In the Battlestar Galactica movie “The Plan,” two different Cavil copies set out to enact the Cylon plan for human eradication, but both ultimately come to two opposing ideas about humanity. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Battlestar Galactica. For the last time. No, I’m not crying at all.
I don’t imagine anyone could watch “The Plan” if they’d not been a pretty big fan of the general series, as the movie pretty much caters to Battlestar Galactica completists in one sense. But what surprised me by the time the end credits rolled was how Jane Espenson (who wrote this film) and Edward James Olmos (who directed it) were still able to find one hell of a compelling narrative out of a story that sometimes relies a bit too much on archival footage.
In that sense, it’s both a weakness and a strength that, like Razor, “The Plan” aims to re-contextualize two entire seasons of this show, by showing us the detailed accounts of the Cylons to enact their “plan” for humanity. There’s some retconning here, too: some of it is necessary and welcome, and some of it wasn’t all that great. (ROSLIN AIRLOCKS. Do not change that!) But when all is said and done, I welcomed the chance to expand on the Ones, the Fives, Leoben, and a specific Four/Simon with deeper character backstories and a much fuller sense of the motivations of the Cylons on this show.
Perhaps it’s a testament to the storytelling power of Battlestar Galactica, but I’d sort of forgotten about the fact that the Cylons once had a plan that they abandoned halfway through the show. I mean, everything from the beginning of season three on was so goddamn real and intense that this storyline was like child’s play in comparison. But I was very quickly reminded just how intense this show has always been from the beginning, and the expanded time allows Espenson and Olmos to show us the attack on the Colonies in frightening, horrific detail. I actually think it’s an important context to have: we shouldn’t ever forget what the Cylons did to the Twelve Colonies all those years ago. The genocide of the human race was calculated, brutal, and unbelievably violent. I don’t know if the budget for “The Plan” was drastically higher than that of an individual episode, but it sure looks like it. We get to see exterior (and destructive) shots of colonies we’d never once seen during the show, and when the Cylon MIRVs do hit these planets, the chaos is just overwhelming to watch.
But it’s just one aspect of quite a few that I enjoyed while watching “The Plan.” That plan is far more clear; I suspected that Cavil had something to do with it the entire time, but it’s outright confirmed that he lead the destruction of the Twelve Colonies in some perverted sense of justice and morality, believing that by cleansing the universe of humans, he is setting things right. One of the most unnerving things about this is watching the various Cylons spread about the fleet smiling or expressing brief moments of joy as humanity is almost entirely wiped out. But the flaw in their plan (or moreso Cavil’s, that is) is that these humanoid Cylons have rarely spent any significant time with humans, or they’ve done so in entirely saccharine ways. It’s one of the more fascinating reveals for a Cylon character: as cynical, all-knowing, and determined as the Ones are, their own naivete led them to this moment anyway, enacting a plan that was doomed from the start.
What the Ones underestimated was the “human” elements of the humanoid models, as well as the capacity for both empathy and sympathy. Cavil spent this show actively decrying his own “humanity” in the pursuit of something much more meaningful, and that’s his downfall. He didn’t see the Sixes falling in love with Baltar or Tigh. He couldn’t predict Boomer’s dual crisis of conscience. (Oh god, I love that we found out she wasn’t entirely a programmed agent with absolutely no free will, and both her Cylon and human sides were unsure whether she should betray the humans.) He could not have predicted Simon’s love for Giana being genuine enough that he would refuse his mission and kill himself permanently.
Oh, Giana. Can I just take a moment to gush about how rad it is that this show retroactively added a Latina woman to the cast and she is fierce and lovely and hilarious and THIS COULD HAVE BEEN AN UTTER DISASTER. Introducing new ideas, new continuity, and new canon is risky enough as it is, especially after the fact. But a whole new character that you have to weave into a remarkably complicated plot? OH GOD, IT WAS DONE SO WELL. Her story reminded me that there was once a time when these characters were horrified to find out that they were in a relationship with a Cylon, that it was once the deepest form of betrayal imaginable. There was also once a time when no one even knew that Cylons looked like humans, and Barolay’s emotional breakdown at this discovery still chilled me to witness.
But it was also interesting to know who the Final Five were and to see the Cavils interact with them, knowing that he viewed this as a punishment for them. (Though I imagine because Mary McDonnell wasn’t in this, that means we couldn’t get much of Tory Foster. Boooo, I liked her. Well, until she KILLED CALLY BOOOOOO SOME MORE.) Again, the man underestimated what the human experience is like. We see how Anders had to face his own sense of cowardice and loyalty on the surface of Caprica, and how that came to inform his appreciation for living. Boomer’s own missions from Cavil are rarely executed as planned, and it’s her hesitance to commit to them that ultimately prevents the Galactica population from dying.
However, it was Simon and Giana who intrigued me the most. I know I said during the regular run of BSG episodes that I wish we had more of Simon. LITTLE DID I KNOW I WOULD HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL NOW. Simon’s medical expertise proves to be part of his unraveling; the man not only grew to close to his wife and child, but having to treat those around him from the effects of the Cylon infiltration is too much for him.
