BSG finale: Religious buffoonery and other shortcomings

sixbaltar

FROM JASON’S SPOILERS — Did you see the Galactica ram the base star? The crash was amazing! And the old-school centurions during the assault? Awesome! Cavil eating his own bullet? Sweet!

Not to mention how hot Caprica Six was in that flack jacket. Then Baltar finally got some redemption, and Andrew and I were all cheering for him as he took that assault rifle from Apollo. How cathartic was that?

And then there were angels. God-damned angels. Sigh.

It was Andrew, that dirty whelp, who convinced me in early February to consume a couple of hours every night for the past month and a half shotgunning all four seasons of Battlestar Galactica. I rather enjoyed it, mainly for the whodunnit intrigue.

I’m proud to report — and Andrew can attest to this — that by the middle point of season two I had successfully prognosticated the identities of the Final Five (though I was really only half-joking when I suggested early on that Tory was a nanny Cylon sent to watch over Hera).

I guess all those hours in college studying narrative devices and literary mechanics were worth something after all.

Sure, there were highlights: I had been rooting for Roslin’s death since season one, for instance. “WHY WON’T SHE DIE?!” became a rallying cry in nearly every episode. (Sorry, Lydia.) And who could deny that seeing the Final Five standing together on the CIC bridge was really stinkin’ cool and a pay-off well worth the wait?

But while I tremendously enjoyed the series, the finale rang a bit empty for several reasons, mostly thematic.

The biggest problem I had was the religious aspect. Of course the Mormon undertones are there; they have been since the 1978 iteration. There was the Christ symbolism with Baltar and the constant reference to the zodiac. There was the whole Last Supper promo pic ordeal. But that’s all just mythology, and I could stomach it. What upset me was the intervention — for no apparent purpose — of the supernatural on a scientific universe.

Those damned angels.

Baltar’s “mental” Six and Caprica’s “mental” Baltar turned out to be messengers, nay meddlers, from God instead of projections, Cylon programming, the products of the subconscious, or some other clever mechanism. Angels to me have always been the same as amnesia: the very worst kind of plot device.

Also, I had been hoping all along that the writers would choose the humanist high ground and force the characters to learn that higher powers — whether monotheistic or polytheistic or the Force — were all fake. I wanted the show to be about how people live or die by their decisions, not the whim of some invisible bearded man.

Even if they hint that god is Bob Dylan.

The larger problem with the idea that god’s master plan was behind the events of the series is that it makes god a horrible murderer. Think about it: He didn’t use his agents to stop the genocide of the 12 colonies, or the ensuing war that killed thousands more humans and (ostensibly) millions of Cylons. You’d think that an all-powerful being would answer a higher moral calling to prevent that kind of death, but no.

It brings to mind the old Epicurean addage:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?

Or to crib from Denis Leary: “If there is a god, he’s got a whole shitload of explaining to do.” Or if you prefer Mark Twain: “If there is a God, he is a malign thug.”

Then there’s the Starbuck quandary. She’s apparently an angel too, which ruins the big emotional investment we had in her character. She just vanishes while talking to Lee. There’s not so much any pay-off there, and no real answers as to why she’s been “special” since she was a child or why she’s been painting the concentric circles so long. Another great character chalked up to mysticism.

Neither was I such a fan of the colonial and Cylon settlement of “our” Earth. I mean, Douglas Adams called: He wants his plot back. If you looked carefully, Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect were in the background checking out the same group of 148,000 AD primitives.

And who but Arthur Dent would have slept with those primitives? Surely not the advanced humans; they wouldn’t cross the huge intelligence and developmental gaps to mate with Neanderthols. So when did the Cylons, humans, and proto-humans merge into our singular modern race? The whole “they are us” idea is just candy, but it doesn’t really work.

The anti-technology message, though it’s a typical mantra in science fiction, was a bit too strong as well. Our buddy Thaed said it right: The show’s lesson is that technology is bad. Hell, it’s practically a recruiting tool for the Amish. “I have never seen a bigger middle finger given to an audience of a show before in my life,” Thaed said.

And I agree. Why would such a brilliant show overall advocate that kind of arbitrary Ludditism?

That’s all I’ve got to say. Everything else I’m going to choke back to avoid fanboy gushing or overt nerdiness (I mean, more overt than outright blogging about a sci-fi show to my Internet friends. It’s possible to get more nerdy, I suppose, if I were to try). I’m going to clench my teeth and make sure this isn’t a revisiting of the ol’ Firefly trauma. The show is over.

Now I’m off to watch the 1978 version, which has people in capes and that one guy from The A-Team.

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3 Responses to BSG finale: Religious buffoonery and other shortcomings

  1. thaneofcawdor says:

    I gave up on there being a truly nerd-satisfying ending to this show a while ago, mostly because I have been downloading the official commentary tracks. Listening to them is akin to watching sausage being made, and completely removed any hope I had for a perfect final episode, due largely to the producer’s claims that the show is about the characters, not the mythology (which to my geeky ears sounded like an excuse for not being able to satisfactorily pay off all the mysteries they’d built up over the years).

    Anyway, as far as the episode itself goes, what we got was a dramatically flawless, impeccably paced first half, and a soggy, ponderous second half full of ‘meaningful’ moments and a few weak and largely unsatisfying attempts to explain some of the more interesting mysteries of the show.

    That said, I enjoyed it (I even teared up a bit when the old man said goodbye to his son and his ‘daughter’). My expectations were low going into it, and because of that I was more or less happy with the ending to one of the more interesting and experimental TV series of this decade.

    So say me all!

  2. sleepercity says:

    Great post! Totally agree re. the mysticism. Lazy, deeply unsatisfying and inferior to other explanations. Tiny nitpick: DNA evidence puts us at about 200,000 years old as a species, so the natives are modern humans and would be ready to rock ;) I guess if you’re raised alongside them, as Hera will be, they’re a little more palatable!

  3. cohnee says:

    While I don’t completely disagree with your thoughts on the finale, I don’t think the implication was that it was the God. Angel Balter says at the end that “it doesn’t like to be called that”. Who’s to say it isn’t the devil or in fact just some being who exists on a higher plane of existence?

    I think I would of preferred it if they’d left it more ambiguous as to the nature of Starbuck. But I think we’d (certainly I’d) have less of problem if some of the intention and nature of the higher power had been set-up earlier in the series.

    In fact just a greater sense of the end point in some of the earlier episodes leading up to this episode. I symptom of RDMs style of plotting. I kind of wish they’d planned this season out a little better, so the finale earned some it’s leap of faith moments a little more.

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