I don’t know why Battlestar Galactica: The Plan exists. I don’t know what purpose this movie is supposed to serve. It flirts with telling an original story but, in the end, decides that it just wants to fill in gaps that didn’t need to be filled in, and spends too much time answering questions no one ever had. I didn’t ever care to ask where the Cylon got that suicide bomber belt way back in season one of the show, but The Plan assumes it was a burning concern for me all these years.
First a note: The Plan is a terrible introduction for anyone unfamiliar with the rebooted show. Taking place throughout the course of the first two seasons of the series, The Plan aggressively spoils everything that happens in those episodes as well as many important elements from the series’ final three seasons, such as the identities of the Final Five. And just so you know, so will this review. If you’re reading this and you have not watched all five seasons of Battlestar Galactica, stop immediately and move on. If you’re thinking of sitting down and watching this movie with your friend who is a newbie to BSG, do not do so, as you’ll not only spoil them, you’ll probably turn them off completely.
Put simply: there is no plan. That’s a complaint some people have had about the movie, but I kind of liked that element. We see the Cylons in the days just before the destruction of the 12 Colonies, with the bodies of the Final Five in resurrection tanks. The Cylons are going to kill every single human, including the Final Five. When their makers wake up in new bodies, the Cylons will proudly show them what they’ve accomplished. That’s the whole plan, the one alluded to in the opening credits of the show for so long.
Except the plan doesn’t work out. The humans aren’t all killed and, in a cosmological coincidence, none of the Final Five are killed. At first this pissed me off; I was hoping that The Plan would show that the Cylons had spared the Final Five, that there were machinations in place to make sure each of them survived the holocaust. But then I realized that this played into the religious themes of the show’s final seasons, where the hand of God was shown to be subtly guiding humanity towards salvation.
So the plan becomes an attempt to kill off the remaining humans in the ragtag fleet, masterminded by Brother Cavill, who gives out the marching orders to the Cylons who perform multiple acts of sabotage throughout the first season of the show. That’s something that could be summed up in a speech, but The Plan devotes more than half of its running time to this, and it grows wearying and repetitive. Weaving new footage in with old clips from the series, we’re shown a new ‘perspective’ on many events, but the perspective is always the same – Cavill did it! Again and again, Cavill did it.
It’s not all terrible. There is one new story that grows from this that’s actually worth following; a Number Four – the black doctor Cylon – is shown to have ended up in the fleet with his wife and his adopted daughter. He has a new view of humanity, and there’s a good, very Battlestar worthy story of his struggle with orders from Cavill. At an hour this story would have fit nicely in the regular series, but here it’s secondary to a slew of ‘Cavill did it!’ revelations.
There’s a grain of an idea that the movie comes upon as it goes along. The desire to retell the first two seasons from the ‘Cylon point of view’ and show Cavill operating just out of camera range in BSG‘s most iconic moments keeps this idea from ever really taking hold until the last half hour, though – the Cavill on Cylon occupied Caprica, the one hanging out with Anders and his rebellion, slowly comes to understand humanity and love. He evolves in a way that the Cavill on Galactica never does, and so we have two versions of the same man reaching very different conclusions. Again, this is a Battlestar worthy idea, and would have made an amazing season long arc (although it sort of already did with the multiple Boomers), but here it feels like a second hand thought.
What The Plan most reminds me of is the obsessive compulsive comic book The Marvel Saga; this comic was an attempt to fit every Marvel comic into a flowing history, jamming together all of the continuities by taking panels from the original comics as well as newly drawn images and working everything out. How was Spider-Man in the Savage Land and in Latveria in what appears to be the same time frame? The Marvel Saga would try to iron that out. But The Marvel Saga didn’t tell a real story of its own, and eventually revealed itself to be a repackaging system.
Jane Espenson, who was so great on the writing staff of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, was given the thankless task of putting this thing together. She gets some good moments – the Simon story is nice, and we have some excellent insight into Anders and his guys (but the movie never fucking explains what’s up with the Farm on Caprica. If the plan is to kill everybody… why are they harvesting ovaries?), but most of the time she’s stuck with worming her script into little moments in the original series. There’s no story here, just a sequence of events.
There is almost one compelling argument for the existence of The Plan: Dean Stockwell. His Brother Cavill grew into one of TV’s best bad guys by the end of Battlestar Galactica‘s run, and giving him a chance to revisit Cavill as the main character here is great. Stockwell is a marvel, and he fills in that ‘petulant child’ Cavill we saw in the last season of the show. He also does a fantastic job with the parallel Cavill on Caprica, showing him softening, learning and growing.
I almost really liked The Plan, even with its atrocious CGI destruction of the Colonies (although it was cool to actually see the other Colonies here) and its clumsy merging of old and new footage – sorry director Edward James Olmos but Tyrol gained about 40 pounds since season one and I don’t buy using modern Aaron Douglas in scenes set back then – but in the end I couldn’t find much to hang on to. And it only got worse when I realized that the ending was arriving without ever once having felt like a story was being told, without ever feeling like much more than a fancy clip show that reused a couple of scripts that never made it into production. Battlestar Galactica was one of the best shows television produced in the 00s, a decade rife with great television. That it should go out on this anemic note breaks my heart, especially when the series finale was so damned incredible
5 out of 10