Possibly one of the most provocative and innovative shows of modern times ended this weekend. Here was a show that explored the human condition from all facets, delivered allegory and analogy about modern times, explored realistically human frailties, delved deep into religious concepts and delivered, at times some high adventure and the most plausible space combat ever shown on TV. I could go on and on listing its pantheon of achievements. It's hard to believe that six years earlier when the show was first announced that everyone and his brother derided the idea of a re imagining of the classic seventies version. I have to admit I was skeptical myself, I'd loved the original series as a kid and had the same Clone War-esque desire to see the final part of that version's voyage executed properly. Who didn't want to see Dirk Benedict slip into the role that made him famous? Nonetheless the show runner, Ron Moore, delivered as promised; a cutting edge take on TV Sci-Fi that's mission statement was to redefine the genre. That he did, and on a budget far less than most major network shows. Somehow he managed to deliver both character based drama and epic Sci-Fi adventure - one hell of an achievement.
So how is the last episode? Well, the second half of season four has been somewhat schizophrenic in tone and style. After the trauma of finding the Earth of the Thirteenth Tribe had been a nuclear waste land and that everyone there had actually been Cylons, humanity - what was left of it, turned in on itself. We had a series of kick ass Mutiny on the Bounty episodes, plenty of grand character moments and some close quarters action sequences to keep the juices flowing. Then we got a great episode of revelations as the backstory of the final five Cylons became clear, joining the dots in some wonderfully unexpected ways. Then we got - well, nothing really, just a bit of soap opera-esque episodes that felt far too self aware of the show's demise. Sure the Boomer plot development was compelling, but watching Adama getting drunk every episode and spilling white paint and tears everywhere, was just, well embarrassing really. Once, twice maybe I can understand, but every episode? Com'on this guy is supposed to bad ass not New Man, you know what I'm saying?
Fortunately part 2 of Daybreak delivered the action in bucket loads. Adama decides to take Galactica on one last desperate mission to save Hera who is the only hybrid child of human and Cylon. It's feature movie set up, and the writers and production team deliver an hour of seat-of-your-pants action which surprisingly and organically allow them to tie up a lot of outstanding questions that the series has asked.
Spoilers below - beware if you haven't watched it yet.
First off, the In head Baltar and Six. Who are they?
Well, it's quite obvious now that they are super advanced beings, angels or even demons if you like. But whatever you want to call them, the scene with Six and Baltar both seeing them together for the first time proved beyond all doubt that they are real and not figments of their subconscious guilt. Not naming exactly what they are is fine with me as what are you going to call them? Seraphs? Guardians? Whatever - they are a sweet homage and re-imagining of the original Super-beings of the 70s show, except with healthy does of ambiguity and post modernism thrown in to boot. They hint at a God force subtly or not quite so subtly influencing events in the universe - it raises all sorts of questions of course; is the show anti or pro religion? Do the writers really want us to firmly believe in some kind of force or is it more elegant than that? Well, more about that later.
The secret of the Opera House.
I liked this. It turns out that the Opera House scenes that have been a part of the show's visual vocabulary since season one had been flash forward projection images all along designed to nudge the key players into a Crucible sequence in the CIC of Galactica. Very stagy in practice but worked beautifully as a piece of drama. In fact, it reminded me of the end of the Shadow War in Babylon 5, which in turn, negatively so, reminded me of Star Trek proselytizing. However, this being Galactica, we were given a wonderfully dark twist and satisfyingly bloody resolution to the war with Cavil's Cylons. This was executed brilliantly by the deft slight of hand of bringing both Baltar's character arc and Tyrol's together at the same time.
In the case of Baltar, he gave the closest to a Captain Kirk speech as we're ever going to get on this show. As his realization of his better nature, and his embracing of his spiritual side allowed him to articulate an epiphany, which he actually managed to convey to Cavil's machine sensibilities. This being Galactica, the peace lasts all of three minutes as the resolution of the conflict involves the Final Five doing a melding of minds in order to deliver the secrets of resurrection to Cavil's cylon faction. This means that Tyrol will discover that Tory killed his wife, Cally. Following all this? I'm assuming you already know who these people are. Well, despite Tory asking for clemency before the fact, the Chief totally loses it and fucks everything up again, by strangling the life out of Tory and wrecking the fragile trust between Galactica and Cavil. It's a superb bit of drama and ends with a juicy Ok Corral shoot out where the bad guys get what they deserve. The execution is faultless as far as I'm concerned and totally subverted expectations of the usual resolution for this type of scene. You're going to love Dean Stockwell's exit from the show - totally in keeping with his character.
It gets better though, because, somewhere above the Cylon base a Raptor flying dead in space accidentally launches its nukes. Adama screams at Starbuck - get us out of here! But where can they go? What co ordinates should they use? Well, Starbuck, a few episodes ago was given a sequence of notes by Hera which turned out to play All Along The Watchtower. In subsequent episodes she then translated the notes in to co-ordinates, and it's these numbers that she inputs into the jump computer. Where do they end up?
Earth, not the real Earth of course, but our Earth. That's right, the slight of hand at the season's midpoint begins to crystallize. Landing on this new world, the crew discover a primitive species of humanoids who they're genetically compatible with. Somehow Moore actually delivers an ending which is almost kind and upbeat. Not exactly the bleak Blake's 7 ending - they all die scenario, that everyone had been expecting. It gets worse though, the route he takes is even more controversial. Read on.
