Monday, August 22, 2005

On Battlestar Galactica and Cylons

Over at Poliblog, Dr. Taylor has a post entitled "BSGblogging: Who’s a Cylon?" Now, before I start in here, you must remember that all this speculation is subject to change under the Laws of Bad Science Fiction Writing (which the BSG writers have avoided thus far), under which rules of continuity or logic can be thrown out the window by a cheap plot device (e.g. an apparently dead character was actually not killed, but his clone was; whatever happened in season four was simply a hallucination due to hitherto unknown alien mind-control powers; travel to and from alternate universes; etc). I'm sorry to say that SciFi has been known to operate under the Laws of Bad Science Fiction Writing, as in a particular series of episodes of Farscape in which Scorpius was "killed" three episodes in a row. Twice, his survival was explained implausibly ("I managed to outrun that nuclear explosion") -- and, as I recall, the third time they didn't even bother explaining it. So far, though, BSG has kept with logic and continuity, so we'll give them the benefit of the doubt.

I would reject the whole "trying to procreate" basis as a cylon test, since we do not really know who is trying to procreate. The cylons may very well simply take sexual pleasure for its own sake. Actually having procreated is a partial disqualifier, since it disqualifies one of the two participants. In other words, the whole "Adama has procreated and is therefore not a cylon" only proves that either he or his late wife was not a cylon.

Therefore, I agree with Taylor's statements that Helo, Starbuck (the egg harvesting), Bill and Lee Adama are not cylons, but I think we cannot know about the Chief. He had sex with Sharon, but she did not become pregnant.

That being said, we can know for certainty (excepting the Laws of Bad SciFi Writing) that Adama, Lee, and Col. Tighe are not cylons -- because they have known each other for too long. We have seen all three of them aging in flashbacks. Lee was born and grew, and Adama and Tighe share memories decades old. The only way any one of them could be a cylon would be if all three were cylons and shared fake memories.

They keep trying to throw this Baltar red-herring out there, but that makes no sense either. If Baltar were a cylon, Number Six would never have had to seduce him and sneak around in the Defense mainframes -- they would have simply activated him and had him do it himself.

Then, there are the "this is just too good a storyline" non-cylons. As far as I can tell, we don't know enough about Ellen Tighe to know how far back Col. Tighe's memories of her go. Nevertheless, she can't be a cylon, because she's far too destructive a force for the writers to get rid of her by shooting her out of the airlock. No, they're not getting rid of her that easily; she's too deliciously bad.

Taylor writes:"So, really, I am going with Billy for sure, Gaeta maybe, and more likely than not the rest are in position we have not yet seen. I think that one will end up being planted in Zarek’s cabal in some capacity." That sums up my position exactly. Besides, have you ever met anyone named "Billy" who was NOT evil?

In just an aside, the blogsphere seems flooded with academics (and a few medievalists) who are quite taken with BSG. Somewhere long ago I read some medievalist (I forget who) who was blogging about BSG and the Aeneid. I've been since thinking about that, and may post something on that topic in the future.


  1. IN re: Adama and procreation--since the Cylons appear to have been unable to reproduce to this point, I would argue that Adama's fathering of a child some 30ish years in the past wholly precludes his being a Cylon (or his wife being one).

    Further, I would have to go back to the pilot for dates, but I am fairly certain that the human models are a new advent that emerged post-the last war and therefore a newer than Lee is old (bad sentencem yes, but I am supposed to be getting for class now and not writing about BSG).

  2. Clarity on my first point above: if the Cylons had been successful in procreation in the past, their current imperative in that direction makes no sense.

    Ok--really back to work now.

  3. Steven,

    Yeah, I get your point about Adama, and it's obviously right, but not, I think, because of the reproduction, but because of its time in the past.

    Let me throw out a couple of hypotheticals that the writer could use:

    1. So-and-so is a parent, but the child was killed during the war. Unless we have seen that child, for all we know it is an implanted memory. We have actually seen Lee.

    2. So-and-so gets pregnant NOW, or gets someone pregnant. All that tells us is that one of the two is not a cylon.

    3. So-and-so's wife has a child. How do we know she was faithful?

    ...etc, etc. In other words, I think we have to be careful about the procreation bit, because the writers could be tricky.

    BTW, it occurs to me that the President having cancer (and being a public figure for decades) seems to preclude her from being a cylon too.

    OK, time for me to prep classes too.

  4. As big a fan of Science Fiction as I am, I refuse to discuss BSG. Except to say that I refuse to discuss it, especially after attending the BSG panel at Comic Con in San Diego.

  5. Number One,

    Care to elaborate?

    Is like not talking about Fight Club or some sort of loyalty to the original?

