Saturday, January 31

Talking about 'Battlestar Galactica's' 'The Oath' with Mark Verheiden

Source: Chicago Tribune

Mark Verheiden, who wrote Friday's "Battlestar Galactica" episode, "The Oath," discusses the episode in detail. Please only read on if you've seen the episode. At the end of the post, there are also a few thoughts from me on the episode, which I thought was simply oustanding.

Questions are in bold type, answers are in regular type.

When does this take place? Is this the morning after the final scene in "A Disquiet Follows My Soul"? I would guess not, since it would take some time for Zarek and Gaeta to formulate their plan.

MARK: We’re talking a day or two after the last episode. During that time Gaeta would have been rounding up support in the crew and discussing the next step with Zarek.
Do you think that there was another way that Gaeta, Zarek or anyone else could have talked the leadership out of the Cylon alliance? If Roslin and Adama weren't going to listen to dissenters, do you think that a violent seizure of power was the only answer?

MARK: Gaeta tried to raise objections, but he was summarily shut down in the previous episode. Basically, his back was against the wall. What intrigued me when writing this episode was the idea that Gaeta and Zarek were, in fact, "right." Looking at the situation from the outside, the alliance with the Cylons was crazy and dangerous. And the revelation of the "final four" didn’t help. Adama’s best friend and first officer was a Cylon, Roslin’s aide was a Cylon, Chief Tyrol, Starbuck’s husband Anders, suddenly it was clear the entire command structure on Galactica had been infiltrated. On top of that, no one in authority was taking time to explain how this alliance was going to help the crew or the fleet. Gaeta’s motivations were pure, he was trying to save the human race, and that’s the real tragedy of the story.

Of course all that begs a larger question, which is whether mutiny is ever justified. I remember impassioned discussions about this, because while mutiny is the stuff of many dramas, in "real life" it’s an enormous step to take, especially for a loyal officer like Gaeta. But it certainly seemed to me that after all this time on the run in space, in the wake of the disappointment (to say the least) of Earth, mutiny might just happen.

Was Zarek's plan all along to kill Adama? Also Tigh? And did he keep this part of the plan from Gaeta? Or do you think Gaeta knew that Zarek might be playing him in some ways?

MARK: Zarek understood that Adama alive would be trouble, so he absolutely wanted him out of the picture. There was some discussion at early story stages whether the soldiers who opened fire in the CIC were operating directly under Zarek’s orders or Gaeta’s, and how that might start a rift between the two, but that idea was (more or less) dropped for this episode.

With Roslin out of the picture and the Quorum an afterthought, was Adama more or less running a military dictatorship? How much of what went down in The Oath could be laid at the feet of Adama and Roslin?

MARK: Adama was definitely leaning that direction, a point Zarek makes when he’s goading Lee into returning to Galactica. The dividing line between civilian authority and the military was always thin, and with Roslin openly sleeping with Adama, the line’s obviously on the verge of disappearing. There are some dramatic developments coming up that will continue to alter this dynamic…

Maybe this is a point I missed in earlier seasons, but have we seen the Pegasus officer who threatened to rape Sharon/Athena in "The Oath" on the Galactica before this? Were all those Pegasus people given a blanket amnesty? I was wondering why that guy would still be serving, given what went down with Sharon/Athena in "Pegasus" (though from the longer cut of "Pegasus" that was released on DVD, Thorne was the one who rapes her, not the man we see in "The Oath").

MARK: We had not seen Gage or Vireem (or "The Sunshine Boys" as we referred to them in the writer’s room) since "Pegasus." (Lt. Thorne was the sadistic officer who actually died during that show.) We had talked about bringing these guys back on several occasions, but this felt like the best time, given their animosity toward Helo and Sharon (and Cylons in general). Truth is Galactica’s crew is populated with people carrying a vast array of grudges and agendas. Pilots whose friends had been killed during Cylons raids, crew from Pegasus (Gaeta’s pal Hoshi came from Pegasus too, if I’m remembering that correctly), cranky civilians, etc. So they all had to learn to get along. More or less…

Even last week, after "Disquiet," some fans were wondering if Adama was unwell. Now more than ever, I am wondering -- could he be the "dying leader" that would lead humanity to … well, something better than a life on the run?

