Saturday, March 26, 2011

Angry Angels in Outer Space

Well, I finally finished Battlestar Galactica. Ugh, what a mess.

My main problem with the series is the same one I've had all along - the majority of the characters are simply plot devices. They would take an extreme position in one episode (or set of episodes), then take the exact opposite position, sometimes in literally the very next show, solely for the sake of creating dramatic/storyline tension. This is the single worst feature of the series, and it happened again and again. In my opinion, a good story evolves from the conflict between well-defined characters holding on to cherished beliefs. It drives me crazy when a character appears to change a deeply-held conviction for no other reason than that the writer needs to amp up the discord.

The absurd result is that one week, we see Adama inciting a mutiny and a coup d'etat by forcing Cylon technology on to the unwilling fleet, only to abjectly refuse it for his own ship in the next. Starbuck drives her own crew to mutiny over her single-minded quest, but then coldly rejects Adama's desire to rescue Roslin. And so on and so on. The characters most victimized by this phenomenon: Starbuck, Adama, Apollo, Ellen, Baltar. Even Tyrol, Caprica-Six, and Zarek fall prey to this trope. In short, almost all of the main characters of the series are tainted by this problem at one time or another. In fact, out of the entire ensemble, only Tigh and Agathon seem consistent throughout the course of the series.

The writers made religion a major theme of the show, but it became a muddled and ultimately meaningless cacophony. This is the next major problem. Take the One True God. On one hand, OTG seems to embody the most appealing elements of mystical monotheism: a loving, compassionate, and merciful being that calls all living things to embrace these values. But OTG also apparently plays everyone like pawns, using visions and fates to drive humans and Cylons alike to their destiny in spite of themselves. Moreover, Six-Angel and Baltar-Angel, OTG's most prominent evangelists, are shallow, vain, manipulative, seductive, and crave violence, sex, and destruction.

Meanwhile, the 'false' (???) colonial gods are... what, exactly? All I have here are questions, because there doesn't seem to be any clear definition. Are they truly false? Are they as capricious and wicked as Baltar claims? The teachings of the colonial religion seem to be generic new-age feel-good stuff. So Baltar can't be completely right. So are they a pale shadow of OTG?

I have more questions about religion in the show: why isn't the Cylon civil war cast into more explicitly religious terms (a "OTG for Cylons" faction vs a "OTG for All" faction)? And why doesn't the backlash against human monotheists develop into an all-out religious war for humanity? In the latter case, there are some hints at this, but it doesn't seem to go anywhere, mainly because, apart from the "Sons of Aries," the old faith actually seems to be pretty tolerant, and the new faith seems to be based more on the cult of Baltar instead of any true conversion.

Still more - why aren't human monotheists striving harder for human-Cylon unity? Where does the colonial religion's prophecy of Earth fit in with OTG's 'plan'? Why don't the clerics of the colonial religion continue to appropriate/interpret the mystical events of the show as evidence of their own gods' divine workings? There seem to be lots of proposed answers to all of these questions, but they are incomplete and contradictory, none of them actually adding up to anything. There is less here than meets the eye.

Another issue I had with the show is its overweening sense of melodrama - how many times did Bill Adama smash up his office, take off his admiral pins, contravene the democratic wishes of the Quorum? How many times did Lee Adama quit the service? How many fights did Starbuck instigate? How many times did sex begin with a violent confrontation between characters? Even the opening titles of the show - 'And they have a plan' - so ominous and creepy and entertaining at the beginning of the series, became such a farce that it had to be abandoned. There was never any plan. Just another melodramatic tease.

Random complaint - what happened to D'Anna? Seriously, where the fuck was she in the last 3-4 episodes? To let such a pivotal character fade into the background with no explanation is pretty unforgivable.

I know I've already complained about Starbuck as a plot device, but she deserves a little more attention. She is a superwoman: the best pilot in the fleet, the best marksman, best military strategist, best martial artist, best poker player, best musician, etc, etc. WTF?

Another issue I have with Starbuck is that no explanation is offered for her "resurrection" other than that she's an angel, even though very obvious ones occur to any casual viewer of science fiction: time travel, time paradox, and/or parallel universes. Why didn't they address these possible explanations? I thought Baltar was a scientist, and that this was a science fiction show.

The Final Five were so painfully shoe-horned into the story that they barely merit comment. Accepting them as Cylons was a major hurdle for my continued following of the show, and one of the reasons it took so long for me to finish. They are written as the parents of the Cylon race, and basically they all seem to want to return to their own kind (with the exception of Saul Tigh). But they all stay on Galactica. How come? Ellen Tigh is the worst of the bunch. Imagine the creative meeting that brought her character back as a Cylon - Q: "should she continue to be a drunken trollop, or evolve into the sage mother of all Cylons?" A: "I've got it, let's have her be both!"

The cult/harem of Baltar never made sense. Enough said.

Ok, I'd better wrap it up. The series finale is a whiplash-inducing snoozefest. We learn pointless details about the backstory of a few of the major characters, and in the present, the fleet, ready to riot over Galactica's resources, suddenly agrees to give up all technology and start over as farmers. Huh? (And actually, given the time frame of their contact with our Earth, shouldn't they be hunter-gatherers? Aw, fuck it.)

Anyway, this plot point ties back to the first problem I mentioned - characters just do things for the sake of the story, not because they are actually credible actions. If the plot requires a complete reversal on an issue, you can be sure that the character will make that reversal. The only difference in the finale is that instead of it being a single character, it is the entire human race changing its collective mind all at the same time, for the sake of a tidy little ending.

So there you have it. I could go on, but you get the idea. Very disappointing. It's sad because I think the core of the show had some great ideas and plot lines, and some really compelling drama, which in the end only served to make its failure all the more maddening and profound.