Battlestar Galactica s4 eps 20 and 21 – Series Finale

Ok, I’ve pulled myself together. 

I’ve dried my tears, I’ve taken a deep breath and I’m ready to talk “Daybreak Parts 2 and 3”.   And since BSG’s final outing was a game of two halves, both literally and figuratively, this review will be too.  The all-action Part 2 led us into the all-contemplation Part 3 and there are so many different things swirling in my head about each of them, that this may take me a while….

Part 2, first, then, because I’m predictable that way, even if BSG isn’t.   I loved it.  The Galactica crew headed to the Colony for one last search and rescue, and the ensuing space-battle, ground assault, and general BIG FIGHT was hugely exciting.  Lee, Kara, the Admiral….all the usual suspects, and one or two unexpected ones, working together in a beautifully orchestrated, brilliantly shot and breathtakingly thrilling attack was something else.  Action scenes can sometimes be empty, impersonal spectacle, but these were imbued with the rich imagery and history of the past 4 seasons; the Final Five at CIC with Cylon technology woven into the Galactica to help the fight, Apollo and Starbuck where they’re meant to be – in the thick of it, together – and the Opera House dream finally realised.  There was more, much more, but too much to talk about here.  Apart from Baltar’s slightly overcooked and unconvincing speech to Cavil, and the jarring and slightly comical appearance of the “angels”, I loved it.

But the question was always going to be “what happens when the fighting’s over?”  Starting with the aforementioned Baltar and the angels, and moving into Part 3, the finale tried to answer that question but, for me, the answers were too full.  Too pat.  Part of the beauty of the show has always been that the religious and mystical elements have been woven seamlessly in to the story, rather than laid out A-B-C style for us.  But the finale replaced nuance with definitive, clumsy answers to the show’s central mysteries.  And I know it’s odd not to want answers, but sometimes the joy is actually in the questions themselves. 

Sadly the answers were not confined to the mysteries.  The characters were taken out of the universe we know them from, and each given a concrete ending.  One after the other.  The episode seemed to finish about 10 times, but what of the endings themselves?  I’m not going to spoil them but what they did to Lee was just wrong.  What they did to Kara was just wrong.  And I really don’t want answers if they’re wrong. 

I also don’t want answers if they take me out of the story.  The place they jumped to, the link to our universe, the cameo from Ron Moore, the sequence at the end – it all took me out of the story completely, and everything being tied up with a big brash bow was small consolation for that. 

Still, the last episode wasn’t all bad.  This is BSG after all.  The bittersweet air of melancholy contemplation, of farewell kept me emotional throughout, and a succession of beautiful touches like the soft wash of theme music from the original series as Sam took the fleet on its last flight and the central message that “Our science charges ahead.  Our souls lag behind,”  were just perfect.  So the finale wasn’t its finest moment, but I’ll miss this show.  At its best, it was incredible.  And even at its worst, it was still pretty frakking good.  So I’m sad it’s over.  I’m sad for Lee and Kara, I’m sad that things didn’t end the way I would have wanted them to, and I’m sad that, no matter what prequels and spin-offs we get, I won’t see the characters I cared about again.  Maybe I haven’t quite pulled myself together after all.

Battlestar Galactica s4 ep 19

So, Part 1 of the 3 hour finale – and um, not that much happened.

An interesting, if unexpected, choice of opening sequence took us back to Caprica “before the fall”, showing us snippets of the lives of some of the main characters before we got to know them. Nice enough, but a couple of minutes in, I did wonder what the point was. Was it just a parting gift to the fanboys; a little cherry on top for the obsessives amongst us? The more I think about it though, the more I wonder if there was more to it than that, and if the past we saw is going to play some important part in the future – ie next week’s finale?

I guess we’ll find out in due course, but never mind all that past and future business for now, let’s get back to the present, just like the episode eventually did. As I said, not a huge amount happened. Regardless, this was still much much better than last week’s effort. Long-term Lost viewers will know that part 1 of a loooong finale is always about setting up the Big Finish; as Jed once told me, it’s about getting people and plotlines into position, so that (hopefully) you can build up to a bewilderingly action-packed ending. BSG seems to be working on the same lines. This episode skipped along at a steady pace, ticking all those boxes, and getting us to exactly where we needed to be for next week’s climax. Adama realised that Galactica has one last do-or-die mission to run, the crew had to choose whether to go along for the ride, and before I knew it, everything and everyone was in place for the end. Brace yourselves.

Battlestar Galactica s4 ep 18

Er, guys – we’re on a clock, remember?

Anyone would think the finale was months instead of a fortnight away.  Lots and lots of chat, nowhere near enough plot – this was not a vintage episode of BSG.  There were some very good scenes but the series seems to have suddenly slowed down to a crawl, spending another week navel-gazing rather than moving things along to the imminent series finale. 

