‘Battlestar Galactica’ Countdown: “The Oath” and “Blood on the Scales”

As explained in the last post, I’m watching the last season of Battlestar Galactica and blogging it all day. Why? Because it’s awesome. Because I’m making up for not doing this as the season went on. And because the story is even better when you watch it all at once. As noted before, there are spoilers aplenty, and this is not an intro course; it’s running commentary for geeks. I’m treating “The Oath” and “Blood on the Scales” as one story since the mutiny spans both episodes.

Wow, this gets long. Fair warning and all.

“The Oath” begins with location and military time; it’s a military story and will tell you as much from the word go.

The other thing it makes clear is that this fight is going to bring people alive again. Kara says as much – “Take a breath, Lee” — when she saves Lee from a handful of mutineers. (Her impulsive kiss is matched only by her “I could do this all day” when taking down her enemies as one of the most perfectly Starbuck moments we’ve seen in ages. Not to mention one of the most perfectly welcome, vibrant scenes of someone on this frakking ship knowing exactly what she wants and exactly what to do.)

In the middle of mutiny, everyone is acting in their simplest, truest form. Like Adama says, “Live or die, it’s how you act today that’s gonna matter.” For every character, it does: Starbuck fights, fiercely and loyally, for her admiral and her ship. Adama takes control, instantly, from wobbling soldiers who aren’t really, truly convinced that what they’re doing is right. Gaius goes self-serving. The Chief goes efficient, organized, experienced with how to use the ship (not to mention loyal — though when Lee asks why he’s doing what he is, Galen’s reply — “The old man deserves a better fate than what he’ll get from them” — is only half his story). And Roslin goes steely and determined; her quick thinking about using Gaius’ wireless is the kind of thinking that’s kept her in the presidency so long.

I had some skepticism about the mutiny as a plotline at first. Even though it does seem, in part, like it had to happen eventually — someone had to revolt, be it against the incorporation of the Cylons into the fleet or simply the fact of military governance — it also seemed like it was taking away from the questions we all want answered: the opera house, Kara’s destiny, everything bigger than two men’s fury. But now, what I see when I watch these episodes is Gaeta and Zarek knowing not what they’ve brought upon themselves. They’ve given fighters a clear enemy. They’ve given these angry, drifting people a threat they can understand and identify.

And in trying to prove how right they are, Zarek and Gaeta illustrate instead how difficult and how vital Adama’s position is. It’s an interesting twist, especially for a viewer who would be more likely to identify with non-military, non-Cylon folks: The revolt on behalf of the regular men and women serves only to show that those revolting aren’t actually fit to lead. I kind of think it’s a cop-out on the show’s part; it would have been much more interesting if the rebellion was led by a person who truly believed what he or she said, not by a Tom Zarek, who only cares for “the people” when they agree with him (at least in this season, and arguably since the very beginning). Both his secret tribunals and his decision to murder the entire Quorum undermine the position of the rebels — a position that, realistically, we ought to be fairly understanding about. They’re being asked to welcome in those who would have wiped out their entire race — and whose entire race they then tried to destroy. Could it be more complicated?

(The lines among characters are complicated further when you have Starbuck telling Adama “They are not your men anymore! They are the enemy!” Her view is almost as oversimplified as Zarek’s, but she’s not trying to take over the entire fleet, even if she is a loose cannon.)

(I’ve caught up to myself now and have to start with bullet points just to watch and type at once.)

• Later, Zarek says “Destroy our enemies before they destroy us.” And it’s too late for Gaeta, who realizes, “This is all based on lies.” Zarek’s war was never for the people, but against Adama. I wish it were more nuanced than that.

• But nuance is in other storylines. Nuance is the guy from the Pegasus whose name I can’t remember letting the Chief go (and, later, breaking down in his indecision, finally choosing one unknown future over another); nuance is the quiet way the entire escape is thanks to the Chief, as shown in another throwaway line: Lee says he forgot that “this place,” from which Roslin escapes, was there, and Galen says everyone did. Everyone but him, who knows the entire ship, every path, every way through and around.

• “Who do you want to be?” Roslin yells at Tory, trying to convince her that the fleet, the humans, have a remarkable habit of beating the odds. It’s the question that covers this entire season, even the entire series: Who do you want to be? What defines you? Hope or failure? Your enemy or your ally? Who stands a chance if they all keep defining each other as enemies?

• Moments of humor with Lee and Kara: Looking away from the Roslin/Adama smooch, like they’re being embarrassed by their parents, and the grenade Lee doesn’t pull the pin on. Nicely done moments of relief from the tension.

• “This isn’t a trial. This is the asylum.” The smartest thing Romo Lampkin ever said. Followed swiftly by the smartest thing he ever did: His moment of indecision, standing in a stream of light trying to choose himself over Kara and Sam, is a tiny, character-defining glimpse at what a bad guy this slimy lawyer actually isn’t.

• “I ran. Again. I disappeared in the nick of time. Again.” Is Gaius actually having a moment of honesty with himself? Not half as honest as the Lieutenant brave enough to tell Adama, with Tigh right there, that he hates the Cylons and can’t take orders from a leader who won’t fight them. That one man, in that one sentence, has more clarity, more honesty, than ten Tom Zareks.

• It’s too easy to make Roslin so right. If Zarek were a less nasty man, then Roslin’s choice to fight him would be so much more complicated, more her choosing out of pain and fury than out of what’s best for the fleet. Which, to be fair, is why she’s choosing; it’s about believing Adama is dead, not about the fleet, and she’s a lesser leader for it. But we have the easy out of knowing Zarek would be a terrible, terrible leader, and should never be given command of the ragtag remnants of humanity — not when he’s willing to take out everyone who disagrees with him. Neither of them are thinking about the future, but one’s less dangerous than the other.

• It’s almost funny when Gaeta snarks at Zarek that they have a military leader and a president in one. It’s true: Zarek wants all the power. But again, it’s making it too morally easy for the audience. We’ve already found, over the last three seasons, that it’s not so simple as humans good, Cylons bad, so why make it so simple when it’s humanity vs. humanity? When Zarek tries to take over in the CIC, the show lets us almost forgive Gaeta for being fooled by Zarek, for believing that Zarek had anyone’s best interests in mind. It’s a more complex ending for Felix Gaeta, who was, in his way, everything Zarek pretended to be: A man who believes that he’s right, but has limits to what he’ll do as a result. When Gaeta says he’s fine with the way things went down, I believe him.

Continue with “No Exit,” or skip ahead to “Deadlock.”