UBER WARNING: MEGA-HEAVY-ULTRA SPOILERS BELOW!
Two days before, the series finale of one of the most compelling TV shows of all time was broadcast, creating a torrent of discussion among the web community. I will try not to delve into plot specifics, but rather attempt to assess the series finale as a whole. Judging by the final episodes of other series (of which the largest majority consists of canceled shows), I believe there are 3 factors that contribute to the success of its finale: i) the character resolutions ii) the plot resolutions iii) the tone and ideals of the finale.
Exhibit A: Twin Peaks. The finale was created as a final insult to the network for the show's cancellation, creating unexpected character turns (Dale's transformation), a change of tone to the surreal and grim, and ignoring all sense of resolution. The result was stunning, and it is a testament to the series' brilliance that that series finale is still debated, 18 years after its premiere broadcast.
Exhibit B: The X-Files. After 9 seasons of dense (and often contradicting) mythology, Chris Carter finally tried to make some sense from all the mess. The resolution is conflicting: the characters are all given extra time to make a final goodbye (a plus is the participation of all the show's major characters) and the tone is wholly consistent with the series' tone, even in the creation of the final cliffhanger for the 2012 final invasion. But the plot resolutions suffered a bit, mostly due to the fact that not all the little mythology pieces actually fit together: as if they were forced to fit.
Exhibit C: Star Trek - The Next Generation. This is considered the perfect example to end a TV series (scripted by Ron Moore, Battlestar's creator). All characters have considerable screen time, the show's plot from the pilot episode is tied together, and the optimistic ideology - prevalent on TNG - is finally justified by Q's assessment of humanity.
Which finally brings us to the 3-hour finale of Battlestar Galactica. After a grim and pessimistic 4th season, everybody believed that the show would end simply with the death of pretty much everybody. And for about half of the finale’s time, it really seemed like it. But then the show makes an unexpected U turn and concludes in a generally optimistic note, by finding (new) Earth. The show’s thematic was shifted as well, by adding theological discussions rather than political ones. And at the very end, making a fast forward to 150.000 years into the future, our present!
The finale is still heavily debated at the moment. Most criticism is targeted at the last half of the episode, which abandons logic for a more ambiguous interpretation, but one which really tries to bind together all the narrative threads introduced in the show. To be fair, not everything was executed perfectly: some character motivations were unexplained (maybe the upcoming DVD/BluRay expended editions will fix that), but everything was resolved: just in a way that surprised a lot of people. In the end, the finale’s greater strength is exactly the debate it sparkled. As for me, that final episode still can’t get out of my head, because in the end it was not only about plot resolutions, but about big questions that no other show ever dared to ask.
Battlestar Galactica was clearly the best show of its time. It will be missed, but I’m happy that it ended on a high note.