Winding Down

Sayid waiting for a pushTVSquad forwarded along a New York Post story, which is pretty much completely unsubstantiated speculation quoting from an anonymous “tipster,” that the producers of “Battlestar Galactica” want to end the series after the fourth (next) season. This is similar to the claims the “Lost” guys have made that they’ve got an ending in sight and are figuring out how to bring the series to a close after “one or two” more seasons.

It’s a good idea in both cases, and I’m not saying that just because I really really want to see “Galactica 2009.” I can’t think of any series that maintained its quality after four seasons, and with high concept series with a definite premise (finding Earth, getting off the island), it just makes it all the more clear that you have to have an end in sight.

By all rights, the most recent “Lost” episode, “The Man From Tallahassee,” should have had me jumping up and down making awkward grunting sounds. It was exactly the kind of stuff I’ve been wanting to see in the series. Real answers to questions, including one that’s been around since episode 1. A flashback that mattered, and had a really shocking scene in it. Hints at something larger, with a mysterious power about the island. Strong performances all around. A big explosion.

And a sign that they knew what they were doing, and Locke’s actions a few episodes ago weren’t just unmotivated idiocy. He had a plan, and we’re only seeing now what his real motives were.

I read a review of the episode that complained this development just made it clearer that the writers are making it up as they go along, and now they’d written themselves and excuse to pull any plot development they wanted out of their asses. (Or their magic boxes, as the case may be).

I had the opposite reaction. I thought this was the first in a long while that really showed steps towards tying things together. Jack’s dad, Kate’s horse, Eko’s brother Yemi, and now Locke’s discovery — they’re all connected, and Ben has seen this kind of thing happening on the island and is trying to explain it. Not only were the characters brought back to focus with this episode, but the events were as well.

Still, it ended with my feeling pretty unimpressed. I’ve been saying for a while that the “feel” of the show is more important than the answers. That anything the writers could possibly come up with to explain everything is going to feel like a let-down, because the hints at greater mysteries are by definition more interesting than the explanations. Now I’m having to back up that claim, and it’s tough. Myst-like hatches full of antiquated video monitors and mail slots that lead to nowhere, and underground bunkers with secret UV messages and record collections and secret serums, are always going to be more interesting than bright yellow compounds with swingsets and pool rooms.

And they’re already getting a diminished return on investment with their shocking revelations. I can guarantee you that had Locke’s flashback shown in seasons one or two, it would’ve been horrifying and exciting. But last night, it was just a brief flash of interest, like any other instantly forgettable TV stunt. After another season of this, they’re going to have to bring out the big guns to be satisfyingly shocking and relevatory.

In preparation for next week’s “Battlestar Galactica” finale, and the long hiatus until the next season, I’ve been going back through and watching the DVDs, starting with the miniseries. I came to the show late, so I always had the impression that the series was much larger than what I was aware of. That some of the events of the series had more impact to those who’ve been watching all along, seeing more than just the glimpses shown in the “previously on…” bits.

I’ve been surprised by two things: First, that I’ve seen more of the series than I remembered. I’d somehow seen the entire miniseries and first several episodes, apparently, and there are just four or five from the second half of the first season that I’d missed.

Second, that they covered so much in the first three hours of the miniseries. I’d thought that they’ve been building layer on layer of intrigue over the past couple of years, but 90% of what’s going on now (minus New Caprica and the Occupation) was established at the beginning. That’s both good and bad — good that they have had solid ideas of the characters and the central drama since the beginning, bad that they’ve kind of been coasting on that for so long.

I think BSG would do well to have a clear ending in sight, explaining what really motivates the Cylons, what is this plan we hear about at the beginning of every episode, and perhaps most importantly, finally explaining exactly what the hell is going on with Baltar and his visions of Six. I don’t know if they could do all that in one season, but in the past they’ve shown they can. Whatever the case, a fifth season would most likely kill the show.

And I guess I’ve realized a third thing about “Battlestar”: the value of subtext. My memory of the series was that it was just overwhelmingly, unrelentingly dark and depressing. Watching the miniseries again now reminded me that it’s not, really; in retrospect, it’s even a little bit manipulative and melodramatic. Obviously, now I know what’s going to happen, so the surprise is gone.

But more than that, I’m watching to see specific plot developments instead of just the “feel” of the show. They communicate that feeling so well, without having to repeatedly state it directly. It makes the more recent episode seem all the more heavy-handed and deliberately obtuse by comparison. The best thing I can say about the series is that at least in the early days, it doesn’t overstate its message. During the miniseries, you’d get a line of dialogue like, “It’s the end of the world, Lee,” and that was enough. Lately, it’s been more “It’s the end of the world, and that is why we need to maintain strict demands on fuel production and remain anti-labor in spite of our push for democracy, and it is this kind of thing that shows what a gray moral area we now live in.”