NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Two: “Downloaded”

It would be unfortunate if he died. He was so helpful.

Air Date: 24/02/2006

Director: Jeff Woolnough

Writer: Bradley Thompson & David Weddle

Synopsis: On Caprica, the Six who seduced Baltar is asked to intervene with another Cylon infiltrator who refuses to accept their true nature: the resurrected Boomer. In the Fleet, Sharon goes into labour, leaving Roslin with one of the hardest decisions of her Presidency.

Review

“Downloaded” is a very unique episode, in many ways a trial run for the more Cylon-heavy stuff we would get in Seasons Three and Four. It’s a great character study for two figures who have been pivotal in the shows run, but that we haven’t seen in a long time. More than that, it sets up the sea change that is going to occur in the two part finale, in both the Cylon-occupied Colonies, and in the Fleet.

I have to start by talking about what I will call “Caprica Six” – the Six model who seduced and fell in love with Baltar in the Miniseries – and “Head Baltar”, the male version of the Head Six plaguing Baltar in the Fleet. It’s a brilliant choice to provide a mirror image of the familiar dynamic by placing this haughty, vague and manipulative Baltar that only Caprica Six can see into the narrative, and it adds to the sense that something very strange, on a cosmic level, is occurring in this plot-line.

Callis is having a ball here, and gives one of his all time great single-episode performances as Head Baltar, who might be the best version of the kind of person the real Baltar thinks he is: biting, pedantic, unflappable and strongly moral. He really imbues this side-character with all of the necessary arrogance, flippancy and cruelty, and has clearly learned a thing or two from Tricia Helfer’s version of what is essentially the same thing. Alike and yet unlike though: Head Baltar seems less likely to turn to physical threats or overt sexualisation to get his way, but he certainly has the puppetry down pat. In the Fleet we have seen Baltar parrot the words of Head Six, like in “Water”, but here Caprica Six and Head Baltar are actually speaking in unison, indicating a tighter control and a more acute emotional manipulation. The dynamic is fascinating, as Head Baltar pokes and prods at Caprica Six’s guilt over the holocaust, and then demands a physical representation of the love she had for the real Baltar. It’s the same games as Head Six is playing but with a less comical edge, what with the potential for sexual embarrassment being far less of a factor.

Caprica Six is a fascinating character all of her own right. She’s a bona fide war hero, at least if you are a Cylon, probably the most important part in making the attack on the Colonies the enormous victory that it was. In human circles she’d be held up as an ideal for such actions, feted and celebrated. But that’s not something that she is any way comfortable with with her brethren, hung up on Baltar and still dealing with what seems clearly to be the trauma of resurrection.

More importantly, such hero status isn’t something that Cylon society and leadership, exemplified by the Biers copy we see here, is comfortable with. Caprica Six is the individual in the hive: the personification of independent thought and action, in a race and culture where uniformity is obvious visually, and expected in most respects. That makes her extremely dangerous to the minds seemingly running this collective – one problem with the episode, and future episodes, is that how the Cylons govern themselves is never made resolutely clear – who determine that she has to either be squashed back into the fold, or eliminated as a threat. Her time with humanity has left its mark, and now she wonders if she identifies more with the enemy that she helped to wipe out than with the people she is nominally a part of.

As such, Caprica Six finds herself mixed up in a sea of betrayal. She considers herself to have betrayed Baltar to some extent, and her guilt over the holocaust of humanity also constitutes a manner of treason, at least in her heart. Then she is betrayed in turn, threatened with being “boxed” and having what accomplishments she has been able to achieve turn to nothing in the face of a Cylon (non-literal) machine. That machine wants to build a society on the ashes of the Colonies that adheres to a strict view that humans deserved everything that was coming to them (even as it replicates that society, right down to the parks and cafes): Caprica Six, the Cylon celebrity, has different ideas and the means to get them across.

