Monday, October 2

Ron Moore talks Season 3

Source: The Chicago Tribune

In anticipation of Season 3 of "Battlestar Galactica," which begins 8 p.m. Oct. 6 on Sci Fi Channel, I spoke with executive producer Ron Moore about the show's difficult-to-watch but deeply compelling third season, which begins with the human settlers on New Caprica battling the Cylon occupation.

Gaius Baltar is colluding with the Cylons, who are themselves riven by dissent, as the settlers engage in acts of resistance. The fleet, led by Battlestar Galactica, remains away from the planet, but continues to attempt to establish communication with the resistance, which is led by Saul Tigh and Galen Tyrol.

NOTE: This interview contains spoilers regarding Season 3.

In the first few episodes of the new season, there are just so many echoes of the headlines we live with every day. This just seemed like the most political, tied-to-current events season so far.

"Once we were on the planet and the Cylons came and there was an occupying force at the end of the second season, it just felt like, we have to be really true to what the show is and how we do things, and just go right at it -- play it from a variety of angles and play the complexity of the situation, and put in things that make you really challenge how you look at some of these events.

"To me, I don't know about you, but to me my favorite scene in the opening two hours is when [Gaius] Baltar goes to see Laura [Roslin]. I think that's a really interesting scene, because going into that scene, I think there's an assumption of whose side you're on. Here comes Baltar, and here's Laura [Roslin] -- she's in detention, and Baltar's working with the Cylons. It should be pretty clear who you're rooting for in the scene.

"But when he starts challenging her on the morality of the suicide bombing, and that's why he's there and that's what he's angry about, it throws her off stride and I think it throws the audience off stride too. I think, for a moment, you're really not sure where you're supposed to go emotionally in that scene and I think that's a great place to take an audience."

In those opening episodes, there are so many parallels, not just to Iraq but to the occupation of France, to any occupation, to Vietnam. But the episodes are especially resonant with so many specific things that have happened in the last few years. Was that something you did consciously?

"It was definitely in my mind. There were a lot of situations and occupations that we talked about in the writers' room, Vichy France and Vietnam. You know, Iraq is happening right now, so it's hard not to have overtones of it. The trick for us was not to make it a polemic, to not say, 'We know what's wrong with the Iraq situation, here are the answers.'

"It was more about, why is it such a complicated mess? Certain things just have no easy answers, just have no good ways out for anybody involved. This is one of those situations.

"We were aware of the parallels and wanted to play it as truthfully as we could, given the situation. But the same time, we're always a little more interested in watching how our characters respond to a situation, more than we are in delineating a certain political idea about this situation."

And what you're able to do in this format, because it's science fiction, is hold up our world, our various societies and look at all of that in a different way. Whereas a show like "Over There," as sincere an attempt as that was, was just too on the nose.

"Yeah, and a show like 'Over There' just carries a lot of weight. You have to worry about the truth of the matter, the factual truth of the matter, is it really that way, do people really that specific things in that specific place. Then it quickly gets derailed into all those discussions about what it really is and what are the agendas and are you treating both sides fairly and so forth.

"It's like 'The Path to 9/11,' which I didn't see and I don't really have an ax to grind about one way or another. Except that if you're going to tackle that kind of subject matter, suddenly you don't have the freedom to examine the themes and issues and really delve into the bigger questions because you get sidetracked into these arguments about what actually happened and what was actually said. And it just becomes a really fraught and difficult situation to dramatize.

"If you take it out of that and put it science fiction, and it's not the Americans and Iraqis, it's not Al Qaeda, and it's not George W. Bush, it's these other people, and you can start playing around with the pieces more and get to the dramatic heart of what you're trying to tell."

One thing that I think the new season delineates really well is that there's no one monolithic point of view, on either side of the situation. And that's part of what makes it so intractable. You have humans and Cylons radically disagreeing about what they should do, within their own ranks. And then there's the idea of how these two groups can ever live together. It comes down to the question, what is coexistence? It seems like that is one of the basic questions you're asking.

"I think that's one of the questions. What does it mean to try to coexist? How can these two cultures and civilizations coexist side by side in any kind of working arrangement? Their fundamental philosophies are so different, their values are somewhat different.

"They all sort of espouse the same ideals of peace and love and freedom - even the Cylons do everything in the name of a loving and all-knowing god who is merciful in their eyes and offers redemption. They say all the right things, and yet the commit a massive genocide to begin the miniseries.

"And the humans are much like us, they have their ideals and they're quite often unable to live up to them. And these two sides - to try to put them on the same planet and have them work hand in hand in the some fashion, it becomes a completely impossible situation."

It seems to be, this season even more than in the past, all about that question - how do you live with, share the same space with, people with really different beliefs from your own? What do you put up with, what do you tolerate, when don't you compromise?

