February 13th, 2009
With the end of Battlestar Galactica only a few months away, it has come to the point where we are beginning to place into context just what we’re watching. When I wrote a lengthy and esoteric review of “The Oath” in the hours after its airing, I was emotionally exhausted, having been taken to the brink by the pure adrenaline that the series was using to drive its characters to new levels. I wasn’t thinking in that moment about what kind of introduction it was to this conflict, how it picked up on the episode before it, or how it fit into any broader tradition. Instead, it was a hearkening back to episodes of the past, “Pegasus” most directly, and a sign that the show still had the ability to tell these kinds of stories.
And in the process of writing so much, I think I created for “Blood on the Scales” a set of expectations: I expected it would resolve the mutiny but leave the underlying problems quite emphatically clear, and I expected it would give us more of the Cylon side of this story. And as I wrote in my original review of the episode, posted late on Monday morning after a weekend debating tournament kept me incapacitated and unable to blog the episode, I didn’t feel like it met those expectations. There was something about it that felt off to me, and I’ll be the first to admit that in that post I don’t clearly argue for my disapproval. However, in responding to some thoughtful comments, I began to piece together at least some of what was bothering me.
Much of that, ultimately, was confirmed by Tuesday evening’s rewatch of the two episodes that join together to make a most intriguing chararacter study, even if I will argue that they are telling two different stories (especially when you consider them in context with “A Disquiet Follows My Soul,” which we’ll get to later in the post). They are episodes that are filled with amazing moments, but I feel as if “The Oath” is about showing the power of the mutiny over these characters, whereas “Blood on the Scales” is the characters showing their power over the mutiny. I find the latter to be, for all intents and purposes, more problematic, a far more expedient and much less rich way of letting this storyline unfold. I’m not suggesting that the episode was poor, or that its multitude of moments were any less powerful than those in the preceding episode, but rather I believe that the show’s transfer of agency is too easy and that, while the ramifications will continue to be felt for quite some time, not enough was done in the episode to demonstrate that this mutiny was about more than personal retribution and identity.
So what I want to do now is revisit these episodes to create another set of expectations: the things that felt like they should have been given more time here that, ultimately, are going to have to wait to live another day in the remaining six episodes, starting with tonight’s “No Exit.”
The Gaeta Question
There is no doubt that Gaeta’s arc in particularly these final two episodes, and going back into “A Disquiet Follows My Soul,” is a great piece of writing. The whole Lady MacBeth identification is very justified for this particular character, who has gone with his gut and ended up on the wrong side before and who isn’t ready to place his fate in the hands of Adama again. It makes sense that he would be harbouring inner guilt, that there would be something within him that would react in this way. Like Lee says to Tigh in “The Oath,” beyond the arrogance Tom Zarek is right, everything he says is true. The same goes for Gaeta, whose actions to start this half-season show someone who feels like the priorities are out of whack and that the feelings of the fleet towards the Cylons are not being taken into account.
In his review of “Blood on the Scales” at The House Next Door, Todd VanderWerff makes a very good point about what is ultimately the show’s tempestuous relationship with democracy:
Roslin (Mary McDonnell) stole an election in Season Two, and the show seemingly expected the audience to side with her. In Season Three, the fleet’s power apparatus goes out of its way to push Zarek out of the presidency and restore it to Roslin, without so much as another election or any way to validate it in the eyes of the people. And now, Zarek, a figure elected as Baltar’s vice president, lest we forget, pretty much abandons the separation of powers and just goes all in.
I think Todd’s right, and I also think that Gaeta is the kind of person who believes that all of this is wrong: he’s the one who caught the rigged election, he’s the one who was trying valiantly to keep Gaius in line on New Caprica, and he is ultimately the one now who believes that there needs to be a more democratic reflection of the fleet’s opinions and emotions. For Gaeta, his actions are a defense of those people whose opinions aren’t being heard, and I feel as if in “The Oath” he is really a man who believes in this charge of Treason, and who believes that a fundamental injustice to democracy has taken place.
But I feel as if this all breaks down in “Blood on the Scales,” and that Gaeta’s journey becomes a far more personal one that ultimately never returns to its populist meaning. When Zarek has the Quorum killed and brings Gaeta in to view the aftermath, Gaeta is rightfully angry: he says that before they had the truth on their side, and now they have nothing but murder and cold-heartedness. I would tend to agree with Gaeta on this: at that point the mutiny had, sorry for the pun, no leg to stand on, and the chances of it ever being viewed as legitimate was out the window. As a result, it made perfect sense that Gaeta would slowly begin to fall apart, his resolve surviving long enough to call for Adama’s execution but not long enough to declaring war with the Cylon baseship over this particular cause.
