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On 33, and FTL Radio in Battlestar Galactica

Well, readers could not help themselves from talking about 33, the first episode, due to a mention I made in yesterday's topic. So it is time to write out some analysis of both that episode, and the general question of whether circumstances in the show demand that somebody has an FTL radio (over and above the FTL jump ships.)

The colonies certainly don't have an FTL radio. And I suspect the writers do not intend the Cylons to have one either. The hidden string-puller (one true god) may be intended to have one.

Of course, all parties have jump ships. With a jump ship you can send a message FTL by putting it in a ship and jumping. While the colonies can't jump anything smaller than a raptor, the Cylons probably have a small robotic probe which can jump with messages.

Using FTL jump ships for messages works fine, though it is expensive, and you can only send a message to somebody if you know exactly where they are right now. To make that work you need a constant stream of ships relaying data, so you can know where they are and where they go if you want to send them a message. Expensive, but it can be done. However, you can never get a message to a lost ship, unless it is sending message drones back to you to pick up the messages. A recent revelation, that the jump field is dangerous to use inside a ship, suggests that such message drones would need to be fired out of a ship, and then would jump. It is possible, in theory, that Cylon technology is sufficiently better than they could send a jump drone from inside a ship.


To recap 33, the Cylons are chasing the fleet. The fleet jumps, and exactly 33 minutes later, the Cylons appear. The fleet scrambles to jump away before the Cylons can close for the kill. It's draining, and happens hundreds of times.

The real clue comes on the last jump. Before that jump, a message comes from the Olympic Carrier that a scientist on board has information about a traitor in the fleet. Baltar of course fears that it means him. As the fleet jumps away after Cylon attack, the Olympic Carrier does not make the jump. And the Cylons don't arrive. 3 hours later, the OC arrives. When asked, they say their jump drive failed, and the Cylons didn't destroy them for unknown reasons. They fixed it, and jumped. Baltar, afraid of being discovered, pushes for contact to break off. The OC radio is jammed, but they are told to stay away from the fleet. They approach the fleet and ignore hails. Nukes are detected on board. Then, 33 minutes after the OC appeared, the Cylons appear. Apollo and Starbuck destroy the OC, and the fleet jumps. They are not followed.

Let's explain possible explanations for this:

Cylons are in control of the OC from the start.

If cylons control the OC, there is no reason for the 33 minute delay. The Cylons would receive the new jump coordinates, and would relay them in milliseconds to the Cylon fleet. (Unlike vipers, Cylon raiders can jump.) The Cylon fleet would arrive at the rag-tag fleet seconds after it jumped, and if it wished, destroy them.

There is a Cylon agent on board the OC, who can send FTL messages

The Cylon agent would not be on the bridge to receive the encrypted coordinates. After the fleet jumped, the Cylon agent could look at the stars, and determine where they fleet was. They would then have to send an FTL message (or drone) back to the Cylon fleet. One can imagine reasons why this process and the FTL message add up to 33 minutes. This explains the fact the Cylons don't make the jump the OC misses, and arrive 33 minutes after it does.

The Cylons can track where the OC jumps to, but only the OC, due to some "leak."

Much later in the show, Six suggests the Cylons are able to track a radiation signature from the Tylium ship through jumps. In this case, it seems to take 6 hours, not 33 minutes, but it's a different ship. When the Tylium ship is sent on a decoy course, the Cylons follow neither it, nor the fleet. Instead they are waiting (or jump immediately into) the spot in the Ionian nebula that the fleet jumps to.

If the OC has such a signature, and it takes 33 minutes to track it, this explains events. The Cylons just waited for it to jump. In this case it was an innocent ship, and Lee and Kara killed 1,000 innocents.

However, this does not explain the OC's radio silence, refusal to stay back, and the presence of nukes on board it.

Plus it's a pretty amazing coincidence that the one ship they can track is the one that fails to jump, and the one that happens to have Baltar's potential accuser on board.

