Saturday, March 28, 2009

Battlestar Galactica ends as series script crashes to Earth

After seasons of incredible travail and suffering, with Laura Roslin and our patience approaching death, William Adama following a final heroic battle with the toasters and skin jobs leads the his broken and dying Battlestar to the planet earth of 150,000 years ago. For five seasons, a mini series, a movie, and countless webisodes, Roslin, Adama, Starbuck, Lee Adama, Doctor Cottle, Gaius Baltar, and the 39,000 or so other major human characters, not to mention the innumerable Cylons some of whom are also humans, endure more misadventures than Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones did in Lonesome Dove. The have known almost unrelenting desperation. Both human and Cylon societies are wrent with conflict. There is mutiny on the Battlestar, and a Civil War among the Cylons. Humans shoot other humans Cyons shoot other Cylons. Character turn from good to evil faster than professional wrestlers. People get dumped into space. Cylons get dumped into space. cylons have sex with other cylons. Humans have sex with other humans. Humans have more sex with Cylon more often than porn stars have with each other in porn movies. We are confronted with the question, "how kinky do you have to be before you have sex with a toaster? All this sex has consequences. Cylons get knocked up. Humans get knocked up. In fact there is so much sex, that I started wondering how humans and Cylons found time for wars in between all those trists.

After William Adama leads the fleet to earth they find a lush eden inhabited by primitive people and peaceful grazing animals. Despite the lush environments on earth, it never seems to rain. There are no predators. The young child Here is allowed to freely skip through the savanah with out fear of Lions, Leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, wild dogs, jackals, Wild Cats, Genets, Civets, Aardvarks, pythons, crocodile. cobras, and alligators. You would think that Mom Athena would be a little worried, about the child who is destined to donate her mitochondria DNA top every inhabitant of the planet 150,000 years later. Not to worry, even if Here turned into a meal for a predator, she could always be revived as we discovered that Starbuck was at the beginning of the last season. Rather that setting up a new civilization, the 12 Colony survivors and their Cylon friends decide to return to nature, and live without technology. They crash the fleet into the sun, and head out to face their low tech fate. Adama and the dying Roslin head out to find their new home. Roslin dies and Adama builds a cabin and lives like a hermit.

The whole earth business hangs on the need to have the child Hera to contribute her mitochondria DNA to the human gene pool, in order to give us the ability to talk. Of course, if former genetics student Felix Gaeta had not been killed off after an attempt to restore sanity to the series story line, he could have informed the shows writers that the genetic codes connected to the human ability to talk is not found in mitochondria DNA.

Needless to say William Adama is viewed as the hero of our story, but that is only the case if you accept the anti-technology, anti-human perspective of the narrator. The narrative views technology as the source of a problem that has destroyed humanity not once, but many times. We are told, all of this has happened before, and will happen again. It is nothing less than technology that threatens our survival as a species. The Colonists have quite literally manufactured their own worst enemies. The colonists technology attacks their worlds, destroys them and even attempts to exterminate their survivors. The survivors, under Adama's leadership, ultimately conclude that they are better off without technology, and join the native primitive humans, no doubt clubbing animals to death and ripping them limb from limb with their teeth. All of that, of course, tastefully happens off camera.

What then are we to think of this narrative? First, it can be argued that the narrators have lost control of their story. Even is we ignore the supernatural elements, the deus ex machina episodes of the later parts of the story. We might take it as a sign that the threads of the narrative did not make for a coherent whole, that the leadership team of William Adama ands Laura Roslin seem to stumble toward the conclusion more than they exercise good leadership. The Cylon alliance is one example of their leadership failure. The alliance involves them in the Cylon civil war, and leads to the a mutiny and coup d’√Čtat. The Cylons give the Galactica with a repair that does not really fix her. The attempt to impose Cylon technology on the fleet, leads to open rebellion by officers and passengers of many ships. We must ask if there is any evidence in the subsequent narrative that the Cylon technology afforded the Colonial fleet an advantage or even played a role in subsequent episodes.

Adama's Judgement is following the abducted child Hera into the Cylon fortress was clearly questionable. The Galactica is in such poor shape she is unlikely to survive. The fleet is under maned, sacrificing ships and people to recover a single child strikes me as verging on insanity. And nothing convinces us that Hera is really that important. From a cost benefits perspective, Hera's recovery is not worth the likely cost. Thus Adama's judgement is clearly a problem, and his subsequent judgements are not better. There are three further examples of Adama's poor judgement. The first is the decision to reject technology and civilization. In a real world, this would subject a mixed group of people to conditions of extreme privation. East Africa 150,000 years ago was no eden, and life would have been extremely hard. The Colonial survivors were unprepared, physically, mentally and in turms of their skill set for survival without civilization and technology. In a real world most would not have adapted, and would have died quite quickly, and for many death would have come in happy circumstances. The decision would have given the people Adama lead a life that was nasty, brutish and short.

