Sunday, 22 March 2009

Review - Daybreak

Battlestar Galactica ended on Friday night with an episode that highlighted the twin allures of the entire series: the first half was awesome space-battle action and the second half was a slow, philosophical character piece. Balancing the action and the character politics is something that the show has always aimed for, even if it meant the pacing of episodes or seasons was sometimes a little off.

Battlestar Galactica has been the best show on television for the past five years. Though it didn’t have the addictiveness of Lost, Battlestar has been more consistent. The show has had its share of bad episodes – mostly studio-requested stand-alone ones – but for the most part Battlestar kept a consistent level of quality, maintained a similar tone, and pursued the same mysteries since the show’s beginning. Lost only introduced the now-central element of time travel in Season 3/4: Battlestar has been taunting us with that Opera House since their first season.

Battlestar Galactica has always been a show about characters, which is why it seemed so fitting to have the finale explore the characters’ pasts through flashback. Throughout it has almost been incidental that the characters spend all their time on a space-ship fleeing from killer robots. Battlestar’s high-points have always been character-related: Gaeta’s haunting lament, Tigh losing his wife on New Caprica, Adama reuniting the Fleet at Kobol, Roslin and Adama reuniting on the Baseship, Lee and Kara’s torturous relationship, Cavil's self-loathing, Baltar’s trial. These aren’t to do with the plot but with the characters interacting. Like in Camus’ fiction, the setting is almost interchangeable: the characters would face the same dilemmas even if the show were set in the Dark Ages, World War II, or wherever. The plot is nothing more than a vehicle to drive the actions of the characters with the aim of holding a mirror up to the audience so that we might examine our own motivations and our own nature. The allegory is what has kept the fans coming back and will keep me watching my DVD box-sets into the future.

A lot of fans are bandying about the term ‘Deus ex machina’ in reaction to the finale. But considering the particular plot device used to wrap up all the loose ends, it seems as though the writers’ are getting the last laugh. Deus ex machina literally translates as ‘god from the machine’ and that is what the entire show has been about. The Cylons (or rather the Final Five) have always pursued their monotheistic vision which has driven the plot of the show. The last two minutes or so of the show were, for me, the only low point in an otherwise great two hours (the dialogue was terrible, the unsubtle moralising irritated me, Moore’s cameo was too jarring, and they played Jimi frakkin’ Hendrix instead of Bob Dylan!). But the epilogue was notable for one line of dialogue: at the very end Head Six and Head Baltar mention that It doesn’t like to be called ‘God’ and the camera pans into a montage of robots – a strong implication that ‘It’ is machine-like in nature. A literal deus ex machina: the God-machine. Accusing the writers of deus ex machina is playing directly into their hands.

I’ll miss Battlestar Galactica. Yes, the space battles were intensely well-produced. Yes, the politics were relevant and intelligent. Yes, the music was beautiful. But most of all I’ll miss the characters, even the secondary ones (I would watch a whole show based around President Lampkin and Admiral Hoshi). For five years the audience has shared their lives. For five years we’ve seen ourselves in them. Sad to let them go.

So say we all.

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