Cylons Are Humans

This season seems to find Battlestar Galactica finally starting to come to grips with what has always been the central, nagging contradiction at the heart of the show’s setup:

Some human-looking people are called humans, whereas other human-looking people are called “Cylons” and constantly referred to as “machines”, even though there’s no good philosophical reason whatsoever to separate the two.

As far as I’ve ever been able to tell, the “skinjobs” (human-looking people who consider themselves, and are considered, “Cylons”) have always just been humans with high technology (including memory-download technology). That’s it. They’ve never been “machines”. They are autonomous individuals in human form, with human biology, human free will, human personalities, and the ability to interbreed with humans. They are humans!

For most of its run, the show didn’t seem to realize this. Certainly few characters on the show seem to have realized this. Even when a relationship has developed between a human and a “Cylon”, and/or the subject of the difference has come up, no one has ever stepped up to say “Hey wait a minute folks, is there any reason to treat these so-called ‘Cylons’ any differently at all, or to even consider them non-human?” Heck, for at least the first season or two we were constantly told that there was no biological way to distinguish between the two. No biological distinction means they are the same, dummies!

They did since drop that pretense as evidently somewhere along the way Baltar seems to have genuinely developed a ‘Cylon test’ of some sort. Nevertheless, it’s clear that whatever the biological distinction, it’s fairly trivial and at the molecular level or somesuch. ‘Cylons’ appear to be humans. They have bodies and brains macroscopically indistinguishable from that of humans. And they can procreate with humans. Newsflash: this means they are human. I’m not even sure what the definition of ‘human’ could possibly be if that definition somehow excluded BSG’s skinjobs.

This apparent philosophical error has often made the show grating to watch for me. However, I’ll be the first to admit that the writers are sewing up some loose ends pretty well in season 5, and the ‘skinjob’ issue is no exception. We now have more of the backstory and it seems to be along these lines:

  • there were 13 tribes (of humans!)
  • the 13th tribe were ‘the Cylons’. These were humans! (Humans who had resurrection technology – augmented humans, if you like)
  • the 13th tribe settled on earth whereas the other 12 settled on the 12 colonies.
  • the 13th tribe gradually stopped using resurrection tech.
  • “the five” rediscovered it and used it to survive an earth holocaust and rejoin the 12 colonies

This is all quite consistent with the idea that Cylons are just high-tech humans; indeed, that’s probably the best way to understand all these events. The distinction between humans and ‘Cylons’ has always been spurious and forced and it appears that the writers of BSG are intelligent enough to have finally figured that out.

A Modern Archetype

The bad guys create an artificial female designed to infiltrate/destroy the good guys’ society. Once there, however, and seeing some of the goodness of that society, her allegiance is tested and she decides to join them. The girl is a blonde bombshell; she may not have started that way, but becoming blonde symbolizes her transformation into goodness.

Who am I talking about? “Seven of Nine” from Star Trek: Voyager? One of the various “Six” models from the new Battlestar Galactica, perhaps?

Wrong. Smurfette!

President Tigh

Is John McCain really a Cylon? I was a skeptic but the evidence just keeps piling up.

Battlestar Sex Disease

I was looking on the web for confirmation of my Cylon virus theory/hope, or someone who formed this theory first (I’m never the first person to think of anything), and the closest I found was this. It’s basically the same theory as mine, with much of the same motivation (explaining away an incoherent plot turn that looks like a cheap ratings ploy), although it gets more specific in postulating that the transmission vector for the ‘Cylon virus’ is sexual contact in particular.

I do really want this or something like it to be true. I have some problems with the STD theory though because it doesn’t seem to fully add up. Baltar has slept with Cylons a kajillion times so why isn’t he a Cylon? If Mrs. Tigh sleeping with a Cylon is what passed it on to Tigh, then was she (however briefly) a Cylon before he killed her? Did Starbuck ever actually sleep with Leoben because I didn’t think so (but I may just have missed an episode here or there)? Or if Starbuck got it through Baltar way back in season 1, why was the virus dormant for so long?

The numbers don’t quite add up, and it seems facile to just declare that anyone who slept with a Cylon and didn’t become one is just a ‘carrier’. Although, it is possible I suppose.

I would like the theory to be true. It’s certainly better than what we seem stuck with at the moment.

I suspect however that the real explanation for the Galactica Cylons is not them having slept with Cylons per se, but rather that something about their nature (as TV characters) made them likely choices for the writers to turn into Cylons. And whatever that was, also correlated with them having slept with Cylons in prior episodes. In other words there is a common cause that links ‘being a Galactica Cylon’ and ‘having slept with Cylons’, rather than the latter leading to the former.

And that common cause, I’m afraid, exists well outside of the Galactica universe and in the realm of TV writing, ratings, and economics.

Rescuing Galactica

I’ve written before about my irritation with where Battlestar Galactica has taken its storyline. Essentially, in making four random characters Cylons, they have destroyed all internal consistency of the show and spit on their fans for the sake of a cheap ratings stunt.

