It has been 10 years since Ronald D. Moore’s reimagined Battlestar Galactica jumped into the scene via SyFy network, and it’s lasting impressions can still be felt today.
Many consider Battlestar Galactica to be one of the few truly successful TV franchises to be rebooted, considering it has now known life as 5 different series, and is currently in development for a full on film. The show at it’s core was a drama about broken people; their struggles to survive after their entire existence was challenged in a very Phillip K. Dick-ian sense by Cylons (humanoid sentient highly evolved robots) on their quest for souls and answers. Yes this all happens on massive ships in space with the occasional airlocking of antagonists making it a science fiction space opera masterpiece, BSG is always listed as an “Action/Adventure/Drama”.
After a conversation surrounding this post by WIRED magazine, the idea of asking some of the alum cast/crew if they have ever rewatched the series in full, have favorite/iconic episodes, and in general their thoughts and feelings about the impact of the show 10 years later. (This is also inspired by actress Nicki Clyne [Caly Tyrol on the show] and her livetweeting while watching the initial mini-series on the 10th anniversary of it’s airing on December 8, 2003.) And as it happens, even Entertainment Weekly jumped in on this time of BSG retrospective with this glowing review piece about the ‘mini series’, aka the pilot of the series.
I sent out a basic questionnaire to several of the writers, directors, some of the stars of the series, consultants, and even series composer Bear McCreary hoping to garner candid responses. I’ll post the questions, followed by the various responses and who said them:
1.) Did you watch the show as it aired?
Aaron Douglas (Chief Galen Tyrol): I did not but that was more of a product of living in Canada and not having a channel that was airing it along with the US.
Bear McCreary: I never missed an episode. At first, it was just with friends and family. Then, with increasing frequency, at fan events. Watching a new episode with a fresh crowd offered invaluable perspective and really helped me do my job, reassured me when I did something right, and confirmed my instincts when something fell short of my ambitions. It all becomes instantly clear when I could see the show with a crowd. Besides that, I was (and remain) a tremendous fan of the series, so it was a joy to watch an episode with all the complete sound effects, visual effects and, yes, music.
Michael Nankin (director of several episodes): I was fortunate enough to have directed 8 episodes of BSG (Including one Wired wants you to skip!) We all did. On most TV shows, when everyone shows up the day after an episode airs, all the buzz is about “the numbers.” How did we do? Did we go up in the second half hour? BSG was different. We were all fans. The day after buzz we geeked out about our favorite scenes. You also have to understand that BSG had a long post-production period, so it aired MONTHS after we had worked on it–so it was like watching something new.
David Weddle (writer/producer): I watched the dailies of every episode as they came in; I watched the director’s cuts of every episode, as well as the producer’s cuts, and I watched each episode as it aired.
Bradley Thompson (writer/producer): Yes. I wanted to share the experience with our viewers.
2.) Have you rewatched the series in it’s entirety since it ended? How many times?
Aaron Douglas: Not from start to finish, but I have watched pieces here and there. I was in a somewhat bad head/heartspace for a lot of the filming of BSG and going back brings up some tough memories.
Bear McCreary: To be honest, I’ve not yet returned to it. I don’t think I’m ready yet. (I rarely go back and watch anything I’ve ever worked on once its done). Sometimes I see bits of it on TV and I am always overcome by a rush of emotions. I’m nostalgic for that time in my life, proud of the accomplishments, and a little horrified at the sound of my score, since I feel like I’ve evolved so much since then. One of these days, I’ll go back and watch it from the top to the bottom once more.
Michael Nankin: No. I’ve revisited some episodes–and have used a lot of scenes as a teacher. But I haven’t taken the Sentimental Journey.
David Weddle: I watched the show again, from the first episode through the finale, shortly after the finale aired.
Bradley Thompson: No. I have watched little pieces here and there, and keep finding myself being carried off by the memories behind the episodes. I’m not ready to look back.
3.) Are there any episodes that in your mind are “skippable”? (As they are called in the article from WIRED)
Aaron Douglas: (All of the eps that I am not in *winky face*) I don’t think so, I think they all have value and add to the story and help flesh out each character. To me a TV series is art just like a painting and we don’t, or shouldn’t, just look at pieces of a painting, you stand back, take it all in and then move closer to pick out details.
Bear McCreary: Skippable? Not in the least. Are there episodes that are weaker than others and don’t support the main narrative? Sure. But, they are still fun excisions with characters we love. Some critics and fans love to pick on Season 2’s “Black Market,” and while its not one of my favorites, I think it had some really fun moments and it birthed one of my most rockin’ pieces of music ever. I got to score scenes with Bill Duke! So, I have a fondness for it. I’ll take one of the few lesser BSG episodes over the vast majority of television any day of the week.
Michael Nankin: The Black Market episode is totally skippable, as is the one about the guest star doctor who is murdering people.
David Weddle: I feel the episodes run the gamut from great, to good, to bad. There were maybe a half-dozen poor episodes in the entire run of the series, which I think is a very strong record, considering that unlike most cable series today we were producing 22 episodes per season. (SciFi Channel broke those 22-episode production runs into 11 episode increments when they aired the show, but they were produced in runs of 22, which puts considerably more pressure on the writers and production staff.)
