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Tigh

[ 129 ] February 4, 2013 |

I heartily recommend the first two parts of this four part Ronald Moore interview. Representative bit:

ES: I want to return to Colonel Tigh for a minute. When I initially watched—at least the first couple episodes of the miniseries—Tigh didn’t strike me as particularly sympathetic. There’s the question of whether he’s making the right call throughout his struggles with his wife and with alcohol, but overwhelmingly all the veterans I talked to identified most—and it didn’t matter whether they were officers or enlisted—they identify with Tigh. One wrote, “[Colonel] Tigh reminded me of one of my old flight chiefs…a tough Bronx Jew who retired a Senior Master Sergeant, as well as a couple other senior NCOs I knew. (Not coincidentally, most of them were functioning or recovering alcoholics). He might not have been PC, and he didn’t handle delicate situations well but when everything went to shit, he knew how to do his job and [do it] well.” Another veteran recalled “33”: “‘Yes, the Cylons keep coming after us time after time after time. And yes, we are still expected to do our jobs!’ That quote really resonated with me—it’s definitely the type of mentality you need to have to be an Army Ranger.” You see these diverse service members connecting with Tigh. Is he a military everyman?

RM: In a way. He was emblematic of a lot of different men I met when I was in ROTC in the cruise and other cruises and different environments that I was in over those years and some other experiences with my father being military-based now and again, and I just recognized that. There was something about those men that were deeply flawed, were really gruff, and were people that you didn’t want to mess with and you were kinda afraid of and didn’t know what they were capable of. They didn’t seem like they’d be recruiting poster types, but you knew that you wanted them with you in a fight, and you sensed everyone else needed them, too. I remember there being some gunnery sergeants I met in the Marine Corps that were—I don’t know if they became alcoholics; frankly, I wasn’t around them in their off-hours but they certainly gave off that vibe—were screwed up individuals, but everyone from the colonel down to the privates in that unit would definitely look to them as somebody who knew what the score was and who were the backbone of the unit. I was always struck by that—that the guys who really pull it together may not be very pretty and might be people that, you know, weren’t very PC and no one would hold up and say this is the model soldier, marine, or officer, but you know that doesn’t mean that they’re not good.

Tigh was a fabulous creation. If there’s a common thread that runs through the Golden Age of Television, it’s in the effective display of the travails of middle management; people who need to resolve the problems of those under them while mollifying those above them. BSG, the Wire, the Sopranos, the Office, and even Mad Men (to some extent) leap to mind in terms of effective depictions.

Of course, in this case Moore wrote himself into a corner and decided to wreck the character with the “Final Five” nonsense. Still, Tigh was one of the best parts of the series, and remains one of my favorite television characters.

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  1. Dave says:

    I loved Tigh. I loved his relationship with Adama. I loved how incredibly Moore fused sci-fi and politics. I’m not sure it’s possible to tailor a show more toward a sci-fi and poli sci geek like me.

    I’m not sure I agree Tigh was ruined. I recall liking that he basically stayed the same person after finding out he was one of the five. Though I’ll admit to being confused about his role in 1st earth and all that stuff. Like I said, I need to watch it all again. I can’t wait.

    • Dave says:

      Crappy editing on my part. In an early draft of my post I said that I had only watched the series once. I deleted that but forgot I had, which is why I said “Like I said”. And to clarify, I bought the whole series during Amazon’s black friday deal. $20 for each season on bluray. Money well spent.

    • Murc says:

      I’m not sure I agree Tigh was ruined

      Of the final five, Tigh was probably fucked up the least by the whole ‘oh, hey. We’re Cylons now’ thing.

      • djillionsmix says:

        None of the characters themselves were particularly fucked up by it. Tigh was more or less Tigh, Chief was always shit, Tori barely was a character before that happened, and hey, ellen sobered up!

        Anders got fucked over pretty hard, yeah.

        But on balance I don’t think the final five thing particularly wrecked any of the characters involved, it just wrecked the show they all happened to be in.

        The stuff they did with Starbuck, that was wrecking a character.

        • Pinko Punko says:

          Yes on Starbuck for sure. I kind of liked the Chief. Many people were annoyed by different characters, but since as I said above, everyone was broken in their own way, I would expect that.

        • timb says:

          The whole final five thing was miserable, but the Starbuck thing was an insult to all of us.

          I like my magic confined to Fantasy and my Sci-Fi to have some science in it

          • sharculese says:

            I’m pretty comfortable with space fantasy, and I would have been okay if it started out as space fantasy. It’s the bait and switch that pisses me off.

            • Leeds man says:

              I thought bait-and-switch was SOP for current TV development. AKA a anum.

            • elm says:

              There was no bait and switch. God and miracles were an integral part of BSG from the beginning. They left it ambiguous at first, so that there could possibly be some other explanation for some of the events, but Roslin’s visions, the Cylon God, Six as an angel, and so on were there all along.

              • sharculese says:

                That is a good point, although on the Six is an angel stuff I will say that they floated enough plausible explanations for her presence that I was able to successfully ignore that possibility until they basically dropped all the others.

                • elm says:

                  On all of them, there were alternative explanations, but the possibility it was God was always offered as one possible explanation.

                  I certainly understand being dissapointed it turned out to be God (Quercus below says it well, I think), but BSG never hid the fact that religion was a major element of the show.

