Monday, February 7, 2011

How BattleStar Galactica let me down.

OK. It is true. I love a happy ending. It is satisfying. It has a payoff. For me, it makes the story a good one. It gives me hope. It makes me happy. Maybe this makes me shallow? Or anti-intellectual? Certainly, it would remove my cred from literary circles. (At least I assume so; not that I actually know any literary circles. It’s not like I live in NYC or Cleveland Park.)If it’s going to be unhappy, then, Writer, you’d better prepare me. Let me know going in. And give me something to make it all worth it.
By and large, my predisposition for a happy ending has led me to reading commercial fiction. Laura Kinsale made me cry when Christian and Maddy are parted in Flowers from the Storm – and cry more when they are reunited in that cold church yard. Susan Elizabeth Phillips made me angry when Dean treats Blue like the hired help in Natural Born Charmer but I kept reading because I knew SEP would show me just how steadfast both of them will become. Earth might be destroyed to make way for the hyperspacial express route through our galaxy, but Don’t Panic! because The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is Ford Prefect’s and Arthur Dent’s story.
Yes, it’s true. I am your audience, oh you happy-ending authors. I will buy you, I will read you and I will crow about you. So, what happens when you do me wrong? (e.g. male authors who subvert romance readers by promising a love story but instead of a happy ending, giving them death and separation.)
For the last eighteen months, I have been without network TV in my house. This whole digital television transition and converter boxes and the like only brought me a single Spanish-speaking network over the digital air-waves, and in protest, I’ve refused to pay the cable companies money to bring me what I should be getting for free. TV commercials and PBS. Now, that is an entirely different blog post, but in a nutshell, this means I’ve been borrowing and watching season after season of shows I never managed to watch when they originally aired.
One such was the newly envisioned Battlestar Galactica. I am of an age that memories of Dirk Benedict striding about in his cool brown uniform, laughing his charming Starbuck laugh and smoking his stogies are now nostalgically warm and fuzzy. Even then, I knew Apollo was a bit of an uptight prick, but there you go. Somebody has to be the goody-goody. My story-loving teeth were cut on the likes of BSG and Star Wars, David and Goliath, and the idea that a small ragtag band could essentially save mankind from the evil Emperor or evil Cylon.
I was a ready, willing audience. I loved the new Starbuck. And Apollo? He still had a stick up his ass, but hey, at least he was gorgeous. That Starbuck was cast as a woman in the new series was terrific. She’s brash and she’s free and she’s the best pilot in the fleet. She is flawed and she is vulnerable and I am right there, rooting for her all the way.
Well, nearly all the way.
ATTENTION!!! Please know that all that follows are ***SPOILERS***
So, what the heck happened, Mr. Ronald C. Moore? Do your viewers mean so little to you that you would do to Starbuck and Apollo what you did? Where is your shame? Why did you dabble in the glorious sexual tension between Starbuck and Apollo only to kill Starbuck off and bring her back as a flipping ghost? Why, when you have that beautiful parallel story of lost love between Adama and Laura, would you send Apollo off into isolation, away from his father, and never fulfill the promise dangled in front of us through some (let's be honest) very excruciating seasons?
Mr. Moore, you used your characters abominably ill, and not necessarily for the sake of story. Gaius was caught in his eternal default loop of cowardice and ego until the second to last episode. Don't get me started on poor Dualla. I actually liked what ultimately happened to her character, but the unbalanced pairing of her with Apollo was so unbelievable that is took me right out of their stories and provided me with many a beverage break.
And then we have poor, battered, abused, brave Starbuck. You never even told us what really happened to Starbuck at that baby farm – and no woman watching could simply dismiss that. Her character was abused as a child, made choices that would harm her relationship with the one man she truly loves and respects (Adama), tortured on Caprica, and because of her sense of duty, she left the man she (might) love behind. Over and over, she is pummeled and twisted and her character changed and softened and arced. And after all that, you scripted her death as though that were some kind of prize. Nice one. Good one. Quite the Bazinga! to your audience.
From the first episode, the sexual tension between Starbuck and Apollo sizzled, in anger and heat. You even gave us that boxing match. You even sorta gave us a love scene. And then you took it all back. Why? How did Starbuck's presence as a ghost/angel serve the story better than her returning alive? How did her simply disappearing from the new Earth, leaving Apollo to face this new world alone make a better story? What kind of survival of mankind was I to be given when my two favourite characters weren't even going to pro-create in it? Together?
And how can I ever trust you again?
***Spoilers (I think) finished. Read on.***
Yes, I do believe that a writer has the full right to write her story. I am all for an author trying new directions in his career. I am against the blasted marketing departments in publishing houses and their blankety-blank boards who deem whether or not an editor can trust her judgment and buy a book on a hunch. But I am also for readers (and viewers), and not using them to get numbers to then simply ignore their expectations.
Yes, a good author will torture her characters, some more graphically than others. This is how we create conflict and display character growth. This is what makes a good story. It is difficult to take two perfect people and make them the least bit interesting. I promise you. We do this to serve the Six Magic Words, to Keep The Reader In The Story. That’s correct. We do this for you. Really. Truly. You may not believe it, but at the end of our books, you will thank us by buying the next one.
And we know we have a contract with you, too. Maddy will not write her paper to the Friends and denounce her association with Christian. Dean will not abandon Blue, and Blue will not walk away from this new home and life she's opened her heart to. Ford and Arthur will not be destroyed with Earth.
So, I promise here and now, and even in public, to do my utmost to never do to you what was done to me by Mr. Moore. I will never taunt you or lie to you or make promises throughout a character’s life and story, and then not fulfill them in a satisfying manner. Their endings may not all be happy, but I will not make false promises to keep you reading. Your intelligence, your trust and your free time mean too much to me.


  1. I hear ya, Marjanna! Just finished reading a book in which the heroine's grown daughter goes missing, followed by 400 pages of a mother's angst and the ruinous trauma that ensued. All to find out in the last chapter that the daughter's disappearance was a publicity stunt. What a disappointing ending to a book that promised more.

  2. But at least you knew what happened to the daughter!
    Leigh, how do you think authors should respond to reader expectation?

  3. I'm gonna quote last week's guest, Lynne Silver. Or at least I'll paraphrase her. ;-) Myth matters.

    And it does. BSG is the retelling of a "myth" we all know. It's humankind's expulsion from the Garden of Eden. I figure that trip wasn't pretty. Some would say we're still on it and it's still ugly. So in that light, maybe BSG makes sense... After all, what kind of story would it be if the characters found their way back to Paradise?

    Now, if the BSG characters could've only ended their journey at the Four Seasons Philadelphia... Ahhh....

  4. I *hate* it when an author lets me down that way. I don't necessarily care whether the book is going to be happy or sad (although I prefer a well motivated HEA). But man do I hate when I'm feeling jerked around just for the heck of it. Or when I feel an author has made a choice in plot and character that seems more "clever" than truly organic. I remember a mystery story I read years ago that sent me over the top. I stopped reading the author rather than take the chance of being jerked around again.

    But that interesting question for me becomes the intent of the author. Did the author structure her/his plot to evoke a sense of betrayal because of their world view? Or did they not realize what they were doing? Which leads into other questions of craft, control, consequences. All very chewy to think on.