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Non-Review Review: Battlestar Galactica – The Plan

It’s a lie. For the first few years, Battlestar Galactica sold itself as a grand mythology. Every episode, in a narration repeated at the start of this film, we were reintroduced to the Cylons and reassured that “They have plan”. Except they didn’t. The show was written year-to-year, with no overarching scheme behind it all. This isn’t a criticism, but an observation. For most of its four year run, the show was the best thing on television. The series finale was a major disappointment but – for the most part – the design worked. So labelling this spin-off as Battlestar Galactica: The Plan is at best a little bit cheeky. At worst it’s a downright lie.

Relax, it's not the end of the world...

The Plan isn’t an accessible movie. It doesn’t open the narrative up. Nor does it provide any necessary details that might enlighten a die-hard fan. It is not in anyway essential. That does not mean, however, that it is not interesting.

The movie opens with a promise that hints at the greatness of the show. It fills in a gap at the end of the second season, with what happens to the two identical Cylon models, the one known as Cavil. Portrayed by Dean Stockwell, he has always been presented as the most genocidal and fanatical of the models. Here, two of them meet up on the fleet. One has been pretending to a priest among the fleet fleeing the advancing Cylon threat. The other has been pretending amongst a rag tag bunch of resistance fighters on the lost colony. The two of them announce their presence to the surviving members of humanity, proposing an armistice. The President responds by throwing them out the airlock.

We join them as they march on down to the airlock to meet their end. The two reflect on how things have been since they parted. Here are two identical individuals who have been apart for ten months living different lives. Those ten months have changed them. The one on the fleet remains bitter and cynical about humanity. The one who has lived in the dirt and the trenches has moderated a bit. The story charts the pair over the ten months.

The film then fills in blanks in the narrative that ran over the first two seasons of the show. Over course, that’s nearly thirty hours of television, so the film has to pick its focus fairly carefully. It also gives the movie a disjointed feeling. Granted, the film really has Dean Stockwell to tie it all together and that works… mostly. Except when it doesn’t – the movie has to focus on the seven hidden Cylon models both on the colony surface and within the fleet itself. The truth is that we don’t need a lot of these gaps filled – we don’t need, for example, to see how Leoben discovered Starbuck’s identity before Flesh and Blood, nor do we need to hear that the Cylon plot to discredit Baltar in Six Degrees of Separation was… well, a Cylon plot to discredit Baltar.

Shining a light on some of the mysteries of the Galactica universe...

On the other hand, some of these needless scenes are entertaining of themselves. Notably the sequence in which Cavil attempts to explain why one of the Fives – who has been already identified as a Cylon – is of little use. He points out that he has been wandering around wearing the same face – even the same jacket – as the identified model. The Five defensively insists that, “His jacket was burgandy. This is teal.” And then, at the end of the sequence, when Cavil suggests the method that the model will use to carry out his attack, he observes that, “They call this a ‘suicide’ vest, but I think that undersells all the homicide that goes along with it, don’t you?” It’s little moments like that which sell the drama and remind the viewer of the greatness that the show was capable of.

As such, it’s the character moments rather than the plot-relevent moments that really work. Those that serve the purpose of plugging plot holes (for example, explaining what happened to the Six who accused Baltar of treachery) ultimately seem unnecessary. However, those that give us little bits of character interactions (for example, the sub-thread juxtaposing a regretful Four and a vicious Cavil in the fleet with slowly humanising Cavil and a hateful Four on the remains of Caprica) are the ones that really work.

And, to be honest, the script does a great job of tying into scenes that occurred during the first two years of the show. For example, during Cavil’s first appearance (comforting a stressed member of the main cast – before we realised that he was a Cylon), he remarked that he had depended on people “and they all let me down”. Here we see where he’s coming from. There are other examples (for example when Baltar accuses his Six of being “a copy” it actually has more impact than it did originally), and the movie dovetails neatly into these scenes.

