What a silly, bloated, preachy, half-assed mess. It's embarrassing to see such great actors saddled with such unvoiceable, pointless activity, for so very, very long. After all the talk about holding something back and pacing yourself for the marathon, one would think the creators would follow their own advice, but then, this episode could have easily been written in 1992 when TV still had an excuse for sucking, so maybe they did.
Caprica Before the Fall: Tigh buys Adama a lap dance, screams "Woo!" sixteen times; Bill barfs on himself and decides to throw a shit fit and retire rather than take a desk job. Sean Ellison turns out to be a hot student of Laura's from when he was a child; she fucks him, smokes a cigarette, and joins Adar's campaign. After a long speech presaging Lee's undying love of democracy, Kara and Lee almost fuck in the same room as Zak but then don't. Caprica Before the Fall was fucking classy.
Galactica/The Colony: Everybody moves Sam's hospice-smelling tank into the CIC so that he can brainwave the Colony's Hybrids. Since they are female, they have orgasms and pass out. After about twenty minutes of "rounding the horn" -- which if you're not savvy means that Adama names each and every room in the ship and then a person in that room says Go! and it's riveting -- the Galactica t-bones the Colony. Next, imagine watching your little brother playing Doom on a PC for approximately sixteen hours. Boomer rescues Hera, and Athena shoots her a million times. Then Helo gets shot a bunch of times and disappears for about an hour and a half. While a bunch of CGI robots shoot at a bunch of other CGI robots, Hera runs off about eleven times for no reason.
The Opera House vision plays out, and Gaius (who joined after all) and Caprica scoop her ass up and take her... into Galactica's CIC. Which is the Opera House, which is cool: all Final Four standing around Sam's tank, glowing. Cavil pops up out of thin air and grabs Hera again, and Tigh promises him resurrection technology in return for Hera, but only after Gaius makes an embarrassing speech about how God doesn't pick sides because he's on everybody's side because we're all friendlies. Everybody immediately starts shooting at each other, only nobody actually dies. Except Cavil, who sticks a gun in his mouth hilariously and for no reason. Meanwhile, Chief chokes the shit out of Tory, because she's a whore and deserves it, but mostly because Ron Moore has discovered that the internet hates Tory and thought he'd give us a little present.
After the Colony is nuked and sent into the black hole with all the 145s aboard, Kara randomly plays "All Along The Watchtower" on the FTL boards, and the Galactica jumps to Earth. That is, our Earth, with North and South America, like we saw when she first came back from the dead because we went to bombed-out Thirteenth Colony Earth. That's a pretty good fakeout: "We're going to find Earth! Before schedule! And it sucks! But just kidding, because then we found Other Earth!" Then there is a lot of grass, some gazelles, and more grass.
Somehow the Fleet randomly shows up and then all the bridge officers lay down and talk racist imperialist shit about our ancestors, and then everybody decides to be freegans and live in dirt huts and make life suck for themselves even worse than on New Caprica, because cities are evil. Sam pilots the entire Fleet into the sun so that just in case anybody starts getting the idea that progress and intellectual development and the human urge to excellence lie anywhere other than somewhere on a scale between inconvenient and vile. There are sixty act breaks for no reason, and then back to more grass every time, so it ends up feeling like the end of that movie with the hobbits where they jump on the bed and then hug in the courtyard and then cry and then Viggo Mortensen and Liv Tyler making weird mouth noises and a necklace and Elijah Wood looking like he's going to throw up.
Then Kara goes, "This just got stupid," and vanishes into thin air because she's Jesus and her resurrection accomplished something or something. Lee stares around for a while and then decides to go climb a mountain. Laura finally dies after a hundred million minutes of staring at the grass and gazelles, and Bill decides to bury her and sit next to the cairn and pretend it's a cabin and talk to himself. Once again, the only emotionally resonant part is Gaius and Caprica, who are back in love and ready to make a go of it as farmers. This is intense because of how Gaius has always defined himself as not-farmer, and so after all the letting go and handing the cult over to Paulla really only has one lie left. It's maybe the biggest emotional step he's taken this whole show, and it's amazing. The angels show up and explain that there wasn't really a point to all of their bullshit except to keep Hera safe long enough to get her to Earth, and then Other Earth. Meanwhile, Helo and Athena teach Hera to surf and grow beans, and the Chief heads off to invent Ireland.
