The Importance of Endings (Or: “They Did WHAT?!”)

Posted: May 26, 2009 in Jeff Holland, Threat Quality
Tags: ,

BSG 1Something I’ve been wondering lately: exactly how much does an ending affect the overall quality of a story? Does the conclusion ultimately decide whether the rest of it was worth going through? Or does the journey count for enough?

Put in more concrete terms: does the fact that “Battlestar: Galactica’s” ultimate ending is among the stupidest I’ve ever heard in my life – and by stupidest, I mean both “wildly illogical” and “antithetical to the themes the show had previously set up” – mean I shouldn’t bother watching the series?

My noble intention in avoiding “BSG” while it aired was to sit and experience the story – long hyped as Teh Greatest Evah! – as a whole when it was over, because I was under the impression that it was telling a finite story. (That this finite story was stretched out unnecessarily by about two years is more the fault of SciFi’s – wait, are we calling it SyFy yet? – diabolical scheduling concept of “split seasons.”)

It was a story that sounded unrelentingly dark, with some real “Holy Shit!” moments, and a willingness to take its characters into unexpected territory. A story I figured I could get on board with, even though I wasn’t terribly impressed by the initial miniseries.

But then I was informed of the recent finale’s ending (Warren Ellis’s BSG 3succinct version at right), which sounded for all the world like the end of Douglas Adams’ “Restaurant at the End of the Universe,” where hapless hero Arthur Dent learns his distant evolutionary ancestors weren’t cavemen, but rather the space-faring ninnies who crashed on prehistoric Earth.

Except Adams’ version was supposed to be ridiculous and funny, and BSG’s was apparently meant to signify a thought-provoking reminder of how technology corrupts humanity in cyclical ways, and…come on, I’m supposed to buy this as anything other than retarded? These fully-evolved humans decided to abandon all technology? Including medicine? And TOOLS? We’re to take it these guys just hopped out of a spaceship and started living like prehistoric hunter-gatherers of their own volition?

I just got back from a weekend of camping. So I can tell you pretty confidently that without the aid of a car full of camping equipment and a friend who’s an Eagle Scout, I probably could’ve gotten myself killed pretty easily. Killed in 24 hours. Killed in 24 hours, even though I was only about a half-hour drive from my house. That is how much I would have died. Which is exactly how much the survivors of the Galactica will be dying. Smart move, gang.

Anyway. Any sci-fi show is going to have its fair share of hardcore fans, who will defend a creative decision no matter how wrong-headed it might seem to an outsider. So I don’t know for sure how this bold, dumb-sounding ending was really, honestly received by its core audiences – as a poor return on years of investment, or as a logical-in-its-way conclusion.

Thinking back to my own experiences with serialized genre shows, I know of some that ended a little too early, but had bombastic and thematically resonant conclusions (“Angel”), some that went on too long and lost some focus but still pulled it together in the end (“Buffy,”), and some whose steady decline in quality meant it didn’t matter how good or bad the finale was (“Alias,” “X-Files”).

BSG 2So is a serialized show’s ending really the final word on a show’s ultimate quality? Or is the journey actually more important than the destination – even if you know where the destination ends, and it’s not someplace you really want to go?

And for any actual “BSG” fans out there…what do you think? I’ve got a whole summer with limited TV to watch, should I toss it on my Netflix queue?

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Comments
  1. Moff says:

    I’m still so glad I stopped watching partway through Season 2, and I still don’t understand, based on what I did see, why the series was so terrifically lauded. The acting was wooden; the characters were woodener—I anti-cared about them. I wanted the Cylons to exterminate humanity, but then I also wanted the Cylons to end up exterminated too, somehow, because they were so fucking annoying. I sensed very clearly that we were being set up for Solemnity and Grimness and Deepness, Man to take the place of, like, making some fucking sense. And again, the basic technology issues present insurmountable obstacles to the suspension of disbelief. (I did like the miniseries, though.)

    As for the question: I think a serialized show, or any story, can still be judged thoroughly enjoyable despite an awful ending, but I’m not sure it can be a Work of Quality, if you know what I mean. Endings are pretty essential—the whole process of story is the creation of tension in an audience’s mind, such that it drags or propels them along until the tension is resolved. And a slightly sloppy beginning or briefly saggy middle are easy to forgive, especially if they lead to a fucking awesome ending. Whereas a fucking awesome beginning and middle that lead a mediocre ending tend to annoy everybody but the most dogmatic of fanboys.

  2. Moff says:

    In that last sentence of mine above, instead of “annoy,” it should say “madden” or “enrage.”

  3. V.I.P. Referee says:

    What a cop-out. This same idealization of life before TECHNOLOGY and knowledge of the properties of physical science can already be found elsewhere. People are just as capable of being dangerous and destructive sans technology, as with it. We know this. Humans design machines to serve specific purposes—those prompted from humanistic needs and desires. “Sci-Fi” should stick to fantastical visions of what else could come—not what we’ve already done.

  4. Jeff Holland says:

    I would like to see a sequel series of these survivors living on prehistoric Earth. It would be called “Long-Pointy-Stick: Galactica.”

  5. matt says:

    Yeah, it’s definitely a let-down. They should have ended it a season earlier. The pacing of the series didn’t help either. One episode they start a colony, the next it’s about a year later and one of the major characters is wearing a fat suit. That doesn’t make sense! And then there was the whole 5 thing which was a complete let down.

    Still, for the most part the journey was good. It’s just a shame the series had so many missteps. But at least put it on your queue, and see if you like it. You don’t have to finish it.

  6. braak says:

    I think that, objectively, it’s possible to evaluate something and say, “Yes, despite the ending, this book or series or movie or whatever was good.” However, in practical, dirty, emotional terms, it’s really hard not to feel deeply betrayed by a bad ending, and to have this sense of betrayal color everything that you remember enjoying about watching it.

    The exception to that is Simon R. Green’s Shadows Fall, which I thought was a book that was, before the end, SO TERRIFIC that it caused me to forget how dumb the ending was immediately after reading it. I finished it, recommended it to my dad and was like, “Yeah, this book was great. There was…something? The ending? Whatever, it was cool.”

  7. Moff says:

    Simon Green seems to have an especial facility for making the ordinarily unforgivable forgivable.

  8. pex says:

    I really enjoyed the ending. I think it’s important to note the distinction between an established civilization just up and deciding to live in the wilderness and what happened in the Battlestar finale. They didn’t really have any other options than to just start over.

    They hadn’t had good luck finding habitable planets up to this point, their ships were all damaged and falling apart, and their supplies were dangerously low. Whether or not they WANTED to go live on grassy plains without medicine, that’s what they were going to end up doing sooner or later.

    The only other option was to park their remaining ships in a circle and just try to live in a tribe off the last scraps of supplies they had on the ships, and how long would that last? Not to mention it would invariably led to a conflict with the locals, and the LAST thing anyone wanted was another bloody confrontation with a different tribe.

    Instead of prolonging the inevitable they decided to just make a clean break, divide the remaining supplies, and head off to figure out how to farm and hopefully assimilate with the natives.

    I think people underestimate just how fragile the character were at the end. Seems most of them would be pretty damn happy to just sit alone on a rock in a grassy field and not be chased by robots for the rest of their days. And after what they had been through I’d be surprised if any of them wanted to even look at a spaceship again.

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