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[BSG] Jammer's Review: "Flesh and Bone"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Note: This review contains significant spoilers. ... Battlestar Galactica: Flesh and Bone When a Cylon is discovered hiding in the fleet, Roslin insists he
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 4, 2005
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      Note: 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.

      Star Trek: Hypertext - http://www.st-hypertext.com/
      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...
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