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Eternal Romance: The Final Cylon and Ronald D. Moore Talk About Reactions, Revelations on "Battlestar Galactica"

The sound of the collective gasp last Friday when Sci Fi's Battlestar Galactica revealed the identity of the fabled Final Cylon could have broken the stratosphere, so unexpected was its raw power.

For those of you who saw "Sometimes a Great Notion," the end of the episode featured Colonel Tigh (Michael Hogan) experience a vision after wading out into the ocean on the newly discovered planet Earth. A vision in which he sees the face of the Final Cylon, long hidden from the humans, the skinjobs, and the other members of the vaunted Final Five. (And if you haven't yet seen the episode, consider yourself warned at this point.)

Written by David Weddle and Bradley Thompson, the episode was gorgeous and somber and featured a jaw-dropping flashback from Colonel Tigh as he recalled the final member of their disparate group.

A few days later, Battlestar Galactica co-creator/executive producer Ronald D. Moore and Kate Vernon, who plays Ellen Tigh, a.k.a. the Final Cylon, gathered together for a press call. Among the discussions: Vernon's reactions to learning that she would be returning to Battlestar Galactica, what we should perhaps ponder from the revelations on Earth, the identities of other characters whom the writers had tossed around as possible candidates for the Final Cylon, and whether all of the series' mysteries will be neatly tied up by the series' finale.

One of the many questions that viewers had for Ronald D. Moore was when he and the writers had decided to make Ellen the Final Cylon. After all, her husband had killed her after it was revealed that she was collaborating with the Cylons on New Caprica in order to protect him... before, that is, he learned that he was a Cylon as well.

"I’m not quite sure exactly," said Moore. "It was some time in the third season. I think the option of presenting her as one of the final Cylons was sort of kicking around for a while, but we really didn’t have an intention of revealing all four of the final four Cylons in the season finale until we were breaking that actual episode. So there wasn’t really a focus on delineating exactly who the final five were for quite a while, but I think Ellen’s name was kicking around the office in terms of, well who could the remaining Cylons be, and maybe it would be Ellen. And we kind of put a pin in that. 'But yes, that might be cool. Maybe we’ll get back to that some day.'"

"It wasn’t really until after we had decided to reveal four of the Final Five in that season finale that then it became a more pressing question," continued Moore. "And then in between the two seasons we went on a writers' retreat and talked about everything in detail, and Ellen was the primary candidate to be the Fifth Cylon, but we were very open to sort of a wider discussion: 'Well, we think it’s Ellen. Let’s say she’s the leading candidate. But who are the others?' And we talked about other possibilities, but none of them really held water. None of them made sense, and none of them really gave us much, so we stuck with Ellen."

But, out of all the many choices on the series for a potential Fifth, why Ellen specifically?

"I would say it worked primarily because of her relationship with Tigh," said Moore. "It really sort of anchored that couple as something that was very special. And I liked the fact that Ellen as a character was an off-camera presence right from the beginning of the show in the mini-series. We started hearing about Tigh’s wife, and it was one of his key defining characteristics, and so we knew she was important in the mythology of the show. And I liked the idea of saying that this couple had been together a very long time that this couple was something special, that they were sort of this eternal romance and this eternal love, which I really thought was real interesting and cool. And it completed sort of the framework of the final five. And it just fit; it all kind of fit. It also made the fact that Tigh had killed his wife back on New Caprica even richer and more complicated and filled with more ironies and more conflicted feelings about what was happening."

So, will Moore reveal just which other characters were being kicked around the writers room as possible Fifth Cylons?

"Oh, I knew you were going to ask that," joked Moore. "I think we just kind of threw them all out. We talked about Dualla; we talked about Gaeta. We talked about all of our regulars, and dismissed Eddie [Olmos] and Mary [McDonnell] pretty quickly, because we kind of say, 'Well it could be; what if it was Adama, what if it was Laura?” I felt that that took something away from the show, [that it] actually would hurt us, because it felt like once they said Adama was a Cylon, it just felt like part of the journey itself wasn’t right and didn’t have the same meaning that I wanted it to, so they kind of fell out early. Then we talked briefly about Dualla and Gaeta and they were interesting characters, but it didn’t feel like it heightened the stakes... And with Ellen it did."

