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Jane Espenson

Jane Espenson - "Battlestar Galactica" Tv Series - Chicagotribune.com Q&A

Tuesday 17 February 2009, by Webmaster

You asked, they answered: ’Battlestar Galactica’ writers take on your ’No Exit’ questions

Bsglogo Last Friday, after the episode titled "No Exit" aired, I posted some thoughts on it, and in the comment area of that post, "Battlestar Galactica" fans got a chance to ask questions of "Battlestar" writers Jane Espenson and Ryan Mottesheard.

I culled a group of questions from the long list of excellent queries posed by fans (and I threw in a few of my own questions). Below, Ryan and Jane kindly answer those questions. Note that some questions have been rephrased or reframed a bit.

If you want links to a series of interviews with "Battlestar" writers about the first four episodes of Season 4.5, you’ll find those links here. All my previous "Battlestar" coverage is here.

OK, on to Ryan and Jane’s answers.

Mo: Did the amount of information that you needed to convey in "No Exit" make it particularly challenging to write? Was it more or less challenging than a typical "Battlestar" assignment?

Jane: Much more challenging. That’s one of the reasons it took so many of us to write it. First, Ron wrote the Cavil/Ellen material, then Ryan did the hardest work —writing the draft on which we all built. David Weddle and Bradley Thompson polished it, which added some new elements, and then I took a final pass through it. Both stories in the episode were very difficult to write, because they both required finding interesting ways to convey massive amounts of information. Luckily, this wasn’t just information that we wanted the audience to have, it was information that the audience wanted to have.

Mo: Was Kobol the original origin point for humanity, or was it Earth?

Jane: I’ve always taken it to be Kobol.

Mo: Why was Earth destroyed?

Jane: The skinjob-style Cylons on Earth built their own metal battlebots who turned on them.

Mo: What was it like working with John Hodgman? Was Dr. Gerard written to be a bit of comic relief or was that what John naturally brought to the role?

Jane: Dr. Gerard was a role we wrote specifically for John Hodgman. He was intended to be a slightly heightened and amusing character, and his pitch-perfect performance helped us get the right tone.

Mo: Was there a lot that had to be cut from this episode?

Jane: There was certainly material that was cut. I recall that Ellen said more to Boomer in that exchange in which she ate the apple. And there was a much longer and more elaborate escape sequence that got gradually whittled down all during pre-production, and then during production, and which ended up going away entirely by the end of it all.

Threeamigos Mo: What was it like shooting the episode — did anything go better than you thought it would? Worse? Any memorable anecdotes from the set?

Jane: The Anders material worked so much better than I’d feared. Michael Trucco gave it such urgency and weight that it never dragged, even when the amount of information was so daunting on the page. I was really blown away by his performance in this episode.

Ryan: I have to give major props to Michael Trucco. He came in soooo prepared and infused that performance, which is, let’s face, burdened with a huge amount of information to spill out, with an extra layer of spooky transcendence.

[Many readers asked various versions of this question] How did Saul Tigh know Adama for such a long time?

Jane: They didn’t meet until after the war. Saul was given false memories and introduced into life among humans at that point.

Leah: One of the things that’s been interesting about the show is the way you follow a character very closely for a time, so that we feel we get some knowledge of his/her inner life, and then pull back, so that we see that person mostly from the outside, and have to work to extrapolate emotional/psychological state entirely from action. Boomer is a prime example of this—we used to be so close to her that I’ve been really curious about her inner life ever since we got our last real glimpse of it in "Downloaded." How much do you talk about what’s happening with characters that we might not see onscreen?What do you know about Boomer that we don’t?

Ryan: We mapped out exactly what we had seen of Boomer since “Downloaded”—seeing her on the baseship ready to snap Hera’s neck, etc.—and made sure it tracked with what we were seeing over 18 months in this episode. After we saw her defect to Cavil’s baseship (“Six of One”) she committed herself, perhaps more than any other Cylon, to following Cavil’s quest to become the most perfect machine possible.

Jane: Keep watching. More Boomer comin’ at’cha.

Jeremy L: How much of what is happening now was known to the writers during Season 1, during Season 2, etc? Conversely, I would imagine that going in to the final 10 episodes that there is some sort of outline. How much of "No Exit" was provided in that outline and how much had to be fleshed out in developing the specific episode?

Ryan: Initially, much of the action in “No Exit” was designed to play through a few episodes. However, as the Cavil/Ellen story takes place over the course of 18 months since Ellen’s death on New Caprica, the intercutting between base ship past and Galactica present started to get confusing and we felt that distilling into one episode would be the best approach.

