259[BSG] Jammer's Review: "Flesh and Bone"
- Jul 4, 2005Note: This review contains significant spoilers.
Battlestar Galactica: "Flesh and Bone"
When a Cylon is discovered hiding in the fleet, Roslin insists he be
questioned, so Adama puts Kara in charge of an interrogation to get answers.
Air date: 2/25/2005 (USA)
Written by Toni Graphia
Directed by Brad Turner
Rating out of 4: ***1/2
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
Here's a session in the box that's intense enough, deep enough,
psychological enough, and acted well enough that I'm willing to say it could
be compared to some of the top-shelf box sessions from "Homicide," which of
course is the undisputed champion of the box.
Because this is "Battlestar Galactica," however, there are additional
considerations, like debate over religion and sci-fi concepts, the
mysterious mythology of Kobol, the warfare between civilizations, and the
characters' self-granted right to torture the subject who is in the box.
It's a brave new world.
A Cylon copy of Leoben Conoy (Callum Keith Rennie), whom Adama killed in the
miniseries, is discovered hiding on a ship in the fleet and is immediately
taken into custody. Adama recommends dispatching this Cylon at once, lest he
cause damage to the fleet or start putting dangerous ideas into people's
heads. Roslin, however, wants Leoben interrogated for information about the
Cylons. Adama puts Kara in charge of the interrogation with a warning that
Leoben is a master of psychological manipulation, and that he will try to
get into her head.
Thus begins a duel of wills between the interrogator and her subject. The
interrogation takes up most of the episode's running time, but the show is
not confined to the interrogation room like "Homicide's" famous "Three Men
and Adena." This episode cannot be fairly held up to the likes of "Three Men
and Adena," but it's worth noting that it made me think of that episode on
more than one instance.
This interrogation is not about guilt or innocence. That Leoben is a Cylon
is beyond dispute. He fully admits it. He's guilty of being a Cylon, and so
far in this universe, there is no innocent Cylon; they are all the enemy.
(One wonders what will happen once Sharon is revealed as a Cylon.) No, this
is about learning about the Cylons and their tactics, something that will
hopefully garner strategic knowledge.
The thing about Starbuck as played by Katee Sackhoff is that she's
believable balancing the no-nonsense intensity with the abrasive sarcasm.
She can pull off the role of badass, but at the same time she has a
condescending grin that reminds me of Garak's philosophy of adversarial
encounters: When in doubt, smile, because it confounds your enemy.
It does not, however, confound Leoben, who immediately claims to have
planted a nuclear warhead somewhere in the fleet -- a claim that cleverly
narrows the scope of the interrogation's information-gathering goal. Not
that it matters, because Leoben's refusal to answer questions quickly turns
the interrogation into a battle of wills and a discussion of Leoben's
existence as a human mimic.
For example, Leoben admits to being hungry, having not eaten in days.
Starbuck asks him, what's the point of being a machine programmed to feel
hungry? Wouldn't that simply interfere with the efficiency of operation? For
that matter, why feel pain? That's a question for when the beatings and
torture begin. Can Leoben, who is a machine, flip a switch and turn off the
pain? And if he does so, does that make him less "human"? Starbuck's
assertion is that it would: Human beings are forced to suffer through their
pain, and if a Cylon can simply turn their pain off, they really aren't
But Leoben either cannot or refuses to turn off his pain, and takes his
beatings -- followed by being repeatedly dunked into a bucket of water -- as
if it were his duty.
Between the torture are discussions that venture into philosophy. Leoben
says he sees "patterns" in the universe that humans cannot see, which he
claims gives him the ability of prescience. Furthermore, he says "I am God,"
and says that all Cylons are gods in a way, because they have a foresight
that humanity can't grasp. More specifically, in an iteration of a speech
Leoben gave Adama in the miniseries, he says the Cylons were created by God
as a punishment for humanity's sins.
Callum Keith Rennie's performance as Leoben is effective in its
straightforwardness. Here's a Cylon whose goal under duress is to turn the
screws of mental manipulation, to be menacing via his utter Cylon
implacability, and yet at the same time he maintains an underlying
sincerity, as if he believes every word he says to Starbuck (which he very
well might). The claim of the nuclear warhead, we suspect all along, is
simply the device by which Leoben buys himself time to start in on his Cylon
There's a lot of meat in "Flesh and Bone." In addition to Leoben's pervasive
dialog, there's also the interesting underlying religious themes, including
the polytheism versus monotheism in the difference between the Colonial
Lords of Kobol versus the Cylons' singular God. What does all of this mean?
