Spoiler Alert: Do not read if you have not seen the final BSG episode.
Okay, we can all breath a sigh of relief. BSG, which began in the shadow of 9/11, ended its last episode with images of a beautiful summer’s day in New York City. We have, if you will, a degree of closure, and with humor. Some, however, don’t appear to be clued in.
GINIA BELLAFANTE of the NY Times (March 20, 2009) writes in her review of the final episode, “Show About the Universe Raises Questions on Earth,”
But the show could not break with the genre’s tradition of hokey, hopeful earnestness. Landing finally on a pastoral facsimile of Earth, the human-Cylon partnership vows to start anew with pledges not to let science outpace soulfulness. One hundred fifty thousand years later, a city of neon stands on the green terrain — as well as the assumption that we won’t make all of the same mistakes over again.
Wrong, wrong, wrong. The show does not end on a note of hokey, hopeful earnestness. It ends on a comedic one that frames questions that it raised about technology and the environment (especially in the last episode) in a satisfying fashion. How so? Setting right two basic errors in Bellafante’s review will get us off to the races. First, the crew of the BSG was not on a facsimile of Earth. Had this been the case, the conclusion would have made little sense and lost its punch. No, the crew had found good old terra firma. Second, there is no assumption that our species won’t make the same mistakes all over again. As a matter of fact, all we are told is that there is a chance that we will not do so, because not all complex systems behave identically. And the possibility that the future might be different from the past is only offered after seasons of hearing over and over again about the myth of eternal recurrence; it has all happened before and will happen again. Yada, yada, yada. If anything, the latter was overplayed and hokey, not the “assumption” about the future in the last scene.
But what Bellafonte really misses, and which says a great deal about how we should now understand the trajectory of the show, is the sense of humor displayed at the end of the final episode, one that we had not seen sustained earlier in the series. The remnants of the human race find an idyllic ancient earth and proceed to give up their technology (by sailing their ships off into the sun–yes, a bit corny). All hope for humanity seems to lie in a kind of pastoral utopia. But then a green Central Park appears and the “angel” versions of Balter and Six are found in present-day Times Square. They are seen standing and looking at a magazine article at a newsstand (how New York/how urban!) about a 150,000 year old Eve that had been discovered by scientists. This Eve is clearly supposed to be the child Hera that the crew of BSG rescued. During this scene Ron Moore, in classic Hitchcock fashion, appears. (Ronald Moore was the executive producer and a writer for the series. He worked on the script for the finale.) Baltar is wearing his oh so urbane sunglasses, and is in one of his dandyish outfits (which is pretty funny in itself given that it’s a hundred and fifty thousand years since we first saw him dressed to the nines). Six is dressed in NY model mode. They saunter off. A discussion ensues about whether humanity will screw things up again. Not necessarily is the word, but certainly no guarantees. During these last eight or so minutes, we hear “All along the Watchtower” playing from a boom box, and we are shown playful toy robots, some of whom are dancing. The scene is bathed in color. I won’t go into any more detail. Suffice it to say that it is in stark contrast to the deep darkness of almost all of BSG, and this darkness is stripped away not only by urban sights and sounds, but by humor.
There is a serious point here. One can read BSG as an anti-technological jeremiad. I mean, for gods sake, Adama wouldn’t even allow wireless communication on the BSG for fear that the Cylons could hack into the computer system. And of course there are those all too deadly Cylons, etc. Yes, the relationship to technology was always more complex than this in the series. But in the last 30 minutes of the show they really had us going. It looked as if the series had been hijacked by an anti-urban, technophobic wing of the Green Movement, offering us a pastoral utopianism in the tradition of Thoreau and friends. Return to the land, build cabins, love nature, destroy your technology, leave your cities, etc. Instead, by having the show end in the Big Apple (get it/Apple, Eve), after a clearly respectful treatment of the wonders of nature, there is acknowledgment of the need to preserve nature and that human beings are social/urban creatures, that is, they “inevitably” build cities full of life, sound, fury, color, and playfulness. The message is not especially hokey: we have to hope (and by implication, work) in order not to screw things up again given the powers that our species can unleash. Here’s Moore on the topic:
TVGuide.com: Why did you choose to end the show with Six and Baltar walking through Times Square?
Moore: Two things: One, Dave Eick and I had the image of number Six walking through Times Square in her red dress a couple of years ago. We thought potentially that that was just a great visual note to end on. And that also came out of the idea that we eventually wanted the show to directly relate to us. That the show was always intended to be relevant and be current to our society and lives and that it wasn’t completely escapist — “Oh here’s a story about a bunch of people who are not related to us on Earth at all.” We wanted it to ultimately circle back and say look, these people were our forbearers[sic]; in a real sense what happened to them, could happen to us. Look around you. Wake up. Think about the society that you live in and we wanted to make that literal at the end. TV GUIDE March 20th, 2009.
My understanding is that this show was still being written during the American election. The last sequence may have been shot after Moore knew Obama was going to get the nomination. Perhaps we will hear from the people at BSG about whether the American election had an impact on the finale.
P.S. This was a TV series that was broadcast and developed over some five years. It can’t be judged by the standards of a two hour movie. And science fiction, at its best a genre of ideas as well as action, is extremely difficult to pull off in a visual medium. All in all, BSG had a pretty damn good run. And the values of its cast are worth noting. Here is Edward James Olmos, Admiral Adama, and members of the cast at the UN on March 18th, 2009.
Just a note on “Mitochondrial Eve”: BSG did not make up this idea, and the arrival of Galactica on earth was keyed to the era in which mEve actually lived according to current evidence. See the discussion on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitochondrial_Eve
Thanks for the comment and the link. I didn’t mean to suggest that BSG made up the idea of Eve, but I can see how my phrasing might not have made this clear.