Bradley Thompson: Depends upon why someone’s watching. Are there “skippable” chapters in Dickens? That would depend upon whether you want the whole experience or the abridged version. Do you just want to know what happened, or to share the journey we all went on back then, complete with the byways and dead ends?
4.) Do you have any favorite episodes that should “not be missed”?
Aaron Douglas: The episode where Tyrol builds the Blackbird is one of my favourites.
One of my most memorable moments was the Chief/Roslin scene at the end of “Dirty Hands”. Mary is the most powerful actor I have ever worked with and that was the first time that it was just the two of us and it was an incredible blessing to spend 4 hours with that amazing woman. I love her dearly.
Bear McCreary: So many. It’s truly Impossible to list them all. The first ones that spring to mind are “Revelations” and “Sometimes a Great Notion.” They are so epic, so filled with… well, revelation, anguish, despair, emotion. They represent such daring story-telling. The first four episodes of Season 3 also come to mind, the New Caprica occupation story arc. It was topical, riveting, and ended with the series most satisfying battles. That was when I knew the series was really going to land a place in television history. I’d never seen anything like that before.
Michael Nankin: Every one in which a main character dies–and there are a lot of them.
David Weddle: I feel the episodes run the gamut from great, to good, to bad. There were maybe a half-dozen poor episodes in the entire run of the series, which I think is a very strong record, considering that unlike most cable series today we were producing 22 episodes per season. (SciFi Channel broke those 22-episode production runs into 11 episode increments when they aired the show, but they were produced in runs of 22, which puts considerably more pressure on the writers and production staff.)Bradley Thompson: Of course I do. Many. Start with “33.”
5.) Character driven moments and story arcs that either elated or infuriated you as either a fan or a member of the production?
Aaron Douglas: Helo not poisoning the Cylons. He had the chance to end it all right there and didn’t. Romo and his stupid sunglasses that he wore inside…in space…with no sun near us… ugh! The Cylon reveal. I thought, holy shit, fans are going to go nuts. Ron letting me keep my hair and beard for New Caprica and then letting me shave my head in season 4. Tyrol snapping Tory’s neck. And what the frak was Starbuck??!?!
Bear McCreary: Any fan will have their opinions, what they liked and didn’t. For me, personally, I was never as interested in the Final Five identities as much as I was with the aftermath of their discovery. That’s why I was glad the writers didn’t save that revelation until the end of the show. It was much more satisfying to get them at the end of Season Three (except for one, of course) and then spend a season learning how that revelation affected each of them.
Michael Nankin: Elated: Aaron Douglas and Grace Park sharing the hallucination of the domestic life they could have had. Infuriated: Dean Stockwell blowing his brains out. Why?
David Weddle: Even though I find a handful of episodes to be weak, I do not think any of them are “skippable” because the ongoing storylines in Battlestar were intricately woven and even the weakest episodes have important narrative threads that pay off in later episodes. If you skip weak episodes, you will miss important moments of character development that fuel the dramatic power of later events.
Bradley Thompson: Those elations and infuriations were the reason to do (and watch) the series in the first place.
6.) Do you feel the show impacted the face of modern science fiction tv/storytelling?
Aaron Douglas: Absolutely. I think people take scifi a little more seriously now. If only the award types would look at the work of actors, writers, directors, FX, hair and makeup, post production, score, etc… people. We’re not quite there yet.
Bear McCreary: Without question, BSG had a huge impact on the landscape of popular culture. Personally, I think it lands on a short list, up there with The Sopranos, The Wire and Lost, of series that showed the world that television could be as narratively satisfying as the movies. Now, ten years later, that statement is never argued. I think BSG cracked open the door that would eventually be burst open by mainstream genre mega-hits like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones. I often feel that BSG doesn’t get the credit it deserves for that.
Michael Nankin: Yes, completely in cinema style, visual effects and it’s ability to wreak havoc with audiences identification with good/bad characters.
David Weddle: My favorite episodes would include every single one that Ron Moore wrote. Ron’s a genius, and I found every script that he wrote for the series to be brilliant and revelatory. I think Michael Taylor did a superb job with the script of “Unfinished Business,” one of the very best episodes of the series. And I think Mark Verheiden and Michael Angeli’s scripts for the Galactica mutiny in the fourth season were among the most electrifying and devastating in the entire run of the show. As for the episodes that Brad and I wrote, I feel very privileged to have worked on many of the Kara Thrace storylines and to have played a pivotal role in constructing the dramatic arc of her character. Katee Sackhoff is an incandescent talent. She brought many dimensions and turbulent emotions to Starbuck and it was a thrill and an honor to write for her. We worked closely with director Michael Nankin on most of those episodes. It remains the most exciting and fulfilling collaboration I have had with a director. My favorite episodes that Brad and I wrote include: “The Hand of God,” “Scar,” “Maelstrom,” “Revelations,” “Sometimes a Great Notion,” and “Someone to Watch Over Me.” “Maelstrom” is my personal favorite. I’m not saying it is the best episode we wrote, but it’s the one closest to my heart because the story of Kara Thrace and her mother gave me an opportunity to write about my relationship with my father and delve as deep into the pain of that as I could. As a producer, I am most proud of “Someone to Watch Over Me” because Brad and I brought Bear McCreary in at the earliest stages of writing and brought him up to Vancouver to work with Michael Nankin and the actors on the set and he became a integral part of the creative team for that episode. I’m very proud that we took the initiative to do that.