I don't know that it means anything specifically right now, except to
suggest the nature of the Cylons having established their own independent
religion and their belief that they have souls of their own. Can a machine
have a "soul"? (Starbuck's initial belief is that Leoben has software, not a
soul, but she begins to question that belief.) Perhaps one way to look at it
is that any being intelligent enough to comprehend its own death and ponder
its meaning probably has the right to lay claim to the concept of a soul.
What's interesting is how this process wears on Starbuck, the interrogator.
Leoben eventually is able to get into her head by telling her things about
herself that seem too personal to have been researched in a background
check. Leoben either has unique insights, or is a master of psychological
manipulation. Eventually, he begins prognosticating, saying that humanity
and the Cylons are involved in a cosmic, historic struggle destined to
repeat itself. He quotes from Colonial religious scripture (either that, or
"The Matrix Reloaded"), saying, "All of this has happened before, and all of
it will happen again." He tells Starbuck that the Galactica is going to find
Beyond the prognostication, the simple fact is that Starbuck beings
empathizing with her subject. When Leoben refuses to give up information,
she calls his willingness to endure more torture a malfunction, a state of
sickness. Eventually, she can't stomach it anymore. The more Leoben talks,
the more questions Kara has, and the more troubled she becomes. Sackhoff
shows a solid range in her character's gradual shift from hard-line
interrogator to one of surprising vulnerability. One of the show's best
strengths is its moral ambiguity; by the end Kara is praying for Leoben's
soul, if he has one.
Kara isn't the only one empathizing in this story. There's also Sharon on
Caprica, who meets with her fellow Cylons to report that she's had sex with
Helo. "Does he love you?" Six asks. The Cylons tell Sharon to convince Helo
to stay on Caprica, or to kill him. This puts Sharon at a crossroads, where
she chooses Helo over her co-conspirators, and decides to truly go on the
run with him rather than pretending.
Meanwhile, the other Sharon on the Galactica reaches the end of her
frustration. Her humming and stroking of the captured Cylon Raider
(ever-so-eerie, that) raises Tyrol's eyebrow a bit, to the point that Sharon
wants to clear herself of being a Cylon once and for all. She visits Baltar
in the lab and insists on being the first test subject for his Cylon
detector. When he demurs, she plays the "you owe me" card, reminding him
that she and Helo saved him from annihilation on Caprica. I like the
continuity of this moment, which reminds us how all these players have been
moved into place.
The scene where Baltar analyzes the results and is about to inform Sharon is
a mini-masterpiece of hypnotic tone and dialog. Baltar realizes Sharon is a
Cylon, and then must decide what to say to her. Six tells him Sharon's
likely to go into Cylon mode and break his neck on the spot. Can't have
that. I liked the musical continuity, melding what I'm willing to call Six's
theme and Sharon's theme (see the opening minutes of "Water") into a tense
undercurrent. Sharon stares at Baltar, awaiting his answer, as if
unconsciously waiting to explode. Below the tension is the humor of Baltar's
panicked facial expressions, as he looks back and forth and decides what to
say. Of course he says what he must to protect himself from possible death,
and tells her that she's 100 percent human. Of course, the implications
arising from Baltar's discovery have their own foreboding.
Back in Leoben's storyline, Roslin orders the interrogation ceased and
promises to spare Leoben's life if he tells her where the warhead is.
Ironically, Leoben comments -- in regard to being tortured -- that the
military are trained to dehumanize people, even as the interrogation itself
had forced Kara into doing exactly the opposite. He confesses what we
suspected all along -- there is no warhead. But then he whispers to Roslin
that "Adama is a Cylon." Roslin has her own response: "Put him out the
airlock." Which they do.
This is some pretty dark stuff. Interestingly, the character arc for Roslin
in the episode is the opposite of Kara's. Roslin begins the episode in a
vulnerable place, having prescient dreams involving Leoben, and waking up in
particularly rough shape from her illness. By the end, she shows a side that
I didn't know existed, willingly venting a man into space without a trial or
hearing. Because he's a Cylon, he has no rights, is guilty and is given an
automatic death sentence. End of story. It raises some tough questions, to
say the least. That the story doesn't compromise or supply easy answers is a
credit to its makers.
Copyright 2005, Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.
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Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...