Thursday, February 26, 2009

Making it up as you go

Sorry for the dearth of new entries lately, but sometimes that's the way it goes. Creativity does not, unfortunately, work on a schedule; the ability to write good stuff on a consistent schedule is what separates professional writers from amateur hacks like me.

The TV shows I grew up with stayed scruplously away from anything resembling a continuing narrative. If a character got married, or died, or had any kind of life-changing event that would seriously alter the show's status quo, it would always get reset-buttoned out of existence and things would proceed as though nothing had happened. As my generation matured, though, we began to demand more sophisticated fare, and thus we got shows like Babylon 5, Deep Space Nine, and later Lost, Heroes, and Battlestar Galactica, that made heavy use of character arcs and continuing storylines.

As Battlestar Galactica draws to a close, a lot of fans are complaining that Ron Moore and the writing staff are making things up as they go. This was a criticism that I remember hearing during Deep Space Nine's final season, and although I don't watch Lost, I've heard people making the same complaint about that show. Apparently, these fans believe that the show's creator should map out all of the story and character arcs in advance, before anything is filmed, and then stick to his original plan no matter what. That's hardly feasible. Although the idea behind a new TV show may be the brainchild of one person, once it's picked up and goes into regular production it gains a whole team of writers, each with their own ideas and opinions that will inevitably shape the show. Also, it's a lot easier to set up story points than it is to deliver the payoff.

Think back to one of the earliest examples of this that people my age remember: The Empire Strikes Back. Think of all the awesome pieces of setup in that movie: the revelation that Darth Vader is Luke's father, Yoda's cryptic reference to "the other", the inevitable attempt to rescue Han from Jabba The Hutt; all of it left us screaming for more. When it came time for all that stuff to be resolved, of course, we got Return of the Jedi, and a lot of people were disappointed to learn that "the other" was Leia and she was Luke's sister, to say nothing about the Ewoks or that most of the Luke-Vader-Emperor scenes consisted of the Emperor sitting and talking while Luke stood there and looked conflicted. And although we've spent the last twenty-odd years complaining about it, I've never seen anyone put forward any better ideas. There was just no way to satisfactorily pay off the story elements that Empire set up.

Which brings me to Battlestar Galactica. Throughout it's run, BSG has been setting up all kinds of interesting story points and promising to pay them off at a later time: the Cylons' plan, Roslin's visions, Starbuck's destiny, the quest for Earth, and the future role of Athena and Helo's daughter Hera. In Season Three, a new mystery was added: the identities of the Final Five Cylon models. The last few minutes of that season's finale are amazing: the mysterious power outage that affects every ship in the fleet simultaneously and is seemingly orchestrated by a higher power, the revelation of Tigh, Tory, Anders and the Chief as Cylons after they're drawn together by strains of "All Along The Watchtower", and of course the return of Starbuck, followed by the dramatic pull-back-out-of-the-galaxy-then-zoom-back-in-to-reveal-Earth shot which shows us that the Fleet is fairly close to Earth. Like The Empire Strikes Back, there was just no way to pay off all that stuff to everyone's satisfaction. Ron Moore and company tried, though, and now that we're two weeks away from the finale's first installment, people are complaining that the writers are making it up as they go along. I wonder, would the story be more palatable if Ron Moore made it all up in 2003 when he wrote the miniseries?

Everyone's entitled to their opinion, of course, and I've read some very thoughtful critiques of the last few episodes. For example, why did "Deadlock" give us scene after scene of Adama wordlessly watching the work crews fix up the Galactica with Cylon spackle, but relegate important information like the disposition of Galactica's mutineers (they're on the prison ship, BTW) to the Ron Moore podcast? Did anyone even watch the episode after they cut it together? And you can't tell me that the piano players' true identity in "Someone To Watch Over Me" was a surprise. Most of us guessed it before the opening credits. Still, when BSG is finally over, I firmly believe that, although we may gripe about how certain things were handled, no one will be able to offer up any substantially better ideas.

So sit back and enjoy the ride. Because whether it was all made up at the beginning, or just made up as we went along, in the end it's all made up anyway.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for taking the time to comment!