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Author's Note: Having grown tired of what's currently available on TV I've decided to rewatch some of my all time favorite shows. I'm limiting myself to one episode per week in order to experience the storytelling as it was originally intended, which hopefully will preserve the thrill of having to wait a week to see what happens next. This article covers the Battlestar Galactica episode "Flesh and Bone", which originally aired on February 25th of 2005.
Previously on Battlestar Galactica: The fact that the Cylons have the ability to appear human becomes common knowledge. Helo and Sharon continue their attempt to escape Cylon-occupied Caprica. President Roslin is battling terminal cancer with the help of the holistic drug chamalla, which has been known to deliver visions.
What separates Battlestar Galactica from its peers is the ability to deliver variety in an unexpected manner. While every Star Wars movie is guaranteed to offer space battles and lightsaber fights, Battlestar is equally comfortable showcasing political drama as it is with devoting an entire episode to a fight between Vipers and Cylon Raiders. It’s rare that a science fiction story finds time to explore all the corners in the room, they generally throw plot points at the wall until they find one that sticks with their target audience. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but by pigeonholing your narrative you stunt your story’s growth. In “Flesh and Bone” the writers of Battlestar Galactica show they’re not afraid to park the star fighters for an episode to take a detour into the metaphysical, and the show is enriched by this boldness.
The episode opens inside the dreams of Laura Roslin, where the Colonial President is running through a forest with the Cylon Leoben, who we last saw in the miniseries. He’s helping her avoid a team of commandos who look quite similar to those found on the Galactica, clearly representative of Roslin’s lack of faith in the fleet’s military. The dream closes with Leoben getting pulled away from her, as if some unseen force had yanked him away.
Shortly after awakening from this dream she’s informed that a Cylon prisoner has been captured, and that it’s a copy of the Leoben model. Commander Adama is familiar with Leoben’s manipulative ways and recommends destroying the Cylon, but after her dream Roslin orders the model to be interrogated instead. Adama taps Starbuck to question the tricky Cylon, believing that she stands the best chance of preventing Leoben access to her head.
This copy of Leoben proves just as crafty as the one Adama tangled with in the miniseries, and it isn’t long before he’s playing mind games with Starbuck. He’s able to correctly guess who she is which simultaneously worries and intrigues her. There is cause for concern as Leoben claims he’s a saboteur, and that he has stashed a nuclear warhead somewhere amongst the fleet and it’s just hours away from detonating. This motivates Starbuck to employ increasingly aggressive tactics to extract the bomb’s location, and Leoben soon finds his head stuffed into a bucket of water. Starbuck’s treatment of the Cylon is disrespectful, she views Leoben as nothing more than a bunch of wires and circuits, a creature devoid of humanity that’s incapable of escaping the enslavement of its programming. We see how much this hurts Leoben, its been established that the Cylons are religious beings and Starbuck’s implication that he’s not a sentient creature cuts him to the soul she doesn’t believe he possesses. We also see that Leoben is suffering this torture of his own volition, as he’s capable of breaking free of his bonds at any moment. Leoben proves capable of using words to cut Starbuck, telling her that she’s simply acting out a predetermined role in a story that’s been told before. This accusation rattles Starbuck, who can’t imagine a worse fate than being nothing more than an actor in someone else’s tale.
It takes an appearance by President Roslin to get Leoben to reveal that there was no bomb at all, that he made the whole story up in an attempt to buy time. Starbuck has correctly guessed that the fleet is so far away from the Cylon home world that if Leoben perishes here he won’t be able to resurrect. This revelation does so much to humanize the Cylons, just like Starbuck it’s been easy for the audience to view them as nothing more than machines, but the genuine fear we see Leoben feels in regards to his own mortality speaks volumes about Battlestar’s antagonists. His confession comes with a bonus nugget of information, as he embraces Roslin and whispers in her ear that Commander Adama is a Cylon. While she’s unsure if this is true or false, the accusation is enough for her to order Leoben into the airlock where he’s evacuated into space. The episode closes with Roslin sharing a drink with Adama in his quarters, her behavior now tainted by a suspicion born from Leoben’s words.
“Flesh and Bone” also spends some time with Gaius Baltar, who continues his work on the Cylon detector the fleet so desperately needs. Boomer remains concerned that she might be a Cylon and approaches the scientific genius to ask to be the first one tested, a request Baltar grants. As the machine performs the test Internal Six points out how problematic the test results will be for Gaius: if the machine does indeed confirm Boomer is a Cylon she will almost certainly need to protect herself, which would require him to be killed. When the machine reveals that she is one of the enemy Gaius does what he always does: he lies to protect his own skin. It’s ironic that he feels so much fear about his naive role in the initial Cylon attack being discovered, yet he’s knowingly helping the enemy at this point.
We only visit Caprica for a brief moment, but what happens there is significant, perhaps more important than anything we’ve seen so far from the Helo subplot. Cylon-Sharon meets in secret with fellow robots Doral and Six, where she reveals that she’s been intimate with her human companion and that she believes Helo has fallen in love with her. Doral and Six order her to take her lover to a cabin they’ve set up nearby, and to kill him if he refuses to cooperate. When she returns to Helo she disobeys their command, and tells him that they need to run as far and as fast as they possibly can. It’s amazing what the writers are able to do with such a short scene, while on the surface the events that transpire on Caprica may seem minor but Sharon’s decision speaks volumes about her character, as well as offering further insight into the Cylon race as a whole. “Flesh and Bone” might not be the most action-packed episode of Battlestar Galactica but between the interrogation of Leoben, Boomer’s failed Cylon test, and Sharon’s refusal to cooperate with her fellow Cylons it does a fantastic job of fleshing out the show’s antagonists. The Cylons are a far more complicated foe than the mindless robots of other science fiction shows, and the layers of their personality is what gives the show its unique flavor.
“Flesh and Bone” will prove to be an important episode in the Battlestar Galactica saga, and the seeds planted here will bear fruit that will shake the series to its core. Leoben and Starbuck are connected at a cosmic level, and the hotshot pilot hasn’t seen the last of the crafty Cylon.