[Baltar] comes into a room and he hears music and it's a recognizable Earth-tune ... It was Jimi Hendrix was playing, actually, and he goes, "God, I recognize that." And then somebody- or somebody s- a voice says, "You recognize that?" And he says, "Yes." And he turns and it's Dirk Benedict. (Laughs.) And Dirk Benedict said, "Hi. I'm God." And you just cut. We just cut out on that. ... that was gonna be the end of that whole storyline and at the episode. I liked it. I thought it was wacky. I didn't quite know what it meant. I thought- I was looking for a surprise.I was still infatuated with Galactica when I watched this episode and listened to the podcast, and even so Moore's words gave me pause. I was troubled by the realization that he could so cavalierly discuss introducing such an absurd plot twist without knowing its meaning and resolution, and even more so by his willingness to jeopardize the integrity of his invented universe for the sake of a metafictional gag. At the time, I told myself that it was wrong to judge Moore by the crazy notions his hyperactive imagination spun out. He had, after all, dismissed the idea--his better impulses and the people around him had talked him out of it. The bullet had been dodged. Two seasons later, it seems to have swung around and hit us*.
The massive plot twist at the end of "Crossroads II" differs from both of the cliffhangers preceding it. It is not, like Boomer shooting Adama in "Kobol's Last Gleaming II", an organic extension of previous events. Neither is it, like the 'One Year Later' title card in "Lay Down Your Burdens II", a massive perspective shift, a moment in which, as Dan Hartland put it, the show eviscerates itself (although as it turns out Dan vastly overestimates the consequences of the leap forward in his essay. The third season wasted very little time in restoring the status quo, and the aftereffects of both the Cylon occupation and the year spent on New Caprica have been only fleetingly and half-heartedly explored). If these two previous cliffhangers had the audience going 'Oh no!' and 'Wow!', respectively, the end of "Crossroads II" is more likely to have elicited a 'Huh?'
The return of Starbuck is only surprising in that it happens so soon after her 'death'. The less said about the incongruous musical choice, the better**. Plenty of people are scratching their heads at the identity of the Cylons revealed--two of them decent, morally upright people; one of them a violent, self-destructive drunk; two of them serving at the respective right hands of the two most powerful people in the fleet; one of them older than the Cylon race; one of them a parent; three of them major characters; one of them a virtual non-entity; all of them key members of the New Caprica resistance movement--but I can't help but feel that we'd have a easier time accepting Tigh, Tyrol, Anders and Tory as Cylons if we had a better idea of what, exactly, a Cylon is.
I'm going to say this again because it's just so mind-boggling. At the end of Galactica's third season--if rumors are to be believed, three quarters of the way into the show's run--we have no idea what a Cylon is. What little information we've been given about them is spotty and contradictory. Cylons are biological, but they can interface directly with fiber-optic cable. Cylons can breed with humans, but their blood has a different molecular structure than ours. Cylons have a psychology similar to humans--they can be tortured and fall in love--but they have only a rudimentary grasp of individuality and can tailor their perception of reality to suit their moods and protect them from the harshness of the real world. Moreover, Tigh and the others aren't garden variety Cylons. They're Final Five Cylons, whatever the hell that means. Within this fog of uncertainty, the only thing we can safely say is that these four characters are not what we thought they were, but we might as well have discovered that they all have a rare blood type, or a supernumerary toe, for all that we can understand the ramifications of this discovery, much less of their choice not to let biology--or mechanics--determine their destiny.
At the risk of sounding like one of these people, I've been toying for a while with the notion that Galactica is not, in any meaningful way, science fiction. Most narrative genres take place in a universe that operates according to a set of rules. The difference between naturalistic and fantastic fiction is that, in the latter, the universe is not our universe, and the rules are not our rules. Nevertheless, they exist, and are comprehensive and coherent. When it comes to Battlestar Galactica's fantastic elements, I'm beginning to wonder whether there are any rules. For more than a year, I and a host of other Galactica fans have been screaming to high heavens about the show's shoddy worldbuilding. Halfway through the second chorus of "All Along the Watchtower", I started to think that maybe Ron Moore isn't incapable of creating a coherent alternate universe. Maybe he just doesn't want to. Maybe a story that I've been reading, with ever-increasing frustration, as fantastic is actually surreal.
I'm not saying this to let Ron Moore and his writers off the hook. There's a vast gap between Battlestar Galactica and Twin Peaks, and let's not lose sight of the show's failures on the character level, or when wearing its other genre hats--the action adventure and the political thriller. Surrealism eschews coherence and linearity for the sake of ambience, but when it's done badly--and sometimes, even when it's done well--that ambience can fail to materialize. The audience, in cases like this, is jettisoned out of the story, and left with no emotional hook other than a bewildered amusement. If I'm right, and Ron Moore is prioritizing the gestalt effect of his story over any of its individual elements, then he is tragically out of step with the vast majority of his audience, and likely to lose more and more of them as his show sinks further into weirdness. All that said, I've often wondered about the thought processes of the surreal artist. When the only purpose of the work's details is to come together into a certain kind of whole, how do you know which details to use when? How do you decide that the backwards-talking dwarf goes here instead of there? I imagine that the process must be largely intuitive--perhaps along the lines of a writer who thinks that Dirk Benedict as God is a good idea.
As far as I'm concerned, there was only one question that "Crossroads II" needed to answer--is there any reason for me to come back to this show in January? If the rumors turn out to be true and the fourth season is confirmed as Galactica's last, I suspect I will. I want to see what Ron Moore comes up with as an ending, because at this point there is no doubt in my mind that it will be absolutely deranged. I guess you could say that "Crossroads II" is the episode that broke me--at this point, I am no longer interested in analyzing this show or pointing out the faults in its worldbuilding. In fact, I find myself dangerously close to the 'but it's not supposed to make any sense' mindset that keeps people watching 24 and Lost. In my defense, I just want to see whether or not I'm right. I think Moore is going to slide into the realm of metaphysics and go completely insane and I want to be there when it happens, not because I think the end result will be moving or awe-inspiring or even any good, but because I think it's going to be really, really big. At least, I'd like to believe that it will be. There must be some kind of way out of here.
* Which, in a way, is fitting. Why shouldn't the ghosts of the first season's aborted plot twists cap off the third season, which in the general shape of its plot progression resembles nothing so much as the second season's deformed twin? Both seasons start with the main cast divided, several of them stranded on a planet and in need of being rescued from the Cylons. This situation persists for several episodes, at the end of which order is restored--the fleet is reunited, Roslin and Adama are reinstated in their old roles and relationship--just in time for the mid-season two-parter to challenge it by positing a thorny moral dilemma. Once that storyline is wrapped up, in a wholly unsatisfying manner, the season devolves into a sequence of tedious and ill-advised standalone episodes which, in their turn, give way to a finale revolving around a momentous public decision--which turns out differently than any of the characters could have reasonably expected--and is then capped off by a shocking event.
** According to the show's composer, Bear McCreary, this choice doesn't imply "that Bob Dylan necessarily exists in the characters' universe, but that an artist on one of the colonies may have recorded a song with the exact same melody and lyrics," and if this is true then I can only say that the episode misses its mark by a wide, wide margin.