TV REVIEW: BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: "Blood on the Scales" (Season 4, Episode 14)

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Last week, a Raptor carrying Roslin and Baltar escaped, making it’s way to the Rebel Base Ship. Gaeta ordered the CAP to shoot them down, but Hot Dog deliberately stalls once he finds out Roslin is on the bird. Narcho cuts in front of him (Nice flying there) to take the shot, but misses and whacks the Base Ship a good one. Roslin and Baltar make it to the base ship. Meanwhile, Tigh and Adama are captured by one of Gaeta’s goon squads while covering Roslin’s escape. Starbuck and Apollo are scooting around on their own below decks. Tyrol is pulling a Captain Crane through the ventilation system, we’re not sure why.

Adama is brought to the Control Room and Tigh is brigged with the other Cylons, Helo and Hera. Adama will not collaborate with Gaeta, and hands over his rank (Again! What is it with this guy and taking off/putting on pins? It was dramatic the first time, but 30 instances later, it’s lost it’s punch) and says “You’re the Admiral now,” with disgust. They take him back to his quarters to await trial. Gaeta insists on a trial, though Zarek opposes it.

Zarek brings Colonial 1 aboard and meets with the Council. He attempts to manipulate them, as he always does, but surprisingly - very surprisingly - they don’t take the bait and ask him to leave while they debate what to do next. Zarek realizes he’s never going to win them over, and instructs his goons to execute them. Gaeta is mortified by this when he finds out, but Zarek calls a spade a spade and says “This is a coup. This is what happens.” Gaeta tries to claim innocence through ignorance, but Zarek calls his bluff. Gaeta pulls it together and goes back to Control.

On the Base Ship, the Cylons have decided to cut and run. Roslin gives an impassioned, and frankly barely-held-together speech talking them in to staying and helping out. It’s really not all that different from the speech Helena Russell gave on Moonbase Alpha 34 years ago to keep John Koenig in charge there, but she ends it up with a new twist when she frightens the toasters by pointing out that based on Adama’s record, he *Will* survive this, and how do you think he’s going to react when he finds out you didn’t back him?

Meanwhile Romo Lampkin is called in (Evidently yanked out of bed) to act as Adama’s lawyer in the kangaroo court Zarek intends on. Romo quickly realizes that no matter the outcome, both him and Adama are as good as dead, and tries to figure out a way to stall. He mentions that there’s still lots of opposition on the ship, and he’s seen people loyal to Adama rallying. If they can hold out for a while, maybe Loyalist forces can re-take the ship and rescue them.

Starbuck and Apollo free the cylons from the brig, but Anders takes a bullet in the neck. The team splits, with Starbuck trying to get Anders to doc Cottle; Apollo, Athena, and Tigh trying to rescue Adama, and Helo, Hera, and Six heading to Baltar’s Cult Grotto to hide out.

Roslin contacts the fleet informing them of the coup, and demanding the surrender of the Galactica. The fleet immediately begins fragmenting as a result, with ten ships (out of 45) refusing to follow Gaeta/Zarek’s lead. She’s informed by Zarek - lying - that Tigh and Adama are dead, and that she must surrender. She refuses, again, passionately and barely coherently, and pretty much promises to rip Zarek’s heart out with her own teeth. The Cylons arm their weapons and prepare to fire on Galactica if she doesn’t surrender in five minutes.

Gaeta gives the order to jump away with the 35 ships that are willing to go, but Tyrol, after squirming like David Hedison through tubes for an hour reaches engineering and deactivates the Jump Drive. Zarek panics, and tells Gaeta to launch fighters. Apollo, Athena, and Tigh rescue Adama, and start a counter-coup to retake the ship, and they storm Control. Gaeta stands down, the mutineers are taken in to custody, and Adama contacts the Base Ship informing them Galactica is secure, and please don’t shoot at us.

Gaeta and Baltar talk and eat, Gaeta with bleary, red eyes, but strangely happy, maybe slightly manic. Baltar is clearly very depressed. They talk like old friends, all past misunderstandings now just the sort of things that seemed like a big deal at the time, but are laughable in retrospect.

And then a firing squad commanded by a reinstated Admiral Adama himself orders Zarek and Gaeta executed.

The End.

Observations -

The theme of this episode is leadership: both real and apparent. If a conclusion is come to - debatable - it seems they’ve adopted the Patrick MacGoohan opinion that leadership is a matter of force of will, regardless of any of the trappings attendant upon it.

