One of the greatest difficulties in analyzing something is the constant interplay between personal affection and the quest for objectivity. Is it possible to maintain an unbiased distance from a television show that you’ve spent four years following? And what happens when a show purposefully banks harder on that nostalgia than the actual strengths to carry the series finale?
The first hour of the Battlestar Galactica finale plays those strengths to the hilt with an epic space battle and a daring strike deep into enemy territory. The rescue plan is one set-piece event after another, with the Galactica jumping in for a frontal assault on (as in, ramming) the Colony while a boarding team retrieves Hera. Boomer, evidently not finished switching sides yet, absconds with Hera and delivers her to Galactica’s rescue team, right before Athena guns her down.
Gaius Baltar finally has the change of heart we saw coming from a mile away and chooses to stay on Galactica to help with the mission. He and Caprica Six have a brief rendezvous in a corridor where they’re confronted with visions of their guardian angels, Head Six and Head Baltar. Ah, but this time they can ALL see each other.
Recognizing that the Cylons’ chances at survival are quickly slipping, Cavil orders a counter strike against Galactica to retrieve Hera. Hera gets separated from the rescue team on Galactica for a moment before Six and Baltar scoop her up and take her to the CIC. And as everyone emerges into the bridge, with the final Five perched on the upper mezzanine, the vision of the Opera House is at last fulfilled.
Cavil, meanwhile, manages to get a gun to Hera’s head, and everything goes silent for a moment. And then Baltar finally has his moment of redemption. At long last, he doffs the mantle of the rational skeptic and embraces the unknowable, otherworldly forces that have been guiding them all: “I see angels. Angels in this very room... Our two destinies are intertwined.”
God, or whatever one might call it, has been guiding them not to conflict, but to peace. Cavil asks how Baltar can be sure that God is on the humans’ side. God, Baltar explains, doesn’t take sides, he’s (Nietzsche alert) beyond good and evil. The only way to follow God’s plan is for the humans and Cylons to end their war and break the cycle of creation and destruction.
An uneasy truce is brokered. Tigh says that the Five can all link in to Anders’ tank and provide Cavil with resurrection technology if he’ll agree to end the war. Tori is uneasy at the prospect. By plugging into the tank, all of the Five’s memories and secrets will be laid bare, which means Tyrol will find out how Callie died. He does, and predictably goes apeshit, strangling her to death. And Racetrack, dead in her Raptor, nudges the trigger for a nuclear strike against the Colony.
Cavil, mistaking the ruckus for betrayal, recognizes that there’s no way out of this one and hollers one last “OH FRAK” before swallowing the business end of his pistol. Starbuck has to enter the coordinates for an emergency jump, and conveniently uses the numbers she assigned to Hera’s arrangement of “All Along the Watchtower.”
And here’s where the plot totally jumps the rails. The coordinates Starbuck entered turn out to be the location of Earth. Well, not the postapocalyptic Earth we glimpsed at the beginning of the season. It’s a different Earth, somehow - a verdant world populated with early humans. How and why this version of Earth is habitable (or even exists) is never really answered, but deus ex machina has kindly intervened to provide resolution.
The survivors are seeded throughout the planet, and Adama and Roslin share some tender last moments before she succumbs to cancer. Apollo and Starbuck say goodbye, and Starbuck vanishes entirely. The rebel centurions are allowed to take the last basestar and find their own destiny, a spinoff or sequel in-the-making if ever there was one.
As the foundations for New New Caprica are being laid, Apollo soliloquizes his vision for the future: abandon technology entirely and start civilization over. “Our brains have always outraced our hearts. Our science charges ahead, our souls lag behind. Let’s start anew.” Everyone seems keen on the idea, so Anders takes control of the entire fleet and steers the ships to the heart of the Sun, forever breaking the humans’ last link with their old lives.
This crux the finale hinges on (the glorification of anarcho-primitivism) falls totally flat. Yes, the humans’ meddling with technology was what originally birthed the Cylons and led to war. Doubtlessly, there’s a valuable lesson in ensuring that science does not outpace morality. That said, the show’s presentation of technology as the linchpin in a Manichean struggle between survival and extinction is fundamentally amoral and dishonest, namely because the idea of 38,000 galactic pilgrims having the agricultural and survival skills to eke out existence on prehistoric Earth is laughable.
Are we to believe that the fleet is so eager for tabula rasa that they had no qualms in throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater? Would the Colonists who settled in, say, sub-Saharan Africa really be perfectly fine with abandoning medicine and electricity? Aren’t the last remnants of the human race worth protecting? Wasn’t that the point of the whole show?
The concept smacks of panicked writers searching for an easy way to braid together loose plot strings in the name of “all this has happened before,” which is a terribly disappointing notion for a show with the nuanced and thoughtful writing Galactica usually demonstrates.
The show’s other mysteries will go half-answered, or unanswered, for the time being. The big reveal of the second Earth made very little sense. We didn’t get any better an understanding of just what God or his emissaries are. Starbuck never comes to grips with the nature of her mysterious resurrection either, making her departure smack (again) of deus ex machina. Even the Opera House revelation felt contrived.
Flash-forward 150,000 years into the future, present day New York City. We see Galactica creator Ronald Moore leafing through a copy of National Geographic about humans’ oldest known ancestor, the mitochondrial Eve, strongly implied to be Hera. Head Six and Head Baltar prowl the streets, exchanging knowing glances. Technology has begun to run amok again, but our destiny is not yet written. And we’re treated to a series of clips of friendly robots as a lead-in to the credits.
The message couldn’t be clearer: humans must treat all their children, mechanical or otherwise, with respect. If we’re willing to slow down and wait for our hearts to catch up with our heads, if we’re willing to accept redemption in any of its many forms, we might have a chance at realizing heaven on Earth. The alternative is Armageddon.
Ultimately, it comes down to how accepting the viewer is of “God did it” as an answer to the series’ major questions. Think of it as part of the struggle between the Star Wars and Star Trek sides of your brain; those who yearn for techno-jargon about tachyon fields as answers to weighty problems are going to be unhappy with the way things wrapped up (at least until The Fall, the upcoming spinoff movie about the attack on the Colonies from the Cylons’ perspective.)
Yet with these questions (perhaps purposefully) left dangling in the air, the series’ larger mythology was well served by the finale, even lacking the minutae that was inevitably going to be glossed over anyway. Galactica was never a space opera, even if it managed to shoehorn in more than a few Star Wars references. It was never really about spaceship battles and conflict write large either, though the faithful representation of the military tradition helped those moments leave indelible marks on our memory.
Galactica is about human drama. It is the age-old story of humanity, cut loose from the garden and searching for a new Eden. It’s about the goodness and potential (chalk it up to God or evolution, take your pick) that’s innate in all of us. And even though this particular episode may not have been able to clear the yawning chasm of our expectations, it was an appropriate conclusion to one of the most poignant, smart and relevant television shows of the last decade.
Be nice to your toasters, people. The stakes could be higher than you know.