MARK: I think Ron’s made a statement on that (Adama’s taking pain meds, but he’s not dying), so… what he said. [Mo here: See last week's interview with Ron Moore about "A Disquiet Follows My Soul."]

It seemed like a great deal of care went into mixing the various "beats" of the show -- the quieter conversations, the action sequences, the tense moments, the more intimate moments. I know as you write this you have not seen the final cut yet, but do you think the final product will more or less follow the order of the scenes in the script? Was that a difficult part of the writing process -- knowing what sort of moments to put where?

MARK: After the very somber nature of the last two episodes, it really felt like it was time to amp things up a bit, but I certainly didn’t want to lose sight of the emotional stories. I’ve actually seen all but the final mixed broadcast cut and the show definitely tracks with the script. It would have been difficult to change the running order since the mutiny progressed in a very specific, step by step fashion.

Actually, along those lines, what was the hardest part of writing "The Oath"? The easiest or most fun part?

MARK: Trickiest part in crafting the episode was working through the steps of Gaeta’s mutiny. How to isolate Galactica from the rest of the fleet while keeping Adama and the officers in CIC in the dark. Once we nailed that…

I was especially happy to get Starbuck back in motion, giving her character a new drive.
Probably the most fun was writing the scene where Kara confronts the guys holding Lee at the Raptor. I really wanted to see kick-ass Kara again, and Katee delivered. Following that with her amped up moment with Lee and her declaration of "life" was really satisfying, because it felt like we were finally giving Starbuck a mission statement after some very hard knocks.

Were the writers planting the seeds of Gaeta's eventual betrayal as far back as New Caprica? When he lost his leg, was that also part of the process of getting him to this point, where he could betray Adama? Or when you began to outline the second half of the season, did this direction just make sense for this particular character? I guess I'm asking when you began the process of turning Gaeta into a revolutionary.

MARK: I don’t recall specific plans for Gaeta’s eventual turn as far back at the new Caprica storyline, but the mutiny story was something we definitely had in mind for awhile, and we gravitated toward Gaeta as ringleader as season four progressed. He was the perfect candidate after his near death in "Collaborators" and then the leg situation. Poor guy must have thought I had it in for him, I actually wrote the leg shooting for the end of "Road Less Travelled" but it wound up being used at the beginning of the next episode, "Faith."

Incidentally, the script for "The Oath" included flashbacks to the original mini-series at crucial moments, scenes that showed a very fresh faced Gaeta with Adama. It was quite poignant reviewing those moments, all before the Cylon holocaust, and juxtaposing them with the "strained" Gaeta/Adama relationship in the show now. Ultimately we didn’t use the flashbacks, but it helped me understand the depth of anger and betrayal that would erupt between Adama and Gaeta during the takeover.

What was it like working with John Dahl? Do you think he brought something new and/or different to "Galactica"?

MARK: John was great, very laid back and easy going, but he knew what he wanted and got it on a very tight schedule. People don’t realize how tight, I think we shot "The Oath" in seven and a half days.

Any interesting stories from the making of the episode -- did anything go differently than you'd planned? Better? Worse?

MARK: My very last day of shooting on my last episode of BSG was of course the day everything decided not to work. It was nobody’s fault, just stuff deciding not to cooperate. We were shooting the final scene in the show, in the airlock. The mechanism that opened and closed the airlock door broke after one take, the welder that was supposed to spit out sparks decided to stop spitting, it was just one thing after another. Ultimately we got most of it (we eventually reshot a short bit) but it was sure hectic at the time. When it was done I stole the canvas chair back with my name and BSG logo and flew back to Los Angeles…

A few other random memories from the shoot:

The scene where Baltar tries to talk Gaeta out of the mutiny was a suggestion from James Callis after we finished the cast read-through for the show. It was a great idea and I wrote it that night. I love the moment, both Baltar’s delivery and Gaeta’s reaction.

