Friday, February 13, 2009

A few Pieces of a Puzzle

Battlestar Galactica: No Exit

The Galactica Blog Carnival for this week is posted here.

[CLICK HERE FOR MOOD MUSIC: "Ode to a tub of Cylon Goo"]

The episode, "No Exit," was an exposition dump, but through that method they finally did give us a few good pieces of the puzzle that will be the real history of the Cylons. The constant talking came mostly from Ellen and Anders, who are now recovering their memories, and then Cavil, who explained his "evil" motives in a way not too dissimilar to a comic book villain, or a James Bond villain. All this talk broke one of the rules of good drama called "show, don't tell." It is probably the effect of trying to compress too much back story into too few episodes. Even Bear McCreary noted "... the unusual amount of fast-paced and essential dialog in these two shows left little room for big musical statements."

On the other hand, they had me so hungry for this information with the previous buildup that I didn't mind. However, I think the people who liked the mutiny story might find this episode slow going and curse the fact that there are fans like me who want this stuff. There's a reason that exposition dumps are the bane of science fiction.

We've crossed over into new territory and one of the ways they signaled this was with a new series introduction. The episode began with a new retelling of the history that featured some new Cylon robots that look a lot more like the old ones from the original series. They even put up some new texts, one saying that "this has all happened before."

The episode began with Ellen drinking the poison booze Tigh gave her on New Caprica, she has a psychedelic memory trip and then finds herself waking up in a bathtub full of that Cylon "amniotic" goo. At first she is horrified to find out she is a Cylon, but then a strange calm begins to come over her and she starts acting familiar with her surroundings, even asking one of the chrome toaster models to help her out of the tub.

Ellen was apparently resurrected immediately after her death on New Caprica. Cavil had locked her up and let no one but himself and his pet 8 talk to her. So they have to encapsulate months of time with Ellen and Cavil in mere minutes, starting from her death, through the Cylon civil war, to finding Earth and up to the present.

When Ellen started talking to Cavil she called him "John" and told him that "I named you after my father." She even calls the Cylons "her children." This gives that sex scene between Cavil and Ellen back on New Caprica a whole new twist. Father and Daughter and Mother and Son at the same time, Oedipus and Electra in one frack.

Next we are shown Anders in sick bay with his bald head screwed painfully into a bulky device, called a "head frame" I think, while the doctor starts preparing to drill into his skull. Anders has a bullet in his brain and it has effected his memory blocks. His hidden past is coming back to him. Starbuck is with him when Anders starts rambling, he tells Starbuck to gather the other Cylons because he has begun to remember. We get a lot of additional Cylon info from him and I'm going to have to watch the episode again on Hulu and do an update just to keep all this exposition straight.

What did you get out of Ander's exposition?

There was too much stuff, lots of disconnected bits and pieces. There was something about traveling around at sub-light speed before they invented jump drive to explain how they came from Earth 2,000 years ago without having 2,000 years worth of memories. They had a ship in orbit around Earth to upload their memories and then they traveled at relativistic speed... somewhere? Time slowed down for them as thousands of years passed for the rest of the universe. Ah, yes Einstein's time dilation effect. I wonder if they'll give us a starbow in any flash-back scenes?

There was information about all of the Final Five Cylons being involved in some project to recreate the resurrection technology. They all worked in the same research facility. They didn't invent resurrection technology, they re-invented it. Ellen made an intuitive leap that brought the resurrection system back online. Tyrol and Tory were lovers, they lived together and were madly in love, planning to get married. Ellen liked the beach and the water. Tigh and Ellen were married.

Resurrection technology is also "organic memory transfer" and it's ancient and came from Kobol. It fell out of use after they started to procreate. Wait! Stop there. Why would people give up on immortality in order to have babies? I wouldn't do that. That does not make sense as a stand alone statement. Were there laws and over population problems leading to the repression of the technology? Was it done for religious reasons, like George Bush restricting embryonic stem cell research?

More weirdly, it was the robots, the centurions that evolved the concept of a single loving God.