"Absolutely. That kind of arrangement asks for compromise, and it asks for compromise on some pretty fundamental things. That's hard for people. It's hard to let go, and in some cases they can't or shouldn't let go of certain underlying ideals or principles.

"Yet if they're not willing to make compromises on those fronts, then they come into a place where they're at loggerheads with their opponent, and they've got nowhere to go."

And then, the idea that the people on New Caprica explore is, what does it mean to take a stand? Do you kill other people? How far do you go?

"Yeah, how far is too far? What is a legitimate tactic in a war? Are there such things as illegitimate tactics in a war? Isn't survival the thing that we say is paramount? That nothing matters without surviving? Like they say now, 'There are no civil rights if you're dead.' And that's a legitimate position.

"But there's the position that there are certain things that we believe in, that people believe in, that they find worth dying for, that they will not compromise as a core value. Sorting that stuff out I think is really difficult and intractable and in some cases has no answer and cannot be resolved.

"I sort of felt like the TV show should not pretend that it can. We really should not pretend that there is a good answer and an easy way out and we're going to tell it to you in 44 minutes."

You've examined these things in past seasons, but what the show is bringing to the fore this season - the treatment of detainees, secret trials, abridging or eliminating certain rights or laws - those issues we see in the news every day are at the forefront of the show now.

"It's amazing to see how far fear will drive a people. Fear is just the most incredibly powerful weapon. The more fearful a society becomes, suddenly all these things that were just unthinkable are now part of the common culture.

"We now talk quite openly about the morality of torture. It's all driven by fear, fear of terrorism, fear of watching your city get taken out. That's a legitimate thing, but it's amazing to watch the outcome of that fear, the reaction to that fear."

And throughout history, there are countless examples -- fear has been one method by which the distribution of power has been changed.

"Absolutely. But there's always the sense, at least in this country, it's always seemed like there was a place beyond which the fear would not push us. That we were willing to die rather than sacrifice certain ideals of the American experiment.

"The republic survived the Civil War, the republic survived World War 2, and there were certain things that we would not have done. We would not become the Nazis. We would not allow slavery. There were certain things that we would not do, even if it meant that tens of thousands of Americans were going to die.

"The Civil War was an enormous and wrenching in the life of this country and it reverberated for decades afterward, and hundreds of thousands of Americans died in that conflict, but they were willing to make that sacrifice because there were ideas that they felt were so fundamental to what it meant to be an American that they were willing to sacrifice themselves and their neighbors and their cities and their children in the service of those ideas.

"And now, we're in a place where fear is driving us into these really uncharted territories. Just basic fear out there is willing to make people say, 'Yeah, maybe we will torture after all.'"

Well, it seems like the most terrifying thing is - as with the Cylons - we don't know who or what to fear. I could be sitting in a mall with my son and someone could have a bomb in their backpack. Where do you put that fear? What do you do with it? And maybe one response is - well, we have to do something. You want to have this sense that you can control things - when really, can you?

"I think you're touching on something that's really important. There is something about that proximity of it, that sense that it could be anywhere around you.

"I'm a child of the Cold War, and I grew in a world I thought was never going to change, and I grew up in a world where suddenly you could look out your window and there might be 20 mushroom clouds and suddenly civilization would just be over and everything we knew and everything we had come to count on would just end.

"That was a real visceral fear I remember growing up with and that I had well into adulthood, this sense of the arms race, the potential for nuclear annihilation and that was on such scale that the world was going to be over.

"And yet, we managed. We held our heads up and we didn't succumb to our worst nightmares. We weren't rooting the Reds out from every bed in America. We flirted with McCarthyism in the '50s but there was a strong pushback to that, and we as a country decided we weren't going to go down certain roads just because there could be communist infiltrators in the country. And we weren't going to go down certain roads just because somebody had the potential for coming and figuring out how to land a first strike from the soviet union that would wipe us out. There were certain things we were going to hang on to as Americans, regardless of that threat."

I think that was what Sept. 11 was for my generation, I didn't grow up really thinking nuclear war would really happen - it was very scary, of course - but when the towers fell, that seemed so real. It was like, "This could really happen." I just turned 40, and it sort of woke me up to the way that things could really go.

"I'm only 42. I'm not much older than you. The Sept. 11 shock was a traumatic shock. I was in Los Angeles, I was watching my TV and wondering if I'd look out the window and see downtown L.A. hit. It was a frightening, frightening day. None of us can forget the emotions of that day.

"But I just look around and go, 'I can't let my country become something that I no longer recognize as a result of that day.' It's a cliché, but it does feel like they win if that attack and the deaths of those people results in the country becoming something that Madison and Jefferson would not recognize anymore.