The Cylons can track all colonials when they jump

It has been a major assumption in the show that you can't track a ship through a jump. While that is obviously not 100% true, possibly the Cylons can always do it. If so, it doesn't explain why they don't just jump in 33 minutes even after the OC fails its jump, and destroy the OC.

This concept also demands the concept below, of a cat and mouse game.

The Cylons are only playing at chasing the fleet

Ellen remarks to Cavil that, in spite of many opportunities, he has tortured his creators but not killed them (permanently or temporarily.) We learn he wants instead that he does not want to kill them. He wants to give them a front row seat to an apocalypse, to teach them how bad humanity is, and have them apologize to him. As such he never really wants to destroy the fleet and kill his creators. He wants to torment them.

Many fans will resist it, but this seems to imply the whole chase was a big game. This includes the chase of 33. You'll see below why many factors suggest that the Cylons do in fact always know where the fleet is.

Cylons take over the OC when it fails its jump

When the OC fails to jump, the Cylons take it over, arm it with nukes and jump it. They may or may not kill the passengers in advance. In this case, however, there is no reason for the Cylon fleet to appear around 33 minutes after the OC arrives. The Cylons will know the coordinates, and could jump with the OC. Or they could jump in advance outside of dradis range. They could send the OC in, with nukes, and see if it is able to get into the fleet and blow up the nukes. If it fails, they could then jump in for ordinary battle. Instead they jump in at the worst time, making the fleet suspect the OC and destroy it. In addition, they continue the message about Dr. Amorak, whom Baltar fears will finger him.


Without FTL (radio or drone from inside ship) the only plot that makes sense, perhaps, is the one of cat and mouse, with the fleet always trackable. However, this still involves putting a nuke on the OC as part of the game, to make the fleet destroy it, to make them show their inhumanity.

The real answer probably has to be a combination of things. The Cylons are playing a game and also plant the nuke and take over the ship in the final round, for example. Realize that the Cylon god, talking through head-six, seems to be involved in the game, and the transmissions from the OC about Doctor Amorak. (Don't forget that the highly mysterious Shelley Godfrey Six claims to have worked with Amorak.)


Cylon downloading presents a problem. Do the Cylons have an FTL radio in their heads? If not, how do they update their minds back to the resurrection hub on a regular basis? In particular, how do they transfer when Leoben is put out the Airlock. Or Boomer is shot by Cally? Or Cavil is put out the airlock? Without an FTL transmit ability, you need one of the following:

  • The Cylons are always tracking the fleet. They keep a ship outside of dradis range to receive any downloads.
  • There is a store and forward relay inside the fleet, perhaps on Galactica. It receives the downloads and relays them during the next meeting with the Cylons. Problem is, Boomer's download is shown as immediate, and there is no Cylon contact.
  • There is FTL in their brains. Pretty impressive if it's nowhere else. It does seem to have a range limit.
  • The Cylons are tracking the fleet, but slowly. When they get to where it is, they go out in space to hunt for download signals and record them.

Finding the fleet and other things

The Cylons find the fleet at interesting times. For example, when D'Anna produces her documentary in Final Cut a Cylon raider arrives on a suicide mission to pick up the video. How does D'Anna signal that raider to come, if not FTL? Why does it need to get close enough to be seen to pick up a signal if the downloading signal can be picked up?

Bulldog also finds the fleet when it should not be findable. We are told he found the coordinates in the database on the captured raptor. But the way the fleet jumps, its location should not be in any raptor or anything else that can be captured. If a raptor containing that information were captured, it would be changed. Again, his finding the fleet is a Cylon game, and the only way they could know is via FTL or being able to always follow it.

Boomer and Ellen also find the fleet on their escape. Again, they must always know where it is, or have a way to find out where it is, for which only FTL radio makes sense.

The new viper that Starbuck appears in has a locater which is able to track a beacon in her old viper, on the 13th colony far, far away. That has to be FTL if it's real. Alternately, it is not really receiving the signal, but faking it. However, when they get to the colony, it appears to really track the signal.

