We've all had our problems with Battlestar Galactica's weird solar flare-out of an ending, but was it actually the worst ending in the history of science fiction? That's what Usenet luminary and Electronic Frontier Foundation Chairman Brad Templeton is claiming.
Oh, and there will be spoilers for "Daybreak Parts 2 and 3" in this post, in case you're still waiting for the DVDs before watching it.
Templeton's mega essay more specifically tars "Daybreak" as "the worst ending in the history of on-screen science fiction." And he has clearly thought about this for months, amassing a docket of evidence that the BSG-boosters will have a hard time refuting. And he admits that part of the reason why the ending seems so bad to him is that this was such a fantastic series, for so much of its run — this wouldn't have felt nearly as much like a letdown otherwise.
I'm not going to attempt to summarize Templeton's whole argument here — it's really worth going and reading the whole thing properly — but he makes a few really great points that I haven't seen anywhere else. First of all, BSG is not just a space opera, it's a mystery, and the answer to all of the show's riddles is one of the chief attractions of the final episode. The fact that the answers tended to be either "God" or "because we said so" was, to be honest, a bit disappointing. And because Ronald D. Moore decided to build the last two seasons around "big mysteries" instead of character-driven storylines, you can't excuse his failure to pay off those mysteries by saying the show is really all about the characters.
The other problem with God turning out to have been such a huge force in the show's narrative arc, Templeton notes, is the Ghostbusters rule: "If someone asks you if you are a god, you say yes!" (And the corollary is that gods, at least in science fiction, usually turn out to be false.) Templeton has a huge, exhaustive list of all the plot contrivances and happenstances that end up being laid at God's door, including everything Head Six arranged during the course of the series, and it's quite an impressive list. It's fine to have a Supreme Being set the story's events in motion and cause trouble for our heroes, but not quite so great for God(s) to swoop in and solve all our problems at the end of the story.
There's also the always-tenuous relationship between science fiction and our reality — not to mention between science fiction and science. And once you look at the science of "Daybreak," it does start to look a bit dodgy. There's the fact that Galactica's humans and the cave people of prehistoric Earth are able to interbreed, for one thing. And then there's Ron Moore's total misunderstanding of who Mitochondrial Eve actually was and why she's significant — she's not the most common recent ancestor for all humans, who cropped up much later. But turning Hera into Mitochrondrial Eve means that the show has to take place 150,000 years ago, or about 100,000 years before humans started to develop any kind of technology. And that, in turn, means the Colonial fleet left absolutely no mark whatsoever.
Templeton also has trouble with the "collective unconsciousness" idea that all of the stuff we see in the series, from Bob Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower" through to the clothes and telephones our heroes use, somehow filtered down through our ancestral memory so that we could reinvent it all today. And the hoariness of the cliche of "ancient astronauts" visiting our primitive ancestors.
(A side note: Katee Sackhoff has said there's a line of dialogue she refused to say in the final episode. After she puts in the notes to the magic song and jumps the fleet to Earth, President Roslin asks, "Where have you taken us?" And in Moore's script, she was supposed to respond: "Somewhere... all along the watchtower." But she and Mary McDonnell kept giggling when they got to that line, so it ended up getting cut. Thank goodness.)
Here's what I always come back to when I think about the BSG finale, though — I feel as though Moore put us on notice with the final episode of season three. When we first encounter the mysterious Bob Dylan Cylon signal, and four totally random characters turn out to be Cylons, and Starbuck comes back from the dead, the show is basically hoisting a giant sign saying "You Are Now Leaving Storytelling Logic. Please Drive Safely." And anyone who stuck with the show for its final season after that really can't complain, because we were duly warned.
Anyway, the whole thing is very much worth reading and debating: [Brad Ideas]