On Battlestar Galactica

An Angel on His Shoulder, A Devil on Hers

By Chris Roberson

What are we to make of Gaius Baltar? He’s a bad apple, there’s no mistaking it: selfish, egocentric, and vain. He’s a slave to his own worst instincts, willing to do anything that serves his interests. If the destruction of the Colonies and the death of billions of innocents bothered him at all, it scarcely showed, as his primary concern was that he not be blamed for any part in it. He’ll accuse one man of being a Cylon with no evidence, condemn a possibly innocent man to death, but conceal the discovery that a trusted member of the crew actually is a Cylon, if it means increasing his own chances of survival.

But is he really all bad?

Baltar was the winner of three Magnate Awards, a media cult figure, and a personal friend of President Adar. Working as a top consultant for the Ministry of defense on computer issues, and known for espousing controversial views on advancing computer technology, Baltar was instrumental in the creation of the Command Navigation Program (CNP), an automated system integrated into the navigational systems of all Colonial ships.

That’s where the problems started, of course. It seemed the CNP was a bit beyond Baltar’s abilities. Luckily, he was sharing his bed with a woman well versed in programming, who offered to rewrite half the algorithms and help get the program up and running. All she asked in return was for Baltar to use his connections to grant her unlimited access to the Ministry of defense mainframe, to help give her an edge in getting a defense contract in the coming year.

It’s interesting that we were never told the name of the blonde lover of his. On Caprica, her name, like her feelings, mattered little, if at all, to Baltar. He betrayed her with another woman and offered as his defense tired platitudes that he couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to deliver with any measure of conviction. It was clear that he had been caught by jealous lovers before, and he expected to be caught many more times to come. But that was all about to change.

The lover, of course, is an example of the Cylon model we’ve come to know as Number Six. It’s significant that the first lines we heard her utter to Baltar were about love, souls, and God. “your body misses me,” she said to him, “but what about your heart, your soul?” Then, as their clothing was removed one frenzied piece at a time, she asked him, “do you love me?” When Baltar, a panicked look on his face, asked, “Are you serious?” Six laughed the question off.

Six told Baltar that she helped him with the programming of the CNP not because she wanted to win any defense contract, but because God told her to do so.

Later, Six revealed to Baltar that she is a Cylon. She claimed that Baltar must have known this all along, though his reaction made plain that he hadn’t. That Six could so misread their relationship, to think first that Baltar loved her, when he gave no indication of holding her in any regard at all, and second that he had been secretly aware of her machinations all along, including their shared role in the complete destruction of the Colonies, suggests an inability to empathize and anticipate another’s emotions bordering on the psychopathic. But the Cylons are the children of mankind, after all, and as it seems that they haven’t completely matured, perhaps their emotions and personalities are accordingly immature. Or is it, as Six suggested, that Baltar has “an amazing capacity for self-deception”? Baltar started to phone his attorney, to plan his defense, when the first bombs began to fall. A short time after, Caprica City was hit. Just before the shockwave reached Baltar’s home, Six explained to him that she could not die, and that when her current body would be destroyed, her memory and her consciousness would wake up in an identical body, somewhere else. She shielded Baltar with her own body as the nuclear blast washed over them.

When Baltar gave his half-hearted excuse for infidelity to Six, he claimed it was all his fault.

“I screwed up. I am screwed up. I always have been. It’s a flaw in my character. …”

Well, that might be understating matters somewhat, no? In fact, it seems at times as if Baltar’s character is nothing but flaws. One would be hard pressed to identify a single selfless act, a single moment of charity or generosity. When he stood in front of Boomer’s Raptor, Helo having read the number of the last survivor allowed onboard, Baltar was approached by an old woman who asked him to read her number aloud, since she had lost her glasses. Baltar saw the winning lottery number on her paper, and his desire to take her number for himself was written large across his expression. He passed up the opportunity when Helo recognized him, identifying the woman as the lucky survivor in the hopes of deflecting attention from himself–“I haven’t done anything,” he responded, when Helo asked if he is Gaius Baltar–but fortune smiled on him when Helo surrendered his seat in the Raptor to him.

Unexpectedly, Baltar saw Six again, in a stunning red dress, standing amongst the agitated Capricans about to be left behind. did he experience some guilt, knowing that the selfless Colonial Warrior was willing to die so that he could live? Or was that giving him too much credit? He blinked, and when he looked again, she was gone.

She appeared to him, a short while later, on the Raptor. “you know what I love about you, Gaius?” she asked. “you’re a survivor.”

The first exchange we heard between Baltar and the red-dress Six was onboard the newly christened Colonial One. Baltar had already decided that she was “an expression of [his] subconscious mind, playing itself out during [his] waking states.”

“So I’m only in your head?” Six asked. “Have you considered the possibility that I can very well exist only in your head without being a hallucination….Maybe you see and hear me because when you were sleeping I implanted a chip in your brain that transmits my image right into your conscious mind.”

Baltar rejected this explanation for a time, insisting that Six was merely the result of his subconscious self expressing irrational fears, but in short order seemed ready to accept that Six had some reality independent of his own subconscious.