Ionian Ambush

And then there's the waiting Cylon fleet at the Ionian Nebula. Understand this is not any sort of tracking (unless they can do it invisibly and instantly.) And it's not just a guess on where they are going, because thy are in exactly the right spot, light-seconds away at most. A nebula like that is a huge place. You could only end up in attack position if you knew exactly where the fleet planned to jump. This requires not just a cat and mouse game, but one tied more deeply into fleet computers, able to get the location quickly. The fleet would not have known its jump target until it calculated the jump, and it did so with no Cylons anywhere around to receive any signal of those coordinates. How could they have been there at the target location?

One explanation would be a signal (FTL) from the string-puller to the Cylon hybrids, who control the actual jumps. That string puller is there, as it has dropped off Starbuck in new viper at exactly the right location and time.

The Head Characters

Baltar's head six is a messenger from the Cylon god, as are other virtual characters such as the Elosha Roslin sees in jump space. How are the messages transmitted to Baltar's head? Is god a computer hidden on Galactica? If so, he has to also be on Kobol as Baltar sees Six there too. And Roslin sees her Elosha in jump space. The Hybrids get their messages form the Cylon god all the time, too. How are they getting them? Is the Cylon god something that can put a fragment of itself into Baltar's brain and the others' brains too?

Plus the string puller seems to put the music into the heads of the 4 Cylons as they approach the nebula. It either does this via FTL, or has some presence in the fleet holding a part of its mind.

Of course, the Cylon god could be supernatural, and thus able to do FTL communication because of that. Whether supernatural or not, and whether any other characters have FTL radio, I suspect the writers do think the string-puller/god is able to communicate FTL.


You can explain just about everything without FTL radio. But you certainly have to make things pretty convoluted in a lot of ways to do it. And the Ionian nebula ambush is very hard to explain. (Along with the power outage that takes place the moment they arrive.)


I've thought all along that the Cylons have some sort of FTL communication system. Simply because of resurrection.

That's pretty much what I've thought. My favourite candidate is a microscopic wormhole, maybe, quantum entanglement. The thing is it has to work but be a one time only device. I'm not sure how to fudge it to stack up with the science but you have to hit those targets for the narrative to stack up.

My basic position is the cat and mouse game doesn't fly but can be backwards rationalised. You could argue there's plenty of ways to track the feet at the initial stage of the war. I'd write it off as a combination of high impact drama at the start and, say, a zillion raiders being sent out in a pattern to search for the fleet. The fleet was a significant target as it contained a Battlestar and was organised so it might get this sort of special attention.

I can buy the idea that with a complete military victory the Cylons might be using the fleet as a lab experiment to study human behaviour, and be following it as they're searching for Earth as well. You get similar games in politics where the objective is to weaken and undermine the opponent. Putting too many resources in can spread you too thin and destroy the chance of escape so people start fighting back. This is why I'd place intent higher than a specific plan.

People are so often looking for plans and enemies to fight they miss the intent. This causes snarl ups from real world bills of law to simple discussion between (are you listening Lisa?) people with different design perspectives. To some degree that explains the mess BSG and the producers relationship with the audience has got itself into. This isn't just about narrative (law) or audience (voters) but execution of intent and dialog, and deliverables. Ego.

Once again Brad ignores the simple for the sake of some stupid science rant, but it is pointless to give any reason because Brad will just dismiss it, so I will just say, you are wrong and be done with it.

I know how Brad ticks. He can be a PITA but you have to weigh that against the quality of analysis. This is part of the "no free lunch" school of psychology. The trick is how you deal with that.

BSG isn't ending well and I'm just riding it out. The analysis is interesting and life goes on. There will be other stuff. In contrast, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles has something to offer and has shrugged off the writers strike after losing momentum and a couple of iffy episodes at the start of the new series.