The big shootout: Since this was the first firefight in CIC, I remember deciding how many bullet holes should be added to the various glass surfaces. You’d think this would be a very deliberate process where someone painstakingly drills holes, but in fact it was a guy with an air gun shooting marbles at the glass, scoring it "bullet hole" style. He started shooting and suddenly marbles were flying all over the place. When that was over, I went around to the glass partitions and told him to shoot ‘em some more.

One last memory, totally at odds with the intensity of the show, was watching Eddie Olmos and Michael Hogan goof with their rifles. Some of their antics made the gag reel, it’s pretty hysterical stuff. And speaking of Eddie, I can’t tell you how exciting it was to see him tackle this story. He had several amazing moments, both the high octane intensity of the shootout, but also the sweetness of the first scene with President Roslin. The moment where Adama simply stops and faces off against the soldier hauling him to the brig came to mind because it felt like something Adama/Eddie could pull off. Of course, kudos to the entire cast, who did a uniformly great job.
I know upon pain of death you're not supposed to tell us what happens next (though there's part of me that wants to grab you by the lapels and make you tell me what happens next), but is it true that Romo Lampkin appears in the next episode?

MARK: We all love Romo, he said enigmatically.

Ron Moore said last week that things could get worse. Can they get worse than this?

MARK: Please. It’s Battlestar. We haven’t even scraped the surface of "worse."

It's Mo here: Below are my thoughts on "The Oath."

Maybe being a critic is supposed to be a purely intellectual exercise. Maybe it's all supposed to be done with the cerebellum.
But there's nothing I enjoy as much as an episode of television that produces a reaction that I can feel in my body -- tension, nausea, fear in the pit of the stomach, joy, anticipation, tears, whatever. The "good" variety of all those things, mind you. I'm not talking about the kind of nausea you feel when you watch people eat something gross on "The Amazing Race."
Friday's episode of "Battlestar Galactica," "The Oath," made me feel the way I did when I watched Cally running from a firing squad in "Occupation/Precipice," the Season 3 premiere of the show. Then, I felt physically sick at the sight of truckloads of human beings being unloaded in a remote field under a grey sky. I felt sick at the sight of armed enemies lining up to shoot all of those people.
And as Cally stumbled as she tried to run away, the entire core of my body was seized up with tension.
That's how "The Oath" made me feel. For the last few minutes, I could hardly breathe. And then Gaeta gave the order to fire on the president's Raptor. And then the rebels tossed a grenade in the room that held Adama and Tigh.
And then the screen said, "To be continued."
What a sensational episode.
It worked on a number of levels: There was the slow-building mystery of what the rebels were actually up to -- the tension slowly racheted up as various facets of their plan were revealed. Despite all the slam-bang action -- which was expertly directed by John Dahl -- the episode threaded through a critique of Adama and Roslin's methods and actions. There were conversations, attempts at conversions, politically charged moments and life or death moments. But the throughline of the episode never gave way: There was a taut inevitability to everything that happened.

Here's the thing about the rebels: I kind of agree with them. Theoretically. I didn't agree with what Gaeta and Zarek did, and I certainly wasn't on board with the revenge factor and the score-settling that was part of the appeal for several of the revolutionaries.

But as I said in last week's interview with Ron Moore, I think if I were Jane Schmoe in the fleet, I'd have a very bad feeling about not just the alliance with the Cylons but the idea that the entire fleet would be outfitted with Cylon jump technology -- which the humans don't understand. Even if this particular band of Cylons wouldn't betray the humans and use that technology against them, who's to say that Cavil or any other gang of unfriendly Cylons couldn't use that FTL technology to disrupt or destroy the fleet?