What frustrated me about all of this was that Gaeta didn’t have a cause in the end, and if he did have one then I don’t particularly see how this solved it. If this mutiny was truly an attempt to create democratic leadership, is there any sign in his failure that this was achieved? While Adama and Roslin might now be much more aware of the level of dissent in the fleet, I find it hard to believe that someone willing to orchestrate this plan in the name of justice and democracy would be pleased with an outcome that maintains the status quo in key leadership positions.
Instead, the final moments of “Blood on the Scales” were the show saying goodbye to Felix Gaeta, which is frustrating in terms of simplifying the storyline if not in terms of their quality. I loved those final two scenes, in particular Gaeta smoking with Baltar and telling him of his childhood dreams of being an architect. I think it’s an incredibly apt speech for this character, the idea of him requiring structure and organization, of believing in systems. There’s a lot of analysis to be placed into his perspective here, with top heavy buildings and a love of stairways, but ultimately the scene boils down to Gaeta hoping that the people will one day know who he was. Baltar assures him that he knows, but the thing is…should we? Was there really a story about Gaeta, or was it a story about how Gaeta was fighting for the common folk, the fleet we never get to see? And if Gaeta died thinking about his own pain, seeking redemption or solace or something else, what do we make of the fact that he seemed perfectly at ease with his failure and what it meant to the people who did not support the human/Cylon alliance?
It’s not that Gaeta was acting out of character, but rather that his character had suddenly gone from being a populist representative to something far more driven by personal vendettas, and I found that “Blood on the Scales” too simply reconciled it as his own personal journey (a simplified Lady MacBeth-esque tale that was easily choreographed in “The Oath”) as opposed to a broader question of fleet identity.
The Fleet and the Cylons
If there is a single thing about “Blood on the Scales” that bugged me, it is that we finally return to the Cylon baseship and yet we are given very little new material in terms of the newfound questions of Cylon identity that we are currently wrestling with. When the second half of the fourth season began, humans and Cylons were closer than ever before: the latter were no longer mortal, the former were dealing with the fact that four of them were actually Cylons all along, and the origin story of Earth created a shared mythology between the two races which demonstrates once and for all that their journeys truly are linked.
What I really liked about “A Disquiet Follows My Soul” was that it dealt with this new revelation in slow, deliberate steps: showing Gaeta frustrated with the unilateral nature of the decision, showing Zarek fighting to stop it after seeing it as an opportunity to create change, and showing all of it as not so much our main characters beginning to turn on each other but rather the fleet and those who represent it beginning to question our narrow world view. Stuck in Galactica and Colonial One as we are, we rarely get to really discuss how people are reacting, and this is an enormously large piece of news that would reverberate amongst the fleet.
The thing is, it felt like the actual content of the news got lost at some point: while both episodes occasionally would have a character mention the fact that the Coup was bring driven by the hatred for the Cylons, not seeing the Cylons at all in “The Oath” and then seeing them only as a source of refuge for Roslin in “Blood on the Scales” felt like they were being purposefully muted or silenced in favour of the human narrative. I understand the impulse here: like with New Caprica, despite being driven by Cylon intervention or involvement this coup was a human conflict, questioning the point to which humanity will turn on itself in times of great crisis.
But it still felt strange that, with the human/Cylon identity question so fundamentally complicated, that this played out like the aftermath of New Caprica as opposed to the actual event itself. It was as if, like in the period after New Caprica, the Cylon question was placed on pause for two episodes while humanity sorted out their differences. While this all may have been started by the Cylons and their genocide, as soon as the coup began its initial purpose faded away while we returned to a fairly narrow view of our heroes and the villains they were fighting and the ship they needed to take back. It’s all entertaining, and exciting, but it felt like we were skipping over the things that were the most apparent, and that the connections were left for the viewer to fill in as opposed to the show to actually investigate. And when this entire thing was about the fleet’s right to refuse an alliance with the Cylons, de-emphasizing both the fleet and the Cylons seems counter-intuitive.
