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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Twitter gives me access to instant commentary on things from some of my regular readers, which gave me a head's up about what to expect for last's night return of Battlestar Galactica, which I watched this afternoon. (Catch up on BSG minutiae here. Get Steve Benen's take on politics and BSG here.)

Bill wrote: BSG=meh. more melodrama. I won't be sad to see it go.

And Fred wrote: I didn't even know the season premiere of Battlestar Galactica was tonight. Man, my enthusiasm for that show is waning.

It's absolutely true that Battlestar Galactica is a far worse show than it was in its first season, when it was easily one of the best science fiction series ever aired. Ron Moore let the show get away from him in a few senses:

* He attempted to "humanize" the Cylons without thinking through "cylonicity," turning the series's main antagonists into confused and jumbled mush;
* he got so caught up in trying to fool the audience that he forgot to tell an intelligible, coherent story;
* he fell in love with poorly thought-out cliffhangers;
* he thinks the audience cares about the sexual relationships of these characters far more than most actually do;
* he left himself far too many Secret Cylons (12!) to get through in too little time, unnecessarily turning the final season and a half of the show into Who's The Final Cylon? Hour;
* and this is the worst crime, encompassing all the others, the one that cuts down so many great series: he failed to plan ahead.

All that said, I think it's too early to turn Battlestar into Star Wars; the reputation of the series will live or die in what happens in these next few episodes and it could still go either way. Melodrama aside—and yes there was a lot of it last night—I think there are reasons to believe. The Final Cylon mystery has finally been resolved, unless it turns out that either Tigh is wrong about Ellen or else the forums are right and Cylon Ellen is actually an aged version of either Kara or Number Six.

And with that mystery aside and Earth apparently discovered, destroyed, and rejected, the show appears to be setting its sights on the wonderful silent mystery that has sustained it all these years—really, a mystery about narrative continuity itself—and which drove so much of the initial interest in the show: "All this has happened before, and all this will happen again." The cyclical nature of history in this universe is more than just a metajoke about the existence of the original series—the epic size and scope of the universe gave the show an expansive depth that it almost completely squandered in the hermetic middle seasons. If these final episodes are to be about history, and History, alongside everything else, that's very promising.

For a time these teases helped make Battlestar Galactica seem somehow bigger than itself, and with the final season returning to that place I'm hopeful it can regain some of that early luster. Earth, and everything after, should help—the show hasn't felt this utterly desolute since 33. I haven't lost hope for BSG, and god knows I'm usually the first one off the bus. So sit tight: I think there's still a chance for Moore to pull this thing off, if he does everything right, and if this last half-season is better than good.

Last night's episode was the capper of the first season, made immediately following the start of the writers' strike. In that sense it's sui generis, for good and for bad, with the real last season starting next week...