Thursday, February 12, 2009

Why Battlestar Galactica is shit Part 2

THAR BE SPOILERS AHEAD! Kind of. It references a couple of things that are happening on the show right now (as airing in the US and UK) but, actually, those references are pretty vague. If you're well into Season 4, you're probably okay. If you're Season 3 or earlier, AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE.

So a little more detail on why Battlestar Galactica is now shit.

The cracks really started to show in Season 3. That's the season where we could see the writers had been watching too much Lost. Forget that great premise and pressure they had set up. Yeah, the real money is in creating huge questions that can have no answer and then hitting with bombshells that make no sense. That's where it's at. The fans will theorise to death the random stuff you throw into your script so, effectively, they'll write the stories for you - everybody wins.

So they came up with the idea of their mysterious Final Five Cylons. They gave their characters visions left, right and centre. In a shocking twist, the Cylons decided to leave them alone. And then sort of changed their minds. For some reason.

The major problem with Lost-alike mysteries is that they create questions and scenarios that weren't initially accounted for by the writers. They drop those bombshells before working out what those bombshells actually are. So they simply can't make sense. And, yes, fans will try to connect unconnected dots but the problem in the actual show is that, in reality, the characters would be pointing out when things don't make sense. They would ask questions. So, in order to avoid throwing a huge spotlight on the nonsense, the characters have to act... out of character. This happened even in the first season of Lost. Big things would happen to characters and then those characters would tell nobody. Because, if they told people, the cracks would become obvious.

A whole island of people incapable of communication.

Same happened with Battlestar. Tigh is revealed to be a Cylon! Woah! Now, at this point, any normal human being would have sat him down and asked the obvious questions - but, eh, what about your service record that predates the "skin job" Cylons? How come I fought with you in the first Cylon war when they were just "toasters"? Isn't it a coincidence that you all ended up on Galactica? How come the other Cylons don't know who you are? What the frak is going on? Tigh himself should have asked these questions.

Nobody asked.

Totally obvious to those of us watching and I'm damn sure the writers asked themselves those questions too but, because they couldn't think of decent answers and were more tied to their mysteries and big reveals than making any damn sense at all, they had to keep the characters silent. They had to have every character on that show act in a way contrary to the way any human being would act.

Having the crew act out of character became standard. Often visions were written in to explain that. Lazy writing. Lazy, lazy, lazy. Want a character to do something for no other reason than to force your plot along? Write in a vision. Lazy.

The show we have now, towards the end of this season, is one based on character inconsistencies. Adama, the man who refused to have a network on his ship, who defended them from the Cylons, who was shot by one of them on his bridge, who witnessed the aftermath of the Cylon-run New Caprica now keeps his Cylon buddies close and has integrated their technology with his ships. His second in command turns out to be a Cylon and he lets him keep his position and they're still buddies. Why? Who the frak knows. Because the writers decided that for some reason. Totally and utterly against character. Doesn't quite fit with the knowledge that the Cylons have a history of infiltration and sabotage.

Tigh himself went as far as to arrange suicide bombers to attack the Cylons. They pulled out his eye. He even killed his wife because she collaborated with them. That's how much he hated the Cylons. And with good reason - they destroyed his entire planet and were intent on destroying Galactica.

But then he finds out he is one, doesn't even ask himself the obvious questions about that, and now he's all for this Cylon alliance. Totally and utterly against character.

Starbuck dies and comes back to life. Shhh... don't ask.

Let's not even start on whether the Cylons can or can't be differentiated from humans.

And the characters are where the real crime of Battlestar Galatica takes place. Remember the list of characters we had at the beginning of the show? Well, now let's look at what we have -

Starbuck has turned into a whiny nothing, serving only to push along a Lost-alike mystery. Adama is a Cylon collaborator with no purpose who just turned out to be a bit of a dick (he proved spectacularly in the last episode that he was on a par with Zarek and Gaeta). His second in command is a Cylon with no curiosity whatsoever who has done nothing but wander around the ship aimlessly since he found out. Boomer's gone. We got Athena instead and she has been in one or two mother shots in the last couple of seasons and that's it. Chief Tyrol, like Tigh, lost all reason for being the day he became a Cylon. He spent the whole of the last episode crawling around tubes just to give the actor something to do. The President is a complete and utter pain in the hole who just serves as a reminder of the awful deus ex machina the writers implemented because they didn't have the balls to let the cancer kill her.

Sure enough, Adama's son turned out to be a pussy. Oh, by the way, sci-fi council scenes are always boring. ALWAYS. They weren't interesting in the Star Wars prequels, the Matrix sequels or anywhere else. And Baltar, well, he was fun but they really had to scrape the barrel to find a role for him after his trial. And the messiah thing was shit. Helo, the once-stranded crewman, is now set dressing.