Lots of spoilerific stuff in this footage:

New Terminator Salvation theatrical trailer here:


If there is no FTL radio, then how did Kara's Viper on Earth's distress signal reach the Colonial fleet? The following three possibilities:

1) The vipers have FTL radio
2) Earth was "close", a few light-months away from the nebula. Do we see any nebula between here and Alpha Centauri?
3) Kara travelled back in time (RDM says there is no time travel)

There's a fourth possibility:
4) Writers only pay attention to speed of light issues when they add to dramatic plot points, but otherwise assume communication is instantaneous.

We see this in Star Trek all the time where they fly half way across federation space when there is an attack on earth and arrive in hours, and then in other episodes, we are told it takes days or weeks to do the same thing.

Before BSG came on, I asked Moore about (4), which was one of the major flaws in the 1978 show. He promised that this was something he wanted to get right. And mostly they do. This might be an example of them goofing it.

No, there is no nebula anywhere near here. There is a simpler explanation. The viper is not actually receiving a signal, it is just showing a direction pre-programmed in it, in a form that the colonials will understand.

There is obviously a signal because Kara traces it with her blinking box. You also spoke to Moore apparently before the show came on. Was that before, or after he was asked to add more religion and fantastical elements? I still think you consumed too much of the Mission Statement kool-aid.

That's a good call. As I commented earlier, Ron had plans but fucked up. Sometimes you might intend X but deliver Y. That's where both the fabois and whiners have a problem, and why I've consistently suggested people take a mature approach. You have to balance what was promised versus what happened. On balance, I'd say we're all better off for having what was delivered than the more obvious alternatives or nothing.

This political but in Britain people are facing similar real world issues as Labour and the Tories face off. Maybe people aren't perfect and some of the other people are freeloaders but getting precious or getting emotional about things doesn't change how things are. That's something the current generation has forgotten and something they're having to rediscover. This was a stepping stone. Tomorrow, we do better.

There will be other shows.

Some might call that an opinion, not fact. Of course you probably knew that because you are the incredibly successful ... Oh yeah, you are so successful you can't provide examples of your success.

IF the locator simply knows where the target (crashed viper) is, it can still point to it (as long as it knows where itself is). Or it can just point in space, and be a real receiver when in range. What it can't be, without FTL, is a receiver when light years out in space.

It can, it just wouldn't exist yet. Which is going to have to be the final answer because I guarantee the writers do not care and will not waste 1 frame on it in the final episodes.

As I said, I don't think the writers gave this detailed thought. Well, they probably thought about 33 at the time they did it. RDM wanted to show that the ship was full of people but the network would not let him.

Wait a minute... are you serious? RDM can kill 50,000,000,000 with thermonuclear weapons off-screen, but can't SHOW a ship with a 1,000 people on board getting destroyed? Just shows that "Standards and Practices" still have no intelligence 40 years after Star Trek.

Amazing isn't it? David Simon wasn't allowed to print the truth in the Baltimore Sun newspaper, but change the names and put it in a *cough* fiction *cough* and they put it on HBO and it is truly the single most important thing in TV history.

Love The Wire, love the Simon (back to Homicide days), but don't know the specifics of his grumblings with the Sun. What event(s) and names are you referring to specifically?

I assume they are talking about the fact that David Simon left the Sun because they stopped covering the news properly by gutting the newspaper of all their reporters, for the sake of profits and the bottom line. The Wire is based mostly on real life events, many actors like Snoop and The Deacon were real life serious drug runners. The Deacon is the basis for the Barksdale family. He was a massive drug kingpin who was busted by Simon's writing partner Ed Burns. The funniest thing is that in season 5 the newspaper industry, who attacked Simon about his views of the dying industry, didn't notice that his real critique was that the paper missed every single major story, not that they were prize hungry morons. The mayor, who was elected on the back of the previous mayor juking the stats, juked the stats. The money that was supposed to go to the police, went to the schools. I could go on but you get the picture. I am not sure what makes the newspaper industry look dumber, the plot of the show, or a bunch of news people not noticing all the major stories the news media in the show missed.

