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I couldn’t have said it better myself . . .

Tigh (Michael Hogan) and Adama (Edward Lee Olmos), SCI FI Channel Photo: Carole Segal

Tigh (Michael Hogan) and Adama (Edward Lee Olmos), SCI FI Channel Photo: Carole Segal

There’s a terrific piece by Laura Miller about the Battlestar Galactica finale over at Salon, which pretty much nails a lot of what went wrong in the final ten episodes, and most particularly the mess of the finale. Most tellingly, I think, she points to the contrast between the (admittedly controversial) non-ending of The Sopranos and the desperate and misguided desire to tie up all of Battlestar Galactica’s loose ends which so muddied ‘Daybreak’.

That said, she also argues that:

“Adama was always the series’ most conventional figure, the old-fashioned, admirable leader-hero that American popular culture typically insists upon. This also made him the least interesting character psychologically, but he was essential all the same; the rest of the survivors needed him as a fixed point, a star to steer by.”

At one level she’s right; Adama is one of Battlestar Galactica’s more conventional figures. Certainly without the strength of Edward James Olmos’ performance he would be little more than a cardboard cut-out. But the strength of Olmos’ performance also grounds one of the less conventional aspects of Adama, namely his violence and anger. The role he is playing, that of the leader-hero, is generally constructed in such a way as to allow the character to be an essentially decent, honest man, who only turns to violence when provoked. It is, in many ways, a peculiarly American fantasy of the soldier-farmer, the man of the earth who takes up arms to defend his rights and those of others.

Adama, by contrast, is a much darker creation. More Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven than Gary Cooper, his outward semblance of control is largely a facade, designed to keep a check on the anger and violence that seethe at his core. As we are reminded on a number of occasions, his impulses are authoritarian, even despotic, his first loyalty to his uniform. He is a soldier, and a good one, but soldiering is not, as we are often reminded, a profession which tends to make nice people out of those who excel at it.

This is of course of a piece with Battlestar Galactica’s deeper interest in the brutalizing nature of war, and its ambiguous attitude to the nature and exercise of power in general. Indeed Adama is in large part interesting precisely because his nature belies his conventional facade, so much so that the term of respect the crew bestow upon him, “the Old Man”, can often seem oddly ambivalent, conjuring associations of control, and violence as much as paternal affection.

(For those anxious to fill the hole left by Battlestar Galactica’s passing, SciFi have released seven clips from the upcoming prequel/spinoff, Caprica, all of which are available over at io9).

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8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Mardi #

    It was disappointing to see a show which has always been so willing to avoid the obvious, finally collapsing into a horrible literalism which only provokes more questions than it answers. For example: if Hera is the Mother of us all, does that mean none of the other survivors produced living progeny? Was there ever a moment when the space dudes started getting it on with the neanderthals? How exactly is Galen going to get to Scotland from Africa if they’ve crashed all the space ships into the sun? And – WTF about abandoning all the technology? Are you SERIOUS? And I didn’t mind flashing forward 150000 years into the future, but did we really have to have God’s angels explain it all to us? Why not leave us with the pleasing ambiguity and the sense that, yep, all this has happened before and will happen again.

    March 24, 2009
  2. I also thought the end was racist. That whole Chariot of the Gods/ Eric Von Daniken line suggests that the original Africans would never have developed technology themselves. Also, given all the blacks on the show were killed, the fact that more than half the human race ended up being black is unexplained. They did actually talk about Galen being dropped off by a raptor before it was crashed into the sun, but the weirdness of the decision still stands.

    March 24, 2009
  3. I made a valiant attempt to catch-up with BSG over this past weekend and last night – watching some 10 episodes from about Season 4 Ep 9 to Ep 18.

    The series is about guns and drinking, isn’t it?

    That and wondering which archetypal character they can turn Gaius Baltar into next. Villain? Check. Man of the people? Check. Corrupt politician? Check. Traitor? Check (again). Born-again messiah? Work in progress. Hopefully there isn’t enough time for another manifestation. Though deity is a possibility.