                  Personally, I didn’t have a problem with the Final Five stuff (I like what it did for Tigh, in particular) nor even with Starbuck being an angel. I don’t accept that all 40000 survivors would be OK giving up their creature comforts and living on prehistoric Earth and the brief exchange between Lampkin and Adama at the end (“Never underestimate the attraction of a clean slate”) doesn’t satisfy on this score.

                  Luckily, for me, this means that only the very last episode is ruined. Though I understand if you didn’t enjoy the Final Five story line why the entire last season would have sucked for you.

                • sharculese says:

                  I honestly would have been okay with the Final Five storyline if they had given it more time to play out. My bigger complaint was that everything felt too sudden. (and yeah, I think quercus sums up a lot of the failure of the God Did It ending.)

                • Dave says:

                  I felt the same way. But the Starbuck as an angel thing annoyed me because I was under the impression that only certain people could see the angels. And as far as I can remember, everyone could see and interact with Starbuck. Am I seeing this the right way? Or is Starbuck supposed to be special?

              • djangermats says:

                The real problem with the series is actually the lack of a switch.

                We start the series knowing a mysterious godlike being is guiding events for unknown purposes.

                We end the series by learning… that a mysterious godlike being is guiding events for unknown purposes.

                You can put god in science fiction you’re just supposed to go and meet him and call him an asshole. In fact fantasy has the same rule, the bsg ending was Left Behindian xtian-crapfic writing.

            • Timb says:

              Good point. But apparently, they bait and switched Lost too. What is wrong with TV writers?

    • edie says:

      Tigh always drove me crazy, but damn if I didn’t get choked up at his little speech when he was reveled to be a Cylon, the “I’m Colonel Saul Tigh and if I die today that’s who I’ll be” bit.
      Admittedly the subsequent sado-masochistic tryst with the Six got weird.

  2. avoidswork says:

    Thank you for turning me on to this interview series with RDM!

    BSG holds esteem in my heart – just got an avid anti-BSG person to watch miniseries this weekend and liked it – and loved that it was all shades of grey regarding how humans survive an extinction event.

    Like any fan, I had an evolution over Tigh, from disgust to adoration. Love S2 and his arc in the beginning of that season was fabulous! The bromance between Tigh and Adama is such an integral piece of the series.

    Like Dave, loved that despite the reveal, Tigh remained Tigh: Officer of Colonial Fleet, Bro of Adama and a mofo badass.

    Again, thanks for turning me on to this article series!

  3. wengler says:

    Tigh was the most interesting when he was the resistance leader on New Caprica. That was the pure, undiluted hardcore side of him which would do anything and use anything in order to further the cause(most notably suicide bombing).

    You saw facets of that ‘ends justify the means’ attitude presented negatively in both Zarek and Cain, but Tigh was able to either restrain himself or be restrained enough to know that he was not going to be leading anyone other than soldiers and was much better as a division commander than a field general.

    • Pinko Punko says:

      I did like that they explored so many sides of moral compromise under extreme pressure- putting the lie to those in our reality who would claim similar existential conundrums for any old whim. This show, second only to Lost, probably, put itself in a gigantic corner of ridiculousness with the overall plot arc and its terrible ending, but I would essentially take the entire show up until the last 40 minutes, and probably minus one Starbuck angel, and they barely put a foot wrong because of how many interesting ways they could flip any dilemma. So many hugely depressing episodes but still resonant. Every single character on the show was basically PTSD, except Tigh of course. He was like fricking Gollum. Twisted and stretched, but not broken.

  4. Anonymous37 says:

    The resemblance to John McCain — does Ronald Moore say if that’s coincidence or by design or something in between?

  5. Jameson Quinn says:

    I recently tried to watch BSG and I have to say it left me cold. I got as far as the cylons getting sick (which is more than half way through) and quit. The themes – mostly religion and leadership and loyalty to identity – just leave me cold. Yeah, Adama and Roslin are badasses, and Baltar is inconsistently interesting (though it’s really hard to swallow everyone treating him as the unique genius in all branches of STEM), but the Adama jr./Starbuck romance was the straw that broke the cylon’s back for me. In my opinion, it doesn’t hold a candle to the true classics like Mad Men or Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones or Doctor Who.

  6. Paul says:

    The SciFi and PoliSci were spectacular for the first two seasons. Then GOD really creeps in. Starbuck’s resurrection is never addressed. So lazy. I was very disappointed in the ending, which makes absolutely NO sense.

    • spencer says:

      The ending was appalling, made all the more so by the fact that RM apparently started there and worked backwards (at least, according to one interview I read but can’t find now).

  7. John says:

    Battlestar Galactica was a great show for, more or less, its first two seasons. It was not a very good show at all for the last two seasons, and its finale was epically terrible.

    That leaves me rather uncertain how to judge it as a whole. Most TV shows decline over the course of their run, but the decline in this case was much more marked than most shows that begin with similar quality. And even many shows with substantial declines, like the final season of The Wire, manage to get the finale more or less right.

    BSG is still better in this department than a lot of shows (Heroes, I’m looking at you), but it is a pretty serious problem. I think it points to the idea that if you are going to create a show with such an extensive mythology, you’d better have a very good sense from the beginning of how it will all turn out.