I’d always viewed Simon as being direct and calculating, but in “The Plan,” he’s far more emotive and sympathetic than I previously thought. Of course, his story wouldn’t be as interesting if Espenson hadn’t chosen to include Giana’s perspective at the same time, to show both sides of a relationship that is slowly crumbling.
And that’s really what this show manages to do so well: to tell both sides of the story and leave us feel awkward and weird and unsure of what we feel. Cavil was wrong: Simon had the capacity for love, and loving his family was not an immoral, impure act, and for that, Simon chose to end his life instead of betraying his wife and child and blowing up his ship. But it was also made clear that aside from this, Simon simply didn’t believe there really was a plan. He isn’t the only one to vocalize the absurdity of this all: Why must they exterminate the few tens of thousands of survivors as well? Why can’t they just leave? Why is the plan so brutal? And as the other Cylon models start to question these very ideas, the best part of this movie is that Cavil himself begins to doubt the very premise this “plan” was built on.
It’s not that we haven’t seen different Cylons of the same model disagree before; Six and Eight did it pretty much regularly. But there’s something about John Cavil that’s so very different from all of the other Cylons. It’s that combination of intellectual wonder and hateful cynicism that sets him apart. Knowing his full story, his creation and his rebellion, puts the events in this movie into a new light. He despised humanity, and it came from his hatred of his human body. By hating himself, he hated others. What will always fascinate me is how completely unaware the humanoid Cylons were of their very human behavior, and Cavil’s bigotry is a perfect example of that.
There really is a lot of new information in “The Plan,” a lot of it filling in tiny plot twists from seasons one and two. I don’t think there’s necessarily a need to discuss each and every one of them. (Though it was nice to find out how Gina Inviere disappeared, and how Tyrol got the idea to try and kill himself at the end of season two.) The one thing that shocked and confused me the most was the reveal of how Leoben came to believe that Starbuck was destined for greatness. I liked the detail that his proficiency for working with technology was seeded this far back in the show, especially since we later saw him help out Laura Roslin during season four. I can buy that he would become obsessed with Starbuck just by listening to her actions, and I can also believe that he would think she was special because she was able to commandeer Cylon Raider. But I’m unsure where in the show’s mythology this all fits. So…Leoben possessed some prophetic skill? Was it a message from one of the gods or God or whatever to Leoben to help direct her to Earth so that things would end up as they did at the end of season four? I mean, it does explain how he knew so much about her, but….I don’t get it? SOMEONE EXPLAIN THIS TO ME.
I suppose that’s just a small part of the story. This really is just two hours of Dean Stockwell being fierce and fabulous, isn’t it? The two Cavil copies that we follow over the course of “The Plan” both ultimately believe differently about humanity, with the One on Caprica convinced otherwise by Anders’s love for his friends, even after many of them have died. The other Cavil, meanwhile, learns that he’s totally cool stabbing a child to death. No, seriously, WHAT THE FUCK. Where did that come from? He just did it because…the kid was annoying? Yeah, that’s cool. Though I guess it does make some sense; he wants to eradicate humanity from the universe, so…he’ll just stab one child at a time?
Whatever. Let’s just talk about how wonderfully disturbing the end of “The Plan” is, fully explaining the conversation between the two Cavils from “Lay Down Your Burdens, Part II.” We now know that the main Cavil who ostensibly killed himself in the CIC during “Daybreak,” chose to ignore that even one of his own models went against his own plan for a complete human genocide. Acting out a revenge against the Final Five by going after humanity was a terrible error of judgment, and the Caprica version of Cavil knows this. It’s amazing to me how Dean Stockwell makes subtle changes between the two versions of himself; you can actually tell the difference between the two. But this is the only chance we’ll ever get to see Caprica Cavil, who was boxed after he and the Galactica Cavil were airlocked.
The best use of archival footage is at the very end: as the two Cavils join hands and are jettisoned out into space, we hear Cavil’s monologue to Ellen Tigh from “No Exit.” He wants to experience a supernova, to feel life as a machine, and freed from his limiting human body. As horrific as Cavil was throughout this show, I never felt he was a stereotypical villain, and he might be one of the most tragic characters on the whole show. Angry at his creators for giving him a life he didn’t want, he lashed out at the universe around him, hoping to find the meaning he wanted, but in the end, he died without ever getting any closer to it.
I like “The Plan,” though it would be neat to see all the new scenes intercut into the regular showÂ so that we get a fuller idea of what’s going on. This movie just made me miss the show, though. I know it’s only been a week, but Battlestar Galactica has had such a profound effect on my life. Seeing these characters again–and being reminded of the journey of the first two seasons–just made me love this all so much more. I don’t know that there are that many other shows with writing as wonderful as this one, and I don’t know that many other shows are able to develop such complex and touching characters as the writers have here.
I will watch Caprica for the site, probably after I finish Buffy The Vampire Slayer. WHICH STARTS IN A WEEK, BY THE WAY holy shit. Thank you, BSG fans, for joining me on this little adventure, and for discussing this show with me. I’ll miss it.