Over the weekend, one of the entertainment mainstays in my life came to an end as I finally watched the series finale of Battlestar Galactica. It was, simply put, the bittersweet moment to end all bittersweet moments. I already have a big problem finishing things that I really like — TV series, books, video games, etc. — because once I’ve watched, read or played them all the way through, that’s it. They will never be “new” again. It’s an admittedly stupid quirk, but it kept me from watching the last episode of Knight Rider until 1998, finishing System Shock 2 until the mid 2000s, and enjoying the series finale of Star Trek: TNG until just six months ago. No, really.
Ron Moore and David Eick’s reimagined BSG, however, was epic from start to finish. With a story that unfolded in a serial fashion over the course of six long years, it was like a high-speed joyride to destinations unknown that you couldn’t bear to stop. And so after a delay of only a couple of weeks, I finally put “watch the end of Battlestar” on my to-do list. On Saturday night, I turned down the lights, prepared a late-night snack and settled in for the last two episodes I had yet to see: “Daybreak, Part 1” and the two-hour wrap-up, “Daybreak, Part 2.”
To use the Battlestar lexicon, holy frakking shit.
It hasn’t left my mind since — neither the amazing images, the satisfying yet still mystifying story, nor the incredible musical score. This was, quite simply, the end of one of television’s best series. And rather than dwindle away into cancellation, spin itself off into a shadow of its former self or jump the shark and drag us through the mud for the last few years, I personally feel it ended on the same high note as it began. Not only was it a near-perfect series for sci-fi lovers, in my opinion it concluded with a near-perfect finale.
There’s a lot of debate about this, of course; in fact, I was pretty surprised at the wide range of opinions on the finale that I found posted on message boards all across the Internet. Many people liked the finale, and yet, many people also hated it. Others seemed consumed by unanswered questions. But I think a show does a large part of its job if it gets people talking, and from my own personal viewpoints, the wrap-up was exactly what I wanted to see. I’ll explain my perspective after the jump. (No, not the FTL jump.) But first, a little recap of the finale’s events.
Warning: Lots of spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t watched the last episode yet, get out of here and don’t come back until you have. Y’hear?
In the two-hour final episode of Battlestar, it seems like Ron Moore went out of his way to give everybody a taste of something they wanted. There were resolutions to all of the major stories, tie-ins with character developments from seasons long past, and nicely-done flashbacks to the lives of the major characters “before the fall” that became relevant to each of their respective endgames. Oh, and the whole first half of the finale was a huge action piece with space battles, ground battles, and chrome-toaster Cylon Centurions beating each other up. Frakkin’ sweet. (The only thing we didn’t get was a vocoded “By your command!” line, but we already had that in Razor, so I’m not disappointed.)
The Galactica’s final mission is to rescue Hera, the first half-Cylon, half-human child ever to be born. She holds the key to the continued survival of both races — since the Cylons have lost their resurrection technology, and the humans are on the verge of extinction. The rebel Cylons who joined forces with the humans see Hera as their savior, but the hard-line Cylons led by John Cavil (Cylon model Number One) want to dissect Hera and experiment on her to unlock her biological secrets. Unfortunately, Cavil’s forces have succeeded in abducting her, with the help of Boomer — the same Boomer who shot Admiral Adama in the gut way back at the end of season one.
The whole first hour details the mission to rescue Hera, and it’s a nonstop action-oriented affair that’s filled with great visuals as well as a few twists — like Boomer having a change of heart and deciding to deliver Hera to the rescuers, claiming that she owes “the old man” (Admiral Adama) a favor from way back. (The fact that we see the genesis of this owed favor in the form of a flashback was a nice touch.) There’s even some fanservice for old-school Galactica heads, in the form of more classic chrome Centurions from the original 1978 series. As if that weren’t enough, there are even some scenes of Centurions fighting Centurions, including a newer model that shoves an original model to its knees and puts a bullet through its head at point-blank range.