But what purpose would the Cylons have for implanting such a chip in Baltar’s head? He was an instrument in the destruction of the Colonies, but beyond that he seemed to have little utility. In fact, in many instances, Six seemed to offer Baltar advice that was counter to the Cylons’ interests. She pointed out to him the Cylon device on the Galactica bridge and urged him to identify some scapegoat among the crew. That the scapegoat Baltar selected turned out to actually be a Cylon seemed to strain credibility. Or did it? If Six was really a Cylon entity, and not a product of Baltar’s subconscious, she would surely be able to recognize another of her own kind, and even though she claimed that the scapegoat was not, in fact, a Cylon, could she actually be manipulating Baltar into choosing him, like a skilled cardsharp forcing a draw?

Six is a constant companion to Baltar, always there to advise him, to steer him to one course or another, and though it is seldom clear just what her ultimate purpose is, her agenda is obvious.

“And what I want most of all,” she told Baltar, “is for you to love me.”

“God is love.”

Six, more than anything else, is out to save Baltar because she loves him.

And that, for all of the first season and much of the second, seemed to be that. The Cylons’ ultimate plans were ineffable, but Six’s purpose was clear. She was the angel on Baltar’s shoulder, trying to lead him toward the path of righteousness. Not, of course, any righteousness which the Colonials would recognize, but one that adhered to Six’s own beliefs.

The Colonials are pantheists, worshipping the Lords of Kobol. The Cylons would seem to be strict monotheists, with a single deity known only as God. And while the Lords of Kobol are distant and removed from human affairs, the God of the Cylons is intimately involved in the day-to-day life of his worshippers, seeming to direct their every movement. (Which raises the interesting question, of course, whether “God” might not be another name for some super artificial intelligence at the heart of Cylon culture.)

Also, the goals of the Cylon God are quite distinct from those of any human deity. For one, God seems not terribly interested in the temporal and physical survival of the human race. If anything, God may be more interested in winnowing down humanity to its core, to those individuals best suited to survive (recall Six’s words to Gaius: “you know what I love about you? you’re a survivor.”), and then somehow crossbreeding those survivors with Cylons to create a hybrid race, incorporating the best of both. This could be the goal of the long-game experiment run on Helo and on Caprica, or the “baby farm” where Starbuck is briefly imprisoned. In any event, the demands of the Cylon God are ineffable and strange, and scarcely seem likely to presage a happy future for humanity.

To what end, then, is Six leading Baltar? Her advice certainly doesn’t seem to be in the best interest of the surviving humans, but at the same time she often advises Baltar in ways that seem to act against the Cylons, as well. So what is her purpose?

Love. Six loves Baltar, and that is her principal, and perhaps only, motivation.

Six wants to see Baltar survive, wants to continue to be with him. If Galactica is under threat of attack by Cylons while he’s onboard, as it is before the Fleet makes the jump to Ragnar, Six acts against the Cylon interests for as long as Baltar is still in danger. When Baltar is not in immediate danger, her motivations are more opaque and her advice to him more mysterious, but in the main in these instances she seems to favor the Cylons’ purposes.

Six loves Baltar. But what if it isn’t exactly the Six we first met on Caprica? She seems far more self-assured, for one thing. Her manner is much more confident, and her ability to read the emotions and intentions of others is far and away improved.

What if she isn’t Six, after all? Not in the way that Baltar thinks. And, perhaps, not even in the way she thinks.

When Galactica was reunited with the Battlestar Pegasus, Baltar was brought to examine a Cylon prisoner. It turned out to be another instance of Six, one which had no knowledge of him. This instance of Six, badly beaten and abused by the Pegasus crew, explained to Baltar the nature and uses of the Resurrection Ships, which are used to revive dead Cylons far beyond the reach of the Cylon homeworld. “Pegasus Six” begged him to end her suffering and kill her, but Baltar refused. In fact, Baltar seemed to have genuine feelings for her.

Baltar spurned the Six who lived in his mind, directing his attention to winning the heart of Pegasus Six. This other Six made use of Baltar’s affections, wrangling a nuclear warhead, which she ultimately detonated, destroying the luxury ship Cloud Nine.

Baltar, of course, survived. He was elected president, led the surviving humans to the planet dubbed New Caprica, and settled in. A year later, he was living in decadence onboard the downed Colonial One, sharing his bed with several women at once, while his people eked out a meager existence in a muddy warren of tents and huts.

Six still resided in his mind, presumably still advising him. But since her primary goal was for Baltar to survive, she should be pleased, right? She loved him on Caprica, and she loves him now, supposedly existing on a chip implanted in his mind.

Except that it wasn’t Six, and never was.

When the nuclear blast ripped through Baltar’s house, Six died shielding Baltar with her own body. When she opened her eyes again, she was in a Cylon birthing tank, surrounded by other Cylons…and an apparition of Baltar that only she could see.

In the weeks and months that followed, this Six was celebrated by the other Cylons. She was even given a name, a rarity among beings who typically are only known by numeric designations; Caprica Six was a hero to Cylons everywhere.

