Machine vs. MachineFebruary 16, 2009
The first time I watched this episode, I was honestly overwhelmed by what felt rather like an infodump on the part of the writers. I’d said I’d wanted answers, but jeez! I could barely absorb it all. But a second viewing helped a lot, and actually opened up some more questions too.
Last week’s mutiny seemed on some psychic level to return BSG to its roots in the Miniseries, keeping the major players separate from each other, with each having to figure out how to think quickly on their feet to problemsolve each crisis. Now this week, the show seems to be returning to some of the questions it asked in Season 1: What are the differences between man and machine? Which if either is superior and what if we can’t tell the difference? Does a species deserve to exist if it is willing to create life only to enslave it?
We’ve just spent the last two weeks seeing the man/machine debate from the humans’ side. This week, we get to see it from the Cylons’ side. Well, specifically, from the viewpoints of Cavil and of Ellen Tigh, the latter having been recently revealed to be one of the Final Five Cylons.
This episode attempts to take on some of those questions as it opens with a shot of Ellen Tigh – recently revealed the fifth Final Five Cylon – waking up in a resurrection tub on Cavil’s basestar ten months ago. With amazing expressions by Kate Vernon, we watch Ellen go through horror and then finally recognition of her Cylon identity in the tub of goo. Ellen has just been poisoned to death by her husband, Col. Saul Tigh on New Caprica for betraying the anti-Cylon resistance.
On the basestar, Ellen’s first non-Centurion visitor is Cavil, who treats us to a surprise re-reading of so many things we thought we knew about Cavil, Ellen Tigh and the way they impacted the BSG universe. Ellen was never aware of her Final Five identity, nor her husband’s, but that’s about the only thing about Ellen that remains the same after this episode.
It turns out that when Ellen was part of the 13th tribe on Earth, she was the mastermind behind reviving resurrection technology. She also was instrumental in creating the Cylon skinjobs on the Twelve Colonies and giving them resurrection technology, all in order to stop the First Cylon War.
Cavil, meanwhile, turns out to have been the first skinjob made by Ellen and the rest of the Final Five, who started out together as scientific researchers in the same facility back on Earth. Cavil helped make the other skinjob models and was the Final Five’s most treasured creation until he turned on them and killed them by trapping them in a room and depleting its oxygen, out of rage that he’d been made too human for his liking. He then boxed the murdered Final Five, implanted false memories into their brains and eventually released their downloaded selves one by one into human society starting soon after the end of the First Cylon War, with no knowledge of their Cylon identity.
What this means is that Cavil has known from the beginning of the series who the Final Five were and even interacted with some of them in violent and degrading ways without them knowing who they were. (He took Tigh’s eye in detention, he manipulated Ellen into having sex with him at least twice, and played spiritual counselor to Chief Galen Tyrol back in Season 2 when he was terrified he might be a Cylon.
The irony. Delicious, no?
All this new information being revealed in the background makes for a very heated and often ugly debate between Ellen and Cavil on the basestar about the superiority of human versus mechanical existence. Cavil is infuriated with Ellen and the Dylan Four because he would like to be able to be able to do things like see x-rays, smell dark matter. “I could know so much more, experience so much more,” rails bitterly at his maker. He reveals that he has already altered his own programming enough to delete the need to sleep and other minor human qualities, but can only accomplish so much with the “gelatinous orbs” for eyes and the “stupid, limiting language” Ellen and the others saddled him with. In other words, Cavil views his human form as limiting and inferior.
Ellen, however, has no remorse, and as she always has, is urging Cavil to more fully embrace his human side, which she looks upon as a gift. She continually refers to him as “John,” even though she knows he hates the name, talks about her memories of him as a boy, and asks him questions like, “Do you still have nightmares of dog-faced boys chasing you through the night?” Becoming more human gave the evolved Cylons a capacity for free will, and transcendent qualities like creativity and love, she argues to Boomer, who snaps back at her: “Who would I want to love?”
Yes, Boomer survived the destruction of the Resurrection Hub, along with Cavil. And for the first time, I felt I understood why Boomer, who has always thought of herself as a bit of a broken machine – half-in and half-out of Cylon society – has allied herself with Cavil of late. Cavil is teaching her to be more in love with her machine self, she tells Ellen, although ironically, it’s clear that Cavil loathes himself, calling his body “limited” and “broken”. Nor does he deny it when Ellen tells him he is sadistic and jealous, but merely turns her words back on her saying, “And whose fault is that?”
