Sources:Concurring Opinions Interview with Ron Moore and David Eick/Part 3

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Preceded by:
Part 2: Politics and Economy
Concurring Opinions
Interview with Ron Moore and David Eick
Succeeded by:
End of Interview

This third and final part of the interview covers the subjects of the Cylons' culture before and after their attack on the Colonies.


Deven Desai: To loop back to some of the things we said earlier, you pointed out [one of] the liberating aspects of having Cylons is that you can explore things that [become a little more touchy] in other contexts [such as when just humans are involved.] In some ways it reminds me of Philip K. Dick's "Do Androids Dream Electronic Sheep?" and then the Blade Runner adaptation, where you seem to be playing with these ideas of implanted memories in Boomer, reminding me a little bit of Rachel [the "Blade Runner" replicant character]. The whole question out there is whether Deckard is a replicant or not. At one level, it seems that you're also looking at this question of what is it to be human. How do we treat those whom we see as different? Is that part of the lens that you're playing with?

Ron Moore (jokingly): First of all, what's Blade Runner? It figured into our discussions from Day 1. Very influential.

David Eick: And yes, Deckard is a replicant, for the record.

Moore: You've really put your finger on it. That's something David and I have discussed from the moment we decided the Cylons were going to look like human beings. It raised all these questions which I just thought were fascinating. It just felt like that's really what the show's about. What is it to be human? What does it mean to be a person? The Cylons say they have souls. Can we say they don't? How do we grant them status as people? What does it mean to be human? What are the attributes of being human? How would you know if you're human [or] if you're a Cylon?

All these questions felt fascinating, and it felt like the deeper we got into the series the more they came up. The more the Cylons exhibited human traits and human characteristics, the deeper and tougher the questions [became]. In the pilot, [the Cylons are] mostly off-camera. We only really meet a couple of them -- they are pretty much the faceless enemy. They're the enemy from beyond. They come; they destroy; they kill; they're chasing [us]. They're just implacable, they're monsters. They're literally machines, and they're after you. There are hints along the way that there's something more than that: that they have deeper interests.

[Like] Number Six in particular: she wants to be loved, she expresses a faith in god. Then the punch comes at the end [of the miniseries] when one of the characters you come to know and love--Sharon--turns out to be a Cylon. As the series went on, we started to develop the Cylons more and more deeply. We started treating them as simply human. They were human in all but name. They had a specific cultural history. They were a new civilization that had only been around for about 40 years, and they had very different ideas of truth and justice. They had different ideas of the cosmology of the universe and their place in it. They saw us as the enemy. We just started to play those ideas off against each other.

Desai: Right. It seems like [that has been the case] all the way through then. If I remember correctly, even when Leoben [Conoy] is ejected in space [in "Flesh and Bone"] you have Starbuck pray for him. It was a great moment, I thought. Once you come into direct contact with something you set up as other, it becomes harder to not think of it as such, especially when [Cylons] look so much like humans. [The show develops] this dichotomy [between a simple] ruthless civilization [and a civilization with something of value to offer, perhaps with some attempt to mimic human civilization]. Is the humans' belief system starting to have to construct the notion of: "Are our principles broad enough to encompass a group that is empirically not human, yet seems to mirror a lot of what humans are about?" Or are they going to be able to draw that line and say, "No matter what, that's the dividing line. Our principles don't apply. Our notions of what it is to be a sentient being that matters cuts off [at] this stage, because their spines glow red and they tend to wipe us out"?

Moore: I think that is the question of the show, which they've struggled with throughout. [William] Adama in particular has tried to draw a very bright line and say: "There are us, and there are them, and there's no crossing of [that line]." Like I was talking about earlier, Adama gets to a place where he accepts Sharon ["Athena" Agathon] as a person. He does it because of a human interaction he has with her in particular, and most of that occurred off camera (which is a bit of a cheat), but most of it occurred during the missing year [between "Lay Down Your Burdens, Part II" and "Occupation"] where the [Colonials] are on New Caprica. Our back-story was that Adama used to go down and sit in that jail cell with her because he had a lot of time on his hands. He couldn't quite wrap his mind around what this being was, and he found himself confessing things to her, talking to her, listening to her.

