Thursday, July 03, 2008

Who Is the Final Cylon?

I don't care.

No, really, I just don't. Granted, my level of interest in Battlestar Galactica has plummeted over the last year and especially over its last half season (funny how that works. When the show was meeting my expectations in its first season, or falling tragically short of them in its second and third, I couldn't shut up about it, but now that I've come to expect mediocrity and gotten just that, I find myself with little reason to care), but I'd like to know how the show ends, and there are questions I'd like to see it answer and issues I'd like to see it acknowledge and resolve. It's just that the identity of the final Cylon is pretty far down that list. I'd be annoyed if it weren't revealed, because the show's writers have made promises, and piggybacked quite shamelessly on the tension created by keeping the final Cylon's identity secret, but on my rapidly dwindling list of reasons to watch Galactica, this revelation doesn't rate a spot.

And the thing is, I just don't get people for whom the identity of the final Cylon is crucial. I can understand being eager to know the solution to a mystery, or the revelation of a secret, on an intensely- and well-plotted show. I've experienced that eagerness myself, as the first seasons of Veronica Mars or Dexter drew to a close. These seasons were impeccably constructed and delivered mysteries, and they revealed the solution to their central puzzles with an awe-inspiring flair, and just the right combination of surprise and inevitability. The satisfaction derived from such denouements comes from being able to say that you couldn't have guessed the solution to the mystery, but that it makes perfect sense now that you know it. Nothing I've seen from Battlestar Galactica in three and a half seasons leads me to expect the same level of competence when the final Cylon is revealed. In fact, when Galactica delivers revelations, they tend to be plucked out of thin air, neither foreshadowed by previous events, nor congruent with the show's themes or character arcs.

For all that, whenever I come across discussions of the show these days, the question of the final Cylon's identity seems to be paramount. io9's Galactica discussions seems almost monopolized by it, for example, and just yesterday Strange Horizons published a review of the fourth season by Roz Kaveney that boils down to speculation about this very question. As disenchanted as I am with the show, even I'm not willing to reduce it to this question. That kind of attitude is fine when discussing a show like Lost, which is basically a sequence of 'wow!' moments strung together, but Galactica was supposed to be more than that--a show that told a story, that asked interesting questions about the human condition. That said, it's been a long time since I truly believed Galactica could deliver on the latter count, and there is no denying its writers' fondness for yanking major twists out of nowhere. As Dan Hartland put it when discussing the second season finale, Galactica has a penchant for eviscerating itself, sacrificing--or never even bothering to deliver--months of careful plotting for the sake of a few minutes during which the top of the audience's heads come off.

So, really, I have no idea who it is that's supposed to care about the identity of the final Cylon. People like myself, who don't think the Galactica writers can plot worth a damn, have no reason to expect anything different from what we've already seen--a nonsensical revelation parachuted in with no grounding in the plot, and perhaps even in direct contravention of established facts (see, for example, Tyrol's son, and the utter lack of fuss at yet another Cylon procreating in spite of the species's alleged obsession with the issue in the second season and the continuing importance of Hera). As for people like Kaveney, who are still in love with the show (though she is frustratingly vague about the reasons for that love. She says, for example, that the show "turns Starbuck, for a while, into an obsessed seeker for whom [Earth] has become less a possible home than the White Whale of the novel from which she takes her name," but doesn't bother to support the implicit claim that this character arc was successful or convincing, which leaves people like myself, who found it, and just about every other character arc in the fourth season, tedious and poorly done with no room for argument), surely there are more important aspects to the show to obsess over?

Perhaps not, as Kaveney's essay begins with the proclamation that "We watch Battlestar Galactica for the space battles and the sudden revelations and reversals, of course" (the over-inclusive first person plural voice setting a record for the number of words a review takes to put my back up, though I admit to being quite fond of the space battles), and when she goes on to speculate about the identity of the final Cylon she demonstrates just the kind of deafness to theme and successful plotting that an obsession with sudden revelations and reversals fosters. Her top candidates for the last Cylon slot? Roslin, Adama, and Baltar. Now, Baltar went through a period during which he wondered whether he was a Cylon, eventually hoping to discover that he was one in order to shed the guilt of having betrayed his species. In the end, he was forced to accept that such an easy escape wasn't in the cards for him--one of the only successful and interesting character arcs in the third season, and just about the only time I've found Baltar appealing. For the show to reverse that conclusion now would gut that arc's significance. Similarly, Adama being a Cylon would undermine his breakdown upon discovering that Tigh was one, and surely the question of Roslin maybe being one of the final five was definitively dealt with in "The Hub" (in a moment that, to my mind, is one of the series's highlights, right up there with Galactica breaking atmo in "Exodus II" and the camera panning to Chip Baltar in "Downloaded," if only because, let's face it, if you were in D'anna's shoes, wouldn't you have done the same thing?). Not to mention that we've already observed four main characters come to terms with being secret Cylons and really don't need to go through that process again, and that having yet another Cylon in the fleet and in a position of power would be over-egging an already quite eggy omelette.

But then, none of this would stop the Galactica writers. It would be unsatisfactory and contradictory to everything that's come before, but they would totally pull any one of these rabbits out of their hat just to make the audience's hearts race for a few minutes. In the final accounting, I think Roz Kaveney is probably watching Battlestar Galactica as its writers mean for it to be watched--not as a coherent story, an exploration of issues and characters, but as a sequence of space battles, sudden revelations, and reversals. I just don't see why anyone would be interested in that show.

No comments:

Post a Comment