    In almost every way, Babylon 5 was a much, much worse show than Battlestar. The dialogue is clunky, the acting is uneven and cheesy (it’s painful to even think of comparing Bruce Boxleitner to Edward James Olmos as male leads), the special effects and directing are worse, etc. etc. etc. In almost every way you can think of, Battlestar is just miles ahead of it. But Straczynski had a specific story he wanted to tell and, with a few bumps along the way, basically told it. Moore, as it turns out, really had no idea what story he wanted to tell, and so the thing just became more and more muddled as it went along. And I think the result suggests that, for long-arc sci-fi type stories, at least, a somewhat cheesy, clumsy project with a tight story arc like Babylon 5 is, at least arguably, more satisfying in the end than a much-better made project with an ultimately disastrously incompetent overall storyline, like BSG. Plot construction, it turns out, is actually important.

    • Murc says:

      In almost every way, Babylon 5 was a much, much worse show than Battlestar.

      I will go as far as to say that Deep Space Nine was a better show than BSG.

      • Ramon A. Clef says:

        I recently started watching all the DS9 episodes again from the beginning.. The first two seasons were really dreadful. Season 3 was better but had several very clunky episodes. Season 4 was where the show really started to hit its stride, but even then, some of the dialogue is laughably stilted.

        My biggest problem with DS9 is the writers’ tendency to ignore the available technology when using it would be inconvenient to the plot. One example stands out in particular: Kira and Dax are trapped in a runabout without life support, and O’Brien works frantically to get the doors open, even though there is no reason they couldn’t have used the transporter to effect a rescue.

        • rm says:

          But, you know, like, there was a graviton-based reverse-polarity subspace radiation field flux that took the transporters offline. What will we do?

        • Njorl says:

          I think it was after the second season that TNG came to an end, and DS9 inherited the writing staff.

        • Halloween Jack says:

          Pretty much all of the Trek series took two or three seasons to work out their bugs, with the exception of TOS, which had a brilliant first season, a pretty good second season, and a third season which was about the worst reward for the unprecedented letter-writing campaign to save the show imaginable. DS9 gamely gave the basic set-up of the show a go, but there just wasn’t enough meat in the area of Bajoran politics to satisfy the audience, so they make Sisko a captain, got him a bitchin’ starship to play around with*, and set up an evil empire to contend against. They also figured out what to do with Bashir (which turned out to be a great character arc) and even shoehorned Worf into the cast when Michael Dorn decided that he still wanted a regular paycheck when TNG ended, and even made the adjustment pains part of the show in a neat metafictional twist (ditto for Dax when Terry Farrell left).

          Also, pursuant to the topic of this post, O’Brien was made the first NCO in a Trek series, ever (although it was never explained in-show why he was shown wearing officer’s insignia in TNG and even addressed as “Lieutenant” once), and was the guy who kept the station running, no mean feat given that he had to make Cardassian, Bajoran, and Federation tech work together. Sometimes I thought that the writers went a little overboard with the “annual O’Brien torture episode” thing, but it was his general ordinariness that gave the episodes pathos; he couldn’t fall back on his genetically-engineered superiority, or the experiences of his past hosts, or just gut it out like a true Klingon warrior.

          Also, too, WRT the tech failing at inconvenient times: well, they didn’t show all the times when they could just beam someone out of trouble, because that wouldn’t fill forty-odd minutes. Transporters are sort of a convenient future-science miracle, anyway, brought in originally because it was cheaper to build the set and film the effect than it was to film a shuttle landing every week. (Someone once asked one of the crew how the “Heisenberg compensators” (part of the transporter equipment that somehow hand-waved away the Heisenberg uncertainty principle) worked, and their response was, “Very well, thanks.”)

          *Part of the overall theme of DS9 was to take the endlessly-optimistic, Roddenberrian set-up of the Federation and Starfleet and to invert or bend it as much as possible while still having it be Trek, and that included the Defiant, the Federation version of a Klingon Bird of Prey even though Starfleet officially didn’t have warships (it was officially classified as an “escort” vessel). One of the writers, in the DVD commentary, said that it was “on a five-year mission to kick ass“.

          • sharculese says:

            Part of the overall theme of DS9 was to take the endlessly-optimistic, Roddenberrian set-up of the Federation and Starfleet and to invert or bend it as much as possible while still having it be Trek, and that included the Defiant, the Federation version of a Klingon Bird of Prey even though Starfleet officially didn’t have warships (it was officially classified as an “escort” vessel). One of the writers, in the DVD commentary, said that it was “on a five-year mission to kick ass“.

            If and when they get around to making a new Trek series, one of the things I’d like to see is to take the presence of the Defiant and the Section 31 stuff to it’s logical conclusion and do a whole series set on board a warship tooling around deep space looking for trouble and trying to reconcile that with Federation ideals.

            So… basically Enterprise but without the corn pone hokiness or the time travel.

            • Cody says:

              You mean Voyager without the wimps!

              “To find our way back home… by blowing everything up between here and the Alpha Quadrant”

              I demand Al Pacino be cast as the captain of the Defiant. No, I don’t think he’ll do it well. But I will watch every episode for the audacity of the casting alone.

              • sharculese says:

                I would describe it as more I want a show about a manned ROU, but yes, there would almost certainly be the blowing up of large things (constrained by the desire not to create a political backlash within the Federation).

                • mds says:

                  I would describe it as more I want a show about a manned ROU

                  Oooh, Star Trek: Shoot Them Later.

                • Halloween Jack says:

                  My desire for a Culture TV series is severely mixed, because it wouldn’t be nearly as good as the books, but also, man, a fucking Culture TV show!

