BATTLESTAR GALACTICA at the Paley Festival: Infecting with Accountability

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While the Paley event concerning the Battlestar Galactica/Caprica universe was probably meant as a roll-out for Caprica, most of the panel discussion concerned BSG (and really, how could superfan Seth Green not ask the creators what the heck was up with Daniel when he had them captive?). Ron Moore, David Eick, Jane Espenson, and the Caprica actors were joined by Battlestar actors Tricia Helfer and Grace Park (much, it should be noted, to Green’s obvious delight). Largely due to Green’s adorable and much-appreciated geekdom (he argued that Battlestar Galactica was the best television take on societal issues since Norman Lear produced All in Family), the panel gave a lot of insight into the questions we had about the creative procesess behind BSG. It’s jazz and mosaics, folks.

We’ve reported on the Caprica-related details of the panel elsewhere,  so we’ll concentrate on the BSG love here:

  • The Paley Festival shows clips from their archives before each panel–for example, they showed a clip of the Bryan Fuller-created, Lee Pace-starring Wonderfalls before the Pushing Daisies panel–and they picked a doozy for this crew: the ending of the 1963 Outer Limits classic “Demon with a Glass Hand”. A man discovers he’s not a man at all–he’s a robot programmed to digitally preserve the remnants of his human creators. He even has a human companion who backs away from him in horror upon realizing he’s a robot! Ah, the Cylons meet their real ancestors.
  • We thought Seth Green had forgotten to turn off his phone and that it was, er, flashing through his pants, but someone on the front row was taking a lot of pictures and the flash warning reflected off the crotches of everyone who stood at the on-stage microphone. Set Condition Crotch throughout the ship!
  • Before forgetting to introduce Paula Malcomson, Green introduced Jane Espenson as his friend “Jane EsPENson”. He is likely teasing her, but now I’m worried we’ve all been mispronouncing her name for years.
  • A few people showed up in costume, but perhaps the most alarming clothing we saw was a t-shirt that read “I :heart: Fat Apollo“. It was strangely hypnotic.
  • While the writers never let go of the idea that Laura Roslin was the dying leader mentioned in the Pythian prophecies (and, yes, Green did refer specifically to the Pythian prophecies, which was about the point I started planning to bake things for him), they did eventually toss around all of the other possibilities (Starbuck, Bill Adama, the Galactica herself, etc.) before letting each of those go and returning to Laura.
  • Given that, Moore and Eick had promised Mary McDonnell she would be Moses–leading her people to the Promised Land but never being able to enter herself. In early drafts of the series finale, she dropped dead sometime before the Raptors reached New!Earth’s surface. Eick described reading a later “elegant” Moore draft that let her see her people into their new home before flying off with Bill to die, noting that “clearly the audience wanted that.” While the resulting applause could fairly be described as a smattering, this was a respectful crowd that didn’t interrupt with applause much if at all otherwise, so he may well be right. (Or maybe I just agree with him because I wanted that).
  • Speaking of sayng goodbyes on New!Earth, they felt that Bill simply couldn’t say goodbye to Lee (perhaps reflecting his own childhood goodbyes on Caprica?). Eick noted the long tradition of television dads building bridges to the future for their sons, making sacrifices for their sons, coming to emotional reconciliations with their sons…and that they didn’t want any part of that nonsense.
  • In bringing up what may have been the most debated point of the series finale, Green actually asked whether Starbuck’s final exit was just her hiding in the grass. Espenson confirmed that the grass was indeed high.
  • The writers refused, however, to be drawn into giving any more answers about what Kara was in the end, claiming that the more they answered those questions the less interesting she became. Later, in related refusals to pin down what Kara’s Head!Father was (does an angel require an angel?), it became very apparent that Moore genuinely doesn’t think it’s important to nail down some of those kinds of answers as long as the end they get to is worth more than the means they take to get there. Espenson flat out confirmed that when she noted that one of the things she likes about science fiction is that the answers aren’t nailed down and are open to interpretation.
