Tuesday, July 19, 2011

BSG and torture

I'm eight episodes into the first season of Battlestar Galactica and I'm really enjoying it. They raise so many interesting questions and address many of them quickly and in a satisfying manner. The latest problem the humans faced was a cylon one of the ships captured.

This cylon claimed that he planted a nuclear warhead on one of the ships. Starbuck goes to interrogate the cylon and almost inevitably, torture ensues. A few questions come about in this situation. Is it wrong to torture the cylon? If you read this blog you have probably gathered that I think torture is wrong. But a cylon isn't a human being, right? It looks like a man, bleeds and sweats like one. It even believes it has a soul.

Its hard to answer this given that we don't know if the cylon has a soul. But as a metaphor I think the torture sequence is supposed to make us realize that even in the real world when we are confronted with some of the most evil people on earth, we are still dealing with human beings who have rights. And even though its a cylon, I still felt sympathy for the torture it was enduring.

The other interesting issue this episode raised was the issue of the effectiveness of torture. At the beginning of the torture, Starbuck mentions that they had reached the point where a human being would be giving false information. Kudos to the writers for that accurate portrayal of torture. This shows that Starbuck is motivated more by a desire to punish than to actually get accurate information. But even for Starbuck we see her breaking down and becoming sympathetic the longer the torture goes, and of course as they learn nothing new about the nuke.

Its only when the president visits the interrogation that the torture stops and she starts asking him questions herself that good information was given. It turns out that the cylon never planted a nuke. It really just wanted to talk to to Starbuck and the president. That highlights the other issue with torture, that not doing is also about protecting the innocent. Even the Bush administration released people they took to Guantanamo Bay because they turned out to be innocent. And Obama won't release some innocents still there because they were tortured.

The last thing I want to mention is how quickly feelings turn during this episode. Starbuck starts out as the typical hard ass she is (which is really sexy and awesomely portrayed by Katie Sackoff). She starts to sympathize with the cylon the longer the torture goes on. The president comes in and stops the torture and consoles the cylon. But then she orders it be killed, which Starbuck protests. And the last scene is Starbuck praying to the gods that the cylon said she prayed to, asking that if it had a soul they protect it. The difficult circumstances force the non-military and military to constantly deal with issues that call into question their previously held modes of operation and ways of thinking. And it creates really compelling drama.

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