characters consumed various luxuries. It would be perfectly consistent with the show’s mood to suggest that the military and political leadership are elites and behaving as such, but there wasn’t always a consistent tone as far as that went.

But I thought the season finale was spectacular, both for its daring and for showing again some pretty deep thinking about the dramatic setting and the dramatic situation of the characters. Some of the fans are screaming that Admiral Adama wouldn’t have allowed Baltar’s election, or wouldn’t have allowed the deterioration of the Battlestars in orbit around New Caprica. I think that makes perfect sense, because that’s the lesson that this character learned in earlier episodes (that there are limits to his abilities to make events come out the way he wants them, and that the human race has to collectively earn its own salvation or future).

Now as for how they’re going to get out of this situation, and where it’s going to go next, I have a couple of speculations. I’d love to see the writers follow up on the episode just before the 2-part finale which introduced a division of opinion within the Cylon culture and tie that to a greater reveal of the “Cylon plan”. My thought has always been that what the humans of the 12 Colonies might discover is that they’re not human at all, but simply an older generation of synthetics created by the “Gods of Kobol”, that the Gods of Kobol are the original synthetics created by the original human race, and that the original human race are the folks who now live on Earth. This would really complicate the Frankenstein narrative that the show is always poised on the edge of by unsettling anyone’s claim to “original” humanity. It would be more about everyone’s contentious claims to self-determination.

But even if this intuition or suggestion is way off-base, I can see one major way for the writers to resolve the situation on New Caprica within 3-5 episodes, which is what they’ve promised, without forcing the Adamas to come up with some improbable kind of military miracle. Namely, the outbreak of a Cylon civil war. What if the Cylons who’ve occupied New Caprica are the enemies of the “war heroes” faction that wants peace with humanity, and whose occupation of New Caprica pushes the debate within Cylon society past the breaking point? Then we could see a really interesting scenario where a joint Cylon-Battlestar fleet saves the New Capricans but where they have to flee from a stronger majority force of Cylons who have won out at home. Then you could have all sorts of layers of danger and treachery in the new fleet–Cylons infiltrating Cylons infiltrating humans infiltrating Cylons. The need to know when to trust and when to betray, when to fight and when to negotiate. Both sides withholding vital information from one another. Baltar could actually be over on the Cylon fleet without becoming a sort of Calicos-style villain sitting up in a chair plotting humanity’s destruction. And so on.

Anyway, for my money, it was a really gutsy, fascinating, unexpected episode. I’m not quite clear on why the people who hate the episode with a passion like the show: I suspect what they’re looking for in the program is a grittier “Space Above and Beyond”, which just seems to sell the program’s potential short.

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4 Responses to Battlestar Galactica Season Ender

  1. cgbrooke says:

    I thought it was great, too, Tim, and my first thought (with 6 & 8 being 2 of the 3 “leaders” of the invasion fleet) was that these were the “peace now,” war heroes Cylons as well.

    I don’t think that the premise will get as elaborate or as interesting as I might like, but I’ve consistently been happy with the writers’ willingness to keep the characters complicated. I think that, to a degree, they were blind-sided by the relative success of the show–I don’t think they had a multi-year “Cylon plan” in mind, and maybe some of the 2nd season’s weaknesses reflect that.

    At the same time, I think the season-enders, in addition to being really fascinating on their own, planted some really interesting seeds for season 3–I’m not yet convinced that Tyrol is human, for instance, now that we know that Cavell (Dean Stockwell) was the C’s resident philosopher/psychoanalyst/priest model. I’m really intrigued by the idea that humanity is somehow a pathology that the C’s are struggling with.

    Good, good stuff.

  2. david says:

    The last few episodes of season 2 pretty much ruined BSG for me. I was completely hooked by the show during season 1 and the first part of season 2, but something about those last few episodes caused me to lose interest. Here’s a list of complaints:

    1. The relationship between the Chief and Sharon suited the show’s purposes well enough, and I think their chemistry was more interesting and believable than the Helo/Sharon chemistry. The scenes where Helo complains about loving a robot are laughable. I can imagine the Chief’s character pulling off scenes like that more effectively.

    2. “Downloaded” was just absurd. It felt like the writers of that episode hadn’t really been paying attention to the previous shows. For example, it made no sense that Caprica Six had such a well-developed conscience in “Downloaded,” given that she killed a baby in the miniseries for fun. (This point was made by someone else on the web, but I can’t remember where.)

    3. Sometimes the Cylons seem Borg-like, as though each individual Cylon is uttlerly selfless and acts solely to further mysterious Cylon goals. This implies a sort-of inhuman psychology, since humans are essentially selfish (as the show seemed to say early on). Other times it seems like the Cylons care about themselves and their loved ones just as much as any human. I’m not complaining about this tension; actually, I think it’s a cool feature of the writers’ picture of the Cylons. But it takes some skill to pull this kind of thing off. For one thing, you have to call attention to the contradiction; you have to explore it. You can’t just do one episode where the Cylons are selfless and Borg-like, and then do another episode where the Cylons are greedy and human-like. That just makes it seem like you’re confused about what you’re doing.

    There are more things that I’ve grown to dislike about the show, but I won’t list them here. All that said, though, I agree that the season ender was very cool, and I could be won back to the show.

  3. Nathanael says:

    The potential for a major rift among Cylons has been slowly implanted over the past season. Each new model displays more spirituality and conscience; the contacts that Sixes and Eights had with humans enhanced those qualities. The “metallic” Cylons seem incapable of moral development without them. I was disappointed that the conflicts seeded in “Downloaded” were resolved so quickly (or perhaps they were not.) However, I am not convinced that such a rift would directly benefit the New Capricans. It would likely be reactionary: a revolt against the policy of the “war heroes”–ending occupation and resuming the extermination of humanity. The question is, would the Cylon-soldiers, accustomed to hunting down humans, accept a different role? Would a genocidaire take up the final solution himself?

  4. DougLathrop says:

    I didn’t have any problem with how the “war heroes” arc played out. It seems clear to me that the Six and Eight from “Downloaded” are the ones accepting Baltar’s surrender. The human-appearing Cylons seem to be networked somehow–empathically, if not telepathically–and as such, any strong doubts or paradoxical beliefs felt by the war heroes might spread quite rapidly to all the Cylons, or a large number of them. Perhaps this was why the Three model on Caprica wanted the war heroes “boxed” so badly–because of the danger that their unorthodox individual thoughts might infect the rest of the collective.

    Based on what we saw in the finale, here’s what I think happens: The war heroes, having escaped being boxed, infect the rest of the Cylons with their doubts and questions. The Cylons then withdraw from the Colonies and declare a truce with humanity so that they can resolve this dilemma. A year passes, during which time the Cylons (or perhaps just one faction of them) have devised a new purpose based on their original one: to serve humans. By “serve,” however, they really mean conquer and control; in their view, since humans are so self-destructive, the only true way to “serve” is to protect humanity from itself.

    Regardless, being a human on BSG still sucks.

    (Insert “To Serve Man–it’s a COOKBOOK!” joke here.)

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