See you in Hell, Scofield

If history repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce, what follows?  In high school — high school, Scheuring — I got acquainted enough with Tom Stoppard’s 15-minute Hamlet to be thoroughly underwhelmed by last Friday night’s coda to the Prison break series finale.  The 84-minute special felt a little something like Stoppard’s revision of Shakespeare, only, y’know, completely idiotic and entirely bereft of literary import: a full, season-worthy story arc of classic Prison break, replete with prisons, betrayals, thwarted moves, strange bedfellows and an anti-climactic escape.  (That penultimate flashforward didn’t help your narrative cause, guys.)

There’s really not much to be said about the post-finale finale; it served principally (and gratuitously) to remind us of Scofield’s unqualified heroism.  America loves few things more than a handsome, wrongly-persecuted, self-sacrificing genius.

"The final break."
"The final break."

— J.C. Freñán

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Battle of the finales

Summer is nigh, and with it new seasons of Weeds (June 8), True blood (June 14), and Mad men (August).  TubaTV can’t wait, because all these season finales are leaving some serious holes in our week nights.

‘Battlestar Galactica’ left me with blue balls.

(Spoilers ahead.  Obvs.)

There’s a very simple reason why Friday night’s conclusion to the overly-acclaimed Battlestar Galactica wasn’t convincing.  It wasn’t the triteness of the notion of “breaking the cycle of violence.”  (Peace in the Middle East, y’all.)  Nor was it the anticlimactic Starbuck ex machina resolution to her story arc this season.  Nor was it the unabashed sacrifice of coherence for melodrama, as, for instance, when former Admiral Bill ‘Craterface’ Adama explains elliptically to Lee and Kara that he “[doesn’t] have much time,” thus prompting an unnecessarily tearful goodbye before he schleps moribund former President Laura Roslin off to some African hillside… so they can be alone when she dies, like, five minutes later in their Raptor?  Because dying in a Raptor was way more comfortable for her than dying on the savannah where they’d been chatting pleasantly moments earlier?

If I were being generous, I could forgive these indulgences as the adolescent sentimentality of a group of science fiction writers mourning the loss of their all-too-short-lived source of self-esteem.  What I can’t forgive, especially since generosity isn’t my strong suit, was the (increasingly inevitable, it seems) recourse to flashbacks.  Even when a flashback is used to good effect, it’s a plot device for the simple-minded.  Shakespeare never needed to flash his shit back to sustain drama, did he?  (Feel free to chime in, Thumbu.)  Worse still, the final two episodes of BSG left me feeling like the flashbacks were used both to eat up screen time, and to coat the development of the entire series with a hasty, post hoc veneer of gravity.  Part I of “Daybreak,” especially, seems to have been an exercise in frustrated masturbation.  As a result, the multiple climaxes proferred in Part II felt artificial and fundamentally empty.

Part of the problem was editing: in one scene, present-day Boomer delivers Hera to Helo and Athena, asking that they relay to Adama her message that she “owed him one.”  Only then are we shoe-horned into a totally contextless Caprica-era scene during which Adama and Tigh jointly humiliate a rookie Boomer for not being able to land her Raptor properly.  Adama, adhering faithfully to God’s plan for the future, decides to give her another chance (to land properly?), to which Boomer replies that she owes him one, an obligation she will fulfill “some day” — i.e., today — “when it really means something.”  Do you see the problem here?  Using a flashback to illuminate the words or actions of something that’s just happened in screen-time isn’t just weak, it’s wasteful.  Had that scene been part of an episode in an earlier season, it might have been legit (albeit heavy-handed) to flash back to it at this point.  But riddling a series finale with entirely novel flashbacks, especially when those flashbacks *immediately follow* the scenes they’re meant to contextualize, is just lazy storytelling.  I’d go so far as to say that it’s disrespectful.

Similarly, I derived no special insight from witnessing the prelude to and aftermath of Roslin’s unfulfilling one-night stand with her former student, even if this was the immediate precursor to her decision to continue with politics, even if this decision then put her in a position to become President of the Republic.  This level of storytelling produces precisely the same breed of banality that structured J.J. Abrams’s mercifully euthanized experiment in coincidence, Six degrees.  Adama remained as captain of the Galactica because he was too proud to take a lie detector test?  Lee and Kara almost got freaky on a kitchen table while Lee’s brother-slash-Kara’s husband Zak was passed out in the next room?  Who fucking cares, at this point?  BSG‘s writers drastically overestimated the privilege such scenes would exercise in our understanding of these characters, when really, they afforded no insight whatsoever.  We already knew that Adama was a stubborn, self-righteous prick; we already knew that Lee and Kara would find other opportunities to trespass the boundaries of fidelity, propriety, whathaveyou.

For these reasons (and a host of others) BSG was not the ground-breaking drama everyone seemed hysterically to want it to be.  It was a space opera, whether Ronald Moore realizes it or not.  Not that the genre itself can’t be groundbreaking — the fourth chapter of Star wars was, after all, an allegorical denunciation of the Viet Nam War.  The problem with uncritical praise for BSG is that it confuses middle-brow aspiration with high-brow achievement.  We here at TubaTV believe that television as a medium can be great; transcendent, even.  Battlestar Galactica was entertaining, sure.  It even had its inspired moments.  But great?

– J.C. Freñán