Monday, February 26, 2007

Battlestar Galactica: Look for the union label

Spoilers for "Battlestar Galactica" coming up just as soon as I subscribe to Baltar's newsletter...

We're still self-contained with no Cylons in sight, but this was a vast improvement on the last few shows. There were some logic problems, plus things wrapped up a little too neatly by the end (I expected Tyrol to start singing, "Who needs the labor union? I dooooooooooo"), but it actually felt like an episode of "Galactica" instead of a dressed-up "Voyager" script.

But because I'm tired and cranky from the Oscars (about which I'll be complaining at appropriate length in tomorrow's column), I want to dwell not on the good (the moment where Roslin realizes Tyrol has a point, for instance), but on the thing that didn't work, and it was a big'un: Baltar's version of "Mein Kampf" becoming an underground best-seller throughout the fleet.

Look, Baltar makes some good points, and I can see how people living a miserable existence on a labor ship would want to buy into some kind of class warfare proposal, but this is Gaius Baltar here -- the same man who sold out all of humanity to the Cylons on New Caprica, and who was running things "Let them eat cake"-style even before the Cylons turned up. This would be akin to the broken German people falling under the sway of the men who crafted the Treaty of Versailles.

Baltar's a wonderful character and James Callis does great work (loved him slipping back into his natural accent in the scene with Tyrol), but this felt like the writers shoe-horning a pre-existing character into a role that screamed to be brand-new. And I worry that, whenever we get around to the trial, there's going to be some kind of pro-Baltar movement among certain segments of the fleet, and I just don't buy it. I know genocidal tyrants can have their supporters, but genocidal tyrants who sold out their own people to that people's invading sworn enemy? Nuh-uh.

What did everybody else think?


Eric said...

I haven't watched the last few episodes yet, but I wonder, are they even going to try him for the Old Caprica based-treason? I believe that's still not common knowledge, and the only source of evidence would be Caprica Six's testimony and Roslin's vague memory. I believe that the trial is going to be about Baltar's "administration" on New Caprica. If that's the case, then there's a lot more room for a pro-Baltar faction to form out of people who are really just anti-Roslin & Adama.

Zodin2008 said...

Alan, you are so right about Baltar being a hero suddenly to the working class stiffs. Wait...the same working class stiffs Baltar was feeding to the wolves 6 months earlier on New Caprica? Yeah, right. Callie is all of a sudden a fan? Uh, no.

Even creepier was how cruel and Machievellian Adama was. At least Roslin softened by the end but oslin and Adama came off for a while like they were some Hitler/Mussolini married couple with mad power. Yikes.

I also agree that the neat, bow tie ending happened way too fast...that felt VERY "Voyager" where everything wraps up nicely in 52 minutes. Yippee.

Still, this episode was far superior to the previous 2 episodes. At least Baltar was IN it. Even if he was out of character.

Re: The Oscars

Alan...I cannot wait for you to rip the Oscars a new one. That was the dullest, most painful show I have seen in years. I seriously felt like I should have just watched Golf or Nascar if I wanted to watch 'paint dry'. Ellen was sooooooo boring. I missed Jon Stewart and Chris Rock the whole evening.

Michael said...

Near the beginning, the episode set-up Roslin and Adama as being virulently opposed to changing the work habits. She jails the Tylium foreman on a whim, and when Tyrol asks for the foreman to be released and discussions to take place (so that work can resume), Roslin snaps at him. Then at the end, when Tyrol talks to Roslin, she's clear-headed and fair. Why the sudden transformation? One of these attitudes is out-of-character for her, or there was some motivation that explains her behavior that we weren't seeing. (Baltar's missive doesn't seem compelling enough -- she was bitchy even before that got brought up.)

Then at the end, it wrapped up wayy too quickly. The Chief does something on the level of 'mutiny', the Admiral threatens to kill Callie, then the Chief calls it off... and then, what, everything works out? It would've been nice to see the Chief have negotiated for Seelix's promotion, because that's a believable action of the man who runs the Union.. instead, the implication is that it was "fair" for her to get the promotion, and... I don't know. It just wrapped up too quickly, and it feels off.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I bought the Adama change of heart more than Roslin's, because he was dealing with two separate issues: 1)Mutiny, and 2)Unfair working conditions. By this point, I think he could see that Tyrol had a point about #2, but so long as it was being discussed as part of #1, he couldn't tolerate it. Once the Chief backed down on the strike, Adama could be reasonable about the problems on the refinery ship.

Zodin2008 said...


I'm with Michael on this 100%. The change of heart happened way too fast and she was so violently against it to suddenly turn around, hours later, and be reasonable and fair? Didn't make any sense.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Oh, Roslin's turnabout was absolutely abrupt, and either they cut some useful scenes in favor of showing us more of Cally(*), or Espenson and her co-writer didn't do a very good job setting up the shift in attitude.

(*) At this point, I think the writers are well-aware of how much the fans hate Cally and are just taunting us with all these episodes where she almost gets killed.

Anonymous said...

I would have believed Tom Zarek as the instigator instead of Baltar.

Zodin2008 said...

Yes, I have to admit that I am also in that chorus for my dislike of Cally. She's a very annoying character. I hope for his sake, the Chief is single again soon!

Anonymous said...

Apparently, I am the only person who likes Callie, or who at least doesn't find her objectionable.

