Wednesday, January 7, 2009

It'll all end in tears

Now, a word from the "Pulling it out of your ass" department...

You know, I was a fairly strong fan of the revamped Battlestar Galactica through the first two seasons. I had some issues with some characters, and occasional creative decisions that struck me as sloppy or lazy, but overall there was a solid internal consistency to the show that I appreciated. It was a smart show, but that intelligence wasn't flaunted--it was applied inwardly to up the quality of the series. That is, until the big "destruction of the Pegasus" episode. The freeing of the trapped humans from New Caprica was a great episode, no doubt. One of my faves of the series, in fact. But once the Pegasus went blooey, for me, the series jumped the proverbial shark. Not because of the destruction of the Pegasus, mind you, because from a narrative structure that had to happen eventually. But because every episode after that seemed to take on "A Very Special Episode..." vibe. Suddenly, the writing staff wanted to show off to everyone how clever they were. The drama became ham-fisted. Internal consistency and continuity flagged. Plot devices appeared out of convenience, rather than growing from what had gone before (rewatch those awesome first six episodes from season 1 if you don't believe me). And, to me, the most telling detail of all was the fact President Roslin kept keeping track of the number of human survivors.

In short, Ron Moore & company, after such a disciplined early run, started believing their own press clippings and started pulling plot elements out of their collective assholes. Some folks I've discussed this with simply abandoned Battlestar because "It's not good anymore." Me, being obsessive at times, couldn't settle for so subjective a dismissal. I had to understand the root of the malaise. I had to have evidence, hard evidence, to back up my nagging disquiet.

The so-called "Final Five" continued to nag at me beyond all reason. The sudden plot-centrality of these mysterious Cylon units didn't jibe with the first two seasons, nor with interviews Ron Moore had given over that period. They felt... contrived. When four utterly random characters suddenly met in an isolated room on the Galactica to groove on Dylan's "Watchtower" (and really, if they were going to pull a stunt that cheesy, couldn't they at least have the balls to go with the hard-edged Hendrix take on the same material?) I threw a pillow at the television and shouted "They're making this shit up as they go along." Now, lo and behold, Ron Moore has agreed that indeed, he is making his shit up as he goes along:
So, for instance, when you decided who four of the Final Five would be, how much thought did you have to put into it before revealing it in "Crossroads," and how much was, "Oh, we'll say this and figure it out over the hiatus"?

The impulse to do it was literally an impulse. We were in the writers room on the finale of that season, always knew we would end season 3 on trial of Baltar and his acquittal, the writers had worked out a story and a plot, they were pitching it to me in the room. And I had a nagging sense that it wasn't big enough, on the level of jumping ahead a year or shooting Adama. And I literally made it up in the room, I said, "What if four of our characters walk from different parts of the ship, end up in a room and say, 'Oh my God, we're Cylons'? And we leave one for next season." And everyone said "Oh my God," and they were scared, and because they were scared, I knew I was right. And then we sat and spent a couple of hours talking about who those four would be. Surprisingly, it wasn't that hard to lock in who made the most sense and who would make the most story going forward.

Now, to be perfectly fair, that's not an invalid method of storytelling. That's how Tolkien wrote Lord of the Rings. That's how Gaiman wrote The Sandman. That's how Dickens wrote everything. I'm even trying my hand at it with Memory. But the trouble is, when you continually pull stuff out of your ass, sometimes that shit's going to stink. Ron Moore, apparently, doesn't think his shit stinks (or anybody else's for that matter, since he heaped praise on the much-maligned ending to The Sopranos). While the blasted and desolate Earth he left us with midway through season 4 was a pretty damn good Planet of the Apes moment, I just don't have faith in him to deliver the goods in the end. I'll watch--in for a penny, in for a pound as they say--but from someone who thought The Sopranos wrapped it up beautifully, I fear the best we can hope for is some baffling namby-pamby, navel-gazing handshake reminiscent of The Matrix Revolutions.


Lisa said...

Couldn't agree more. The moment BSG jumped the shark for me was indeed that Bob Dylan song. It wasn't the scene itself but learning that Moore picked that song just because he liked it. He had no other story reason to pick it, which is just Making Stuff Up. It made no sense.

I'm still planning to watch the last season just for closure on the storyline, but I'm not into it like I was initially.

Also, I keep reading that the destroyed planet is, in fact, the real Earth. If that's the case, from a story standpoint I'm OK with it. However, I feel gipped because the Big Blue Marble shot in "Crossroads" definitely showed Earth (you could see North America), but the same kind of shot in "Revelations" didn't have the same details. Perhaps the point was to show how extensive the destruction is supposed to be, but I just feel manipulated for no good reason.

Jayme Lynn Blaschke said...

As I look back over my diatribe, it seems that I come off as condemning Moore for making stuff up as he goes along, and that is the reason I find it mediocre. As I DID clearly write, fine, fine writers have produced incredible work by making it up as they went along, BUT each and every one showed great respect for what had come before. Moore, on the other hand, simply ignores those elements established in previous seasons if they conflict with whatever has currently caught his fancy. That is simply lazy writing.

But yeah, what you said, Danger Girl.

Lisa said...

Good point. Making Stuff Up (MSU) is definitely part of the creative process. In fact, sometimes in my own writing it's almost as it I left clues for myself, that all along my subconscious knew where the story was going so all the dots connect. I hope that the "emotionally satisfying" ending I keep hearing about will tie these things together that way.

Anonymous said...

"I fear the best we can hope for is some baffling namby-pamby, navel-gazing handshake reminiscent of The Matrix Revolutions."

And that is exactly what ended up happening.