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Yearning for the destruction of Battlestar Galactica

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Monday, Mar 16, 2009

Am I the only one who can’t wait for Battlestar Galactica to be over already? The only one who feels compelled to watch it through to the end even though it ceased to be consistently compelling right around the time people started hearing Bob Dylan songs in their heads? If you haven’t watched the show and you intend to (and I would recommend the first two seasons wholeheartedly, though you will inevitably be sucked into the unrewarding final seasons) you probably shouldn’t read on here, because it may spoil the plot line. And the fact that the show can be “spoiled” by undermining the suspense suggests something worth remembering about the show—that in the end it turns away from providing a subtle and provocative commentary on contemporary politics and becomes just another show where you try to guess how the writers will twist the plot next. It devolves into a hermetic, self-referential show like Lost, the television-watching equivalent of doing a tricky word find.


At 3 Quarks Daily, David Schneider argues that the show ambitiously attempts and succeeds in creating “a vital, dynamic myth for contemporary Western civilization.” His case is well-supported, but I’m not persuaded—the presentation of the mythic dimensions on the show, particularly in the final 10 episodes being aired currently—is too truncated and incoherent, too compromised and rushed. We get scenes of incoherent exposition that are dead dull as well as confusing. As with teh Star Wars series, these latter developments feel as though they were invented ad hoc, to extend the show’s life, rather than something that animated the writing from the beginning. As a consequence, viewers can’t possibly know what is even at stake anymore, particularly when the obvious arc—finding Earth—proved to be a subterfuge. I find myself uncertain of whether the writers are working in moral ambiguity intentionally or whether I am in open revolt against the show when I eagerly await the death of Adama and Roslyn and Lee and the whole sanctimonious crew. That is to say that the writers lost me; I don’t trust that they are in control of what they are doing anymore; their emotional manipulations aren’t working, the sentiment suddenly seems rote and unearned, the characters no longer compel me to keep watching. All that is left is seeing what happens next, the same motivation that drives me to finish jigsaw puzzles.


One could make the argument that the show is testing the boundaries of the form or something like that, but the experiment seems to have yielded—perhaps fittingly, given its preoccupations with healing feuds through cross-breeding—an unsuccessful hybrid. The show’s mythos is intricate enough to be irresolvable yet general enough to be open to endless exegesis by zealous fans. Perhaps that means the show went from transcending its roots in the science-fiction genre to returning to them, to providing the SF-specific pleasure of articulating an invented world, with the consumers fleshing out and resolving the hints and contradictions supplied by the writers. Schneider regards this as unfettering viewers’ imaginations, and I’m not saying he’s wrong. The show’s incoherence is fertile ground for exegetical exercise. But I find myself too annoyed by the pieces that don’t fit, by the inconsistencies. And I’m annoyed that it ceased to be a show about life during wartime, about exigency and hard choices and scarcity and fear, and instead became a show about metaphysical mumbo-jumbo, about the writers’ fantasy of being cosmogonists.


In the show’s marketing, a constant refrain is “You will know the truth.” At one point, the show threatened to reveal some truth about actual human life, as it is lived on Earth, but now it seems content to reveal the “truth” about its own fictitious world.

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