Tuned In

BSG Watch: …But My City Was Gone

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Starbuck realizes that her Viper is trying to tell her something. / SCI FI Channel Photo: Carole Segal

SPOILER ALERT: Before you read this post, hop into your bomb shelter and watch the 2008 finale episode of Battlestar Galactica.

Well, frak you very much, Ronald D. Moore! I announce that I’m going to time-shift your finale and that I might be a little late blogging about it, and you react by blowing up the borough I live in? Judging by the perspective of the finale scene and the pan up to the ruins of the Brooklyn Bridge (if in fact it was the Brooklyn Bridge, which I’ll get to in a second), the members of the human-Cylon alliance appeared to standing roughly where the ruins of my dermatologist’s office in Brooklyn Heights would have been. The same weekend we heard that A. Q. Khan was selling plans for a compact nuke, this was not something I needed to see.

Seriously, a stunning conclusion to a stunning episode. Writing on deadline today, so I’m not even going to attempt any breakdown of the episode beginning-to-end (with Edward James Olmos’ firey reaction to Tigh’s Cylon coming-out, the tense hostage standoff and Lee coming into his own as a leader); for that I refer you to Alan Sepinwall’s excellent review. Instead, I just want to focus on that stunning last couple of minutes and some of the implications for the future, because I have a feeling we’re going to be talking about it a lot while we wait for 2009.

So first: that bridge. There’s already been lively discussion about whether it was actually the Brooklyn Bridge, and if not, what it was. I’m biased, of course, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say it wasn’t, and that that wasn’t New York City, for one simple reason: If it was New York, we’d know it.

The arch structure of the bridge we fleetingly saw certainly could have been the Brooklyn Bridge’s, but the skyline the camera panned across before it got to the bridge was a fairly generic urban one. It could have been Manhattan, but it could have been a lot of cities. If it were Manhattan, it’d be easy enough to show a ruins that unambiguously looked like it: there was enough left of the buildings that you could have shown a despoiled Empire State, a Chrysler Building, and so on. (When Heroes blows up Manhattan, there’s no doubt about it.) You could also have easily made the bridge look indisputably like the Brooklyn Bridge, rather than just kind of like it. But they didn’t, and I don’t think the producers had any reason to turn this into a geographic guessing game. After all, if you accept that it was Earth that was destroyed, then it pretty much follows that New York, London, Tokyo and everywhere else bit it.

Likewise, there wasn’t really a dramatic function to using that last glimpse of the bridge as a site-specific reveal. Sepinwall already referenced the final scene of Planet of the Apes, in which Charlton Heston sees the ruins of the Statue of Liberty. (I’ve read a theory, by the way, that the BSG landing party is standing on Liberty Island, which I don’t believe would work in geographic relation to the skyline and the bridge, but I suppose it might be close enough for TV.) But that reveal served a different purpose: until the second you saw Lady Liberty, you had no idea the entire movie you’d seen had been set on Earth. Here, the fact that we were on Earth—a ruined Earth—was established at the beginning of the scene. So closing on the bridge shot served no purpose regarding the location.

Unless… it was an anti-reveal. It’s possible that the generic skyline of the ruined city was simply meant to be generic, to make the point that it could be any city on Earth, that in a way it was every city on Earth. Or it could be meant to introduce doubt: is this, in fact, Earth at all?

So there’s something else to argue about for half a year or so.

In the meantime, linger a couple seconds more on that amazing last scene. It was a gorgeous punch in the gut. First, the look of it: the planet we saw was not just ruined but dead, drained of color, as were the crew members taking it all in. It was a kind of ancient-Greek vision of Hell—where Hell is not fire and brimstone but the cold absence of life—in keeping with the ancient-Greek roots of the Colonial mythology. And the slow pan over each crew member and Cylon not only captured their states of mind but their personalities in miniature: Adama angry; Roslin bitter but composed; D’Anna horrified; Anders rejecting Tory’s comforting touch (how fitting, by the way, that she would burn her bridges for nothing, abandoning the fleet just before it reached a truce with the Cylon rebels); Lee despairing; Leoben grieving.

I’m most interested going ahead to see how the discovery of the dead Earth affects characters like Roslin and D’Anna, who in a way were counterparts as the messianic leaders of their people, following visions and prophecies that turned out either to be wrong or to be cruel jokes. Either way, they—and Baltar, Leoben, etc.—have seen their belief systems shattered, the whole point of their lives (discovering Earth, which was to make everything all better) seemingly for nothing.

Or is it? If BSG is a show about faith, are the final episodes going to be about how faith can sustain them even against all physical evidence to the contrary? Or will it be about their discovery that their fate lies not with any God or gods but with themselves—that, having seen that there is no planetary deus ex machina out there to save them, they have to work things out together, or die? Is this in fact the meaning of the Hybrid’s prophecy (that Starbuck would lead them to their “end”)—that now they have seen the end that awaits them, human and Cylon alike, unless they break the eternally repeating pattern of hatred and violence?

All of which brings us to one more question to argue about over the break: just what it was that did the Earth in (if this is the Earth). Was it destroyed from without (by an enemy, like the other Cylons, that got there first)? Was it an inside job (the Earth destroyed by war, as a final caution to the survivors of the Cylon war)? And what about this “Colonial” signal that Starbuck’s Viper picked up on? Who placed it there, when and why?

I’d go into all this a little more deeply, but it’s time to lay in some provisions for my fallout shelter. Just in case.