Farewell, Battlestar Galactica
I am highly confident that history will regard the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica as the greatest science fiction show of the aughts. Lost and Firefly have both made valiant efforts, but their attempts at employment of science fiction as a tool of examining humanity have been relatively aimless and scattershot, as opposed to Battlestar's elegant tapestry of social and political commentary, which fused seamlessly with its equally intriguing plot.
The new Battlestar arose from the least likely of origins — a campy '70s space opera replete with shiny robot suits and Mormon allegories — and massaged it into equal parts epic saga and high drama. The core concept of the original Battlestar — the lone survivors of an attack on a distant star system fleeing on spaceships in search of Earth as their new home — is still at the series' base, but it is now fleshed out with a far more complex plot and many a weighty theme.
Is the ultimate goal of the human race merely to survive and reproduce? At what point can a sentient entity be called living, or even human? Can someone created purely to serve a certain ideal defect to an opposing side? Many themes had been referenced by prior sci-fi franchises, but Battlestar's plausible motif managed to scrape off the mildew. Even the concept of an ostensible villain later turning out to be a morally conflicted and sympathetic character may not be as timeworn as it may seem. I know a couple people who couldn't bring themselves to watch the show after it was revealed that a likable character was actually an unknowing agent of the enemy: They apparently couldn't bear to watch a character they liked act as a Bad Guy.
In addition to its core themes, smaller story arcs enabled the show to peek into other issues facing our own world, ranging from religion to abortion to suicide bombing. At times, it seemed as though the plot veered in the direction it did in order to be more analogous to pertinent quandaries, such as the time the survivors were brought under occupation by the enemy forces — and were subjected to torture in dank detention cells, with only a small band of insurgents to rescue them. At other times, most notably in the series' two weakest episodes, "Black Market" and "The Woman King," the show seemed to stir up new plot points purely for the sake of exploring the issues they would uncover in the process.
The relevance to our own world dissipated, however, during its final season. This, of course, was when the show needed to focus their energies on addressing all the mysteries left in the series, leaving no time for parallels to other plots such as reality. It almost seemed as if Battlestar procrastinated in its task of cementing in all the cracks and putting a veneer on its surface, which is why the ending seemed so disjointed. While the series finale performed satisfactorily, it had three notable problems.
First, the show fell back on themes of divine intervention, which in its series finale seems more like a deus ex machina than ever before. Battlestar always had a nasty habit of employing religious claptrap whenever it was unable to move the plot forward using only realistic measures. No practical means of the colonists determining a path to Earth? Time to call in the magical arrow.
Of course, when the series had really written itself into a corner, it was willing to abandon its responsibilities entirely, at least once — in its final episode. One of Battlestar's most Philip K. Dick mysteries, featuring a character who died and was resurrected in a rift of space-time or whatnot, was not so much resolved as given up on. When a show devotes a solid amount of airtime to a bizarre anomaly that seemingly can't be explained, it is expected that they actually do explain it, rather than say, "Well, I guess we'll never know." Audiences had the right to feel cheated.
Finally, there is the Very Last Scene of the Very Last Episode, the part of a series that is expected to encapsulate its entirety, its essence. Needless to say, there is a good amount of pressure on any show for its VLSoVLE to be perfect, and I probably share the same expectations of it as anybody else. But I still must take issue with Battlestar's ending montage, which as ending montages go was roughly as redundant and unnecessary as the closing credit sequence of Lars von Trier's Dogville. Particularly damning is the fact that I myself was able to conceive of a better ending — instead of a montage of these objects, just one slow zoom in on one, followed by a cut to the executive producer credits. As it stands, Battlestar's VLSoVLE seemed like the writers were trying to remind the audience how clever they were.
But despite some indiscretions on the part of the writers, Battlestar concluded with enough aplomb to ease the series gently to its end without shattering it, and ensure its status as a commendable work of metaphorical sci-fi. While it may have faltered over the years with story arcs that couldn't support their own weight, Battlestar Galactica excelled as both a televised storyteller and philosopher.