I can understand why the network was cautious. Showing a few newsreel style footages of screaming journalists and mushroom clouds was depersonalised. Getting the jump on people and showing windows full of scared shitless passengers might have cut a little close.

On the issue of people not paying attention: I can think of one major UK news story that generated a lot of online chatter. The loudest and most populous side of the inevitable partisan froth lacked analysis skills and hadn't even read any of the key source material.

I agree with Brad that "33" was just another episode and they didn't pay mich attention to the detail. Later, they painted themselves into a corner and producer commented admitted the Viper navigation needle pointing to Earth was a Deus Ex machina get out.

One of the points I've made is about learning curve. There's issues of audience education and producer education. The goals of "naturalistic science-fiction" have slipped as people weren't properly geared up to achieving those goals. NSF 2.0 might do better. We'll see.

The beacon in Starbuck's Viper (the new one) didn't activate until the FF got summoned to it by a feeling. The current backstory of the FF as told by Ellen/Anders can give no explanation for their 'uncanny' feeling about her Viper. Hence, the String Puller could have been behind the signal.

This is an EPIC FAIL for BSG. The producers admittted they painted themselves into a corner. The whole scheme looked a bit unlikely and the Scooby Gang act was cringing. I suppose, that's one of the differences between an amateur and professional actor. They can deliver complete bunk with a straight face.

Cavil's famous scene where he laments about inhabiting such a restricted body and later uncertain character delivery of Ellen makes me think the actors were thrown by the scripts they were being handed. A wooden performance by "Zarek" in earlier episodes was hailed as a marvel of acting. Disco Lee needs no comment.

Ron didn't have a plan at the start but the first two series were great. As he developed a plan we saw the Apollo-Starbuck theme dominate everything. Then we have the seriously planned final series become the most unevenly paced and badly acted series ever. We're talking 1970's bad. I'm glad it was on but we have to learn from this.

Know your limits.


-The cylons don't update themselves on a regular basis, only when they die.
I've often wondered if they were say to drown and then are resuscitated would they're be a someone upstairs as it were?
Or their consciences go back to the hub(or resurrection ship)
If so maybe Sam's out there in the galaxy, but his body is on Galatica. I think they may have 2 hook him up to a hybrid tank so his mind can reconnect with his body, coz apparently the hybrids see the universe as a whole....
Just a theory.
Tell me if u can see any holes, or if you are totally lost =S

Actually, BSG's science advisor said that his view was that Cylon download needed to be incremental. I agree. First of all, it's a huge amount of data to have to send, and you're not going to send it while a body is being vapourized by a nuke like Tyrol was.

Second it's the smart thing to do. If you are killed far away, your mind could reboot from an earlier version, though it is never exactly clear if that happens.

Which brings up the idea that evidently the Cylons had no redundancy plans and built a single resurrection hub. I'm wondering now if that was the Five's doing.

Since Cavil, Doral, Simon and Boomer together don't know how to rebuild it, it seems pretty clear it was built by the final 5 (or robots under their direction) and they did not disclose some of the secrets. Ellen claims that only all of them together can do it.

It may be worse. They may have brought ancient Kobolian equipment with them that even they don't fully understand, but just got working again.

I've found that knowing something can be done is 99% of the battle. I'll admit, replicating something can be hard but knowing something can be done changes the game. I don't know what it is about people but I've seen it in science, like planet discovery, and more everyday things, like the mobile phone. Everyone says X is wrong or Y is impossible until they're shown different then, suddenly, everyone's at it. Knowing something can be done seems to unjam something in our heads. (Section about other posters removed.)

Wasn't the fail safe device procreation with humans? Am I crazy, or wasn't that the goal for the Final Five, to give them the ability to love an and learn not to rebel against the humans, but love them.

In regards to downloading and resurrection there was indeed a ship tracking the Galactica at all times as revealed in Resurrection Ship pt 1. Once it was destroyed in pt 2 the cylons ceased constant attacks.