              • Halloween Jack says:

                Voyager actually did a two-part episode (“Equinox”) in which another Federation starship that got stuck on the other side of the galaxy did pretty much that. [SPOILERS AHOY] They were in pretty bad shape, in part because they tried to bull their way through hostile territory and lost half their crew, and in part because they’re under near-constant attack from aliens who are angry at them because the starship crew is using them as fuel. It was one of those episodes that made watching Voyager even more frustrating, because it was a reminder of how good the series could have been.

            • Ramon A. Clef says:

              If and when they get around to making a new Trek series

              I’d love to see a show centered around a ground combat unit like the one O’Brien was supposed to have served in.

          • Ramon A. Clef says:

            Also, too, WRT the tech failing at inconvenient times: well, they didn’t show all the times when they could just beam someone out of trouble, because that wouldn’t fill forty-odd minutes.

            Absolutely true. My gripe, in this particular instance, is that I don’t recall any treknobabbble hand-waving to explain why they couldn’t do it. It was as if the writers forgot the transporters existed. And there are other examples technology amnesia. “Rats, I really need the thingamajig and its in the part of the station we can’t get to.” Dude. Replicator. Right behind you. But as someone has already pointed out, when the show inherited the writers fromTNG, things got better. And I do like the show. Right now I have a cold, so I’m cranky and looking for things to complain about.

        • djangermats says:

          Season 1 and 2 were weaker than the later seasons but still better than most of TNG, if for no other reason than having garak in them

      • Vlad says:

        I’m a fan of both DS9 and BSG, and find it hard to compare the two, in part because there was just so much more DS9 than BSG. DS9 could afford throw-away episodes, and outright failures (any episode featuring Vic Fontaine, I’m looking at you), in a way BSG couldn’t.

      • djangermats says:

        It was less ambitious and more hokey but more successful at its goals and without any glaring catastrophes.

        I still wish they’d tied together the dominion and the pa wraith shit together rather than letting them drift off to opposite poles of the plot but oh well.

    • Gareth Wilson says:

      It’s really the acting that brings B5 down. JMS can be pompous, and he can’t write humour to save himself. But he’s not half as bad as those awful actors. Especially the guest stars, who all seem like they’ve been recruited off the street at random.

    • Sly says:

      B5 was just a better version of Star Trek (though I would agree with Murc that DS9 was better than B5 and the best series in the universe overall). Where BSG should get credit is in dropping a lot of the baggage that is typically associated with scifi television; especially the campy themes and characters, and the non-serialized nature of the show itself.

      By the latter, I mean the phenomenon where only a few episodes out of every season actually advance character development or some central plot, while most of them are simply “filler” that looks at generic scifi tropes like time travel or mind control or whatever, and do nothing to any long term plotlines or character arcs of the series. Star Trek is especially guilty of this, but B5 and Stargate were similarly structured.

      BSG at least broke that mold somewhat successfully, even if the subsequent attempt with Stargate Universe ended in failure (owing more to shitty fans of the shitty predecessor series revolting at the idea of a Stargate show that is actually watchable).

      • nixnutz says:

        I think a science fiction show should explore science fiction premises, if Star Trek is “guilty” of anything it’s abandoning science fiction for serialized adventure which is not necessarily the same thing. Although I do agree DS9 told a compelling story for a few seasons there I don’t recall it ever having any interesting scifi kind of ideas.

        BSG did do a good job of fulfilling both those roles but my favorite kind of scifi is always going to be the quasi-anthology style of the first two Star Trek shows.

        • rm says:

          It’s interesting to consider what is an SF “idea” versus a Sci Fi “trope.” Actual technology ideas are not often really there in space adventure stories. The spaceships and aliens and far-future setting are tropes, not explorations of what could happen. However, these kinds of shows can be great at dramatizing ideas from philosophy, anthropology, sociology, psychology, political science. When they solve a made-up technological problem using made-up technology at the last minute, I don’t find it interesting, but I find the philosophical side interesting. Transporter duplicates! Holographic-bodied AIs, are they real people? What if society had this one strange rule? And so on.

          Going back to the original post, BSG was a much more real-feeling military setting than Trek ever was, and its ideas were much more about politics and military tactics than other shows.

        • Scott P. says:

          The whole premise of Star Trek from the beginning was serialized adventure in space. “Wagon Train to thestars” as Roddenberry put it. I don’t see how it can be ‘guilty’ of adhering to its original premise.

          • NonyNony says:

            Yes. Thank you.

            The original Star Trek was a serialized adventure show whose writers occasionally were able to sneak in some good science fiction due to the premise of the show.

            The only reason Star Trek had better science fiction than Lost In Space (which was on at the same time) was because the writers that they got onto the show were interested in “speculative fiction” (which was the new hotness of the time) instead of straight-up space opera.

          • Njorl says:

            That’s not what “serialized” means. “Star Trek” was a series, not a serial. The Buster Crabbe “Flash Gordon” and “Buck Rodgers” were serials.

            TNG and DS9 were different from the original series in that they began adopting elements of serialization. B5 was primarily a serial, but with a significant number of episodic shows. BSG went entirely into the serial format.

            • Sly says:

              This is also the definition of “serial” that I’m using, if it makes any difference.

