The season-ending episode of the new Battlestar Galactica series has now aired. For an excellent review and analysis of this amazing episode (titled "Revelations"), see Alan Sepinwall's dead-on comments. Instead of joining in with praise for the episode, I want to address a bigger issue on why Battlestar Galactica is in the running for the best science fiction TV series in history.
There has been a lot of grumbling from people that season 4 was too slow and that the series had become nothing more than a soap opera in space. Personally, I didn't agree with these comments because I thought the season was shaping up to be the best in an already top-notch broadcast run. However, as I listened to these complaints, the truth began to dawn on me: Many SF fans can't stomach a TV series that actually practices what so many in the genre have preached for years.
For decades SF authors and fans have been saying that the best SF is based on character development and insight into deep human issues. Yes, SF features exciting future worlds with lots of space ships, fun technology, and massive interstellar backdrops, but when you cut to the essence of the best SF stories they are about individual humans and their struggles. Well guess what: Battlestar Galactica has truly followed this formula. The reason this season's last episode paid off so amazingly well is because of the character development we've witnessed these last few months and years.
I believe the mixed critical reaction among SF fandom to Battlestar Galactica results from a scism between those who want their SF to reach truly human understanding and depths, and those who see SF as more like escapism. This doesn't mean that Battlestar Galactica isn't also a great thrill ride, which it is. But what pushes the series into TV greatness is it's not afraid to address incredibly deep issues such as what makes us human and what our purpose in this crazy universe might be--all while tying the audience into knots over the personal dramas of the main characters. Speaking for myself, I expect nothing less from the best SF, and that's why I've loved every minute of Battlestar Galactica season 4.