First, let’s get this out of the way. Yes, Avatar was an unbelievable visual spectacle. That’s what everyone will be talking about, I’m sure. In fact, the quality of the 3-D effects, the richness of the visual world that James Cameron has created, and the thickness and believability of the visual characters are, without question, marvels to behold. Is that enough to warrant the price of admission? Actually, yes, I think it is. In fact, 3-D might be Hollywood’s salvation against online piracy: you just can’t duplicate Avatar‘s big screen, three dimensional effect on your computer screen. Continue reading Review: Avatar→
I’ve said some not-so-nice things about British writer Russel T Davies. The man who brought Dr Who to a 21st century audience, and who then created its “more mature”s spin-off, Torchwood, has a tendency to write over-the-top scenarios that that tend to resolve with head-slapping deus-ex-machina endings. Continue reading Torchwood: Children of Earth→
Well y’all knew this was coming. Star Trekwas a huge influence on my life. I know whenever someone says something like that, the common response is one of pitious disdain. But people need to remember that science fiction was a rarity in the early 70s, and smart entertainment accessible by children rarer still. Even more obscure were role models in such a milieu that were appreciable by ethnicities other than the White North American mainstream. Continue reading Review: Star Trek XI→
Television cartoons are a funny business. Most people still think of them as children’s fare. When the topic of such cartoons is a team of superheroes, the threat of juvenility rises considerably. Somehow, Marvel’s X-Men has always managed to sustain a high level of both adult characterization and storytelling in all three of its TV incarnations. Continue reading Review: Wolverine & The X-Men, Season 1→
It’s a great time to be a fan of TV science fiction. Easily, the two finest dramas on American television are Lost and the rebooted Battlestar Galactica, both so-called “genre” shows, which means that they are best enjoyed by science fiction fans.
Galactica, a preternatural philosophical powerhouse of a show is nearly done. As I write this, a mere three episodes remain, at the end of which all of the show’s intriguing questions are supposed to be answered. Lost, meanwhile, has another season or two to go, I believe, but is also well over half over.
This got me thinking about finales. In particular, what are the finest series finales in the history of televised English-language science fiction?
First, a word about terminology. In Britain, a “series” is what we in North America call a “season”. Our “series” refers to the full run of the TV show, throughout all its seasons. I am using the American terminology. By series finale, I mean the last episode of that show that was ever shown.
Here is my list of the top five best television SF series finales. Be warned that this list is ridden with spoilers:
5. Blake’s Seven
Pretty much unknown to North American viewers, Blake’s 7 was one of Britain’s finest skiffy offerings. Airing in the magnificent 1970s, it told the tale of average citizen Roj Blake, who found himself caught up in a rebellion against the evil galactic federation and falsely accused of paedophilia. Blake gathers a team of compatriots who chance upon an advanced alien spaceship, and commences a series of adventures that sees them edge closer to finding a way to bring down the federation, all the while bickering amongst themselves the way that only Brits know how to do.
Blake himself departed the show after only 2 seasons, but the adventure continued for a total of four legendary years. The brilliance of its finale saw the return of Blake in a promise of impending and unexpected triumph for the surviving team members…. all dashed in a moment of distrust that resulted in all the members murdered by the evil federation. The bad guys win, and no one saw it coming, even in this darkest of dark shows.
4. Quantum Leap
QL employed a very simple plot: Dr Samuel Beckett is “leaping” across the years of his lifespan, inhabiting or possessing the bodies of seemingly random individuals in the process. With him is a holographic projection of his friend Al Calavicci, who informs him at every leap about his mission, usually involving the “setting right” of the inhabited body’s life.
The show began as light, comedic drama with both a skiffy and quasi-religious twist. But its finale was unexpectedly a profound tear jerker. In it, Sam leaps into a paranormal bar where everyone appears to be “leaping”. The bartender is a godlike figure who informs Sam that he will never stop leaping, and that the missions will only get more difficult. It is never said outright, but I think a suggestion is made that Sam is actually an angelic figure of some sort.