150,000 years later, RDM's hanging out in Times Square, where they've just dug up the remains of Hera -- or "mitochondrial Eve" -- who apparently 1) died early but 2) not before fucking enough cro-mags to populate the entire Earth. A great idea in theory (we're all descended from the Shape of Things to Come) but I guess I don't know enough anthropology to understand how that's not fucked up. Then Chip Six and Chip Gaius are basically like, "God and the Devil are the same thing, which is pretty much everything, but don't call it God because that pisses God off; and I hope you Earthlings of 2009 don't fuck it up like every other time," but even though Six thinks we won't, there's still a montage of Asimo and that creepy Japanese girl robot and like Furby saying probably we will. Because in addition to cities, artificial intelligence is evil and we should all become freegans and it should be Woodstock all the time. Or whatever, the "message" as such is not really clear but I guess we should stop doing terrorism and war-type stuff because the cycle of violence is no bueno whether it's with robots or other people. This part also, though, was awesome, and it ends with the angels walking off through Times Square, and the real "Watchtower" playing because ooooo.
The Excellent: The Kara/Lee flashback continued to be tonally perfect, both subtle and fraught with meaning, and the story brought both characters to elegant and moving conclusions. Anything involving Caprica and Gaius (or their analogues) was superb in its writing and execution, and I find I'm still finding more and more reasons to love them after the fact -- which, if you think about it, might be the show's highest triumph. The depth and scope of Ellen Tigh's story offscreen, those two kids did right in front of us over the past six years, coming to a place of compassion and empathy no one could have predicted. And of course the Twins, the Drunks and the Roslin/Adama Administration are six more stories I'd be proud to tell, if my skills were equal to the task. Thank God the show was, and is.
The Good: Great actors can make anything work, so you're treated to the usual lapidary performances (between the hour-long onslaught of shit blowing up followed by the hour-long onslaught of weird Prime Directive patronizing weirdness in the veldts of Tanzania). The truth of the Opera House was beautiful in its way, and the mysteries of Kara and the angels were left appropriately mysterious. (Which is not to say vague, but just to say the whole point of stuff we don't have words for is that we don't have words for it: try to put words to it and you end up with Pah Wraiths, so that's at least one lesson learned.) Taken as a whole, despite the draggy finale's execution, the narrative journeys of Laura and Bill and Saul are benchmarks of characterization, and that's as present here as it's been every other week.
Also Good: Boomer's arc feels complete, in that she accepts both the up and down sides of free will, which are pretty much her whole deal, and dies willingly to exercise both at once. Tory never had an arc beyond being the whipping girl for the entire cast and writing staff, so her end was at least appropriate (although it would have been just as easy -- and thematically superior -- to shift her down to the sickbay with Laura working triage and have her die there, which is basically the same chance Felix got with Gaius). And Chief's arc ended with Hotdog's sperm just as much as Athena and Helo this season became automatons randomly shouting HERA every fifteen seconds on the dot, so their fizzled endings seem just as clean. I can almost see it as a shifting focus throughout the show: S1 was pretty much about Boomer, Athena and Helo proportionally, so they've had their parts of the story already. I can handle that, I guess.
Less Good: Laura's arc in the present day started with a bang -- a wholehearted paean to Cottle's gifts to her -- but quickly paled as she did nothing but stand around not being dead and looking more and more like it, so that by the time she finally bite it, it was well past meaningful and right into manipulative. Not really a new problem, considering how many Adama crying/drooling scenes were anchored throughout the season as placeholders for actual development.
Not Great: Most of the two-shot dialogues (Kara and Lee's especially) on Earth had a faceless, generic quality. Much bombastic disquisition on fate, responsibility, identity that would have fit just as easily into the mouths of Kira Nerys and Odo, or Chakotay and Janeway, or Hawkeye and Trapper John... And did. For a show that banks on transcending its genre, the dialogue in this episode sure did sound like the easy-reader pablum you can expect from any other show (or telefilm, for that matter) on the network, with corresponding awkwardness from even the canniest players. Again, not a new problem: the old-guard SF writers (RDM, Weddle & Thompson) on staff have always had these genre-bound tonal issues, and the majority of viewers enjoy it just fine.
