Nearly four years ago, two of the best genre shows from the last decade finally concluded. I decided to re-watch the Battlestar Galactica finale, Daybreak, and the LOST series finale, The End, to see if I felt the same way about them as when they aired. At the time, I had two very different reactions to each series’ conclusion. Would putting a few years between me and the last episodes lessen my massive disappointment in Galactica’s end or soften my general satisfaction with LOST’s conclusion?
I’d given up on LOST after the second season out of a mix of frustration and anger. Nothing was being answered and absolutely none of the characters ever got together and compared notes about what they saw and thought of everything. A giant dragon with the head of a Panda could suddenly appear, eat a few of the anonymous crash survivors, piss a stream of cotton candy over everyone else, then suddenly blink out of existence, and Kate would be like, “Oooh, Sawyer, you’re so mysterious and untrustworthy because Jack says you are, but I’m mysteriously drawn to you at the same time.”
Longing look at Jack in the distance arguing with Locke.
And Claire would be going on about how a Charlie ate her bay-bay or something while Hurley started gorging on the cotton candy, his hair and beard encrusted with warm chunks of the pink, sticky stuff that moments before had exited the strange beast’s genitalia.
Seriously, nobody ever just talked to each other about what was going on. They kept the weird things they saw to themselves, as if it gave them leverage over everyone else, and instead focused on how much they distrusted each other. I can’t shake the feeling that it was a cheat used by the writers to keep milking everything out and preventing them from actually having to answer any of the smaller mysteries, much less the greater ones.
Galactica, on the other hand, wore its angst on its sleeve, but its first couple of seasons were so well written, so well-acted, and so well-produced that I still believe that it’s the best science fiction ever put on screen, big or small. The characters were realistic and beautifully flawed. Their fears, doubts, ideals, and paranoia bounced off each other and propelled the show forward.
But something freaky happened midway through both shows’ runs: they swapped bodies. Galactica, which had built its reputation on strong characterization and exploring issues of war, torture, and what it means to be human, suddenly became obsessed with The Mysteries. Who were the Final Five cylons? Where was Earth? What does it all mean? The show’s finely woven threads began unraveling as its characters started acting against their established personalities in service to an increasingly nonsensical plot.
Meanwhile, LOST had reclaimed the strength of its characters. It still had its wacky plots, but Jack, Sawyer, and company didn’t suddenly start doing things out of character to force the plot to work. By the time Season 4 rolled around, I didn’t care if they discovered the “Mystery of the Island,” I just wanted Desmond to find Penny. I wanted Jin and Sun to be happy with each other. I wanted Ben to keep getting the shit beat out of him. I wanted Jack to finally let go of all his hang-ups and just roll with everything.
As I got back into LOST, I figured out that I hadn’t abandoned the show because the writers were constantly churning out new mysteries without answering the old ones, or because the characters didn’t respond like actual people to the weirdness surrounding them. I stopped watching because they killed Mr. Eko. I loved that guy. He was Locke, if Locke had been a child soldier in Africa who abandoned his own plans so his brother could have a better life, instead of a serial fuck-up who got conned out of a kidney and use of his legs by his father, and eventually his life by Ben Linus.
For Locke, the Island allowed him to play at being a romantic and manly Great White Hunter and explorer. Mr. Eko had been there, done that, and gotten the ear necklace to prove it. He was there to seek absolution, not validation.
Locke came face-to-face with the Smoke Monster and proclaimed that he had seen into the heart of the Island. Mr. Eko came face-to-face with the Smoke Monster and prepared to beat the shit out of it with his Jesus stick. He kind of lost that one, but still, he was a strong, engaging character and his death pissed me off so much that I couldn’t watch the show anymore.
As I started watching the show again, my focus on the mysteries receded into the distance while my concerns over the characters came to the fore. I think that’s why I’m one of the 10 people on the Internet who actually liked the series finale. The finale accomplished what I wanted it to: it gave the characters a resolution to their personal stories. I left the show knowing that each character had reached the end of their journey and most of them had found what they were looking for.
I know a lot of people were dissatisfied with the show’s inadequate or non-existent answers to all of the mysteries, but I didn’t really care about them in the end. They weren’t important. When you read or watch a production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, do you care where the island is located, or how it got there, or why it’s populated with strange people and myriad creatures with magical powers? No, that’s just the setting. The play is the thing! The characters’ interactions with each other and their conflicting motivations are what matter, and that’s what Galactica forgot.