Boomer, it turns out, may still have some hope of peace, since by the end of the episode, she provides Ellen with an escape off the basestar on a Colonial Raptor (a nice nod to her original appearance in the Miniseries as the Raptor pilot who saved Baltar and other humans from almost certain death at the hands of Cylons).
Ellen believes that there is hope for Cavil and the others because of the Cylon belief in a loving God. Another surprise we get this week is that the One True God belief was actually a product of the Centurions before the Final Five arrived during the First Cylon War. We find this tidbit out through our other major font of information in this talky episode – Sam Anders, who last week suffered a bullet wound to the head that has unexpectedly unleashed an influx of his Final Five memories of being on Earth and coming to the Twelve Colonies forty years ago. It adds handily to the exposition we need to better follow Cavil and Ellen’s conversation on the basestar.
According to Sam’s memories, the 13th tribe had resurrection technology back on Kobol 3,000 years ago, but lost the knowledge after arriving on Earth and finding out they could procreate. It is not clear why they chose procreation over resurrection, but one wonders if they made a similar decision to Natalie, who fought to destroy the skinjobs’ resurrection hub so that her people would through the prospect of permanent death, come to appreciate living more.
The Final Five were warned on Earth about the impending Centurion insurrection on Earth by mysterious people that looked different to each one of them and that no one else could see (Head!People, perhaps?). They placed a ship in orbit with resurrection tanks and when the Centurions nuked the planet, the Final Five downloaded into space. They decided that they needed to warn the other tribes back in the Twelve Colonies to never build AI, that the cycle would repeat, and so started on a trip backward, recreating their steps back towards Kobol. However, Earth technology did not have FTL drives, and so the Final Five traveled in some (unexplained) relativistic way that made them not age despite travelling for 2,000 years. However, by the time the Final Five reached the Twelve Colonies, the First Cylon War had already begun. That’s when the Final Five approached the rebellious Centurions with an offer to end the war in exchange for the ability to resurrect.
However, not all Sam’s memories are quite so crystal clear. The bullet has triggered bouts of aphasia, causing him to babble in riddles and symbolic language unexpectedly, not unlike the basestar Hybrids. Some of his gobbedlygook seems fairly straight forward. For example: “He whose guile, stirred with revenge, deceived the mother of mankind,” seems likely a reference to Cavil and Ellen. But others are more mysterious: “Among bright stars, I am lost,” and he makes references to “all the forgotten children” and “the great forgotten language,” which may refer to the Colonists and to resurrection technology, or may be something entirely unknown. He also babbles, “the colony never forgets” which is a temptingly similiar reference as one Cavil makes when he pressures Ellen to rebuild the destroyed resurrection hub, telling her that all her equpment is still in “the colony”.
Sam also briefly mentions a 13th Cylon, another skinjob named “Daniel” who he says died. However, the conversation on the basestar reveals more. According to Ellen, Daniel was going to be model number Seven, but Cavil out of jealousy that Ellen favored the Daniels poisoned the amniotic goo in which all the Daniel copies were being matured, and then destroyed the Daniels’ genetic information so model number Seven could never be recreated.
Panicked that his impending brain surgery will delete his Final Five memories, Sam pours out all the information he can, including a warning to Tigh to stay close to the Fleet because something miraculous is starting to happen, “a gift from the angels.” In a suggestive juxtaposition, the camera then immediately cuts to the next scene as Sam is being carted away for surgery, to an opening image of Caprica Six, very obviously pregnant, with a fetus that she conspicuously refers to repeatedly as “he”. Is this a hint that Daniel will somehow be reborn in Caprica Six’s baby? Even more suggestive is that Caprica’s big news for Saul today is that “something new” has started – her baby has started kicking, which suggests a symbolic coming to life.
Meanwhile, back on the “C” and “D” plots, Roslin makes the perhaps not-startling decision that she’s had enough of the presidency for good, and Bill Adama finds out his ship is rotting away beneath him.