In Sam’s last mission shown, he leaps back into the life of his friend Al and fixes his failed marriage. The final text shown before the credits rolled: “Dr. Samuel Beckett never returned home.” A very sad ending for an otherwise uplifting show.
3. Classic Battlestar Galactica / Galactica 1980
Including this steaming turd of a show may shock some people. Yes, the original BSG was third rate shlock at best, which nonetheless captured the imagination of a skiffy-starved generation. Its atrocious follow-up, the impoverised Galatica 1980 was an insult to anyone who gave this show a lingering chance. It really is a wonder that the series’ “re-imagining” managed to render one of the finest dramatic TV shows in history, the current BSG incarnation.
Nevertheless, the final episode of Galactica 1980 (and therefore of the original BSG) was a little something called “The Return of Starbuck.” In it, Dirk Benedict’s original version of the gun-slinging, cigar-smoking fighter pilot crashes on a desert planet and is all alone with a crashed Cylon ship filled with three broken Cylons.
A space age Robinson Crusoe, he reassembles one of the robots to be his companion, and sets out to build an escape ship to rejoin the Galactica. Then, weirdly, a mysterious pregnant woman arrives and convinces Starbuck that he must protect her and “his” child. Evil Cylons arrive, there’s a fight, Starbuck’s robot companion is seemingly destroyed, Starbuck himself appears to suffer a very serious –probably fatal– wound, and the woman escapes in his makeshift pod and manages to find the Galactica. But she is not in it when the ship is opened; only her child is. The grows to become “Dr Zee”, the creepy genius child who would lead the Galactica to Earth, and who narrates the opening segments of this episode.
2. Star Trek: The Next Generation
No one is going to argue that TNG is one of the best TV skiffy shows ever produced. Finally, Gene Roddenberry had the time and money to do Star Trek the way he’d always wanted. Its finale, “All Good Things“, is considered by some to be one of the best of a series of excellent shows. Entertainment Weekly listed it as #5 in the show’s top 10 episodes.
I almost ranked “All Good Things” as #1 in this list for one reason alone: unlike other finales, this one didn’t try too hard to be grand. It remained, at its core, a good TNG episode. We can watch it in reruns and appreciate the sadness of its finality, but also enjoy it as a stand-alone episode, something that can’t be said for the #1 entry in this list.
“All Good Things” tells of Captain Picard’s consciousness jumping across three temporal states: the present, the past (to the first episode of the series) and a couple of decades into the future. Throughout it all, his persistent omnipotent guide Q is there, this time with a seriousness we’d not come to expect. Q’s gravitas is what makes this episode important. His attitude suggests that consequences await the Enterprise’s crew as a result of any actions they may or may not take.
The show’s final moments are bittersweet, as Captain Picard joins his officers for a poker game for the very first time, and regrets not having done so before. It shows us that though we will not see the crew again on TV, they have nonetheless grown closer together, and have many more adventures to which to look forward.
1. Babylon 5
B5 is one of the most important skiffy TV shows in history. It was the first to challenge Star Trek for its TV throne, and its brazenness opened the door for a host of other science fiction offerings on the little screen. It was also the very first show in which an entire season of episodes was written by the same person, creator J. Michael Straczynski (JMS), and one of the first shows to be entirely arc-driven. That is, every episode was a chapter in a TV novel that would last 5 years, no more.
Today, arc shows are the norm. Lost, BSG and pretty much every top drama on TV eschew the standalone episode model. But B5 was the first to embrace the arc wholeheartedly.
Yes, its acting was atrocious at times, the dialogue ridiculously space-opera-ish, and some of the technobabble and special effects laughable. But the core story was intriguing, and its heart undeniable.
The final episode, the sublime “Sleeping In Light“, was written and filmed a full year before it was aired, because it was uncertain whether the show would be granted its 5th and final season; so the finale had to be ready to go, just in case.