And Roslin and Adama didn't seem particularly perturbed about the objections to the alliance. Their thinking seemed to be, "We've decided this. Let's just browbeat the Quorum into line. Again."

The order to install the Cylon FTLs was referred to as a "lawful order," but who's making the laws? The Quorum passed a law saying that captains could refuse to install the Cylon technology. Wasn't that lawful?

As Zarek points out, the fleet seemed to be operating in a de facto military dictatorship. If Adama makes the rules and only his rules matter, then there is no democracy in the fleet. To me, that's why the scene with Lee Adama near the end of the episode mattered so much. Lee pointed out to his father that the fleet was only in this pickle because of the very Cylons that Adama wanted to ally with.

Lee: "… if this is what survival has come to…"
Adama: "It's all we've got. ..."
Lee: "It's all they left us."

The point is, many people had legitimate issues with the Cylon alliance, and Adama and Roslin didn't listen to them. Maybe they were just off their games after the crushing discovery of Earth and the even more crushing suicides and despair in the fleet. But what was the anti-alliance faction supposed to do with their legitimate complaints? They weren't getting a real hearing from the fleet's leaders.

Having said that, Felix Gaeta is going to hell. If he's not already there. He's betrayed his senior officers. He's been party to murder. He's attempted an armed overthrow of both the government and the military.
AND he lied to Hoshi. Now that's just mean.
Having said that, the way that Gaeta and Zarek played their hand was kind of beautiful. They knew where every weakness was, and not just tactically. They knew how to play Adama, Lee and even the officers of the Galactica like fine-tuned violins.
You had to hand it to them: They knew exactly which buttons to press, physically and emotionally.

But in the end, it was hard not to think that Zarek played Gaeta too (let's hope Gaeta was at least smart enough to see that coming). I've rarely been as shocked as I was when the Marines fired on Adama and Tigh in the CIC. I truly did not expect that. How many times has Adama quieted dissension in the fleet simply with his commanding voice? Not this time. (Laura had no luck either with her attempt at oratory later in the episode).

In any case, when the Marines fired at those officers, you had to think it was on Zarek's orders. In his mind, the only good William Adama is a dead William Adama (a living admiral is a "loose end," according to Zarek's annoyed comment to Gaeta).

But Gaeta is no better. By ordering pilots to fire on Roslin's Raptor, he was in essence attempting to assassinate the president. There will be no smoothing this over. As Adama said, bygones will not be bygones. Not after all this.

So much happened in this episode, so many things that I'll be pondering for days. But what I particularly appreciated about "The Oath" was that it expertly mixed in quieter, smaller moments amid tense antion and the big, jaw-dropping moments.

There was Lee and Starbuck's kiss, there was Laura and Baltar's wonderfully vicious conversation, Baltar's comedic moment with his adoring followers, Baltar's doomed attempt to stop Gaeta, Sharon's conversation with Anders in the brig, Roslin and Adama's kiss (and Starbuck and Lee's embarrassed reaction). And of course, there was Tigh's shocked reaction when he realizes that Roslin spent the night with Adama.

Michael Hogan and his Amazing Acting Eye -- is there anything they can't do?
As the episode was ending, I assumed Adama, Tigh, Lee and Kara were all going to get into the getaway Raptor. Only Roslin and the wily Baltar left, however. So it took me a little while to realize -- Roslin and Adama's kiss was so passionate because they realized this was the last time they might see each other. Ever.

I need a tissue. Something just got in my eye...
In closing, there's one word that we've heard a few times now: "reckoning." Gaeta threatened Starbuck with the idea that a reckoning was coming, and that she wouldn't like how that would go for her. Adama tells the Marines escorting him that there would be a reckoning for their actions as well.

But who gets to decide what the criteria of this reckoning are? Is it better to be a loyal officer, even when you think the course that your superiors set is suicidal? When do you begin firing on the people you once commanded? Where does loyalty stop and mindless violence begin? Who gets to reckon that?

I don't know what happens next week. But I don't think we'll be getting an answer to those questions any time soon.

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