Feminism and the Figure of the Fembot (Part 5.1 of 7)

V. Fembot Fatale: Gender and Consciousness Performance in Battlestar Galactica

Tricia Helfer as the memorable Number 6.
Tricia Helfer as the memorable Number 6.


The ultimate melding of the Femme Fatale figure with the figure of the Fembot can be found in the modern remake of the 1970’s television series, Battlestar Galactica in the character known simply as Number 6.  For those unfamiliar with this sci-fi staple of television, Battlestar Galactica is set far into the future of the human race. Humanity has forgotten its origins. Earth has become nothing more than a religious myth, the mystical origin of the current ‘twelve colonies’ that populate the star system and a place that most people don’t believe in any more. Spread across the twelve planets, the human race was more advanced and productive than ever. But everything changed when the Cylons, intelligent robots, attacked.

As the opening credits of the miniseries reboot explains, “The Cylons were created by man. They were created to make life easier on the Twelve Colonies. And then the day came when the Cylons decided to kill their human masters” (Moore). The war was long and bloody, but a truce was eventually reached. The Cylons disappeared from the system of the twelve colonies and out into space. When the show begins, the audience is told that no one has heard from the Cylons in over forty years, even though a remote space station was set up to maintain diplomatic relations. “Every year the Colonials send an officer. The Cylons send no one” (Moore). With that, the doors to the station suddenly open. Two of the old models of Cylon enter – clunky, huge, and metallic. But then a young woman appears in the doorway between them. She’s a blonde bombshell in a red dress, certainly; but it is quickly established that she is anything but human. “[The Cylons] evolved. They look and feel human. Some are programmed to think they are human. There are many copies. And they have a plan” (Moore). Namely, to wipe out the human race. After the initial nuclear attack on the twelve colonies, only a handful of humans survive, including one battleship, the Battlestar Galactica. The story centers on the men, women, and Cylons aboard the only ship that stands between the Cylons and the survival of the human race.

The Battlestar Galactica and the other ships from the reboot.
The Battlestar Galactica and the other ships from the reboot.


There are multiple copies of each new Cylon ‘model’, with twelve different models in total. The Cylon model that the audience first encounters is eventually introduced as Number 6. All the versions of a model share what one might think of as a collective consciousness and at the same time all individual versions are just that – individuals. As the show progresses, multiple ‘Number 6’s are introduced, but it is the two that are first presented that are of particular interest to this paper. The first one, the one on the space station, is destroyed within minutes as the space station is blown up as the first strike by the Cylons in their new war. It is unknown which name, if any, she went by. But the second one, who is presented almost immediately after the destruction of the first and maintains a station of importance throughout all four seasons of the show, actually goes by the name Number 6.

Along with Number 6, there are three other characters from the show that warrant special attention in reference to this topic. Two of these characters are also Fembots. They are two different iterations of the same Cylon model. The first is called Boomer, though her real name is Sharon Valeri, and she is a pilot aboard the Battlestar Galactica. She does not know that she is a Cylon. Conversely, the second Cylon model does go by the name Sharon. She is fully aware that she is a Cylon. She is stationed on Caprica (the main planet of the twelve colonies), but, after falling in love with a human member of the Battlestar Galactica crew, a man named Karl Agathon, who goes by the call sign Helo, she turns against the Cylons and helps the human survivors fend off attacks. The final character I will be discussing is a human, Kara ‘Starbuck’ Thrace. She is the best fighter pilot aboard the Battlestar Galactica and is one of the main characters in the show. By examining this collection of characters, their links to the classic Femme Fatale archetype will become clear, as well as the many ways in which the classic tropes are twisted to fit with a personality that is not always human, but often machine.

From a purely visual and cinematic viewpoint, Number 6 seems to be the one character out of all those previously mentioned who most closely conforms to the definition of the Femme Fatale. Like her film noir counterparts, Number 6 is a stunning, tall blonde in a red dress. Of course she’s not always wearing red – but the majority of times she is presented to the audience she is in some kind of provocative outfit, usually one showing an overabundance of skin. In this way she is emphatically embodied and emphatically sexualized. The first shot we have of any number six model is her legs, just as in the film noirs of the thirties and forties. The camera slowly tracks up her body, lingering over her ankles, her hips, her chest. Her first action as a character is to lean down over the Colonial Representative and ask “Are you alive?” He replies with a shaky, “Yes”. “Prove it,” she says, before kissing him passionately as the station explodes around them seconds later (Moore). Within this first scene the audience is invited to connect this character with both extreme sexuality and destruction. Throughout the rest of the series, this connection is emphasized and re-emphasized as Number 6 works her will through her former lover Gaius Baltar with a mixture of sex and power.

However, the end to which Number 6 utilizes her sexuality is important to note. She acts as a guide to Gaius Baltar, appearing only to him and no one else, advising him and convincing him that he is not merely a man, but an instrument of God. As an instrument of God, she insists that she and he must have a child. An impossible proposition, as Gaius points out many times, since she is a Cylon, a machine – she cannot procreate, let alone be a mother. But this goal is of the utmost importance to Number 6. She cites God’s commandment to his creatures to go forth and multiply as the imperative purpose of her life. Procreation must occur and she will do anything to bring a Cylon-human child into this world.

Not only does Number 6 seem legitimately interested in becoming a mother and deeply bothered that she is incapable of being one by conventional means, Number 6 is constantly and consistently put around and in interaction with children. For example, in one of her very first scenes, Number 6 is walking through a crowded outdoor area on Caprica. She stops to converse with a woman about her child, a young baby boy. Number 6 seems in awe of the child, mentioning how small and fragile they are, holding it and telling him that he’ll soon no longer cry. When the woman is momentarily distracted, Number 6 reaches down and snaps the baby’s neck before swiftly disappearing into the crowd. At first glance this scene would seem to confirm her Femme Fatale status. She cares nothing for children; she has no motherly instincts of her own. Yet, when examined within the context of the story itself, she really was trying to help; trying to spare the little one and his family the pain and horror of the coming apocalypse. She was making the hard choice mothers sometime have to make to save their baby from suffering.

Works Cited

Moore, Ronald D., and David Eick. “Battlestar Galactica.” Battlestar Galactica. Sky1. London, UK, Oct. 2004. Television.

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Published by rsjeffrey

Robin Jeffrey was born in Cheyenne, Wyoming to a psychologist and a librarian, giving her a love of literature and a consuming interest in the inner workings of people’s minds.