Galactica became so focused on resolving all (or most) of its plot questions that it forgot to take care of its characters. It had spent most of its third season and all of its fourth season steadily destroying its characters and turning them into props to serve the machinations of a convoluted plot, so that by the time the finale came around, most of them were hollow shells of their former selves.
I’m not going to address the whole god thing, but I still can’t abide the absolute ridiculousness of the idea that everyone in the fleet would suddenly leave all technology behind to go roughing it in pre-Ice Age Earth. This was a group of people who couldn’t even agree on whether to even land on the previous habitable planet and now they suddenly decide to chuck it all away and venture forth with nothing but the clothes on their backs? Wouldn’t the doctor at least want his life-saving medicine and medical equipment, just in case, you know, all the people who’ve never been on this planet inevitably fall victim to the fungal, viral, or bacterial infections that their bodies have no defense against?
I’m certain the underclass of the fleet couldn’t wait to get off those ships and away from the rest of the assholes, but I guarantee that there was a sizable group of people who enjoyed the comforts of civilization and wouldn’t let it go just because Apollo suddenly decided that they all needed to return to the land. But none of that mattered because the plot demanded that breaking the historical cycle depended on everyone abandoning technology, so that’s what happened, whether it made sense or not.
Still, I wanted to see at least some resolution for these people I’d come to know and care about. Why did Apollo say he’d never see his father again? Adama has a ship capable of bridging the vast gulf between the stars in the blink of an eye, but he can’t cruise a few hundred miles to catch up with his son every once in awhile? The main dynamic between Adama and Apollo was the normal tension between father and son, but also the anger felt by Apollo towards his father over the death of his brother, as well as their clashing ideals. Over the course of the series, their relationship alternately improved and deteriorated, but at the end you’d think they had finally come to respect and value each another. But nope, Adama tells his son, “I’d rather spend the remainder of my life alone on a strange world than to ever see you again.”
And Starbuck didn’t even give Apollo the decency of a goodbye. She just blinked out of existence when he turned his head, like Batman.
You know, with the ending that we got, it would’ve been better had the show ended shortly after they found the irradiated, uninhabitable husk of Original Cylon Earth. It would have at least been a fitting end and in keeping with the series’ bleak tone. Instead, the writers opted for a “happy” ending, where our ragtag fleet finds its way to Our Earth because the coordinates are somehow related to the notes of Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower.
Listen, I get where the writers were going with this. They wanted to express the idea that there’s some Jungian collective unconscious that humanity taps into, no matter the time and place. But Dylan? Really? For the entirety of the show’s run, they had accomplished the same thing by using old Sanskrit prayers, traditional instruments, and the like. You know, things that have actually stood the test of time on our own world and tap into universal emotions and imagery for most of humanity, rather than the fandom of people from a certain generation. I’m not saying Bob Dylan is some forgettable slouch, but if you’re going to go this route, why not something from Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Holszt, or someone whose art has proven appeal amongst a wide breadth of humanity and not just American white males between the ages of 40-65?
I can only imagine a television series 20 years from now where the answer to the grand puzzle of some cosmic drama far in humanity’s past turns out to be the lyrics to Smells Like Teen Spirit.
The distance of a few years between the end of both shows hasn’t really changed my reaction to them, though I’m not as disappointed with Galactica’s finale as I’d originally been. At the time, I was so angry with it that it retroactively ruined the entire show for me. It’s only now that I can go back and re-watch some episodes, as well as get around to watching Caprica.
Ultimately, Galactica’s lack of satisfying character resolution was exacerbated by absolutely insipid plot resolutions. If one had been done well but not the other, it wouldn’t have been so bad, but they completely screwed the pooch on both.
On the other hand, LOST still holds-up for me. As I said before, I cared more about the characters than the plot, so I’m satisfied with it. The show raised so many questions and introduced so many plot points that tying it all together, while at the same time providing a satisfying conclusion for all of the characters, would’ve been impossible and probably resulted in the same hot mess as Galactica’s finale. Instead, the writers chose to focus on the characters and passed on answering a lot of the minor mysteries so that at least one half was done correctly. It just so happens that it’s the half I actually cared about.