Monday, September 4

A Season Of Hope

Source: Sci-Fi Magazine

Primed to breakout into a mainstream hit, Battlestar Galactica is back to explore a new world.
By: Tara Dilullo

FOR MOST TELEVISION EMBARKING on their season, it’s enough to have finally found a creative groove and just keep doing the things that got them renewed in the first place. Maybe the writers add a little more action or sex or cast a new, high-profile character or two, but really status quo is the standard key to success in TV…just don’t bother telling that to Battlestar Galactica’s creator and executive producer Ronald D. Moore.

From the early development of his groundbreaking series, Moore has always made I his goal to “reinvent the modern science-fiction drama” with the new incarnation of Battlestar Galactica. For all intents and purposes, the man is getting it done. The series has won a prestigious Peabody Award and an American Film Institute Award, ranked number one on Time magazine’s list Best TV Shows of 2005 and received consistent critical gushing form publications like Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly.

But that’s not good enough for trailblazer Moore and his creative team, who decided to turn their show on its creative head and change the entire series dynamic in preparation for season three, which debuts on SCI FI Channel on October. How exactly do you freak out the viewers and your cast and crew in one fell swoop? Well, you take the last act of your season finale, “Lay Down Your Burdens, Part 2,” and fast-forward the entire narrative timeline ahead a calendar year-with no warning.

For Battlestar Galcatica, that meant taking the concept of the series-the last vestiges of humanity stranded in space running from their robotic enemies, the Cylons, who are intent on exterminating them from the universe- and having the beleaguered humans finally find a habitable planet, New Caprica. They settle it, and one year later the Cylons show up to occupy their abject failure of a settlement. “Shocking” and “bold” are words thrown around loosely when describing television, but in the case of the Battlestar finale, audiences and critics agreed wholeheartedly that those terms absolutely applied.

Knee-deep into production on the third season, Battlestar’s Moore is currently planning the midseason episodes, but he takes time to look back at the season-two finale. He says changing up the show in such a dramatic way wasn’t a desperate stunt, but rather necessary choice to stay to the story goals.

“[The idea] was pretty late developing sort of as we got into the later half of the second season,” Moore says. “After we completed the Pegasus arc and we were talking in earnest about what the end of the second season would be, there were some plot threads that were moving that felt like they had to come to resolution , one of them being the election [for the leadership of humanity]. We promised an election, and we already started moving pieces of the puzzle where it semmed clear the [Gaius] Baltar would be the one who would run against [President] Laura [Roslin]. So it wasn’t so much about ‘Are we going to do an election?’, but what it’s gong to be about.

“It had to be about something substantive, and we had this other idea kicking around from the first season about “What if they come across another planet that is a potential home? What if there are some people that want to stay and some people who want to go, so what would they do?” That’s natural place to center the election on, and then it became if we are going to have Baltar win-and we all wanted Baltar to win because it’s more interesting and delicious as a story turn-well, they move down to the planet, and then what? If the Cylons show up right away, then it was much ado about nothing. All the arguments never mean anything because you never got a chance to see them colonize the planet.

“So we talked about how long it would take to get down there and settle, and we start talking weeks, months or a year. If you are gong to do that, then what’s the show? We didn’t want to be completely planet bound for a whole season, and it would take the Cylons out of it completely. It didn’t seem like a practical alternative. We had discussions about doing a time jump, and it just seemed like the time to do it. The first discussions were about doing the jump in between season, where you see Baltar wins and come back and have season three a year later. But that seemed pedestrian , and the more we talked about it, it came down to doing it in the show. It seemed like a great opportunity to surprise the audience and challenge their expectations of what the show is and where it is going.”

Season three is being touted as the “season of hope,” which happens to encapsulate many of the issues surrounding the series, not only in terms of story, with humanity on New Caprica desperate for rescue by the leftover fleet that escaped the Cylon occupation, but also in terms of the real-world expectations of many in the industry at to whether this show can finally break out to become a mainstream hit this season.

Addressing the themes for this season, Morre says, “It starts four months into the occupation. Time has moved on, and certain things have had time to develop. There’s an insurgency on New Caprica. [Human spaceships] Galactica and Pegasus are off someplace desperately trying to figure out a way to get back and rescue everyone. Baltar is still the president, but he is under the occupation authority. There are humans who are working with the Cylons, but are they collaborators or are they trying to make things better?

“We deal with bombings and a lot of sort of contemporary heavy-duty issues again in the third season. But then there is fallout. Whose side were you on when the chips were down? Who is a collaborator, and what should happen to them? What of Gaius Baltar? We’ll also be telling stories on the Cylon side. We’re going to do a running Cylon storyline throughout the first 11 episodes, and it cuts over the a [Cylon] Basestar spaceship for the first time.”

