Friday, June 13, 2008

The Best Character To Be The 12th Cylon on Battlestar Galactica.

I'll say this upfront: This is neither a [SPOILER] nor the demonstration of some inside knowledge. I don't know who the 12th Cylon actually is (although I hazarded an extremely-likely-to-be-correct guess about how the new series will end here). I'm writing this to plead with the writers of new Battlestar Galactica to please, please not make it something dumb or twisty or unexpected. Like, for example, DON'T make it Mr. Gada. (I couldn't emphasize that DON'T anymore; I used every emphatic tool on my keyboard.)

Please don't. Please please please please please don't. You will wreck your series far more than the ending to Seinfeld tarnished that great show.

Here's a tip: Sometimes the most obvious thing is the most obvious thing because it's also the right thing. I've seen bits and pieces of interviews with the writers of the show and the characters and I know how Hollywood thinks and I know that the entertainment industry is dumb, and so I am expecting that they will just go ahead and wreck the only show I actually set aside time to watch right now.

Here's how dumb Hollywood thinks: Everyone is expecting that the 12th Cylon will be Admiral Adama or Starbuck or Baltar or President Roslin. So we'll throw them a curveball and we'll make it a very minor character whose high point was an episode where he ran a police force and grappled with moral issues. They'll love it!

No. No, we won't. And by "we" I mean "I." I will hate it. I will hate it every bit as much as I hated the fact that [SPOILER ALERT BUT YOU PROBABLY ONLY CARE IF YOU HAVEN'T YET SEEN THE MOVIE BUT MIGHT GO RENT IT BECAUSE HE'S GOT THAT OTHER NEW MOVIE COMING OUT THAT PEOPLE THINK IS ABOUT GLOBAL WARMING BUT HOW COULD IT BE ABOUT THAT BECAUSE THE COMMERCIALS SHOW PEOPLE LEVITATING AND NO MATTER HOW HOT THE ATMOSPHERE GETS WE WON'T DEFY GRAVITY?] The Village didn't have actual monsters. That would have been a twist. Forget the whole "this old-timey village is an enclave from modern society" twist; having actual monsters in those woods would have been awesome.

But there were no monsters because M. Night Shymalan felt, I bet, that would be too obvious, and he did not want to give people the obvious, he wanted to surprise them. But sometimes the best surprise is giving the people what they want. Like this week when the kids gave me an early Father's Day present, and it was a deep fryer so I can finally experiment and create deep-fried mashed potatoes. That was the obvious present because I like to deep-fry stuff, and because I've been saying for years that I wanted one. But it was also a great present.

In their quest for surprises and thrills and interesting plotlines and the like, writers and directors sometimes forget the most basic of rules: have a good storyline with interesting characters. If you do that, you don't need twisty endings and deus ex machina finales and you don't need to pull something out of your butt like The Bone Collector did.

The Bone Collector, in an attempt to be the twistiest of all twisty thrillers, made me so angry that I can still taste bile. [SPOILER ALERT INVOLVING A MOVIE WHERE DENZEL WAS JUST PHONING IT IN]. The killer, at the end of the movie, turned out to be the guy that was taking care of quadriplegic Denzel Washington, and he was killing people because Denzel had years earlier arrested him or arrested his dad or slept with the guy's wife or something; I don't know because the movie was actually quite boring, too. But the killer was a "twist" ending because you'd never suspect the nurse guy was the killer. You'd never suspect that because he was a minor character who had nothing at all to do with the plotline until the last 2 minutes of the movie when it turns out that he's actually the killer! Oh my god! And he's in Denzel's room! And Denzel is showing off his great acting by lying motionless!

The only clue that this guy was anything more than an extra was a tiny snippet in the opening credit when they were showing headlines of how great Denzel's character was at arresting guys, and one of the headlines apparently said something like Denzel's character arrests a guy who will someday become a nurse and try to kill him in weird ways. I don't know what it said, exactly, because I missed it, because who watches the stupid opening credit sequence?

Denzel Washington, by the way, is another guy who doesn't play characters. He's always just "Denzel." Can you name a single character name Denzel has played? Saying The Hurricane doesn't count. That's not a name.

It's almost as if the writers and directors got around to filming the last scene and suddenly realized that they had no killer. "What can we do?" they asked. "Why not make me the killer?" says the nurse guy. They all shrugged and thought "What the heck. Everyone's just here to see Denzel anyway." I'd have liked the movie a lot better if it turned out that Denzel's bed was an old-timey enclave hidden by fences from the modern world.

Movies and books don't need all those twists and turns. They just need good storylines and characters. One of the greatest books of all time, Slaughterhouse 5, had no twists and turns. It telegraphed the story right out there for you; you knew all along [THIS CAN'T POSSIBLY BE A SPOILER BECAUSE EVERYONE HAS READ THIS BOOK, RIGHT? BUT JUST IN CASE, SPOILER ALERT!] that Billy Pilgrim was going to end up in the Tralfamadorian zoo with a porn star, because Kurt Vonnegut told you that early on. So as he'd unraveling the story of Billy in the POW camp, you weren't really worried because you knew that Billy would survive to get to Tralfamadore.

