So it’s over. Last night marked the final episode of one of the more original and fascinating television series to come along, Ron Moore’s thoughtful re-imagining of the cheesy 1970′s scifi classic Battlestar Galactica. In Moore’s hands, and made possible by a very talented cast, the newly-updated Battlestar Galactica, or BSG as they say on the internets, became a savvy commentary on some of the hottest political issues of the day, a mediation on deeper and more universal themes like the struggle between faith and science, not to mention damn good entertainment.
Since this essay discusses the final episode, there are numerous spoilers ahead. If you haven’t watched the final episode yet and you don’t want to know what happened, please stop reading here. You’ve been warned.
“There must be some way out of here,” said the joker to the thief,
“There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief.
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth,
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth.”
“No reason to get excited,” the thief, he kindly spoke,
“There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke.
But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate,
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.”
All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too.
Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl,
Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.
I’m sure there will be plenty of commentary about the final episode, but I wanted to add my view that Moore gave us just what he had signaled all along he was going to give us. We just didn’t believe him. Through a kick-off mini-series and four seasons spread over more than five years, the characters of the show have constantly appealed to divine authority, to the humans’ “Gods of Kobol” or to the Cylons “one god.” And so we, the cynical, post-modern TV watchers of the 21st century waited with anticipation to learn, at the very end we expected, that these deities would be revealed as…as something else, something “real,” something scientifically “plausible,” something we could relate to in the scifi genre. Oops. Turns out the god all these characters were appealing to was god. The god.
I’m writing the morning after the final aired and I decided to write my thoughts before reading anyone else’s online, whether it be other fans on the show’s forum, the most popular BSG bloggers or TV critics who have followed the show like the Chicago Tribune’s Mo Ryan. But I expect that this final reveal — that the explanation for the reincarnation of Starbuck, aka Kara Thrace, for the Head Six seen by Gaius Baltar and its counterpart seen by Caprica Six, for the shared visions of the opera house and more were all created by god — will come as more than a little bit of a shock. It certainly shocked me.
But maybe if I’d been paying a bit more attention and been a little less analytical and detached, if I’d been not just listening to the show but hearing it too, I’d have been less surprised. So much of the show’s story arc, so many of the characters’ archetypes, so many bits of dialogue and scenes and developments came right out of the bible, the good old Judeo-Christian bible. All these hints and references and borrowings probably came to a head a few weeks ago in the episode “Islanded in a Stream of Stars.” In the episode, Kara Thrace has given the dog tags she found on her own corpse to Gaius Baltar to analyze. Near the end of the episode, Baltar announces his findings to the whole crew:
Listen to me, for death is not the end. And I am not talking about Cylon resurrection. I am talking about the gift of eternal life that is offered to each and every one of us. Yes, even the most flawed among us. All we need is the courage to face death when it comes calling for us, embrace it even. Only then will we truly have the ability to cross over as one amongst has here has already crossed over. One amongst us here is living proof that there is life after death. The blood on these dog tags come from necrotic flesh, that means a dead body. The DNA analysis is a hundred percent proof positive match for one Captain Kara Thrace. I told you there were angels walking amongst you. When will you believe me? She took these from her own mortal remains that lie on earth even now interred with her bones. Ask her yourself, she will not deny it. She’s not a Cylon. They’ve already been revealed to us. Ask her yourself, she will not deny it.
A truly great scene (and a scenery-chewing performance delivered by actor James Callis as Baltar) and pretty much all the explanation Moore was going to give. You don’t have look much past the nose on your face to see Jesus in the house. Have faith and you will be granted eternal life. Simple message.
The three-hour final episode which followed had grand battles and plenty of FX scenes but the core of the episode was the flashbacks to the main characters’ lives before the Cylon invasion, before “the fall,” before everything they knew was stripped away. These flashbacks, outlining the pains and imperfections of life, the human flaws, the hard choices people make, ultimately were the perfect set-up for the end. It’s not little green men or artificially intelligent supercomputers that make things tick. It’s imperfect people and their faith in god. Why Ronald D. Moore, you of the dark and stormy ruminating, the army brat, turns out you’re a softy after all.
