An Oral History Of Battlestar Galactica’s Final Season [Exclusive]

EXCLUSIVES

“Daybreak” was the chronological end of the four-season journey, but it wasn’t the last chapter of “Battlestar Galactica” produced. In October 2009, a direct-to-DVD movie called “The Plan” was released, retelling the first two seasons from the Cylons’ perspective and shedding light on what the “plan” they had (as described in the title sequence) was. “The Plan” was written by Espenson as a matter of fate. Since she came onto the show late, she became the only writer still under contract and assumed the responsibility in place of David Weddle and Bradley Thompson.

Espenson: There had been work done on [“The Plan”] before. So that basic structure, thank God, had already been worked out, but there was still a lot of fact-checking of, “Did this character know this at this time? Can we believe that they might have known it? And did this scene happen before that scene?” Oh, it was a logistical nightmare. And even when you’d think you’d have it worked out, you’d get a call like, “Wait, somebody who worked on the show at that time says this actually doesn’t make sense for that,” or, “We don’t have this anymore.” Oh, it was a nightmare.

We had to do things in certain orders because sets were being demolished, and it was some rough sledding, an uncomfortable outdoors Vancouver stuff. But I love a lot of what we came up with and the way it played out there was no plan. These Cylons were just as fallible and as driven by pettiness as humans. And this inexorable enemy was just people with parental issues, who felt abandoned by humanity and were petty princes striking out. I loved that whole thing. I thought that was quite deep, and it was really fun writing for different versions [of Cyclons] that we had only had a few minutes with, or whole new ones.

Edward James Olmos also returned to the director’s chair for “The Plan.” He’d previously directed Espenson’s first episode of season 4, “Escape Velocity,” and she shared what it was like making an episode with him.

Espenson: I got to work a lot with Eddie Olmos, which was amazing. And watching him in casting, watching him, even after we knew we were or were not casting this young actor, he would still spend minutes with each one and usually get them to cry, not by being mean to them, but by making them act. Coaching them through how to evoke a memory or whatever to make them cry, and they would all cry. And you were like, “Oh, man, he is a coach.” And he was a caring coach with every actor. In TV, the writers are the bosses of the directors. So technically you could say, “Hey, Eddie, I’d like another take there,” or, “I’m not sure we got the right version of this,” or, “This line actually means that. Can you make sure that meaning comes through?” But I don’t recall doing that. I mean, Eddie knows what he’s doing and he is the Admiral.

Two prequels followed: “Caprica,” following the creation of the Cylons 58 years before “Battlestar” on the eponymous colony of man, and “Blood and Chrome,” following a young William Adama fighting in the Cylon War. But “Caprica” was canceled after one season and “Blood and Chrome” didn’t make it past the pilot. Eick, who worked on both, gave me his insights on why these didn’t take off.

Eick: That 30,000-foot “what is the show, what is not the show” thing that we had on “Battlestar,” we did not have on “Caprica.” Ron’s involvement vacillated so there was less consistency and less reliability and, as we shored up his absence, I don’t think the people we had in place to do that were the right people, to be totally frank. And I think there were maybe some questionable casting decisions with that one, whereas, with “Battlestar,” I just feel like we got stupid lucky with so many of those people.

[“Caprica”] was always an effortless idea: It was “Dallas” but with artificial intelligence and high tech instead of oil, and it would be a prequel to “Battlestar” and it would illustrate how the war started and those aspects of the idea I loved. I think there were people trying to emulate when Ron would get really hippie-dippy metaphysical with “Battlestar,” and then sometimes it’d get a little wobbly. […] When you don’t have his high-wire act ability which is, let’s say, successful more often than it isn’t and you’re trying to emulate it, it can become mush really quick, just like, “What are you talking about here?” So we ran into that buzzsaw.

By the time we pulled ourselves out of it, which we did, by sheer force of f***ing mandate, we figured out “what is this show?” I remember writing out and I think Ron rewrote a proposal to the network for “Caprica” season 2 and it was f***ing tight, man, it was really good. It was 51/49, man, it just went the other way and we didn’t get that second season. If we’d had the second season, we may have been able to rescue that one. See, now you got me all worked up about “Caprica.”

“Blood and Chrome,” same thing. Just down to the wire, let’s pick this up, we can make a different style of “Battlestar” that’s more of a “Band of Brothers” style of action show and maybe a little more escapist. […] And the book, the bible for the “Blood and Chrome” show was great. Really good, good sh*t […] and they just wouldn’t buy it, I think, because management changes were happening, “Maybe we need to move on from ‘Battlestar,” and do what became their decades-long “it’s not sci-fi but it’s on Sci-Fi Channel” stuff, and it’s a shame. I’m not bitter about it, it’s just one of those things where [it was close.] “Bionic Woman” was not close.

Despite occasional rumblings of another reboot or follow-up, “Battlestar Galactica” has stayed mostly dormant since the early 2010s. Is this failure to be a “Star Trek”-like media franchise and the controversial final scene proof that the show didn’t stick the landing? I don’t think so; a show’s commercial reach, or its becoming a content farm, isn’t the final word on its success. While not everyone was satisfied by the end, it’s a cliche for a reason that the journey is what matters, not the destination. As final proof of how “Battlestar Galactica” touched the lives it reached, I’ll close with the ending of my conversation with Katee Sackhoff and how playing Starbuck shaped her career.

I feel like Starbuck, her characterization and the way you played her, has defined your career since in a lot of ways. Characters you’ve played later, like Bo-Katan in “Star Wars” or Dahl in “Riddick,” are similar badass sci-fi action women. So, I’m just curious, how do you feel about that?

Sackhoff: I grew up watching science-fiction and action films with my father. My dad was my movie buddy, he still is my movie buddy in the sense that we both have the same adoration of film. So as soon as I was given the benefit of choice in my career, which as a young actor you don’t have that benefit, you take whatever jobs you can get because every job begets another job, so I took everything. The moment I had the opportunity to fight for something and then turn something down at the same time in order to do something else, I had two projects sitting in front of me and one was “Battlestar Galactica” and the other one was “NCIS,” and I fought for “Battlestar” with every fiber of my being.

Because I knew that character was going to change my life, because if I could just hold a gun one time, I knew that people would start seeing me differently. Because up to that point, all I played was angsty teenage girls that were misunderstood or annoying or just stereotypical blonde characters. I needed to reinvent myself to create longevity in this industry, and I knew that. So I saw this character come up that there was no age attached to her, there was really no feminine descriptor attached to her whatsoever. They just explained who the character of Starbuck was and that was pretty much it.

I knew that this was a career-changing role, and so I purposefully went that direction because it’s the kind of film I love to watch. I wanted to be Bruce Willis and Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hamilton. I wanted to be these people because I didn’t identify as someone who was strong when I was a kid. I loved to get dirty and I loved to fight with my brother, and I loved to be physical, but there was something about action heroes that had a confidence that I did not have. I loved to pretend like I did. So there was something about them that I adored, and I think that I learned how to play them differently.

I think that because of my own insecurities as an actor, as a woman, as a person, I brought those insecurities into these very stereotypically strong characters, action-based characters. I think what that did was it made them memorable in a weird way, because they were so multidimensional. The strongest female characters that we ever saw on camera were vulnerable, and that’s why Starbuck spoke to so many people. I wouldn’t change it for the world. I wouldn’t change it. I’ve played so many characters that are complicated and strong and vulnerable and misunderstood, and I just think it’s real.

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