              To give an example of how non-serialized Trek can be, the DS9 episode Hard Time always bugged me. O’Brien gets captured as a spy by an alien government (which we never see again after the episode) and, as punishment, is implanted with the memory of a twenty year prison sentence. Much of the episode deals with him coping with the fact that 20 years of his life simply didn’t happen.

              A traumatic experience, to say the least. Yet this trauma is invisible in all subsequent episodes of the series. It’s just… gone. Never revisited again, and the character of O’Brien is fundamentally unaltered from his previous state in all future episodes.

              And it all happened to a member of the main cast in the 4th season of a 7 season show.

              This is simply dumb storytelling.

              • Halloween Jack says:

                I’m not sure that the series would have been enhanced hugely if Bashir had occasionally said, “Say, Miles, how are you coping with your horrific virtual-reality prison ordeal PTSD?” and Miles responded, “Well, you know, some days are better than others, still taking my meds, thanks for asking.” Generally, DS9 was better at follow-up than most other syndicated shows; the Mirror Universe stories, for example, were basically one serialized story spread over several seasons.

                Another favorite example from DS9 had to do with the mysteriously convenient runabout. In a two-part episode, Garak and Worf get captured by the Dominion and put in a space prison, and much of the episode involves Garak hacking some conveniently-accessible electronics to signal their runabout to beam them all out so that they can escape. Imagine the sort of WWII POW story that involves the Germans leaving the soldiers’ truck parked outside the gates, unlocked, with the keys in the ignition. Yeah. In a later episode, which also followed up on the revelation of Bashir’s genetic engineering (and set up the Section 31 episodes, as well as part of the resolution of the series), someone asks Bashir, really? Isn’t that awfully convenient? There never was a good answer to that question, but it was an excellent and somewhat hilarious bit of following-up.

                • Sly says:

                  It’s not as simple as bringing it up in future episodes in little snippets of dialogue; the problem is that the character of O’Brien is completely unchanged after the events. You could drop that episode from the entire series and it would impact nothing, even the character the episode was principally about.

              • Left_Wing_Fox says:

                Star Trek was notorious for ignoring the consequences of episodes, even as late as ST:Voyager. (Possibly Enterprise as well, but I never watched more than a couple episodes)

                Hell, the only character to get a major plot arc in TNG was Worf, and the consequences of those episodes were hermetically sealed in the episodes addressing them.

                It’s one of the things I really liked about Farscape, even seemingly standalone episodes often had consequences for character interactions and plot redirection.

                • sharculese says:

                  Enterprise experimented with consequences, at least some of the time. In one of the more memorable instances Archer makes the call to raid an innocent ship for parts, essentially leaving it stranded in a very scary part of space. If they hadn’t, they don’t get where they’re going in time and the Earth gets wiped out (part of the overarching plot for season 3).

                  They do it, the mission succeeds, and the crew returns as heroes, but in season 4 Archer is still struggling to reconcile his hero status with the extremes he was willing to go to.

        • Halloween Jack says:

          It’s a space opera. So are B5, BSG, and almost every other science fiction TV show. Probably the best Trek series for science fiction (although, being Trek, it was still a space-opera setting) was Voyager, although the decent SF episodes were scattered throughout a greater number of mediocre-to-bad ones.

          • Cody says:

            I do look forward to a Star Trek series in the now format of wonderful TV. In the HBO style of Game of Thrones it could be a lot more fun.

            I’m unsure of what plot they would follow though. Other than the Star Trek movies (which are already being made), there isn’t really a universe with a giant overarching theme already built by books.

            • MinKimCT says:

              I remember AMC planned on shooting the Red Mars trilogy a few years back which would’ve been awesome. I’d kill for some meaty science fiction on television.

      • Leeds man says:

        Sly:

        though I would agree with Murc that DS9 was better than B5 and the best series in the universe overall

        Actually, Murc said DS9 was better than BSG. IMO, DS9 had a decent title theme. BSG had Grace Park.

    • Vlad says:

      The idea that Babylon 5 can be redeemed of all its many, many creative sins (bad acting! worse screenwriting! wholesale Tolkien ripoffs! alcoholism as an important subplot!) because “JMS had a story to tell” is one of the strangest traditions of internet scifi fandom. I mean, I could go on all day, but two problems:

      1. It’s not even true. JMS did indeed plan out a 5-year show, but became convinced (for good reasons) that he was going to be cancelled after 4, and so condensed the last two years’ worth of plot into about half a season. As a result, t the Shadow War, the story that the show had been building toward for three years, gets wrapped up in a 5-minute scene in which Bruce Boxleitner achieves galactic peace by YELLING AT two unfathomably powerful races to go home and leave the younger races alone. Because I guess it never occurred to them before he yelled at them that the younger races might not appreciate being pawns in a millenia-old debate between two omnipotent races with lockend in a high-school junior’s version of political debate (“what’s better for society – order or . . . CHAOS?”).

      2. Then he got his fifth season! But he’d already told his five-season story. So for the final season we got . . . the tears of the long-haired telepaths. And Commander Elizabeth Lockley, who made the poorly-acted character she replaced — Susan “I’m Russian! Really! I just don’t speak Russian, or sound or look anything like the Russian actor playing my brother!” Ivanova — seem like an early model for Stringer Bell

      I don’t care how disappointed people were by the fact that BSG’s characters weren’t lying when they talked about God. There is no just aesthetic universe in which Bablyon 5 can be regarded as more successful than BSG.