Over the course of time, he just, at some point, stopped thinking of her as a machine and started to think of her as a person.

If you asked him, he would probably say [that] she's different or something. He would probably not be willing to really extend that idea to them as a nation, because it just raises a host of other issues. It challenges some pretty basic assumptions. It challenges the ways they do business. It challenges the righteousness of their cause and how they view themselves.

Laura [Roslin] has to believe that [the Cylons] are just machines in order to contemplate in taking a genocidal act and even in that episode [Season 3's "Torn"], Adama's in a place where he's hesitating. He doesn't really want to do it, even though he can't come out and say, "Well, we can't do it because they're legitimate people, and they have souls like we do, and therefore we can't wipe them out." It doesn't feel right to him. His heart, his instinct as a human being [is that they] feel like they're about to cross a line. He himself is actually already crossed the line to accepting them as something more than he thought.

Desai: So on the Cylon side of that equation, they have their own culture and society. The religion seems to play a large role in their culture, in this rather unique and directed vision of what they're about. That seems to rub against the humans' vision of the world. I'm wondering what was happening with the Cylon perspective in terms of how they felt they had been treated by the humans, and whether or not there could be a peaceful solution to the friction. Or [was their view] "we've just waited until we're ready, and we [will] just come at you"? It seems as though their religion plays a part in that role, but is there something else at work in the Cylon society?

Eick: One of the subtexts of their agenda, and it did go back to the earliest conversation Ron and I had about this area, was that there would be an agenda to take the baton from humanity and pursue the next phase of evolution -- that it was the Cylons' time. Therefore, we could dispense with what typically seems to have accompanied antagonists in stories like [the old Battlestar Galactica], where they have an axe to grind, a bloodthirsty agenda, a grizzly destiny that they're trying to perpetrate -- and somehow [if] we can just get away from them, we'll be okay.

That all seems so old hat, and it felt like maybe you'd do that in a movie, but in a series you needed somehow -- we've talked a lot about this -- to emphasize with the antagonists, to feel that their point of view was justifiable, that it had legitimacy, that you could not only relate to it, but also sympathize with it. So we talked a lot about different cultures that found themselves faced with questions like that. How do we press on? How do we move forward? At one point, I remember we were talking about Planet of the Apes because [it] had that notion, that story about [apes vs. humans]. Human beings just sort of assumed that: "You guys [apes] are done. You had your time, and now it's our time." Then what would happen is that the apes just wouldn't go away. In this story, we're the apes. We're the ones who were not as evolved and who won't go away.

So I think in that regard, it always allowed us to continue to... It's not that we haven't depicted the Cylons as misbehaving. (laughter) We tend to maintain a sense of their having a reason for what they're doing beyond bloodthirst and ennui.

Moore: Another thing about what's happening on the Cylon side is that they're a very young culture. They really have not been around that long, but they're a full-blown society of sophisticated, thinking beings that are at a level of human understanding of what society is, and [they have] concepts of morality and philosophy. In some ways, they've evolved past us, but they've only been around for a few decades.

[In the beginning] they [are] very much in lockstep with one another. There's unanimity among the models about what they should do and how to carry out the plan. As the series goes on, you see that start to fracture. You see that the models begin to assert independence, first from one another, then within the models themselves. They begin to assert a certain independence of thought. I think the challenges of that dynamic will inform very strongly the things that happen in the fourth season.

Desai: Right. Dan had some questions building on this because what you just said really gets into some of the parallels between what we're seeing with the humans.

Solove: Yes. We start to see a little bit about how the Cylons start governing themselves, especially in season two and even more in season three. It is somewhat vague as to how the Cylons operate and how they govern themselves. There are some hints of democracy [in their government], but it's not entirely so. You've explained the past that [the Cylons are] a very young society and you've deliberately kept [their modus operandi] somewhat vague. Can you elaborate a little bit on how are they starting to govern themselves? How do they envision their political system?