It's obvious to the audience at this point that the Ragtag fleet have arrived somewhere in Earth's distant past. Thus if this is our past then why don't we know that Galactica arrived? Well you've got Lee Adama to thank for that one, with his Luddite anti-technology speech condemning the entire fleet of survivors to a Lost-esque future of subsistence farming and staring out at the beautiful unspoiled vistas of pre-history Earth, oh and possibly being wiped out by our primitive forebears. Poetically it sounds good, but it's a controversial, questionable way to end things. Lee goes on about teaching the natives how to talk - yeah right, lets give them civilization. Dare I say it? Okay I will, its an extremely American view of the natural order that after all they've been through, somehow their mastery of linguistics is a superior way of living than the content tribesman method - hadn't anyone of them heard about the Prime Directive?
To be honest I feel uneasy at how pat this resolution felt. It would have been more plausible in my view, humble as it is, to have built a city in the manner of Atlantis thereby delivering an ending which tied in with our own myths about an advanced civilization existing in pre-history. Furthermore, considering how much Galactica owes to The Chariot of The Gods theories, it would have been a fitting tribute. In addition, it was odd that everyone agreed to do this. Think about it, this whole series has been about no one ever agreeing with what anyone says or thinks, we're suddenly lead to believe that in the thrill of the moment, all 38 000 survivors decided that they didn't want hospitals, central heating and entertainment anymore, but would rather ek out an existence where the possibility of making it past the first winter are fifty fifty at best. It's a lot to swallow quite frankly. They could have done another series of episodes where there is a further civil war between the colonists - those who want a technological society against those who want an Amish existence. The resolution could have been that they decimated each other and were then picked off by primitive man. Much more in keeping with the series tone, don't you think?
Moving on - the mystery of Starbuck.
Starbuck found her dead body on the nuked Earth, Baltar ran tests on the necrotic blood she found, proving the body had been her. So who the hell was this Starbuck, the one who lead them to both Earths? Well, we're never going to know for certain as in her final scene with Lee she literally disappears saying that her journey had been completed. So what was she? Some bloggers have mentioned the Holy Trinity analogy going on here with Bill Adama as the Father, Lee Adama as the Son, and Starbuck as the Holy Ghost. It's a nice concept and fits neatly into the mold here. Yet Kara Thrace is so much more than just Ghost, she is essentially the show's messiah figure, before transformation she was a flurry of contradictions and fucked up decision making, yet somehow she was deeply religious and driven by ghosts. After her return she was still fucked up, yet her drive now had direction and purpose, despite being misunderstood continuously, she was tenacious enough to get people to notice her and follow her lead. Whereas Baltar turned into somewhat of a John The Baptist like figure, Thrace became a true messiah by delivering on her promise. She brought them to salvation on Earth, but to do so she had to take them on a journey into the darkest part of themselves and show them how the cycle could so easily be repeated again and again as it happened on Earth 1.
In the end I didn't really feel a need to have Starbuck's return explained to me. What could Moore say or show anyway? A ship of light captures her spirit, white glowing figures in robes talk to her, give her the details of Earth, then build her a new ship and send her on her way, explaining how they'd once been like the humans and were trying to guide them to a better future. See I explained it, but now it sounds like 70 s Galactica and all the mystery's gone - what's the point? Good decision in my view.
The last thirty minutes of the show turn into one long extended good bye for the characters on a par with Return of the King with the number of endings it shows. From a pacing point of view it could be considered clumsy, yet it felt deserved. The characters and the audience had been through hell and back, we needed this release of darkness - what I'm saying is that this extended epilogue was earnt and thus necessary and not superfluous to the story. I liked how Baltar and Six found love once again and resolution with their Angelic demonic guides, I was touched by the passing of Roslin, and the post mortem marriage with Adama as he slid his old wedding ring onto her finger. Most affectingly the passing of the Rag tag fleet set against the original theme music was satisfying and just so perfect in every way you could imagine.
Finally, we race through 150 000 years to modern times, and watch the In Heads read about the remains of Hera in National Geographic in the show's coda. All along this show has repeated the line - All this has happened before and will happen again. In their final conversation Six and Baltar look around New York with an edge of disappointment at all the decadence and corruption around them. Images of new primitive robots flash across screens, and they speculate that could another uprising similar to Kobol, Earth, and Caprica happen here? Six is optimistic, believing that mathematically speaking, at some point the cycle has got to break. Just to piss off more atheists, Baltar refers to God as not liking that name and then we go to credits.
So in the end, the series that had bordered on the Nihilistic in tone and attitude delivers a message that there is a God after all, and we need to watch our backs or our Asimos are going to rise up and wipe us all out. That's if they get there first, what about those other centurions roaming around the Cosmos? Sequel series anyone?
In some ways Moore and his crew delivered a conservative and almost old fashioned view of Sci-Fi, which could almost be called underwhelming. In the end the fleet still hadn't reconciled themselves with technology and the idea of living in communities turns out to be less attractive than living out the rest of our days in solitude on top of mountains. Its an oddly contradictory message for a show which kept on asking hard questions about how we should live together. Still, loved the space combat this time around, and we're always have the extended DVD releases to look forward to.