In brief: Confused, unspectacular, and did we really need it?
In detail: Dean Stockwell must have been chuffed when he first sat down to read the script for The Plan. Battlestar Galactica: Cavil’s Tale, would perhaps have been a more appropriate title.
What had been heralded as a superb companion to the show ““ a revelatory addition of content that would open our eyes and revolutionise our understanding of the series ““ became more of an optional appendix: neither necessary nor revolutionary.
It’s clever, certainly, and it’s very, very slick in its execution. The actors who reprise their roles from the series do a fine job of blending their new performances into the chronological framework of the show, creating sub-plots that remain mostly coherent and plausible.
The problem here is not in the minute details, but rather, in the overall approach the writers have taken. Jane Espenson ““ whose contributions to Season Four of Galactica are hardly something to scoff at ““ comes up with a piece which works on some levels, but not on others. The primary flaw is that we are dealing with a post-nominal work, so to speak. Battlestar’s story has been told from start to finish, even if there are holes to be patched. It seems reasonable that a subsequent episode or movie should strive to plug the gaps in the chronology, but this doesn’t seem to even attempt to do that consistently.
It starts in the right place, running alongside the prelude to the destruction of the Colonies, but that seems mostly sentimental rather than necessary. Nothing contained therein seems crucial the later plot. What we basically have instead is a story of Cavil’s attempts to orchestrate the “˜Plan’ from within the fleet, and the actions of the other Cavils throughout the show. And that’s an interesting approach to take, don’t get me wrong. Cavil’s a fascinating character, and as always Stockwell plays him well here. However, while it is insightful to see the underground movements in play before the attempted assassination of Adama, and the insights into the characters of Boomer, Tyrol, and particularly Simon, there is little of overwhelming impact here.
The much-heralded “˜Plan’ (the in-universe scheme, rather than the movie itself) therefore, seems to fall flat on its face. What exactly was the “˜Plan’? A supposedly divinely inspired genocide; the failure of which results in Cavil realising the true potential of humanity? That their emotions, their love and their very nature were valuable?
In truth ““ and I’ll accept this may be due to not having rewatched the show in the way so many others have: religiously, to every minute detail ““ I’ve been left somewhat confused and clouded by the definition of the “˜Plan’. If it’s left intentionally vague (and there are many, many things in Battlestar which remain unexplained, even after this movie [see Starbuck’s death and reappearance]), then I’m inherently frustrated. Cavil’s final monologue in the chute, before being jettisoned, implies a sudden realisation that annihilating humanity was a mistake. Yet this is juxtaposed between him knifing a small child, and his voiceover in space of wishing not to be human. It doesn’t make a great deal of sense, although perhaps that’s a consequence of insufficient knowledge of the show.
It’s been said that The Plan caters first for fans, then for your Average Joe. In truth, it caters first for fanatics, then for fans, and your Average Joe need not apply. I’ve watched the show from start to finish with sustained interest and enthusiasm, but the show did begun to become cluttered, in my opinion. There were dozens of characters (not to mention multiple copies and personalities of some), many concurrent plot-lines and in the end it seemed to be difficult to find a satisfactory conclusion to all of them, let alone remember all of them.
The Plan ““ I had hoped ““ would provide some sense of clarity: a feeling of resolution that might help be understand the series better as a whole. However, as Edward James Olmos says, The Plan leaves you wanting to watch the entire show again. Not, however, because you’ve been blessed with some divine revelation that will change your opinion of the entire show, as a I expect EJO desired it to be, but rather because I simply I found it too difficult to recall the subtleties and nuances of the specific episodes The Plan drops into.
The movie is, after all, probably the first “˜clip movie’ I’ve ever seen, taking a wealth of pre-existing footage and mashing it together with new clips. That, however, doesn’t annoy me for the usual reasons. It’s understandable in the context of the story, and certainly practical since the sets are now ripped down. And it is edited together supremely well. However, the focus with which the script places the viewer into specific scenes is sometimes disorientating as we clamber to remember exactly what’s going on.
It’s easy to get swept away with the camera-work and production value that makes Galactica so appealing and mesmerising, but it seems important to compare the outcome of the movie with that which it set out to achieve. If it was to reveal “˜The Plan’, it does a very poor job, and comes across as a clouded, cluttered mess. If it was designed to provide more backstory on Cavil and his motivations and feelings, then I think it’s succeeded quite well. But that in itself seems anti-climatic given the aforementioned post-nominal nature and build-up of the movie’s release. If I were Ronald D. Moore, the first movie I’d release wouldn’t be designed to reveal a little more about Cavil. It seems, not pointless, but certainly not as meaningful as perhaps it should.
There are positives, however. As I’ve mentioned the acting is strong as always, the new material well written and masterfully edited together with old footage. Some of the effects shots are excellent (though one particular shot of the attacks on the Colonies showing aquatic destruction is absolutely, utterly woeful), and it certainly doesn’t seem like an overly cheap production.
The problem lies in its overall impact, which seems confused and clouded. The general story was neither precise nor important enough to merit the intricate nature of the flashbacks, leaving the casual viewer wondering if we’ve missed something blindingly obvious. I don’t think we have, I think it’s just that this piece is written to appeal mainly to the die-hards. And if you are a die-hard, I hope you very much enjoyed it.
Being a casual viewer, I merely enjoyed “˜The Plan’. I was left feeling relatively satisfied at the end. But I was more than a little frustrated that it wasn’t stronger: that it didn’t make more sense, that it wasn’t more accessible and that it wasn’t more shocking and insightful within the context of the show. However, as a character piece, it’s a relatively pleasant two hours. In the future, however, I’d rather creative energy was spent making the upcoming sequel Caprica as strong as can be.
As Cavil says as his bodies float into space, “I know I want to reach out with something other than these prehensile paws, and feel the solar wind of a supernova flowing over me. I’m a machine, and I can know much more.” The Plan is like trying to play the piano wearing boxing gloves: appreciative of the beauty of the craftsman ship, but eternally frustrated that it wasn’t put to better use.