"If we've really gone down the road of a secret justice system, if we've really gone down the road where you're one step away from the secret police - which is no longer a fantasy. If you have secret trials and secret evidence, you're only kind of missing one element. I never ever thought that the country would come right up to the precipice of starting to throw away the fundamentals of what the country was founded on."

That's really a question you've asked on your show since the start - what are we fighting for? And the people doing the fighting disagree about that. Looking at outlines of plots for upcoming episodes, it seems as though there are real disagreement among the survivors about how to go forward, post-occupation.

"It's very much in the mind of the show, what's going on in the country. But I think also that the show is at pains to look sympathetically at the people who are taking you down that road at the same time.

Roslin "Laura [Roslin] is not George W. Bush, but she has easily gone to places - when a person is thrust into that chair of responsibility, and Laura, I always drew Laura [Roslin] as [what you would think would be] the classic Democratic dove, she was the Education Secretary, for God's sake.

"And then she becomes president. And much like George W. Bush, I think once you're in that seat and that responsibility is yours, it changes your perspective and I think you are willing to take harsher measures and I think you are willing to go further.

"Because the weight of the responsibility of caring for, in Roslin's case, the remainder of humanity itself, the race literally rides on her shoulders as she makes decisions - I have sympathy for that person and why they arrive at those decisions and how she decides to throw someone out an airlock and why she decides that torture is OK in this case or why she bans abortion. Or various other things she's done, the decision to steal an election to keep it out of the hands of someone she thinks will damage or possibly destroy her race.

"I don't really care for the policies of George W. Bush, but I don't hate him as a person, I understand how he got to the place where he is and how he arrives at those decisions. And so I think the show is at pains -- we're not going to paint the right wing or at least that school of thought with a broad brush either. They're not the bogeymen, they're coming from a place of genuine concern about security and genuine fear and genuine efforts to try to help people.

"It's like they always say, honorable men can disagree on these points. It's not that they have to be evil and that they have to be in collusion with the Devil in order to hold the views that they have, I just think they're wrong. I just don't think they're right. I think they're not awake to the later ramifications of what they do now and how it will affect the country in 10 or 20 years, but that's a legitimate argument."

There's a lot of talk on the show of salvation and what finding Earth will mean. Do the humans have a real specific idea of what Earth is? Will it be the land of milk and honey? For them, what does it represent in theory or actuality?

"I think in theory they think of it as paradise. I think they have a mythic view of what the world is and where it can be based on their scriptures. But beyond that, I think they when they think about it realistically, I think they don't know what they're going to face there.

"Are they going to find that the 13th colony is dead, is it hostile, are they going to welcome then, will it be more advanced, less advanced? It's such a big unknown. They really don't know what to expect, and the only thing that keeps them going is that it's the only hope they've got on the horizon. It's the one place they could maybe solve all their problems and they've committed to putting all their eggs in that basket."

Based on the episode outlines in the press kit, and the mythology of the show so far, it sounds like the Cylons want to find Earth almost as much as the humans. Why? Do they want to rule it? Just find it?

"The Cylon [search] for earth is a little more mysterious and we're teasing that out a little bit."

And I assume Hera [the daughter of Sharon and Helo, whom Sharon thinks is dead] has something to do with the salvation angle or the fate of the Cylons. Does she become a bone of contention among the different factions?

"Not so much. She's definitely back in the show and it's more a question of what they do with her. When Galactica and Sharon in particular become aware that she's alive, it's sort of an issue.

"With the Cylons, they're discovering - there's a secret at the heart of Cylon culture that they're aware of and don't think about. Because they're machines, they can be programmed not to think about certain things.

"As Baltar comes to explore the base ship more and participate more in their society, he starts to see certain contradictions, he starts to see things that don't add up to him, and he starts to get one of the Cylon models to start thinking along his lines and to question the Cylons' assumptions themselves make about who they are, and it takes them into a place of, 'Who are we really?'"

The Cylons, and especially the character of D'Anna Biers, it seems like she in particular and other Cylons as well -- she wants to understand love and empathy and God, but the Cylons just don't really get it.

"That's true. I always try to remind myself that the Cylons are a very young race, a very young nation as such. Their history only goes back around 40 or 50 years at the most. So their whole worldview is very young and evolving.

"Even since the time of the miniseries up until now, what we've even said on the show, is that there used to be uniformity of opinion, they used to get consensus quickly and easily, they were in lockstep with one another. And now time has gone on and individuals and factions question, argue challenge, present different points of view.

"The Dean Stockwell character [Brother Cavil] openly is atheistic. He thinks this whole God thing is crazy, he doesn't even think that they should be looking like humans. He thinks they should just be really good machines, be the best machines the universe has ever seen. But he went along with the democratic idea in that his was the minority opinion, so they all did [the occupation] together.

