On the Watchtower

Hey, we have yet to discuss the season finale of Battlestar Galactica, gang.

I actually can’t make up my mind. The season had a lot of very weak work in it once the New Caprica storyline was over. Most of the material on the Cylons didn’t deepen my understanding of them, or convince me that the writers have the faintest idea what’s going on. There were lots of mediocre filler episodes. Those that weren’t just filler were not properly developed: the “class war” episode set on the refinery, for example. I thought that was a potentially interesting premise for an ongoing story: I have been wondering how Adama could justify the relative luxuriousness of his quarters given the condition of the fleet overall. But it was pretty much done in one.

Still, there’s some potential in the direction charted out for next season, if the writers can make some decisions and commit to explanations.

Babylon 5 and BSG have both tantalized with the possibilities of a fully plotted out SF series that functioned more like a series of novels than an endlessly ongoing serial, and ultimately both of them disappointed. There’s still time for BSG’s writers to pull it out, though.

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8 Responses to On the Watchtower

  1. It was a disappointing season. When I was teenager, I got into reading the Joe Bob Briggs b-movie reviews. And he had a recurring phrase that pretty much summed up the problem of BSG 3.0 – “Too much plot got in the way of the story.” What made season one special was the pairing of two interwoven, highly dramatic forces:

    1) The fleet was constantly on the run from a vastly superior force, and faced the threat of extinction at every turn.

    2) The devestated survivors of an apocolypse had to form an entirely new civil society in order to function in the face of item #1.

    Season 3 was all #2 with very little #1. WIthout the cylons, the stakes are lower, and the intrigues are relegated to philosophical navel-gazing. Ask yourself this: how much more interesting would that very smart labor strike had been interrupted by the sudden appearance of a cylon scout? That would have made the stakes a lot higher for everybody?

    And I’m sorry, the role of “All along the warchtower…” in the finale struck me as really silly.

    The first two seasons were so brilliant and the cast so good, that I’m hopeful for a return to form. But they need to get back on track.

  2. I actually thought of B5 as a single novel, not a series of them, and I wasn’t disappointed in the least by the series itself.

    BSG seems to be suffering from “camel is a horse designed by a committee” plotting.

  3. Timothy Burke says:

    Right, a single novel. But I thought B5 went pretty badly wrong in the fifth season, and not just because of the telepath storyline. Basically, I think JMS chickened out on some of the harsher fates that were foreshadowed earlier for characters. I think, for example, that Sheridan would have been a much more interesting character if he’d been somewhat hapless as a civilian leader, which is what I originally thought the flash-forward view of the future on Centauri Prime was implying, that he’d mishandled the peace. I also thought it would have been more interesting if Sheridan’s resurrection made it difficult for him to be with Delenn, so there was a more tragic element to that storyline.

    Also, for me, the ultimate conclusion of the Shadow-Vorlon conflict was kind of a crock, basically a cheap fantasy novel shorthand plot device rather than something genuinely complex or imaginative.

  4. Peter Erwin says:

    Some of the problems of B5’s final season may have to do with the stop-and-start nature of the production — if I recall correctly, partway through production on the 4th season, Straczynski et al. were told that there wouldn’t be a 5th season, and so the latter part of the 4th season ended up being a bit cramped in order to tie up the major plotlines early. Then they learned there would be a 5th season after all, but unexpectedly lost one of the major actors (Claudia Christian, who played Ivanova). I think that’s part of what made the 5th season awkward.

    But B5 was explicitly conceived as a fixed-length “novel” from the very beginning; Straczinski made that clear. Have the BSG creators ever stated that they have a specific end in sight, even if they won’t tell us how far away it is?

  5. emschwar says:

    Peter: you remember correctly; the director commentary on the B5 DVDs supports your recollection. The 5th season was supposed to be more than just the Devastation of Londo Mollari, but since he’d wrapped up most of the plot at the end of the 4th season (they shot two endings, in case they got unexpectedly extended, which they did, but either way JMS couldn’t leave much un-resolved), there wasn’t a lot he could do, so season 5 was mostly filler, with the last 3 or 4 episodes being what they were supposed to be.

  6. Timothy Burke says:

    Right. But I would still maintain, having followed a lot of JMS’s descriptions of the show from before it was produced, that the fates of some characters were somewhere along the way changed in a more upbeat and “franchisable” direction. JMS was big on describing B5 as following the five-act dramatic logic of a Shakespearean tragedy, and if that was the model, more than Londo needed to get some helpings of tragic consequences at the end.

    BSG’s writers might claim they know where the story is going, but I would simply disbelieve them if they said so.

  7. They may have a clear sense of how they plan to resolve the meta-plot of the journey to Earth, but that doesn’t mean that they know all the story archs that are going to get them there.

  8. kostis says:

    I’ve been curious, what do you think of the fourth season so far? It seems surprisingly well-scripted to me so far (episode 7): even with the existence of a Cylon “plan” seemingly forgotten and way too many threads veering towards the metaphysical, there’s an unprecedented volume of dramatic moments and developments.

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