      • Curmudgeon says:

        B5 is the result of JMS trying to do a story well above his skill level as a writer. It’s easy to see what he was trying to do, but he didn’t (doesn’t?) have enough of an ear for dialog, human behavior, politics, or philosophy to turn his ideas into a quality story.

        Remembering B5 as anything other than a disappointing missed opportunity is being overly generous.

        • Njorl says:

          I like B5. Yes, the writing was terrible and most of the acting was bad, but it was close enough to the mark so that I could imagine what it would be like if it were done right. It’s like George R.R. Martin’s books that way.

      • John says:

        I don’t really disagree with any of what you say about Babylon 5. It was a deeply flawed show in almost every respect. And you’re certainly right about the weakness of the 5th season, which I glossed over/ignored in my original post.

        Nonetheless, the fact that it didn’t end with the entire cast abandoning technology so that they could mate with australopithecines and become the ancestors to the human race is an enormous advantage.

        Which is to say, I think you’re deeply underestimating the awfulness of the second half of Battlestar, and the extent that everything that was good about the show was undermined by the bad decisions Moore made after his lack of planning wrote him into a corner. Babylon 5 was indeed, mostly, an interesting failure. But BSG was worse, because it betrayed its promise, rather than just not living up to it.

        • Vlad says:

          Well, I think we clearly disagree about the quality of the seasons 3 and 4 of BSG. I agree they weren’t as good as seasons 1 and 2. But I don’t think they were awful, and they were still, IMO, better than the best episode of B5. For what it’s worth, here’s my take on the common criticisms of the second half of BSG.

          The Final Five — Eh. I agree that this reveal was lame in both concept and execution. But after they were revealed (to the audience, not necessarily the other characters), there at least was some interesting stuff done about the meaning of identity, free will, etc. Several people have already mentioned that they did a nice job with Tigh; I also thought the actor playing Tyrol did a nice job with subtly changing his character into someone just a little colder and more distant.

          Starbuck — My interpretation of what happened with her, FWIW, is that Kara Thrace really did die when her Viper exploded, and the Starbuck who came back at the end of Season 3 was an entirely different being who didn’t know she wasn’t Starbuck until the finale. I admire the writers for coming up with a “God” who would come up with such a remarkably, and pointlessly, ruthless way of guiding the fleet to Earth. My main complaint about the “new” Starbuck is that the writers seemed to forget for too long just how weird it was that she was back.

          Finding Earth (the first time) — Come on, this was kind of awesome. And the story of how the “final five” came to the colonies and got the Cylons to call of the war in exchange for hybrid/resurrection technology wasn’t bad, either.

          Finding Earth (the second time) – I’m in a huge minority, but I don’t have a problem with the fleet’s decision to settle on Earth and jettison technology. I see the implausibility. But one of the show’s main preoccupations was the question of what makes a group of people a society. Think of Lee’s speech in Season 1 about the need to hold elections, or his speech at Baltar’s trial in which he claimed that fleet was “a gang, not a society.” I thought it was dramatically fitting for the series to close with Lee giving a speech that convinces everyone of what he had been saying for 4 years: that Colonial culture had died when the Colonies died, and they needed to admit that fact and start over.

      • Leeds man says:

        Susan “I’m Russian! Really! I just don’t speak Russian, or sound or look anything like the Russian actor playing my brother!” Ivanova

        Jean Luc “What ho, old chap” Picard. Fun game!

        • Vlad says:

          Yeah, but Picard obviously came from a future in which the English had finally completed their cultural conquest of France . . .

        • Halloween Jack says:

          I think that you didn’t quite latch onto the “I just don’t speak Russian, or sound or look anything like the Russian actor playing my brother!” part. Picard spoke French, and his brother (played by English actor Jeremy Kemp) does look and sound like him. It’s not inconceivable that, a few centuries down the road (and on the other side of a third world war), France is populated mostly by Anglophones, as horrifying that may seem to the French.

      • Leeds man says:

        Tell you what, Vlad. Sit someone down who hasn’t seen, or read about, BSG, and give them a 10 minute plot summary (20 if they can stand it). If they aren’t laughing their arses off, I don’t know what “aesthetic universe” they’re living in.

        • Vlad says:

          This is actually my point about B5, though – it works SO MUCH BETTER as a wiki than a TV show. Really! I got much more enjoyment from reading the Luker’s Guide writing about B5 than I ever did watching B5. The problem with B5 wasn’t the long term plan; it was the execution: acting, writing, direction, etc. And those are kind of a big problem when you’re talking about, you know, a TV show.

          For what it’s worth, my non-scifi fan wife didn’t make it through the second episode of B5, but adored BSG.

          • Leeds man says:

            I got much more enjoyment from reading the Luker’s Guide writing about B5 than I ever did watching B5.

            Well, good for you mate. I loved watching B5, and found BSG annoying, and very quickly unwatchable. Funny how people like different things innit. I don’t much care for Mozart or chess either.

      • Halloween Jack says:

        I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: based mostly on how its fans talk about it, I think that B5 is Star Trek for fans that don’t want to be known as Trekkies.

  8. Deptfordx says:

    I didn’t mind the ending. I just concluded that God is just a post-singularity AI (which is why it doesn’t like being called God) from an earlier cycle. You know when the robot cylons fly of on their own, an earlier version did that and ending up evolving at machine speeds until they transcended. All the magic/angel stuff is just quantum entanglement communications and nanotechnology manipulation.

