Battlestar Galactica – “Blood on the Scales”

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“Blood on the Scales”

February 6th, 2009

For the second time this season, I found myself in a situation wherein being able to watch Battlestar Galactica wasn’t in the cards. I am not a fan of this particular development, as it is inherently frustrating, especially when the episode was actually spoiled for a couple of people I was with for the weekend. BSG’s friday night time slot seems great in theory sometimes, but when you actually have an event going on it’s kind of tough to find the time to slot it in.

And by the time I did sit down late Saturday night to watch “Blood on the Scales,” I have to say that I didn’t find it quite as exciting as some others did. Perhaps it was the scenario in which I watched it, but there is something about this episode that felt like it was the simplest of solutions. There wasn’t anything surprising in the episode, outside of a couple of loose ends that never really played a role in the episode. This isn’t to say that the episode lacked excitement, or that its darkest moments had no impact on me, but rather that for all the escalation and all the entertaining turnarounds it ended up exactly where we knew it would end up.

So this isn’t likely going to be incredibly lengthy, primarily because I wrote so much about “The Oath” that saying too much more here is probably going to get redundant.

My biggest problem with “Blood on the Scales” is also the scene that was perhaps the most shocking: as the Quorum asks Zarek to leave the room so that they can discuss the insane position the fleet finds itself in, Zarek departs and then informs a group of marines to shoot and kill them all. It’s an incredibly powerful scene, watching as Zarek walks down the corridor as the gunshots barrel behind him, but for me its shock value was precisely what takes an incredibly complex moral situation for Gaeta and turns it into a situation that is clearly out of his hands.

It’s not that I am surprised that Gaeta would balk at the murder of the Quorum, but rather that I wish he had something much less shocking to react to. To this point the mutiny has been morally ambiguous, but to have Zarek be so willing to murder the political structure of the colonies is too much of a red flag for Gaeta to ignore, and by the time he eventually more or less surrenders himself you’re kind of like “well, obviously.” The problem is that in my books we’ve known Gaeta all along. His Lady Macbeth-esque scratching of his leg has been ongoing all this time, and I don’t think that anyone who avoided being reactive and chose instead to view Felix as a conflicted person who believes in something he doesn’t understand could see him as being someone who needed a wakeup call in the form of a murdered political body to know that he and Zarek were on different pages.

As a result of this, it felt like there were parts of the episode that were inherently fascinating in and of themselves (Lampkin coming out of the woodwork to be assigned to assist Adama, Roslin’s desperate attempts to contact the fleet, Adama’s reaction to being told Tigh is dead, Roslin’s reaction to being told Adama is dead), but for all intents and purposes it felt like all of it was going to happen regardless and lead to that final moment where the coup is ended, Adama regains control, and they place Gaeta and Zarek in front of the firing squad.

I think the reason I found the episode so underwhelming compared to some of the concensus is that lack of surprise: last week managed to draw amazing action sequences and yet use them to build character and show us sides of people we haven’t seen for a while or sides that were new for this very complex situation. And yet here, it felt like the action did nothing of the sort: Roslin perhaps reached a new level of determination with here haunting “we are coming for all of you,” Baltar seems to have truly begun to analyze his own behaviour after falling in bed with the Six, but it seems like everyone else was just on the same path we saw them on before. It never felt like the episode took us anywhere that expand either the philosophical boundaries or the character development of the series.

Except for Gaeta. This episode ultimately boils down to that final scene with Gaeta and Baltar sitting in the break room, sipping their coffee and smoking their cigarettes. That speech is something I plan to revisit, Gaeta’s story of his life and his obsession with architecture. I think this arc has been extremely valuable for the show in that it has given Gaeta a greater purpose, placed him in a unique position of being so driven by his emotions that he ignored the physical sign of his mind’s disapproval, the itchiness of his leg, and kept moving. When he takes off the limb before heading out to the CiC after ordering Adama’s murder, it’s just getting worse. When he eventually is about to face the firing squad, though, he realizes that it has stopped, a realization that comes right before he dies.

