"Just so there'll be no misunderstandings later, Galactica's seen a lot of history, gone through a lot of battles. This will be her last. She will not fail us if we do not fail her. If we succeed in our mission, Galactica will bring us home. If we don't, it doesn’t matter anyway." -Bill AdamaAnd so the amazing four-year journey of "Battlestar Galactica" comes to an end, and I feel very, very good about it -- even as I suspect others may not.
"I see angels, angels in this very room. Now I may be mad, but that doesn't mean that I'm not right, because there's another force at work here. There always has been." -Gaius Baltar
"Earth is a dream. One we've been chasing for a long time. We've earned it. This is Earth." -Bill Adama
"What do you hear, Starbuck?" -Bill Adama
"Nothing but the rain." -Kara Thrace
"Grab your gun and bring in the cat." -Bill Adama
"Cultivation?" -Caprica Six
"Yes. You know, I know about farming." -Gaius Baltar
"I know you do." -Caprica Six
"I just know that I am done here. I've completed my journey, and it feels good." -Kara Thrace
"Daybreak," the two-hour conclusion (technically three hours, if you count last week's part one; Ron Moore has said he wanted to air all three together), was essentially two finales in one, and I hope you'll forgive me for doing more plot recap than usual, both because so much happened and because it's one of the final times I'll get to write about this show and want the experience to last as long as possible.
The first hour was rock-'em-sock-'em action on a level of technical brilliance that surpassed anything else the series had ever come close to. As Adama and the Galactica crew launched their final, desperate assault on the Cylon stronghold, The Colony, Gary Hutzel's F/X team outdid themselves yet again in depicting ships trying (and sometimes failing) to navigate through a swirling asteroid field, massive guns from both sides firing upon each other, and in a moment to make every fanboy and fangirl's heart swoon, robotic Cylon centurions getting into an epic fist-fighting brawl in The Colony's halls. (Anyone who couldn't resist the urge to yell, "Toaster fight! Toaster fight!" is more than forgiven.)
We got to witness the rescue of little Hera; the vengeance-fueled executions of wayward Cylons Boomer and Tory by, respectively, Athena and Tyrol; Saul Tigh, straddling the worlds of Cylon and human, briefly brokering a peace treaty between the two; Brother Cavil, hardcore as always, eating his own gun once it became clear peace was not in the offing; the accidental (or divinely inspired?) destruction of The Colony and all the evil Cylons within it; and Starbuck using the notes from her father's version of "All Along the Watchtower" to program the dying ship's computer for one last, blind jump to a planet called...
Earth. Yes, Earth. But not that Earth, the charred nuclear wasteland that the fleet discovered halfway through this final season. Our Earth, new and green and lush.
And as the survivors of the assault on The Colony, along with the remaining members of the rag-tag fleet, explored the very familiar, but very ancient grassy plains of Africa, circa 147,991 B.C. (or thereabouts), we entered the second phase of the finale, the long, slow, sweet goodbye to all the characters we had grown to care about over the previous 80-odd hours of television.
Lee convinced the rest of the fleet that it was better to abandon most of their modern technology and try to blend in with the primitive Earth natives. President Roslin finally succumbed to her cancer, but not before her lover and partner Bill Adama took her on one last aerial sightseeing tour of the home she had helped lead their people to. (Last seen, Adama the elder was living alone high on a mountain, planning to build the cabin he had hoped to share with Roslin.) After 2,000 years of bickering and dysfunction, Tigh and wife Ellen finally got a chance to simply be in each other's company, no distractions, no hostility. Athena and Helo bantered about teaching Hera to be a hunter-gatherer. Gaius Baltar, having finally committed a selfless act in helping save Hera, won the heart of Caprica Six and, after spending a lifetime trying on new identities in the name of self-preservation, made peace with the one he was born with, pointing Six towards a field ripe for cultivation and crying as he reminded her of his childhood on the farm.
And Kara Thrace, who seemingly returned from the dead at the start of this season? It appears, though Moore's script and Michael Rymer's direction deliberately left it ambiguous, that the Kara who came back was an "angel," sent by the same divine power that had been manipulating events by the start, along the same lines as head Six and head Baltar . Having fulfilled the prophecy to "bring humanity to its end" — albeit in a much nicer way than that phrasing suggested at the time — Kara said her goodbye to old friend and sometime-lover Lee and, while his back was turned... vanished into thin air, in the middle of a wide open field with nowhere to hide.
