There are “SciFi” films & series out there that make sense, there are some that don’t ... in the don’t category I list series such as “The X Files” (the truth may well be out there but it’s got naff all to with this series), “Lost” (good title ... 15 minutes in and I had entirely “lost” interest). There are others that rely on technobabble, Star Trek & Stargate (love them though I do) amongst them and that’s fine ... I can live with techno-babble by making a rational trade off, I switch off the normal world step into the scenario I’m presented with and as long as it is internally consistent I’m fine with it. To my mind, that is the secret to enjoying a science fiction film or series ... I don’t mind whether it entertains me on a rational level or on an entertainment level but, if the film strays too far from rational I demand that it makes sense within the scenario presented.
So when I first saw the pilot for the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica first came on screen in the form of a 3-hour pilot I absolutely loved it ... sure it had flaws, which series doesn't, but it was gritty & interesting in all kinds of ways; it had great characters including Commander Adama (James Edward Olmos), Apollo (Jamie Bamber), Gaius Baltar (James Callis), Number Six (Tricia Helfer) and the awesome Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff); it was stylish and it appeared to be, above all, rational by which I mean it was a scenario that made sense.
One intriguing thing was the religious relationship between the Colonials and their Cylon enemies ... the Colonials believed in Greco/Roman gods whilst the new model, humanoid, Cylons believed in “The One God”. Even as an atheist this was fine because the idea of gods are inherently irrational, there is never any proof so with two mutually opposed belief systems there could be no victor, no right or wrong so I had many, many hours of what looked to be an excellent, action-packed science fiction series to look forward to ... 3 seasons later I found out how hugely, mind-bogglingly wrong I was!
First of all a warning, this review is one huge spoiler, in order to deal with it as I intend to do, it can’t be anything else. So, if you don’t want to know what happens, if you want to make up your own mind and do so objectively, without prejudice stop reading now. If, however, you want to be fully informed, to know the reason why I was so bitterly disappointed with it, a possible reason to (perhaps) stop before you start, before (as I did) you waste huge amounts of time and money on it ... read on.
Battlestar Galactica started well in the pilot introducing us the characters and the second war between Cylon and Human and the first season, with some baggage, went on well to expand on that fleshing out reasons for tensions between father, son and adoptive daughter (in order to preserve something for the wannabe viewer, I’ll try and keep some specifics out), why the military and civilian authorities didn’t see eye to eye, why the Cylons were engaged so determinedly in an effort to wipe the Humans out and on how determined (and why) the Humans were to survive.
Over seasons 1 to 3, there was some (inevitable perhaps) decay in the story, there were good episodes and ones that were not so good but when they were good it has to be admitted they tended to be very good and the bad episodes weren’t actually so bad as to be uninteresting. More to the point, as in often done these days, a story was being told ... a story that arced across each episode's adventure, tying the whole series together, asking questions, sometimes answering them, telling a story of a lost people trying to find their way home and above all asking what they would find when they reached that home, the mythical planet Earth to which the thirteenth tribe of Cobol was believed to have gone. In some ways this was, for me, becoming a kind of new Babylon 5 ... in some ways, it wasn't quite as good (until the dire season 5 Babylon 5 just kept improving) but in other ways, it was far, far better.
Season 3 ended with Starbuck returning from the dead and by half way through season 4 (with no surety it would continue what with the Hollywood writing strike) it appeared our fleet had reached Earth and, from the wrecked cities & all too familiar seeming skyline, at some point in our future. If only they had ended it there ... it wouldn't have been a good ending, it wouldn't have answered all the questions but if only, if only!
The writer's strike ended and a little later the series continued and, god, was it depressing? Primarily, it dealt with a mutiny over multiple episodes which could, quite frankly, have been covered in one, at best 2 ... there were lots and lots (and lots more) of "in corridor" scenes, person to person stuff and not a whole lot of FX/action. The impression many of us seemed to be getting was that they were saving their FX for one huge FX laden finale ... and that is exactly what happened but not quite in the way I thought it would.
At this point I am going to give a final notification so you know that now, if any time, is the time to duck out, I WILL be revealing things you might want not to know if you're the kind of individual that can enjoy this kind of crap... you were warned!
The mutiny is over and we've lost at least one major character, a civil war has burnt itself out in the Cylon fleet and Hera (the half-Human/half-Cylon child) has been kidnapped and taken to the Cylon's mammoth Colony/C&C Ship. Adama organizes a rescue mission and, expecting not to return, leaves the rest of the fleet under the protection of allied Cylons and that is when we meet, for the first time, this Cylon monster... this ship is no Cylon Baseship, it's an utter behemoth beside which Galactica, at 1.4K length (or indeed an ordinarily huge Cylon Baseship), is dwarfed (and that's by one of its appendages alone). Judging by the visuals the "ship" is maybe 15 times the length of Galactica but that doesn't stop our intrepid crew (nor should it) as she smashes her front into one of the monstrous arms and then ... sorry? Yes, that's right smashes her front into ... what do you mean, "like cardboard?" Oh yeah ... so it would!
