February 14, 2009 Leave a comment
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.