Friday, January 23, 2009

BSG: Decline and Fall?

Ellen Tigh.

So what do we think about that? For my part, not very much. But after reflecting on the first episode of season 4.5 ("Sometimes a Great Notion," ep. 4.11) for a week, some thoughts occur to me:

* There was a lot to like in 4.11, first and foremost being the suicide of Dualla. Moore and writers David Weddle and Bradley Thompson needed to convince us of how severe a blow Earth's false paradise was. Dualla's suicide accomplishes that and fits within the arc of her character, which has been trending toward deep unhappiness since New Caprica.

But it does something more: It serves as a stunning indictment of Lee Adama. The young Adama has his father's ambition and sense of command but has always been corrupted by an enormous egotism. Remember the first moment we met him: He was being bitchy and condescending to the Galactica's deck crew because he wanted to be sure that these people, who he'd never met before, understood his displeasure with his father. Lee showed that kind of righteous self-absorption over and over again, but the writers never made him pay for it with the audience. They always left a way for people to overlook Lee's flaws and see him as the fair-haired boy that we want to see.

In episode 4.11, Lee is standing in front of his ex-wife, a woman whose heart he treated very shabbily, and she is clearly in distress. Yet he's so blind to the world that he keeps talking about himself and his own troubles that he can't see that she needs saving. And so Lee walks away, still thinking of himself, while Dualla puts a gun to her head.

* Meanwhile, what's up with Lee's father? The admiral hasn't been himself for a few episodes now--crying and wallowing and, in 4.11, trying to goad Tigh into killing him. If you go back in time, you'll note that this unraveling of the great admiral began when he admitted that he had fallen in love with Laura Roslyn.

I think there's something going on here about romantic love being incompatible with command. And I like it all the more because it's being explored purely with subtext.

* As for the big reveal, I really don't know what to make of Ellen Tigh being the fifth cylon. Maybe it will make sense after some explanation. (I think it's now clear that when Deanna told one of the final five "I'm sorry, I had no idea" back on Kobol that she was speaking to Tigh, not the obscured "final Cylon.")

But my real fear all along has been that Moore is creating the show's mythology on the fly and not according to a long developed, pre-conceived plan. As with any show that has a deep mythology to it, that's a path to narrative chaos.

This interview is particularly unsettling because Moore says that he decided Ellen would be the final Cylon during the third season. Two problems here: (1) The importance of the final five seems to have occurred to Moore as the series was progressing; and (2) So did their identities.

We've seen this kind of unraveling before with very good shows--Alias, Lost, X-Files, etc. A great concept is sustained for a few seasons but then peters out because the showrunner didn't know ahead of time what the final act would be. It's fine to freelance your mythology during production so long as you know where you'll eventually end up.

I maintain that BSG will successfully conclude if it can coherently answer two questions:

(1) What happens to the humans?

(2) What was the Cylons' plan?

If Moore can get those two answers right, then nothing else really needs to be explained. We don't need to know who was on earth or what the 13th tribe was. We don't even need to know what happens to the mass of cylons presumably still hanging around Caprica and points West. (Remember, throughout the series, we've been watching a conflict between a small band of humans and, one assumes, a reasonably small group of Cylon chase ships. The main body of the Cylon civilization and navy is most likely still back around the colonies doing whatever it is they do. In that way, the series is a lot like Master & Commander: We're at the far edge of the earth watching a struggle that's really only important to the two players involved in it.)

In any event, if Moore loses sight of those two big questions, or garbles them with other questions, the chances of BSG holding together in the final reckoning decrease. He's done so much right that I'm happy to follow him to the end; I just hope his conclusion is worthy of his beginning.

1 comment:

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