    You’ll be aware of what happens already. I’m a bit conflicted in wanting Baltar to either experience a large vacuum up-close and personal, or for him to just fade away.

    Two episodes left – I’ll get there. Not sure I’m going to be all that happy when I do, but….

    March 24, 2009
  4. Ah, Baltar. I saw Ron Moore say in an interview that Baltar was his favourite character and it rather queered things for me, since like Perry he’s a character I’ve always found difficult to be interested in, and almost impossible to believe in his final incarnation.
    And I’m not sure the ending made enough sense for me to feel uneasy about the racial politics. If it had been a bit less muddled, maybe, but the whole thing had so obviously been made up on the fly I doubt they’d really thought the possible implications through.

    March 24, 2009
  5. Missed on Baltar’s deification, but got close. He finished his born-again messiah phase by refusing to follow his flock, instead offering himself as a sacrifice (well, volunteering on a possible suicide mission which is near enough). Trouble is I didn’t see the chance of them slipping in yet another character change, ie Humble Joe, before his final metamorphosis.

    As for the rest it will take a while to digest, some parts of the last two episodes were good (eg. the attack on the Cylon base ship orbiting the black hole) and some just tedious.

    All in all, I think the producers of the show made a brave attempt to match a vast space opera with basic human drama, and sometimes they hit very high points – the New Caprica insurgency for one.

    The Sopranos ran for 6 (or was it 7?) seasons so we had plenty of time to come to conclusions about it. BSG ran for 4 and was badly interrupted by the writers’ strike (no blame just a statement). I reckon it’ll take a year or so before we get a full grip on how good or bad it was.

    Lee Goldberg called the BSG finale “simply fine, but not outstanding”. I’d go with that. Trouble is, he put The Sopranos last episode in the same category and I don’t agree with that.

    March 25, 2009
  6. Just because the implications haven’t been thought through doesn’t mean it’s not racist. There was a lot of debate on this subject when Chariots of the Gods came out in the late 60s which they can’t have been unaware of, and that is very much the thesis they’ve gone with.

    I too am a huge fan of the final Sopranos. Best finale ever.

    March 25, 2009
  7. I suppose that’s a fair call. Though they were working with the heavily Chariots of the Gods-inflected original series as source material they were kind of stuck with the racistness or non-racistness of the original material.
    It’s possible, of course, that they weren’t suggesting, even by mistake, that Africans couldn’t have developed technology on their own. After all, the survivors were spread all over the world, and they clearly meant the hominids they found to be the ancestors not just of Africans, but of humanity as a whole. And the Eve/Hera thing suggests they were really interested in making a larger point about the mixing of races and cultures and the collapse of the boundaries between different races and peoples, a we are them, they are us sort of thing.

    March 25, 2009
  8. I enjoyed it up until the miracles started kicking in. The pay-out of the opera house thread felt too light-weight, for one: was *this* really all God had in mind for all those people? That it didn’t make much sense goes without saying. Criticising God’s plan for being light on sense and timing is automatically scuppered by the objection that God moves in mysterious ways, even it’s an alien or a machine, apparently–but that was soon overshadowed by Starbuck’s revelation re the FTL jump, et hoc genus omne, ad nauseam. The destination very quickly over-rode the journey, as occasionally happened in BSG’s past. Our Earth (as you correctly guessed) was always going to be final home of the Fleet, no matter that it’s completely unbelievable. There’s no way the entire population would willingly give up technology to live in the dirt, not with a remote chance that the centurions would return to finish the species off once and for all. Surely *someone* would prefer to ride with Galactica into the sun? Surely *someone* would hijack a ship and head for the metaphorical hills? Surely at least *one* group would sneak some tech into a small community and try to preserve everything from the Colonies–not just science, but art and culture? (That would’ve been an interesting story to touch on: that such a group had existed, but failed to survive.) I just couldn’t buy it. And then there’s the *rest* of the Starbuck situation…

    Although I was moved, on the whole, by the emotional arcs of the characters, I thought they were embedded in a dislikeable, worm-ridden frame.

    March 26, 2009

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