Anyway, Adama and Roslin's initial reactions to the workers' complaints struck me as out of character, and I was worried that the writers had them react that way because they needed them to... Bad writing :P But, another possiblity is that Adama and Roslin's reactions were meant to say more about Colonial society - two examples of high status Capricans dumping on lower status Colonials. So, I'll give them some leeway on that.

I wasn't so sure about the Baltar writings being wildly popular, either. But, I wonder if it isn't so much that people like Baltar but more a case of Baltar saying something that suddenly reasonates. In other words, Callie & Co. would still like to string him up, but do think he has a point about social polarization in the fleet.

The two things from the episode that jumped out at me as odd were Chief visiting Baltar, and the small amount of tylium. For starters, who is allowed to visit Baltar? Why can Chief just go visit him? I would have expected very limited access to Baltar.

Second, how much tylium have they burned through? I thought they had been able to mine a very large amount of tylium during the first season - enough to last them more than 3 years. So why are they so low? And did Chief tell Adama and Roslin that? It would have been nice to have seen a few lines about sending out some raptors to find more tylium before Adama, Roslin, and Chief started discussing the working conditions.

Finally, 40 hour weeks during the summers at McDonald's was enough to make me wicked cranky when I was in college. Two to three years on the refining ship without a day off? I would have gone pyro on something sooner than those guys did.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Niffer, at this point, we're closing in on three years since the genocide (nearly a year from the genocide until the election, a year from the election until the Cylons showed up, four months of Cylon occupation, now several months traveling towards earth), plus they no doubt have had to jump more than anticipated way back when they mined the stuff.

Christy said...

I confess, Seelix's promotion brought a tear to my eye.

I'm also choosing to believe that Roslin is pre-emptively pulling Baltar's teeth by acknowledging the truth in his book and doing something about it before he is firmly entrenched as a leader of the poor and downtrodden. In short, she is responding to the concerns without ever having to bring him into the discussions. But that is just me, projecting.

Anonymous said...

I always dig it when minor characters riff on the "cool kids" make-up of the principal cast in a narrative. Any watcher of narrative television knows that in the society or social group or culture portrayed, there are different rules for the elite members of the principal cast than for the minor characters. (This is why Enterprise captains risk the lives of the entire ship to save a main character but get all stoic about letting a red shirt die. It's also why Izzie Stevens still has her medical license.).

Zodin2008 said...

There was a terrific episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" called, 'Lower Decks' about some lower level crewmembers as the focus of the show that week. It didn't get a lot of pub in the pantheon of TNG episodes, but it was a good episode.

The problem is that in 7 years, we only got 1 episode like that. What makes BSG so interesting is that they really have focused on so many different characters at different levels and they can pull off a class warfare storyline because there's enough characters on both sides of the aisle we care and know about.

Christy...thanks for saying Seelix's name. I couldn't remember it. I think Tyrol should leave Callie and hook up with Seelix. And yes, her promotion was a sweet moment but it happened really fast considering the pacing of how the first 40 minutes had played out with Roslin and Adama.

By the way, let me say it again...Adama acted INSANE this episode. Threatening to KILL Callie because Tyrol is trying to get some time off for his non stop working 12 year olds? Yikes. When Lee misbehaved, did Adam threaten to break the mom's knee caps? Yeesh.

Anonymous said...

Shorter "Dirty Hands": look, we're all slave laborers now. It's just that some of us slaves are in charge of the rest of you slaves.

Anonymous said...

I was also a little bothered about Adama's threat to shoot Callie, but in the end he did something that pretty much made things sound logical: granting Tyrol permission to expose his views to President Roslin as soon as the strike was lifted.

In the end, Adama was right taking all the required steps to break up the insurgency before it reached catastrophic proportions. These people hold the destiny of the entire fleet in their hands, and their "delaying tactics" (so as not to call them outright sabotage) HAD to stop. But in the end, you could tell that the Old Man knew they had reasons to feel abandoned and in need of leadership. Yes, it tied things rather neatly, but all in all it was a good look into the fleet's inner workings. Liked this one very much... and Seelix's promotion? Aaaawww...

Taleena said...

I am not saying that the workers didn't have legitimate complaints, but I am struck by the obtuseness of these people. There are of 50,000 +/- humans left and some just don't seem to see the gravity of the situation. The three characters whom really seem to understand the precariousness of human existence, consistently thru the series, are Adama, Roslin and Baltar.

R.A. Porter said...

"...obtuseness of these people."

I'm sure the Capricans have been saying that about the Colonial underclass for centuries. In fact, while Adama and Roslin share a lovely bottle of whiskey, I'd guess they still say it about those lazy slags in the refinery ship.

dark tyler said...

I must have missed something. Why do people hate Callie? I don't really care for her either way, but I'm curious.

Re: Baltar's book. I don't have a problem buying into him being an icon for the poor. While on New Caprica, he may have ruled like a king, but I seriously doubt that the guys who have to be slaves on the fleet lived in a worse state then.

When you wake up and shove coal all day (or whatever it is they do), I don't think that living a more relaxed life under the rule of the Cylons is making you go all "Say! What about our freedom? I should be free to shove my coal, not sitting around all day playing basketball!"

It's open to debate who is right and who is wrong (and that's what this show excels at), but it's not hard for me to buy it as concept.