But there is still a way they could rescue it. Here is how it would go: sometime this season reveal that Tigh, Anders, whats-her-name, and Tyrol aren’t the “Final Five Cylons” per se (and certainly haven’t “always been”). Here’s what really happened: they were each given a “Cylon virus” (for lack of better term) while in captivity at various times on New Caprica.

This “Cylon virus” (bio/nanotechnology/cybervirus, or whatever), or really multiple viruses, contains and infuses its host with the souls/personalities of the “Final Five” – who had not taken human shape until now. Cylons are artificial personalities, remember? These “Final Five” were simply running on the Cylon “matrix” till now. But it was decided (by the ‘hybrid’, or by the final One, or whatever) to implant them in these four humans for whatever reason.

This would explain everything satisfactorily and consistently. Meanwhile we wouldn’t be stuck with idiotic contradictions. Like the task of trying to believe that Tigh, the 60+ year old, is “a Cylon” when everything we have been shown up to that point proves that’s a load of crap. He, like the other three, would be a normal human who was born and lived a human life until the day he was injected with the “virus”/Cylon personality.

Not only would this rescue what was an almost fatally-stupid decision, it would have actually been a good storyline. It holds potential for many interesting episodes.

  • Tigh comes clean – Consider how odd and unsatisfying it is that Tigh has hidden the fact that (he believes) he’s a “Cylon” from Adama. The old Tigh – the real Tigh – would have marched himself to the brig and demanded to be locked up (as a danger to the fleet) the moment he came to believe he was a Cylon. Why hasn’t Tigh done this? By hiding it from his best – and only – friend Adama, he is not only committing treason, but he is behaving inconsistently from the character we had gotten to know. This is so disappointing. That character had many flaws but he was loyal and honorable above all else. Tigh would not hide his Cylon nature and attend secret Cylon meetings, out of selfish concern for his own fate. He just wouldn’t. But if, instead, he has a “Cylon virus”, then we can write it off as a byproduct of the virus’s effects, it’s a Cylon personality overlapped on his. Future storylines would then involve him, upon learning of the virus, overcoming the Cylon-virus’s programming and demanding to be cured of the damn Cylon disease, and then later (once cured) falling into a depression and drinking himself into a stupor at the realization that he walked around thinking he was a toaster, which makes him want to puke.
  • Race for the cure – Once it comes out that there’s a Cylon virus that has instantiated 4 of the “final five” personalities into Galactica’s crew, the race is on to find a cure. The perfect direction to take this would involve the President humbly approaching Baltar – the scientist, and the only one who has deeply studied Cylon biology – and asking him to help. Baltar gets a “so when you need me you come crawling back” speech. Then he does it and gains partial redemption. Tigh says reluctantly, “I never thought I’d say this to you, Gaius Baltar, but thank you”.
  • Holdout/Stockholm syndrome – This storyline involves one of the fake “final 5″ – most likely (because she’s expendable), the President aide – resisting being given the cure for this or that reason. She has come to have visions about the Cylon ‘plan’ and the future of human/Cylon relations, you see. Having the Cylon inside her has given her a new way of seeing things. The ‘final five’ personality that inhabits her is, she realizes, a god. She ‘was supposed to’ become a Cylon. ‘Curing’ her of it would be barbaric. All that typical Galactica stuff. So when it’s time to be given the antidote, she runs away and hides out. A manhunt begins, led by Tigh at his most determined. Maybe she finds a smaller ship to hide out on, a cult forms around her as with Baltar, political compromise is necessary, etc. etc. This could stretch out for a while.

    Ghosts in the machine – Obviously the Galactica people wouldn’t have the heart to truly kill these 4/5 Cylon personalities with the virus cure; as usual on Galactica, some morally-murky compromise would be reached, in this case one that ultimately involves loading the 4 onto some computers to keep running so they don’t have to be ‘killed’. From there we can get to know about the 4 as separate personalities. The computer has them speak with Tigh’s, Tyrol’s, etc voices. We might learn something about their history and their role in the Cylon “plan”. Sometimes Adama comes to consult with the “Tigh Cylon”. And of course there’s lots of good psychological opportunities involving having the humans visit & talk to their Cylon counterparts at times. But meanwhile there could be some pretty dramatic episodes involving one or more of the cyber-Cylons “taking over the ship”, and everyone panicking, a shipwide alert. But at the end it turns out that this is just part of the Cylon programming and they made Galactica jump much closer to Earth than ever before – all part of the “plan”.

  • Reincarnation – eventually of course at least one of these viruses will be downloaded, perhaps after escaping (or being brought?) to a Cylon ship, back into a humanoid body. Then the four actors will get to do double duty, but as separate characters like Boomer/Athena. They will participate in the Cylon ‘board meetings’ and play their role in the “plan”.

This is how they could rescue the stupidity of the “final five” storyline. This, or something very similar to it, is the only way they could rescue it. Will they do it? Of course not. They will go on pretending that the cheap ratings stunt they’ve inflicted on us makes sense. And I will stop watching at some point.


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