In the eighth episode of the first season of Battlestar Galactica, Starbuck is ordered to interrogate a suspected Cylon captured aboard the fleet, but her thick skin is slowly cracked by the Cylon’s behavior. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Battlestar Galactica.
Well. This isn’t slowing down any time soon, is it?
There’s a lot that I want to discuss about “Flesh and Bone,” especially the concept of a physical identity inside of a Cylon body, but I must say this first: Clearly, had I just waited one day, I would have seen that this show is going to deal with various facets of religion in the lives of both Cylons and humans. I don’t really think I spoke prematurely. As far as I do know, “Six Degrees of Separation” is still using the Hollywood Athiest strawman, but now I feel it’ll be for some other end I’ve yet to see. Here in “Flesh and Bone,” Roslin and Starbuck are both faced with deeply spiritual experiences, and they act them out in parallel to one another.
I think that the overarching theme of this story is one of uncertainty, and it’s the answer that lurks just around a corner, but never reached, that propels much of the action we see. Even when we get confirmations and concrete information (as in the case of Galactica Boomer), we’re still left wondering the next step, more intrigued by that than a revelation. Roslin’s uncertain, eerie dream is what comprises the cold open, and we have no idea why Conoy is here, especially since Roslin never met him. Why is he trying to save her from oncoming human soliders? And why is he mysteriously sucked out into the forest?
We get confirmation that Roslin is getting chamalla as treatment for her cancer when she wakes up, writing off the dream as a mere side affect of the drug. Unfortunately, though, she receives word that another ship has captured a Cylon, one we come to discover is copy of Conoy. We’re told at the beginning of each episode that the Cylons have a “plan,” and, going along with the theme of uncertainty, it’s nearly impossible at this point to figure out what it is.
I mean…what was the point of Shelly Godfrey’s appearance? Did she honestly exist to merely provide the opportunity for Baltar to gain faith and to earn the trust of his fellow shipmates? Why would Conoy appear in Roslin’s dream as if the whole thing were a prophecy? The biggest question, of course, concerns Conoy’s appearance on Gemenon Traveler. Why?
Even from the first moment Starbuck looks at Conoy, it’s clear to me that confusion is going to reign over all of this. Starbuck comments to a fellow officer about the existence of sweat on Conoy’s face. It’s now obvious just how much these Cylons can mimic human behavior, but for Starbuck, it’s not enough for her to forget that these are machines. In fact, for much of the session she spends with Conoy, she makes it clear that she knows that Conoy is, at heart, a machine, and only chooses to act out the human parts of his biology in order to continue to manipulate those around him.
I wasn’t terribly interested in the two trading psychological jabs at one another, and I think it’s because we’ve all seen this quite a bit before. It all borrows heavily from The Silence of the Lambs, which sort of sets the bar (very high, I might add) for this type of interaction. But, again, things don’t go as planned because Conoy, while aiming to get “inside” Starbucks head, is actually far more concerned with confusing her. (And me. I’ll admit it. A lot of what he says is baffling to me.)
Why does he choose to focus on her name? Why, when learning it, is he so ecstatic about it? Why does he tell her that he hid a nuclear warhead when he could avoid doing so and succeed without suspicion? Is he here specifically to make people question themselves, to sow them with paranoia and fear? If so, why even bring up his God and challenge Starbuck’s belief in the Lords of Kobol?
Out of everything, that detail perplexes Starbuck, and it’s something she chooses to focus on throughout “Flesh and Bone.” Personally, I think it’s the most fascinating thing about the Cylons: How can machines (self-aware ones, at that) believe in a God? Starbuck guesses that they are programmed to. What is more human than religious belief? And so she acts on this assumption: the Cylons are programmed in every way to have human reactions, so it stands to reason that eventually they’d have to react to torture in human ways. I won’t lie: the torture scenes are incredibly hard to watch, even if we think about Conoy as a Cylon. He can still clearly experience pain and it’s not easy for me to disassociate from the idea. Granted, my whole race wasn’t the victim of brutal genocide. Starbuck even points that out when Conoy tries to rebuke her for humanity’s problems, making sure to outline just how evil it was for the Cylon’s to wipe out humans.
