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And They Have a Plan!

November 4th, 2009
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As with Monday’s post, today’s blog contains SPOILERS for many plot twists of the spectacular Battlestar Galactica series, so be warned!  If you haven’t seen the series (or if you’re in the midst of watching it on DVD but haven’t made it to the end yet), then I hope you enjoy today’s hi-LARious Inglourious Basterds cartoon, and then c’mon back on Friday for my review of The Invention of Lying.

OK, all the rest of you BSG fans still with me?  Then let’s dive in.

Starting with the very first episode of the first season, “33,” each installment of BSG (for the first few years) began with the words (say ’em with me now):

The Cylons were created by man.  They rebelled.  They evolved.  They look and feel human,  Some are programmed to think they are human.  There are many copies.  And they have a plan.

It was that last line, “and they have a plan,” that was the most intriguing to me — and, ultimately, the most frustrating.  Throughout the early episodes of the show we watched our heroes in the ragtag fleet attempting to flee their destroyed worlds, all the while being dogged by Cylon attack forces as well as various Cylon agents within the fleet.  The bold declaration that “they have a plan” implied that there was more going on than we knew — a larger, over-arching goal towards which the Cylons were working (beyond, apparently, the simple extermination of humanity).  The glimpses we got of the Cylons (mostly through the adventures of Helo, trapped with an Eight on “Cylon-Occupied Caprica”) furthered this notion.

But as the series progressed, and we began to spend more time with the Cylon characters and get to know their histories and the distinct personalities of the different models (and sometimes the differences between Cylons of the same model number), it started to seem that there was no larger plan to speak of.  By the time we got to the New Caprica arc (the high-point of the show, in my mind), it seemed that the Cylons were just as confused and uncertain as the humans.  This provided for fascinating storytelling and the bringing of commendable depth to the “villain” characters, but it also seemed to me to be in contradiction to the bold, declarative statement that “they have a plan.”

While I have complaints about the final season of the show (click here for my thoughts on the finale), one of the plot developments that I most enjoyed was the development of Cavill, played so menacingly by the great Dean Stockwell (Quantum Leap).  As the back-story of the Final Five Cylons was (confusingly) played out, we learned that it was Cavill who was behind much of what had transpired, both during the time-span of the series as well as the back-story (in his placing of the Five into Colonial society some thirty-years before).  The implication, cleverly, was that there WAS indeed a plan all along — it just wasn’t anything like what we’d thought when the show began.  I liked that idea a lot, but I felt that there was still a disconnect between the revelations of the show’s final episodes and all that had gone down during the early seasons.

Well, apparently the BSG writers (or at least talented scribe Jane Espenson) agreed, which brings me (finally!) to the absolutely marvelous new direct-to-DVD film, The Plan.

Written by Ms. Espenson and directed by Edward James Olmos (the Old Man himself, who also directed many terrific episodes of the series), The Plan brings us the story of Cavill.  Or actually, of the TWO Cavills who we first met during the excellent second season two-parter “Lay Down Your Burdens.”  There’s the Cavill who was a part of Sam Anders’ resistance group on Caprica (this is the fedora-wearing Cavill), and the Cavill in the fleet who we first meet as the priest that Tryol goes to when he becomes convinced he’s a Cylon sleeper agent like Boomer (scenes given a much different spin in light of the events of the show’s final year!).  In The Plan, we meet the Cavills in the day immediately preceding the Cylons’ destruction of the Twelve Colonies, and follow their separate stories through the events of the first two seasons of the show until the events of “Lay Down Your Burdens” once again bring them together aboard the Galactica.

But The Plan is not JUST the story of the two Cavills.  It is also a staggeringly complex jigsaw puzzle that pulls together a dazzling number of plot threads and characters from throughout the run of the show.

The Plan allows us to see heretofore unglimpsed exploits of characters who weren’t on the show during the miniseries and the early episodes (like Cavill himself) such as Sam Anders, Ellen Tigh, and Tory Foster.  We get to see, now, how they survived the Cylon attack and how they made it through the tumultuous days that followed until we eventually meet them in the series.  Sam, in particular, gets a lot of screen-time in The Plan, and we see how he transformed from a fun-loving athlete into the tough fighter he was when we (and Kara) first met him in “Resistance.”  We also learn, finally, why it took so long for Ellen Tigh to seek out her husband Saul (in “Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down”), despite her having been in the ragtag fleet for months before she first appeared in that episode.  (I must point out, though, that Tory does get short shrift — while The Plan gives us a glimpse of her from right before the Cylon attack, we never actually learn how she got herself onto one of the ships in the ragtag fleet — a curious oversight!)