On that note the opening credits inform us that 61 people died in last week’s episode, and the ship hasn’t settled down yet. There’s not really any leadership on the Galactica, and there is still sporadic fighting; though the Gaeta/Zarek mutiny has clearly taken control of the ship, they haven’t really consolidated it, nor rooted out all the resistance. Lampkin tells Adama he’s seen loyalists fighting en rout to their meeting, and later on he tells Starbuck that the guards he was traveling with have been shot at twice since leaving Adama’s quarters - once by their own men. It’s a total state of higgledy piggaldy on the ship, and clearly the death toll isn’t stopping at 61. The ship itself is all-but-paralyzed by this. Medically, it’s comparable to a seizure I guess: lots of action, none of it organized.

The divided loyalties of the Galactica’s crew are very well portrayed in this episode. In addition to the sporadic fighting and lack of overall control of the ship, we see several characters who don’t want to do what they’re ordered to, but do it anyway, or can’t live with it once they’ve done it. At one point, Tyrol is captured by a guy who clearly wants to kill the miserable skin job, but they get to talking and laughing and the crewman lets him go. Another time the same redshirt who let Tyrol go is assigned to execute Adama runs away and just sits in the shadows crying. It's Aaron Kelly, by the way, remember him? Used to be the 2nd officer of the Galactica, freaked out, was demoted to Landing Bay Control Officer in the flight tower, freaked out again and tried to kill Sharon. Always a party when that guy shows up. Anyway, when he meets up with Apollo et al, he insists on coming along with the rescue, despite the fact that they clearly don’t want him. When Adama storms the control room in the end, many of the people carrying guns backing him up are clearly the same people who just helped *remove* him from power just a few hours earlier. Why? Because Adama is a leader, because Adama has the force of will, because in the absence of any more credible power, he’s the only one available.

Zarek fancies himself a leader, but only in the Chairman Mao sense: despite all his pretty words and matters of conscience, he doesn’t hesitate to use power that flows from the barrel of a gun. He clearly wanted Adama executed last week, and is upset when Gaeta won’t do that. He passive-aggressively condescends to Gaeta to hide the fact that he’s backed down from their brief confrontation. Why? He’s not a leader. A skilled manipulator in all aspects of life, and an adequate administrator in the council, he quickly realizes he can’t win the hearts and minds of the lawfully-elected Colonial Government, and therefore they are of no use to him in legitimizing his own power, so he immediately, abruptly decides to kill them. (And let me tell you, that was shocking! The Quorum has always been whiney, clueless, self-righteous, backbiting and foolish, but damn! I couldn’t believe he did that!) Zarek has Adama in his power throughout this episode, but keeps backing down: he won’t talk to the old man, having Gaeta be his proxy. He can’t just kill the guy - even though he didn’t hesitate to execute the entire government - and is clearly intimidated by him, even though he (Zarek) has already won, he can’t bring himself to seal the deal. Why? What is it aside from the Divine Right of Kings that protects Adama? Force of will. Adama won’t even acknowledge Zarek is the one pulling the strings.

Adama is full of piss and vinegar this week. He *will* talk to Gaeta - Adama respects Gaeta’s abilities in engineering the coup, and he’s known him for a long time - he sneers and dismisses, but at least he’s got Adama’s attention. Zarek can’t even hold that. In the end, when Adama retakes power it is primarily, again, because he’s a born leader. He doesn’t actually do much himself, but his force of will inspires ridiculous loyalty from his people. Adama himself manages to calm down a bit from last week when he essentially told a room full of people he was going to kill all of them. In the coda to today’s episode, he settles for two, and I think that’s all we’ll have in the way of reprisals. Curiously, Adama is essentially the MacGuffin in this episode: Though the mutiny rises and falls around him, he, himself doesn’t do much.
Roslin is borderline-unhinged. She’s not nuts, but it’s clear from everything she does, and the way she says everything she says, that she’s only barely holding it together. When she thinks Adama is dead, she effectively reaches the same decision Adama himself came to at the Ragnar Anchorage five years before: I’m lost, I will go out fighting.

Tigh remains a marvel. Even stunned by a grenade, captured and defenseless he’s still an ornery old goat. When he sees his captors, he recognizes one as the guy who tried to rape Athena a couple years ago, and says “Oh, look who they got to arrest us - the brig-rat!” Tigh may be a (literally) inhuman drunk, but he’s still better than the people who’re calling him on the carpet. That sense of grizzly bears being brought down by thousands of yapping lapdogs pervades this episode.

