Monday, February 12, 2007

Battlestar Galactica: Blinded me with Christian Science

"Battlestar Galactica" spoilers coming up just as soon as I set up a Pyramid basket next to my garage...

Well, it wasn't "Black Market," but "The Woman King" suffered the usual problems of self-contained "Galactica," even though -- or, I think, because -- it wasn't originally made as such.

Moore explains on the podcast that there was to be a season-long subplot about the Sagittarons and something bad that Baltar, Zarek and Gaeta did to them back on New Caprica. By the time they were shooting the trial of Baltar episodes, Moore decided this aspect of the trial didn't work and cut it. And since they weren't going to pay it off in the end, they had to go back and excise all reference to it from earlier episodes, notably this one.

The problem is, once you delete that ongoing aspect to the story, all you're left with is a parlor mystery crossed with every episode any medical drama has ever done involving Christian Scientists. With Bruce Davison -- who, according to SAG law, is no longer allowed to play non-evil roles -- cast as Dr. Robert, there wasn't even much of a mystery. (Davison needs to go on a two or three year run of nice guy roles before he's willing to play another sleazy defense attorney on "Law & Order.")

The show didn't even work that spectacularly as a Helo character study, in spite of all his stilted talk of "my defining characteristic." We already know that Helo is the conscience of the show, the guy who will always make the right, albeit unpopular, choice. What would have been interesting was if they had followed those impulses to their extreme conclusion and had Helo be absolutely, 100 percent wrong about Dr. Robert. (I don't know how you'd prove that negative, though; maybe there's some kind of Sagittaron extremist killing his fellows to make a political point.) Then you've really got a vehicle for self-examination instead of another validation of Saint Helo.

Again, some of this falls down because of material that was cut from other episodes, as Moore was trying to establish that Helo had been on the outs ever since he killed the infected Cylons before they could resurrect, and that this was some measure of redemption for him in the eyes of Adama and the others. But without that set-up, I don't care about the payoff.

Another problem with the storyline is the way it ignored the unique realities of life in the rag-tag fleet. There are less than 50,000 human beings left alive, and every life is precious, even if it's the lives of those damn dirty Sags. Where's Roslin during all this to demand an investigation? Also, not only is medicine limited, but so are doctors. I was under the impression in the first couple of seasons that Cottle was the only doctor in the fleet, which made his cigarette habit seem blackly comic. I'm okay with the existence of another doc here or there, but it should still be a big deal that one of the small handful of them is about to be thrown in jail; there could have been some mileage out of, say, Tigh suggesting that it was worth ignoring whatever happened to the Sagittarons because a doctor was more valuable to life going forward than a bunch of religious extremists.

And I see that I've now spent a whole lot of words slagging an episode that kept me fairly engaged throughout. A lot of credit for that goes to Tahmoh Penikett, who's really matured as an actor as the series has gone along and was able to carry a fairly trite and predictable storyline. I also thought the production team, headed in this episode by director/producer Michael Rymer did a fine job of establishing the claustrophobic atmosphere of the refugee camp; after about 20 minutes, I was starting to feel sweaty and stinky and disgusting, and my hygiene's pretty decent overall.

Some other thoughts:
  • I'd have to go back and watch the first few Tom Zarek episodes of season one, but he seems even less like a typical Sagittaron than Dee. I suppose you could argue that he's a terrorist who took advantage of his people's fundamentalists beliefs to cause some trouble, but his issues always seemed to be political, not spiritual.
  • Also, interesting to see that Laura kept her bargain and appointed Tom as her VP, even after she found out about the secret tribunals in "Collaborators."
  • Chip-Baltar returns! Huzzah! I wondered how they were going to deal with having to shave James Callis for these scenes while keeping him Jesus-like as the real Gaius, but Moore said Callis's beard-growing abilities are Homer Simpson-esque. Good on him.
What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

Speaking of Homer Simpson, his "I need to know the difference between CATSUP and KETCHUP- THEY'RE GONNA CUT MY HEAD OFF!" Was one of the greatest Homer moments ever last night.

Anonymous said...

It's a shame they cut the subplot. The most annoying part of this episode was having the "Sagittaron problem" thrust suddenly upon us. Plus, since Dee and Zarek are not anti-medicine religious types, the whole situation felt even more like it was from left field. While I fully agree that racism can hide and rear its ugly in extreme situtions, as well as cause people to unknowingly act racist, I shouldn't have rationalize my way through an episode to explain characters' behavior. If they had provided more context this episode would have worked better.

Not having Roslin involved didn't bother me. First, she's busy with the upcoing trial. Second, Helo wouldn't go to her for help. Lee would, but not Helo, even if it hadn't ben Roslin's decision to steal Hera from Helo and Athena.