This moment has a dual focus though, and the other part of it is Boomer, seen for the first time since “Resistance”. It’s a sad portrait of a woman completely unwilling to look facts in the face and accept them, in everything from her hostile attitude to her Cylon kin, right down to the clothes she’s wearing: military garb that doesn’t suit the streets of Caprica City. Boomer was always reluctant to accept the reality of what she is, but this extreme position, that carries with it extremes of emotion as she briefly accepts the truth only to bury it back down, is a little hard to swallow. That’s partly a consequence of how most of “Downloaded” is more about Caprica Six, with Boomer a person to inadvertently push her towards the truth, rather than the other way round. We have to settle for drawing more effective entertainment and drama out of Boomer’s role in this more dangerous game, of managing the expectations of a secretly hostile Cylon hive mind, before just breaking out of it altogether.

Biers’ encouragement for Caprica Six to let things like remorse or guilt “wash away” on account of resurrection begins the process of marking her out as representative of the line of thought that the attack on the Colonies was justified and it’s time to move past it. But it’s a sentiment as empty and meaningless as the words Biers uses. The Cylons on the Colonies are living a very odd facsimile of human life, trying to be the thing they have exterminated, and such an existence has a very empty feel. Recognising this, and admitting that the occupation of the Colonies was a mistake – and not just a mistake, but a sin – is an enormous sea change for the Cylons, but it’s exactly what Caprica Six and Boomer appear deadset on accomplishing. This sort of philosophical reset seems like the kind of thing that should take sometime to accomplish, but “Downloaded” has made clear that the individual status of Caprica Six and Boomer, those first Cylon celebrities, has an enormous power to influence and to take charge. The rest of the Cylons that we see in “Downloaded”, mostly Dorals, seem more like bland sheep to be led as well, and perhaps overly-susceptible to the kind of popular movement that the “Hero of the Cylon” now represent. Just what the new way is going to mean is a different question to tackle, and we’ll get there in a couple of episodes. But for now the way that the two assist Anders in his escape gives us a hint: a sought reconciliation with humanity may well be on the agenda, as unlikely as it seems.

The other half of the episode, almost curiously under-developed, is the birth of Hera in the Fleet and all that comes with it. BSG gives us the bare bones of a medical drama in Sharon’s labour complications, but that’s all: the real meat-and-potatoes comes from what is to happen to the child. I feel like “Downloaded” could have done more with this, the entire affair amounting to a single scene where Baltar tries to warn off Roslin from killing the baby and then Roslin coming up with her own solution.

Roslin, of course, is never going to be able to terminate a baby, even if she was happy to terminate the fetus in “Epiphanies”. The final outcome, wherein Hera is passed off as an unwanted child and given to an adoptive mother in the Fleet, is a suitable compromise but always felt a little soap-operaish for me: the hook of Sharon (and Helo, who does get some powerful moments here as he reacts to the “death” of his child) eventually finding out the truth – because, of course she will – does have something to it, but this sort of “hidden betrayal, find out out about it, next secret” type story-telling seems more suited to an episode of Desperate Housewives. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it seems inevitable that Sharon and Hera will be re-united, so everything in-between ends up seeming like filler. Given the vital important of Hera to the overall narrative, that isn’t so good.

In truth these part of “Downloaded” could have done with the sub-plot involving D’Anna Biers – the one in the Fleet – that was filmed but ended up on the cutting room floor. Essentially it saw Biers, Gina and Baltar (who vanishes for the critical middle sector of the Fleet plot in the final cut, also a problem) scheming to kidnap Hera, with Biers getting close under the pretense of taking footage of the baby so her existence could be revealed to the Fleet in a controlled manner. There was even a slightly bizarre plot point where Biers had a life-support system built into a hollowed-out camera for the purpose of moving Hera. But when Biers arrives, Hera has already “died”. A retained line for this stuff, with Adama saying that Cylons in the Fleet will inevitably “make a play” for the child, is in the episode. The sub-plot would have provided some decent stuff for the Cylons within the Fleet, another moment between Baltar and Gina and tied a line between the Fleet Biers and the Caprica Biers, both involved in duplicitous plots, and both failing. But “Downloaded” just couldn’t include it in the running time. A shame, as it leaves the Fleet plot-line under-developed. The episode is still a good one though, just for the Caprica-based stuff alone, and sets us up nicely for the Season Two finale.

It almost makes you want to believe in the Cylon god. Almost.

