This post sprung from a conversation about Battlestar Galactica (the reboot) on Google+ and I thought it was a fairly coherent articulation of my personal gripes about that show, so I’ll preserve it here, too.
Here it goes: I actually have a rather elaborate rant-ish argument about BSG: many of you have probably heard some or all of it, skip this post if it’s so.
I have two or three main gripes with BSG.
First, the writers never thought through the hows and the whys of the universe. And this is not just world-building wankery.
There is an understanding so vague about how several things work (but mostly Cylons) that it undermines the ability to tell deep, meaningful stories, in my humble opinion. Because it’s a moving target. How can you center a story about “how to tell if someone is really human” if nobody really knows, for real, not even the writers?
In the first episodes we see the glowing spine, then it gets completely forgotten. The cylons are indistinguishable from the humans, but they are shown in different occasions to be stronger, more resistant to diseases and radiation, and they can fucking upload their conscience in real-time across light years of space. But at the cellular level they are 100% human (I won’t even touch the bullshit “but they are different on molecular levels”). I can expand on this if needed, it makes very little sense… and as such undermines a lot of the plots that could be told.
Secondly, the writers didn’t have any plan beyond the basic initial drive about where to go with the story. And boy it shows. See  on this (or watch Babylon5 or The Shield, and weep).
And thirdly, and I’m coming to my “a wizard did it” gripe.
SPOILER ALERT ABOUT THE END OF BSG
Do you remember the “mind Six” and the “mind Gaius”? After all was said and done, it turned out they weren’t mysterious cylon mind-conditioning programs, or nano-mind-viruses, or just mind games, or whatever else. No. They were Angels of the Lord.
I am not shitting you. And it gets worse.
The whole series is them steering the actions of the protagonists, influencing them here and there to make them adhere with the prophecy involving the first human/cylon child (Athena? Can’t remember). So they in the end bring humanity to the promised land, where humanity (the colonists) settles and basically dies out, save for the little child, that grows and has babies with the native other-humans, and becomes the Mitochondrial Eve, the common ancestor of all present-day Earth.
And in the “coda”, they (the two angels) show up in modern-day Earth, and make it clear that the cycle is bound to repeat itself (humanity stealing the life-creating-fire from the gods, the new lifeform revolting, and so on), and they’ll see what will happen and get back to work. So, from my POV, all the drama, all the human issues… all agency is stolen from the protagonists.
Nothing they did was really their free choice, and in the end the message is “stop trying to make sense of the world, just embrace the transcendent and have faith, god will provide”. Which, and this could be the fault of my own tastes and expectations, I fully admit… is bullshit, and undermines every good bit the series had.
One could object why should I care, if I didn’t like the series… but no: there was a lot of good in it. The characters, a lot of the acting, the visuals, effects, world bits and style, even the music. And all that non-expressed potential I kept seeing, it’s infuriating.
I remember talking about this with Joshua A. C. Newman: with that setup there were the materials (the shocks, in “Shock: Social Science Fiction” parlance) to tell really interesting stories about humanity, about artificial life, about racism and prejudice, about scarcity and violence and alienation (the issues)… I kept wanting it to express its potential of being a social science fiction story, and instead it kept steering more and more towards some half-hassed fantasy/mystical/religious drama, just set in space.
Luckily, we have Shock: itself, to tell good stories in badly utilized universes (and Sean Nittner’s Apocalypse Galactica).
Full disclosure: I have not seen the entirety of the series. Just S1, part of S2 and several episodes here and there, plus the last 10 or so episodes. I read some clarification on the wikis and I’m pretty amazed they managed to fit together most of their scattered plots.
And if you download the series bible, which is available online, or listen to Ron Moore’s interviews, they candidly admit this: they had no idea. ↩︎