Bradley Thompson: That’s for others to decide. My biggest concern is that our viewers felt like they got a ride worth their time.
7.) Were/are you happy with the ending of the series?
Aaron Douglas: I personally loved it. I thought it was genius. How else are you going to end it? David and Ron told an amazing tale and we went out on our terms, that I like most. And Chief is the King of Scotland…. forever.
Bear McCreary: Very much so. I recognize that it didn’t answer all the questions that the series asked, but it resolved the narrative arcs for the characters we had all fallen in love with. That matters so much more. There was a real sense of conclusion, the end of a long journey that we collectively went on with our characters.
Michael Nankin: Quite a bit. I know it has detractors, but it works beautifully for me.
Bradley Thompson: No, I wanted it to go on forever. But that would have eventually led to disappointment, and I think Ron was absolutely right to end it when we did. The central question of the series was whether humanity get killed off or not, and keeping that unanswered any longer would have become a wank. Regarding the mysteries left unanswered – a directing coach once pointed out that “good questions are often make much better drama than good answers.” My favorite example of this comes from Ray Davies of the Kinks in “Sunny Afternoon”. He sang: “My girlfriend ran off with my car, going back to her ma and pa, telling tales of drunkenness and cruelty.” Had Mr. Davies specified what those tales were, or whether they were true or false, he wouldn’t have had nearly the artistic impact on me, and I wouldn’t still be quoting them, even though I first heard them in 1967.
8.) How has being involved with the show impacted your life?
Aaron Douglas: It bought me a house….I made incredible long lasting friendships with some people I really adore and am humbled to have in my life to call friends. The show has taken me all around the world visiting places I would probably have never visited if there wasn’t a convention. I now have friends all over the planet who I get to see every couple of years and we pick up like we were never apart and I truly love that. It has also opened doors that I doubt I would’ve been able to walk through if it wasn’t for an exceptional piece of art. And people buy me beers.
Bear McCreary: The series has had an immeasurable impact on my life. It shaped me as an artist, and helped me make the transition from enthusiastic amateur to a professional musician. But beyond that, the experience allowed me to forge relationships and friendships that have endured now longer than the show was even on the air, and I know will continue to last for the rest of my life. I will always be grateful for my time aboard the Battlestar Galactica. So say we all, indeed.
Michael Nankin: I’ve made life-long friends, done a lot of work I’m proud of, and had a wickedly good time. And I have a Peabody Award hanging in my office.
David Weddle: I’m obviously biased, but I think Battlestar Galactica is one of the best science fiction shows ever produced for television. That’s an incredibly egotistical statement, but I credit the show’s success to Ron Moore, who was the true visionary behind BSG. I was just lucky enough to work on it. Like The Twilight Zone, Battlestar became an allegory for an agonizing period in American history. Zone addressed the angst and terror of the nuclear age, a time when the world lived in fear that a push of a button could bring radioactive death to the entire planet, and science had brought us to the precipice of the apocalypse. Rod Serling explored that terror in episode after episode. And yet that show has transcended the angst of the 50’s and 60’s because it addressed fundamental existential issues that resonate with audiences today and that will continue to resonate 100 years from now. I think Ron Moore pulled off a similar feat in Battlestar, a show that became an allegory for the 9-11 years, but one that will continue to resonate for decades to come because it explores fundamental human issues. I know a lot of fans hated the finale of Battlestar. But for the record, just as many loved it, and I’m one of them. One of the major complaints seemed to be that we failed to tie up all the loose story threads. Who the hell was Kara Thrace? – many complained. It was a cop-out – some said – to never explain how the hell she came back from the dead and whether she was an angel or a figment of a mass hallucination among the Battlestar survivors, or something else entirely. I can tell you that every writer on the staff had a different opinion on that and they were conflicting opinions. I have my own theory about who she was, but that doesn’t mean it’s the correct answer and it would be reductive for me to articulate it to the public. I’m very proud of the fact that we never explicitly answered the mystery of Kara Thrace. Why? I will let my greatest literary hero, Ken Kesey – author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion – answer that question. Kesey made a key observation about both life and drama: “The answer is never the answer. What’s really interesting is the mystery. If you seek the mystery instead of the answer, you’ll always be seeking. I’ve never really seen anybody find the answer – they think they have so they stop thinking. But the job is to seek mystery, plant a garden in which strange things grow and mysteries bloom. The need for mystery is greater than the need for an answer.”
Bradley Thompson: It showed me what could happen when a bunch of really talented and committed people could accomplish. And it gave me friends I cherish to this day. What more could I ask for?