Notes

-A simple title again, but I really liked this one: there’s something to be said for directness.

-This is Jeff Woolnough’s third, and last, directorial effort for BSG, and while not his very best – see “The Hand Of God” – it’s a very fine effort.

-The difference in audio quality between the Miniseries and the TV show is acutely obvious in the “Previously on…” sections. I’m not sure what changed, but it’s noticeable.

-Our first look at Cylon resurrection in action and it’s suitably alien in nature, but the most noticeable thing is the trauma of it. This is not a lickity split trumping of death, it’s a painful and mentally trying thing, a near death experience with the added shock of suddenly appearing in a totally healthy body.

-The look of disgust that one of the Six models gives her “sister” as she asks what happened to Baltar is pretty telling. They aren’t meant to fall in love, that’s for sure.

-Surprise, Baltar is a Cylon! Or not. That was a neat little bait-and-switch, that I remember gave me a heart attack the first time I saw the episode.

-The usual Number Six theme is played partially in reverse for Head Baltar’s scenes, which is just such a great choice.

-One of the Eight’s tells a resurrected Boomer that “We love you”, echoing the exchange she experienced in “Kobol’s Last Gleaming (Part Two)”. About the same reaction too.

-The howl that Boomer pulls, combined with the pull-out to see her alone in a sea of black, was suitably unnerving.

-The count reflects that seen on Roslin’s board at the end of “The Captain’s Hand”, with five deaths recorded in that episode.

-The Cylons are going about fixing up Caprica, but they can’t do anything about that over-exposure it would seem.

-Cottle is his usual self here in the midst of Sharon’s labour crisis, complaining that the Cylons did so much work to replicate humanity but then “didn’t upgrade the plumbing”

-Biers refers to Caprica Six as a “Hero of the Cylon”, a somewhat formal sounding descriptor that calls to mind the title “Hero of the Soviet Union”: a similar society where individualism was something to be praised only to a point.

-The concept of “boxing” is brought up here for the first time, though it will be a while before we see it. The Cylons need some manner of existential danger to their lives, or else much of what we see in “Downloaded” wouldn’t be as scary.

-Head Baltar likes his clever jabs, remarking on boxing as “inhuman. Oh, that’s right, you are.”

-Anders calls Cylons “skin jobs” here, which would appear to be a nod to Blade Runner which, of course, starred Edward James Olmos.

-The birth of Sharon and Helo’s child happens very quickly, and is barely marked by the show, which I thought was a little odd given her importance to the overall narrative.

-The sing Boomer is listening to in her apartment is “Intermission” by LA rock ‘n roll band Candygram For Mongo.

-Head Baltar begins his more advanced manipulation pretty quick from here, instructing Caprica Six to “Start with the elephants”. Caprica Six was good at seducing a man like Baltar, but Head Baltar is better at getting inside peoples heads.

-The “Kobol’s Last Gleaming” theme fades in here as Boomer rails, like a ghostly memory. It was a very nice effect.

-“I’m a frakking Cylon!” Boomer screams, and I was reminded of “I’m angry at myself!” from Zuko in the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode “The Beach”, my go-to “edgy dialogue 101” example.

-Head Baltar compliments Caprica Six on being, essentially, a good liar as she fakes a cut. It seems manipulation is a trait that numerous Sixes just seem to carry.

-So many snarky Head Baltar lines to call out, but I have to acknowledge his deadpan response to Caprica Six describing the beauty of his lakeview home: “Yeah, it’s magical. Too bad you nuked it.”

-Head Baltar cuts to the heart of the issue infecting Caprica Six’s mind when he describes Boomer as thinking she is “more human than Cylon, like someone else I know”.

-Roslin isn’t messing around: “I don’t make suggestions, Mr. Baltar. If I want to toss a baby out an airlock, I’d say so.”

-“Hera” is the name of Sharon and Helo’s child. The mother figure of the Gods has a pretty negative characterisation in traditional mythology, so not sure why it was picked to be honest.

-Something very unnerving about a Doral serving coffee to another Doral. Just how is that kind of job determined in this society anyway?

