Battlestar Galactica - sloppy continuity and deus ex machina: a retrospective


As I wrote in my review of the BSG series finale, it was remarkably painful to see such an amazing science fiction show end with such a sloppily written finale. The one-two combo punch of reducing the only viable explanation for the larger than life happenings of the plot to the supernatural and the arbitrary snap decision of the entire cast to chuck their entire civilization into the sun makes for a real stinker of an ending. But to understand the magnitude of how poor an ending it was, we have to put its impact on the entire series into proper context. Thus, I now bring to you a retrospective. Let's take a look at what effect the big reveals at the end of the series have on earlier episodes.

The multiple personalities disorder of Head Six

In the pilot miniseries, Head Six is originally strongly implied to be Caprica Six or a copy of her placed within Baltar's mind. However, at the end of the series when we're finally given an explicit answer to what she was all this time, the answer we're given is unmistakably supernatural. We learn that she's not Six at all; she's not even a Cylon. She turns out to be a non corporeal entity and claims to be an "angel of god." This explanation and the actions she performed throughout the series leave no room for a rational alternative explanation, so we're forced to accept a supernatural explanation as the only explanation.

This is perhaps the biggest deus ex machina of the entire series because it muddles a whole bunch of material in prior episodes stretching back as far as the pilot miniseries. There's plenty of evidence that it was never the writers' original intent to make her a supernatural being. It's quite clear in fact that the writers originally intended her to be Caprica Six or a copy of her placed in Baltar's head, just as the plot implied. For instance:

But who cares, right? She could have just been pretending to be Caprica Six because "god" wanted to deceive Baltar for the time being, right? The trouble is, the writers didn't know that's what "god" was doing at the time they wrote the material. As such, a lot of Head Six' earlier actions and statements make no sense at all taken in the context of her being an angel of god and not Caprica Six or a copy of her placed in Baltar's head as was originally implied. For instance:

But when god is used as a rationalization, even these grievous sins can be explained away. Maybe god wanted Head Six' statements and actions to not be entirely consistent! Right? Sure, whatever...

Starbuck, angel incognito

Starbuck's destiny plot arc is perhaps the second biggest deus ex machina of the series. All of these plot points related to Starbuck's destiny have no rationalization other than divine intervention from god:

Sloppy secular writing

Unfortunately though, the sloppy writing wasn't limited to plugging plot holes with god. The revelation of the real Earth in the finale created the whopping Tomb of Athena problem. In Revelations, Gaeta confirmed that the constellations in orbit of that planet matched the Tomb of Athena from Home, Part 2. However in Daybreak, we learn that that Earth was a big fake. The real Earth is the one they find in Daybreak. The trouble is since the Earth depicted in Daybreak is quite clearly the Earth we're all living on now, we know the constellations match there too. But that simply can't happen. The constellations can't be identical in both places. Even then, aside from screwing up long term continuity, the finale wasn't even internally well polished either. Head Six misuses the law of averages in one line, Adama states an impossible figure when mentioning how far away Earth is from where they were before, and the whole plot seems to conspicuously ignore the ice age present at the time on Pleistocene Earth.

Unintentional ironies given the events of the ending

But I've saved the best for last. The piece of writing in the finale I really love to hate is the Colonials' snap decision to chuck all their technology into the sun. Aside from its dreadfully romanticized portrayal in the finale, their decision to do that creates all sorts of unintentional ironies throughout the course of the series:

Great series, bad finale?

I often tell people that BSG was a fantastic science fiction television series and to try not to let the crappy ending get to them too much. But the truth is that's just my love for the show's good years getting in the way of a painful reality. The reality of the situation is that this sloppy ending greatly diminishes the entire series. All of the details catalogued in this article prove that. Make-it-up-as-you-go-along storytelling and poor preplanning have mid-air collided with deus ex machina to produce an ending so bad it nearly ruins all the material leading up to it.

This ending greatly diminishes the potential for any new material to be as dramatically compelling as well. Now that god has transitioned from being a concept to a character and the Colonials chucked all their technology into the sun, there is obviously no story left to tell about them outside of prequels, but even prequels are damaged by this ending. Ads for Caprica touted the phrase "the future of humanity begins with a choice." That slogan is a final unintentional irony for us in this saga given the fact that the end of the story is all about how god eliminates all free will through his divine interventions.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. BSG deserved better than this. BSG deserved an ending as well crafted as Star Trek DS9's. And since Executive Producer Ronald D. Moore was part of the creative team that crafted DS9's incredible ending, he should have known better than to deliver us something this sloppy. While RDM certainly deserves to be proud of the many praiseworthy things in his show, he should most certainly be ashamed of himself for this travesty of an ending to what was otherwise the greatest science fiction show since Star Trek. So say we all.