There is a catch of course. The use of all this existing footage is blended nearly seamlessly into the new footage (I certainly didn’t spot any real difference in video quality, for example). However, some of it does seem awkwardly shoehorned in from a storytelling point of view. It prevents the movie from ever really having a clear narrative flowing through it, instead seeming like a bundle of subplots and unnecessary explanations sellotaped together by a skilled hand.

In fairness, it is awesome to see Dean Stockwell given a leading performance. Because, despite the names higher up the cast list, it is the story on two Cavils (or, to use their model numbers, two Ones). Here he plays two versions of the same character – two sides of the same coin. Yes, the other Cylon models get screentime, but not nearly as much and not nearly as development either. Stockwell has always been a vastly underrated actor, and one who deserves more time to demonstrate his talents – even amidst the ridiculously talented cast of the show. Much like Razor, the other spin-off movie, this piece of the puzzle benefits from a superb leading performance.

Still, the movie can’t help feeling a bit unnecessary. It’s not uncommon for the more “mindbending” shows (such as Lost, for example) to offer episodes that give us a unique perspective on events which already occurred. However, it feels a bit much to offer this as a movie (even a direct-to-DVD movie). There are some fun moments hidden in here – and some great character stuff as well – but it’s ultimately unsatisfying.

Interested in Battlestar Galactica? Check out our complete archive of reviews and discussions of the relaunched show:

8 Responses

  1. Interesting take. I didn’t see The Plan being a lie at all. I thought the ending showed that the plan was just blown to pieces because the cylons never realized how much humanity would fight for survival. Once the Cavil that was with the fighters on the colony figured out the love and devotion that they have to each other, even dead ones, he realized “they had it all wrong”.

    • I took “The Plan” to be “the genocide”, which they messed up spectacularly. Everything afterwards was an adlib by the Cylons and by the writers. A clever, beautiful adlib, but not a plan by any stretch of the imagination.

  2. Exactly. The plan was for the cylons was to kill all of mankind. BSG is just the story of how the humans screwed the plans up. The Cylons probably didn’t plan on chasing Admiral Adama around space for as long as they did.

    • Yep. I remember reading somewhere that the introduction with the “… And They Have a Plan” line was forced by the network or some such. Some how I doubt “… And they’re making it up as they go along” would have been so catchy. I love that the show was scripted on a year-by-year basis, I think it gave it a wonderful energy, as opposed to having the whole thing laid out years in advance – there wasn’t an overarching plan, from what I’ve read, so literally anything could happen.

  3. Yeah, they really didn’t need on overall plan. Not with the way they were delivering the different topics. Oh, that and the whole “who are the different cylons” kept people looking for the future enough. And I will go ahead and mention that I nailed down who the final cylon was right after we learned that there were five more. I thought it was rather obvious.

    While I can’t say that I fully remember how they ended up addressing this, but I didn’t like the how the prophecy fortold that the “leader” (Roslin) wouldn’t be alive by the time they reached Earth. The fact that she did felt like a major cop-out, though I should probably give the final season another look sometime soon.

    • If I remember, they said she would die before she set foot on “the promised land”, which a lot of people took to mean Earth, but more ironically actually meant the cabin that Bill built for her (she died on the trip over there).

      Great show, though.

  4. But I still have so many questions! Like, how come the Ones knew who the final five were? I didn’t think anyone did, hence Deanna’s quest to find out. Did I miss that in the series? And who/what was Starbuck? Did I miss that too?

    And why didn’t Roslin get any screen time in this film. Not even from archival footage? WTF?

    • The Ones knew who the Final Five were because the Final Five built the Ones (and the other humanoid Cylons) as a way of bringing peace to the Cylons. The Ones, however, got sick of being “human-esque” and decided to gain revenge on their “parents” by wiping their memories and giving them “front row seats” to the apocalypse. No Exit is a fantastic episode which explains all this, and is really just a set of scenes between Cavil and Ellen Tigh.

      And Starbuck was… well, she was an angel. Don’t worry, I’m not happy about that either.

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