Jane Espenson on Wrapping Battlestar Galactica

BSG Season 4 Returns on 1.16.09

Who is the Final Cylon? Who is the Final Cylon?

For Battlestar Galactica fans, this week is something like Christmas all over again.

This Friday at 10:00 pm on Sci Fi, the first of the series’ final ten episodes airs, kicking off ten weeks of joy, “told-you-so’s!” and more than likely a few tears for fans of the long-running series – not to mention the revelation of the Final Cylon. It’s been a long-time coming, too – the last of the new episodes, “Revelations” aired last June.

Along with millions of fans, Co-Executive Producer Jane Espenson will have her eyes glued to the screen for the season premiere this Friday . Having started on staff with Season Four, Espenson, who cut her teeth on Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer and recently wrote an issue of the Buffy comic series, started with the acclaimed series by writing episodes in Season Three. And even though the series is ending in March, Espenson’s tenure will continue just a little longer, as she wrote the second BSG television movie, “The Plan,” directed by Edward James Olmos and slated to air following the conclusion of the series.

We spoke with Espenson about her involvement with the series, her feelings at seeing it end, and how she is still a fan, despite being an Executive Producer.

Newsarama: We’re a few days away from the premiere of the final episodes, and “The Plan” is close to completion – are you done with Battlestar Galactica at this point?

Jane Espinson: Well, I still have to do some post production on the movie, so I still have that, and we’ll see how Caprica goes after that. So there may be more of the Battlestar Universe in my future.

NRAMA: You certainly don’t nail yourself to one project and stick with that, do you? [laughs]

JE: I go where they need me. Wherever the wind takes me. [laughs]

NRAMA: Looking at the zeitgeist of geek culture right now – you’re very much in touch with the culture and science fiction fan universe…

JE: Those are my people…

NRAMA: Exactly. Among Battlestar fans, there’s a…it’s almost a palpable anticipation, something like Christmas coming for the start of the new episodes this Friday. How does all this affect you? Buffy was big, but this coming ending feels even bigger, perhaps to the larger cast, or the larger audience…

JE: Well, I refuse to compare Buffy and Battlestar – I’ve been fortune enough to work with two genuine geniuses on two phenomenal shows, but I think that Buffy kind of partly paved the way for the type of fandom that Galactica has. Buffy had this amazing, wonderful, internet-connected fanbase , one of the first internet-connected fanbases. I feel that Battlestar has benefitted from the fields that Buffy plowed.

NRAMA: Speaking of that fanbase - do you try to ignore it? Revel in it? Check out what fans are guessing?

JE: Oh, it’s very hard to stay off the messageboards. Ain’t it Cool News puts up links to the webisodes, and I’m there seeing what people are saying. They say some harsh things sometimes, but interesting things, and things that make you aware of where you may have been unclear. You can learn a lot by looking at what the fans are saying. You don’t want to take your ideas from them, but you can certainly take away where you’ve been unclear, and where you need to work harder. So I’m not above doing that – checking in on a board here and there.

And there is some reveling in it – I’m a fan too. I’m excited, not just because I’ve done something that’s getting media attention – Buffy made me kind of immune to that. It’s more that I’m doing something that people are enjoying, and I want to watch people unwrapping their Christmas gifts. That’s the feeling – “Oh good, that gift that I bought a year and a half ago that’s been sitting in my closet just waiting for Christmas – it’s under the tree and they’re going to unwrap it, and I can’t wait to see their faces, because I know how good it is.” I know how hard we’ve worked, and I know how happy I am with the outcome. I can’t wait until the episodes come back on so I can go and read about how people enjoyed it.

And I know I’ll read some things where people will say that we jumped the shark, or they didn’t enjoy it, and that will kind of break my heart. The thing that really breaks my heart is when people say, “Oh, they’re just not trying.” No! We are! We’re trying so hard – we’re working so hard to make it as good as we possibly can. I’m so pleased and thrilled when our fans recognize how hard we’re working. I think we really bring them something of quality, and I’m looking forward to reading what I hope will be stellar reviews – I want people to be happy with what we gave them.

NRAMA: It’s interesting to hear you talk about being such a big fan of the show, as well as being on the staff. I read the note you sent to TV Squad about the final episode of Season 4 before the new episodes start, and you said that how seeing the crew on the dead earth just broke your heart, even though you were responsible for putting them there…

JE: Oh my gosh - every time that I re-watch that, I think that it might be what they hoped – that they’ll find the earth that they expect to find...and then they don’t, and I get sad again.

NRAMA: Yeah, but you were the one adding the salt and pepper and oregano, and you’re still surprised at how the pizza tastes at the end of the process… It struck me that it can have that much an effect on you when you’re outside looking in, even though you worked on it from the inside, looking out…

JE: That’s a good analogy, actually, because cooking the pizza does not prevent you from enjoying it. With Battlestar you kind of can take yourself out of it – everyone wrote and produced their own episodes, and you didn’t really get involved in post production on other people’s episodes, and there’s a huge gap between when the episode is produced and when it airs, so there is time to gain some distance. When this second half of season 4 starts on Friday, it will have been so long since I have seen that episode – I’m going to be surprised by some of the stuff that happens, because I’ve forgotten a lot of the details. So there is that. But there’s also the fact that when a show feels so real and all-encompassing, you can be surprised by it even if you were on set yesterday, because it appears so real when you watch it. I’ve watched it with the actors, and seen the actors have the “Oh my God!” reaction as they’re watching a scene, and they were physically there when that scene happened. But there’s something about seeing it cut together and watching the story unfold that allows the actors to be fans as well.

NRAMA: You came on to staff with the fourth season after writing a couple episodes in the third. By the time you came on, the Final Four had been revealed, and the Last Cylon was yet to be revealed. Was that meant to be such an all-encompassing mystery of the series? It’s almost as if it was the production’s gift to fans, and a happy coincidence with the Writer’s strike – if anything happy can be said to have happen with that – that fans had this to chew on for so long… Was it meant to have been the big deal that it’s become?

JE: I think it would have been a deal even without the strike. I mean, I came on long before the strike happened, and it was the first thing I asked when I was officially put on staff. It was the very first thing that I asked on the first day I showed up. Although I was not there in on the planning when they came up with the reveal of the Four and the secret of the Five, I have to assume that they knew they were planting a great big, juicy mystery. The fact that it had to sustain fans through the long desert of the strike – certainly that wasn’t anticipated, but it did work out that way. So yeah, I think they had to know, and had at least an idea of how fans would react to it.

NRAMA: I guess in a way it goes back to what you said earlier – the fandom begat by Buffy and nurtured along by other shows along the way… Although I guess you could say we’re seeing the modern-day equivalent of the original Star Trek fans with some Doctor Who thrown in for attention to continuity…

JE: That’s true. And it really makes you respect those original Trek fans – they had to make an internet out of sticks and chips of bone. They made a thing that simulated the internet out of enthusiasm and 1960s communications. It’s kind of amazing. They made exactly the kind of community that the internet seems to have been made for in the eyes of fans – except they did it without the internet. So our fans have it a lot easier – they’ve got the internet built in.

But yes – very much so – our fans owe a debt to those original fans.

NRAMA: Last question for you – this Friday at 10:00 pm – where will you be?

JE: I just received word that there is a Battlestar premiere party that I will be attending with other writers, directors, cast members and friends, and I will be there.

NRAMA: With tears and laughter and all that goes with it?

JE: There will be all those things. This will be the first time the writing staff has been together since the last time…we were all together [laughs]. We all miss each other very much, and miss what we had, so yes – I promise that there will be tears.

And I can tell you exactly what writers will cry [laughs].


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