Nominated for science fiction’s highest honour, the Hugo Award, “Sleeping In Light” takes place 20 years after the events of B5. All the battles have been fought and won, and all the characters have moved on to live new lives. But a lingering truth from the series was left unexplored: that the protagonist, John Sheridan, had agreed to reduce his remaining lifespan to 20 years in exchange for time to fight the war that served as B5‘s centrepiece.
“Sleeping In Light” is about the final day of John Sheridan’s life, of how he says goodbye to his world, and how his friends deal with his death. It’s a tearjerker, no matter how many times you watch it, made more so by the moving musical score, and the linking of Sheridan’s mysterious demise with the decommissioning of the Babylon station that gave the show its name.
It is clear that this finale was envisioned years in advance. As JMS himself stated about the episode, ” I always have the ending before I begin writing the beginning.”
Do you have other ideas of what constitutes a good finale? Please leave them in the comments below.
Obama about to take office, war in the Gaza strip, Russia freezing out Ukraine, enormous military movements in Sri Lanka, the world economy tanking…. so what will I blog about? Well, Battlestar Galactia, of course.
I have long held that the reborn (or “re-imagined”, as the Powers like to say) series is the single finest current television show in the world. I am not alone in this assessment (see here, here and here.) Few other mainstream entertainment products offer such dark assessments of the human soul, drawing fairly obvious analogies to modern American military policy, primarily the “war on terror”. It takes courage to present a universe that clearly mirrors our own, North American world, but in which the polytheists are the ostensible good guys and monotheists the bad guys. It takes further courage to miraculously get us to sympathize with the mass-murdering, robotic bad guys– and yet somehow the show manages to do this.
There are many ripe philosophical fruits to be plucked and devoured in this show. Among my favourites is the anti-heroic path of Dr. Gaius Baltar. He is demonized as a villain for having made some selfish, but very human, self-serving decisions. But if we are honest with ourselves we recognize in Baltar (in all but his genius intellect and creepy narcissism) the truth of our existence. He, unlike other impossibly and predictably heroic members of a typical TV show, behaves pretty much how a normal human being would behave, given the truly extraordinary circumstances in which he finds himself.
Baltars quest for redemption underlies, for me, the lesson of the show: that everybody is both good and evil, that everyone both deserves life and deserves death, and that only the honest among us can embrace this truth and thus seek justification for our continued existence. Dark? Of course; it’s Battlestar Galactica.
The other, more accessible philosophical plumb presented by the show is the number of models of “skin jobs”, or human-form Cylons. There are exactly 12 of them. Why? It is never expressed explicitly, but the implication is that the race of mechanic Cylons took a good, long look at humanity and saw only twelve of us. There are only 12 archetypal human beings, so simple are our motivations, so predictable our behaviours and responses.
Others have discussed this aspect of the show’s mythology. The show’s producers have encouraged this discussion, and most have landed upon a summary of the archetypes, as summarized well by a poster on nightly.net:
The regular guy
Now, as fans of the show know, while there are 12 archetypes, there are only 11 Cylon models so far identified. The lasting mystery is, of course, the identity of the final Cylon. As shown in the image below, Cylon D’Anna glimpsed the faces of the Final Five Cylons, four of whom are now known to us as occupants of the Colonial fleet.
The producers have fed the speculation, most famously by issuing the following manipulated photo, based on “The Last Supper”, with the message that none of the characters portrayed is in fact the Final Cylon:
A series of snippets were also released by the producers on a website called YouWillKnowTheTruth.com, that further fed speculation and planted clues (or, more likely, misdirections). A summary of those clues is given here.
