Yesterday's "Battlestar Galactica" discussion made me realize that I never found the right opportunity to transcribe and post an interview I did with the show's developer, Ronald D. Moore, back at the last press tour in July. With the final batch of episodes debuting two weeks from tonight (and with the next press tour starting on Wednesday), it's now or never. We start off discussing the upcoming "Caprica" prequel series, and that segues into a discussion of the final season of "Galactica." There are no spoilers, unless you count a segment where Moore says whether or not certain mysteries will be answered.
Talk me through the narrative and thematic style of ("Caprica"). You like to compare "Galactica" to war movies and political films from the '70s. What's something that looks like what "Caprica" is going to be?
It's hard to say. The comparison I used to keep making was "It's a sci-fi version of 'Dallas.' But the deeper we get into it, it's not. It's so different in tone and style to what we did on "Battlestar." If you just watched and didn't know the other program or didn't know what the connective tissue was, it wouldn't feel like they're part of the same family. They're very different stylistically. This is really a character piece and a drama that's very political. It has a lot of religious issues too. There are terrorists and terrorists bombings, religious strife... In "Galactica," we talked about monotheism versus polytheism; in "Caprica," those ideas are just starting to percolate.
Prequels can be very tricky to deal with, especially when one of the characters is from the other show, and a lot of what we know about him has to go a certain way. What made you want to tell a story in the past of this universe?
I knew the series of "Battlestar Galactica" was going to end with a period at the end of the sentence. Because of the way we're ending "Battlestar," I didn't see other stories beyond it that I felt were interesting or had any real relevance to what the show is about. But we had a very rich backstory to deal with. I mean, we could have done another Battlestar, or the first Cylon war, but those would have been repeating things we had done. Remi Aubuchon had come to the studio with an idea to do something unrelated to "Battlestar" about robots and artificial intelligence and the creation of life, and when we started talking together, I got interested in the idea of doing a sci-fi show that was set on a planet, did not have an action adventure component to it, is even more of a character piece than "Battlestar," where it really has to live and die on its characters and its story without the Cylons attacking every week. Could you sustain a science fiction show in that kind of context? That's what got me excited.
To play devil's advocate, the battles in space are some of the tropes the sci-fi fans have gotten accustomed to, at least since the first "Star Wars." Is this something you think they're going to want to watch?
I don't know. Science fiction in general is very heady intellectual stuff. The novels are a broad range of material -- there's some action adventure, and then there's very talky, sophisticated stuff. If you're a fan of the genre in general, I think you'll like this flavor of it... Surprisingly, this could be the one that sparks to a female viewership. There's always been a much higher male demo on "Galactica," because of the action adventure, the hardware component, and we think the character material might bring in more women.
You'll be filling in some gaps in Adama's biography --
Not much more. We play William Adama as a young boy. He's not central to the story in any way. It's really about his father. It's not like Willy -- Willy! -- is going to be saving the day in any way. It doesn't make sense that William Adama, the man of "Battlestar," was there at the moment the Cylons were born
Ever since you did the reveal of the Final Four, people have been really fascinated by the origins of the skinjobs and how they came to be. How much of that's going to be revealed in this final batch of "Galactica"s and how much will have to be in the new show?
It's mostly revealed in "Galactica." I don't think there are many pieces of the puzzle that are set up in "Galactica" that we held out for "Caprica." Most of the questions raised in "Galactica" are answered in "Galactica." We just said, "The Cylons were created by man and turned against their masters." And now we're telling that story.
The "Star Wars" prequels had lots and lots of problems, but one of the big ones was that we knew they were going to a fixed point, where Annakin is going to turn evil, the Republic's going to collapse, etc. How do you tell the story of the creation of the Cylons when we know what's eventually going to happen to them? Will there be a lot of scenes where one guy says, "Are you sure this is such a good idea?" and his buddy insists, "Yeah, what could possibly go wrong?"
I think that's a good tricky point. I think there's some important differences. We're not tracking a given set of characters through this. Willy will be the only person from the other show who even figures into it, and he's a kid. Internally, it's like doing a period piece. If you do a WWII piece, you know the Nazis are going to lose, that the North is going to win the Civil War, but you can still tell good stories about those periods. The fact that you do know where it's all going to end adds a certain layer of dread. Events have a certain import, because Caprica is doomed. The opening line that we show on Caprica, right now is "Caprica, 51 years before the fall." Right from the get-go we're telling you these people are all doomed. In some ways, we're taking the fact that you know where it's all going work for us.