  • For example: “Daniel: Was that just a mathematical error that got resolved?” Yes. Yes, it was. (Friend o’ Bacon D and I wondered later whether the presumed lack of connection between Lost Number Seven Daniel and Caprica‘s Daniel Graystone is an homage to Aaron Sorkin’s insistence on using that name over and over. We then decided we had perhaps had too much Diet Pepsi. The writers did note, however, that John–Cavil, One, whatever else you want to call him–is the only Cylon whose nomenclatural origin has been revealed. So maybe it really is all about Sorkin.)
  • They were not messing around having the Hybrid call Kara the harbinger of death, a label they felt they paid off with her leading them to Scorched!Earth. They didn’t elaborate enough on that for us to really make sense of it–since they’d pinned their hopes on Earth, was finding it dead the end of humanity? Was the inability to settle there and the need for a new home what cemented the alliance that eventually made us all a little bit Agathon, thus ending the Colonial version of humanity Kara knew? I…don’t know. But this wasn’t a detail that fell through the cracks–they definitely felt that the finding Earth-as-a-cinder was the payoff to that.
  • Green pointed out that since the Leoben models have spent the entire show obsessed with Kara Thrace, he wondered if the wig-out upon finding Kara’s body on Scorched!Earth was a complete breakdown or whether there was method to the madness. The writers argued that the 12 Cylon models represent the 12 basic kinds of humans, and that the Leobens represent people who love the big puzzles and the eternal questions. When Leoben’s big puzzle exploded, he just plain checked out.
  • Helfer claimed not to have understood what Head!Six was until she watched the finale. We suspect she was exaggerating slightly for effect (there was giggling involved), but that the character’s true nature was something that both evolved and was kept pretty close to the vest. Asked about playing multiple versions of the same Cylon model, both angelic and corporeal, Helfer described approaching them as twins raised separately. One of the things that made each version different was the amount of contact with humans, which is pretty interesting given the show’s overall message that Cylons and humans had to come together to find salvation. Helfer described finding that process when noting that Shelley Godfrey was written differently from Caprica Six and asking Moore if she could play them differently.
  • Helfer and Park both talked about playing mulitple versions of their models in the same scene, noting that their stand-ins knew the physicality of the characters better than day players and were really helpful in the “doubling” process. Park mentioned working against Jen Halley (who played Seelix) to film her double a few times, while James Callis liked to have one camera rolling and move back and forth between the characters (with a stand-in available for blocking). The fact that that seems Gollumesque feels right, somehow.
  • Green was jokingly, mildly, and affectionately–but noticeably–skeevy with Helfer and Park on occasion, with hugs and eyebrow-waggling announcements that he could be reached at the end of the row of chairs if they needed him. He may have answered the eternal question of whether plots or hot women are the driving force behind fanboys, however. While setting up Park to discuss making out and general hotness, Green asked whether she found it “difficult to cavort with so many leading men…Chief, Helo…” Park helpfully added, “Gaeta…”, at which point Green lost the thread of his skeeve entirely and exclaimed, “Oh! I know he’s not here tonight, but I want to talk about Alessandro Juliani.” It was…an unexpected turn of events given the previous tenor of the question. There are multiple theories on why said turn occurred, each of which could illuminate the plot vs. hotness question. The first of which, I suppose, is that Green did not in fact lose the skeeve thread at all and is in reality an equal opportunity Battlestar cast skeever.
  • The second possibility is that fanboys are actually driven by plot and Green and I share, er, strong feelings about how gorgeously the mutiny arc played out. After letting Green rhapsodize about the complexity of Gaeta’s character and ethical quandaries, Moore noted that the writers tended to give Gaeta little tidbits in scripts even when he hadn’t shown up in the story outline. Eick liked the idea of the most unexpected character being the one who turned (asking us to imagine a North Korean attack on the US led by Gary Burghoff and…no, thank you) and noted that actors really have a lot to do with characters growing like that, as creators see what actors can do for their stuff. In this case, the writers were inspired by realizing how versatile and multidimensional the actor who started out doing mostly technobabble actually was. The last little thing bothering me about that whole storyline was wondering what the producers wanted us to take from it–would they be thrilled if half the audience sympathized with Gaeta and half wanted to kill him, or did they expect everyone to fall unquestioningly in line with Bill Adama? Given Moore’s description of Gaeta as someone “who really sacrificed, really put himself out there for his beliefs,” I think we can finally put that one to bed and just acknowledge that the mutiny arc rocked. Green seemed to agree wholeheartedly with this, so score one for the Plots possibility.