While “hope” seems a word light in tone, anyone who knows Battlstar understands that suffering and angst are always going to be the path on this series. Hope will have to earned through pain-and plenty of it.

Actress Grace Park, who plays dual roles as humanoid Cylon Lt. Sharon “Boomer” Valerii/Number 8, says reading the first episodes of the season quickly put the season in focus for her.

“When we come back to season three, you will get a sense of what Sharon has been going through with her interactions with humans. There are a lot of unanswered questions, and it’s almost like a chess game that is being played, and everything is secretive. Everyone has an agenda, if not two, and it’s actually going to get darker.” Pausing, she laughs and adds, “When I heard that I said, Darker? How can Battlestar get any darker?”

Actor Edward James Olmos, Adm. William Adama and commander of the exiled warship Battlestar Galactica, concurs with Park in her assessment.

“Basically, it’s going to get darker. The problems that face Adm. Adama are just monumental. You won’t believe it,” he says, a bit bemused himself. With his character desperate to return to New Caprica to save the bulk of humanity still left with the Cylons. Olmos ponders his character’s decision of running in the season-two finale.

“I think it was truly a reality. There was no way that we could fight. We had 10,000 people aboard the ships and 39,000 people on the ground, so we must preserve what little we have left. We had to safeguard the people we had on board and try to figure out what to do.

“When we come back, all hell breaks loose, and it becomes very difficult. What happens on New Caprica is monumental. You see things that are going to make sense , and all of a sudden you are going to start to realize how people can do the things they are doing, like suicide bombers and turning your back on humanity . People will be very moved all the way around by what is going to happen. I can’t tell you how incredible it is and shocking when you get inside of what we’re doing. By the seventh episode, you will be mind-boggled as to what is going on with him and where he’s going. I’ve never seen a show do this to the protagonist on all level. You’ll be amazed at what these writers are writing. The third season is jus monumental. People are going to get spun around like crazy.”

In structuring season three, Moore says that flashbacks will feature heavily in episodes as the events of the past year are slowly explained.

“Flashbacks work really well if there are big questions in the past that you are desperate to get the answers to, and wanted to utilize that to fill in some of the blanks of what happened in the missing year and get a glimpse of what did happen.”

In particular, some of those flashbacks revolve around Cmdr Lee “Apollo” Adama, the son of Adm. Adama and former lover of fighter pilot Capt. Kara “Starbuck” Thrace. Actor James Bamber, who plays Apollo, says those glimpses back will help fill in the blanks for fans and answer lingering questions even the actors were curious about.

“There are tons of surprises,” he says. “At the end of the second season, there is an implication that me and Kara fall out in a substantial way, and we’re not told why that is. During the new episodes, you really do find out why they absolutely have no time for each other. It’s always surprising to find out what the missing pieces of the jigsaw has been that has led to this place. We are shooting an episode now that sees a change in their relationship, and there is an absolutely huge episode in which there is a revelation about [Admiral] Adama that changes everything about the way that we perceive him. Only a couple of characters have been let in on the secret, me being one of them. It’s my favorite scene that I’ve ever played on the show, just listening to something that will change the character completely and the way he sees his dad completely and the way he is.”

Another of the most pressing and juicy storylines is that of President Baltar, a pawn of the Cylons who has fulfilled his potential by governing New Caprica into such a hole of inefficiency that the Cylons are able to just walk in and overtake the settlement. Actor James Callis, who recently won a Saturn Award for best supporting actor for his layered twist on the character, says he loves the direction this season is taking Baltar.

“In a strange way the fact that he’s become Caligula-esque shows in some fashion an intelligence, like the whole world has gone to screw and so have I, and he’s reveling in it,” he says, laughing. “Initially, in flashbacks though, you see that he tried. What I think is interesting is that in so many points along the way, nearly all of the characters have given up at different points… ‘Please just shoot me through the bleeding head right now, because I can’t take it anymore.’ He chuckles. “Then something happens and it doesn’t end up happening that way.

“Most of the cast has faced death a lot of times, and it looks like they are going to be facing it a lot more, and on some secret level. I think Baltar particularly has a death wish. In some fashion , if he could muster the courage to kill himself, he would. He’s not afraid of death, per se, because everybody [on this show] has looked it in the eye.

“This idea of going forward a year and all of the things that went with it is so inspired.” He continues. “If we hadn’t done that jump, I think this season would have begun to look tired. This device, which I think very few shows could pull off, has taken us into another realm, and we all feel it. It’s an exciting place to be. I believe this season will again reinvent itself. The story takes such drastic turns in Episodes 10 and 11, which are looking spectacular.”

This season will also continue to explore the sordid, complicated connection between Baltar and his sultry Cylon instigator, Six, played by Tricia Helfer.