In the end, of course, Hera is rescued and brought back to Galactica, but that’s hardly the end of the story. Cavil and his forces storm the ship and cause general havoc, and Hera gets loose and runs off on her own. What was awesome about this was that they tied in the recurring “opera house dream” that President Laura Roslin, Caprica Six, Baltar and Athena have all been having for practically the entire series. In fact, the entire dream is played out with the Galactica as the setting, while all of the aforementioned people stumble through its battered corridors in search of Hera. Mystically, the search leads everyone to the CIC — where, in another cool visual reference, the final five Cylons are seen on the upper deck, just as they were depicted in the dream.
When it all comes to a head, and the inevitable standoff occurs in the CIC with Cavil pointing a gun at Hera’s head, it’s none other than Gaius Baltar who manages to talk him down. The final five Cylons, in cooperation with the humans, decide to give the other Cylons back the secret of resurrection if they’ll promise to just leave the humans the hell alone for the rest of eternity. An agreement is reached, and the final five link up so they can pool their collective memory and upload it to the Cylon base.
Here’s where another really cool moment arrived. Last season, Tory — upon discovering she was a Cylon — literally blew Chief Tyrol’s wife Cally out the airlock. When the final five do their mental link, the consciousness of each is momentarily shared with all the others. And it’s through this mechanism that Tyrol learns that Tory murdered his wife. (Up until now, it had been thought that Cally committed suicide.) What happened next was predictable, but oh-so-satisfying: Tyrol grabbed Tory and wrung her neck until she was dead. I’m a huge Tyrol fan, so it was greatly satisfying to see this often-slighted man get his revenge.
Tory’s sudden demise has the effect of breaking off the transmission of resurrection data, so Cavil and his forces think the humans are playing a trick on them and they unleash an attack. All hell breaks loose in the CIC.
And right then, there’s a moment where purely random chance comes together in a freak accident that nukes the entire Cylon base — in a payoff of something we saw happen earlier, but didn’t understand the significance of at the time. It was another nice touch.
With the base breaking up and falling into a black hole, the already heavily damaged Galactica has to get the hell out of dodge. And who’s at the FTL drive controls? None other than Kara Thrace, better known as Starbuck. Starbuck has been one of the biggest, if not the biggest, mysteries of the whole last season. After apparently dying when her Viper exploded near the end of season three, she later showed up alive and well, flying a showroom-condition Viper that nobody could account for, claiming she had “been to Earth.” When the fleet arrived at the nuclear wasteland of Earth at the midpoint of season four, the mystery was further compounded when Starbuck found the crashed remains of her own Viper, with her burned body still in the cockpit.
And just a couple of episodes ago, we learned that Starbuck was seeing “angels” — just like Baltar and Caprica Six have been seeing angel-like apparitions of each other for the entire series — in the form of her father, who reminded her of a song he once taught her to play on the piano. Creepily, the song was “All Along The Watchtower,” the same song that awakened the four Cylons in the human fleet at the end of season three. (Seriously, I absolutely love all the freaky intertwined stuff on this show.)
So now the escape route of the Galactica is in Starbuck’s hands, literally. As she sits at the FTL controls, the ship falling apart around her and Admiral Adama screaming at her to get them all to safety, we finally come to learn the significance of the song. For whatever reason, Starbuck’s familiarity with the song has a purpose. While trying to discern that purpose, she ran through numerous code-cracking ideas, one of which was assigning numbers to the notes. At this moment, she realizes that the numbers are FTL jump coordinates. She keys them into the computer and…
The Galactica arrives at a distant planet nearly a million light-years away, and as the blue marble swings into view, we recognize the continent of Africa. It’s Earth — our Earth. And as we’ll soon see, it’s our Earth 150,000 years in our past, populated only by traces of very early tribal humans.