That ship was moving with the Cylon fleet, not the colonial fleet! At least as shown in the show. The theory is that something might have been secretly tracking the colonial fleet, but it would have to do so quickly. After 1 jump it would take 10-30 years for a resurrection signal to reach that resurrection ship otherwise.

January 13, 2005

Why 33 minutes?

The truth is, there's no real answer. It's just a random number that felt right when I came up with the idea that our people were under continuous, relentless attack since the end of the pilot. I wanted it to be a short interval, just long enough for them to grab a bite to eat, jump in the shower and maybe try to catch a catnap before dragging themselves back to their duty stations and begin the whole tedious, terrifying ordeal all over again.

A deeper truth is, I was never interested in coming up with an explanation for Why? Never. I mean, I suppose I could've come up with a sufficiently important-sounding bit of technobabble that would've made sense (you see, the Cylon double-talk sensors tracking the Olympic Carrier's nonsense drive signature needed 15 minutes to relay the made-up data wave through the pretend continuum, then the Cylon navigational hyper silly system needed another 10 minutes to recalculate the flux capacitor, etc.) but what would that have really added to the drama? How does explaining that 33 minute interval help our understanding of Laura's terrible moment of decision, or bring us to any greater knowledge of Dualla's search for her missing family and friends, or yield insight into Baltar's morally shattered psyche?

It doesn't, of course. The answer, however artfully it may (or may not) have been crafted can only subtract from the experience we have in watching the episode. Not knowing the how's or why's of the Cylon attack puts us in the same seat as the characters we're watching. They're in the dark, and we're in the dark. The relentless attack is unfathomable in its origin and unstoppable in its execution. It's mortality coming at you on a loop. If you only had 33 minutes before the next time you could die, what would you do? And what about the time after that? And the time after that? At a certain point, you stop caring about why it's happening, all you know is that it is happening, and it's happening to you.

So the mystery of 33 will be permanent on this show. No explanation, not even the attempt. Let it just be a number that seemed like an eternity for five long days on the Battlestar Galactica.

Seriously. Listen to the Moore. That was the first episode of the series after the mini. Sometimes it is just a blinking box, folks.

I would say that shows us Ron Moore abandoned any notion of rational scientific explanations very early on and end that part of the debate once and for all, or at least didn't consider science as a big deal in terms of his Mission Statement, as some have argued.

In other words Ron pulled the new paint on an old fence trick.

I'm just riding the show out to see how it ends and getting more enjoyment from Brad's analysis and the conversation. I stopped downloading and listening to Ron's podcasts and have no interest in hyping Caprica. I might download them just to shove them in my media library for reference if there's a compelling need and might watch Caprica if there's nothing else on but that's as far as it goes. I don't like being bullshitted or lied to to, and Ron can carry the tab for the that. I'm not asking other people to agree, just stating my position.

I don't like being bullshitted or lied to to, and Ron can carry the tab for the that.

Proof please. You can't get anyone here to agree what the Mission Statement meant, so what makes you the almighty decider of how it should be interpreted. Other than the Mission Statement everything has pointed to unexplainable acts and possible religious exhibitions. So please, enlighten us with where Ron Moore promised us hard science? Or show me where he even lied to the audience about anything? Misunderstanding what someone's intentions are and building up a fantasy based on your misunderstanding isn't RDM's fault, that is yours for being so closed minded as to think you know what he was thinking. You aren't him.

As I said, I'm not asking for anyone to agree. I'm just stating my position. As Brad said earlier, attitude isn't welcome around here and I'm not going to feed it.

But I think if things are well written, there is a reason underneath, so that things make sense. The universe is like that -- we don't know all the rules, and in fact you can know none of the rules, and it still makes sense. It follows patterns, and it never is impossible. Fiction can, unlike reality, present the logically impossible if the background is not thought through.

But not explaining is great. Sometimes the author can not even know how it works, as long as they know what's not truly impossible.

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