Moore: They started with sort of a democratic idea, but it was always unanimous. They always agreed on everything. In the backstory, the Cavil models -- the Dean Stockwell models -- objected early to certain ideas, but always went with the majority view and were always willing to acquiesce to that concept. In many decisions, they were in lockstep with one another. Once you got to the New Caprica experiment, then you can see there was open dissent. There were open arguments. The Sharons and the Sixes had unified as a bloc to treat the humans differently (to have a different relationship), and they convinced a majority of the Cylons to go along with that idea. They were all in it together, but you were starting to see that there were fractures forming within them. They were starting to line up on different sides, and those agendas would carry forward. [They] still [adhered to] the idea that there was no one that was superior [amongst them]; they had an egalitarian system where there were no formal leaders. There was no executive. There was no legislature. They were all together. The models were all equal to one another, and they all proceeded as a group. That was one of the defining characteristics of them as a society: that we are together.

[The humanoid Cylons believed: "We were created because] God wanted us to go forward, and He has imbued us with souls, and He has given us this mission, and we are humanity's children and His children. We are all on the same page and equal to one another." Then you would see that as time went on, the characters (like the D'Annas) would start to assert themselves, even though no one else [among them] wanted them to. The D'Annas would start to take de facto control of situations and make de facto decisions without even consulting with the others. The Cavils started to get a little concerned about this dynamic.

Solove: We definitely see -- especially from the interview -- that you both are students of history and have done a lot of thinking about political science and philosophy. So that raises the question: What are the political, legal, philosophical books that most influenced you as you were thinking about the show and writing the show?

Eick: Machiavelli, for starters. For me, [I mention Machiavelli's work] only because it seemed like that it dealt with one of the themes we're talking about right now -- about the morality of dissenting during a time of war and about the duties of leadership. The one I remember us talking about was "Helter Skelter." (laughing) Well, maybe I was the only one talking about "Helter Skelter," because it dealt with a similar idea of subculture leading itself to being in the position to inherit the mantle, as it were, [and to] take the baton and evolve forward. Of course, they were crazy, and the Cylons are deeply sane, but [indiscernible].

Moore: Yeah, I'm trying to think if there were specific books. There were a lot of books that came up, and I don't remember if there was anything in particular. I've read a lot of Henry Kissinger's work, and, in my mind, there was a lot of bubbling up of realpolitick, and making decisions as a president, or as a military leader, balancing the practical versus the idealistic. I remember his volume on diplomacy. I was reading, at some point during the process "The Age of Federalism" by Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick. It was fascinating because it was all about the birth of the American republic. I was fascinated with the young culture [of America at the time] and how they sort these things out. Everything was up for grabs [back then], I remember that being a really interesting idea early on. Neil Sheenan's "A Bright Shining Lie" was on my bookshelf during a lot of the early going. [It explored] hopeless causes and realism, and tried to suss out what the truth was in a difficult situation.

I know that there weren't a lot of direct correlations between any of these things [and what] we wrote. But [all these works helped us] deal with complicated issues, helped personalities [within the show] emerge, and provided answers for good and for bad. It's a macro-level of watching the ebb and flow of history more than any specific story that was emblematic of what we were trying to do.

Hoffman: Well, I think we're out of time. We're so grateful that you took so much time to talk with us. It was pretty fascinating. I know that there are lots of lawyers and, as Dan says, law professors who love the show and find your vision of the legal system's reaction to catastrophe both frightening and motivating. I know that we are all looking forward to the next season. I guess the only question left is: Do you have massive spoilers you'd like to drop now?


Moore: Well, it's going to be a rocky ride! It ain't going to be an easy road to the end, let's say it that way.

Desai: I guess the answer is "no" then.

Moore: No. (laughs)

Hoffman: We're really grateful for you guys taking the time. Thank you so much!

Preceded by:
Part 2: Politics and Economy
Concurring Opinions
Interview with Ron Moore and David Eick
Succeeded by:
End of Interview