No concluding episode could live up to the overall accomplishment of Battlestar Galactica, but last night’s finale was an honorable try, and the series is one of the best ever.
Joshua Trevino assesses the finale and commends the series.
The end of Battlestar Galactica was the most anticipated denouement of a television series since The Sopranos abruptly signed off nearly two years ago—and as such, its finale could never have lived up to expectations.
Though showrunner Ronald D. Moore famously pronounced the abrupt end of the HBO gangster drama “perfect,” he did not follow in David Chase’s footsteps in penning the science-fiction epic’s end. Where The Sopranos gave the audience no closure, no answers, and no future, Battlestar treated its viewers to nearly an hour (out of a two-hour finale) of explanations and conclusions that veered from the obvious to the satisfying to the absurd.
It is eminently possible to approach the last episode of Battlestar Galactica with a host of criticisms: the archvillain’s fate is arguably out of character, the final battle ends improbably, the pediatric Macguffin is swiftly discarded, the political background becomes incomprehensible, the characters resolve their situations with a series of choices that defy ready belief, and the final 90 seconds are marred by some truly awful edits that make George Lucas seem the master of subtlety.
This last, it must be said, was emphatically not a characteristic of the show as a whole, which was hitherto pleasing and consistent in its willingness to treat its audience as basically intelligent. Moreover, the show generally treated its own characters as basically intelligent, if subject to all the flaws of humanity, making the last decisions of the “ragtag fleet” baffling in their unnecessary decisiveness.
To go into specifics on all these points is to miss the forest for the trees—and it would spoil the ending for those who have yet to see it. Whatever the manifest shortcomings of the Battlestar finale, the show remains eminently worth watching across all four of its seasons, and it will stand as one of the finest television series ever made.
Its origins have been recounted enough in other places: it is enough to note that when it premiered in 2003 as a “reimagining” of the one-season 1978 Glen Larson series, there was little reason to expect it to become a cultural phenomenon, to say nothing of art. Yet it is both. Where Larson’s televised Star Wars ripoff was a clumsy and ineffective vehicle that appropriated Mormon concepts in the service of science fiction (complete with quorums, lost tribes, and eternal marital sealings), Moore’s reimagining gave us an exploration of theism and its meaning in society and the individual.
The theism of Battlestar Galactica is not a Christian theism, to be sure—the final exposition veers more toward a Deist concept of God-in-the-world—but to attempt to view it as endorsing any specific tradition is to misunderstand the show. Throughout its four seasons and six years(!) on the air, Battlestar served up enough variations on faith and the faithful for a host of real-world comparisons.
The Cylons’ genocidal monotheism, for example, bears an uncomfortable resemblance to Muslim jihad, even as it is eminently more sensible than human polytheism. The dissipation of human polytheistic society lends itself to a comparison with late Rome, even as it appears more pacific than its monotheist enemy. And the redemptive power of a different yet related monotheism emerges as the show progresses, lending itself to—well, one gets the point.
To bring the viewer’s faith and politics to the show would be an error, and to project either upon it would be still worse. It is best to enjoy and appreciate that Battlestar Galactica, unlike nearly every other show, posed relevant questions for both.
Where the show fell short was in answering those questions, and it is a pity that it ever felt that need. If David Chase evaded his responsibility as a storyteller in ending his narrative to no purpose, Ron Moore took it too seriously in ending his with excessive explanation. In doing so he reveals himself as a writer with a tremendous gift for asking the questions that matter.
This is no small thing. Those questions, and those mysteries, drove Battlestar Galactica on its epic journey—as they drive the human condition in our own mundane world. Why does this happen? Why does evil persist? What does it mean to be good? What is the plan? Who is God? How do I fit in to all this? Will I be forgotten? Moore’s genius was creating a fictional universe of robots and spacecraft in which these questions mattered as they matter to us. His error was in attempting to answer them in the final episode.
Still, if that is the worst we may say of Battlestar Galactica—that its creator took a stab at the timeless questions of mankind—then we may abandon the critiques and be merely thankful for one of the finest television programs we shall ever see.
—Joshua Treviño is a writer and policy analyst. His website is http://joshuatrevino.com.