And so this is where it has all been leading us. Kara Thrace, the “harbinger of death,” she who will “lead them all to their end,” does exactly that. With Cavil and his Cylon army destroyed, the ragtag human/Cylon fleet makes the jump to Earth — their new home, and their final end. This is the “home” they have been searching for, and what little human population that exists there has DNA that’s compatible with their own. They can put down on this planet, breed and continue humanity’s existence for generations to come.
Alas, during its fateful FTL jump to Earth, the war-weary Galactica is finally broken beyond all repair — there’s a painful scene just after the jump where the ship appears to collapse in several directions at once, as if it’s explosively exhaling a long, pent-up sigh. It’s a hard realization for Admiral Adama to come to, that his trusty ship has made its final journey. This is the ship he’s commanded for years and years, going back long before the fall of the Twelve Colonies. The ship has a bigger place in his heart than anything or anyone else, save perhaps former president Laura Roslin (whom he’s come to love since the war thrust them together).
Seeing the pristine, natural beauty of Earth, the humans decide to make a clean break with their troubled past, the past that they’ve seen repeat over and over in an endless cycle of war and destruction. They abandon their technology, and as a final gesture, they send their entire fleet of ships on an automatic course directly into the sun and to their own destruction. Admiral Adama takes one last Viper flight around his beloved ship before it is sent to meet its firey end, and a fantastic, orchestral rendition of the original 1978 Battlestar theme — retconned in the new series as the Colonial Anthem — plays during the final journey. It was a great moment.
The final 15 minutes or so shows us how the major characters will adjust to their new lives on Earth. What will they do now, with the war finally over and humanity’s endless race for survival at an end? There’s a cute moment where good old Chief Tyrol decides he’s just “sick of people; human, Cylon, whatever” and disappears to his own little island somewhere off a northern continent, which — given his name, Galen Tyrol — I can’t help but think is either destined to become Scotland or Ireland one day. (Hey, I’ve got ancestry from there. Maybe I’m a distant descendant of the Chief. From one Chief to another, and all that.)
Two of the final scenes are among my absolute favorites. Standing in the middle of a beautiful, green field of long grasses that seems to stretch on forever, Lee Adama and Kara Thrace discuss their future. These two have been an “on again / off again” item for the entire series, but somehow the fates have always conspired against them, as if they simply were never meant to be. Over the course of the series, each got married to another person, yet they still had feelings for each other that transcended simple friendship. With both of their spouses now dead, Lee seems to think that he and Kara might have a chance to be together at last, and although he doesn’t say it, you can read the uneasy hope on his face.
Kara, however, seems to be coming to a realization about what she is. Like Christ, she died and was resurrected. She saw her own body and could not account for her continued existence, but now she believes that — whatever she is — she has fulfilled her destiny. When Lee asks her what she plans to do now, she responds that she doesn’t know. “I just know that I am done here…I’ve completed my journey, and it feels good,” she says.
There’s a flashback to a time before the war, on the night Kara first met Lee, who was the brother of Kara’s then-boyfriend Zack. After getting very drunk, Kara tells Lee that she’s not scared of dying — only scared of being forgotten. The two of them almost make love on top of the table, but at that moment her passed-out boyfriend makes some noise from the couch, bringing both Lee and Kara back to reality. They can’t have each other — it isn’t right, and circumstances don’t permit it. So they leave it at that, and part ways. It’s a nice illustration showing us that these two, though they have always been tempted, are fated to remain apart.
Hoping to lighten the mood, Kara asks Lee what he’s going to do with his life now. Lee goes off on a tangent, talking about how he always imagined that he’d just kick back and do the absolute minimum possible, but now that he’s reached that moment, he wants to explore; climb mountains, cross rivers, see the entire planet. He’s really into it, laughing at himself that he can’t believe how exhausting it all sounds —
And then he turns around, and Kara is gone.
I was shocked. And yet, I knew it had to happen this way. Kara really did die back in that Viper explosion. And she also came back, because a higher power, somewhere, knew that she must, in order to lead these people to their salvation. It’s as if Kara Thrace was an angel, and with her Earthly destiny fulfilled, she had returned to God.
