Thoughts on the Galactica finale. Major, major, MAJOR spoilers below. Don’t say you weren’t warned…
BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: S3 E19-20: Crossroads
Was it perfect? Not by a long shot. Did it make me excited about the next season?
Galactica’s third season slippage has been rather major, to the extent that there were later episodes that I almost considered skipping (including ‘Dirty Hands’, which turned out to be one of the best of the standalone stories for the last couple of seasons). In the main, there’s been a worrying lack of direction in the show- after starting strongly with the flawed but very powerful New Caprica storyline, the show got back into the ‘on the run from the Cylons’ vibe a little too quickly, and then started suffering from too many self-contained filler episodes, and too little of the serialised characterisation that make Galactica work. Galactica used to be a series where everything had consequences, and yet there are episodes of the third season that you could completely remove from continuity without harming the show at all- episodes like ‘Hero’, which should have been groundbreaking, were instead forgotten by the next week. Characters were either mistreated (GalacticaBoomer) or simply repeated (the ‘let’s make Starbuck miserable again’ plotline), and there was a worrying trend towards domestication, with love triangles and lengthy discussions about marriage which, to be honest, was not what I signed up for. Galactica started to dangerously drift from the ironclad sci-fi storytelling that made it so interesting in the first place, trying too hard to be ‘drama’ (especially in the appalling ‘A Day in the Life’ episode, where aside from the airlock plotline the show was actually the least interesting it’s ever been).
It was all looking rather grim- and yet, it has pulled out of the decline. The season finale was the weakest ending of the series yet- it would have been nice to see them not go the obvious route of using the Trial of Baltar as the big ending- and yet still managed to work, and also be a different kind of ending to throw the show in a different direction. The Trial itself generated some good drama, but was rather clumsy in places– I’ve been watching loads of Boston Legal recently, and have been massively spoiled for legal drama, meaning it rather sticks out when I see it done less than brilliantly. Nevertheless, despite some of the cheesiness, it succeeded, and also finally found a decent use for Apollo that- unlike many of the developments in the third season- felt like a logical extension of where the character had started from. The man who insisted on elections and sided with the President against his father was very likely to be the man determined to give someone like Baltar a fair trial, and the massive monologue that Jamie Bamber had to deliver in the episode actually managed to stay on the right side of theatricality. It explored the themes and ideas in the right way, using the Galactica world to look at the idea of civillisation and forgiveness, but still letting the conflict come from the characters rather than simply pressing the ‘allegory’ button.
Making up for the flaws of the trial scene was everything else, including one of the most flagrantly weird subplots Galactica has ever done, as the weird sitar music that Tigh, Anders, Lori and Chief Tyrol were hearing turned out to be “All Along the Watchtower” by Bob Dylan, of all things. The intrusion of a slice of pop culture into the world of Galactica was the kind of borderline nutty stuff that I love- and although the cover of “Watchtower” that turned up in the last few minutes could have been a little less nu-metal, and made me yearn for a bit of Hendrix, it still resulted in some genuinely atmospheric TV. Of course, we also had the revelation of four of the final five Cylons– and it would have been a complete surprise where the plot was going if the ‘teaser ad’ on the end of last week’s episode hadn’t basically blown the surprise in a manner that New Who fans will recognise from the “Oh- the Daleks are back in next week’s episode- was that supposed to be a surprise?” teasers. Nevertheless, the scene where all four congregated and worked out the truth was fantastic, mainly for giving Michael Hogan as Tigh even more to play than ever. Tigh’s always been one of the more fascinatingly messed-up characters, and the mind boggles at where the plot could go from here.
Plus, there was the last couple of minutes. I’d been rather disappointed by Episode 17- ‘Maelstrom’- simply because it seemed to be so bloody inconclusive, not wrapping up any of Starbuck’s connection with the mystery mandala symbols, and apparently saying that Kara could only find true happiness and closure by killing herself. Combined with this, everything that I was reading and hearing from the Ron D. Moore podcasts (which are constantly rewarding- even when I don’t agree with him) suggested that this wasn’t a ruse, that Katee Sackhoff was genuinely getting other work, and that Starbuck was permanently out of the picture. The loose ends from Maelstrom kept me thinking that there had to be an ‘out’- and as soon as Apollo spotted the ‘unknown’ signal and encountered a mystery craft, I guessed the surprise- but was still pleased as punch when Starbuck made her actual appearence. Combine that with the final dialogue- she’s been to Earth, and she’s there to show them the way- and the wonderful galactic scale zoom out and zoom back in to end on Earth, and I did find myself cheering in a way I hadn’t been expecting.
Do I think that the fourth season (now confirmed as 22 hours- gulp…) is now a slam-dunk? No. It’s very possible that there might still be some wandering, and there’s been enough misconceived episodes to make me fear that the fourth season could still be a risky game. And yet… we’ve finally got to a point where there’s been some serious character development and plot motion that isn’t going to be able to be reset very easily. Whatever has happenned to Starbuck- and apparently, she is back as a regular next season- it’s great to see her actually given some genuine forward motion, and the various domestic situations in the show have been given a genuine upheavel. Plus, according to Moore, they have finally realised that the standalone episodes were almost always the weakest episodes of the show, so they’re aiming the fourth season to be serialised in the same way as the first season– heavily linked, but with enough standalone aspects so that you’re getting some kind of complete storytelling. The fourth may be the final season. It might go on longer. It might never recover to the jaw-dropping, kick-arse level it attained with the opening of the second season- but the return to the background mythology, plus a return to the Cylons as a more ambiguous threats, all point towards some promise.
It’s not the show it once was. But I’m still interested to see where it goes next…