"But his voice has been very strong and powerful, and now you've seen other factions form within the Cylons and they're just trying to figure it all out. It's all very new stuff to them as they evolve as people."

So there's not one generally shared opinion of how they can live or coexist with humans.

"No, I think there were several different points of view. What happened within the story was Caprica Six and Sharon from Galactica, through their own personal experiences, had fallen in love with humans and had had epiphanies and changes of points of view and very conflicted feelings.

"And they were able to bring enough of the Cylons over to their point of view to carry the day, to try a new approach. To [the point where], when [the Cylons] got to New Caprica, [the idea was] we're not going to wipe them out, we're going to try to coexist, we're going to try to work hand in hand, and see if this experiment could work. And ultimately fails and then it's like the rise of the hard-liners in the Cylon society."

The Sharon that comes from Galactica to New Caprica and completes a mission on behalf of the humans from the fleet - that seems like a possible note of hope, that she represents some sort of middle ground.

"That's correct."

So it's not hopeless.

"No, the show's not hopeless."

No, I know it's not. But it shows how difficult these kinds of situations can be, really honestly, in those first few episodes. Was there any resistance to them from the network? Did they want you to back off any of it?

"No, they were pretty supportive. There's always a conversation with them about how dark the show is, and is the show, is it completely bleak, where's the signs of hope, we don't want it to be a too much a nihilistic view of the world. But I really don't have a nihilistic view of the world, so it's kind of easy argue that that's not the case and point to aspects of the show that are hopeful like Sharon and other characters.

"Generally, on those first two, we had the usual conversations about how graphic you are in particular scenes, is Tigh's arc positioned [as being] too hardcore. But they were very scene-specific, and there weren't big conceptual problems and I didn't really have any battle royales with them. They're really into it."

Just a small questions - regarding the various Cylon models we see on New Caprica, does each model speak to for all the copies of that model?

"Yeah, they're speaking for their model. The Cylons reach consensus among the twelve, and each represents their distinct model. And how they communicate among themselves and whether there are some shared knowledge pools are things we leave deliberately vague.

"There's a certain dramatic context to it, I want to imply that there are more mysterious things and that they communicate in ways that maybe we don't understand. I never want to want to quite define them, because then they become mundane and not that interesting."

Starbuck had a pretty horrific experience on New Caprica, essentially a forced marriage with her worst nightmare, the whole situation with Kacey [a girl she thought was her daughter] -- does she suffer a lot of aftereffects from that?

"There is fallout from it that reverberates for a while. Both she and Col. Tigh have trouble integrating back into the crew, once they're on board [again]. And there's another beat with Kacey after that, and Tigh can't return to being XO for quite a while. Essentially he starts drinking and stays in his room all day.

"Kara's marriage gets on the rocks and the situation with Lee becomes more perilous and then at some point midseason, the destiny that Leoben and a couple of people have hinted around that Kara has starts to manifest itself. And she starts realizing and is afraid of the idea that maybe she is pulled toward some specific end goal."

Does she end up pregnant, or you don't want to say?

"I don't want to say. We've got some surprises in store."

The source of the virus that attacks the Cylons [in Season 3], is that a deliberate act of sabotage, or do we not know where that originates from?

"We do know where that originates from, it's said within the episode. But essentially the Cylons come across a beacon from the 13th colony. When they bring that on board, it's contaminated with something and a virus breaks out."

Anything else from the upcoming season that you wanted to talk about?

"As you've seen, we're going to lose some [characters]. We've got more people who are not going to make it as well in upcoming episodes as well.

"An important thing to get out there too is that we're now on at 9 p.m. now, I hope that word gets out."

Well, there are a lot of platforms for [the recap special] "The Story So Far" and the Webisodes those kinds of efforts to bring people in. Do you have any idea what Sci Fi expects from the show in terms of ratings?

"I think we'd like to see the numbers tick up. Our numbers are OK and good for basic cable and Sci Fi's been happy with them. But we'd certainly like to boost them up some. They softened a bit in the second season and we would really like to see them get stronger. We would really to like to bring more people in.

"That's the big challenge for the show, to reach out and get the audience who are not used to watching Sci Fi Channel. The audience that reacts and rolls their eyes as soon as you say have you tried 'Battlestar Galactica' - those are the people that would like it, the people watching 'The Shield' and 'The Sopranos' would like this show."

Well, I come across more and more people who've gotten caught up via the DVD sets.

"Yeah. And iTunes has helped too. When we were at the Peabodys ['Battlestar Galactica' received a Peabody award earlier in the year], Matt Stone and Trey Parker were getting a Peabody for 'South Park.' They got up and just, like, talked about 'Battlestar' in their acceptance speech, which was really flattering and funny. Afterward I went up to them and thanked them, and they said they got into it via iTunes."

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