Ronald D. Moore had a huge cult following long before he relaunched Battlestar Galactica. His work on Star Trek was notably awesome, and his very public departure from Voyager, complete with spot-on critiques of the show's failings, was legendary. Whenever Moore joined the staff of a show like Carnivàle or Roswell, you knew you were in for something special.
Now, Moore's star has dimmed a bit — the ending of BSG was controversial, to say the least. And none of his post-BSG projects has really taken off. It's been a couple years since Moore's writing has appeared on our screens — and here's why we miss him.
The only time I ever met Ronald D. Moore in person was at San Diego Comic Con, when he was doing roundtable interviews for Caprica. In years past, I'd always imagined getting to interview Moore, and I'd tossed around tons of questions in my head about artificial intelligence or the nature of humanity. But by the time I actually found myself sitting a few inches away from Moore, there was only one question in the front of my mind: "What actually happened to Starbuck at the end of BSG?" Moore's answer was somewhat disappointing.
The thing is, Moore's work on BSG was revolutionary — even coming after Firefly, which did some similar things with handheld cameras and the depiction of life in space, BSG was still a creepy, thrilling revelation. The show only faltered when it tried to deliver on a huge mythology instead of sticking to telling stories about the characters — in retrospect, BSG was a victim of its era, the age when everybody believed that television shows had to have huge, overcomplicated mysteries.
Even if you found the final season of BSG confounding, as I did, you have to admire what Moore did in previous years. And you have to acknowledge that every great creator goes off the rails every now and then — and the best creators learn from their failures.
We haven't gotten a chance to see what Ron Moore learned from the BSG backlash, because pretty much all of his projects have faltered since then. I'm pretty sure there have been TV pilots that were written but never shot, but also two high-profile pilots were actually filmed: 1) Virtuality, a show about the crew of a long-haul spaceship who star in a reality TV show and escape into (dangerously flawed) virtual reality. This one actually aired as TV movie. 2)
17th Precinct, about an alternate San Francisco where magic is real and the cops use magic to solve crimes. Then there was Caprica, whose pilot Moore worked on, after which Moore never had another writing credit.
Meanwhile, there have been movie projects — Moore wrote a script for the Thing prequel that just came out, but his draft was almost totally discarded. And we haven't heard much about the I, Robot sequel Moore was writing.
More recently, though, Moore has gone Western — first a year ago, he was working on a new Wild, Wild West series. And now apparently he's committed to making a straight-up, non-steampunk Western called Hangtown, set in the early 1900s. (By all accounts, this is just a Western, with no crazy gadgets or weird anachronisms.)
But we hope that Moore isn't done with science fiction — and that the networks will let him make more at some point. He'd still be my absolute first choice to bring back Star Trek.
You only have to look at Moore's original bible for the BSG reboot to see his strengths as a creator in evidence — this is someone who thinks about the ways in which systems work, at a really deep level. There's a reason why the world of BSG always felt totally believable and solid, and that's because every detail had been thought out, from the jargon to the design specs of all of the ship's systems. There was no room for loosey-goosey technobabble, or painted-on backdrops — and that's one reason why BSG was so addictive.
Moore was also a master of creating alien races with their own cultures — and for a long time, his inclusion of religion and spirituality as part of those cultures seemed like a shrewd way of adding an extra dimension. In particular, he was one of the main forces behind making the Klingons into a living, breathing culture on Star Trek, adding layers of tradition and spirituality to the "warlike race" stereotype. It was primarily Moore who gave the Klingons a whole theology, complete with their own version of Hell and their own holy figure, Kahless. Moore didn't create all of this stuff himself, but he filled in most of the details that made Klingon society come to life.
And whatever you think of the ending of Battlestar Galactica, you have to admire the way in which the show viewed different characters through the prism of religion in many of its earlier episodes. One of Moore's great strengths as a creator has always been the way he understands that religion illuminates a lot of other aspects of human life, from politics to ethics to economics. As he told reporters in 2003, talking about the role of religion in Carnivàle:
Beyond organized religion, in sort of the minister character, and sort of the more surface aspects of "The Word" — I think the roots of the show are eternal. They are the struggle of light and dark, and good versus evil, and it does examine questions of faith, and it does examine, sort of, the nature of man. It's not afraid of sort of exploring that terrain, which I think is sort of an interesting thing to tackle on television.
And then there's the way in which Moore has been able to deal with adult topics — war, politics, economic ruin — in his work, without going for cheeseball shortcuts or easy metaphors. So many other science fiction creators go for the more stylized, broad metaphors when talking about the most important real-world problems. Science fiction does let you talk about things that other, more purely reality-based genres have trouble with, because it's removed from our world — but a lot of creators take that to mean that you can only talk about real-world problems by dressing them up in layers of camp, or creating silly allegories. Moore has been one of the best creators in terms of transplanting serious real-world topics into a fantastical world, and if anything making them more gritty and real in the process, not less. That's a skill that few creators can master.
And finally, Moore always understood that characters are only as interesting as their flaws. Which means both that exploring flawed, self-destructive characters is where a lot of the most interesting drama comes from — and that characters' flaws should be interesting, and not off-the-rack stuff like "rebellious teenager" or "impulsive hero." Moore's writing was usually most interesting when it came from messed-up characters making mistakes, rather than plot twists being flung out of nowhere.
Honestly, you just have to rewatch a few of his episodes of Trek, Roswell, Carnivale and especially BSG, to remember the strengths Ron Moore brings to television — and why we wish he'd get another science fiction or fantasy show on the air. Especially watching a lot of the science fiction and fantasy on television at the moment, you can't help wishing that something like Virtuality or 17th Precinct had made it to air. Either one of those shows might have been flawed — most television is, after all — but they would have asked more interesting questions, and taken us to more interesting places, than most of the stuff on right now.
That, in the end, is why we miss Ron Moore: he took us to the most interesting places.