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On the Shark (and over again)

Brian Hibbs

At the conclusion of last season of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, I had thought there was something wrong. I wasn’t entirely sure what, precisely, the mistake was, but I felt there was one going on.

I’ve watched all of this season’s BATTLESTAR, and I’m fairly certain I didn’t really enjoy almost any episode. Moments from episodes, yes, some clever bits of plotting or little twist on characterization, or whatever — but not a whole entire episode from start to finish.

As I was was taking my shower tonight (washing my birthday suit, as Tzipora put it, har), I think I figured out what it was.

[Clearly, there’s going to be SPOILERS at some point after this, and, though I haven’t yet typed it, I’m fairly certain I am going to COMPLETELY SPOIL the end of this season of BATTLESTAR. Please turn away now)

After 9/11, they declared irony dead. And, I think that a lot of people, even if they didn’t actually agree with that, at least understood it. The wound was too fresh, too near.

But allegory never dies, and what was that first season or two of BATTLESTAR except allegory-a-go-go?

This is the beauty thing about Science Fiction — it can help us sort out how we feel about Today’s Burning Issues, with out actually directly confronting them. Heck, a lot of the time I’m not even fully certain that SF writers fully even understand themselves what they’re talking about, y’know?

Much like STAR TREK before it (in most every incarnation… well, maybe not VOYAGER), BATTLESTAR has confronted a lot of our own feelings and concerns — mostly about war, and the inhumanity it can engender — and it usually succeeded the best at that when it did it at right angles. How to you feel about terrorism and suicide bombing when “you” are the repressed people, that kind of thing, right?

Its a show that made you think, and made you feel, and, once it was the best show on television.

But this entire season… well it (largely) stopped being about Allegory, and stopped being about Survival, really — and started being about the Mythology of the show instead.

From the moment that the (nearly) Final Four were revealed that’s pretty much became what the show was ABOUT — what will they do? Will they help or hinder getting to Earth? What will the other Cylons do? and so on. We’ve had Civil War among the Cylons, but over things largely sub rosa to the audience — I’m not at all sure why this group went this direction and that group went that way.

And maybe that’s intended as Allegory, I don’t know — certainly Iraq has broken into Civil War — but if so it doesn’t work for Four Words that are in the opening title sequence each and every week: They. Have. A. Plan. “They” implies a certain amount of collective imperative amongst the Cylons, and certainly the various factions in Iraq don’t seem to have the same thing.

I’ve been wondering about this “plan” for a real long time, because it hasn’t seemed to be in play for a while. Sure they have 12 or 16 episodes (or whatever) left to try and massage it all together, and lord knows that LOST makes it look like plan-less seasons can be hand-waved away.

At the end of the day, I’m not at all sure if I care one way or another if they find Earth on BATTLESTAR — or who is alive or in what configuration when they get there; what I was loving was the Allegory and the Mystery of “The Plan” (Much in the same way on LOST, I could really give fuck all about Jack and Sawyer and Kate, really — what I’m watching for is a good reason for the Polar Bears and Smokey and all of that) — so to have episode after episode after episode this season to be not about either the Allegory OR the Mystery, but instead to be about Mythology, its lost my interest almost entirely.

See, that’s the thing about Science Fiction (whether it is fantastic like STAR TREK, or mundane like X-FILES), most of the time episodes that are “about the show” fail miserably, because that isn’t what we watch for. Each show is a little different, of course, some are more about the Allegory as I noted, while others really are about the Characters (think X-FILES, or maybe TWIN PEAKS?); some are about the Situation, while others are about the Science Fiction itself (something I think NEXT GENERATION tended to excel at when it was on-game), but most of the time, really, it isn’t the Universe Building that makes you watch. No, in fact, Universe Building should be seamless and background and you shouldn’t even realize that’s what you’re seeing until much later.

I can immediately think of only one partial exception to that “rule”, and that’s the later sections of DS9, with the Dominion War, but I think that’s because 1) the novelty of Universe Building in what had previously been a very Ad Hoc Universe for 20+ years was intriguing, and 2) There was more than one TREK show on at the time, so it didn’t seem like that was ALL they were doing.

So that’s why I think that BATTLESTAR has “jumped the shark” — it stopped playing to the strengths that it had, and has become about the Show Itself. As soon as the Cylons were Significant and Important Characters, it gutted much of my interest — what was intriguing about them is they were anonymous, that they were infinitely replaceable; what kept me watching week after week was the notion that the Cylons DID have a plan, and that all of those endless scenes of Six and Baltar actually were going to add up to something interesting and coherent.

I watched the final episode (for now), and was pretty appalled, because with the revelation that Earth is dead, and everyone Cylon and Human alike being blindsided by this strongly indicates there weren’t no plan, or if there was, it was a really stupid plan.

And if that’s the case, then why have I been watching all along?

Plus, ugh that last episode just had a badly structured ending. I can’t be the only person who, amongst all of the cheering and sobbing with joy, and all of that, thought “Um, not going to send a Raptor down or something?” and I KNEW the place was a wasteland because it just went on and on and on. That last shot of virtually every character wandering around the wreckage looking stricken and stunned was really impressive to look at (made me think of Hitchcock’s ROPE, sort of), but it also made me think of, dunno, a photo shoot for a fold out in ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY or something.

I want to love the show, but I think I don’t really care anymore, and that makes me sad.

What do YOU think?


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