BSG: Puzzle or Mystery?


By now I hope most BSG fans have seen the series finale and I don’t have to warn about spoilers. I’ve waited until now to post about the finale because I wanted to ponder it for a few days first. Ultimately, I found the finale simultaneously very powerful and somewhat disappointing.

Commenter “mrd” over at Brad Templeton’s Battlestar Blog made a point that helped me articulate what’s at the heart of my confliction:

…the show was structured with hints and clues, it gives the idea that the show is a puzzle that is meant to be solved, not a mystery to be revealed.

Science fiction, by its very nature of being based on scientific extrapolation, is presented as a puzzle to the reader or audience. In other words, Science Fiction is expected to be analyzed and dissected as opposed to presenting a revelatory story, where information is revealed because there is no analytical through-line. To pose it another way: Religion is revelatory and Science is a puzzle. In religion, God reveals knowledge to us, but in Science we discover it on our own.

A TV show set in space, airing on the “SciFi Channel,” and being shot with a realistic “hand held” style are three giant indicators that “This is Science Fiction.” But Battlestar Galactica is not Science Fiction. It’s a revelatory mystery story with SFnal elements. In hindsight, I see that Moore and the writers made this case, but they made it too subtly. If your plan is to set a mystery tale in space and air it on the “SciFi Channel,” then you need to make that very, very clear. Several big hints were “You will know the truth” promo and the fact that Cylons were “revealed,” not to mention Katie Sackhoff flat out saying the show wasn’t Science Fiction but a “drama in space.” When fans, myself included, brushed that off as Moore and the network simply trying to garner a wider audience — SciFi network reps said repeatedly that this was their goal — Moore needed to say: “No, REALLY people. I’m not writing SF.” Loudly and waving his hands would have helped, because we’re really hungry for true Science Fiction on TV and in movies.

This is why the solution put forward in the finale that a higher power made all the loose ends fit together is unsatisfactory to those who thought they were watching Science Fiction. Since the show made it a point to examine religion, and it did so in a highly sophisticated way, my preference was an ambiguous treatment to the “God factor.” This was an element I always appreciated in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine because the nature of the Bajoran “wormhole aliens” was left open-ended. This, I’ve always thought, is a middle way approach that can appeal to those expecting a puzzle as well as those expecting a mystery. Moore did leave a window open at the end to the “God made it happen” solution though, but again he did it subtly, so it’s difficult to tell what the message is supposed to be:

Head Six: Let a complex system repeat itself long enough and eventually something surprising might occur. That too is in God’s Plan.

Head Baltar (whispering/growling): You know it doesn’t like that name!

Since we don’t have a definitive explanation as to the nature of “God” in this series, or even the head characters and Starbuck, this is a bit more open ended than I thought upon first watching. I’ve theorized from the beginning that the Beings of Light would show up in some fashion in the re-imagined series and that’s essentially what was written. Not having all of the details sort of suits beings like that. But who knows if I’m interpreting this bit they way it was intended?

Despite some disappointment, I still found enjoyment in the ending overall. In particular, I liked that the Galactica was the Opera House. I did not see that possibility and was pleasantly surprised by the development. I almost sobbed myself at Baltar’s line “You know, I know about farming.” Also, I’m really happy Helo survived. The Agathons deserve a happy ending.

I’m not sure how I feel about Tyrol killing someone and getting away with it. After all, Tory didn’t get away with murder, why should Tryol? He committed vengeance not justice. Starbuck’s “end” just makes me sad, but I see that it works. I really do not think we needed to see Tigh and Adama in a strip club. That flashback could have achieved the same goal by being set in a regular old bar. If a sexy venue was somehow required, more in keeping with the feminist nature of the show would have been a strip club with dancers of both genders.

I understand that the letting go of technology was an act of eschewing that which separates us from nature, but Cylons are not natural. The show made the point that even a toaster has worth, has feelings, and is equal to a biological human. Saying that their technology is “evil” because it’s what got them into this trouble in the first place — it started the cycle over — basically negates the headway that was made in achieving a blended human-cylon community. I would have rather seen a new civilization built on those principles of cooperation and intentional use of technology. Instead I’m sad to think that Helo will probably die of an infection in that injured leg without antibiotics.

So, overall: I can live with this ending and there were a few emotional high points. They found our Earth, which is something I predicted when they found the 13th Colony/”Earth.” Moore did not make the nature of the story clear and foiled expectations because of it. I would have enjoyed it more for if I’d understood the show’s goal of being a revelatory story over a Science Fiction one.