In terms of "Galactica," how long have you known how you were going to end it?
In general terms, over the last year and a half, somewhere in the middle of season three I started asking, 'What's the shape of the ending? What's going to happen at the end of the show and what's going to be the case when they meet up with whoever they meet up with?' As we got into season three, I started thinking of it more seriously, and last summer, almost a year ago, we had a writer's summit up in Lake Tahoe and said, "It's going to end here." But a lot of the pieces didn't fall into place until I was sitting at the computer writing the teleplay that I realized exactly how the cards were going to fall for different characters.
One of the things I find interesting is, on "Lost," Cuse and Lindelof have always claimed they have a master plan and know where it's all going, and fandom has been skeptical at times and said, "Yeah, right." Whereas you've been pretty candid about the fact that you'll throw stuff out there and figure it out later, and yet people assume there's some cohesive plan to "Galactica." How do you pull that off to make it seem like there's a plan?
To me, that's the job. The job is to figure a way along in a story but make it all feel like it's seamless, to make it all make sense. Hopefully, if I've done my job right, when all is said and done and the story's been put to bed and you've got the entire set of DVDs before you and you watch them, that it feels like a cohesive narrative -- that stuff we just threw up and decided to take a flier on without ultimately knowing where it would pay off, when you look at in hindsight, that it all tracks. You're painting this large painting on this big canvas, and you may not know what it's going to look like at the end, but when you're done, you want it to feel like it's a cohesive vision and makes perfect sense.
So, for instance, when you decided who four of the Final Five would be, how much thought did you have to put into it before revealing it in "Crossroads," and how much was, "Oh, we'll say this and figure it out over the hiatus"?
The impulse to do it was literally an impulse. We were in the writers room on the finale of that season, always knew we would end season 3 on trial of Baltar and his acquittal, the writers had worked out a story and a plot, they were pitching it to me in the room. And I had a nagging sense that it wasn't big enough, on the level of jumping ahead a year or shooting Adama. And I literally made it up in the room, I said, "What if four of our characters walk from different parts of the ship, end up in a room and say, 'Oh my God, we're Cylons'? And we leave one for next season." And everyone said "Oh my God," and they were scared, and because they were scared, I knew I was right. And then we sat and spent a couple of hours talking about who those four would be. Surprisingly, it wasn't that hard to lock in who made the most sense and who would make the most story going forward.
One of the things I've thought about since you revealed them is the amazing chain of luck that had to happen for these four to survive everything that's gone down. They survived the genocide, Anders survives his time on Caprica, they all survive being the resistance leadership on New Caprica. Is this a coincidence?
This very topic is wrestled with at the end of the new season. Within the show overall, there's been a constant discussion of, "Is all this a coincidence or is there some meaning to it?" It's a glass half-full or half-empty question. Adama took a hard-line secular view on things a lot of other characters took a miraculous view on, and we the audience have seen a lot of things that can't be explained by rational means. How did these four survive through all of this -- how did all these people survive? -- and ultimately the show does have an answer to it.
Have you been watching endings to other series to glean anything?
I didn't go back and rewatch anything. There are certain endings that were powerful and I remembered. The "M*A*S*H" ending, I remembered. The "Seinfeld" finale was one I remembered a lot. "The Sopranos" ending was recent and shocking and everyone was talking about it, and I was jealous that I hadn't thought of it.
Then people could have hated you instead of David Chase.
Exactly. I would have enjoyed that. He's a genius. Probably the best finale I saw, the one that did inform me, even though I didn't go back and watch it, was the end of "The Larry Sanders Show." It was very satisfying as a fan of the series that the end of the show was also the end of the show-within-the-show. The character was leaving, the characters were aware of the ending being upon them, and there was a lot of heart to it, and it felt right, and they were talking about all the things they should have been. It was really a reward for your dedicated viewership. That spirit is something I definitely approached it with.
Some of your actors said when the strike hit they thought that "Revelations" would be the last one they ever did. And in watching it, there are certain ways where it could be that "Sopranos" kind of ending.
