Thursday, March 26, 2009

Let the ‘Battlestar Galactica’ arguments begin

After a four-hour miniseries, 73 episodes, a TV movie and numerous Internet “webisodes,” “Battlestar Galactica” has finally reached its journey’s end. Now the arguments can begin.

If you haven’t yet seen the series finale, consider yourself warned. There are spoilers ahead.

The two-hour conclusion of “Battlestar Galactica,” which aired Friday, gave its major characters closure, but it left some major plot points unanswered. Or, to be more exact, it answered them ambiguously.

Were the apparitions that appeared to Baltar and Caprica Six really angels? Was everything that happened in the series really the will of God, or some deity-like facsimile? What was Starbuck anyway? Was she an angel or a demon? And who or what resurrected her after her apparent death in season 3?

The only thing certain is that the ending has people talking. Fans who have followed “Galactica” since the 2003 miniseries seem split. Some think they were cheated. Some think producer/writer Ronald D. Moore delivered an emotionally satisfying conclusion. Some think Moore was just “making it up” as he went and didn’t know how to end the series. And others are just confused.

Put me in the camp that is pleased with how Moore ended the series. All of the major characters reached the end of their personal story arcs and were better for the journey, even if some of those endings were bittersweet. As for the unanswered questions, science fiction is still fiction. In science, it is nice to have answers, but in fiction it is usually more fun to be left with questions.

I don’t really care what Starbuck was or how she returned from the dead. What is important is that her character finally found a purpose — along with inner peace. And when she simply vanished without a trace, her mission at last complete, that floored me as much as anything on television has in a long, long time. It was as close to perfect as television gets.

Did Moore and his writing staff make things up as they went? Sure. You can’t expect a TV series to come out looking like a novel. I suspect a lot of sci-fi fans have taken away the wrong lesson from “Babylon 5,” J. Michael Straczynski’s epic “novel for television,” which spanned five seasons. Straczynski started out with a definite beginning, middle and end in mind. But he still had to make major changes as the series progressed, some of which improved on his original plan.

Even when it comes to novels of the regular paper variety, it is rare for an author’s outline to survive the first draft. The difference is when you read a novel, you’re getting a finished product, but when you watch a TV series — even a so-called novel for television — you’re getting a work in progress, one episode at a time. You have to expect the writers to change their minds, try new ideas and abandon ones that aren’t working. They wouldn’t be doing their jobs if they just stuck to their original plan. Few writers are clever enough to get it right the first time.

In any case, it could be worse. At least “Battlestar Galactica” didn’t end like “The X-Files.” It would take a PowerPoint presentation, complete with flow charts, to explain the ins and outs of that show’s conspiracy-laden mythology.

“Battlestar Galactica” leaves its fans with lots of great moments and lots more to debate. That puts it in some pretty special company. Other classic SF series that had controversial endings include the British series “The Prisoner” and the animated Japanese series “Neon Genesis Evangelion,” both of which still set off heated arguments years and, in the case of “The Prisoner,” decades after they left the air. Both also remain extremely popular. AMC is producing a miniseries remake of “The Prisoner,” while in Japan, new feature-film retellings of “Evangelion” are still landing in theaters.

So, thanks, “Battlestar Galactica,” both for the memories and for the arguments to come.

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