Jane: We certainly knew the details that were laid out in "No Exit" as we entered the final half-season. The general shape of it was known to us before that, with things slotting into place here and there throughout, many of them before I joined the show in season four. I can’t speak to what was known in season one or two.

Sadtigh Greg: How come Ellen and Anders knew Daniel but none of the other [Colonial skinjobs aside from] John/Cavil know any of the Final Five?

Ryan: Ellen knows of Daniel because she is the only one of the Final Five who died and thus, had her original memories restored. The idea being that Cavil wiped their memories when he gassed them and sent them to live amongst the humans on Earth. As for Anders, that knowledge comes from getting shot in the head and the bullet moving through his head is tapping into those repressed memories.

John/Cavil is the only one who knows the Final Five because he corrupted the programming of the other six models to never speak of the Final Five or search for their identities. Obviously, if they did, then his little house of cards topples, which is why he boxed D’Anna.

Jane: Ellen regained her memories when she downloaded, and Anders got his when he was shot in the head. All the other Cylons memories of the Final Five were erased by Cavil.

Don C: Could you please provide dates for when: A) the Thirteenth Tribe (of Cylons) left Kobol B) the Twelve Tribes (of humans) left Kobol C) Pythia lived and wrote her scrolls.

Jane: The dates and sequence of the events surrounded Pythia and Kobol are going to be explored, I understand, in a comic book being written by Seamus Kevin Fahey [who is a "Battlestar" writer] and David Reed.

Marc: If the Centurions’ contempt and hatred for the Colonials is so great that they started a war to annihilate them, then why were they so eager to create skin jobs? Why did they want to "evolve" into that which they hated?

Jane: Ahhh. I LOVE this question. To me, it’s not a plot question, but a psychology question. Why do even people who dislike their parents still choose paths that turn them into their parents? Why would slaves willingly take on the properties of their (weak and limited) former masters? Why do those who rebel against dictators become dictators themselves? I hope my job isn’t to answer the question, because I don’t have the answer, but I love looking at the question.

Ryan: Do you think Six would’ve been able to weasel her way into Baltar’s mainframe if she looked more like a Centurion than Tricia Helfer? There are definite advantages to taking on the guise of your enemy.

Dave B: I don’t understand Cavil’s anger in the sense that he blames the Final Five for his human form. But according to Anders this was what the Centurions wanted. Shouldn’t Cavil be directing his anger at them?

Jane: Parents work hard to get their child admitted to a prestigious school. The child hates the school and ultimately decides that attending that school put him on a path that ruined the rest of his life. Does he blame the culture that let his parents to prefer that school? Does he blame all the other children who love the school? Does he blame the school? Well, yeah, probably that one, but mostly he blames his parents. Especially if what he’s really feeling is a terrible fear that he disappointed his parents by not excelling.

Ryan: The Centurions didn’t create Cavil. The Final Five did. We saw the Centurions experimenting with Hybrids during ‘Razor’ and we also saw the Final Five as ‘skin jobs’ on Kobol thousands of years ago, so I don’t think the idea of aspiring to human form is all that surprising. (I kinda get the feeling that Cavil wouldn’t have been content in a metal body either, don’t you?)

Oscar R: What kind of relationship will the story of "Caprica" have with the story of "Battlestar Galactica"? Without getting into spoilers, will we need to watch "Caprica" to understand "BSG’s" story, or will "Caprica" be more of a self contained story wit hin the mythology of "BSG"?

Jane: Oh! Interesting. Usually people ask that question the other way around. Of course, the answer is the same either way: you don’t need to know either show to fully enjoy and understand the other show. No vital pieces of "BSG" will be left unsatisfied so that we can tackle them on "Caprica," unless you feel incomplete without knowing the full and exciting story of the origin of Caprica’s Centurions — WHICH YOU SHOULD, of course.

James: One thing I would like to know is if the Final Five (and the rest of the Earth Cylons) believed in the One True God like the Centurions do?

Jane: The Final Five were polytheists until they met the Centurions, who were monotheists.

Carl: Since this episode contained so much information and backstory, I’m interested to hear from Ryan and Jane about the lack of flashbacks to Earth despite it being so central to the Cylon story. The vast majority of the information is revealed mostly with Sam as a sort of storyteller to the others. Was it a conscious choice to not cutaway to scenes of the actual creation of the eight models? Budget reasons?

Jane: The idea of using flashbacks was discussed and decided against. I don’t recall if I heard the reasoning behind doing it this way, but I like how it plays in the finished episode. Without the flashbacks, the viewers can watch the information as it hits the listeners. Since the emotional heart of the episode is in those reactions, I think you’d miss them.