Adama's second error in Judgement was to destroy the fleet. Although the survivors were not going anywhere, their lives could have been vastly better if they had access to the Fleets material resources. Even if the survivors agreed with Adama about the return to nature, they would probably quickly changed their minds when confronting the primitive life Adama's leadership was directing them too.

Adams's third error was to abandon his people after launching them unprepared into the wilderness. Not only does Adama turn his backon his former leadership role at a time when leadership was clearly needed, but he withdraws from human contact, revealing a deep ambivalence about his own kind.

Perhaps, no single single decision weighs more heavily heavily of Adama's judgement than his decision to send Kara Thrace off on a mission to look for earth. Thrace (Starbuck) is a major league nut job, who flies her Viper after an enemy space ship that do not show up on her gun camera, holds conversations with avatars while flying patrols. Starbuck disappears while flying a viper, returns months later saying that sahwe has only been gone for 6 hours and that she has been to earth, Then she has big fights with Adama and Roslin, generally acts crazy and gets tossed into the brig. Clearly Starbuck needs to take a long vacation on the funny farm, but instead Adama sends her in command of a mission to look for earth. While in command of the mission, she acts crazy and freaks out her crew. They encounter a damaged Cylon ship, and who should be on board but her Cylon lover, Leoben Conoy. Starbuck is also married to a Cylon, by the way, so we know the she prefers sex with toasters. Rather than clapping her Cylon lover into Irons, she takes him into her cabin, and has a party. Clearly Adama has shown exceedingly bad judgement by placing Trace in charge of the earth hunting mission. Later when Starbuck finally leads the fleet ot earth, it turns into a disaster. Earth has already been desolated by a nuclear war.

No one suffers from the misconduct of the Cylons and Cylon lovers who form William Adama's inner circle more than Felix Gaeta, who is extremely high minded, and if anything way over trusting. Caeta was an extremely able Junior officer who is extremely well educated, and who wishes to be a scientist. Gaeta's love of science leads him to admire the unworthy Gaius Baltar, a brilliant scientist, but also a cowardly schemer. When Balter becomes colonial president during the disasterous attempt to reestablish colonial society on New Caprica, Baltar names Gaeta his Chief of Staff. During the subsequent Cylon occupation Baltar collaborates, but Gaeta, while pretending to collaborate, aids the colonial resistance.

Later with Gaeta's assistance, Gallactica rescues the New Caprica captives, but Gaeta gets no recognition for his services to the resistance and is seen as a collaborator and traitor by The Circle , a group of hidden Cylons and Cylon lovers that is close to Adama. The Circle decides to murder Gaeta, but before he can be killed, the truth about his assistance to the resistance comes out.

Gaeta returns to duty with the fleet, and is assigned to Starbuck's mission to search for earth. During the mission Starbuck's Cylon lover convinces her to visit a Cylon baseship. Most of the rest of the crew object to this crazy plan, and prevent Starbuck from jumping the ship to the baseship. When Gaeta attempts to jump the ship back to the fleet, Stabuck's Cylon Husband shoots him in the leg, and retakes control of the ship for Starbuck. As a result of the wound, Gaeta looses his leg.

Gaeta is concerned about Bill Adama's Cylon inner circle and and the effect it is having on Adama's judgement. Having survived the Cylon occupation of New Caprica and being aware of the deceptions that the Toasters are capable of, Gaeta becomes increasingly concerned as Adama allows the Cylon more and more influence in the fleet. Eventually seeing exactly how poor Adama;s judgement is, Gaeta organizes a Mutiny, but the mutiny fail, and Gaeta is executed.

It is clear that Gaeta represents the only voice of reason in the otherwise dismal last seasons of Battlestar Galactica. The writers of Battlestar Galactica were posed with a challenge if they were to offer an account of the Colonial survivors visiting and settling on earth. In the first Battlstar Galactica 1980 the colonial survivors eventually travel to earth in the present, but the first Battlestar Galactica suffered from poor script writing and the story line of the on earth episodes was less than memorable. The writers of the current series decided to avoid script problems of the firsat series by setting the earth episode in the past. But this required an explanation if why the Colonialists did not bring their civilization to earth. We have an explanation, but as I have shown the depiction of earth 150,000 years ago is no more satisfactory that the earth episodes of the first Battlestar Galactica series.

