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BSG Season 1: 33 Ep. 1 February 29, 2008

Posted by Chris in Battlestar Galactica (Re-imagined).
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 Baltar’s Imaginary Six:  Beauty, Brains and Relentless Religious Faith

In this first episode of the new series, the writers crank up the tension to remind us of what’s at stake.  The contrast between the repetitive, tireless attacks by the Cylons every 33 minutes and the worn-beyond-frantic defensive maneuvers of the Humans emphasizes the strengths of sentient machines and human weaknesses.  Baltar — symbolically representing humanity and its frailties — is lost in dreams and hallucinations of his Imaginary Six.  The ceaseless attacks and his guilty conscience have conspired to push him into a corner.

The monotheistic religion of the Cylons is also contrasted against the polytheistic beliefs of the Humans. To us, monotheism seems to be a natural outcome of cultural and spiritual evolution.  We associate monotheistic culture with the rise of western civilization — something that seems inevitable to us from our narrow, rear-view perspective.  So when we’re told the Cylons are the monotheists, we’re also being encouraged to see them as an evolutionary inevitability — that they will ultimately triumph over the spiritually-lacking Humans.

Baltar’s atheist views are an interesting contrast as well.  His lack of conscience, his belief in rationality (as long as it serves his interests) and his lack of religious faith are all tested when a passenger aboard a civilian ship in the fleet requests a meeting with Roslyn where he will reveal a traitor in their midst.  Of course, Baltar assumes he is the traitor and proceeds to freak out.  But when the civilian ship (the Olympic Carrier) disappears after a hyperspace jump, Baltar’s time in the “foxhole” (where there are no atheists) makes him susceptible to his Imaginary Six’s suggestions that God is watching out for him.  His religious skepticism remains.

When the Olympic Carrier returns unexpectedly, Baltar convinces Roslyn and Adama that the Cylons are playing a trick — that the ship threatens the fleet.  As the ship heads towards the fleet despite warnings to veer off from Galactica, the Cylons appear and deploy for an attack.  At the same time, Galactica detects nuclear weapons aboard the Olympic Carrier.  As Roslyn wavers over whether to destroy the civilian ship or not, Baltar’s freak-out grows more intense.  His Imaginary Six encourages him to repent his sins and accept the Cylons’ one true God, and Baltar breaks under the pressure, repenting his sins.  At the same moment, Roslyn gives the order to destroy the Olympic Carrier, as if she was directed to do so by the Cylon God after Baltar repented. 

This sequence reiterates the just how weak humans are, and Baltar serves as the ultimate example.  Baltar’s convictions are malleable, fragile and ultimately break when put under stress.  The Cylons are machines.  They are repetitive, relentless, and ruthless.  They seem unstoppable.  But this episode suggests that their motivations and methods are not completely mechanistic.  They are driven by a deep religious faith.  While we assume that faith is a uniquely human quality and strength, the Cylons’ faith is rooted in their mechanistic nature, making their faith relentless and powerful as well — much more so than the wishy-washy, take-it-or-leave-it, polytheistic faith of the Humans.  And while the Humans have faith in each other — perhaps their saving grace — the Cylons are working to undermine this as well by turning what appears to be a harmless civilian ship (just like the 9-11 terrorists did to us) into a threat and by planting human-looking Cylons among the fleet.



1. Kym - March 1, 2008

She is a stunning woman isn’t she? My middle son thinks she is the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. I would probably have to agree–not the most attractive ( I like warmer women ahem..in a platonic way, of course;>) but the most beautiful.

One of the strengths of this series for me is the lack of beautiful people. Starbuck, I think is plain (very attractive) but kinda chunky, square shouldered, too big teeth. The little mechanic that bit the convict’s ear is plain in a different way (sweet) but not dynamic in any way. There are pretty people, but they aren’t everywhere you look. It’s kind of a relief not to have the bright light of beauty staring me down all over the set.

But Six, she is kickass beautiful.

I agree about Balthar and Six being representatives of their races. I’m intrigued by how seemingly “God” manipulates Balthar. I can’t wait to see how that gets played out.

2. Chris - March 1, 2008

Starbuck’s got those tough-girl good looks, while Six has flat-out cover girl beauty — and I agree, not all that warm — statuesque seems an apt description. Your son’s got good taste, though and he’ll have plenty of Six “eye candy” as you progress through the series since she’s (obviously) a very important character.

Yeah…it seems like the Baltar/Six relationship is symbolically playing out the Human/Cylon conflict and attraction. God certainly plays a big role in Baltar’s life over the next few seasons, so you should get plenty more to think about on that score, although I don’t think we’ve been given many answers to questions we have…just like real life.

3. Kym - March 1, 2008

I think there is a difference between attractiveness and beauty. Starbucks is incredibly attractive but she isn’t even pretty to me. I like that. In real life many people are attractive but few are physically beautiful.

One of the most attractive men I’ve ever met looked more like a heavy Nethanderal than a model. His attractiveness was a combination of humor, intelligence, attention to others, and competence at what he did.

Baltar is physically attractive and can be charming but his slime and weakness make him unappealing. Just like mankind in general. Slime and weakness why humans aren’t worth saving.

Sometimes I think, Starbuck gets to embody our best (and some of our worst) behaviors. I think in many ways Starbuck and Six are set up to embody racial opposites of each other. And Balthar and Sharon are the Cylon equivalents of each other. (don’t get me wrong, I love Sharon and I’m rooting for both the Helo version and the Galactica version.)

4. Chris - March 3, 2008

I mostly agree with you on the differences between attractiveness and beauty and I think you’re right, Starbuck is more attractive than beautiful.

Interesting ideas on characters playing racial opposites and equivalents. Can you say more about why you think Baltar and Sharon are equivalents? I can see some of what you’re saying, in that both are playing the role of traitors and yet both were (somewhat) unaware of doing so. Is this what you mean?

5. Kym - March 3, 2008

Sheesh, I wasn’t very coherent in that post was I?

Okay, Balthar and Sharon (both Sharons really) are traitors to their race.Each is drawn into betrayal by their passion for a member of the other race. The difference lies in that Sharon is betraying the cylon’s plans but being true (at least as far as I have watched) to the human individual, Helo. Balthar is betraying the human individuals and the Cylon’s (Think Sharon’s attempted suicide) and the overall plan. He is only saving himself and satisfying his passions. Interesting that of the two traitors our sympathies are with the Cylon and against the human.

6. Chris - March 4, 2008

Being coherent is probably my job on this blog, so don’t sweat it…

You’ve really got me thinking about these characters in a new way…I knew if I could just get you watching this series that I would be able to see it through your eyes — something that worked so well for me on Firefly.

Your last point is particularly interesting to me…there are many cases where the writers are encouraging us to sympathize with (and sometimes even for) the Cylons at the expense of the Humans. That takes some writing skill, in my estimation.

7. BSG Season 1: Six Degrees of Separation Ep. 7 « Sci-Fi TV Geek - June 17, 2008

[…] Baltar is accused of treason by a Six posing as an assistant to the doctor who was killed in “33” aboard the Olympic Carrier.  Is this his imagination or a religious story of destiny?  […]

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