From "MASH" to "St. Elsewhere" to "The Sopranos" to "Seinfeld," all long-running television shows become myths at some point or another, reflecting, within the confines of their own universes, the disparate nature of human experience.
Yes, they're entertaining, but to keep an audience committed year after year, a show must offer enlightenment, even if it's just the recognition that the corruptible nature of power extends to the Soup Nazi.
"Battlestar Galactica," which comes to an end tonight after five seasons, was always upfront about its relationship to myth -- it's science fiction, for one thing, which of all the narrative genres is the most unapologetic about its use of symbolism and archetype, journey and transcendence.
In science fiction, anything is possible, which is in itself a metaphor for the human spirit. So it was natural, when watching the trials and triumphs of this scrappy band of humans attempting to survive in a world overtaken by their technology, to wonder if the residents of the Galactica were our past or our future.
Tonight, praise the gods, we have our answer. All this has happened before, and it will happen again, but it's hard to imagine a more visually and thematically satisfying finale.
Creators and executive producers Ronald D. Moore and David Eick have always taken the nature of the show seriously, which is why all those "praise the gods," "frakkings," "so say we alls" and look-alike Cylons (the evil twin trope taken to the nth degree) played as legitimate extensions of an alternate universe rather than camp. (Although where, on this stripped-down survivors' vessel, all that booze came from, not to mention Laura Roslin's very stylish wig, we must agree to simply overlook.)
The writers' dedication never falters, and "Battlestar Galactica's" finale is everything a fan, of the show and of television, could hope for. It's difficult to write about without giving anything away, so suffice it to say that tissues (or shots) would not be inappropriate accouterment.
Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) and Lee Adama (Jamie Bamber) never looked so tragically good together while Col. Saul Tigh (Michael Hogan) and his newly resurrected uber-Cylon wife, Ellen (Kate Vernon), are by turns frisky and resolute (though it is depressing to learn that pole dancing was so popular on Caprica).
Adm. William Adama (Edward James Olmos) not only stages one of the better do-or-die rescue missions ever, he even smiles once or twice (though most often in flashbacks). Laura Roslin's (Mary McDonnell) opera-house dream is finally explained, old treachery is paid back in full, and pretty much everyone, including Boomer (Grace Park) and Cavil (Dean Stockwell), is allowed a moment of heroism and grace.
As for Gaius Baltar (James Callis) and Caprica-Six (Tricia Helfer) both real and imagined, well, let's just say, the red dress finally makes sense. Sort of.
Yes, that's right, all is finally revealed, though in a way that leaves the door open for hours of satiated, as opposed to angry and agitated, speculation, not to mention a whole new round of term papers. Moore and his team should win not only an Emmy but a special Medal of Honor for Not Copping Out on the Finale.
In the end, the story is what one always suspected it was, a blueprint of sorts, an excavated journal of revelations that could be useful in the right hands. Much has been made of "Battlestar Galactica's" almost prescient political nature. Publicity was not the only reason the United Nations called on Moore, Eick, Olmos and McDonnell to participate in a discussion of human rights. The war between the humans and their machines, especially when it was revealed that some of the most devout resistance fighters were Cylons, has been seen as a mirror of our nation's war on terrorism.
Certainly theology, in both its curative and destructive forms, has been a major thread of the series as have other very modern concerns, including the fine line between rebellion and anarchy, the pitfalls of charismatic leadership, the high and ongoing price of freedom, and even the dangers of depression and alcoholism. (Spoiler alert: Tonight's finale contains, quite incidentally, one of the best drunken-barf scenes to appear on television.)
But more than anything, "Battlestar Galactica," like the most enduring myths, has been a lesson in great storytelling. Grand finales, as we all know, are a dangerous business; flouting convention may be crucial to a show's success, but it turns out to be a matter of discipline. Every writer wants his or her show to go out with a bang; the trick is to have it not destroy everything in the room.
Unlike some recent finales we could name, "Battlestar Galactica's" final hours may have plenty of explosions, and, it must be said, a few "oh, come on" moments. But in the end, it not only owns up to its narrative obligations, it glories in them.
As should we all.
Where: Sci Fi
When: 9 tonight
Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)