But Caprica Six had difficulty reintegrating into Cylon culture. The other Cylons assumed that this was the result of the strain of her mission and having to live among humans for so long, to say nothing of prolonged and intimate contact with one of them. The notion that Caprica Six spent so much time in the arms of Gaius Baltar must seem anathema to beings who view humans as a flawed creation, and one that God is eager for them to eradicate.

And living among humans all that time obviously had an impact on Caprica Six. In the hours leading up to the Cylon attack, she clearly had misgivings about her mission. She encountered a woman with an infant in a crowded city square in Caprica City, and marveled over how small and light the baby was. The infant cried, and Caprica Six tried to soothe it, saying, “you won’t have to cry much longer.” When the mother’s back was turned, she broke the infant’s neck, and her expression suggested strongly that she did it in order to save the baby from the horrors which were to come.

She then went to Baltar’s house. Not the strong, confident Six who would later occupy Baltar’s mind, Caprica Six seemed uneasy, unsure of herself and her situation. When she asked Baltar, “do you love me?” her naked hunger for acceptance and approval was obvious. She truly does love him, and was desperate for him to return that love. Not because “God is love,” as Baltar Six would later say, but because she wanted Baltar to love her, as an individual, as Caprica Six.

Caprica Six is a loyal Cylon, but her time among humans seems to have infected her with a suite of personality flaws: doubt, neediness, and guilt.

The Six who appeared in Baltar’s mind talked to him constantly of love and of survival. It steered him away from danger, giving him information only a Cylon would know, all with the apparent goal of his continued existence.

What does the image of Baltar in Caprica Six’s mind say? It prodded at her, reminding her again and again of her guilt in the deaths of billions of humans. It pointed out repeatedly that she was just a machine, not a person. In short, it mocked her and tried to drag her down. Not an angel on her shoulder, but a devil, pouring poison into her ear.

What are we to make of this?

The answer, I think, is simple. Baltar and Six are, in essence, talking to themselves.

When the Cylons arrived on New Caprica, it wasn’t because they received any transmission from an instance of one of their own, running on a chip inside Baltar’s head. In fact, there was little to no evidence that the Cylons were aware at all of the existence of Baltar Six. Instead, they discovered New Caprica a year later because they detected the nuclear explosion caused by Pegasus Six. Also, when Caprica Six and Baltar encountered one another, it was clear that neither had any idea that the other had survived the bombing of Caprica City.

In the aftermath of the nuclear explosion that destroyed Caprica City, Six’s shielding of Baltar with her own body had unintended consequences.

At the moment of her death, Six’s consciousness would have been broadcast back to the Cylon homeworld or a nearby rebirth ship, uploaded so that she could be incarnated in a new body. But Six died at the exact instant that a crushing wave of radiation passed over her body, the result of a high megatonnage explosion. Suppose, then, that when her consciousness was broadcast out, the radiation interfered with the transmission, filtering her digital upload momentarily through Baltar’s mind.

This filtering could have left an impression of Six’s consciousness in Baltar’s mind, and carried along with Six’s upload an impression of Baltar’s consciousness. Not fully sentient, these partial impressions then acted as sock-puppets for their subconscious processes, externalized actors for internalized thought processes.

“I’ve decided you’re an expression of my subconscious mind,” Baltar said, “playing itself out in my waking states.” What if he was more right than he knew?

After all, what motivates Baltar more than self-love and the desperate desire for survival? And what is the constant refrain of the image of Six who haunts his thoughts? “Love.” “Survivor.” This Six is strong, self-confident, and without a shred of doubt that everything she says is absolutely true, absolutely right–in the precise way that Baltar’s self-interest and self-regard are the strongest aspects of his personality.

And Caprica Six, who feels guilt, and possibly remorse, over the death of billions of humans? She was visited by an image of Baltar that reminded her, again and again, that she was a soulless killing machine. Plagued by crushing doubt, Caprica Six was unable to escape the voice that reminded her of all she’s done wrong, and all that she can never be.

Their minds intermingled in the nuclear explosion, Caprica Six and Baltar are each locked in constant discussion with their own subconscious processes, telling themselves what they most want to hear, whether their conscious minds realized that desire or not. But what happens when the two are brought physically together? Will they recognize their internal voices for what they are, and begin an actual dialogue? Or will matters only get that much worse for everyone involved?

Enjoy This Essay?

More from Chris Roberson

Stay Updated

on our daily essay, giveaways, and other special deals

Our Books

On Our Blog

We Can’t Get Enough of Fifty Shades of Grey

FiftyWritersonFiftyShadesofGrey_Revised_FrontCoverThe movie may have been released in February, but we still can’t get...

Posted April 28th

The Big Bang Theory: A Writer’s Panel at San Diego Comic-Con 2014

Coming just in time for the holidays, Smart Pop is working with George Beahm on an updated edition of Unraveling...

Posted August 14th

San Diego Comic-Con 2014 Recap + Giveaway

A couple weeks ago we headed to San Diego for our fourth year of exhibiting at Comic-Con. It was equal...

Posted August 5th | 13 Comments »

Subscribe via RSS