-“Oh for God’s sake” Caprica Six says to Head Baltar’s needling. Or is it “Oh for Gods’ sake”?

-Hitchcock’s ticking clock in action for the Resistance bomb, almost exactly like the old master described it: not knowing when it is going to go off is the tension maker.

-The Centurion here looks OK: BSG remains a show where seeing these creations up close is always going to expose shortcomings.

-I did like the post-explosion set in the stairwell, it was very well-constructed.

-Biers declares that “Humans don’t respect life the way we do” before pointing a gun at Anders, which seems a little much in terms of depicting hypocrisy.

-Starbuck’s dogtag, given in “The Farm”, comes back up here, providing the perfect example of what Head Baltar dubs “proof of love”. Having that tangible example of its existence is important.

-Cottle does a good job at selling a lie he doesn’t really think is the right choice. You can catch the sympathy in his voice, but also the desperation to get beyond it, as he delivers the news: “We did the best we could, but she’s dead. And that’s all there is to it.”

-Sharon’s reaction is very powerful. She knows Hera couldn’t have just died, and the only rational explanation, with a corpse in front of her, is that the child was murdered.

-The funeral for Hera is pitched pretty well. Having Tyrol silently assist was a nice touch, and there is something moving about the remains becoming one with the universe.

-Baltar literally gets down on his knees in front of Head Six, seeking forgiveness in a very religious manner. But it’s just too late for that.

-Head Six’s denunciation of Baltar and humanity here is among the scariest moments of the show. She’s really lost control. But just as good is Baltar’s face, a miserable mix of fear and self-loathing.

-Head Six’s omniscience takes a serious hit, as she can’t see the conspiracy that means Hera is still alive. This selective knowledge is curious, but does make her more interesting.

-Mya, the adoptive mother of Hera, is played by Erica Cerra, a Canadian actress who has been all over, that I know best from Eureka. Somewhat ironically she played the role of Hera in Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.

-Roslin strokes Hera a small bit before she leaves, indicating a basic level of affection. We’ve come a long way from the start of “Epiphanies” where the baby was treated like a threat to the Fleet. I suppose Hera did save Roslin’s life (something the President acknowledges in a deleted scene from this episode).

-By the way, this conspiracy appears to extend only to Roslin, Tory and Cottle: not even Adama seems to know about it.

-Couldn’t help but be distracted by one of the car plates behind Anders: “Sexymom”.

-Biers’ plays a demented game with Anders here, like a cat playing with a mouse. It’s a step towards a more obvious maliciousness I didn’t think the episode needed.

-Caprica Six hits the nail on the head when she states that it is her and Boomer’s love for specific humans, more than their unwilling stance as Cylon celebrities, that marks them out as a problem in Biers’ eyes.

-Biers declares “God loves me”, rejecting Caprcia Six’s warning, before a bonk on the head puts her down. Anders has Starbuck’s dogtags, now Head Baltar has Biers’ corpse as “proof of love”.

-As we reach the critical moment where Caprica Six and Boomer elect to help Anders, the faint strains of “A Promise To Return” begin again. Given it’s basically the Starbuck/Anders theme, I didn’t think it really fit here.

-Head Baltar is impressed, and echos some of Sharon’s words in the Fleet to Caprica Six: “I have never loved anyone more in my life than I love you now.”

-The Cylon rescue parties asks if anyone is alive down there, I presume a deliberate nod to the recurring “Are you alive?” question. Caprica Six and Boomer have an answer now: “Yes, we are. We’re alive.”

-As those words are said we cut back suddenly to the Fleet and Mya leaving with the baby. So, Hera is alive too, and remains hugely important. I just wish the episode had treated her like it.

Overall Verdict: I like most of “Downloaded”. The Caprica-based stuff is fascinating, and gives us a great character study of Caprica Six, introducing new elements like Head Baltar. Things are left there in a very precarious, but interesting, manner. The Fleet-based plot is less well-executed, considering its importance to the larger narrative, as “Downloaded” simply doesn’t have the time to give the big moments the space they need. Onto the finale then, as the consequences of what occurred here take shape.

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6 Responses to NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Two: “Downloaded”

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