  6. Make that "Is this like"

  7. I find the new show extremely disappointing. Don't get me wrong, I rewatched the originals and they are muy campy, but the new series with its emphasis on "complexity" just rubs me wrong. Add to that how lazy Katee Sackhoff is in her role as Starbuck, and you get major disappointment.

    On my blog I posted some comments about modern comic books and the "post-modern" heros contained in many of them. My comments were pretty critical of certain highly regarded "graphic novels," primarily due to the deconstruction of the iconic characters.

    The post-modern sentiments on the new series bother me, as do the visual effects (borrowed from Firefly) and the "silent space" sound efx. Not that I mind realistic wave physics, rather they mute the score in addition to muting the "background" sounds. Though I do think Bear McCreary, who worked on a number of friends grad films at USC, has done a good job with the score.

    I find the "religious conversations" trite, more after the panel than before. One should never listen to actors speculate about moral philosophy, leave that to writers. Ronald Moore was a much better discussant, but he still seemed too interested in pleasing his assumed audience in the panel.

    None of this has anything to do with your very interesting tests determine who is/isn't a cylon. That mystery is one of the interesting points of the series.

    Naturally, I know I am in the minority in my displeasure with BSG, but I was with Babylon 5 as well. My wife posted her thoughts, after a discussion of the Janet Jackson deal, here.

  8. Have you considered that a regular human can be replaced by a Cylon copy? Lee was gone from everyone he knew for two years...

  9. Yes, I've considered the idea that regular humans can be replaced by Cylons, but I've rejected it so far for several reasons. Nearly all of these have to do with continuity and logic for the series, and could be thrown over at any time by the Laws of Bad Science Fiction Writing. To give a few in a nutshell:

    1. We've never seen any evidence that they can, and if they could, they would have simply replaced President Adar or some other military officials, rather than sneaking around behind the scenes to take down the defense net.

    2. With only a few exceptions, none of the survivors is strategically placed. If I were a Cylon leader, and I had only a dozen models, why would I waste one on, say, an insignificant captain? Or an aging commander in charge of a museum ship at the end of his career? Or the Secretary of Education? Or the slutty wife of a colonel? The only one of the survivors I would have considered is Baltar, and for him it is a violation of Reason 1.

    3. Unless they make more models after learning who the survivors are, replicating survivors violates the 12 models rule, since there were 12 in the War.

    Etc, etc. I've got a few other reasons, and some responses to the obvious retorts you are likely considering (though I may not have responses to the less obvious ones), but all that would belabor the point. While we can come up with other justifications, they begin to stretch into the territory of bad writing, and thus far, BSG has mostly avoided that.

  10. Anonymous9:53 PM

    Why replace Adar? He was a moron!
    And Apollo is in place to betray just about everyone. He's off the radar of his friends and family for two years (the same amount of time as Boomer's service on Galactica and Natasi's affair with Baltar). The cylons had a transponder, a public relations officer, and a junior lieutenant on Galactica and could very well have planned for it to survive. And replacement or homemade, why is a junior lieutenant a cylon under your argument?

  11. Have you ever considered that because there is a 13th colony, there could also be a 13th cylon model? (or Model #0) Perhaps Baltar is that model. Perhaps Baltar created the cylons, first creating a body in which to download his own memories thereby becoming immortal. He started as human but became cylon sometime ago. Perhaps few or none of his fellow cylons know of his existence. Its seems he is even unaware of his true nature at the moment. Perhaps he is the God the cylons keep talking about. Maybe as the father of all cylons, he can 'activate' any cylon the way the cylons can 'activate a sleeper agent. Maybe to him, all cylons are sleeper agents of a sort. This seems plausible because #6 departed from Baltar on Caprica just before the attack without even letting him kiss her. All he got was a tiny peck on the cheek. She was then approached by someone whose identity is still unknown to us. Yet, the president now remembers seeing #6 and Baltar together on that morning, though in a considerably more intimate fashion. Could #6 have been 'activated' at that moment, to rendezvous with another Baltar?
    Further, it seems possible from all the scripture we've heard quoted that the cylon are (1) far older than we are led to believe, and (2) played the roles of the Gods back on Kobol. Here are some of the quotes to support this theory:
    "Kobol, the birthplace of us all." -Leoben Conroy
    "Kobol, the birthplace of God and Men" -Boomerbot

  12. Anonymous9:14 AM

    You're gonna mention Farscape as an example of bad writing, but totally ignore the reams of horrible crap the BSG writers continually churn out? Come on!?!

    They make that crap up as they go along. And how can you not want to vomit with their sudden flashback to explain some new "behaviour" or plot twist that makes no sense when you place the flashback back where it should go.

    BSG is the king of the bad writing.