Which brings it home, because: if you like robots and shit blowing up, if you like watching people shoot at other people and occasionally grunt or toss off a wisecrack, if you like manipulative callbacks and clichés just for the fact that they're referencing something that's relevant to your past experiences, you probably loved the majority. If you like a little bit of fantasy in the mix, the very-very-ending might not have pissed you off too much. I don't know, because I don't know you and I'm not recapping your experience of the episode: I only know mine. But even if all these things are true, I can't see many people being all that patient with the six hours of unending prairie footage, the trite wishy-washy moralizing, or the haphazard tying up of loose threads in configurations invented on the spot and stuck together with chewing gum and ammunition. Still, shit blowing up and wisecracking gunplay makes more money than anything else, which tells me they're onto something.
However, if you thought the answers to series-long questions would be given their due, rather than snapped together like Lego around somewhat unnecessary character-building flashbacks -- and if you, like me, don't really care for robots, shooting, or TV science fiction -- there wasn't a lot here for you. I'm not going to say it was "bad," because what does that even mean, but I will say that I personally enjoyed it slightly less than "Crossroads," which I enjoyed slightly more than the episode where Lee dates a hooker, but slightly less than a root canal.
I've never understood "they're making it up as they go along" complaint about shows, because that's how stories work: you build a story a word at a time, you're always making it up as you go along. But there's a way to do this with reverence toward what's gone before, creating a greater whole out of the sum of all your parts, and there's a way to do it after a long night of coffee: assembling the pieces you've got on the table in front of you in a way that you think might fly, just to get it off your desk. Letting the plot "figure itself out" has lent itself to great intuitive leaps -- and the finest television show I've ever personally seen -- but it's also led to these last two season finales. So if this poor showing is the end of the marathon, I'm grateful they paced themselves as well as they did, for as long as they were able. I don't think we'll see a story this wonderful again in our lifetimes, and we are privileged to have taken part. And that's really what matters.
In Islam, it's called riya: the showy performance of our own salvation. Lee looked Gaius in the eye and told him to commit it, gave him a logic loop, a puzzle to tease out: prove yourself by doing something selfless, and in so doing make it selfish. And the crew stepped across the red line, and looked across it at each other. And Gaius stood in the middle, shaking. Unable to commit that mortal sin. And the port looked to starboard, and starboard looked to port. And having chosen their sides, could no longer reach across. You can see them all at once, across the line.
It's a strip club: boys and girls, dancing for boys and girls. In the middle of these illusions of intimacy, they've come to talk. Caprica City by night is a rainbow of neon, coded decadent, music pumping. (The song the strippers dance to is called "When Will The Work Be Done?" it's by Brendan McCreary, Bear's brother that sang "Watchtower" the first time, and it's about fleeing Caprica for Earth, the Exodus, the Fleet. Pretend you didn't notice; it wouldn't be the first time this man's voice sang impossible things.) Caprica by night has churches but the windows are all dark. Saul Tigh haggles with a stripper, who reminds him Caprica is not Picon. They settle on forty cubits, for a lapdance for Bill, who is considering retirement. She begins to settle herself on Bill and he laughs, and he tells her to keep Saul's money and walk away. She does.
Saul and Bill discuss the life Bill could have, if he takes this job: "One hour of your time, and then you have a whole new life! A life without midnight watches, or drills, or Fleet politics, or inspections, or any of that crap!" He was cute once, when he drank. Bill sips, and Saul yowls suddenly, yipping at him: "Life! You could be here every night!" It's one of the good times. Saul is happy, and young; Ellen drapes herself across his shoulders. "He won't be here every night," she laughs. The sad old stick in the mud, who can look around this neon heaven and see only what it is ugly in it: "Can hardly get him here once." Skin on skin, the sweetish smell of ambrosia. Nasty laughter. Ellen Tigh was born for this city, by night: She was made to love it. Made.
But him, too: the way she feels about him, nobody could explain. Past-life love. Forever love, that burns too hot. She's loved him for two thousand years, and forty years, and only a handful. And if Bill retires, she knows, Saul will follow suit. "To retirement," Bill says after a silence, and she cheers him on. All three of them down a shot, and Saul Tigh crows.