Saturday, January 17, 2009

Sometimes A Not-So-Great Notion

Well, what do you know: it's possible to be underwhelmed while expecting an anticlimax.

A while back, I came across this quote from Ron Moore in an io9 spoiler roundup:
[The revelation of the identity of the final Cylon] will never be as powerful as the build-up. I resigned myself to that a long time ago. The "Who Shot JR" of it all is an instructive lesson: No matter who it is, it's still going to be a bit of a letdown.
I considered saying something about this here at the time, but then decided that I'd already said my piece on the topic of the final Cylon. Having watched the premiere of season 4.2 (or whatever the hell we're calling it) and having had that identity revealed to me, I feel that my reaction at the time bears repeating. And it is: fuck you, asshole. How dare you make such pathetic excuses for your own incompetence? That's the kind of bullshit I expect from the writers of Lost, and even they've had the common decency to realize that that won't fly, and (by all accounts) to fix their show. Disappointment of the kind you're talking about isn't inevitable. It isn't a law of nature. It's a consequence of bad writing, and there's a very simple guideline to avoiding it: don't build up what you can't pay off. Either come up with a revelation that's worthy of the frenzy you've aroused in expectation of it, or don't orient your entire show towards it.

The ending of "Sometimes a Great Notion" wasn't disappointing because no ending could have satisfied viewers who have been waiting for months to find out who the final Cylon is. It was disappointing because it was badly done--not just the identity of the final Cylon, but the manner in which that identity was revealed, which was so muddled and confusing it actually took me a few seconds to realize what I was seeing. The word 'revelation' doesn't even seem appropriate to that mess of a scene, which is probably why the episode ended with a character literally standing up on screen to say 'look! X is the final Cylon!'

As for the rest of the episode? Eh. Like too many Battlestar Galactica episodes it was about twice as long as it needed to be and relied too heavily on histrionics to make its point. I'm also even further convinced in my pet theory that there are two kinds of women on Battlestar Galactica: the glamour girls, who are beautiful and messed up and allowed to get away with just about anything, and the ordinary girls, who are plain (well, TV plain) and competent and do boringly domestic things like be wives and mothers on top of doing their job, and somehow manage to handle all of these responsibilities with class, if only because they know that they're expected to act like adults, and that if they throw a tantrum there will actually negative consequences down the line. It's the second kind who keep dying, and not in grandly tragic ways that are ultimately rolled back, but in mundane, often grotesque or humiliating ways from which there is no return. Still, maybe this has nothing to do with men and women. The arc of Galactica's character work from day one has been to either get rid of or debase any character who tries to behave in a mature, responsible manner. It's a show full of emotional teenagers. Talk about your post-apocalyptic horror.

8 comments:

Tea said...

I agree. Meh! Of all the more inspiring choices... And yeah, the way it was done was pathetic. The big reveal is foxes swimming out into the ocean? Underwhelmed doesn't begin to describe it.

But, maybe in the next ep they'll explain why person X isn't an idiotic idea after all. So far, not very taken with the "star-crossed lovers" bs.

Starbuck and creepy viper-discovery made the ep watchable, though. More of that!

Raz Greenberg said...

Ending? Fifth Cylon? That's nothing compared to all the other problems this episode had.
The problem is, there's no reason to care anymore. When they left us several months ago, the show's producers took away pretty much every dramatic tension that drove the plot forward. War with the Cylons? Over. The quest for Earth? Over (in a stupid twist that makes everyone - viewers included - feel like a bunch of idiots). Characters and relationships? Never going anywhere, it turns.
It would have taken something really big to get the show on its feet again, and I'll never know if the producers were capable of it, because they didn't even try.
The episode was 45 minutes of bad acting, butt-ugly cinematography, and boring-to-tears script (?). I just didn't care what's the deal with Starbuck, or Duella, or Apollo, or anyone else.
Though I have to admit I got a little excited when it seemed that Adama is actually going to shoot himself. At least that way we could have had one less whining character to listen to. And they couldn't deliver even that.
In short, that was my very LAST episode of BSG. Thank you, Ron Moore and co. for wasting my over the past five years.

danhartland said...

I can only pay tribute to your fortitude and resilience in sticking with it this long. I took a quick look at some stuff about the latest episode once I'd read your take, and my heart sank. It also felt a bit smug that my fortitude and resilience is much less impressive than yours. :P

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Raz:

In theory, there are still questions to be answered, about Earth and what happened there. It's just that the show has made such a dog's breakfast of its backstory and universe that the odds that these questions will be answered in a manner that is coherent, much less satisfactory, are pretty slim.

Dan:

If you want to call it fortitude and resilience, be my guest, but I've come to think of it as masochism and obsession. Seriously, the only reason I'm still watching this show is that it infuriates me too much to stop. At this point, dropping the show feels like admitting defeat, and I refuse to be defeated by this muddled, self-important excuse for storytelling.

Foxessa said...

I quite less than half way through season 3 or whatever it's called.

These guys are ham-handed, thud-footed writers, thinkers and editors. They think they are brilliantly talented, and every dumb media reviewer keeps saying they are and that BS-G is the smartest television eva. How much more stupid than that can you get? Proves that watching so much television rots the brain.

Love, c.

Athena said...

May the Lords of Kobol be my witnesses, I wanted to like this series. But for the reasons you and other Strange Horizons reviewers have outlined so well, it's devolved to way below pathetic. I cannot fathom why the mainstream media waxed so rhapsodic over it. Is it possible that the SF crowd is more demanding of its entertainment?

You're also spot on about the women -- but this crappy treatment is not confined to BSG. It's an epidemic in US films and TV. I touched on this issue in my critique of Star Wars critique, as well as in the last chapter of my book, The Biology of Star Trek.

Where is Whedon when you need him?!

lakrids said...

If you are interested in another writer with intelligent imo commentaries over BSG, you could check out Selenaks commentary over BSG

Thanks for yours essays

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Oh, I'm a big fan of SelenaK's, though I rarely agree with her. I think Dexter is just about the only show she and I both like, but I always enjoy reading her thoughts.

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