And after that long, lyrical farewell sequence — along the lines of the last 40 minutes of "The Return of the King," only less repetitive (and better-earned, given the length of the series as a whole) — we briefly jumped ahead to the present day, to find the angelic versions of Baltar and Six strolling through Times Square (at one point reading over the shoulder of Ron Moore himself) and pondering whether this version of humanity, on the verge of creating its own artificial intelligences, would repeat the endless cycle of human-machine violence that doomed Kobol, the 12 Colonies, and the other Earth. As the angelic Six expressed an optimistic take, the familiar Jimi Hendrix version of "All Along the Watchtower" came on the soundtrack over a montage of news footage of recent, real innovations in robotics that make the Cylons seem more science than science-fiction.
For a series that had always used familiar trappings of sci-fi like robots and spaceships to comment on our present-day circumstances — 9/11, the Iraq insurgency, constitutional law being bent in the name of security and/or religion — it was the perfect final sequence. No, that cute Japanese robot that does backflips isn't likely to instigate the genocide of humanity anytime soon, but in many ways the world of "Galactica" is closer than we want to admit.
From this seat, the finale expertly blended all the things that made the series so wonderful: action, great performances in service of well-rounded characters, contemporary politics placed in futuristic settings, and a healthy dose of spirituality.
It's that last, though, that I suspect may lead to some grumbling.
God, or the gods, or whatever you want to call the divine forces of the "Galactica" universe, has always played a role in the series, but that role was particularly dominant in the finale. Unanswered questions about the nature of characters like Kara or the spectral Baltar and Six? God's responsible. What was all that stuff about visions of an opera house that Six, Athena and President Roslin shared? God showed it to them. How did Kara know how to get the fleet to the new Earth? God told her. How is it possible for human beings to naturally evolve on a planet a million light years away from where all the colonial humans originated? Baltar suggests a divine hand. Etc.
Moore has always been less interested in technical details and logistical explanations than character beats and emotional moments. It's often a strength of the series; where one of the "Star Trek" spin-offs might have needed five minutes to explain how Tigh and company were going to give Cavil's people the secret of rebuilding resurrection, Moore's script glossed over it in a couple of sentences and raced ahead to the more satisfying moment where Tyrol found out that Tory had murdered Cally, and strangled her in revenge.
But here, at the end, after four years of waiting for answers on some of these questions (particularly the nature of Head Six, who's been causing trouble since the "Galactica" miniseries in 2003), I imagine some fans aren't going to simply accept "God did it" about Head Six, or about the existence of another planet that could be called Earth.
Me, I went with it. The answers are interesting on some level, but what I'll take out of "Galactica" is the emotional experience more than any plot mechanics. I'll remember Roslin and Tigh having a pointed debate about the use of suicide bombers when they were living under a Cylon occupation on the planet of New Caprica. I'll remember the horror on Cally's face as she realized she was married to a Cylon. I'll remember old men Adama and Tigh standing shoulder to shoulder as they prepared to hold off a coup on Galactica, Kara letting go of her status as top-dog pilot when she realized she didn't need it anymore, Lee giving a speech explaining how humanity had devolved from a government into a gang, or Roslin holding Baltar's life in her hands and choosing forgiveness over revenge.
And from this finale, I'll care more about Baltar coming to grips with his past (sins and all), or the glimpses of the lives our characters left behind when the Cylons nuked the colonies, or Adama tearfully placing his wedding ring on Roslin's finger moments after her death than I would have about getting a more concrete explanation of what happened to Starbuck after her ship exploded.
When Moore, Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell and producer David Eick appeared on a panel discussion at the United Nations earlier this week, Moore said he hoped he entertained people and made them think. From first episode to last, Moore accomplished those missions with me — even if I have to do some extra thinking on the blanks he declined to fill in.
Still, before we go, I want to examine the extent to which he did fill in some of those blanks, and also take a deeper look at some of the aforementioned moments and other great ones from the finale.
Earth-2: In talking with Mo Ryan (who should have her own finale review and Ron Moore interview posted sometime later this evening) after we screened "Daybreak" on Monday night, she seemed most apprehensive about the idea of a second Earth, and that the one we saw in "Revelations" wasn't the one that we live on.
I thought it worked, though, and not just as a fake-out to mess with our heads at the end of the mid-season finale. We never saw any definitive geographic and architectural proof that "Revelations" Earth was our Earth, no matter how much some of us (and I put myself at the head of that line) wanted to believe that we were staring at the ruins of the Brooklyn Bridge. The idea that the 13th Tribe destroyed themselves as part of the cycle of Cylon/human violence (or, in this case, Cylon/Cylon violence) very much fits the show's mantra of "All this has happened before, and it will all happen again. The idea that our Earth would get its name -- as well as certain concepts of language and other bits of race memory that would take 150,000 years to resurface -- from these familiar-looking visitors from another star system feels right. It makes the similarity in dress and idiom between Colonial society and 21st century Earth society feel less like a cheat (so the show could more easily comment on current events) than a passing of the torch down through the generations.