We talked about that at the time. I never really believed that it was going to be the end. No matter how long the strike lasted, there was too much invested for Universal to never go back and finish it, but if it was, I thought that would be an amazing place to finish the series. "Well, we got to Earth, and it sucked!"
Some of the writers who have talked to people since the finale have been very evasive about what Earth is and what happened to it. I'm not going to ask you to give it away, but my first reaction to it, and a lot of people's, was, "Holy (bleep), it's the Brooklyn Bridge." And whether it's supposed to be that or not, given that the show deals so much with 9/11, were you deliberately trying to evoke that shape with that shot?
It wasn't exactly my idea. It was something that the visual effects artists came up with. I dialed it back from being further in that direction. I wanted to evoke that feeling of familiarity, and I wanted to end with a big question mark. I didn't want them to know exactly what they were looking at, but you could pull that out of it.
One of the things I thought was great about the episode was, the whole thing is just the meat of the story -- all the emotional high points and nothing else. But the one cost of that is we had to skip over seeing everybody but Adama -- and I guess Kara -- find out that these are the Cylons. I would have loved, for instance, to see Gaeta find out that the guys who tried to airlock him were Cylons. Is there any way, with the movie or anything else, that you can go back and show that, or has the moment passed?
We haven't talked about that. We did talk about it internally, as we were structuring the last few episodes before the cliffhanger, about who would find out and what the reactions were, and the truth was, there was just no end to it. Everyone would have a reaction, and it would be 30 minues of This guy! And Gaeta's reaction! And Dualla's reaction! So we just skipped over it and said, "They all had a dramatic reaction." It's one of those things that the audience already knows, and you can't top Adama. Adama finding out that Tigh is a Cylon felt like it was the biggest emotional punch, and it became like, "Now let's just move on."
One of the things I've always liked about your storytelling style is that you let a lot of things just be assumed: "Oh, the fans are going to understand this, we don't need the technobabble or whatever. I just want to hit the parts of the story that are interesting to me, even if we don't explain everything."
I like doing it that way. On some level, I write the show for me and what I like, and I flavor everything in that light. "This is how I would like to tell a story." And I just assume that the audience is as smart as me, easily and they've seen a lot of TV and seen a lot of stories, and they can fill in the blanks and make the leaps with me on certain things.
A lot of times in the podcast, you'll say things like, "I know people are interested in this, but that's really not where the story's going." You didn't really deal with the toasters becoming sentient again, that sort of thing. After I watched "Revelations," I thought it was a great ending, but I jotted down a list of things that still had to be dealt with. I'm wondering, without you giving it away, whether these things are going to be addressed or whether these are things that we're thinking a lot more about than you were.
Do you have a list?
Obviously, the identity of the final Cylon, we will find this out?
The origin and nature of the Final Four and how they're different from the rest of them?
The origin of the rest of the skinjobs?
What happened to Earth and what happened to the 13th Colony?
Who, if anyone, is orchestrating all of this?
Basically, yeah. I don't know if it's going to be wrapped up in a neat bow. The show has an answer for it, whether it's a satisfying answer, I don't know.
Will "All this has happened before and it will happen again" be explained in some way?
The opera house?
What happened to Kara when she went through the Malestrom?
Identity and nature of the "head" characters?
Tigh and Six's baby, and whether that means Cylons can breed?
Yes. That's not a "yes" to whether they can breed -- the question will be answered.
The fate of Boomer and whether there are other 1's, 4's and 5's floating out there?
Okay, that's a "yes" on all of them.
See? We knew what all the questions were! I'm kind of proud of myself. "Yes"es to all of them. I thought you were going to throw a curve at me, like, "Oh, (bleep)."
No, I just remember in one of the early episodes this season, when Head Six picks Baltar up off the floor, and I'm watching that and going, "Oh my God, she just lifted him up and carried him around," and a few weeks later on the podcast, you say, "I didn't really want it to look that dramatic."
"Yeah, didn't mean to go that far."
You said there's a part of you that wished you had done what David Chase did with "The Sopranos." How do you want, or how do you expect, people to react when we get to the end of this?
