[BSG] Jammer's Review: "Downloaded"
- Note: This review contains significant spoilers.
Battlestar Galactica: "Downloaded"
On Cylon-occupied Caprica, reincarnated copies of Six and Sharon struggle to
reintegrate into Cylon society, and must cope with the roles they played in
Air date: 2/24/2006 (USA)
Written by Bradley Thompson & David Weddle
Directed by Jeff Woolnough
Rating out of 4: ****
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
Now here's an episode of "Battlestar Galactica" that's made in the best
tradition of classic "Star Trek." Also "Deep Space Nine," since it has all
the messy and labyrinthine character relationships (not to mention two of
its former writers). "Downloaded" is a morality play with the fascinating
twists of science-fiction, creating a scenario that asks difficult human
questions in circumstances no human being could ever experience.
It's hard to believe that this episode almost never happened ... or at the
very least almost never happened at this point in time in this particular
form. According to previous Ronald D. Moore commentaries (for the record, I
listen to all the episode commentaries, but not until *after* I've written
my reviews) "Resurrection Ship" was originally planned as one episode, with
the slot for "Downloaded" assigned the status of a clip show because of
budget constraints. When "Resurrection Ship" was expanded across two hours,
"Downloaded" became possible. I am thankful. This might be BSG's best and
most enlightening episode of the season. It's emotional, psychological,
informational, and intellectual.
When a Cylon dies, he or she is downloaded into a new body, and we get to
see that process first-hand in the episode's intriguing opening minutes.
They play like a variation of "The Matrix," with a traumatic birth-like
emergence into a strange new world. Granted, "variation" is a polite way of
saying "rip-off," but the idea itself is effective. Six wakes up in a
download/resurrection chamber (a "Matrix"-like bathtub of transparent slime)
after being killed in the nuclear blast of the miniseries. She's coaxed back
to consciousness by her fellow Cylons, who guide her in rebirth like helpful
parents. There's also a scene where Sharon, after being shot in
"Resistance," undergoes a similar rebirth. Sharon's rebirth is far more
horrifying than Six's, which is perhaps an insight into the natures of their
programming and the duality they face in "Downloaded."
For me, however, the central idea in the story is the notion that Six
hallucinates visions of Baltar, in much the same way Baltar hallucinates
visions of Six. (The copy of Six in "Downloaded" is the same one from the
miniseries that deceived and used Baltar to gain access to the defense
mainframe, making the sneak attack on the Colonies possible.) The story's
most crucial choice is that it approaches Six with a genuine curiosity about
her conscience. Yes, she used Baltar and specifically their sexual bond to
take advantage of him, but how did she actually *feel* about it?
The fact of the matter is, she feels very guilty about it. She carried out
her mission effectively, and the sneak attack was successful even beyond the
predictions of the Cylons' own war architects. Six is now known as "Caprica
Six" and holds a hero/celebrity status. But always appearing to her is the
vision of Baltar, reminding her of the massive crime she assailed upon
humanity, and by extension, upon him.
As a storytelling device, this is a masterstroke. Logically, one might
wonder if the Cylons in general and Six in particular are sentimental enough
to be capable of this sort of psychological weakness -- but of course they
are, because they are us. Besides, this allows for a Six/Baltar duality that
is now fully complete; they are their own mirror images. Where Baltar's
guilt has created a Six in his mind that drives him mad and leads him down a
path of increasing darkness, with Six it's just the opposite -- she sees an
image of Baltar that reminds her of what she did (and what she might in the
future do to atone for that sin). The psychological details to ponder are
endless; the most intriguing thing about the episode is realizing that these
two characters are intrinsically one, and exist as a dichotomy that allows
them to take completely different paths.
Like I said, this is a morality play. It's about Six facing up to what she
did and figuring out now what to do about it. Her choices play out through
her interaction with Sharon, whom she has been assigned to help reintegrate
into Cylon society. Sharon is even more wracked with guilt than Six, mostly
because she wasn't aware of her assignment as she carried it out. In a
society of lies and deception, Sharon is the ultimate victim because she was
an unwitting perpetrator. The cosmic joke was not simply played upon her,
but also used her as its instrument. Sharon is understandably bitter about
that joke. Seeing Sharon, Six grows more troubled with the moral
implications with each scene.
