Based on the title of this eighth installment of season one of Battlestar Galactica, “Flesh and Bone,” we know this episode is all about being human, but the writers take it beyond just the physical nature of humanity.
Episode eight opens with President Roslin’s dream. She’s walking through a forest, wearing all white, awash in a blueish-white glow. She’s being hunted, or chased, by what looks like, her own marines, and she winds up seeking safety in the arms of Leoben Conoy, a Cylon, who saves her from the men hunting her in the forest. Leo, the Cylon, gets sucked back and away from her, but is suddenly, again, right behind her, and he calls her name, “Laura.” She wakes up – only to learn a Cylon has been found aboard a fleet ship – one that turns out to be a copy of Leo Conoy. Somehow, this is an episode I barely remember, but one that begins so much of the core mythology of Battlestar. The Cylons have a plan, according to the opening credits, and to the writers’ credit, they also have a plan.
While Adama is speaking to Roslin over the phone about their found Cylon, he reminds her, “It’s not a him, it’s an it.” This episode is all about dehumanization; dehumanization of a species that has set itself up to look, act, and function as humanly as possible. Roslin wants this Cylon interrogated, but Adama is wary, and tells her they cannot trust anything it says; it wants to get into their heads and plant seeds of distrust and discontent. The language we use frames our thought, so when we refer to an enemy as “it,” or “thing,” or even animal, it becomes easier to see that person or group as an enemy, as less than human; it’s nothing new, and it’s something that is still used today to dehumanize an enemy. Something that struck me on this rewatch is that Adama easily sends Starbuck in to interrogate Leo. Why her? She’s hot-headed and impulsive. Apollo is much cooler and rational. Does Adama want that touch of out-of-control that Starbuck possesses? During this interrogation, Starbuck refers to Leo as a machine, another word meant to inflict humiliation, and after he gets a punch right across the face from a faceless marine, she tells him he should turn off the pain, but he won’t, because that is what makes him a machine. According to Starbuck, humans have to suffer pain, and cry, and scream, and endure, because they have no choice. This is the frailty of humanity, but also what makes humanity strong, the ability to survive all the pain and grief life throws our way. Here, Starbuck implies that all Cylons want is to be human.
3. The power of suggestion/prophecy
Adama has met a copy of Leo and dealt with him first hand. He knows what this Cylon is capable of when it comes to manipulation and suggestion. While Leo is being repeatedly drowned in a tub of water – humanity, am I right – he tells Starbuck about her mother, about her belief in the importance of suffering. He feeds her this one small truth, something to gain her trust, or faith, and then tells her “you’re going to find Kobol, the birthplace of us all, and Kobol will lead you to Earth.” This isn’t bad news, but to what degree with it influence Starbuck’s actions? This time the word “you’re” stuck with me; does Leo mean Starbuck, or the fleet as a whole? It’s been so long since I’ve watched this show, but the show itself remains prominent in my memory more so in large, vague pictures, so the small, minute details are making all this difference this time around.
4. God vs. Gods
This is a topic that’s been addressed circuitously throughout these first eight episodes. It’s obvious that humans believe in multiple Gods, and that Cylons believe in one, true God. It’s a conversation had between Baltar and his vision of Caprica Six, and a conversation had between Starbuck and this copy of Leo Conoy. This conflict of beliefs is one of those large, vague pictures that remains in my mind after watching Battlestar all those years ago, but now I’m thinking: what is the point. It’s interesting, but throughout history, wars have been fought over religious beliefs smaller than monotheism vs. polytheism, and this war seems to have nothing to do with religious beliefs. Though, it is one major difference between humans and Cylons, and I’m excited to focus on this idea as I make my way through the series again. I seem to remember this conflict becoming a larger part of the story, but, again, it’s real vague in my mind.Continued below
5. It is your destiny
We’re back to destiny. Every time I read, or say, or hear the word “destiny,” I think of Back to the Future, “I’m your density.” Is this relevant to this review? Nope, not really. But just straight analysis of an episode can get tedious. So, remember that dream of Roslin’s? The one where she sees Leo Conoy – we’re getting to the importance here – at the end of the episode. The way these episodes bookend one another is something I’m really into in this rewatch. It’s not something I consciously noticed the first time around, but it is smart writing. Roslin insists on seeing Leo after dreaming about him again, and when she arrives at the detention facility, she’s appalled to see how his eight hour torture session, at the hands of Starbuck, has led to no information about the bomb Leo claims has been planted on a fleet ship. Roslin apologies to Leo for his treatment, has his restrains removed, and tells him the conflict does not have to continue if humans and Cylons learn to trust one another. You know what, I was thinking about this earlier. Why doesn’t someone try to be nice, human even. He then tells Roslin what she wants to know, that there is no bomb; he made it up to extend his life. There. Simple, right? NOPE. Conoy goes in for a hug, and whispers in Roslin’s ear, “Adama is a Cylon.” Oh, fudge. That’s why you don’t trust a Cylon. Talk about the power of suggestion. In a complete turn of events, Roslin airlocks Conoy. She sends him to his death. No trial, no jury, just impulsive action. No one else heard what he said to her about Adama, including Starbuck, which makes Roslin’s command shocking to his former interrogator. The president, echoing Adama’s former words, tells Starbuck that the Cylon “Puts insidious ideas in our heads that are more lethal than any warhead. You’re right. He’s a machine. You don’t keep a deadly machine around.” And once the button is pushed, Conoy flies out the airlock, gets sucked back and away from her, just as in Roslin’s dream. Has all of this happened before as Leo prophesized?
This episode is one I barely remember, but thoroughly enjoyed. It sets up so much of the mythology I remember from this series. It’s also ambiguous in so many of its crucial details. For example, which Adama is Conoy referring to? At first I assumed he meant Commander Adama, and at the end of the episode, it appears Roslin assumes this too, but what about Lee Adama? One item I didn’t have room for is Baltar’s first run with his Cylon detector. Boomer insists on being tested, and her result comes back positive, because of course it does, she’s a freaking Cylon. But, Baltar lies and changes her results after a strict talking to by his ever present companion, Six. Why? Where will this lead? This episode really heads strongly into the philosophical nature of Battlestar. I’m ready for it. Oh, by the way, in the Bible, the number eight has to do with resurrection, a new beginning.