One thing I did like was the insight into ethnic tensions in the Colonies. Also, I've been wondering for a while if Capricans are the privileged WASP types of the Colonies. Tigh's comment about Roberts being "one of them" made me think about that again, altho that type of comment could have just as easily been made by someone at the bottom of the socio-political pecking order. But, since Caprica City seems to have been Where It Was At in the Colonies, I suspect Caprica was the Colonial center of power.

And I enjoyed the return of Chip Baltar. I also loved that Roslin, et al were wondering what the blazes Caprica Six was doing when she was kissing Chip Baltar.

Mac said...

Agreed on Davison. Frankly, him being the seemingly nice guy who is pure evil is getting really cliched.

I wonder if the various people observing Six and Baltar will notice the similarities in their respective behaviors. Of course, nobody ever seemed to notice that Baltar was acting this way when he was only running for President.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Mac, Moore said he toyed with having Roslin make that exact observation. He decided against it because people might then expect some kind of follow-up storyline where Laura or someone tries to figure out who Baltar and Six's imaginary friends are, and that's not where the story's going. He does have specific plans for the two hallucinations (or whatever they are), but it's not that.

Anonymous said...

I thought for a standalone, this was actually pretty good. I know it rehashed old themes, Battlestar specific (Helo is the conscience) and nonspecific (oh those wacky religious fundamentalists!) but all the same, I think the way it addressed those issues was very smart and has its place within the context of the show.

I liked that it addressed race and culture in the Battlestar universe. There are so few humans left, but yet everyone still has their identities and biases, and even under the circumstances, most people can't put them away (not that they all go to Dr. Robert-esque extremes, but the prejudice is there). Genocide is not something that occurs only between human and Cylon, and the show just has not explored that angle much at all (and certainly not for a very long time).

To me the dehumanization is interesting to consider on Battlestar, given that the theme of the show is survival and the hope inherent in humanity--the latter being something that most of those refugees were currently lacking.

Even before the medical drama, think of how everyone was mocking Helo on his way down to the camp; it may not be the most glamorous job or even the one that anyone wants. They hinted that Helo was assigned there as punishment, but I think he was assigned there because he's the voice of dissent, the one person on that ship who (if grudgingly) would commit to caring about these people that everyone else would rather forget.

This is a place where real-life parallels worked very well, something that, again, I feel they haven't been working with much in recent episodes; consider the situation in Darfur a minute or what happened in Rwanda. Maybe I'm oversimplifying but it was an episode that showed how the fleet can be equally as cold as the Cylons in my eyes.

Anonymous said...

A few things bothered me about last nights episode, mostly odd characterizations.

- Since when are Kara and Lee chummy with Sharon? The scene in the hallway between the pilots seemed almost surreal, as if it was taken from season one.

- Why would Sharon or Helo ever let their baby out of their sight? They got her back and now she's in daycare? And it bothers me that we haven't seen the reaction of the fleet to this creepy hybrid baby.

- Chief Tyrol's bigotry about the superstitious Sagittarons seemed in stark contrast to his spiritual awakening in The Eye of Jupiter.

- Helo's confession was a bonus scene? That seemed more important than 5 minutes of Helo shirtless, but then again maybe not. Or couldn't that Sagittaron subplot have been wedged into a space reserved for the ninety-fifth reiteration of the Lee-Kara yearn-a-thon?

The "Sagittaron Problem" seemed a bit out of nowhere. I think it was supposed to be a cultural (vaguely Muslim) allegory, not focused on religion per se. There's a different colony (Gemenon) that is the show's go-to religious nuts. Last night's episode did stand in stark contrast to the clear, smart writing of season one. I miss the council scenes, as they kind of explained who was who in the fleet.

Taleena said...

Zarek and Dee as atypical Sagitarrons:

Dee obviously rebelled by joining the Navy. Navy guys get injected with zillions of vaccinations so even were Dee religiously inclined, she'd get past that aspect right quick.

Zarek seems as religiously inclined as Sein Feinn. Nominally but ore interested in power. His terrorist organization may have roots in religious oppression but has evolved into something else entirely.

As to the hypothesis that they were vaguely Muslim, I think it was more a dig at scientologists or jehovah's witnesses than anything else.

TL said...

I'm a couple months late to this episode and I know nobody will read this, but it's one thing for Adama to keep Sharon on in the fleet, given years of trust that she's built up. But a known Cylon model couldn't possibly walk around a civilian population like she did without causing a riot, and most likely getting herself killed.

Anonymous said...

I'm rewatching season 3 before I catch up on season 4 which i missed in its entirety but DVRd, and I've been reading your blog on old episodes for a number of shows because I enjoy your comments for the most part. I have to say, rewatching Season 3, after Collaborators I was surprised at the quality of the episodes compared to the past seasons, but I really enjoyed this episode even on a repeat viewing. In my opinion its one of the best self contained episodes Galactica has done. It was a nice touch on racism, something Galactica hasn't really touched upon besides cylon and i enjoyed helo's struggle and ultimate reward.