“Goodbye, Kara,” Lee whispers to the deserted, grassy field. “You won’t be forgotten.”
Immediately after this scene came perhaps the most moving scene of the finale — or maybe even the whole series. Finally free of the burden of command and leadership, Admiral Adama and former President Laura Roslin fly off together in the last remaining Raptor, so that Adama can show Roslin the glorious flora and fauna of Earth. Roslin has suffered from cancer for the entire series, and she is very close to death at this point.
It’s one of those things that you know is going to happen. Roslin’s cancer has been a recurring theme throughout the series — it even played into the early Pythian Prophecies of “a dying leader who will guide humanity to the promised land” — first nearly bringing her to her knees, then going into remission, then coming back again. Still, it didn’t make it any easier when she finally slipped away in the passenger seat of the Raptor, with the man she loved next to her. “So much life,” she whispered as she gazed longingly out the window, then she was gone.
It was the second time that I cried over the death of a television character. The first time was in 1991 when the idiots behind Knight Rider 2000 decided to kill off Devon Miles’ character, after a tearjerking little montage of scenes from the original TV series. I felt more like my childhood had just died. (That was probably because Knight Rider 2000, otherwise, was garbage — and Devon’s death seemed like a symbolic funeral for the original show.)
There’s a beautiful scene where Adama sits on the edge of a hill overlooking an incredible vista, saying that this is the spot where he will build the cabin that Roslin always said she wanted to have back on New Caprica. Next to him is her makeshift grave. It’s a touching parting shot.
The “postscript” to the entire finale was, in itself, a bit of a reveal. At first, we see Hera — the Cylon/human hybrid child — walking through the fields of Earth. In an awesome throwback, Bear McCreary’s score “One Year Later” is reprised; it’s the same piece heard at the surprise end of season two when we fast-forwarded in time and got a look at the human settlement on New Caprica. This time, we’re taken forward not one year, but 150,000 years — to present-day New York City. This is what Earth will become!
We hear the voice of Six telling us that the humans have unearthed “Mitochondrial Eve,” the woman who is defined as the most recent common matrilineal ancestor for all modern humans — and apparently, we’re meant to believe that it’s Hera (hey, we’re all human/Cylon hybrids!). She and Baltar — the same angelic manifestations witnessed by Dr. Baltar and Caprica Six throughout the TV series — are standing on a busy street corner in Times Square, pondering whether this society will eventually repeat the same mistakes that led so many previous incarnations of humanity to their destruction. All of this has happened before, but the question remains: Does all of this have to happen again?
“Angel Six” believes that humanity won’t destroy itself all over again, but the final shot we’re left with — that of an MSNBC newsreel lauding “advances in robotics” — makes you wonder.
I liked how, by using this ending, the creators pay homage to the opening voiceover of the original 1978 Battlestar series, which began: “There are those who believe that life here began out there.” The powers driving the reimagined series, it seems, are believers too.
After I finished watching the finale, I cruised around to a few message boards and soaked up some fan reaction. I’d actually managed to stay completely away from spoilers before watching the last episode myself, so by this time I was jonesing to see what others had thought. Interestingly, I noticed that while there was a lot of positive reaction, there also seemed to be an undercurrent of people who were dissatisfied with the show’s explicit use of “a divine being.” They felt that saying “it was the hand of God” was a cop-out. These same folks didn’t seem particularly pleased about the open-ended nature of Kara Thrace’s “disappearance” toward the end of the episode. What the hell was she supposed to be, then? An angel? A ghost? A demon? A dream? What?
Personally, I didn’t feel any of the frustrations that usually come from having questions left unanswered. Which, in a way, surprises me. I remember many episodes of The X-Files, in particular, felt incredibly unsatisfying because you felt like you didn’t know any more at the end than you knew when you started. But I think the things left open-ended by Battlestar were appropriate things — that is, if you take for granted the creators’ idea that there is a Divine Being which steers, to some degree, the progress of the cosmos.