Another of the interesting aspects of "Downloaded" is that it shows us more
about how the Cylons operate. Early scenes show the Cylons rebuilding
occupied Caprica, and the dialog establishes more facts about the
resurrection process that has been slowly but steadily revealed in previous
episodes. (Even months after being reborn, Six confesses that she doesn't
feel quite at home in her new body.) There's also the dynamic among the
Cylons themselves. Six takes orders from a copy of D'Anna Biers (Lucy
Lawless), who says that if Sharon can't be brought back in line with the
acceptable Cylon temperament, she will be "boxed" -- her memories put in
cold storage. (This would be the Cylons' apparatus for quashing possible
Watching "Downloaded," the other thing I couldn't help but think about was
the long string of cause and effect and how all the characters in motion led
us to this point. Consider the multiple Sharon roles: "Galactica Sharon"
from season one is now "Caprica Sharon" here, and reveals to Six that Baltar
is still alive. Of course, Galactica-turned-Caprica Sharon is the one who
rescued Baltar from Caprica in her Raptor in the first place. Meanwhile, the
Caprica Sharon of season one is now the Galactica Sharon of season two;
after spending the entire first season on Caprica with Helo, she now carries
their hybrid child. This sounds like a dizzying mess, but these characters
have been so well established that we understand immediately who and where
everyone is and why they feel what they feel.
The story crosscuts between Caprica and the events on the Galactica, where
the pregnant Sharon has complications and must give birth to her daughter
prematurely. The baby, named Hera, has underdeveloped lungs and must be
incubated. This now means that Roslin and Adama must decide what they are
going to do about this Cylon child. Meanwhile, Baltar, still believing he
has a symbolic claim to this baby, hovers ominously over the proceedings,
and I must point out that I love how all these characters are connected in
such strange and twisted ways.
Roslin's plan for Hera could be its own morality play, and makes use of the
classic ends-versus-means argument of necessity. She's right, and she's
pragmatic, but she is not strictly moral. She decides that Sharon cannot be
allowed to raise the child, and the Cylons cannot become aware of her. So
she orders Dr. Cottle to take part in an elaborate kidnapping scheme while
faking the death of the infant. Hera is turned over with a cover story to a
human mother who has no idea she is becoming stepmom to a Cylon hybrid (and
a potential future target).
The presumed death of Hera is understandably devastating to Sharon, who
accuses Cottle of being part of a conspiracy to murder her baby. Notably,
she's not wrong about the fact there's a conspiracy. Not only does the
kidnapping of Hera open up future story possibilities, it also makes for a
good intellectual companion alongside the Caprica storyline involving Six's
and Sharon's own struggles of conscience. At one point, D'Anna says, "Humans
don't respect life the way we do," which is smug hypocrisy coming from
someone complicit in genocide. One could also argue that Roslin's
willingness to treat the Cylon infant as an innocent is an action that
speaks for itself. My only problem here is a plausibility detail: Just where
did they find a dead baby that could substitute as a stand-in for Hera?
Somehow, I doubt the fleet has conveniently similar female infant corpses
just lying around.
There's also a thread in here involving Anders and the human resistance on
Caprica (see "The Farm"), which uses guerilla war tactics to blow up a cafe
full of Cylons. After the bomb goes off and everyone is buried in the
rubble, much of the rest of the story is stripped down to a four-character
dialog piece (Six, Sharon, D'Anna, Anders). Such pieces -- involving a few
characters wielding ideas much larger than themselves -- were often an
effective staple of "Star Trek"; it proves to be effective here, too.
The story arc is ultimately Six's: Her doubts about the destruction of
humanity take her down a path toward a new destiny -- that of a critic of
Cylon policy. In seeing Sharon's plight and D'Anna's inflexibility, Six
comes to realize what's right and wrong, and what she needs to do about it.
She has a choice, and realizes her voice as a Cylon celebrity may carry more
weight. Tricia Helfer's performance in the episode is crucial, and she's up
to the task. Helfer communicates a lot with looks and glances, suggesting
depth, guilt, and introspection. She creates a character we can empathize
with and eventually root for, because we want to see Six think for herself
and go against the establishment. She was a villain; now she's something
else. "What kind of people are you?" Anders asks her. "I don't know," she
And always in the back of her mind is Baltar, coaxing her in that new
direction. She loved him, and wants to do right by him. When she kills
D'Anna and decides to embarks on a new path with Sharon, the image of Baltar
tells her, "I have never loved anyone more in my life than I love you now."
The message is that love makes us see not only the other person but also
ourselves, and it can make us try to become better people. That's what Six
experiences in "Downloaded."
Copyright 2006, Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.
Jammer's Reviews - http://www.jammersreviews.com
Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...