Journey to Nowhere
Is It Still Possible to Love Battlestar Galactica, Knowing That the Ending Sucks Donkey Dick?
The Writing of Battlestar Galactica: Ronald Moore
Mon, 7–8 pm, Leo K. Theatre
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At the beginning of August, Lost creator J. J. Abrams fought back against fans who claimed the ending of his show was a dumb waste of their time: "For years, I had people praising Lost to death, and now they say, 'I'm so pissed at you for the end of Lost,'" Abrams told the Guardian, adding, "I think a lot of people who were upset with the ending were just upset that it ended. And I've not yet heard the pitch of what the ending should have been. I've just heard, 'That sucked.'"
This is a monumental display of douchebaggery on Abrams's part, and a breach of contract between him and his viewers: Of course his fans haven't told him the best way to end his TV show. His fans' job was to be fans of Lost. Abrams's job—a job he was fairly well compensated for, I'm sure—was to write and be the creative inspiration behind Lost. Part of writing and being the creative inspiration behind Lost involved making sure that Lost ended in a satisfying way. If his fans feel that he didn't do his job, that's not his fans' fault, it's his fault.
But the disastrous failure that is the ending of Lost is nothing compared to the monumental end of the rebooted Battlestar Galactica TV series, which managed to fart itself to death on three distinct fronts: It did not answer any of the questions raised during the show; it raised additional, supremely stupid questions just before its conclusion (wait, so Starbuck is Jesus now?); and it preached at its own viewers with a lame moral (You shouldn't trust technology? That's what we waited six years for? The first two Terminator movies made that case in a way more compelling fashion and in a fraction of the run time). From 2003 until 2008, BSG had a glorious run, a cat-and-mouse game between the last few members of the human race and the robotic Cylons, with both in search of a long-lost planet named Earth. It was a running commentary on the war on terror and a fascinating political narrative that unfolded in real time, and it never felt heavy-handed or preachy. And then, as season 4.5 concluded in 2009, it flopped spectacularly.
At this year's Bumbershoot, Battlestar Galactica creator Ronald Moore will discuss the history of the writing of the show with a couple of other BSG writers and producers. And you know what? When the audience Q&A comes around, it's okay to ask him why the ending was so awful. We were promised at the beginning of every single episode that the Cylons had a plan; it was Moore's job to prove to us that he knew what he was doing. And he failed us. He let us down by not knowing what he was doing. Message boards all around the internet are still doing postmortems, trying to figure out what went wrong (theories include Mormon demagoguery, network intrusion, and/or epic hubris). Creators should absolutely be held accountable for their crimes of bad storytelling, and you should—respectfully—hold Moore accountable for his crimes.
But it's important to remember, too, that just because a TV show collapses during the last lap, that doesn't make the show any less relevant or meaningful. We're in the first real golden age of novelistic television storytelling, and like any first golden age, some kinks still have to be worked out. The Sopranos, Lost, BSG, and other, more conventional shows like The West Wing lost their way—sometimes, I shock myself when I realize how concerned I am about the quality of the next and final season of Breaking Bad—but we place too much emphasis on the conclusions of things. Nobody loves Anna Karenina because of the crazy twist ending; The Grapes of Wrath didn't help earn John Steinbeck a Nobel Prize because of the final, bloodthirsty shoot-out scene. When you take part in a long-term storytelling endeavor—as a creator or as a consumer—you're committed, and you take pleasure in the journey and the way characters change and struggle and live.
Would I watch BSG a second time straight through, the way I recently reenjoyed Arrested Development from beginning to end? No, not knowing how things fell apart. But I would encourage anyone to watch the series for a first time, just as I'd happily dip into an episode here or there, to revisit the delicious tension and debate and intrigue that I experienced while watching it the first time. And as a fan, I at least owe Moore the respect of saying a sincere, heartfelt thank you for so many moments he delivered to me over the span of six years. He deserves that sincere appreciation, but he also deserves the follow-up question that simply has to be asked: What the fuck happened, man?