With great music comes great responsibility

Screenshot from Season 4 episode of Battlestar Galactica, "Someone to Watch Over Me."
The mournful song after Gandalf’s death in The Fellowship of the Ring can still bring me to tears, even though I know he’s not actually dead. The quick violins and orchestral explosions in Fairy Tail gear me up for the magical battle that is always about to ensue. The cheerful tune in Portal combined with GLADoS’s sarcastic lyrics makes me giggle. Music is, without a doubt, powerful.

On screen, music is used specifically to create the desired emotional response in the viewer, and it’s proven effective. Yes, we are being manipulated. Yes, it’s a little bit eerie to realize that.

“It’s just something I can’t get outta my head. Some way outta here.”
Though we know what we’re getting into when we take our seat in front of the screen. Emotional manipulation is just par for the course (I had to look up that analogy to make sure I got it right). What I find even more creepy is when the on screen characters themselves are manipulated by music.

Music as a trigger is a TV trope that never fails to give me chills, whether it’s Nyu shifting to her murderous side when she hears the music box playing in Elfen Lied, River Tam turning into an assassin to the tune of the Fruity-Oaty Bar commercial in Firefly, or Spike killing humans when he hears “Early One Morning” in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The creepiest by far has got to be the assembly of the Final Five in Battlestar Galactica. The Battlestar’s crew has known for a while that some of its members are sleeper-agent Cylons, though they don’t know who, and some Cylons themselves don’t even know that they aren’t human.

The Final Five fall under that category, and the plot only thickens to know the other seven Cylon models don’t know who they are.

It’s thus with great interest that we see some of the crew members begin to hear music (this song, in fact). It becomes apparent that the people around them cannot hear it. The music becomes more distinct and distracting as the ship gets closer to the nebula, and eventually the characters who can hear the music are drawn together in a shocking revelation. The music has initiated some sort of switch in their minds, and now they know they are Cylons.

I find even more creepy is when the on screen characters themselves are manipulated by music.

They piece together the lyrics of the song they remember, and if you’re clever and have an amazing memory, you’ll notice that some of those lyrics were also sprinkled throughout the dialogue in this episode.

“That song you’re hummin’. What is that?”
“Oh, uh. Ah, you know, I don’t even know. It’s just something I can’t get outta my head. Some way outta here.

For some reason, using music as a trigger is so much more powerful (and ultimately creepier when used to such nefarious ends) than if a silent switch had simply turned on in their brains.

The crescendo erupts into clashing emotion wrought with even more meaning due to it’s Cylonic (screw it, I’m using it) origin. It is fitting that it should bring them together again. And at that moment, I am engulfed with the same horror that the Final Five are feeling when they realize they are not human after all, but purebred toasters.

Music is powerful; I know it, and I let it manipulate me anyway. As long as it doesn’t mean I will turn into a Cylon, I’m okay with it.

Allison Barron

Allison Barron

Commander at Geekdom House
Allison is like Galadriel, offering wisdom where needed but turning treacherous as the sea when competitive games are involved. She is the executive editor of Area of Effect magazine, co-host of the Infinity +1 podcast, and staff writer for Christ and Pop Culture. When she’s not writing, designing, or editing, she is often preoccupied in Hyrule, Middle-earth, or a galaxy far, far away.
Allison Barron

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