For instance, the scene of Zarek ordering the marines to open fire on the Quorum, and the scene after the commercial with the bloody carnage, is a direct callback to the scene earlier in the fourth season where Natalie ordered the Centurions to open fire on Cavil and the other Cylon models in favour of lobotomizing the raiders. There’s this idea that what happened to the Cylons before is now happening to the humans, but with the Cylons it always felt like it was part of a true quest for identity and with the humans it seems to stem from the lack of such a purpose. But the episode never actually lets this play out, similar to how it has Caprica carry Hera from the Brig, which is a clear callback to the yet unexplained Opera House dream shared by Caprica, Athena and Roslin, and yet we never see it go anywhere. All of those Cylons were placed in the Brig for a reason, but they are never used as bargaining chips or even confronted by Gaeta for their own traitorous actions while hiding amongst humanity.
It’s not that the episode entirely ignores this question: Aaron does almost kill Tyrol for being a Cylon before thinking different thanks to their shared connection to Galactica’s past glory, and the Lieutenant who is ordered to put together the firing squad does refuse to join Adama’s ranks for his retaking of Galactica thanks to his hatred of the Cylons. But none of them, at all, began to consider the fundamentally different relationship humanity now shares with the Cylons, one that is not known to the entire fleet (Earth’s true origin) or is blown our of proportion by Caprica but never actually dealt with (their ability to have children making them into even greater equals). And while it is true that this very brief period of time in which the mutiny takes place might not be the time for broadly philosophical discussions on this particular issue, the fact that by episode’s end there really wasn’t a voice speaking out about the real conflict at hand felt off to me.
While many have pointed to “A Disquiet Follows My Soul” as the real beginning of the mutiny arc, I feel as if the actual events in “Blood on the Scales” almost contradict this. It is, for me, the prologue as opposed to a real part of the story. It’s all about moving pieces, or more accurately limiting characters’ mobility in order to allow for the mutiny to even happen. It’s about establishing that Roslin in a state of post-treatment euphoria is entirely uninterested in the fleet’s current situation and has no interest in continuing on that front, and eventually having Adama join her in a state of wilfull ignorance in order to maintain some semblance of order. Both of them once cared deeply about these people’s futures, but the sheer bleakness of this episode has them casting aside their obligations in an act of self-preservation.
I liked this episode more than most did, but I feel as if it renders “Blood on the Scales” even more problematic. For Gaeta to be satisfied that his revolution made a difference, or did anything at all to these people, isn’t it kind of odd that all it seemed to do was wake them up from a dream and re-engage them? Adama and Roslin haven’t, for example, actually changed their minds about any of this: Adama does not see Gaeta’s actions as a warning sign that his actions have become too severe (which was Gaeta’s complaint in the first two episodes), but rather sees that his decision to enter into a domestic life with Roslin was ignoring the real issues at hand. It wasn’t Adama gaining a new perspective on his situation or on the realities of the fleet, but Adama regaining his badass self. That makes great television, but it doesn’t actually demonstrate that the mutiny has changed the opinions or attitudes of the people involved.
To view “Disquiet” as the start of the mutiny arc implies that it is as integral to the action in the second two episodes, but I find that “Blood on the Scales” creates such false expediency that everything “The Oath” establishes (Adama waking up, Lee questioning Tigh, Starbuck rediscovering her identity, Roslin coming out of Adama’s room with her wig on and fully ready to go) just kind of powers its way through “Blood on the Scales” without a second thought. This makes for, quite rightly, some of those haunting and chilling scenes in the final part, but while “The Oath” allowed us to see these transformations take place it seemed like “Blood on the Scales” wanted us only to accept that they had and go along for the ride.
And I’m just not satisfied with that, and felt the need to try to justify this further. I feel as if, considering the show has been establishing the Cylon/Human binary for so long, that the idea of this being an example of an event that crystallizes characters’ internal psychology as opposed to the fleet as a whole doesn’t feel right considering where it began and the motivations behind it. When the mutiny moved from being the fleet’s story to being Gaeta’s story, this was perhaps the best example of this: it wasn’t that the show was suddenly going off into the wrong territory, but rather that what had seemed like a chance to interrogate our “heroes” for ignoring the fleet at large instead became a story of our insular group of heroes triumphing over people who, despite their methods, likely reflect more of the fleet than they realize.
The show is likely going to turn around tonight and play all of this out, but I still feel as if “Blood on the Scales” false sense of closure creates a sense that the lessons have been learned, when really going back to the beginning of this half season it is clear that there are many lessons yet to come.