The information coming from the Ellen and Cavil dialog was more coherent and one thing I did get was the motivation for Cavil. Cavil was the villain from the start, he turned on the final five, blocked access to their memories and then introduced them into colonial civilization. His motivation is worthy of one of the great comic book villains. "I am a machine," said Cavil. He hates his humanity and he has vision of a better kind of existence as a machine. He found sleep to be unproductive and he got rid of his need for it.

He gave a great super-villain speech about watching a supernova, calling it "the moment of creation," and how he wished he could see it with something better than the pathetic and ridiculous eyes Ellen had given him. Cavil wants to feel the solar wind, to smell dark matter and to be more than human.

Human eyes are indeed limited in the spectrum of light they see. They are mere gelatinous orbs to Cavil. But in a way we can "see" in the full spectrum of light when we use scientific instruments. And that's what Cavil wants for eyes in order to see supernovas:

That raises a question... why can't Cavil do that himself? Why can't he upload into a machine of his choice and become the kind of machine he wants to be? He could, in theory, upload into anything from a basestar to a robocop/terminator type machine to a Cylon heavy raider with some tweaking of the technology. (Maybe some versions of Cavil already have?) It's not unrealistic that he is currently limited somehow, he needs Ellen's help just for recreating the resurrection technology that the rebels have destroyed. But if becoming a machine is his goal, why not strive for it? Considering the fact that Battlestar Galactica producer Ron Moore is now working on a "backdoor pilot" for Fox called Virtuality it's within his bag of tricks to do something with that.

Cylons already download their minds into other humaniod bodies, and that should imply what a lot of SF already does, uploading into computers and machines. We're already working in that direction... check out project Blue Brain.

I think this means a prediction is in order, and that Cavil will eventually figure out how to upload into a big machine, like a basestar, and become a real monster. If knowing he could be so much more is what drives him, expect him to try it.

Ellen told Cavil that being human had its advantages, she gave him "free will," thus tossing around that term like it had some concrete meaning. It doesn't. What does she mean by free-will? Are we talking metaphysical free-will, free-will as a legal concept, free-will as a psychological concept, free-will as some aspect of consciousness, or what?

It's also here at this confused metaphysical level where we are in danger of falling into a bad old sci-fi/horror movie cliche. All this talk of "free will" was the horror/sci-fi cliche I feared and wrote about in "Six of One" : The disappointing part.

[CLICK FOR "Horror Movie Cliche" music.]

In a way, Ellen Tigh is our Doctor Frankenstein and Cavil is her monster. The others making up the final five are apparently just a collection of Igors. Will Ellen also be punished by her creation for "going against the laws of nature" and creating a monster. That's what Cavil was suggesting... except our concept about "going against the laws of nature" has undergone a dramatic shift since Mary Shelley Wollstonecraft wrote Frankenstein. In Cavil's mind that nature now includes some kind of "machine nature" that is ill defined. Cavil talks about "Justice" and the Cylons being the "slaves of humanity," but can I really enslave something that has no "free-will"? Can I enslave my computer? My toaster? What would happen if I set my toaster free?

Again, we get back to the bane of science fiction, expository lumps that are needed to clarify concepts like "free-will." What does that term mean to the Galactica writers? I'm not sure. Right now it's just an ambiguous bit of Galactica technobabble.

I'm going to wrap this up without talking too much about another major plot point introduced in this episode; there was apparently a Model Seven, Daniel, that Cavil killed. Cavil corrupted his DNA or something. Also, towards the end Cavil's pet 8 has a falling out with Cavil (finally saw a newer shiny thing?) and when Cavil threatened to extract the information he needed from Ellen through brain surgery, the 8 took Ellen away on a Raptor and flew her to the fleet.

It seems Ellen will be joining up with the fleet judging by the previews. And Tyrol is back to being Chief, and using Cylon technology help fix the cracks in Galactica's hull. I'll pick up those threads if I need to when the next episode, "Deadlock," airs.


Nina said...

Maybe they stopped using the early resurrection technology stolen from the Gods because to procreate made them more human? Just a guess.

normdoering said...

Nina wrote:
"...because to procreate made them more human?"

What do you mean? The sex hormones in the brain interfered with uploading?

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