It’s all extremely poetic, but the rest of the episode felt like it was never given that chance. There was never any real uncertainty that they wouldn’t be able to stop the mutiny, and part of the episode felt like the mid-season resolution to say the Eye of Jupiter storyline: simple, quick, and focused on letting everyone move on. However, this is reductive in the end, considering that the Quorum is dead, there isn’t a Vice-President, Gaeta and many others are gone, there are major questions of loyalty throughout the fleet, Baltar is newly engaged, etc. This isn’t some chance for the show to go back to normal, it’s just a shift that was so clearly defined last week that the aftermath is not surprising and when combined with my weird viewing conditions never felt all that exciting either.

Overall, it just felt like “Blood on the Scales” was about doling out justice, and yet we had seen the case so many times that we could have told you how it went down: while that doesn’t take away the great moments or the highly emotional content or the fascinating elevation of Felix Gaeta, it does kind of take the wind of out of this blog post.

Cultural Observations

  • My one major disappointment, to be honest, is that they did so little with the Cylons they were holding hostage: it felt as if there was a lot of potential for them to be used as leverage with the Cylons more explicitly, and for Hera to play a role (did anyone else notice that with Caprica being the one holding Hera as they left the cell the Opera House is returning to the forefront?), but instead they were set free and nothing ever really came of it (except for what I’ll get to in a second). It felt like this was going to be a huge episode for them, so perhaps this explains my slight disappointment that they were so left behind.
  • Of course, this doesn’t change the fact that Samuel T. Anders seems like he might soon be dead. Obviously, this is going to raise some serious questions about the Final Five (ie, Tigh will be watching very carefully to see how Anders handles death to see just what might have happened to Ellen), but here it seems weird that we didn’t see any sort of resolution: we left it on Starbuck getting Lampkin’s begrudging assistance to help her get Anders to sick bay. I liked seeing this side to Starbuck, but taking her out of the action to deal with Anders felt like a copout when she didn’t get to take part in retaking the ship.
  • We also don’t know what it is, exactly, that Tyrol saw when he tore that piece out of the FTL drive in order to stop the ship from jumping away. It was interesting to see the innerworkings of the ship, but what was that giant hole: is the FTL drive screwed, resulting in them being sitting ducks for a Cavill attack? Or is that something that has Tyrol trapped in there and potentially in danger? It seemed like these moments were such teases, not really giving us a sense of what was happening because there were other things to deal with. Darnit, I want answers now!
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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Battlestar Galactica – “Blood on the Scales”

  1. I’m gonna have to disagree with you about this one. I’m usually pretty good at predicting plot-lines, and I didn’t see any of these coming. Maybe it’s just because I’ve bought into the madness where no one is safe and anything can happen, but I doubted that we would get this “happy” ending. I assumed that this plot would carry farther than it did. (I’m relieved that it didn’t; I couldn’t have taken much more.)

  2. I have to agree with Ashley about disagreeing with you on this one (wait . . . yeah, that sentence made sense. :) ).

    Again, I addressed some of this in my reply to your comment on my blog, but what I think bears repeating here is that the tragedy of this whole character arc is that, like MacBeth, his destiny is not supposed to be a surprise, but an inevitability. And therein lies the tragedy of Gaeta’s character. Gaeta has always been presented as a character who tries to always to the right thing, that he puts aside any notions of self-interest for the sake of the greater good. And yet we knew from “Disquiet” that things had changed, that he had changed and that clearly he was not going to let things stand. And the path he chose was clear as was the consequences therein. There was no real surprise about the outcome, which is why Gaeta felt inner peace at the end; finally, things worked out the way they should.