Intentionally or unintentionally, the conclusion of BSG comes across as confirming an anti-technology viewpoint, and offering a back to nature solution to humanities problems. As I have argued this solution is arrived at by depicting the hero of the story. William Adama, as committing numerous errors of judgement, and leading the Colonists into a wholly unrealistic landscape. Given the story trajectory, ironically the mutiny of Felix Gaeta makes a great deal more since than the continued leadership of William Adama does.

We are thus left then with a romantic back to nature myth, that says in effect that human problems are all due to civilization (that is living in cities) and technology. Technology is in the story always suppose to lead to a conflict between the interest of technology and the survival of the human species. Tho only solution to the conflict is to reject technology and learn to live in peace and harmony with nature. I am not sure to what if any extent romantic "green" anti-technology thinking influenced the story resolution, but if to any extent it did, the story was the worse because of the influence.

UPdate: I am not the only one who views the resolition of BSG this way. After I finished this review, I came across a comment by Vincent L. Diaz
I have been reading, hopefully, good quality written Science Fiction for years. The gap between the great SF writers of the past and the present and the usual junk that passes for TV scripts, is well known.

I did find BG interesting and entertaining. The series ending, however, was disappointing to the say the least. To coin a phrase it was “not logical”. The fate for the main characters and the survivors of the colonies was clearly naive and had more to do with the Producers ideological and philosophical leaning against technology and science than a realistic rendering of could have happened had the situation been real.

I found it ridiculous that the script had Adama deciding to deliberately scatter his remaining population all over their new virgin world like so many petri dishes, cut off from help and support, to supposedly better their chances of survival.

When a character suggested an ideal site, next to a flowing river, for their new city, it was “decided” that they would not simply repeat their past. Really? And do what? As it turned out they began to fragment.

The new President of the Colonies leading a line of people clearing carrying only what they could carry; Gaius Baltar, despite his many flaws, an irreplaceable source of science and technology, wonders toward the horizon with his #6 girl friend, literally crying that he’s a Physicist , not a farmer. They’re not equipped for a camping trip, let alone surviving. It might have been poetic to imagine them all scattering across their new Eden, but it was childish for the scripts writers to even consider how their beloved characters could possibly survive.

Although it was lovely to see the child Herra frolicking in the grass. It was later revealed that our present world discovered that she was a key genetic source for humanity. Did they also find teeth marks where the nearest hungry predator bit into her neck? After all the script mentioned they discovered her remains in Tanzania.

These increasing scattering bands were in the middle of a Savanna, for Chirst’s sake. Were they armed? Assuming they survived their descendants would have no knowledge of modern weapons or how to build them; no history to guide them in farming and animal husbandry; many would perish due to their ignorance of the simplest elements of medical science.

No, common sense dictates that such a group would stay together, build their city, build schools for their children and industries for their sheer survival, and more importantly, remember their history so they would not make the same mistakes.

Instead the script had the “Angels of a Higher Power” lamenting our modern society looking painfully familiar, finally hoping that the “chaos of modern complex systems” might somehow prevent everything from happening again.

The script, no matter how artfully done only showed that the writers had no feel for real people who only wanted to live, to love, and to survive and prosper.


Warren Heath said...

It's a sad day when ECOTUPIONS take over SCI-FI - only on TV of course, thankfully. It was a crappy, dumb series to begin with, a Soap Opera of Incessant Whiners, rather than a true Sci-Fi.

I wish networks would fire these brain dead TV producers would instead higher people with creativity and intelligence and make a series about Terra-forming Mars - a truly exciting and challenging effort. That would be human ingenuity at its highest level, a way to pay back to Mother Earth for the harm we have done to her a thousand fold. All the temporary ecological damage we have done to the Earth’s environment would be trivial compared to carrying life from this planet to another. It is certainly a goal of natural systems to expand from their original habitat and perhaps we humans are only nature’s tool to accomplish that task. Besides, in a few hundred million years our Sun will be too hot for the survival of most species on the Earth and Mars will be a much better place for life to flourish

Sovietologist said...

I was very, very disappointed by the Galactica finale. Why would Cavil still be chasing after Hera when he could get what he REALLY wanted by grabbing the final five? Furthermore, why didn't they keep plans for a resurrection ship? The writers had created some serious plot holes for themselves, but there was no reason they had to bury themselves alive like this.

Anonymous said...

I think you miss the point. It *appeared* to be hard sci-fi. But once it entered the spiritual level, all bets are off. And that was what was great about the series, the conflict between human rationality and it's quest for synthesis of each and the Cylons who represented not the cold hard metal of anti-human bererkers but actually a kind of arch-angel mythos...and a monotheistic one that.

It was one of the best television series ever, quite honestly because it was easy to identify with flawed figures, Edward James Olmos GREAT acting and that tension between what they 'are' and where they are trying to go.

