Monday, February 27, 2006

Toasters, Unite!

Friday’s episode of Battlestar Galactica emphasized things that I had suspected about the development of Cylon society: the emergence of a hierarchy between models and a sense of morality and leadership among the more complicate Cylons.

For most of the series, the more robotic, “toaster”-like cylons did almost all the fighting, while the “humanoid”-like cylons refrained from combat. They play the roles of normal humans in order to remain covert, but they are never the poilus, the grunts at the front. Furthermore, the raiders (the flying crescents that descend on the fleet from nowhere) are beasts of burden: their role is to fight, and their memories are filled with bitterness and pain over constant death and reincarnation. In the last episode, the divisions became more clear. The “toasters” performed the labor (landscaping, security) and the “humanoids” enjoyed the parks and the cafes. Only the humanoids sat down with each other to chat. Is there any conversation that goes on between the two?

Moreover, a hierarchy is developing between the models of humanoid cylons themselves. Four (Lucy Lawless) embodies uncomplicated notions rights based on the goals of the race/culture; she even revealed some resentment of the superiority of the models that followed. Six (Tricia Helfer) is conflicted between different elements of spiritual teaching: humanity is obviously murderous, but should Cylons ape humanity in taking its place? Finally, Eight (Grace Park), who apparently is capable of naturally conceiving with a human, feels deep moral regret based on her ability to bond with humans. Each new model is capable of greater regret and introspection with regard to the war and their part in it. Six, the more theologically-oriented Cylon, may be the one who is caught between the two vision of moral improvement, as if she were the ego between the id and super-ego.

Still, there is much unanswered. Some might say that they differences are trivial, that they are just matters of convenience (easier, and less cheesy, to let the humanoids do the acting.) However, some thought has been put into the evolution of cylons, not just as a matter of improving with each new model, but also in relation to their contact with humans.

I am not sure what to make of this dimension of the Cylons. Evolving awareness of morality is an interesting dimension of the show, but it tends to occur only within those Cylons that are most human, most capable of simulating humans–those who can, by design, integrate themselves in human society. At the same time, humans prejudice those Cylons who look most like them, and not the ones that are obviously machines. Moments of understanding, such as what tends to happen whenever “Sharon” interacts with Adama, are not encounters with the other. Indeed, characters must be constantly reminded of her lack of humanity. Ultimately, moral improvement is self-discovery rather than as a process of engagement. The problem will become more relevant if, as I suspect, a division will occur between the more human Cylons and the mechanistic underclass ...


At 1:49 PM, Blogger johnny two-cents said...

I'm curious to see which way things will bounce. Clearly Cylon society is a convenient analog for a number of human historical movements; Calvinism, the Great Chain of Being, religious-zealot terrorism; Stalinism/Marxism... which way will they take this in the end?

Or will they cop out and use Cylon baby blood to cure cancer?

(I love this show; it's my favorite on television, but if the writers pull ONE MORE cheap deus ex machina (literally, in this case), my patience will be sorely tried.)

At 12:22 PM, Blogger Nathanael said...

For a show that prides itself from diverting from sci-fi formula, the Cylon blood thing was stupid. Of course, compatability between the two had to be addressed at some point, but not to cure cancer. Stupid!

That said, I can't wait for tonight's finale. I have a bottle of Port waiting for it!

At 2:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 2:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...



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