Why did the Battlestar Galactica finale feel like a letdown? A big part of it was the reductionism of the pat ending, in which all the remaining narrative and character threads either lead to the colonization of Earth or are rendered irrelevant by it. Faiths that long conflicted – generating some of the tension and mystery of the show – are squeezed unconvincingly into harmony: Roslin’s faith in her destiny and her gods of sacrifice, Baltar’s faith in himself and his god of narcissism, Starbuck’s sense of dark and unavoidable purpose. Everything, we’re left to infer, was leading them to the same place. That conclusion rounds off the edges that made these beliefs interesting – the uncertainty of whether Roslin was prophetic or delusional, the outrageousness of Baltar’s spirituality of selfishness, the dread that Starbuck is trapped as an agent of collective doom. In the end, all of it was a way to get from A to B. They all meant the same thing, which leaves you with the sense that it didn’t mean that much.
Starbuck may have been dead, but she didn’t doom anybody after all. Baltar’s cult of self-love without consequences turns out not to have had any bad consequences. Not that a good ending would have required Baltar or anyone else to suffer for bad decisions – I just wanted the sense that somebody somewhere down the line is affected. Instead we’re left with an optimistic fatalism. It was an ending that reminded me of the movie Signs – no need to angst anymore about faith or the consequences of your choices, because it was all a plan and it worked out.
The difference is that Battlestar Galactica, unlike Signs, was often terrific, which is what makes the ending frustrating. It echoes a frustration I felt at a lot of points in the show: Battlestar Galactica is rightly praised as a dark show where textured characters face hard choices and make bad decisions with bad consequences. But too often, consequential decisions and revelations register a shock but then turn out not to have much consequence. These are the final four Cylons! But they didn’t know it themselves, so their friends can only hold it against them for so long, and they mostly still get to do what they were doing before. Gaius Baltar is still being manipulated by the Cylon that deceived him so they could conquer Earth! But they’re both angels (literally?) We are all descended from half-Cylon Hera (!) and we are now reenacting the history of our human ancestors (!). But don’t those two revelations sort of cancel each other out? If we’re are doing what the humans did an epoch ago, why did they need to save a hybrid baby to be our progenitor? Some of the relationships on the show, like between the two Adamas, also suffer from a sort of cataclysm fatigue – every half-season another betrayal or near-death experience sends the father-son relationship spinning off in another direction, partially negating the last one, to the point that their relationship, though compelling, feels like less rather than more than the sum of what’s happened to them.