For Kate Vernon, coming back to the series was a dream come true, but she's had a frakking hard time keeping the secret under wraps. "Oh gosh," said Vernon, "there were waves of intense agony and frustration, and then I would completely forget about it. I mean, I had two years to [process this]. So within that enormous amount of time, I did actually forget about it for a minute. But for the most part, this was something I wanted to talk about desperately just because it was such an honor to have been given this role. When they killed me off, I went up to Ron and I looked him straight in the eyes and I said, 'Isn’t there any way I can come back? Is there any way I’m coming back?' And he just looked at me very gently and assuredly said no. And so I was done in Ron’s eyes. But in my heart, I personally had a love affair with Ellen as an actress and this show, so I never let go of it. And Ron can attest to that, because I called him several times. And bless you Ron for talking all of my phone calls."

Moore, for his part, said that killing off Ellen Tigh was one of the hardest decisions he's had to make as showrunner. "On my side of it, killing off Ellen was great creatively," said Moore. "It was one of those big sort of like, 'Whoa, that’s a great ending. Man, that’s going to be powerful.' And it was a great excitement about what it was. But it was hard to let go of the character; it was hard to say that, oh, Ellen’s not going to be in the show anymore. I would say legitimately probably the hardest moment or probably the hardest moment of my experience on the show was calling Kate Vernon and saying, 'We’re killing off your character.' ...it was really heartbreaking."

But Vernon did managed to keep her return to the series a secret in the end. "NBC and Ron asked me just to lay low really, and to honor and respect this enormous hit that was going to happen eventually," she said. "And part of it was to keep it quiet. It was a thrill. Of course I was going to keep this quiet. This isn’t one secret you wouldn’t want to blow."

"Ellen is the best role I’ve had in my career," admitted Vernon. "And I had no expectations when I auditioned for the part; I was told there might be two or three shows. And they kept bringing me back. And as they brought me back with each show I couldn’t wait to crack open these scripts because these writers seemed to really indulge the naughtiness or the feistiness or the troublemaking or the complicated relationship she had with her husband. I found her more and more and more fascinating and dark and delicious and misunderstood. So as an actress it was pure discovery. And I was never expecting to really continue on as much as I wanted to. So it was just a wild ride. You know, I did my best to hang on to the tail of the pissed off cat and I just got whomped around but I hung on there."

So what can we expect from Vernon's return to Battlestar Galactica as Ellen Tigh? Vernon and Moore were both extremely tight-lipped but Vernon did let one minor spoiler slip out. "I’ll be talking," said Vernon. "I’ll be walking and talking. I get to reunite with my husband in the good old fashioned way that they do."

(So, fans, look for a reunion between Saul and Ellen coming up and one imagines that said interaction likely has a combination of raw sexuality and bitter arguing, as par for the course from their relationship so far.)

Their characters' tortured history was a major factor in bringing back Ellen.

"It was certainly one of the things that made it an interesting choice," admitted Moore. "I always liked Tigh and Ellen both, because they were both flawed and noble characters who tended to get in their own way. And I liked the bad choices they made as much as I enjoyed the good choices that they made. I loved watching them claw at each other, and I loved the fact that they just couldn’t bear to be apart from one another. It was just such a complicated relationship -- that bringing her back and revealing her to be a Cylon and he’s a Cylon and they’ve always been Cylons and that there’s something profound about that relationship. I just thought that was fascinating in that it says something about the two lovers. Usually the two lovers that transcend time are just such good noble people that you hate them. Ellen and Tigh feel like a legitimate couple. They’re a married couple who just have to go at it periodically and just have major issues and major problems and this and that. But the bond between the two of them was something that literally could not be broken. And I though that that was a really interesting and ultimately very positive thing to say."

"And," chimed in Vernon, "the longest-standing relationship in the universe, right?"

Still, Vernon keenly felt the pressure of playing such a mythical role as the Final Cylon.

"At one point before I started shooting I walked into Michael [Hogan]’s trailer and I was a little stunned; I’m coming back as the fifth Cylon and I felt this enormous responsibility," she said. "Michael looked at me and said, just know that you are Ellen and everything will be fine. And basically what he’s saying is that I’m already Ellen; I don’t need to do anything, [just] let the words guide me. And it was the kindest and most supportive thing an actor or anybody could have said because I was very concerned that I was going to answer creatively what Ron and what the writers intended to reveal as the [Final] Cylon. I felt a lot of pressure."

Regarding the surprising suicide of Dualla (Kandyce McClure) in "Sometimes a Great Notion," Moore said that he was happy with the way that viewers reacted to this unexpected death in the crew.