    As for the Cylons, to be quite honest, I never felt like they were the issue since as one of them pointed out, if they’re going to execute Adama, what’s the mystery about their fate? No, this arc was really about addressing the fleet’s frustration and betrayal at Adama and Roslyn and the desire for accountability (I know you disagreed, but even Gaeta pointed out early in this episode that people had to pay for what they did. So, there. LOL!). And what better vehicle for us to appreciate that group sentiment than a character like Gaeta who can also allow us to appreciate the poignant tragedy of this whole affair.

    As I wrote in my reply, I do believe that the delay and such coloured your viewing of this episode. So let’s hope next time life will give you the chance to see it in the right vein. :)

  3. Ashley, I think that’s a fair point: I didn’t really intend to even say that the inevitability of it all, at least for me, was even a bad thing. It’s just one of those final season things: that while the show obviously is not unwilling to shake up the status quo, so much of the show hinges on psychological states or questions of destinies for them to be willing to leave this storyline on too much of a melancholy note. Call it a hunch, but it just felt like fundamental fleet instability would be too much of a distraction, whereas Galactica’s physical integrity is a much more sensible escalation which will add to but not overwhelm the necessary resolution.

    Tanveer, while I actually agreed with most of your own post, I don’t think I agree with much of this.

    …what I think bears repeating here is that the tragedy of this whole character arc is that, like MacBeth, his destiny is not supposed to be a surprise, but an inevitability.

    I’m not arguing that this was a bad form of development, but it kind of sucked the wind out of this episode: last episode had already established all of the things you say about Gaeta, and here was just them unfolding as you’d think. Hesitating when it came to the big decisions, worrying about his leg when he should have been leading the fleet, etc. And to be honest, I actually think the episode cut him off at the knees (excuse the pun) with Zarek’s quick descent into a far deeper sort of cold-bloodedness.

    It completely switched the roles of the literary allegory we’re discussing: although Gaeta ostensibly plays MacBeth in committing the mutiny, with Zarek as his Lady MacBeth egging him on and calling the shots, their roles switch here. Gaeta becomes the, ultimately, more sympathetic Lady MacBeth, so affected by her actions and her deeds that she purges her sins from her body with her nightly washing of the blood. Whereas MacBeth, who begins to believe his own sense of prophecy, who buys into this moment and believes he deserves this ownership of sorts, becomes Zarek, poised to take over.

    I like that they both meet the same fate, and I agree that Gaeta ultimately being held accountable for the coup is the thing that cures his pain, the thing that assuages him of all guilt. He and Zarek’s stare, as I believe you noted in your review, was that moment where they both realized that they were complicit, that they believe what they did will have some sort of purpose, that there was some value to it all.

    I just found that it was too clean: as Ashley said, it actually seemed almost happy on some level, and I don’t think that worked for me. We knew that this would all happen, eventually, but in many ways I felt as if it happened in much too simple a fashion, placing too much of a weight off of Gaeta’s shoulders (allowing him to call weapons hold before Adama actually walks into the CiC). It’s not that I think this is fundamentally out of character, but it errs on the “easily understood” side, while at the same time Zarek moved as close to being a pure villain as he’s ever been.

    As for the Cylons, to be quite honest, I never felt like they were the issue since as one of them pointed out, if they’re going to execute Adama, what’s the mystery about their fate? No, this arc was really about addressing the fleet’s frustration and betrayal at Adama and Roslyn and the desire for accountability (I know you disagreed, but even Gaeta pointed out early in this episode that people had to pay for what they did. So, there. LOL!). And what better vehicle for us to appreciate that group sentiment than a character like Gaeta who can also allow us to appreciate the poignant tragedy of this whole affair.

    First off, I think that one of the things this season has spent a great deal of time on was the connection between humans and Cylons, the idea of their destinies being more intertwined than they ever were before. Heck, it’s the whole point of this storyline, the idea of their new relationship driving humanity to the very edge. For this reason, it did feel odd that, even though I understand why the two leaders of the mutiny are largely settling human conflict more than Cylon struggles, that this wouldn’t play a larger role in the way the mutiny went out. Considering that we never got to see any of the Cylon-haters again from the Oath made this episode feel much smaller, and the complexity of this conflict becoming far more personal and tightly constructed.