Kara Thrace, I felt, was resurrected by this Divine Being to serve as the one who would guide the fleet’s final jump to their “promised land.” When her destiny was fulfilled, she was recalled by the Divine Being, the need for her continued corporeal existence at an end. You can see, however, how this might greatly upset atheists or others who find the concept of religion to be ridiculous. That’s not to say I’m a religious person — I’m anything but — but I still have enough of a romantic notion about the universe’s unknowns to accept Battlestar’s premise as one possibility. At the very least, it’s a possibility which served this television series well, right through to its end.
As for “Angel Baltar” and “Angel Six,” or whatever you want to call them, clearly they too are servants of the Divine Being, as they have existed for many hundreds of thousands of years, if not much longer. They’ve seen entire human civilizations rise, create Cylon servants, and be destroyed at their hands time and time again. And they’re still with “us” today, in our present time, waiting to see if it will all happen again. It’s kind of a chilling concept when you really step back from it and consider the magnitude of the whole thing.
Regardless of the meaning behind it all, I was completely compelled by the reimagined Battlestar Galactica from the 2003 miniseries right up until the last episode. This is one of those rare shows that held my attention in an unwavering, iron-like grasp for every single season. I hear the entire series is coming out on Blu-ray — finally — in a few months’ time. I definitely want me some of that!
I’d also like to specifically mention the musical score, composed by Bear McCreary, a powerhouse composer who has become a sort of rising star since BSG took off. The sounds this man has been able to cobble together are nothing short of amazing, using inspiration from almost every type of music known to man. But it’s perhaps his simplest cues, like the orchestral strings used for pieces like the stunning “The Shape of Things to Come,” that always inspire me the most. And the dark, hard-rocking recreation of Bob Dylan’s classic “All Along The Watchtower” — which became the Cylon song — is amazing.
Speaking of that particular piece: In an interview, when asked how a Bob Dylan song could have existed hundreds of thousands of years ago, Ron Moore mentioned how a musician might say he just snatched his latest song out of the air. In that way, perhaps music is like an ethereal force…a force that’s been flowing through the universe for millennia, and perhaps the same piece of it might have been snatched by two different people many thousands of years apart. Naturally it’s a bit “out there,” but it’s an interesting and cool idea — which is what sci-fi should be, anyway.
Anyway, according to Bear McCreary’s blog, the soundtrack album for Battlestar’s final season will be the first to come on two discs, with the second disc being dedicated to “virtually the entire” score from the final episode. I can’t frakking wait. I just wish I lived closer to the Hollywood area — apparently Bear has been known to host “The Music of Battlestar Galactica” concerts at the Roxy Theatre, during which he’s usually joined by none other than James Callis (Gaius Baltar). James even plays the keyboards! Oh, how I’d love to hear “All Along The Watchtower” live. (Rumor has it, there may be a live concert DVD available at some point…)
Even though the epic story of Battlestar Galactica has ended, there’s one last adventure for us to enjoy. This fall, the two-hour movie “The Plan” will air on the
Sci-Fi SyFy channel (why’d they adopt that stupid name again?). It will give us a glimpse of the opening days of the fall of the Twelve Colonies, but from the Cylon perspective — cluing us into what their infamous “plan” was from the very beginning. Of course I’ll be eating that up.
Also, this month, the official Battlestar spinoff series — called Caprica — launches on DVD, so you might want to give that a look. (I presume it’ll be aired on TV eventually; not sure why it’s coming to DVD first.) Caprica is supposed to be a character drama set on the planet Caprica (imagine that) some years before the original human/Cylon war. It’ll be a lot lighter on tech than BSG, but if the characters’ stories are as compelling, it could be good.
For now, though, there’s a hole in my Friday night schedule where Battlestar used to be. I doubt that any future TV series will ever fill that slot with such an amazing story, told with such great skill, by such incredible actors. And while that’s depressing, at least I can say that I was watching during Battlestar’s run — from start to finish.
So, indeed, say we all.