Given how far in the past the colonials are, and that they abandoned most of their gear and technology when Anders piloted the rag-tag fleet into the sun, I can very easily see them falling to the technological and social level of the natives within a few generations. Basic survival is going to be such a priority for these people that I think they're going to quickly lose hold of the social niceties, until the idea of three-piece suits or fighter jets or a criminal justice system disappears into the collective unconsciousness, waiting to resurface when the technology catches back up.
As for why Kara, if she really was an angel, was sent back to first lead humanity to the wrong Earth, well, that ties into...
They have a plan: No, not the Cylon "they" (which I imagine we're going to hear more about in "Battlestar Galactica: The Plan," the Cavil-centric TV movie coming out later this year), but the divine "they."
I don't know that we're ever going to be able to connect all the heavenly dots, given how much of the series was admittedly made up as Moore and company went along. Moore argued to me in the interview we did after the screening that Head Six pushes Baltar into leading the cult so he can finally come to grips with the idea of a higher power, which in turn makes him able to convince Cavil to agree to a truce, but it still feels on some level like the writers needing something to do with James Callis between the trial and the finale. (Baltar had, after all, had previous periods where he briefly bought into Head Six's talk of the one true God, and even times early in the cult arc where he seemed to be believing his own hype, only for those scenes to be undercut by jokes later on.)
But parts of it very much make sense to me in retrospect, if you believe that God (or whatever the divine force prefers to be called, per Head Baltar), has been trying to get humanity and the Cylons to break the cycle of destruction.
Why have Kara lead the fleet to the charred Earth first? I think it's because humanity had to be brought so low -- to have all of its hope taken away so abruptly that a Dualla would blow her brains out or a Gaeta would lead a mutiny -- so that when the opportunity to attack The Colony came about, enough people would be resigned enough to go on that suicide mission, to confront Cavil and rid the universe of the more stubborn and vindictive Cylon faction once and for all.
If they don't find the charred Earth first, then Dualla doesn't kill herself, which means Gaeta probably doesn't launch the coup, which means Anders doesn't get shot in the head and turned into a Hybrid, which means Galactica can't find or reasonably fight Cavil's forces, which means Kara's not placed in a position where she has to jump the ship based on nothing but the notes to "All Along the Watchtower," which means they don't get to the good Earth.
(The shot of the Raptors flying down over those beautiful African fields beautifully paralleled the descent to the surface of the nuked Earth near the end of "Revelations," and was one of many moments in the finale where the screening room got quite dusty.)
Now, obviously Kara could have just taken them to the good Earth first, but Cavil would still be out there, and Lee might not have been able to persuade the other 38,000 surviving humans to give away their toys, and the rebel skinjobs might not have set the remaining toasters free, etc. Most of this has happened before, and here things happened so the old things might not happen again.
Back to Caprica: The "Lost"-style flashbacks to the pre-genocide lives of Baltar, Kara, Lee, Laura and Bill were fairly polarizing last week, though I feel like they're probably the element of the finale that suffered most from cleaving it into two pieces. "Daybreak Pt. 1" isn't a standalone episode in the way that even "Exodus, Pt. 1" is; it's a collection of incidents and character moments that just comes to a stop when the hour's up. Under those circumstances, I can see how the amount of time spent on these seemingly unrelated glimpses of the central characters on Caprica may have seemed frustrating. ("Why are we watching Lee chase a pigeon? When are we going to find out the deal with Kara's pristine Viper?")
But in the context of "Daybreak" as a whole dramatic entity, I thought they worked smashingly. Not only did they serve as a reminder of all that the characters (and the thousands of others they represented) had lost, but they tied in so well to the final fate of each one.
Laura overcomes the loss of her entire family and (after briefly trying to blunt the pain by dating an eager former student) finds the strength to help the world at large by joining Adar's presidential campaign, which in turn allows her to find the strength to help out after most of her larger human family was wiped out by the Cylons. And, having stuck around long enough to see her people to a safe outcome, and to get a few precious weeks being openly in love with Bill Adama, she can let go, content.
Kara confesses to Lee, right before the first of their many attempts to hurt the ones around them by sleeping with each other, that she fears death much less than being forgotten, and instead will be remembered (for a few generations, anyway) as the hero who singlehandedly delivered the last survivors of her civilization to their new home. In that strip club (and a big giant "Hah!" to that entire sequence), Ellen just wants to spend time with Saul; now they have all the years that their new circumstances will grant them.
