A Writers’ Strike Almost Ended an Iconic Sci-Fi Show on a Brutal Cliffhanger
It was Earth all along... or was it?
By the time Battlestar Galactica aired its midseason finale in 2008, the 2007-2008 Writers’ Guild strike was over. But on June 13, 2008, the groundbreaking series delivered an episode that was a glimpse into an alternate dimension, one in which Battlestar would have concluded earlier, and on a much darker note. “Revelations” holds up 15 years later, in part because this moody cliffhanger could have been the end of the entire show.
The WGA went on strike on November 5, 2007. Battlestar Galactica was well into filming its fourth and final season, scheduled to air on the Sci-Fi Channel the following year. As Battlestar showrunner Ronald D. Moore recalled in the oral history book So Say We All, he gathered the entire cast and crew and informed them that he and the rest of the writers were going on strike the next day. Production was to continue, but none of the scripts could be touched. Moore likened this moment to the plot point in Season 2 (and the standalone movie Razor) in which Admiral Cain (Michelle Forbes) took the Battlestar Pegasus on “a blind jump.”
In “Revelations,” the Cylons and the humans form an uneasy alliance when the actual location of Earth is finally discovered. After three seasons of destruction, insurrection, occupation, and outright nuclear war, humans and Cylons are going to set foot on a planet they believe is a lost colony of both their races. The episode begins with a tense standoff between the Colonial Fleet and the Cylons, then culminates in jubilation as the fleet rolls up on Earth.
Then BSG flips the script. Earth is a burned-out wasteland. No one has lived there for a very, very long time. All the characters stand on a dark, depressing beach, speechless at the emptiness around them.
As actress Mary McDonnell remembered, the “nuclear wasteland” and the series' uncertain future were aligned. “We were trying to figure out where we were on this planet [and] we were trying to simultaneously figure out the future of our industry,” McDonnell said in So Say We All. “It had this spooky kind of synchronistic life-as-art-is-life feeling...”
But was “Revelations” almost the actual series finale? Yes and no. Admiral Adama himself, Edward James Olmos, told many of the cast members that it was the end. Jamie Bamber, who played Apollo, called the episode a “false ending,” because “we [thought] we were never going to end this thing, because of the writer’s strike.”
At San Diego Comic-Con in 2008, after the episode had aired and before the rest of Season 4 was released, Ron Moore admitted “Revelations” had been designed to end the series in case the writers’ strike hadn’t been resolved. And while there is some debate, the sheer number of quotes from the cast and crew about “Revelations” acting as a faux-finale makes it seem like that almost happened.
Of course, Battlestar Galactica's fourth season resumed seven months later, with “Sometimes a Great Notion.” And from that point, the series expanded its lore, creating a new backstory for the Cylons and the false Earth. Eventually, it brought the Galactic to our Earth, albeit in prehistoric times, in the actual series finale, “Daybreak.” But was “Revelations” a hypothetically better series finale than what we got?
For many fans, the BSG finale both explained too much and didn’t explain enough. The lack of rationale for Starbucks’ death and resurrection was one thing, but the idea that the Cylons and humans actually created humanity through some kind of panspermia still feels like a very strange way to end what was mostly a grounded sci-fi series. The reverse of “Daybreak,” then, is “Revelations,” a finale in which Earth is found, but everything is wrecked, and there are absolutely no answers. “Revelations” is like the ending of the original Planet of the Apes, but without any explicit context. Which may have been better.
For most serious science fiction fans, Battlestar Galactica remains one of the greatest series of all time. It’s constantly cited as a source of inspiration for everything from Foundation to Star Trek: Picard. Even the ongoing and brilliant For All Mankind, which Ron Moore helped create, owes something to the flavor of Battlestar.
And yet, few fans cite Season 4 episodes as their favorite. Artistically and emotionally, “Revelations” was better than “Daybreak,” but neither is better than the high points of the previous seasons. The brilliance of Battlestar was that fans were all wrapped up in the mysteries together. Once those Cylon questions started to get answered, the tension that made the show great diminished.
Battlestar is timeless, despite its imperfections. But what “Revelations” proved was simple. When it came to finding Earth, maybe no one really gave a frak.