  • A third theory grows from Espenson’s discussion of how much she enjoys taking secondary and tertiary characters and putting them in the center of the story, in part because no one’s a secondary character from their own perspective–they’re always the hero of their own story. Green, nodding emphatically: “Being a character actor, I agree.” So maybe what caught his eye was a secondary character swirling into the center of a huge story…where he got to make out with Grace Park, a situation in which Seth Green would not mind finding himself. I’m not sure into which category this theory falls. 
  • Moore and Eick acknowledge that the title of the upcoming prequel film The Plan is intentionally ironic, since Moore’s response to Eick’s “and they have a plan” tagline suggestion was “there is no f*#@! plan.” Given some of the accusations from disgruntled fans after the finale (we did not fall into that category, but we heard the…disgruntling) about whether too much was done on the fly, it was interesting to hear Moore and Eick talk about how the sausage is made. They were very conscious of the balancing act between doing so much planning that nothing creative can happen and being so loose that no structure is imposed. Eick praised Moore for being able to walk the line between “jazz is not allowed here” and “hey, man, let’s make it up as we go” well, noting that Moore was always able to go to a place of “this is what we were saying before, but this is what we’re saying now” that gave them both structure and freedom. Eick argues that this kind of creative back and forth took the power away from a small core of producers and spread it throughout the production, which he referred to as “infecting the staff with accountability”. He sees this as the direction television in general is going, and given the way all of the Battlestar departments raised their games so high, the fulfillment of that prophecy would be very lucky for all of us.
  • Similarly, Moore acknowledged that the identities of the Final Five were chosen late in the game, and it took a long time to decide that the CIC was the opera house, likening the process to piecing together a mosaic: “I threw this one over here and I didn’t know what it meant, but how can I make it part of the mosaic and make the picture part of the whole?” While they admitted that this approach can be risky, it also frees them from “being Dick Wolf” and being tied to real-world situations instead of the deeper meanings those situations can represent symbolically. And they clearly believe that “all that matters is what you come to in the end.” Talking about how Caprica differs from BSG, they seemed pretty committed to the idea that all you can do is try to make good work that pleases you instead of trying to please someone else, so I suspect people for whom that mosaic approach doesn’t work will never be entirely satisfied with what they produce. Those who like that jazz has an underlying structure will find their worlds exciting. 
  • However, when Green asked about all of this happening before and all of this happening again and how that mapped onto the origins of the first humans and Cylons, Moore intoned, “There once was a paradise called Kobol, and then came gay marriage.” So, you know–ripped from the headlines.
  • While Moore originally intended Tyrol’s lonely exile to be Vancouver Island, we now have confirmation that Aaron Douglas‘ reading of it as Scotland led to the unspoken joke that the still expert was off to invent Scotch. (Someone then popped off that James Callis invented the Manson Family.)
  • Speaking of good old Gaius, Green noted an intriguing connection: “Gaius Baltar looks a little bit like Ron Moore. And both look a little like Jesus. What are you trying to say here?” Moore: “Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Christ or me?” Apparently the camera crew was pretty convinced Baltar was actually going to turn out to be Jesus, though. The possibilities are mind-boggling.
  • Finally, Green wondered if the Centurions who left in the finale are the UFOs people report (the panel wondered if they got bored and came back to see what the crazy humanoids were up to now) and closed the evening by asking whether we didn’t wish the Cylons would come destroy this world so we could all travel through space together. While I’m generally against a robotcalypse, the Paley panel does make traveling in a tin can listening to Seth Green quiz Ron Moore, David Eick, and Jane Espenson seem like a ton o’ big fun. (Toss the mild skeeze out the airlock, though, okay?)

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