Six witnesses Baltar fight with the father whose existence he'd like to deny, and when he tries to express his love for Six -- the first time in a long time Gaius Baltar has tried to place another person on equal footing with himself -- she gives a little laugh and he retreats back to his selfish, survivalist persona. It's only after he's gone through the events of the last four years -- much of it with a spectral version of the woman he loves operating as his life coach -- that Baltar is able to be selfless, to be someone the real Six would be proud to love, and to be able to look back on his farming roots as anything other than an embarrassing biographical detail. When he weeps in Africa, he's thinking about all the pain he's caused by looking out for Gaius Baltar first and foremost, and about the good things that finally happened when he saw the value of others for real, and not just as another long con. And I don't think that moment is half as powerful if we haven't been spending time the last two weeks being reminded of what he used to be.
Boomer and Tory, RIP (maybe): The deaths of Boomer and Tory were satisfying to different degrees. Both had done terrible things to others, and while you could excuse that to some extent due to their identity crises -- both found out as adults that they weren't remotely the people (or species) they believed themselves to be -- Boomer still sided with Cavil over the more peaceful Cylons, kidnapped Hera and screwed Helo right in front of Athena, and Tory still murdered Cally. There had to be some accounting for that, and if Tory's death was the more cathartic of the two, it's because she was cowardly to the end, trying to use "Hey, we're all Cylons" as some kind of blanket amnesty rather than face up to the ramifications of what she had done. Boomer, as she told Athena, made a choice to defy Cavil, even though she knew it would lead to her death, from either of the two sides she had repeatedly betrayed.
And the show obviously felt more for her than it did for Tory, as Boomer's death was accompanied by another flashback to her days as a nugget struggling to win the respect of old men Adama and Tigh. Tory just died, and her death was quickly upstaged by the CIC shootout, Cavil's suicide, and then the hand of the divine reaching out to make the dead hand of Racetrack launch her nukes.
Some other thoughts on the "Galactica" finale:
• I don't want to devote too much space to rehashing things Moore said in the press conference after the finale screening, or the interview we did after that, so click here to find out about that. But just a few highlights: Daniel was never intended to be Kara's father, and Moore and the other writers were shocked to see how many people were getting into that theory; he wishes he had been clearer in the editing that The Colony and all the evil Cylons were sucked into the singularity and destroyed; Edward James Olmos wanted a much bleaker ending than Moore did; and that the "cold island up in the highlands" Tyrol's talking about is Scotland. Go read it; I'll wait.
• Bear McCreary was on top of his game (just like everyone else on the finale), and the screening room again got dusty when Anders piloted the fleet into Earth's sun (looking very much like an eye) and the soundtrack briefly shifted into a version of the theme song to the original '70s "Galactica."
• For that matter, the idea of the characters winding up on our Earth centuries ago pays homage to the original series, which posited that its characters' ancestors had started out on Earth in the distant past and had done things like build the great pyramids of Egypt.
• I'm assuming all those Caprica City skyline shots were created for the "Caprica" spin-off, and if nothing else, they suggest the new series will look gorgeous.
• It may not get as much attention as flashier character farewells like Kara disappearing or Baltar crying -- especially since the character in question popped up again once we got to Earth -- but one of my favorites was Doc Cottle getting choked up while saying goodbye to Laura, and Laura telling him to "go light a cigarette and grumble" rather than ruin her image of him.
• It didn't last long, since most of the Galactica crew survived the assault on The Colony, but the idea of Hoshi and Romo Lampkin succeeding, respectively, Bill and Lee Adama as heads of the military and civilian arms of the fleet, was both hysterically funny and poignant. At this stage of the series, with so many top people dead (especially after the coup), who else was left?
• Can I talk again about the awesomeness of the toaster-on-toaster violence? I just loved the image of the rebel centurions with the red paint streaked across their chests to identify them as separate from Cavil's forces, as it's such a low-tech, punk contrast to their usual sleek appearances.
Here at the end of a very long series and a very long post, you don't need me to again repeat all the reasons "Battlestar Galactica" was such a landmark television achievement. You don't need me to tell you how it returned to the hallmarks of traditional science fiction by using the futuristic trappings to tell compelling stories about the way we live now. You don't need me to tell you about this rich cast of characters, played by a cast of actors who will criminally never get their proper due from the rest of the showbiz community because their peers are too snobbish to realize that an Edward James Olmos or a Mary McDonnell or a Michael Hogan might be capable of giving devastating performances in the middle of a show with this title. You don't need me to tell you about the epic action, the tear-jerking moments, the occasional snippets of comedy or all things that made this show so special. But I wanted to at least mention them before the end, before I cede the floor to you and ask...
So say we all?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org