So, for the gazillionth time, we got Laura being “profound”, the Quorum being daft (apparently replacing the old members with a new bunch hasn’t made them any more clear-headed), Adama being distraught, Gaius being annoying and a load more of the dreams and supernatural malarkey.  Come on, writers.  I love this show, but “all this has happened before and will happen again” has never been truer than it was of certain scenes in this episode, so why are we wasting all this time on them with so little of it to go?

Bizarrely, however, despite the over-familiarity of some themes, we had others which seemed utterly alien (no pun intended) – for instance, Lee and the Admiral being so callous in dismissing the idea of the Fleet searching for a missing and hugely important member was completely out of character for both, given their past history.

But then, to make up for the filler, and to remind us that, even on an “off” day, this show is still one of the best things ever to have graced television, we had a fantastic, heartbreaking scene where Helo and Athena tried (and failed horribly) to deal with last week’s events, as well as a beautiful Lee and Kara moment encapsulating how far they have both come and how much they will always mean to each other.  No matter what Kara is or was or will be.  Which I still don’t think we really know.  Much chat? Yes.  Many concrete answers?  No.

Battlestar Galactica s4 ep 17

A slow, fascinating, dream-like episode giving us insight into Starbuck’s character?  Lovely stuff, obviously.  But, um…..do we really have time? 

I enjoyed this a great deal.  It was a beautifully made, enthralling elegy for Starbuck’s past, but, for the first 3/4 of the episode, it had the pace of a show with seasons to go rather than a few episodes left before the  (I’m guessing bitter) end.  We learned a little about Starbuck, and we had even more tantalising hints about her origins, but we’re still none the wiser about most of the big questions around her.  We don’t have forever, when are they going to tell us what we want to know?

The other main plotline, focussing on Tyrol and his long-lost love, was no less beautifully played and, initially, languidly paced but, by contrast, that sure sped up real fast towards the end.  Thanks to a surprising turn of events, followed by a jaw-dropping betrayal, there were plenty of answers in that story, at least, even if they were shocking.    Great stuff, then – perhaps just speed it up a bit next time?  We’ve still got a lot to find out.

Battlestar Galactica s4 ep 16

So we know who the Final Five are and they know who they are…..now what? 

Another gear change this week in BSG as the focus shifted to consideration of the  “what next?” question for both the Final Five and the Cylon civilisation in general.  

Towards the end of any conflict, people always divide into two groups – those who want to work together with the former “enemy” and those who don’t.   There are never any easy answers to that question, and there are never unselfish ones either, as old resentments, new developments and ever-lasting jealousies factor into the mix.  So, some of the Cylons see their future entwined with humanity’s, some see it as far from humanity as possible. 

Resulting questions of procreation, miscegenation and segregation, and just how ready the ordinary humans (never mind their leaders) are to work with the Cylons, formed the backdrop in this episode for that most human of all conflicts though – “you love him/you love her/you love your job more than me” – as Tigh’s affections were torn between an old love, a new one and his ever-present love for his captain and his ship.  The heartrending scene where Bill Adama offers him the comfort and solace he needs leaves us in very little doubt as to who he’s going to choose.

Battlestar Galactica s4 ep 15

People used to say that tv was for dummies.  Something to entertain the brainless masses while the clever folks pursued “higher” forms of culture.  Frankly?  Those people need to wise up.

Yes, there is a lot of callow, mindless stuff on the box, but you don’t have to look far to find highly intelligent and challenging programming these days.   Lost and Mad Men are amongst the examples you can use to illustrate that point, and so is BSG.  This episode in particular was complex, multi-layered and hard.

This week, we finally got the answers to a lot of the questions we’ve been asking about the Final Five and how their story connects with the rest of the Cylons.  There was a lot of exposition – there had to be – but the writers did an elegant job of weaving it in to the story in such a way that the episode was still enthralling.  As well as that though, the multi-layered storytelling was soaked in literary and religious references including Sartre’s No Exit (per the name of the episode) and Milton’s Paradise Lost, as well as Oedipus and the Bible, amongst other things. 

Not that I picked those references up though.  I thought I would be doing well saying that the episode’s underlying theme was the symbiosis between man and machine, but a cursory surf across the fan forums on the net showed me just how many more themes flew right by me.  Thing is, BSG works on many different levels, but the story of the Final 5 is full of such tricky concepts, I got stuck at level 1, trying to understand the basics, never mind recognise the clever stuff.  Don’t get me wrong – it was still an exemplary piece of drama, I enjoyed it and the people who make it deserve all the credit in the world for being brave enough to tax people’s brains like this.   Unfortunately, mine wasn’t quite up to the job this week, but the show is far too gripping for me to stop trying.