Let's run by that again ... under the pounding gun fire of this Behemoth. Yes, I know that Sam is controlling Galactica's return fire but not, so it seems, for the first 20 seconds or so in which time the Galactica would have been little more than pulverised mist. Galactica launches Raptors and Vipers and rams herself against the base (nearer the central hub) of one of the Colony ship's arms. Let's think about that for a moment ... Galactica is damaged not only by the withering fire she's experienced but, as had been established in previous episodes, she wasn't doing so well structurally anyway yet she manages to ram her front section not merely into but THROUGH the armour of the Colony ship to allow her crew to exit and embark on a mission inside that ship to rescue Hera. I mean come on ... cardboard doesn't even cover it ... this thing is big, AT LEAST, 15 times the length of Galactica (so 20 kilometres across minimum) and something that big would be built, if you'll pardon my French, like a brick shithouse! Even assuming she survived the Colony ship's fire, Galactica would either have pancaked on the surface of the behemoth or bounced (likely in many, many pieces) off the surface and back into space. Think I'm wrong? You'll remember that an arguably superior Battlestar broke into many, many exploding pieces when Lee Adama crashed her through a couple of Cylon basestars at the beginning of season 3. Is the rationale here somehow different?
So, the battle raged whilst the brave (or apparently not so brave since it seemed they were going to pull this off despite everything thrown in their way up to and including the laws of physics) men, women & Cylons of the Colonial fleet manage to find and rescue Hera. They then pull the Galactica out (admittedly this time not under the withering fire of the Colony ship), somehow not manage to rip her front section off and leave it behind (think about the shape here guys). And then, to cap the dramatic battle, a dead pilot in a heavily damaged and drifting Raptor manages to loose his (or her if it was Racetrack) nuclear missiles to destroy the Colony ship (yes the kind of missiles that Galactica had survived many, many impacts of). Great! Marvellous! But even all of that could be forgiven if it weren't for the final, absolute insult to the viewer's intelligence yet to come.
The reformed fleet, having destroyed the remaining bad Cylons sets off for territories new guided by the re-animated (back from the dead) Starbuck ... "earth" it turns out was not the "Earth" that we know it was merely some transient stopping point for the 13th tribe. Fair enough ... eventually we arrive at another planet and during the remainder of the story it is revealed that the Baltar and Six inside Six and Baltar's heads (respectively) are angels sent by the one true god (a single god and not multiple ones as the Colonials believed) and so is the re-invigorated Starbuck and that "He" (this one true god) was orchestrating the whole bloody thing according to his almighty will!
In short, it was tiresome, it was dull and, as I say above, I really wish they had just left them on the shattered, transient “Earth” mentioned above ... that I hadn't stuck through the latter half of season 4 for such a pathetic and tritely religious ending. More to the point the ending, with all the big questions answered by "God dun it", ALL of the questions raised by previous episodes that I had waited impatiently to get answers to by the end of the series were utterly invalidated, something Ron Moore doesn't apparently get. It's at times like that I find myself wondering whether explanation by baseball bat is considered such a bad thing i.e. that fans of a series stick with them to get the answers, answers to important questions that have been raised throughout the series. Babylon 5 had a really bad last season but if Straczynski had ended it similarly to Battlestar Galactica I would have reacted similarly! Thankfully, despite the fact I didn't like that last season, it turns out he didn't ... way to go JMS! But to the point, I struggled through the increasingly lame, overlong, dire episodes of season 4 because I figured the last episode HAD to be good ... in many ways it made me wonder why I bothered with the damned series at all.
I asked my friend who watched it with me what he would have done and he offered me his own vision.
We knew, even without their resurrection ship, the humans & their Cylon allies were outnumbered so he suggested we could have had:
- The Cylon main battle fleet catch up with them and rejoin the bloody cat & mouse game that was done so well in the first & second series.
- Over a period of episodes, the desperate humans could have come up with plan after desperate plan only barely managing to survive (with significant, perhaps mainly civilian, losses) then ...
- Eventually coming up with a daring (out-of-the-box, probably Starbuck designed, plan to eliminate the Cylon fleet that is only partially successful and ...
- Finally (the finale) the humans & their Cylon allies facing off against a still superior Cylon fleet but, with civilian ships adapted as kamikazes, eventually winning the day with enough people (human & Cylon) to continue to the real Earth.