Now here's an episode of Battlestar Galactica that's made in the best tradition of classic Star Trek. Also Deep Space Nine, since it has all the messy and labyrinthine character relationships (not to mention two of its former writers). "Downloaded" is a morality play with the fascinating twists of science-fiction, creating a scenario that asks difficult human questions in circumstances no human being could ever experience.
It's hard to believe that this episode almost never happened ... or at the very least almost never happened at this point in time in this particular form. According to previous Ronald D. Moore commentaries (for the record, I listen to all the episode commentaries, but not until after I've written my reviews) "Resurrection Ship" was originally planned as one episode, with the slot for "Downloaded" assigned the status of a clip show because of budget constraints. When "Resurrection Ship" was expanded across two hours, "Downloaded" became possible. I am thankful. This might be BSG's best and most enlightening episode of the season. It's emotional, psychological, informational, and intellectual.
When a Cylon dies, he or she is downloaded into a new body, and we get to see that process first-hand in the episode's intriguing opening minutes. They play like a variation of The Matrix, with a traumatic birth-like emergence into a strange new world. Granted, "variation" is a polite way of saying "rip-off," but the idea itself is effective. Six wakes up in a download/resurrection chamber (a Matrix-like bathtub of transparent slime) after being killed in the nuclear blast of the miniseries. She's coaxed back to consciousness by her fellow Cylons, who guide her in rebirth like helpful parents. There's also a scene where Sharon, after being shot in "Resistance," undergoes a similar rebirth. Sharon's rebirth is far more horrifying than Six's, which is perhaps an insight into the natures of their programming and the duality they face in "Downloaded."
For me, however, the central idea in the story is the notion that Six hallucinates visions of Baltar, in much the same way Baltar hallucinates visions of Six. (The copy of Six in "Downloaded" is the same one from the miniseries that deceived and used Baltar to gain access to the defense mainframe, making the sneak attack on the Colonies possible.) The story's most crucial choice is that it approaches Six with a genuine curiosity about her conscience. Yes, she used Baltar and specifically their sexual bond to take advantage of him, but how did she actually feel about it?
The fact of the matter is, she feels very guilty about it. She carried out her mission effectively, and the sneak attack was successful even beyond the predictions of the Cylons' own war architects. Six is now known as "Caprica Six" and holds a hero/celebrity status. But always appearing to her is the vision of Baltar, reminding her of the massive crime she assailed upon humanity, and by extension, upon him.
As a storytelling device, this is a masterstroke. Logically, one might wonder if the Cylons in general and Six in particular are sentimental enough to be capable of this sort of psychological weakness — but of course they are, because they are us. Besides, this allows for a Six/Baltar duality that is now fully complete; they are their own mirror images. Where Baltar's guilt has created a Six in his mind that drives him mad and leads him down a path of increasing darkness, with Six it's just the opposite — she sees an image of Baltar that reminds her of what she did (and what she might in the future do to atone for that sin). The psychological details to ponder are endless; the most intriguing thing about the episode is realizing that these two characters are intrinsically one, and exist as a dichotomy that allows them to take completely different paths.
Like I said, this is a morality play. It's about Six facing up to what she did and figuring out now what to do about it. Her choices play out through her interaction with Sharon, whom she has been assigned to help reintegrate into Cylon society. Sharon is even more wracked with guilt than Six, mostly because she wasn't aware of her assignment as she carried it out. In a society of lies and deception, Sharon is the ultimate victim because she was an unwitting perpetrator. The cosmic joke was not simply played upon her, but also used her as its instrument. Sharon is understandably bitter about that joke. Seeing Sharon, Six grows more troubled with the moral implications with each scene.
Another of the interesting aspects of "Downloaded" is that it shows us more about how the Cylons operate. Early scenes show the Cylons rebuilding occupied Caprica, and the dialog establishes more facts about the resurrection process that has been slowly but steadily revealed in previous episodes. (Even months after being reborn, Six confesses that she doesn't feel quite at home in her new body.) There's also the dynamic among the Cylons themselves. Six takes orders from a copy of D'Anna Biers (Lucy Lawless), who says that if Sharon can't be brought back in line with the acceptable Cylon temperament, she will be "boxed" — her memories put in cold storage. (This would be the Cylons' apparatus for quashing possible internal dissent.)