"Oh I’m pleased," he said. "It got a huge response and that’s what you go for. You try to get a response out of your audience. You try to go out every once in a while you want to reach out and grab you by the throat and say, Feel something. Have a reaction. Get involved. Think. What does this mean to you? What does it mean [when] Dualla blows her brains out suddenly, shockingly. What does that mean? Do you care? Are you paying attention? I mean I think it’s great. People can have whatever the specific reaction is, is fine with me as long as they have a reaction; as long as they’re emotionally caught up in a show and it means something to them."

But why was Dualla the one so affected by what they discovered on Earth? Why it did it push her to shoot herself?

"[Dee] was the one that in many situations had sort of always been the voice of reason, the one that was going to try to soldier on, the one that would buck up Adama when he was down and she would buck up Lee when he was down," said Moore. "And there was sense of her kind of being the rock. And it felt important to me that when they found Earth and Earth was a wasteland that the psychic damage from that would be profound. This was everything that they had hoped for since the beginning, since the mini series. And you take that dream away from them, there’s a consequence, there’s a price to be paid. It didn’t feel like they should just shrug a shoulder to move on. It felt right that, in that circumstance, somebody would just check out. And there was something shocking about it being Dee because they had relied on her, because she had always been there... I don’t think she thought about it consciously but, on a subconscious level, she soldiered on this far, [and said] no farther; I don’t want to soldier on anymore. I don’t want to soldier on anymore and I’m going to try to feel good one last time and then I’m out of here."

As for other answers, should viewers make a parallel between the nuclear holocaust on Earth 2000 years ago and the ancient destruction of Kobol? "Yes," said Moore, cryptically.

And, given Tigh's visions of Ellen's face when he was with Number Six, did Tigh subconsciously know that Ellen was the missing Cylon model? "Yes," said Moore, "I think that’s part of it. The times Tigh saw her in that cell as Ellen as opposed to Six is not something we ever really delineated in the show and I don’t think we really are going to say, oh, here’s why he saw her like that later on in the series. But that was my internal kind of reasoning."

And can fans expect Moore and David Eick to wrap up all of the series' mysteries by the time the series ends in just a few months? Not quite.

"I’d say the character [arcs] and the mythology of the show [are] resolved to my satisfaction by the time all is said and done," said Moore. "I think we answer most if not all of the major questions of the show. I think there are some things that we decided to leave deliberately ambiguous or at least make you think about them further after the show but those were more creative choices about how you don’t want every single little tiny thing wrapped up in a bow the end. Life’s not like that."

So, what's next for Moore? For one thing, Battlestar Galactica: The Plan, the latest telefilm based on the series, has finished shooting and is in post-production. And Moore is gearing up for Sci Fi's next BSG offering, Caprica, a prequel series set to air on the cabler in 2010.

"Caprica’s getting under way," said Moore. "We’re putting the writer’s room together as we speak. It’s very exciting. It’s a very different challenge. It’s a very different show, and I think there’s a sense of, well, Battlestar has set a very high bar and that’s sort of makes everybody have to bring their A game. And I think that’s the spirit in which we approach Caprica... There’s a sense of exploration, there’s a sense of uncharted territory. And that’s exiting and it’s scary. It’s scary to have to get one of these things off the ground and hope that it’s all going to work out, that people will like it -- and especially when everyone’s going to compare it to Battlestar. But that’s kind of the reason we’re in the business: to take on those kinds of challenges."

Stay tuned.

Comments

karigee said…
Great report, Jace. I'm so excited to see how they bring Ellen back into the fold -- I think it's a brilliant choice.
Anonymous said…
I'm so happy that they were able to keep the identity of the final Cylon a secret, even in today's spoiler-ridden world, because it was truly shocking in a wonderful way. I think that Ellen is the perfect choice and it's also nice to hear how much the role means to Kate Vernon. I can't imagine anyone else in that role and look forward to seeing what unfolds between Ellen and Tigh!
Anonymous said…
Great piece, Jace. Very interesting to see RDM and Kate's views on the choice of Ellen and the stuff with Dee which really surprised me. I'm glad that you covered this as thoroughly as you did and didn't just string together some sound bites.
Unknown said…
I had called Ellen as a Cylon a long time ago, and thought I was wrong for many years, only to be proven right!

What about Baltar's test, though? We know he tested Sharon and lied and said she wasn't a Cylon, but I think he tested Ellen, too. Has he also known all along about her?

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