I must admit that until the day of the finale, I wouldn’t have expected such a romantic view from Moore. But on Friday night, while I was waiting for the show, I popped the final episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine into my DVD player. Moore was the co-exec producer of the series at that point. Working within the contraints of the Star Trek universe, the show explored many of the same themes as BSG, including faith and science, terrorism and genocide and revenge and forgiveness (As an aside, it’s also a show that was truly ruined by the departure/demise of a key character in its penultimate season). But the DS9 finale, “What You Leave Behind,” still has its moments. And, oh, what nostalgic and heartfelt moments they are. In that series, Moore certainly has religion and questions of faith at the center. And in the end, it’s Captain Benjamin Cisco’s literal leap of faith that saves the universe.
So it was a great final flourish for BSG that will now take its place among the best final episodes in the TV pantheon. So say we all…and to Ron Moore, James Callis, Katee Sachoff and all the writers and actors and crew: So long and thanks for all the fish.
UPDATE1: So went off and started reading other things like Mo Ryan’s excellent interview with Ron Moore and I wanted to flag this bit of the Q&A:
MR: I had this experience the day after the finale, I was walking around in New York and became very emotional all of a sudden. I was thinking of that final scene between Adama and Kara and Lee and then the moment where Kara winks out of existence, and I thought of the phrase, “The father, the son and the Holy Ghost.” Having been raised Catholic, that just had so much resonance for me.
RDM: Yeah. I think it’s rooted firmly in traditions like that. We talked about that about that very idea, the Trinity, and Kara as somehow being representative or at least connected to that idea. We talked a lot about the resurrection of Christ and its mythology and how that plays into a woman who literally dies and comes back to life for a certain purpose and then leaves again and gives hope that there is something else. She sort of lives in all those kinds of thoughts.
It also struck me that Moore’s choice of “All Along the Watchtower” as a major theme of the series was a telling selection. There’s quite a lot of background writing out there about the song and Dylan’s entire album, John Wesley Harding, released in 1967, a year after his motorcycle accident. As Nicholas Taylor notes in his review at PopMatters:
If the doom prophesied in “All along the Watchtower” was to be avoided, it had to be through a Christian sense of spiritual contentment and fellowship with one’s fellow human being. These tracks are achingly archaic and quaint because their Puritan message is archaic and quaint-the apocalypse can be avoided by small individual actions and feelings, as Dylan affirms in “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest”, “So when you see your neighbor carryin’ somethin’ / Help him with his load / And don’t go mistaking paradise / For that home across the road.”
UPDATE3 (Much, much later)
To mark the opening of the Battlestar Galactica props exhibit in Seattle in October, 2010, Ron Moore gave an interview to Wired.com. They asked him about the end of BSG and Moore gave some very specific answers about just why he wanted to keep the series’ resolution so non-specific. It’s worth reading the whole interview to hear Moore explain his whole approach to the series and how he wanted to break out of many of the conventions of the Trek universe and focus on deep character portraits and an exploration of current day moral and ethical questions. Here’s an excerpt about the end of BSG:
Moore: They’re representatives of an unknown and unknowable power that doesn’t like to be called God, and deals with our mortal plane in some way, and has some interest in it. I didn’t want to define it much beyond that, nor what Kara Thrace is, which is probably your next question.
Moore: The easy thing to say is, “Oh, they’re angels.” And Kara is a messiah, in a certain analogy to the Christ legend — she dies and is resurrected and leads them to the promised land, and then goes to join heaven.
But I didn’t want to define it in those terms exactly. I went out of my way to tweak it and subvert it so you didn’t draw that parallel exactly. I liked the ambiguity of it — if there is some greater power, if there is some life beyond our ken, we shouldn’t be able to define it. It’s impossible to know and understand, and yet the people in this series clearly had some relationship to something greater than themselves, and couldn’t define it, struggled with it, the Cylons struggled with it. All the people were trying to understand who they were.
One of the things television does badly is take complicated questions like that and reduces it to really simplistic answers by the end, so you have a nice tidy way to go home and feel good. I wasn’t interested in that. I thought the question was far more interesting than any kind of answer you could come up with.
Previously on BSG:
Why I stopped watching Battlestar Galactica (3/16/2007)