Battlestar Galactica Revisited: 1.08 Flesh and Bone
Ronald D Moore's re imagining of the 1970's sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica set a gold standard, both for sci-fi and TV reboots. The darker, grittier re imagining, that saw a fleet of human ships fleeing the dreaded Cylons in search of Earth, won a whole host of awards and critical acclaims over its seven-year run. With the series looking to go through another quasi-reboot under show-runner Michael Lesslie, we look back at the first reboot that defined the early days of twenty-first century television. The latest revisited covers season one's Flesh and Bone and the return of human-Cylon Leoben...
One of the most successful elements of the Battlestar Galactica reboot was the creation of the human-looking Cylons. Not only did it give a face to the enemy and allow the audience to explore the Cylons' motivations on a weekly basis, it ensured they could interact with the human cast in a way that the robotic Cylons would never allow. It also allowed for episodes like this.
After the public announcement that Cylons looked like humans in Litmus, Flesh and Bone sees the return of Callum Keith Rennie's Leoben, last seen in the mini-series. Interrogated by Starbuck, the episode establishes what will be a very interesting relationship between the two, one very different to the 'sexual' relationships between Six and Baltar and Sharon and Helo. In fact - and we're bordering on spoiler territory here - this episode really lays the foundation for Starbuck's arc in the second half of season three. We discover more about her past and her Gods-fearing mother and reveal a hint of empathy for the Leoben model. I almost expected to see a reference to the eye of Jupiter. It's a set-up that won't be paid off for a couple more seasons yet.
Still, up to this point, Starbuck's relationship with the Cylons has been strictly adversarial; her biggest 'bond' was with the rescued raider she saved herself with in You Can't Go Home Again. Asked by Commander Adama to interrogate the model discovered hiding within the fleet, her actions certainly show a ruthless, military zeal. Here are shades of Guantanamo Bay and the horrors of torture, all played out in her attempts to coax answers out of Leoben. The threat of a nuclear warhead hidden with the fleet certainly adds a ticking time clock to the whole event - a race against time to stop a terrorist act that might cripple the threat and kill hundreds, if not thousands. Battlestar Galactica is a show that was made in the early days of the War on Terror and episodes like Flesh and Bone certainly tap into those anxieties arising after horrific events like 911.
But course, some of the best moments are those intense scenes where they just talk. From Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Duet to Babylon 5's Intersections in Real Time, to non-sci-fi examples like Breaking Bad's The Fly, some of the greatest TV drama come from two characters playing off each other. While Flesh and Bone isn't confined just to Starbuck's interrogation of Leoben, they cement the episode. Callum Keith Rennie's imbues the Cylon with a calm, cool smugness against Katee Sackhoff's bottled frustration as Starbuck. Knowing that he has been trapped, he never attempts to deny he is a Cylon, but he doesn't give any ground either. The nuclear bomb might just be a red herring, but the line between truth and lies is never revealed until the clock runs out. Instead his attempts to speak the word of God - a similar mantra Six has continued to press against Baltar - suggests a very different plan to the complete eradication of humanity. The Cylons might not want to kill every human; they might just want to convert them.
Indeed, there is a sense this episode that the human Cylons were designed to interact with humans as a social experiment. On occupied Caprica, Six and Aaron Donal are intrigued at how Cylon-Sharon has managed to get Helo to fall in love with her. They even lay out a cabin full of supplies just to observe how Helo and Sharon might interact when they are not facing constant danger and death. Sharon ultimately rebels, leading Helo away from the convenient resting spot. There's a great contrast that takes place here; as she becomes less Cylon and more Human, the Sharon on the Galactica - Boomer - is spiralling quickly into the realisation that she is a Cylon agent. Once again, we see her connecting with, almost caressing the Cylon raider and she is certainly suspicious enough to have Baltar use her as his first test subject in his Cylon detection advice. Of course, she tests positive, leading to an awkward scene where Baltar lies to her to save his skin. It's not hard to continue to feel sorry for Boomer though; her sense of relief at his lie is overwhelming.
The other key player in Flesh and Bone is President Laura Roslin herself. The Kamala extract sees her experience visions of Leoben - playfully hinting that she could be a Cylon herself - and when she finally confronts him in his interrogation cell the tension over what will happen next is powerful. Will Roslin actually open peaceful negotiations? Will she use Leoben to save humanity? Her decision to have him blown out of an airlock is as shocking as it is ruthless, showing that ultimately she will not hesitate to eradicate any threat to her people. There's also a nice addition to the growing tension between her and Adama with Leoben's whisper in his ear that the commander is a Cylon too. While she is able to cut through the lies, there is a great moment where she dines with Adama at the end where you can visibly see her questioning whether the commander is human or Cylon, all thanks to a wonderfully understated performance Mary McDonnell, who is clearly one of the strongest performers in this impressive cast.
Flesh and Bones is another very strong episode that lays a lot of building blocks for future episodes - not just the growing tension between Adama and Roslin that will come to a head at the end of the season, but Starbuck's connection with Leoben that will carry through the series. Coupled with the the very different changes to both Sharons and this feels like the moment the fuse is lit on the conflict to come in the remainder of season one and beyond...