Belated Battlestar Blogging


So Battlestar Galactica‘s 3rd season has come and gone – I’ve got to say something. We just finished watching the season finale, after binging on the season for the past few weeks and arriving at the end one week late. As a card-carrying member of the TiVo/TV-on-DVD generation, my mode of TV viewing has settled into an interesting pattern: serialized shows that my wife & I both watch (BSG, Veronica Mars, The Wire) get the binge treatment, stockpiling a number of episodes or DVD sets to watch in consecutive nights. Our mutual comedies (The Office, Scrubs, 30 Rock) are filler when sleeping children allow. And shows I watch solo (Lost, Heroes, South Park) tend not to linger beyond a day or so on the TiVo. The binging definitely helps keep track of long-form narratives, although it leaves me quite vulnerable to accidental spoilers.

Which happened with BSG this season. While I was at the MediaCommons meeting last week, a lapsed BSG fan casually mentioned that he’d heard about a character’s death, spoiling a dramatic event for a few of us. Grrrrr…. So I got to watch the dramatic death episode without surprise, but tuned into how the episode told the story – and to observe my wife’s reaction to the episode. Oddly, I actually liked that episode more than she did! But in the spirit of not spoiling anyone else waiting to binge, details from the stretch run are below the fold.

Even though I’d been spoiled about Starbuck’s death, neither my wife or I thought she was really dead. The whole mandala/destiny focus didn’t pay off via suicide without a sense of why or so what – there were too many hints that there was something bigger at play left unresolved. Ron Moore’s podcast really sold that Kara was dead, but we completely expected her return in the closing moments of the finale.

I’m pretty mixed on this. On one hand, I love Starbuck more than most of the characters, so had she really died it would have hurt. But my one consistent complaint about BSG has been that even though the narrative scenario is so high-stakes (you know, threatened extinction of the human race and all), the fact that the show has gone three years without killing a central character undermines the emotional stakes of the show. We know everyone could die at any moment, but the fact that nobody we care about ever does die lowers the risk emotionally. So even though the characters on Lost and 24 are much thinner than on BSG, the willingness of the former shows to kill-off key players makes us care more. So ultimately, I’d like to see BSG kill-off a main player, but I’m still happy to see Kara back…

I loved the 3-part trial sequence – it really managed to tie together many thematic & plot threads from the whole New Caprica storyline, paying them off emotionally and in terms of narrative. Plus Romo Lampkin is just too cool. Even Lee, who normally bugs me quite a bit, worked well in these episodes.

And then there’s the final segment, what with the interstellar Dylan song and the revelation of the final five. Lots of folks are pretty disappointed in the “All Along the Watchtower” reference, including Heather Havrilesky – while it’s certainly a game-changer to the entire storyworld, I have faith in the producers to pull it off. As Michael Newman (another voice in the “BSG has jumped the shark” chorus) argues in his work on TV narrative, the cliffhanger at the end of an episode is better viewed not as a concluding moment, but as the opening act of the next episode. It seems fair then to avoid judging the logic or success of such a narrative risk without seeing the rest of the story it’s telling. Here’s one of the key dangers of seriality – delaying resolution leads to the opportunity to misjudge and ignore how it’s going resolve. Especially if we have to wait until 2008(!)

Obviously this cliffhanger is designed to confuse, upset, mystify, and raise dozens of questions – it succeeds at all of this. While not nearly as satisfying as the show’s season 2 finale (one of the best episodes of TV I’ve ever seen), I can imagine many ways that Moore & company will make these leaps of logic make sense within what has generally been one of the tighter and more thematically unified highly-serialized complex shows. Call me a televisual optimist, but I have faith.

4 Responses to “Belated Battlestar Blogging”

  1. 1 Cole Moore Odell

    Spoiler alert, of sorts:

    My concern with the use of “All Along the Watchtower” is that, according to BSG composer Bear McCready, the song is not intended as a literal signal originating from Earth, but instead as an identical song that could have been written on one of the 12 colonies. McCready:

    “…the idea was not that Bob Dylan necessarily exists in the characters’ universe, but that an artist on one of the colonies may have recorded a song with the exact same melody and lyrics. Perhaps this unknown performer and Dylan pulled inspiration from a common, ethereal source.”

    Assuming this is not misdirection on the part of the show’s creators (a la the Moore podcast about Starbuck) it strikes me as needlessly confusing to viewers who will all assume that the appearance of the song represents contact with Earth.

    I also find it odd that Moore has done such an extensive round of post-finale interviews deflating another one of the central mysteries of the episode–by stating categorically that the four characters who appeared to discover their Cylon nature are indeed some kind of Cylon. Why would a creator undermine his own cliffhanger this way? Perhaps he felt that the finished footage wasn’t as categorical as he would have liked? I suppose he thinks that the central question is not if these characters are Cylons, but how. Still, that seems to be jumping ahead of the viewers.

  2. 2 jmittell

    Cole – thanks for sharing McReady’s comment. I don’t buy it as that simple. I see two feasible explanations for the song: either our cylon friends are channeling contemporary Earth in some way, or the song is another symbol of “everything has happened before, everything will happen again.” I read the final five as a different kind of cylon that can age, breed, and integrate into humanity until some trigger sets them on a reboot cycle (which has just started). Then the cycle returns to a point of origin and restarts. Somewhere in one of those cycles, “All Along the Watchtower” was composed – and it keeps getting composed again and again.

    Or Dylan is the Cylon God.

  3. If an Earth musician was going to be the Cylon God, surely it would be Bowie.

  4. 4 Skip

    What you fail to point out is that it is not Dylan’s version of his song that is played on BSG, nor is it Hendrix or any of the others who have covered the song prior to McCready. So, if we don’t include McCready as an earthling (I think I heard somewhere that we’re supposed to believe that it was recorded by a 12 colonies musician instead), then we are not hearing a song from Earth.

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