Ryan: Budget concerns would probably have reared their ugly head at some point, but there was a general feeling that the audience should experience these revelations as Tigh, Tory and Tyrol do, with Anders telling them and without cutting away to omniscient flashbacks. Further, I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine what these scenes would’ve been and to paraphrase the estimable David Cronenberg, "if you know what the scene is, then you don’t need to see it."

Ein Staunender: Will we get more information about this [previously] unknown colony [mentioned by Cavil in one of his conversations with Ellen]? Is it possibly founded or inhabited by people from earth? Or descendants/incarnations of the Final Five?

Jane: Oh, you mean The Colony? You’re assuming it’s a colony?

Clifton: What does Ellen resurrect into when she dies on New Caprica? Are we supposed to infer that there are other copies of the [Final Five], just as with the seven (nee, eight) [other] models?

Ryan: Yes, you should infer that if Tigh, Tyrol, Anders or Tory died somewhere along the line, a body would’ve been waiting for them on Cavil’s baseship. That they all survived the Cylon attack from the miniseries and countless travails and Cylon attacks since and that Ellen’s death only came at the hand of a fellow Final Fiver Is pretty remarkable… and infinitely infuriating to Cavil, I would imagine.

Max Bell: Ryan, that was frakking AWESOME. Correct me if I’m mistaken, but IMDB and BSGWiki both show this as being your first script, yes? As complicated as this episode was, did your work as script coordinator give you an edge in keeping all this straight?

Ryan: Script coordinator, like writers’ assistant, is a job usually held by aspiring writers. While not creative in and of itself, you are working closely with the writing staff and reading every outline and every draft of every script along the way. I definitely knew the "BSG" universe, but had to tap the entire staff’s collective brain throughout the development process, a process which is extremely collaborative to being with.

Chris: Given that [the "Battlestar Galactica" movie] "The Plan" is forthcoming (I’m looking at you, Jane), am I to assume that perhaps not all of our Cylon history questions will be fully answered by the end of the series? And Jane, when you have the time, will you please start blogging again? I am one of your gentle readers and I miss you terribly.

Jane: There will certainly be questions that get answered in "The Plan," but not in such a way that the end of "BSG" will feel incomplete. And I hope to reblog someday. Right now I’m incredibly busy as we’re beginning the work of crafting the stories for Caprica, but I’m learning so much through the process that I feel like I’m refilling my blogtank.

Richard S.: Question for Jane: “No Exit” gave the viewers a fairly detailed exposition of Cylon history and it sounds as if John/Cavil may have had a greater hand in setting up the Galactica for survival, or at least pointing Ellen Tigh and the rest of the Final Five in the right direction to view humanity “at its worst”. Did we as viewers just get a synopsis for "The Plan” in “No Exit”, in much the same way “Pegasus” served as a synopsis for the events depicted in “Razor”? It sounds to me that the Cylon plan… or at least Cavil’s plan was to teach their parents (the Final Five) a lesson.

Jane: Hmm... I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I like it.

Carla: Who or what, then, is Starbuck?

Ryan: Do you really want to me to answer that with five episodes to go? C’mon… tune in next week.

Adamachief Lori C: The only [moment] in "No Exit" that gave me pause was when Adama refused Chief’s offer of Cylon technology to fix Galactica. After all, Adama was the one pushing for the installation of Cylon FTLs throughout the fleet, leading to the mutiny which just ended. Why was he so hesitant, especially with Galactica in such dire shape?

Jane: This is about replacing the very bones of Galactica. About her not being her anymore, about Adama being forced to acknowledge the disease that’s taking her away. It’s about turning to the Cylons not just to help us but to make us and them the same. I see it as being an order of magnitude beyond the earlier decision.

Ryan: On some level, Adama is owning up to his responsibility for the mutiny – what was Lee’s line in The Oath about Zarek being right? – and is therefore reluctant to forge a deeper reliance on Cylon tech after the devastation it wrought. (Laura too, acknowledges her own responsibility by passing the baton to Lee.) Further, Adama is unwilling to accept that Galactica is in as bad shape as Tyrol says and his story in this episode is about him finally facing that fact.

Justin: One thing that I wished was addressed in last night’s episode, and wasn’t, was the fate of the mutineers other than Gaeta and Zarek. What happened to Racetrack, Narcho, and Seelix?

Ryan: Mr. Angeli addressed this point quite subtly (and definitively) I thought in the previous episode when we saw Kelly flip-flop and Adama offer mutineers the opportunity to recommit their allegiances during his final march towards CIC.