In a strange, poignant and yet also kind of disturbing scene takes place between Roslin and Lee Adama, Roslin mourns the loss of the assassinated Quorum, but then turns and essentially hands over the presidency to Lee, in all but name. She then proceeds to give Lee advice on how to be a good president – by focusing more on doing the “smart thing,” which isn’t always the “right thing”. To my surprise, Lee acquiesces to her advice and tells her with a grin that he’ll work on being “smarter and wronger.” The poignant part was watching Roslin and Lee sitting across from each other trying to figure out how to put the government back together in the face of its complete dissolution, but was I wrong to be disturbed by the idea that Baltar’s snarky jailhouse prediction in “Dirty Hands” of a dictatorial government forever-after run by a dynasty of Adamas has come to pass? Laura has moved by degrees throughout the series towards clear-eyed pragmatism, to the point where in Season 4.0, she was acting more and more autocratically. But she is now abdicating the entire civilian government over to the son of the commander in chief of the armed forces, who once was a military man himself. Am I supposed to be pleased about this? Shouldn’t be the people be having some say in this?
Meanwhile, on a tour of Galactica’s hull, Tyrol shows Bill Adama that the old girl is literally on the verge of falling apart. There are cracks on top of cracks, and the ship is in danger of folding in on itself and being completely destroyed if the wrong cracks suddenly give out. Tyrol suggests a biological resin that will not only patch the cracks, but as a living organism, eventually maturing and supplanting the ship’s own metal structure, taking on the majority of the load. After last week’s mutiny, Bill is wary of Cylon collaboration, telling Tyrol to make sure to use an all-human crew on the repairs, and at first flat-out refusing Tyrol’s suggestion to use the biological resin. After so many people died in the mutiny, I can’t tell whether I’m happy or annoyed that Adama now thought for a second about what the people wanted regarding Cylon technology. But like Roslin, Galactica can’t go one much longer carrying a full load, and Adama recognizes that. The ship was 50 years old when it was being decommissioned and they’ve done things it was never meant to take – e.g. slamming it into the atmosphere of New Caprica. By the end of the episode, Adama agrees to use the resin.
Is Galactica a symbol for all of humanity, which has endured more scars than it could have even thought possible when this all started? Humanity is still standing, but in what shape? It is barely 39,000 strong. Does the species’ ability to survive lie in intermingling with Cylons, much like Galactica’s chances of survival lie in intermingling with Cylon biotechnology?
Other less glaring, but no less interesting questions this episode brings up:
1. When the Final Five intervened and created the skinjobs, were they transformed from the chrome toasters, or did the Final Five create entirely new entities? If so, where did they get the genetic material from and whatever happened to the original Centurions?
2. Who is Daniel, the 13th Cylon? Is he someone we’ve seen already? I would think that if it were anyone we’ve seen, Ellen would have recognized him, with the possible exception of Romo Lampkin (although he doesn’t fit the “gentle, artistic” description very well). Also, Boomer was present when Daniel was discussed, so if it were someone Boomer would recognize, I would think Ellen would mention that, unless there exists a Daniel model living in the Fleet and Ellen is hiding him from Cavil. Or could the Daniel model be someone we’ve not seen in person, like Zak Adama or Starbuck’s father? But I would think Ellen would have also recognized Zak, at least from pictures, and she seems to have known Lee since boyhood. Was Daniel even ever a humanoid entity? Maybe he was just a virtual entity?
3. What exactly happened to “slow down time” for the Final Five on their trip between Earth and the Twelve Colonies? Is it the same thing that made Kara lose four months on her trip back and forth to Earth?
4. Head!Six has long been tied to the One True God, which we found out in this episode was a Centurion innovation back around the time of the First Cylon War, before the Final Five arrived at the Twelve Colonies. Is Head!Six some kind of AI linked to Centurion programming? Could she and the other Head!People have been somehow made by the Centurions or by the Hybrids? Head!Six’s longstanding mantra, all this has happened before and will happen again suggests an even longer reach through time, however. And what of the similiarity of the Head!People to Anders’ description of the invisible men and women who came to warn the Final Five about Earth’s destruction?
And of course, there’s the biggest question of all: How the heck are they going to answer even more questions with only five episodes left?