    • Amanda in the South Bay says:

      That’s still technobabble, albeit of the Hackernews/Silicon Valley variety.

      • Deptfordx says:

        Eh, works for me, and it’s still more interesting than “God did It”.

      • Jameson Quinn says:

        Right. If the story it’s telling isn’t about anything you can recognize, it’s not worth it. There were some interesting stories about leadership with Adama and Roslin, but the story about the threat of extinction never made sense (they should have all died about 7.5 times in the first two seasons), and the “God” stuff, however you explain it, was a lot of the reason why. The acting was good enough that it was worth getting to know most of the characters but once you had that the plot was too ad hoc to hold up further.

        And in terms of tech: BSG FTL should have been a superweapon, but it was never used as such. And nukes were always exactly as powerful as the plot demanded, even though that was inconsistent. And Mr. “I have a masters degree, in Science!” Baltar?

        • Deptfordx says:

          Why was it a superweapon?

          • Joey Maloney says:

            Because it allows causality violations?

          • Sly says:

            Take an FTL capable ship, load it up with really big bombs, and set it on autopilot to “jump” into the middle of an enemy fleet.

            • Jameson Quinn says:

              That’s one. Also, just keep jumping around so nobody can ever hit you. There was one episode where a cylon raider was “insane” so it kept jumping every few seconds, yet in most episodes they stayed in one place long enough for a dogfight.

              Another trick would be to make an “FTL net”. It’s never explained on the show, but obviously whether or not the viper comes with you depends on whether it’s inside the battlestar. And there are several occasions when a ship jumps directly into or out of an atmosphere. So, why not make a net that wraps around something and picks it up and moves it to somewhere you want? Don’t tell me you need precise mass calculations; the BSG often jumps just after getting hit by a missile. There could plausibly be size issues of course but the possibility is never explored.

        • Vlad says:

          BSG wasn’t a story about science. It was a story about politics, set in space.

  9. Major Kong says:

    I actually don’t think Tigh was ruined when he was revealed as a Cylon.

    His response was basically “For better or worse, I am still the person that I have made myself to be. I am the sum of my experiences, not what I was born as.”

  10. MosesZD says:

    They really shot themselves in the foot even before they got to ‘final five.’ This is Science Fiction and the last thing I wanted was for the plot to be milked for series stretching purposes plus all the religious woo.

    I bought the Mini-Series. I bought Season One. But then they pretty much just killed it. So, that was the end of that. And I’ve never re-watched them. The final couple of years put such a crap-taste in my mouth that I can’t go back and enjoy the good parts because they will strongly remind me of the bad ones.

    As for Tigh, being an ex-military man, a team-sport player, an ex-cop… Yeah, it really resonated.

    Right up until they wrecked him. But, by then, the series was getting tedious for the reasons I mentioned anyway.

  11. norbizness says:

    “… And they have a plan” = golden
    “Who are the Final Five?” = dreck

    • John says:

      Of course, it became clear fairly early on that they did not have a plan.

      • Njorl says:

        I remember when they showed the humanoid cylons walking around the ruins of Caprica admiring it. I kept thinking, “Is that why they did all that? To play Human?”

        They either needed a real justification for Cylon actions, or they needed to avoid ever getting into the inner workings of Cylon society.

  12. quercus says:

    IMHO, the genius of BSG had nothing to do with science, it was that BSG, unlike most movies and nearly all TV series (and no other science fiction that I can think of), wasn’t afraid to put characters the audience knew and liked in situations where there was no easy moral answer. In any media characters get moral choices, but it’s almost always really clear — it’s not like there’s any question whether Darth Vader should support Luke against the Emperor. But Adama, Tighe, Gaita, etc. are always facing choices where both options are at least partly morally wrong.

    Which is I think another reason the ending grated so much: after years of facing difficult choices, and trying to live with the consequences, the characters find out that, essentially, God was shepherding them along the whole time, so their choices in the end didn’t really matter.

    • Vlad says:

      This is the reaction to the end of BSG that I’ll just never be able to share, or understand. I mean, the events of the series resulted in the practical destruction of both Colonial and Cylon cultures. When the series ends, less than half of the Season One characters are still alive. Nothing in the finale suggest that any of this was pre-ordained. The fact that “God” turns out to be real doesn’t in any way change the fact that the events of Season 4 depended entirely on Starbuck being tricked by some combination of her neuroses and “God” into killing herself half-way through Season 3.

      Maybe you need to have been raised a Calvinist to not be ticked off by the BSG finale?

    • Leeds man says:

      the genius of BSG had nothing to do with science, it was that BSG, unlike most movies and nearly all TV series (and no other science fiction that I can think of), wasn’t afraid to put characters the audience knew and liked in situations where there was no easy moral answer.

      Have you even watched Babylon 5? A couple of examples here.

  13. wengler says:

    The problem with the Starbuck storyline is that it didn’t give that much description of what might be existent in the greater universe to send her back for the purpose of getting them to Earth. The mythical elements are never going to work as well to audiences today, especially sci fi ones that are less likely to believe in any sort of mythical stories.

    Overall, though, I think the weaker episodes were in the middle rather than the end of the series, and even those were better than nearly any other television show out there at the time. The Blood on the Scales 2-parter was one of the best of the series and that was in the last season.