Watching "Downloaded," the other thing I couldn't help but think about was the long string of cause and effect and how all the characters in motion led us to this point. Consider the multiple Sharon roles: "Galactica Sharon" from season one is now "Caprica Sharon" here, and reveals to Six that Baltar is still alive. Of course, Galactica-turned-Caprica Sharon is the one who rescued Baltar from Caprica in her Raptor in the first place. Meanwhile, the Caprica Sharon of season one is now the Galactica Sharon of season two; after spending the entire first season on Caprica with Helo, she now carries their hybrid child. This sounds like a dizzying mess, but these characters have been so well established that we understand immediately who and where everyone is and why they feel what they feel.
The story crosscuts between Caprica and the events on the Galactica, where the pregnant Sharon has complications and must give birth to her daughter prematurely. The baby, named Hera, has underdeveloped lungs and must be incubated. This now means that Roslin and Adama must decide what they are going to do about this Cylon child. Meanwhile, Baltar, still believing he has a symbolic claim to this baby, hovers ominously over the proceedings, and I must point out that I love how all these characters are connected in such strange and twisted ways.
Roslin's plan for Hera could be its own morality play, and makes use of the classic ends-versus-means argument of necessity. She's right, and she's pragmatic, but she is not strictly moral. She decides that Sharon cannot be allowed to raise the child, and the Cylons cannot become aware of her. So she orders Dr. Cottle to take part in an elaborate kidnapping scheme while faking the death of the infant. Hera is turned over with a cover story to a human mother who has no idea she is becoming stepmom to a Cylon hybrid (and a potential future target).
The presumed death of Hera is understandably devastating to Sharon, who accuses Cottle of being part of a conspiracy to murder her baby. Notably, she's not wrong about the fact there's a conspiracy. Not only does the kidnapping of Hera open up future story possibilities, it also makes for a good intellectual companion alongside the Caprica storyline involving Six's and Sharon's own struggles of conscience. At one point, D'Anna says, "Humans don't respect life the way we do," which is smug hypocrisy coming from someone complicit in genocide. One could also argue that Roslin's willingness to treat the Cylon infant as an innocent is an action that speaks for itself. My only problem here is a plausibility detail: Just where did they find a dead baby that could substitute as a stand-in for Hera? Somehow, I doubt the fleet has conveniently similar female infant corpses just lying around.
There's also a thread in here involving Anders and the human resistance on Caprica (see "The Farm"), which uses guerilla war tactics to blow up a cafe full of Cylons. After the bomb goes off and everyone is buried in the rubble, much of the rest of the story is stripped down to a four-character dialog piece (Six, Sharon, D'Anna, Anders). Such pieces — involving a few characters wielding ideas much larger than themselves — were often an effective staple of Star Trek; it proves to be effective here, too.
The story arc is ultimately Six's: Her doubts about the destruction of humanity take her down a path toward a new destiny — that of a critic of Cylon policy. In seeing Sharon's plight and D'Anna's inflexibility, Six comes to realize what's right and wrong, and what she needs to do about it. She has a choice, and realizes her voice as a Cylon celebrity may carry more weight. Tricia Helfer's performance in the episode is crucial, and she's up to the task. Helfer communicates a lot with looks and glances, suggesting depth, guilt, and introspection. She creates a character we can empathize with and eventually root for, because we want to see Six think for herself and go against the establishment. She was a villain; now she's something else. "What kind of people are you?" Anders asks her. "I don't know," she responds.
And always in the back of her mind is Baltar, coaxing her in that new direction. She loved him, and wants to do right by him. When she kills D'Anna and decides to embarks on a new path with Sharon, the image of Baltar tells her, "I have never loved anyone more in my life than I love you now." The message is that love makes us see not only the other person but also ourselves, and it can make us try to become better people. That's what Six experiences in "Downloaded."
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