Initially, my plan for today was to review the first episode of “Lost” I’ve ever watched all the way through — which for most people was the last episode of the series. While it seems clear to me that the events of the Island happened and the characters were reconnecting in a place before death, there’s something else that popped into my mind while watching the show:
“It’s all part of God’s Plan.”
The presence of the church, the presentation of a traditional Heaven, all the scuttle I’ve read about the Island being a sort of Purgatory, and a character named John Locke all lead me back to something I’ve never really discussed in an open Internet forum: the end of “Battlestar Galactica” and the problem of God in drama.
Early on in the series, in fact, its third hour, we are introduced to the possibility of a supernatural force exerting its will upon the characters. The Six in Gaius Baltar’s head makes it clear that God has a plan for him. The series actually follows through on that. God’s Plan consisted of Gaius taking a child into Galactica’s CIC so the final acts of violence between man and machine could be carried out.
Early in my writing education, I was warned about three endings that are, without a doubt, bad.
- It was all a dream.
- They were all cows.
- God did it.
These endings are cheap ways out. Each allow you to shrug aside your narrative burden as a writer to some unknowable thing in the hopes your audience will be so awed by your leap of cleverness that you never have to account for events in your story. Why did Della forget she had access to the back account? It was all part of God’s Plan. Why did Alex become a completely different looking person half way through? Dream logic. Wait, these characters I became involved with despite a conspicuous lack of description were otters all along? Why were they working for an accounting firm?
Oh, it was all part of God’s Plan.
While some would say “God’s Plan” works because the Almighty is, by definition, unknowable, it breaks the rules of good drama. By bringing God into the mix, he — and I’m consciously choosing to use a male pronoun — becomes an actor within the confines of a narrative reality. God has to obey rules like any other character and his abilities and limits must be defined. By invoking him, an author imbues the Lord with human qualities and goals. The words “God’s Plan” are not enough. The burden is now on the author to justify calling down God into his story.
Galactica fails to do that because it sat on the fence in regards to the existence of God. While the Cylon characters certainly had their faith, the people behind the show wanted to have a way out of that solution. Looking back on the show, it’s interesting to see how little faith they actually had in their own premise. Consider all the narrative cul-de-sacs with Lee Adama, the complete waste of New Caprica as a setting, the abandonment of Caprica 6’s pregnancy or the last minute patch job explaining why we never see model #7 and the show is crushed under its own weight.
But no worries, it’s all part of God’s Plan.
What does this have to do with the end of “Lost?” Well, a fair amount, actually. While always trying to maintain that it was a drama, “Galactica” became obsessed with its own mysteries at the end. Was Starbuck dead? What was the meaning of the opera house? Why do characters hear “All Along the Watchtower?” These, and other questions, drove the bulk of the final season and none of those answers truly feel organic. They also sacrifice the characters. Except for Bill Adama, Rosslyn, and perhaps Anders, the rest of the characters are just abandoned. Like Kara Thrace, they just evaporate whether they state a goal for themselves or not. From my one episode of “Lost,” I get that the core characters never disappear. The ending focuses on them instead of answering a lot of questions about the island’s mysteries. I’ll admit after giving “Galactica” my faith, having no mysteries resolved is refreshing.
The greatest mistake “Galactica” made was announcing the existence of “The Plan” at the beginning of every episode. Despite the fact that series Grand Poobah Ronald D. Moore would mention on his podcast every week that he left the overall design of the series very loose, the pre-credit announcement of “The Plan” was a covenant with the audience. While I’m sure “Lost” fans will say there was a similar pact, the show does not promise answers or a greater design in and of itself. Its title sequence consists of a single word that delivers on its promise. Both shows flew by the seats of their pants, but only one definitely told you there would be a grand design.
The rules of TV narrative changed during the run of “Lost” allowing for both it and “Galactica” to end. Both ABC and SciFi (as it was known at the time), let the people behind both shows to choose their endpoints instead of continuing to milk the concepts into complete irrelevancy and the loss of their audiences (see “Heroes” for that example). Both shows end with a definitive belief in an invisible world beyond our comprehension. While “Lost” is successful by keeping its mysteries in tact, “Galactica” failed by encouraging you to have faith in solutions.
I suppose it was all part of God’s Plan.