  14. Brettday says:

    I can’t believe how much trouble people are having with starbucks death and rebirth. Her dad was the otherwise missing no 2 (discussed after Ellen’s rebirth),who everyone thinks Cavel killed. This makes starbuck the human/cylon destined to lead then to Earth (which she did), and the Chief’s kid actually basically a nobody.

    But anyway, as a half cylon, she probably just used whatever resurrection ship Ellen used.

    • John says:

      Major plot points in television shows oughtn’t to be explained by fankwanks for which there is no evidence whatever in the actual show.

      • Brettday says:

        Oh come on. I’m not saying it’s a sure-thing, but there are many clues. The biggest would be that, when she pulls the jump coordinates for Earth out of her ass via magic / divine inspiration / receiving info from the cylon telepathic internet, she fulfills the prophesy of the human/cylon hybrids guiding the people to Earth. And Athena’s daughter never comes close to any of that. Also, on the metafictional tip, I doubt they would have spent so much time in the back half of the final season on Starbuck’s missing dad if it was a thread going nowhere. Tons of plotlines get dropped unresolved from season 2 or 3, but S4E19, the 4th to last episode, is a little late to be throwing out more feints and false leads.

        Again, I’m not saying any of this is a sure thing. There is no Smoking Gun. But there is plenty of lesser evidence.

        • John says:

          Then why didn’t they explain it?

          • elm says:

            To quote GB Shaw in Pygm alion: “The rest of the story need not be shewn in action, and indeed, would hardly need telling if our imaginations were not so enfeebled by their lazy dependence on the read-mades and reach-me-downs in the ragshop in which Romance keeps its stock of “happy endings” to misfit all our stories.”

            More seriously, Brettday’s analysis is plausible, and I think Moore intended it to be plausible (the episode with the piano player no one but Starbuck ever sees is the most important clue to me.) I don’t think it’s the “truth” though, for three reasons. First, Starbuck dissapears into thin air at the end, which is not something a half-cylon/half-human would do. Second, where did Starbuck resurrect without Cavil’s knowledge? Third, even if Daniel (the missing Cylon, Cavil supposedly killed) had a secret ressurection hub, where’d Starbuck’s pristine viper come from?

            But BSG would be far from the first series to end with important issues left ambiguous. It’s odd that people in this comment section are complaining, both, that BSG’s finale wrapped everything up into too neat of a little bow and that it didn’t answer the questions it raised.

            • Leeds man says:

              Moore should have used the Shaw quote with his writers rather than (something like) “It ain’t the plot, it’s the characters!”. I read that somewhere.

              Still, I consider it brave of you to ascribe any sort of intention to Moore above and beyond “keep the rubes glued”.

              I am not a crank, etc.

    • sharculese says:

      This only makes sense if the Resurrection ships had spare Starbuck bodies lying around just in cases, something I think some of the other Cylons would have noticed. And if she was resurrected in a corporeal form, how did she just disappear in the final episode?

      • Njorl says:

        That was all explained in season 2 of “Caprica”.

      • Brettday says:

        I don’t think it’s a simple as that. Ellen was resurrected; why didn’t the other cylon’s notice her extra body before she was put into it? If the identity of the final five was a secret to the Cylon mainstream (and we know it was), and Ellen was resurrected, then we know it’s possible to be resurrected without having “had spare [...] bodies lying around,” (publicly, at least). So, either the resurrection tanks grow the clones to order as needed (The DNA comes with the memory upload), or it’s possible to selectively route some Cylons to secret resurrection facilities. And if Cavil can do it as part of his punishment of the original cylons, someone else (Say, her father) could do it for Starbuck with nicer intentions.

        • elm says:

          Where’d the viper come from, though? And where’d Starbuck go in the end? Those issues (plus the one you provide some sort of plausible answer) are what makes me doubt this version, though I do think Moore intentionally left plenty of clues to suggest it.

          • Brettday says:

            With the questions of the Viper, I feel like we’re really getting into the weeds here. There are lots of plausible ways the Cylons could have gotten an old Viper or the plans to construct one, either during the previous Human / Cylon war, or in the years immediately before the miniseries started, when it seems like the Cylons had more or less free rein to come and go through the colonies as they saw fit.

            As for her evaporation in the finale; that one, I got no damn idea. Personally, I think it was a somewhat heavy handed attempt to throw in an air of mystery and myth (Like the scene at the end with the virtuals in modern day NYC; although that scene can also be read as a sly wink at Battlestar 1980) and not necessarily caused by whatever caused all the other Kara weirdness. I will admit to thinking that the final ten minutes of BSG kinda jumped the shark. If I’m being generous, I’d say it was an attempt at aping the style of the old, pre-modern style of stories being about clans and peoples, not really focusing on the individuals. Because of the story’s roots in (the Mormon version of) the story of the Jews lost in the desert, this had always been an at least minor theme in BSG. And Kara gets to play the Christ / Odin / Mithras figure.

  15. virag says:

    this is a great comment thread. i thought the secondary characters on bsg were so much more interesting than the leads. the starbuck thing was inane; lee adama was a zero, but tigh, cottle, tyrol, callie, and even the sometimes-annoying meathead helo were a blast. the entire final five albatross was beyond inane. ruined the whole thing. there are maybe 10 really good episodes, but the flagrant lack of a plan on the part of the creators and the writers, and especially the stooopud ending, kinda ruin the whole enterprise.

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