“The Baltar/Six dynamic is still there.” Callis says. “These two are tied to one another in more ways than one. Baltar is trying to work out what their relationship is-if he’s in love and if he’s really on some kind of spiritual, messianic quest. At the same time of working out the relationship, he’s also asking questions about himself. Even I’m slightly confused jumping from Caprica Six to Number Six. I never know which way to look.”

Tricia Helfer, who does multiple duties as the various Sixes, says, “The firs couple of episodes are on New Caprica, and we do see Caprica Six with Baltar, and the relationship has sort of gone back to a comfortable relationship. I think Baltar relies on Caprica Six for protection, but a little bit for guidance.”

The actress is even more excited this season to delve deeper into her Cylon brethren. “One of the things for my character, and the Cylons in general, and for those fans interested in more details on the Cylons in general, and for those fans interested in more details on the Cylon world and what life on a baseship is really like.

With the Cylon stories oftentimes exploring the deeper religious issues of the show, many of which reflect modern-day theological debates. Helfer says she feels the weight even more this year with the intensity of the storylines.

“Sometimes it almost gets a little overwhelming, and I’m thinking, ‘Wow I really want to do this justice, and it’s so intricate.’ When we get on the baseship, we start to realize there is some dissension within the humanoid Cylons themselves, and, in an odd way, it makes them disagree for the first time. We got hints of it in ‘Downloaded,’ with different points of view from those Cylons who have more contact with humans, Boomer and Caprica Six. We really start to see the Cylons get a little rattled for the first time. With the religious issues, you see certain Cylons are bigger believers than others and what it does to them.”

Religion, politics, the inconsistencies of was: all subjects Battlestar tackles head-on every season with challenging twists and disarming clarity. It’s another reason the show has been embraced by critics, as it’s the only show dealing with issues that reflect contemporary global issues. Moore says their genre label actually allows them to get away with more than the typical drama ever could.

“We get a lot more freedom to play around with things than we would if we were just telling it as a straight drama. I’d rather do it his way because it’s not so much that we want to tell the exact story of what is happening today. Even though the show has a lot of allegorical elements and metaphors and what have you, it’s not a straight analogy. Laura [Roslin] is not Bush, and the Cylons are not Al-Qaeda. But what the show provides is a way to twist all those things around and have you look at them from different perspectives and really mix up the motivations of the players and get to the underlying truths of what is going on. If you are all dealing with them all by their proper names, and dealing with all the pieces exactly as you see them every day, you are trapped into certain modes of thinking and you can’t really break out of that the way that science fiction can by presenting it through a different prism and making you see it with different eyes.”
Others inside the creative, such as Carol Barbee, executive of CBS new post-apocalyptic themed drama Jericho, explains Battlestar’s far-reaching influence. “It’s referenced so many times in our writer’s room, and people are going home and studying Battlestar Galactica. Jon Turteltaub is the creator of our show, and he’s never seen Battlestar Galactica. The first couple weeks in the writer’s room he would hop in and out, and every time he was in there, BSG would get referenced. Coincidentally, he had to go to an awards dinner and he was seated with Joss Whedon [creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly]. He said to Whedom, ‘All right, I have to ask you something. I have heard Battlestar Galactica referenced in my writer’s room like four time in 20 minutes, why is everybody talking about it? Joss said. Because it’s just the best television show on.”

For the man laboring behind the creative scenes, Moore is candid about the realities of the industry and the limitations of the genre he’s embraced as his storytelling medium of choice. “It’s frustrating at time,” he admits. “The series title is both a blessing and a curse at this point. It’s the thing that got the show made, and certainly people gravitate to it because of the name. People don’t really know what to expect because it is on the SCI FI Channel, and with a name like that it’s not getting all the people who may enjoy it, that watch Nip/Tuck or The Shield or The Sopranos, who would probably genuinely enjoy our show. We are still getting over the leap of faith that it takes to tune in to SCI FI and watch a show called Battlestar Galactica.”

Regardless, Moore and his cast and crew march on, telling the stories they are compelled to tell in the way they need to tell them. I’m very pleased with the opening arc on New Caprica and the occupation and all the players and what happened to people. All of that really is interesting and challenging and some of the best things we’ve done. There are some real heavy hits that the characters that we love and know take in those first few episodes. There are some familiar beloved characters that meet untimely ends in various ways. People make choices, some good and some bad , and I think it’s really interesting, provocative stuff. This experience has been incredibly gratifying for me. I am very surprised and happy at the way it’s been received by the critics and the press, and the fan base has been tremendous. It’s just a great production. The cast is a dream, and we have one of the best production crews I’ve ever worked with, and you’re able to really push the boundaries of what televisions is.”

“I think it can be breakout show, and it’s breaking out now,” says Edward James Olmos. “It’s just not breaking out in respects in how most people think for commercial pieces. At the same time, it is showing itself to be intellectually stimulating, and people that are finding it are really grateful that are being exposed to the material. I think there will be more people that will see this as the years go on.”

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