There isn't one character left that I could possibly give a crap about. They have no roles, no reason for being, nothing to react to. They are just pains in the ass, the lot of them.

And having a character you can invest in is a basic story requirement. This show is coasting on the investment people put in early on, when there were characters to invest in. Basic story requirement. If the writers had just glanced at the office copy of Screenwriting For Dummies, they'd have remembered that. But it's tough to read when your head is shoved up your ass while you ponder about Final Fives and other pointless mysteries.

So no decent characters, no threat, no pressure, no consistency. It's a dead show. Well done, Galatica writers. You took a great show and you killed it.

And that is why Battlestar Galactica is shit.

Just to finish, there is one area where Battlestar still shines: the music. Bear McCreary's score is amazing and has been since he began with the show. A totally unique score with so much heart. I don't think I would have stuck with the show this long without it - the visions drove me nuts but the music that went with them was usually fantastic. I bought the CDs of the first three seasons and will get the fourth as soon as it comes out. There's some beautiful stuff on them, with "Passacaglia" from Season 1 and "Something Dark Is Coming" from Season 2 being particular favourites. He has a blog here if you're interested. A fantastic composer.


Mr. Trombley said...

Dear Sir,

Oh you can't pin all the blame on Lost. Twin Peaks came first, was ten times weirder and David Lynch later admitted he really did make it all up as he went along.

It wasn't bad though. How could anything with scenes like this be bad:

Babylon 5 was another sci-fi series that had one of those things that tie everything together, but I only saw a few episodes of that. The middle 3 seasons are supposed to be really good.

He was supposedly inspired by Cerebus The Aardvark, which is a fantasy comic. That crashed and burned when the series went crazy again and convinced himself he was a religious scholar. He still pretends that the whole comic was planned in advanced and it may have been, but it's clear that his interpretation of the plans changed wildly. Oh yeah, it had been all mystical for a while to facilitate that sort of thing.

I guess mystical visions seem to auger a lack of planning. Still, it worked in Twin Peaks.

Mr. Trombley said...

P.S. I neglected to mention Lynch's musical partner Angelo Baladementi. In the clip contained in the above you can hear "Dance of the Dream Man".

He also has a funny story about meeting a mobster (warning: long interview):

Hey, someone who doesn't think they're a writer!

Bitter Animator said...

I'm more forgiving of Twin Peaks because there wasn't one character in the whole show that wasn't totally nuts. The whole world it was set in was trippy. So it was crazy stuff happening in a crazy world inhabited by crazy characters.

Lost, on the other hand, began with a gripping opening that very much established real world characters. Now what happens on the island is up for grabs and at the whim of the writers but, from that opening on, those characters should still act like people.

Same with Battlestar. The show begins more grounded in reality than almost any sci-fi show I've seen. So the reactions of those characters should be believable no matter what crazy stuff is thrown at them and the world they left should make sense.

Both shows broke their own rules. Twin Peaks never really had any rules to break.

I watched Babylon 5 and, while it began a little shakey and ended poorly, those bits in between were fantastic. And that was a show with a plan. Rewatching some earlier episodes, it was amazing to see just how everything did actually tie together. It even survived a major change in cast and still made it look like it was all a part of the plan.

And, at every point in the show, the characters had a damn good reason for doing what they were doing, even if it was at odds with every other character.

I haven't read Cerebus but remember someone telling me it was fantastic back in my teenage years.

susan said...

Mr. Animator,

There is a You Tube video on Battlestar that you should see, but I don;'t know where you are in the show - and it could be a huge spoiler for you.

If you want I can post the URL.

Bitter Animator said...

I'm totally up to date, Susan, so should be unspoilable. I'm curious now!

susan said...

Mr. Animator.

I wish I could send this to you privately. It's good, little bit of American TV, but it's also violent, and depressing,and the ad that goes on immediately after is probably the worst product placement I have ever seen. It's definately something for adults only.


Bitter Animator said...

That is actually quite hilarious. I have to wonder if that was a conscious decision. Very bad timing if it wasn't.

Anonymous said...

I never intended to watch BSG. But here I am eagerly awaiting tomorrow nights episode so I can have all these questions answered - obviously not all the questions otherwise next week will just be a Christmas episode clip show, and it will end suddenly when they realise they don't celebrate Christmas and the camera closes in on Colonel Tigh making the "HOLY FUCK!" face that has been used so often since he lost his eye.

You make some valid points, but it's all moot because I know you'll be watching the rest of this season like the rest of us.

How soon after the US showing do you catch it in the UK? The Sci-Fi channel have started showing episodes in Australia (if my time zone knowledge is correct) 6 hours after they've played.

Bitter Animator said...

We're a few days behind here. It airs on Fridays (today) in the US and we get it on Tuesday of the following week so, if you're only 6 hours behind, you'll be ahead of me.

And, yes, you're right - I'll be watching to the end. But if I didn't know the end was coming that soon, I'd drop it, just as I did Lost halfway through the second season.