I think it ranks up there with Babylon 5, probably the greatest sci-fi series ever.

I hated the ending also for the obvious anti-human/anti-technology "lesson" that has no apparent thread as a conclusion to the whole series other than, maybe, inventing AI self-aware robots may be akin to breeding Klingons and handing them nukes to see what they would do with them.

But the ending could of been like some of the themses from Stargate and have humanity simply "ascend", a la Stargate or Assimov...would that be that different? Would it have the same impact?

I'm glad the series was there, I enjoyed it immensely for all it's flaws and blemishes!

David Walters

PS...yeah, first thought was "Hyenas!!! There are going to be hyenas and they are going to eat here up!!" Thus, sci-fantasy and not sci-fiction.

Charles Barton said...

David, I view any narrative as having an element of artistry in its composition, and hence fair game for aesthetic criticism. The values and judgment of the writers are fair game whether even if the narrative is classified as literary fantasy. In fact BSG is nore science fiction than fantasy. The fantasy enters into the story as plot devices, to further the narrative. While this is permissible to use fantasy in science fiction, thar use of fantasy in science fiction is fair game for the literary critic. Thus a story wich depicted a society in which human slavery is permitted, can still be subject to such criticism as "the society depicted was an unjust society," even though the narrative can be classified as fantasy.

My criticism of Willian Adama's judgment is valid even if the story is classified as fantasy. Characters in fantasy can exercise poor judgmnt. And their poor judgment is fair game for literary criticism.

The last sceen of BSG appeared to be a critique of current social values. It is certainly fair to ask if the authors had offered well rounded support for this critique. My contention was that they had not.


Anonymous said...

But Charles, my point is that the distinctions between fantasy and fiction became very blurred because of the theological questions started subsuming the actual conflict questions. It wasn't just a plot device but a fuzzying of the whole theme.

I'm not arguing that your criticism is invalid, but rather it's misplaced, especially if you take the series as a whole and not the ending of the final season.

And yes, I think the 'poor judgement' is valid for the *character* but not the plot (except the ending which is counter intuitive to the whole of the series since there is NOTHING that would of lead the younger Adama to adopt such an anti-technology/anti-civilization POV and THAT is an abuse of the writers)... in other words the characters are *designed* to be flawed, thus make poor judgments, which makes the story BETTER than the average run of the mill good science fiction.


Anonymous said...

LOTFLMAO. I finally got to read this post. As a great admirer of gifted irony, sarcasm in aesthetic criticism, repartee, verbal adroitness and cleverness, and high wit, I greatly enjoyed this long but delicious offering. Well done.


Bill said...

I just saw it last night... What the frack?!?!

I'm left imagining the scene a few weeks later:
"Gods, I'm hungry. Who knew a gazelle could run so fast?"
"Hey, tomorrow let's hunt Lee Adama! I bet we could catch him."

It would have been so easy to do it better, and still get to the same ending:
Galactica, mortally damaged, crashes on Earth. Our Heroes mostly survive, but with limited stuff. The rest of the fleet, which doesn't have the magic coordinates, never hears from them again, and goes its own way.

Tony said...

I think you make many valid points, except for the fact that many of them are based completely on bad assumptions that we also must assume to be true to find this validity.

The most glaring being this... "The whole earth business hangs on the need to have the child Hera to contribute her mitochondria DNA to the human gene pool, in order to give us the ability to talk." It was followed by the criticism that this is not true scientifically. You are correct. Our ability to speak is not tied to mitochondrial DNA, and you would be making a fascinating and scathing point here... if in fact the show had ever stated this falsehood in the first place.

Yes, it was stated the people they found on Earth were pre-verbal. It was also stated Hera was Mitochondrial Eve. It was never once stated that her mitochondrial DND played any role at all in the human ability to speak, or lack if ability prior to the genetic mixing. They could have said "We found people,they haven't figured out how to make sandwiches though." Then later call her mitochondrial Eve, and try to argue that the writers were wrong and that Mitochondrial DNA has nothing to do with making sandwiches. Of course it doesn't... nobody ever said it did.

Your entire blog post is riddled with these types of misguided conclusions, false assumptions and plain misunderstandings of the material.


Blog Archive

Some neat videos

Nuclear Advocacy Webring
Ring Owner: Nuclear is Our Future Site: Nuclear is Our Future
Free Site Ring from Bravenet Free Site Ring from Bravenet Free Site Ring from Bravenet Free Site Ring from Bravenet Free Site Ring from Bravenet
Get Your Free Web Ring
Dr. Joe Bonometti speaking on thorium/LFTR technology at Georgia Tech David LeBlanc on LFTR/MSR technology Robert Hargraves on AIM High