When TV Becomes Art

The re-imagined Battlestar Galactica

The re-imagined Battlestar Galactica

I FINALLY got to see the series finale for Battlestar Galactica.  Now before I tell you how hard it’s been to see it, a little lead up, some of which you know.  I read about the first Battlestar Galactica series way before it was ever on the air.  I found a great article about John Dykstra and how he was taking the effects skills he learned in Star Wars and was making a TV series with those abilities.  I was looking forward to the show well before it aired.  Okay, it was the late 1970s, it was cheesy, it was over done, many of the effects shots were re-used over and over, but for me, at that time — well, it was just fantastic.  There was a weekly show on the TV with space ships, people that lived on them, effects that made it look real, and stories that took me beyond the here and now.  Every week we heard the same tag line at the end, “And so, the last Battlestar, Galactica, leads a rag tag fugitive fleet on a lonely quest for a shining planet called Earth.”  After an attack by the Cylons (robots made by man that rebelled), most of the 12 colonies are destroyed, so they find the fabled planet they all came from and find keys to help them find Earth.  It ran for one season only and they never found Earth.  Well, okay, they did in the really, really, really bad sequel, Galactica 1980, but that was basically an attempt to keep things going and most of us consider it “non-canon” as far as what happened.

So around 2004 Ron Moore, who I’ve mentioned (the producer I pitched to at Star Trek that actually seemed to like my stuff) re-imagined it.  Instead of just robot Cylons, there were also Cylons that looked just like humans and could hardly be told apart from humans.  At the end of the new mini-series, we even find out that some of the characters that we liked in the original series are, in the new version, Cylon “skin jobs” as they’re called by humans. So since 2004 I’ve been watching, first the mini-series, then the series as it as unfolded better than any TV show I can ever remember seeing.  It raises more questions than it answers.  They talk about God and different groups have different views and we don’t get an authoritative answer.  When the humans have found a planet they think they’ll be safe living on, the Cylons find them and enslave them.  One of the human leaders starts allowing suicide bombers — and we know he’s not crazy or nuts and we see his reasoning why he’s sanctioning such things.

For four years my sister and I, and a few friends here and there, have had something to talk about after almost every episode.  To keep humanity alive characters had to make decisions they hated, like forbidding any kind of abortion because the human population was so small.  And for four years, the humans, again in a rag-tag fugitive fleet, have been led by Commander Adama from the last remaining Battlestar for Earth, a planet they hope will be a safe place to life, will harbor advanced humans, and will give them the way to defeat the Cylons.  We’ve watched as some Cylons befriend the humans, but are still treated like outcasts by many due to hatred and prejudice.

And then the story is ready to wrap up.  I had read that the final episode may be 2 hours and the one before it sets up that episode.  I wasn’t sure if it was a 2 hour episode airing all at once or 2 separate episodes.  It was listed on the guide on my DVR as Daybreak, Part 1, and Daybreak, Part 2.  The episode before it was titled Islanded in a Stream of Stars.  So I wasn’t sure which one was the “ramp up” and if Part 2 was just the 2nd part or 2 hours (the guide didn’t show me for sure).  To be sure, I kept the episodes from Islanded in a Stream of Stars on the DVR, checking to make sure they were okay.  Then, last Saturday, when they were all on tape (and it turned out Daybreak, Part 2 was actually 2 hours and ten or more extra minutes!), I sat down with root beer and a special treat of store-bought (not air-popped) popcorn, ready to enjoy what I now knew where the last four hours of a journey I felt like I actually started 30 years ago.

I got through the first two one-hour episodes, then hit the ceiling in anger.  I have Verizon FiOS, which is usually perfect service, but somehow the Sci-Fi channel, and ONLY the HD feed, was messed up!  It actually stayed messed up the whole weekend, until some lazy idiot schmuck dragged his carcass out of bed on Monday morning and hauled his butt in to fix it.  So the HD version of the 2:10 finale was totally fubar on my DVR!  My sister had it on her DVR in the normal format, but that long a show won’t fit on a DVD for her to burn!  I finally find out it’s on On Demand, so Wednesday night I finally have time, curl up with another root beer, and find out On Demand is NOT working!

Well, tonight it was finally working.  Tonight, after 30 years I saw Commander Adama reach the end of his journey, along with tens of thousands of humans.  I know what happened to the humans now, and to the Galactica and to Starbuck and Apollo (the names of two pilots in the early version, but only their call signs in the later version).  I know how the Human-Cylon war ends.

And you know what?  While it was not worth waiting 30 years for that resolution, I do feel satisfied.  I feel like the ending fit the story and the characters all went in directions that were true to themselves and who they are/were.  There were religious issues and questions raised.  There were questions that were answered in ways I know a lot of people will just hate, and whether you hate the answer or not, in some cases, it only raises more questions.  I finished watching this hours ago and still my mind is spinning.  I’m still thinking about the implications, the questions, what I think the answers are, and where the show went from the start to the end.

I’m thinking about how the original was a cheesy show that couldn’t, with any degree of competency, address issues of good and evil, or bring up ethical dilemmas and make us agree that what we would normally consider wrong might, in some cases be right.  Yeah, it was cool for a teenage kid to watch, but this version, the good one, the real one, is for adults.  Many episodes don’t have a lot of action.  We’ve seen characters at their best and worst.  And now it’s over.  I don’t watch many TV shows, but there are some I’ve stuck with while they went on for a full decade, yet I have never felt like a show took me the places this one took me — especially in that finale.  This is one of the few TV shows that I want to have on DVD in entirety.  Not once did it insult my intelligence and every week it raised more questions to talk about with people I knew.  I can honestly say I am a better person because I watched all of this one show.

On the one hand, I’ll miss watching it, but on the other, I’m glad the story is complete because, at times, it’s been exhausting.  I think the series finale and the end of a two-part story earlier in this season are the most intense hours of TV that I’ve ever seen.  In many ways it’s good I did not see the finale after watching the two hours leading up to it.  The finale, on it’s own, was such a ride and, at some points, so intense, that I’m glad I was able to see it by itself and not after I had watched another 2 hours leading up to it.

This is probably only the 3rd time I have ever seen a finale that I felt was 100% appropriate for the show and the characters and it is the only time I have ever seen one that took me to some of the places this one did.

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