    Again, this doesn’t discredit the episode, but it keeps it from having the same impact of feeling like this isn’t just a personal vendetta or that this world is actually bigger than these characters. That’s what I loved about “The Oath” – a sign that this is actually about something much larger than the people involved. Instead, this was far tighter in its focus, and while that made for stronger individual moments I never felt like it reached last week’s highs.

    Second, I still think Gaeta is wrong to be searching for accountability – I would never argue that he was ever doing anything else, but it’s still something far too subjective and internalized to be considered justification for a coup of any sort. And I’m really not convinced he was actually the best avatar for the rest of the fleet here: he has such personal ties to this conflict that, ultimately, he is both close enough to have the guts to pull it off but ultimately too close to pull the trigger. That’s Gaeta’s story, not the fleet’s, or the Cylons…and I guess that I felt boiling it down to just that in this episode felt like a bit of a copout after last week.

    And after all of that, I have to reassert that this is a very good episode – just not near last week for me. And jeesh, this was a long comment.

  4. I just want to clarify that “happy” was in quotations, because I mean, dude, Gaeta got executed and that pretty much sucks, right?

  5. I agree that Zarek became even more one-dimensional in this episode with his order of the execution of the Quorum. As we’ve both said, Zarek was always the guy who came in to start a bar fight, but he would never actually throw a punch. But as I never cared for his character, I just saw this as being a means to setup some potential storylines for how Adama and Roslyn will address future issues. Without a dissenting voice within the political structure, and in light of the ability of Gaeta and Zarek to pull so much support for a mutiny, it should be interesting to see how these two walk that line now.

    As for the Cylons, you are glossing over one key scene here – remember when Tyrol meets up with one of the mutineers in the weapons locker? I don’t know about you, but I didn’t feel like Tyrol was free from being the next character to die in this show and I was ready for Tyrol to bite the bullet (as with you, no pun intended) right then and there. And yet, that one line he has ‘This was one hell of a ship’ was a cold bucket of water on the faces of everyone – both for the mutineer and the audience. With all the world falling apart around them, and with the object of their search found, this scene draws our attention to how things used to be on board this ship. In that moment, it wasn’t about Tyrol being one of them and thus, someone who should be on the receiving end of all this anger, frustration and despair. Instead, it was about remembering when they were once a unit, a family, one ship; a time when they had something to care about.

    That one scene addresses what became of those Cylon haters, as did the scene I mentioned about the execution team leader telling Adama that he just can’t forgive him despite respecting Adama. Although there was no “to be continued” at the end, I don’t think the issues remain outstanding; merely that the means used to allow this to erupt to the surface has been silenced.

    The fact is that we can’t have all the thousands of voices present on the fleet tell their story, not only because of logistics, but simply because many of them we simply don’t know nor do we have any emotional relationship with. That’s why Gaeta worked so well. He was never one of those who constantly challenged, debated, or questioned what was done. He agreed to everything in hopes that it would work on in the end. So in many ways, his story is the fleet’s because if someone of his integrity and adherence to the greater good can lose hope and fall into this abyss, it shines a light on what others may be going through.

    And I didn’t feel like this was a “happy” ending at all, in large part because that scene with Gaius and Gaeta reminds us of who Gaeta used to be. Indeed, the sentiment he brings us here is the whole point of this episode – mourning the passing of the life they knew. And this isn’t just Gaeta – this is also reflective in Tyrol’s remark mentioned above. Up until now, they’ve put aside their sense of loss and lack of identity because they had a goal – to find a new home called Earth. Notice now how the intro text now hangs on the word “home”. That’s the message here – that these people have finally come to face the reality that there is no home for them. Gaeta’s final release from that pain at the end is for a brief moment a happy one, yes. But then it soon becomes tragic because the moment he feels that peace, his life ends.

    Again, another wonderful discussion, Myles. Looking forward to more in the weeks to come. :)

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