From the beginning, the new Battlestar Galactica has taken ideas from many sources (including its namesake, of course), but the most notable borrowing point for my money has been Philip Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. To put it simply: both feature robots that look like humans and explore the moral and practical implications of that notion. And, well, both feature some flesh and blood robots that want to help humans and some that want to kill them. In Electric Sheep, they’re called replicants; in Galactica, cylons.
What’s interesting in Galactica, though, is the way it has turned the tables on some of Dick’s ideas. For instance, it’s the robots who are on the run in Electric Sheep where the humans are the hunted in Galactica. In Dick’s book, the robots are individuals, each one different. In Galactica, the robots are copies of specific humans and each has hundreds of duplicates.
Another clever reversal takes place in the most recent Battlestar episode (207). Fans may recall a scene at the end of Blade Runner (the film adaptation of Electric Sheep) where human Rick Deckard looks to gather replicant Rachel and go on the run, hiding her from authorities who would “retire” her. Rick asks her: “Do you love me?” She nods. “Do you trust me?” She nods again. And they’re out the door.
In last week’s Battlestar, a similarly tense situation arises when cylon Sharon makes a disturbingly vague assertion about needing to take matters into her own hands. When Helo expresses concern, she asks him: “Do you love me?” He nods. “Do you trust me?” He nods again. And the new Sharon goes on to prove herself where the old Sharon failed.
So, Blade Runner has the human asking the robot to trust him where Galactica has the opposite, and in the exact same words. One has to wonder what Galactica’s creators are saying by this. Perhaps it’s a statement about which group (robot or human) is in power in their respective worlds: trust is one of the few things that cannot be extracted by the powerful from the powerless — it must be given. Or, it could be a statement about gender roles: in Blade Runner, Rick was protecting Rachel. In Galactica, Sharon makes a gutsy move and protects both herself and Helo. Are Galactica’s writers reacting to the suggested misogynistic subtext in Blade Runner?
Regardless of the explanation it’s thought-provoking stuff, proving that this new Battlestar can take on and (for the most part) handle well some of the toughest ideas in science fiction. When they first took on the replicant angle, it seemed echoes of Dick would haunt them. Now it’s beginning to seem a mere TV show may actually find a way to do him justice.
Trivia: Edward James Olmos (Commander Adama) was in Blade Runner, too. Think Galactica’s creators might be fans yet? Oh, and to complicate matters further, it turns out that Rick Deckard was a replicant after all.