No matter how it ends, I'll still always remember BSG fondly for those first two seasons.

susan said...

Glad you liked it Mr. Animator. I did too, but the humor is very very dark, very not PC.

I actually heard it was an error. But I will never be able to look at a cracker going in a bowl of soup the same way!

Do you all remember the series from 78? I loved that one as a kid/teen.

Bitter Animator said...

Yes, I was a big fan of the original show as a kid. I used to make Viper consoles out of cereal boxes and toilet roll tubes.

Anonymous said...

I've just finished watching season three and now awaiting to watch season four in the next few days. I'm only doing so because I might as well do it since I've got this far and I don't generally watch anything besides DVD's and so forth. Anyway, the justification for not enjoying the show is that it really isn't science fiction. It is extremely preachy, there are no counter explanations/rational thoughts, they all disolved in season two. I don't understand why god or visions or mythology has anything to do with it. The military within it is extremely laid back where subordination is almost endorsed rather than crucified, sex, drugs, alcoholism in a society meant to be futuristic but has somehow discovered how to create AI, interstellar travel, yet still uses projectile weapons, relatively trivial and petty human emotions are prevalent in supposed high ranking, superior people.

Problems with characters seem to manifest in an episode and disappear in the next, extremely tedious episodes involving a surreal amount of flashbacks, surely is only their for the writers to try and buy sometime to think up the next. The only rationale, decent character in the show appears to be Helo so far, the rest you just hope die.

Tony said...

I love you for pointing out so well how shit this series is.


Unknown said...

The finale was where everything completely unraveled for me. Until that moment in time, Starbuck could have been an agent for a different alien agency. The whole series could be a groundhog day time travel thingie where this all happened before and will happen once again. Baltar could have been faking the whole "I believe in magic sky daddy god and I'm his messenger and angels are real!" crap. Complete wastes of time Adama and lee and the president and tigh could have died. Heck, the cylons could have discovered "god" someplace and revealed it to be an alien thingie that was the real thing behind it all.

But noooo.... Baltar (whom was the ONLY one I ever rooted for throughout the series) turns out to be an actual religious nut. Actually thinks angels are real, and is not just trying to survive in this mad world.

Starbuck's miraculous resurrection... an ACTUAL miracle directly from God himself. :P

None of the asshats who deserved to die did.

And throwing the fleet into the sun?! Breeding with primitive screwheads, abandoning all of their high tech stuff completely? Inviting disease, injury, loss of safety, all around stupid ways to die?

THIS was god's plan!? EVERYBODY DIES. The final scene even confirms it. The ONLY person who survived is Hera, as she's now the "mitochondiral Eve" of all human beings. If THAT'S true, NONE of the rest of the entire cast survived at all! FAIL!

AAAH!! I wasted so much time on this horrible, horrible, horrible tv series. I can't believe you LIKED the first two seasons of this "NCSI in space"! Courtrooms! (*&*&%^ COURTROOMS! AAH!

Sorry. Just saw the finale and had to vent. Thanks for being here.

dalinian said...

I'd like to thank our host Bitter Animator for the two part intro, plus Holden Caulfield and arthur pearson for their contributions above - having just slogged my way through to the finale of BSG's final season, I'm sufficiently bitterly disappointed to be moved to agree with all your good points, well made, and to add a few of my own.

While I'm well aware as to how very "behind the times" my full-series viewing may be (six years after BSG wrapped), nevertheless one of the joys of the torrent cloud is that whole-series box-set-like-viewing is free in perpetuity (at least for popular series). As a life-long aficionado of hard sci fi, I thought I'd try overcoming the negative first impressions generated by brief perusal - and I, too, was initially impressed by the first season or two. However...

As a life-long science enthusiast and atheist, the reasons in favour of my initial negative impressions piled up higher and higher, as the promising start dissipated in a morrass of competing religiosities, soap opera diversions, and mythology-driven stupidities. As a reflection of the religiosity-drenched, science-ignorant, gun-crazy, bread-&-circuses-distracted Yanqui "civilisation" that spawned it, BSG now just seems like a cynical attempt to pander to the ideological regressiveness of its mass American audience, while playing on the anti-technology fears of a nation being challenged by the rise of increasingly technologically innovative east Asian nations. Notably, it ended with a montage of contemporary ''foreign" robots - foreshadowing the rise of the USA-jeopardising C21 “Cylons" from Japan / South Korea / China.

The writing got SOOO lazy towards the end, and that once-engaging ensemble of characters had SOOO degenerated into MacGuffin chasing bimbos, that I found my once-rapt attention wandering away to my second screen, to see if other viewers had similarly grown thoroughly disillusioned with the awful decay of BSG. Suffice to say, it's mildly comforting to know as how I'm not alone in recognising a promising premise severely wasted.