Stopping Short with BSG

Yesterday sci-fi megasite io9 posted a question originally posed by screenwriter John Rogers: supposing the end of Battlestar Galactica is bound to disappoint, when should a first-time viewer stop watching?

Now any BSG fan should be able to find something to like about the show’s final season; for me, seeing the end of of Felix Gaeta‘s trajectory was a highlight. Then again, cutting the last five minutes of BSG’s last episode could have spared the world any number of nerd groans (or any amount of online revisionist fantasizing, as it were). I asked the dudes from The Gutter (in a state of tenuous dormancy not unlike the Cylon self-awareness of the Final Five) to weigh in.

Here’s Tom:

Is there a better episode to end on than the ending? I’m not sure there is. Maybe it’s a testament to the structure (if not the content) of the last season/finale that there’s really not a more satisfying place to end the show, barring extensive rewriting.

I don’t know if I could really tell someone to stop at a certain point, either. In hindsight, the second half pales in comparison to the first, but the later seasons are still better than the best seasons of a lot of other shows. A friend of mine started the series recently, and I told him what I’d probably tell everyone: You’re going to be sold on the show right away. No matter how bad anyone says the ending is, you’re going to want to finish it, so just keep your head down and have a little faith. Really brace yourself for the “All Along the Watchtower” bit, though–definitely a low point.

…And Jonah:

I think stopping right before the “150,000 years later” might be an improvement. (Rebecca concurs, but also says, “I think I didn’t hate the ending as much as other people because I didn’t like the rest of the show as much as other people.”) Also, I liked the idea from “Battlestar’s ‘Daybreak:’ The worst ending in the history of on-screen science fiction,” which said

BSG had the opportunity to do this because many fans, thanks to the plot of the 1978 version, were expecting it to be in the past — even though there actually were almost no clues pointing to that. I think it would have been a fun ending (and a nice homage) to have panned over a buried Statue of Liberty. Then, if desired, the view could have gone back thousands of years to meet “Six” (or rather her DNA source) in modern New York, playing her as a programmer about to embark on building AI, in fact building the super-AI that would become the god of the show. (OK, so Lady Liberty might be a bit corny to those who didn’t get the homage concept. Giza would do just as well.)

But these are suggestions for the creators of a show, not for viewers. Even if there’s a point where the show “should have” ended, stopping at that point and refusing to watch more is, to me, really unsatisfying. I think that’s the main reason why we hate good shows that take a turn for the worse: because our desire to not watch garbage collides with our desire to have seen all there is to see.

**UPDATE** Bad Dog Alex Sciuto has added his thoughts in the comments, and explained in so many words why I will not watch Lost.

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One Comment on “Stopping Short with BSG”

  1. Alex Says:

    I’ve still been thinking about this question of when to end. Part of me agrees with Tom’s assessment that there is no really better place to stop than at the end, but as I write that my anger towards that very last scene 150,000 years later flares up like heartburn. Allow me to remind you what the dialogue of the last scene was:

    (After talking a bunch bio-babble about “Mitochondrial Eve”)
    Six: Commercialism, decadence, technology run amok… remind you of anything?
    Baltar: Take your pick: Kobol; Earth–the real Earth, before this one; Caprica before the fall.
    Six: All of this has happened before…
    Baltar: But the question remains: does all of this have to happen again?
    Six: This time, I bet no.
    Baltar: You know, I’ve never known you to play the optimist. Why the change of heart?
    Six: Mathematics. Law of averages. Let a complex system repeat itself long enough, eventually something surprising might occur. That, too, is in God’s plan.
    Baltar: You know It doesn’t like that name… Silly me. Silly, silly me.”

    It’s all the worst aspects of BSG. The conversation the two have is preachy, it’s self-important, it’s pseudo-philosophical. It’s the kind of language Adama would never ever use. Speaking of Adama, I think the most touching vignette of the last episode is Adama and Rosalin’s final chapter. If I had to choose a moment in the last episode to end the story, I think it would be that parting moment when Adama says goodbye to Apollo and Starbuck and takes Rosalind away to die. It’s the most touching moment of the finale easily.

    Changing the question of when to end the series to what is the last essential moment that a viewer needs to watch, I immediately thought of Cavil’s great monologue about what drives him to do what he does:

    “Cavil: In all your travels, have you ever seen a star supernova?

    Ellen: No

    Cavil: Well I have. I saw a star explode and send out the building blocks of the universe. Other stars, other planets, and eventually other life. A supernova. Creation itself. I was there, I wanted to see it, and be part of the moment. And you know how I perceived one of the most glorious events in the universe? With these ridiculous gelatinous orbs in my skull. With eyes designed to perceive only a tiny fraction of the EM Spectrum. With ears designed only to hear vibrations in the air. … Do you see the absurdity of what I am? … I could know much more. I could experience so much more, but I’m trapped in this absurd body.”

    By the end of the series, the plot is so convoluted and atrophying that I think any discussion of a moment that wraps up all the threads even modestly is an impossible dream (What the hell is Cavil doing? What is Six doing, what is alterna-Six doing. I still have no clue!). Instead of focusing on how to tie a bow on the BSG package, I would suggest the new viewer to stop after the emotional climax of whichever character they are most interested about.

    Finally, BSG provides a good roadmap for what to avoid for that other great fantasy/Sci-fi series today. I guarantee you in a year, we’ll be having identical discussions about when would have been the best moment to quit watching LOST. Right now LOST feels a lot like BSG: the list of characters are expanding, the plot is exploding. LOST hopefully will not try to contain the plot explosion like BSG did and tie everything up.

    Okay, Long enough comment.

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