I hope it's satisfying. Ultimately, I hope it's satisfying. This one is a closed-end story to an extent, setting aside "Caprica" for the moment. It's a beginning, middle and end, "Battlestar Galactica." This big story, how it all began, the apocalypse of the 12 Colonies, then the journey, and then they get here. This is the end of all these characters that you have come to know and love. I really wanted it to be satisfying and answer questions that the audience has asked for a long time. I wanted them to like the answers, or at least appreciate the answers, that thought was given to them. At the end, you can say goodbye to the characters as you're saying goodbye to the show, and there's not a dry eye in the house.
The Emmy nominations came out last week. Michael Angeli got a writing nomination, which is more than I was expecting, but no Mary McDonnell, no Edward James Olmos, no Michael Hogan or anybody else. What, if anything, is it ever going to take for a sci-fi show, even one with performances as genius as you have, to break out of the ghetto and get people to pay attention?
I'd say it was good news, bad news on the Emmy front. It was really surprising that we broke into Cinematography, that surprised me, that we broke into Editing was huge, and that we got Writing two years in a row. Both those trends feel positive, that we've been accepted by the Academy, the Academy tends to go back to shows that they like, so it feels like we're making inroads there and we're making momentum.
The actor thing is criminal. I'll say that flat out. It is just wrong. God love all the actors and actresses who got nominations, but I refuse to believe that Eddie and Mary did not do work on a par with people who were nominated in those categories. And at this point in the run of the series, they absolutely should have at least one nomination apiece.
And the thing is, the way the nominations process was set up this year, people actually had to sit in a room and watch Mary in "Faith."
I don't know what that's about, I don't know what personal preferences they're indulging. It's just stupid.
I know you've said the title can be a barrier sometimes, but I wonder how much the genre itself is.
I think it is. The title of the show, the title of the network is two strikes against us right there. There's a hard-core group of people who are resistant to this genre. One of things I used to slough it off as was that Sci Fi's reach isn't that big, but AMC? AMC's entire viewership is probably in this hotel. It's very small, their critical acclaim for "Breaking Bad" and "Mad Men" is on par to what we've gotten, and those are tremendous shows. But we're a tremendous show, and the Emmys back up the truck over there and don't do it over here.
And a lot of what you're saying about how "Caprica" is going to be different sounds really interesting, but I wonder if those outsiders who don't want to watch sci-fi, but might be interested in the political themes, are going to come and watch it.
I don't know. That'll be the challenge for marketing the show. You have to go out and convince people, "You may not like sci-fi, but you'll like this one." That's the angle they tried with "Battlestar," but there's still a spaceship going by and people may have turned it on, seen that and gone, "No" and turned it off. People shooting at robots, "No." In "Caprica," if we can at least get you to watch, you'll see people talking, and people in dramatic situations, and not stuff blowing up all the time, and hopefully we can get that slice of the audience.
Other than the toasters getting free will this year, what are some other stories you had to drop that, all things being equal, you wish you could have done something with?
The big one that we had to make a shift on in the first season is we never got out into the civilian fleet and showed those other ships. I always felt like different cultures would be on different ships, and as time went on, would develop into their own little mini-societies depending on their circumstances. Over here, you have one captain and 50 people, and here you have four captains and 500 people, those are very different worlds that they're trapped in. For production reason, we were never able to leave Galactica for any length of time. That's a big open chapter that I never got to write.
Things I would have done differently was the Lee and Dualla romance. It sounded better in theory than the way it worked out, and I would've laid more pipe to get there in the beginning if I had known. As it was, it felt a little too thrown together and punched in too quickly.
"Black Market" dealt with the fleet and I know you didn't like that one, but "Dirty Hands" did a nice job of showing what life would be like if you're stuck on one of the crappy ships.
"Dirty Hands" I thought was nice. It did raise your eyebrows, "Wow, what is happening on all those ships I see floating around all the time?"
The movie, what can you tell me?
Not much. It's being written right now, Jane Espenson is writing it.
Is it set during the life of the series?
Can you tell me when?
It's before this current season. It's sort of ala "Razor," we couldn't come back in where the story is right now, so we're going back a little bit.
But season four picks up right after "Crossroads," so is it during season three?
Yeah, it's back a ways.
What is the story you're trying to tell with this, thematically?
It's looking at the earlier history of the show through different eyes, a different perspective.