Cold Water Commentaries:
Ronald D. Moore and the End of Speculation
If you remember last week’s episode of Battlestar Galactica, with the exposition-packed “No Exit” providing an enormous amount of detail about the Cylon origins, you likely also remember asking yourself a very important question: who, or what, is Daniel, the 7th Cylon model? We learned some of the details of his existence, however brief, during the episode itself, but there were a lot of outstanding questions about how it could relate to Starbuck, or how it could relate to any of the other Cylons, and how it fit into these questions of identity that have long driven the series forward. It is impossible that any fan left that episode without a fundamental question about this Cylon’s whereabouts.
And then Ronald D. Moore’s Podcast Commentary was released, and he shrugged it off: oh, sorry everyone, Daniel’s gone, it’s not a big deal, just go about your business.
Effectively, Moore has thrown cold water on the theorists, the prognosticators, the obsessed Battlestar fans who spend more time trying to figure out where the show is going than they do considering where the show has been. And while I wouldn’t put myself within the group who is solely concerned about the series’ forward momentum, I am someone who likes to have a complex framework for heading into upcoming episodes, and to be honest I feel as if Moore has somewhat betrayed that principle.
While it is well within Moore’s right to decide what speculation he will quash and those elements of an episode that he will leave open for interpretation, there is also a point where fans of a complex science fiction series could probably handle the open thread of a corrupted Cylon while still being focused on the drama at hand. Part of me understands Moore’s decision, as it is in line with some of the other choices that he has made going into the latter half of the season, but I feel as if one of my few caveats for enjoying “No Exit,” its myriad of unanswered questions that promise a highly complex future, has been eliminated.
The reason Moore did this is quite simple: going into the show’s final few episodes, he has some reason to be concerned that loose end like a potential Cylon walking around in the fleet is something that would prove too much of a red herring for some viewers. Moore is not interested in creating too many concurrent mysteries that will lead the show into its finale: there’s a reason that he revealed Ellen’s identiy as the final Cylon in “Sometimes a Great Notion” as opposed to in a later episode, and by the same token there’s a reason that “No Exit” confronted a lot of the questions about the Cylon timeline that were left hanging. Loose ends isn’t something that the show wants to leave around at this stage in the game, and I can understand why they wouldn’t want to create more of them within the context of Daniel.
However, at the same time, I’m perplexed with why they created one at all if they never intended to do anything with it. Moore’s argument is that Daniel’s existence, and corruption at the hands of John Cavil, was simply an event designed to more clearly define Cavil’s own moral corruption, and (to use my own terms) cement Cavil’s status as the “big bad” in the show’s moral universe. However, for an episode that rarely seemed to skimp on the details in its mountains of exposition, it seemed strange that Daniel was purposefully left open-ended: we didn’t learn the exact nature of the corruption, we only got to understand Cavil’s motivation (the base human emotion of jealousy, Oedipal emotions for his mother-figure in Ellen) and the role that it plays it sparking Cavil’s revolution against the Final Five.
Corruption is a very loaded term here: the maturing bodies for Daniel to resurrect into were not destroyed, or sent out into space, but corrupted into something entirely different. The show doesn’t stop to tell us what this means, and you’d think that if it was going to be something definitive that they would have told us so. If they had said Daniel’s model had been destroyed by Cavil, then there’s no loose end. I hate to say that it comes down to semantics, but if Ryan Mottesheard really wanted it to be clear (and you’d think they would want it to be clear) then a different word might have been helpful.
But in the internet age, the writers and producers have avenues for informing viewers what they should and should not care about. Moore’s podcast commentaries are released immediately after the episode is aired, and offer an indepth view of each episode’s conception, production and execution that will eventually make its way onto the DVD sets. For Moore to be releasing this level of depth as soon as the episode airs is something that fans have reason to be excited about, but at the same time part of me is concerned: when you combine Moore’s ability to define an episode’s meaning, as well as interviews with the writers that provide more in terms of clarifications than insight, I wonder if we’re coming to a point where speculation as we know it is coming to an end.
As we race towards BSG’s conclusion, I feel as if this is slowly emerging as a concern, albeit one that has little to do with the show’s quality and more with my own individual preference for going into the remaining episodes. When it comes to shows like Battlestar Galactica or Lost, there is a lot of demand for external material: for the latter show, Damon Lindelof and Carleton Cuse do numerous interviews, and even record their own podcast wherein their playful banter is interspersed amongst what I would consider hints and open-ended questions as opposed to clarifications and attempts to close out all speculation. It’s a subtle difference, I will admit, but I do feel as if they treat these things differently, and that Moore is even perhaps treating his show with a different eye now than he did in previous seasons.
It could be that Moore is just messing with us: that Daniel is in fact Starbuck, or Starbuck’s father, or some other hair-brained scheme. If so, then Moore is doing something perhaps even more problematic, abusing the fans’ desire for immediate context for each episode and purposefully misleading them. He’s not new to this idea, either: he certainly didn’t reveal in the podcast commentary for Season Three’s “Maelstrom” that Starbuck wasn’t actually dead, did he? If this is the case, I guess my hat goes off to Moore, but I still feel as if in some way that we as viewers are being robbed of something.
Robbed is likely the wrong word, but I’ve actually decided against listening to Moore’s commentaries, and even Lindelof and Cuse’s podcasts, primarily because I want the opportunity to be wrong, to let my interest in both series drive me to make ridiculous assumptions and hatch implausible theories. That’s part of Battlestar’s appeal, I don’t think anyone would argue, and while I understand the desire to temper fan backlash when Daniel doesn’t turn into a big deal, when the final episodes have the SciFi.com message boards angrily bemoaning the misleading writers and their stupid tricks, I feel as if the show has long been built on those kinds of questions.
I guess the one good thing we can take away from this is that, if they are seriously trying to “put a pin in” even the smallest of mysteries, they must angling to close this series off right. And right now, I want no hints, no signals, and every possible option flowing around in my mind as we head into the final string of episodes – Ronald D. Moore and his Cold Water Commentaries will have to wait until the season comes to an end.