The confusion is not confined just to Conoy, either. Boomer (both versions, by the way) are acting out rather bewildering story lines as well. On Caprica, Boomer visits with Six and Doral, and it’s now totally obvious by Doral’s use of the term “love nest” that they are trying to get Helo to impregnate Boomer. I still don’t know why, though. (Seriously, do I know anything about this series? I AM SO HOPELESS LOST AND I LOVE IT.) yet when Six gives Boomer an ultimatum–succeed with Helo or kill him–she reacts in a surprising way: she appears to disobey them. She pulls Helo away and tells them they need to escape. Now, I could be wrong, and this could be a ploy to get him into the “love nest” (oh god I hate that word), but given the flashes she had of how well Helo had treated since she “found” him, I’m inclined to believe otherwise. So…is it now possible for Cylons to resist their programming? Can Cylons develop their own personalities and feelings and emotions independent of their Cylon nature?
OH GOD I AM SO CONFUSED.
Guess what makes that worse? Galactica Boomer. Humming to the Cylon Raider is not helping your appearance, dear, and neither is making a joke to Tyrol about being a Cylon. PROBABLY A BAD THING TO JOKE ABOUT. So when she goes to Baltar, it feels like yet another REALLY BAD DECISION, but I’m beginning to think that Boomer is evidence of a Cylon having their own distinct identity. She is clearly not aware of who she is, and she’s only fueled by her own suspicions. Even stranger, why is it that Six, Doral, and Conoy never once seem to reference the fact that they have a Cylon agent unidentified and fully integrated on board the Galactica?
So now the secret is out: Baltar knows that Boomer is a Cylon, which…christ, THAT IS SO AWKWARD. I laughed at Six’s lines acknowledging the same thing. God, it’s going to be heartbreaking when Boomer discovers that Baltar lied to her. How is that going to be dealt with?
Meanwhile, Starbuck is becoming less certain in dealing with Conoy. He demonstrates his horrifying strength by ripping away his restraints, throwing aside a table, and grabbing Starbuck by the throat. Then he utters a cryptic line: he has a surprise for her. UM WHAT. WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT, SIR. This is not the only thing he tells her that is FUCKING WEIRD. Why is he so obsessed with streams and water? Why does he insist that she has some greater destiny? Starbuck begins to believe he is merely stalling because he is actually filled with fear. She suspects he’s worried his consciousness won’t transfer as it is supposed to, and she tries to act on this, repeatedly having Conoy’s head dunked in a large bucket of water, threatening him with drowning.
And really, it was obvious at this point that Conoy would never tell Starbuck where the bomb was. Why delay this whole time to just reveal it at the end? Instead, he reveals a much more surprising fact: he has seen the future, and the humans will not only find Kobol, but Kobol will lead them to earth. EXCUSE ME, WHAT????? This does not fit the pattern of everything else Conoy has shared, because it causes no chaos, no paranoia, no fear. It is a message of hope. So WHY THE HELL ARE YOU SHARING THAT? He even tells Starbuck that it is her “destiny” to deliver his soul to God.
I think what touches Starbuck (and is the reason why she later puts her hand up to the glass) is that the arrival of Roslin triggered the rush of thoughts she’d been ignoring. In the midst of torturing Conoy, she couldn’t ignore that there was something to him that was human, that something about him proved he wasn’t 100% Cylon. It’s the only thing that I could think of that would explain why Starbuck would feel anything for someone who contributed to the destruction of the human race.
Roslin, on the other hand, seems to start from this place at the outset, doing what absolutely no one had done up until this point: treat the man with respect. That’s what makes Roslin such a good leader. She has this ability to be empathetic and understanding, even to a Cylon or, in the case of “Six Degrees of Separation,” the man who apparently betrayed all of humankind. So she tries to reason with him, and, almost like magic, he admits there never was a bomb in the first place. It was all a lie. It’s eerie how emotional and kind this scene is, given the context of what had happened over the course of the episode, and the “hug” that occurs only makes it weirder. I thought at first that it was a genuine display of affection, but then Conoy whispers those dreaded words: Commander Adama is a Cylon.
NO. NOPE. NO. HE CAN’T BE. HOW DARE YOU SAY THAT. It shocks Roslin so badly that she immediately pulls away. She refuses to believe this, so much so that she does what she should have done eight hours earlier: she has him ejected out into space. I can’t claim to understand how the very image of him being sucked out into the black of space was in her dream, but there it is. Conoy is gone, and we have no idea what he said was the truth, or what was a lie, just as Adama had told Starbuck. Shaken by the thought that Conoy was right, Starbuck silently prays to the lords of Kobol that his soul make it to God. Roslin, on the other hand, is not as hopeful. When she meets with Adama at the end of the episode, that same mixture of truth and lies swirls in her head. She tells Adama she is fine, but it’s clear she’s not. She can’t get the thought out of her head.
So Adama isn’t a Cylon, right? RIGHT???? OH GOD.