Last night's episode of Battlestar Galactica was one of the best in a very long time — better, by far, than the season premiere last week — because we got to go further inside the Cylon social system than ever before. And it wasn't just gooey computer interfaces and creepy threesomes with Baltar. At last we're seeing the gripping political conflict of the New Caprica episodes again, only this time around the Cylons are breaking into warring factions rather than the humans. It turns out the Cylons are as divided as the humans over what direction they should go (literally and figuratively). Some, like Six, want to follow "the one true god" and find their mystical destiny; others, like Brother Cavil, prefer the pragmatic rationalism of war. Spoilery recappage ahead.
Before we jump into the cool Cylon stuff, let's check in with the humans.
A lot of the human characters become their own foils in this episode, called "Six of One." Adama finds himself believing that Starbuck's return is a miracle, and that she may indeed hold the key to finding Earth as she claims. Roslin, who has always been a religious woman and has led the whole fleet into danger to follow her goddess-motivated instincts, has become the hard-bitten doubter. She's clearly pissed about her impending death from cancer, and gets into a pretty nasty fight with Adama over Starbuck. Roslin doesn't there's anything miraculous about Starbuck — she just thinks the macho pilot is a Cylon. Probably doesn't help things that Starbuck broke into the president's bedroom with a gun and screamed at her about how she knows the way to Earth.
And Lee, Adama's military jock son, has started wearing stretchy v-neck sweaters after deciding for sure to join the council to work with Zarek on political stuff. There's a lot of tearful "goodbye to Lee" scenes among the military types in this episode, and when Lee gives the news to Starbuck in her prison cell they share one of those tongue-down-your-throat moments that prove the two of them need to do some therapeutic communicating and work through their issues by using "I' statements.
Meanwhile the four Cylon sleeper agents decide that Baltar, king of the folk-rock ninja girl cult, might have some insights into their Cylonic predicament. But how will they establish contact with him? "He poked a Cylon," Tigh says in his most I-am-a-fucked-up-badass voice. So it's decided that poor Foster will get into Baltar's confidence by fucking him. Were you thinking the sexual issues swirling around Baltar couldn't get any more nauseating after last week's cult sex moment? Well I've got news for you. TEN TIMES MORE YUCKY. But yucky with a cause, because it looks like Baltar's hookup with Foster may well change him into a guy with a shred of decency. Especially after Foster cries when they fuck, and then asks him plaintively whether Cylons cry.
Oh, and by the way, Baltar is now seeing Baltar in his head — the dressy Baltar that Caprica Six used to see in her head when Baltar wasn't around. Yeah, it's a very what-the-hell moment when Baltar talks to Baltar about porking Foster.
So while Baltar is getting down and Adama and Roslin are not getting it on, the Cylons are falling apart. In a Cylon council meeting, we discover that the Cylons suspect the final five are in the human fleet, and that the Sixes, Boomers and Leobens want to reach out to them somehow. Cavil, on the other hand, wants to follow the rules, which say that the Cylons shouldn't think or talk about the final five. Six makes a passionate speech about following the destiny of the one true god, and how there is some mystical thing they need to know because of what the "original programmers" intended. I think this is the first time I've heard them talk about the "original programmers." Who the hell are they?
So Six is basically advocating a kind of intelligent design theory of life, where the Cylons should figure out what the original programmers wanted, and follow the destiny intended for them by those programmers. Cavil, on the other hand, is all rationalism. He wants to keep up the orderly military Cylon fleet, and screw destiny. Especially if that destiny involves dealing with humans or upsetting the Cylon social order.
Turns out that Cylon social order is much less cohesive than we were led to believe in previous episodes. Though we've seen human-sympathizers among the Cylons before, it has always seemed as if the Cylon models acted as unanimous, collective-consciousness units. But in this episode, we find out that it isn't just Sharon 2 and Caprica Six who can become Model Traitors and go against what others in their model want. In a fight between Cavil's faction and Six's faction over the whole destiny vs. rationalism thing, one of the Sharon models defects and goes over to the Cavil side.
Apparently that's never happened before in an official Cylon council vote, and it results in the most explosive and cool development of this and last season.
Here's how it happens. We find out that the toaster Cylons (the Raider ships and Centurion warriors) aren't just born obedient animals. They are actually born as thinking beings whose minds are "shaved down" or "suppressed" by the Cavils and Simons. Six, Leoben, and Sharon want Cavil's crew to stop drilling the brains out of the Raiders and Centurions (awesome Raider brain-drilling scene, by the way). They view the evolving intelligence of the toasters as part of the one true god's plan, destiny, all that crap. Cavil and Co. think it's better to have dumb warriors to fight for them and don't mind doing a lot of brain-drilling to make those warriors into killing machines.
When the issue of whether to keep drilling or not comes to a vote, there's a stalemate. But then one of the Sharons defects to Cavil's side. Whoa. Apparently no Cylon has ever voted against its model before. The Cylons are starting to become individuals. What that means, in the short term, is that Samuel gets to keep drilling on the Raiders.
In the long term what it means is that Six stages a coup. She removes the intelligence suppressors in the Centurion's brains, and tells them about how they and their Raider brothers are being oppressed. Then she walks into the Council chamber to confront Cavil. At first Cavil is cavalier, yelling at Six that her beliefs really "rankle his ass." I love a Cylon whose ass gets rankled, by the way. That's when she brings in the big guns — a bunch of Centurions — and tells Cavil about how pissed his toaster brothers are. It's class warfare among the Cylons! Needless to say, the Centurions blow away the Cavils, Simons, and Number Fives who are hanging out in the meeting room.
A big question for next episode is what exactly this coup means. Can't Cavil and Co. just get reborn? Why would it even make any difference if the Centurions killed them? I'm also looking forward to finding out what a smart Centurion and fully-intelligent Raider might have to say. Will more models start factionalizing like Sharon did? These are exactly the kinds of interesting, meaty developments that are putting BSG back on track this season. We're also getting answers about how the Cylons run their society, and concrete shifts in our long-static characters.
And — may the one true god help me — I'm even curious about what's going to happen with greasy Gaius and weepy Foster after their night of grody love.
One thing we know for sure: Adama is following his instincts and as the show concludes he's secretly given Starbuck and Helo an old garbage ship so they can try to find Earth — based on Starbuck's "feeling." So Starbuck is off on a maverick mission, Baltar is poking a Cylon again, and the Raiders are about to start reading Karl Marx.
So say we all!