In 2003, the beloved cult classic television series, Battlestar Galactica, returned to the small screen in a miniseries event that was, to say the least, a spectacular example of good, dramatic, science fiction. In almost every way imaginable (save for maybe "family values") the new Battlestar Galactica surpassed the original, and fans eagerly awaiting its inception as a weekly series. Season One continued the trend started by the miniseries, and is arguably the best stand-alone season of any science fiction show in the history of television. It was well-written, taut, and full of real-life problems in a fictional world. Season Two started to waver a bit, but for the most part maintained at least the tone of the first season.
It was, without doubt, one of the hardest-working shows with one of the hardest-working writing staffs at the time.
And then, at the end of Season Two, the unthinkable happened: the incongruous "One Year Later."
An obvious gimmick for a writing staff who seemed to be getting tired of the concept. Tired? How the Hell was this possible? The writers had barely even scratched the surface of the depth the show's premise offered. And yet, there it was... in our face, slapping as hard as it could. For those familiar with the much-maligned term "jumped the shark," this is when our beloved show jumped the battlestar.
One year later? One year of character development, unfinished storylines, plot progressions, and a clear change in direction of the show. Some fans (mostly fanboys and fangirls) loved it. Of course they would... these are the same people who loved the new Star Wars trilogy. Their standards are so low, they're the reason the Stargate shows lasted as long as they did.
Oh, Season Three started with a bang, I'll admit, but one full of inconsistencies, larger plot-holes, and a definite change in tone from the "realistic, naturalistic" science fiction promised by the show creators to an unrealistic, clearly contrived show that most casual fans find hard to care about. Don't believe me? Check the steady decline in ratings since the first season.
Sure, David Eick, one of the two show-runners, wanted to try out his horrible and horrifying remake of Bionic Woman, and Ronald Moore, the other show-runner and one of the only reasons the Star Trek franchise maintained quality for as long as it did, had his eye on silver screen projects. But this is my point: it was like they wanted to quit Battlestar Galactica in order to pursue their ultimate goal of being television and film powerhouses. I can't fault them for that, but I can fault them for not handing over the reigns of the once uber-great Battlestar Galactica to other writer-producers to keep the show going for more than four seasons. After all, that was how Ronald Moore got his start, by being handed the reigns of someone else's pet project. Perhaps his vanity got in the way of him doing the same for someone else.
No, not perhaps. That's exactly what happened.
Where's my proof? Well, just take a look at the silly "Final Five" Cylon concept. Initially, we were led to believe that there were 12 "human" Cylons, infiltrated in the RTF and causing all sorts of problems. Eventually, only 7 of those Cylons were revealed, leaving us wondering who the last 5 were. But, instead of drawing it out, keeping us guessing until the moment the RTF finds Earth, the writers decided to ret-con their own "history" and make the "Final Five" a group of prophetic not-quite-Cylon beings who seem to be involved in the overall machinations of the universe. Four of those Cylons were revealed to be human characters we've been following for quite some time now... human characters whose histories preclude them from being Cylons, hence, the ret-con. It was, to say the least, one of the cheapest shots taken at an audience since Rosebud was revealed to be a sled. Only Rosebud had a reason behind it... Battlestar Galactica's was simply a case of writers wanting to hurry to a finale.
So, here we are, watching a show that was once about a band of humans doing everything they could to survive in a situation that did not want them to survive, and is now about a band of humans being used as pawns in a prophetic chess-match between players whose identities are still unknown. If I wanted to watch a by-the-number piece like that, I'd pop Clash of the Titans in my DVD player.
Deus ex Machina kills many a film in its abrupt and lazy propensity to end a story. And this is what it's doing to Battlestar Galactica.
Of course, there's still a chance that the fourth and final season of the show could turn out to be the best conclusion to a science fiction show ever, but given the decline in quality evident since Season 2, and the rise in laziness evident since Season 3, what are the odds of that?
I'm guessing slim-to-none.
Here's hoping that some up-and-coming television writers are already preparing the next incarnation of Battlestar Galactica, because this one is leaving too many bad tastes in my mouth.
* This is the first part of what will hopefully be a nine-part entry in the River of Mnemosyne challenge that's happening over at The ...
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