The Plan also gives us a lot of terrific new character development for many of the Cylon characters.  I was most intrigued by the wonderful story given to one of the Simons (first glimpsed in the series as the doctor operating on Kara Thrace in “The Farm”), who I always felt was the least-developed Cylon on the show.  I was also THRILLED that Simon’s story allowed the writers to bring back the actress Lymari Nadal, who had ONE LINE in the original miniseries (as a civilian woman who Apollo helps out of a shuttle on Colonial One while she asks about her husband) and flesh out a complex and tragic storyline for her character.  We also get to spend an enormous amount of additional time with Boomer.  While her “sleeper agent” storyline during the first season was intriguing, I never exactly understood how all of that worked.  If she didn’t know she was a Cylon, how and when did she “switch on” in order to plant the bombs in Galactica’s water supply (in “Water”) or shoot the Old Man (in “Kobol’s Last Gleaming Pt. II”)?  Well, The Plan finally gives us some answers to those questions, and in a way that only adds to the heartbreaking story of that character.  There’s lots of other fun stuff, too, such as what prompted the Doral in the fleet to blow himself up (in “Litmus”), and, even more interestingly, just how Leoben’s fascination with Kara began.

Finally, and most delightfully, The Plan fills in a number of scenes we suspected might have happened but never saw during the first two seasons of the show.  To my delight, we finally see who Six was talking to in the miniseries, after she leaves Baltar in the park on Caprica to meet someone (to whom we hear her say “you’re late”).  FINALLY now we get to see the other half of that scene — who she’s talking to, and why they were meeting.  And as this DVD movie progresses, we see scene after scene from the early episodes of the show interwoven with new material that answers long-standing questions (such as — YAY! — who wrote Adama the note in the miniseries warning him that “there are twelve models”) as well as countless questions that we never even knew we had.  We get to see how so many of the events of the early seasons connected, and how they fit into of Cavill’s unfolding plan.

This is historical revisionism of the best kind.  I am quite confident that the writers of BSG‘s early episodes did not have much of this in mind when they were creating those early shows.  But what Ms. Espenson has done is to make us believe that they DID really have all this in mind, and to allow us to see those events from an entirely different perspective.

This is NOT a movie aimed at a Battlestar newbie.  And if it’s been a while since you’ve seen the first two seasons of the show, there is a lot that might go over your head.  The Plan is extraordinarily fast-placed, constantly jumping around in location and time and bouncing from event to event and character to character.  It relies on your knowing how those early episodes unfolded so that, for instance, when we see Leoben being interrogated by Kara (in “Flesh and Bone”), or when we see Baltar being publicly accused of being a Cylon Collaborator by a Six calling herself Shelley Godfrey (in “Six Degrees of Separation”), you know how those events wound up.  As someone who has watched the first season of BSG several times, I was constantly giggling with glee as I watched The Plan reference one obscure event from those early shows after another.  (And the highest compliment I can pay The Plan is that it makes me want to go back and watch those episodes yet again.)

Before wrapping up, I must also heap additional praise on the stunning, marvelous, jaw-dropping visual effects of The Plan.  BSG has consistently had, ever since the initial miniseries, amazing, feature-film-quality visual effects, but The Plan trumps everything that we’ve seen before.  The astounding opening montage (whose details I won’t spoil here), the horrifying imagery (never-before-seen in detail, just hinted at in the miniseries and in “Razor”) of the Cylons’ destruction of the Twelve Colonies (and finally we see imagery from many of the other colonies, not just Caprica), more great Centurian effects… the list goes on and on.  The effects wizards have outdone themselves this time.  I can’t think of a sci-fi movie from the past two decades that has had better effects.

So, I really liked The Plan, can you tell?  There are one or two mis-steps (such as showing us a shot of Apollo in his fighter while Adama declares “we are at war,” when, oops, Apollo wasn’t with Galactica when that scene happened in the miniseries, rather he was with Roslin on her ship) but nothing that distracts from my tremendous enjoyment of the film.  The Plan is astoundingly complex — never dumbing things down for the audience, but rather assuming that we all know the series very intimately and don’t need to have everything re-explained to us — and also emotionally potent.  It connects the beginning of the series more directly to its ending (without getting bogged down in any of the Final Five silliness that I felt hampered the fourth season), and reminds me of everything I loved about this series, the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica.

“You can’t declare war on love, brother.”  “I think I just did.”

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