The Cylons are, of course, without leadership now that Natalie is dead. The closest they have is Tori of the Final Four, though she may simply be a spokestoaster for the rest. The Cylons, of course, decide everything based on democratic consensus, within models, and with all models together. Effectively they’re idealistic democratic anarchists. We’ve all seen how well that’s worked out for them: Cavil subverted that, and his hoards have all-but-exterminated four entire models. Their response to the crisis is to cut and run, but they quickly give in to Roslin’s not-really-all-that-logical speech in much the same way Zarek rolls over for Gaeta. I don’t really think Tori is just a spokescylon, though, I think given that she has leadership experience among humans, she’s their de facto leader, simply because she’s got more experience with politics. When the Quorum is reconstituted, and the Rebel Cylons get their seat on it, I expect she’ll be their delegate. And possibly eventually Apollo’s vice president.

Another person’ who’s not a leader is Baltar. A disastrously bad president, paralyzed by indecision in his personal life, a coward who runs away unless cornered, he’s also been a pretty bad cult leader as well. He’ll run away out of fear, or simply out of annoyance. In this episode - conferring with Ghost 6 - the one in his head - he claims he never believed all that crap he spouted over the wireless. Though he’s not given much to do in this episode, Baltar has come to a profound change of personality in a few blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scenes in the last three eps. He’s going to stop running. In fact, he does stop running in this one. As Charlie Brown once said to Lucy, “I’d like to move to another town,” to which Lucy replies, “Don’t bother: Eventually they’ll figure out who you are there too.” Baltar is sick of himself. Sick of running to places where he only finds himself. Rather than running, it’s time to change.

Gaeta isn’t a leader. He’s an organizer, a facilitator, an administrator, a very bright guy, and his mutiny fails because there was no one to give power to - he never intended to hold it for himself. He might have kept Galactica, but he honestly believed Zarek was all the things he claimed to be, rather than a rapidly-disintegrating thug with delusions of grandeur. In other words, despite his vicious anger and lack of judgment, he fails because he is at root a good man, and couldn’t comprehend the depths of evil that Zarek was capable of. Nor could he comprehend Baltar’s sociopath self-centeredness. Nor could he comprehend how that #3 was playing him back on New Caprica. He is all anger and talent and good intentions, done in by Machiavelli’s princes (And princesses) on every side. He is simply too logical to give in to insanity, and when he’s maneuvered in to a corner by Adama and circumstance, he simply gives up. The game is over, there’s no point in a heroic last stand. He’s been a tortured soul for a long time - as rather cleverly indicated by the phantom pain in his stump - but the scene where he “Wakes up” - and does the right thing is both shocking, moving and (Refreshingly) not a dramatic cheat. His conversation with Baltar is moving and disturbing and charming all at the same time. His manic yammering can’t disguise his bleary cried-out eyes, but his goal - that he just wants someone to know who he was - is interesting because I don’t think he, himself, was ever quite sure of that. Poor guy. I am happy that he found a measure of redemption at the end, though man, he had that end coming, didn’t he?

The huge cracks that Tyrol found in the engine room were both real and metaphorical: Real in the sense that the Galactica is way the hell past her prime, and can’t take much more of this, metaphorical in that the last four episodes have been all about the cracks that the Earth Debacle has opened in human society, and in individual people. Dee killed herself. Deanna marooned herself waiting to die. Gaeta and Zarek completely fell apart. Adama and Roslin were on the brink of falling apart, but just as Adama’s force of will managed to re-take Galactica, their force of will has managed to re-take control of their own lives. And now they - and the rebel cylons - can stop running.

Thirty years ago, Harlan Ellison said a lot of disparaging things about the original Galactica. Most were simple Ellisonian insults that were florid, but betrayed a lack of real knowledge of the show. One has stuck with me, though: He said that Galactica failed in ‘78/’79 because there was nothing heroic about it: The good guys loose and run away. Who wants to watch that? Of course that too indicates a very limiting take on literature and dramatic narrative, but there’s some annoying truth in it: These people are simply running away. They’ve been running away all along. Though they’re more refugees than cowards, they are just running away. They’ve been running away all along, rather than facing their problems head on, and fixing them. Now, with Earth gone, there is literally nowhere left to run. They must take arms against a sea of troubles and overcome them or die. This is what they probably should have done all along, but have been avoiding.

Baltar articulates this when he says he’s tired of running from himself. Rather than bemoaning the fact that they don’t deserve to survive - a point driven home again and again by this series - they can start working on *becoming* something that does deserve it. As Boomer said, “It’s not enough merely to survive.”

And that’s what the show is all about, I guess: Humanity learning to become more than it is, evolution in action, the long uphill climb, mankind’s quest for reason.

It will be interesting to see what the shape of that worthy thing is.

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