BSG is Detached Detail

Battlestar Galactica is the most celebrated science fiction of film or TV over the last few years.  And it does indeed have unprecedented quality in acting, characters, and character interactions.  The setting and plot mostly do a good job of setting off these characters and their interactions. However: this setting and plot make very little sense.  Nowhere was this clearer than in tonight’s series finale. – it doesn’t even make sense in a “God works in mysterious ways” sort of way.  It might be true to the emotional core of many characters and their interactions, but that hardly makes it a plausible overall outcome for a civilization.

Even though science fiction as a genre pays an unusual degree of attention to the larger settings of its stories, I in fact expect most BSG fans hardly noticed this key fact, and if they noticed hardly cared.  You could hardly ask for clearer evidence that the near “detached detail” fiction uses to fill in its far setting does not much discipline that setting.  You can tell pretty much any crazy far story and still fill it in with emotionally compelling near detail.

Added: I was recently flown to LA to personally advise a director of several famous (and good) SF movies, and his scriptwriter, on a new movie based on a famous SF book.  Even I was surprised by how little they understood the story’s basic technical premises, and how little they cared about its basic emotional core.

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  • http://macroethics.blogspot.com nazgulnarsil

    that was the reason I couldn’t stand the show. there was no actual sci-fi. It felt like a teen drama with some spaceship backgrounds.

  • Thesk

    I’ve loved the show, but to me, it lost its way. I was never wild about the prophecies or hallucinations, but what I did love was guns in space. The early seasons had a fair bit of action. As this went on it became less of a focus. They started emphasizing the mysteries and the cycles of yadda, yadda, yadda- the more they explained, the less it felt like the show’s creators had a good reign on where they were going. This culminated in R. Moore apologizing before today’s show for the sloppy way they handled Danny (number 7).

    I think the show suffered greatly from trying to tie up too many loose ends that hadn’t been well thought out enough. They had to move through material at a nearly breakneck speed. This, coupled with the feeling I’ve had since they killed Felix, that they’d been spinning their wheels for several episodes, made for a show where scenes had to cover in moments what could have filled full episodes. Lee decides that they should eschew technology… and all 40k people just agree? Not one person is says, ‘I dunno, I’m pretty found of climate control, books, and labor saving devices.’

  • heberton

    BSG is merely a TV ‘soap-opera’ with a science fiction backdrop. It’s selling human drama & emotion for advertising dollars.
    Such pedestrian offerings have been popular amusement for long, long time… but nothing else.

    Why expect anything more from commercial Hollywood screenwriters… ??

    Stick to non-fiction.

  • James D. Miller

    The actor playing Adama wanted an ending in which everyone died. This would have been the most realistic ending given the story up to then.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123750376676889711.html

  • Lord

    I love even bad sci-fi but I couldn’t stomach this one. All meaningless psychodrama. I thought all the characters needed to get a life.

  • http://michaelgr.com/ Michael G.R.

    I enjoyed the first season quite a bit (as good entertainment, not necessarily anything deeper), and think each subsequent season became less good than the previous one (the plot made less and less sense, the cylons became less mysterious, which made them a lot less alien and scary *without* really making them more interesting, etc).

    I’m not in a hurry to catch up on the ±10 episodes I haven’t seen from season 4.

  • CannibalSmith

    > and all 40k people just agree?
    For the Emperor!

  • Urstoff

    I don’t get why everyone is harping on BSG for having drama. Isn’t that what storytelling is supposed to be all about? In scifi novels, characters and emotional interactions are what separates great authors (like Dan Simmons) from those that merely know the technical side (like Arthur C. Clarke or, more recently, Charles Stross). BSG delivered great characters and drama in spades (with the exception of anything involving Lee in Season 2 or Helo in Season 3; re-watch “Black Market” or “The Woman King” at your peril). It’s certainly nowhere near the atrocious quality of soap operas (have any of you watched a soap opera recently).

    It could have done better with the plot, I agree with that. And I certainly didn’t need the preachy pablum at the end of the finale. Yet over all, across the six years (4 seasons and a miniseries) it’s been on, I think it’s established itself as one of the greatest television series of all time.

  • Francesco

    I thought I was the only SF fan to see no point to BSG. I’m glad there are others. The world was what the writers said it was for the needs of a particular story, so there could be no drama as anything could be written into the story at any time to produce any effect, making the tension neccicary for drama impossible.

  • kebko

    I was really disappointed in the last episode. Of course, a lie the show was built on from the beginning was that a population of only a few thousand people could maintain the level of specialization that the technology they were using would require. Every time someone sat down at a piano, pulled a cork out of a wine bottle, pulled out a crips piece of paper, put on a new uniform, or received medical treatment, I marvelled at how such a small population could manage to have basically all of the material things we take for granted (although they had token references to scarcity.)
    So, they should have been living all along the way the show ended. But, when they all went hiking off to their picturesque little cabin sites, I couldn’t help thinking that this was the beginning of “Frontier House” or worse, “Into the Wild”. It would only be a matter of months before the natives would have the planet back to themselves.

  • jamie

    “there was no actual sci-fi”

    Heck, in the first episode they turned the Cylons into people-oids. Isn’t that the cheapest, most worn-out sci-fi gimmick?: ‘aliens’ that look just like people? Yawn. Scary robots would have been better.

  • William

    I stopped watching BSG when I missed three episodes and for some reason military-dressed guys were attacking Gaius Baltar’s harem when I didn’t even know he had a harem.

  • Taimyoboi

    I do hope the book-to-movie you were advising on is Ender’s Game.

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