Part of the charm of the mystery is the bizarre, almost secretive, evolution of Felix Gaeta. If you’re a fan of the show, I doubt you will ever be able to forget the haunting, creepy yet beautiful song sung by Gaeta as his leg was amputated. The composer of the song talked about it on his blog, and called it both “Gaeta’s Lament” and “The Stump Serenade”. Much analysis has surrounded the eerie song, as it supposedly contains clues to the identity of the Final Cylon, to whom God (or the gods, depending on which of the show’s faiths you subscribe to) has bestowed a special fate relating to the dispositions of both races, the humans and the Cylons.
This post has, for my money, one of the more intriguing analyses, specifically that Gaeta’s secret is his transsexualism. The theory has some appeal to me, since the nature of the hidden Cylon(s) has been something of a bridging of gaps or paradigms. Much the same way that the “skin jobs” cross the divide between men and machine, a transsexual Cylonic Gaeta would cross the divide between male and female.
Then again, for all I know, the Final Cylon is the dead cat formerly owned by Apollo’s lawyer buddy. It’s just a TV show, after all. The identity of the Final Cylon will be revealed to all in a matter of weeks.
We fans of the iconic Dr Who were saddened when Christopher Eccleston stepped down from the lead role in the revivified series almost four years ago. Many were disappointed when floppy-haired David Tennant stepped into Eccleston’s veteran, steeled void and re-imagined “the Doctor” as a foppish but likable hipster, eschewing his predecessor’s German submarine commander look. But Tennant grew to own the role, and I am surprised to hear myself voicing the opinion that he has been the best Doctor ever. That’s right, even better than Tom Baker and John Pertwee.
Mind you, Baker and Pertwee never benefited from the enormous budget of the new series, nor from the more thoughtful and adult-oriented writing. Nonetheless, Tenant has come to personify for an entirely new generation the physical incarnation of the most important science fiction character in British history –perhaps in television history overall.
So we were saddened again to hear that David Tennant would be stepping down some time in 2009, after a mere four performances, to make way for yet another actor to play the mighty Doctor, genius Lord of Time who vanquishes foes and defends the weak without ever taking a life or even striking a blow. Note that the evolution of Doctor Who was listed in Skiffy’s top 2008 stories in science fiction.
Speculation was rampant in the British press about who the new actor would be. Perhaps a woman this time? Some even suggested Catherine Zeta Jones! But I was more excited by the prospect of Black actor Paterson Joseph. There is, in my belief, something innately masculine about the Doctor character, but not necessarily something innately caucasian. (Especially in the recent seasons, the Doctor’s sexual tension with his female companions –notwithstanding Captain Jack’s omnisexuality– sort of compels the Time Lord to remain male, at least so long as the various nubile female companions remain in the present literary universe; otherwise their quite touching “lost romance” vibes would be overshadowed by the lesbian overtones. )
This is Paterson Joseph:
Woman or non-White man, it would have been interesting to see the Doctor blend into scenarios throughout Earth’s history. A Black Doctor materializing during the European slave trade? A female Doctor appearing in an orthodox Muslim community? The possibilities are intriguing.
But the BBC woosed out on us. It was leaked today that the new Doctor Who will be…. Matt Smith. This is 26 year old Matt Smith:
Now, I am certain that Mr Smith is an excellent actor. (The irony here is that The Doctor often goes by the monicker, “Mr Smith”). My objection, beyond the disappointment of not seeing a woman or a Black man, is that Smith is young. Tenant was on the verge of looking too young for a world-weary 900 year old alien who’d seen it all, and he was in his late 30s when he started the role! I really dislike this trend of casting younger and younger actors to play roles of great gravitas.
Plus, as one commenter put it, he looks like the singer of a pointless emo band.
Well, the Who team gave us two excellent initial choices in Eccleston and Tennant. So I’ll give this fellow a chance. But, David Tennant…. why? Why did you leave us? WHY?
It’s 10pm Dec 31st, 2008, and I’m a little tipsy on a shot of whiskey, but stuck in bed, sick with a tummy ache. Since I’m not able to attend any New Years Eve parties, why not invest a moment in reflecting on the past year in science fiction? Continue reading 2008 Science Fiction Year in Review→