With the complete absence of good writing in Hollywood nowadays, they've forgotten how to tell a compelling story and everything is just plot twists and clever dialogue. I'm surprised that Carrie didn't turn out to be a guy in the Sex and the City movie. Maybe they're saving that for the sequel: "Same Sex and The City": Carrie reveals that she's a dude, and (s)he and Big decide to stay married and challenge society's view of those relationships-- but Big insists that if he's going to do this, he gets to wear some crazy hats, too.

That's what's got me so worried about the ending to Battlestar Galactica. I've seen other TV shows end on high notes (Arrested Development, Friends) and the lowest possible notes ever (Seinfeld) and on notes that people had long ago stopped caring about (Cheers). But the trend in Hollywood now has me worried, and the [SPOILER ALERT INVOLVING THE CHARACTER WHO SWEETIE LOVES BECAUSE HE ONCE DROPPED HIS TOWEL ACCIDENTALLY] too-convenient temporary promotion of Lee Adama to President does not bode well for where Battlestar is heading with this whole Gada is singing premise, and you'll only understand that if you watch the show. (Quick primer: he's singing because Cylons sing.)(I told you wouldn't understand it.)(Plus, writers, Cylons don't sing; they heard music but I don't recall seeing them sing.)

See what I mean? Clear at the end of the show, they're suddenly making up facts about Cylons and trying to make viewers think that some character who has had less of an impact on this show than Mr. Chekhov did on the original Star Trek, a character every bit as essential to the storylines so far as the PA announcer was on MASH, is the long-awaited 12th Cylon.

Don't do it! DON'T DON'T DON'T. You've been creating one of the greatest TV shows of all time, with excellent storylines and interesting moral issues and parallels to real life that make people think and compelling characters and intersecting plots. Don't wreck it by trying to be too clever. I know that your show is not highly rated and I know that you're tempted to Hollywood it up and draw in viewers, but you'd be far better advised to have Britney guest star than to try to twisty-turn your way to a unique ending.

Remember: Sometimes the most obvious thing is the most obvious thing because it's also the right thing.

Given that, I'm going to now tell you who should be the 12th Cylon, who is The Best Character To Be The 12th Cylon on Battlestar Galactica. It's not Admiral Adama or Lee Adama or President Roslin; you've already done the whole Humanity has a Cylon in charge! thing with Tigh. It's not any minor character; Chief and Starbuck's husband and that girl who sleeps with everyone are already minor characters promoted to major characters by being Cylons.

It can't be Baltar. You couldn't possibly do that. I know that it would make, in your Hollywood-ized minds, a great circular storyline: Baltar betrayed humanity. Baltar is tortured by that. But Baltar is a Cylon! So he's not a bad guy after all; he's a good Cylon! Doing that might be worse than making Gada the 12th Cylon, because it would destroy everything that's interesting about Baltar, who's one of the greatest characters in human history. Not just TV history, but movie/book/newspaper/internet/song/cave drawing human history. He's a guy who has to live every day with the thought that he's in love with an alien who's in his mind and that he betrayed and maybe destroyed the entire human race, and yet still get out of bed each day. When I have an argument with Sweetie, I don't sleep well and feel miserable for days. Imagine if my "argument" was actually "destroying the entire race." Grapple with that. So don't give Baltar a free pass out of purgatory. He's one of the most interesting people on the show, or ever. Keep him that way and let him be tortured all his life.

That leaves only one character, the obvious one: Starbuck/Kara Thrace. It's obvious because she's a major character, it's obvious because she disappeared and came back from the dead, like Cylons do, it's obvious because the 12th Cylon has been to Earth and she says she's been to Earth, it's obvious because that's who everyone thinks it is.

But sometimes the most obvious thing is the most obvious thing because it's also the right thing.

Starbuck is Chekhov's gun. Chekhov wrote in a letter that "One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it." From the very beginning, Starbuck has not fit in anywhere and has struggled with her own nature, and then Starbuck died and came back having visited Earth. She's a harbinger of doom. If Starbuck does not turn out to be the 12th Cylon, the entire storyline involving Starbuck will have been wasted, and episode after episode will turn out to be just one big collection of red herrings.

We've all seen the gun on the stage from the very beginning, Battlestar writers. Shoot it. There's too much drivel coming out of the entertainment world, too much clever dialogue and twisty endings passing for creative thinking these days. Don't buy into it. Don't outthink yourself. Starbuck is The Best Character To Be The 12th Cylon on Battlestar Galactica, and if you want your show to be remembered in any kind way, you'll write it that way.

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