BATTLESTAR GALACTICA “Blood on the Scales”: To Win Us To Our Harm

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I was nine miles into a ridiculously lengthy post (yes, even by my standards. I know!) raging about how Bill Adama’s choices make him look like he gave and received comfort from the Cylons and mourning that Laura Roslin becomes a war leader over Adama rather than over what is right and comparing Earth to the bloated corpse of a big white whale, except it didn’t even have any ambergris in it. And I decided I was just too sad, and all I really wanted to do was lie down and cry for a little while. So I did.

After a little weep and a little piece of cake (shut. up.), I understood why Battlestar Galactica had hurt so much, and it had nothing to do with Captain Ahab or Captain Bligh. Instead, it reminds me of J. R. R. Tolkien. Tolkien was horrified to discover that there were readers who considered Frodo a traitor for his refusal to destroy The Ring at the Sammath Naur. Instead, he argued, Frodo had taken on his quest “to save the world he knew from disaster at his own expense, if he could” and that his so-called failure was a case of being broken rather than of willfully sinning:

I do not myself see that the breaking of his mind and will under demonic pressure afer torment was any more a moral failure than the breaking of his body would have been–say, by being strangled by Gollum, or crushed by a falling rock.

Which brings us to Felix Gaeta. I wouldn’t in a million years claim that Gaeta was as innocent or as pure of heart as Frodo Baggins. I suspect, whether consciously or subconsciously, that in addition to trying to save the world he knew Gaeta hoped for redemption through his actions. He perjured himself to try to ensure Baltar would be punished, and in doing so punished himself. He was an idealist in a time when pragmatism was badly needed. He had a fatal flaw: an unfortunate tendency to believe in charismatic leaders who didn’t deserve his trust. As a result, even though he had some of the right ideas, he sometimes took the wrong path.

But consider Felix Gaeta. He was once a child who drew restaurants that looked like food and had ideas. He really, really wanted to be on a battlestar. He trained harder than anyone else in his unit. He loved science–and his science was good enough to nurse the Galactica along even though her great blessing of not being networked that saved them from Cylon infiltration and utter destruction was also her low-tech curse–but he was humble enough to understand that he was in the presence of scientific greatness when he met Gaius Baltar. He was the first person besides her husband to really trust Athena, helping her send a computer virus back to the Cylon fleet. When he saw his commander-in-chief and a superior officer stealing an election, he stopped it. He was smart and dedicated and principled.

He also kept trying and trying to save people, but he had a pretty mixed track record on that.

And here is what Felix Gaeta saw. He saw all but the tiniest shred of his species obliterated by the Cylons, and he was right at the center of years of subsequent war as those Cylons tried to hunt down and exterminate what was left of humanity. He saw his friend Boomer, who turned out to be a Cylon, gun down the first charismatic leader he loved. He saw Athena, who looked just like Boomer, plug his beloved battlestar into her arm and do science he could barely dream of. He saw Laura Roslin and Saul Tigh, the latter of whom turned out to be a Cylon, try to destroy the tiny thread of civilization that came from having a democracy. He saw Cylon centurions march through New Caprica. He saw that his second charismatic leader who did not deserve his trust, Gaius Baltar, was in love with a Cylon who comforted him while he signed death warrants (did Gaeta ever know of Baltar’s unintentional complicity in humanity’s fall?). He frakked a toaster on New Caprica himself, trying to save members of the resistance, and then saw her loom over him while she admitted she was killing the resistance members he told her about and accused him of knowing it.

He saw a circle of “judges,” most of whom turned out to be Cylons, force him onto his knees and accuse him of collaborating with Cylons on New Caprica (oh, if they only knew), coming within a hair of killing him before realizing he was part of the resistance. He saw Starbuck come back from the dead and insist that having sexy paint time in her bunk with a random Cylon whose Raider killed one of his crewmates would help her find Earth. When he objected to this, he saw his leg start to rot after Starbuck’s Cylon husband shot him and Athena’s husband refused to jump back to Galactica and medical care. He saw Bill Adama, who did not deserve his trust, whistle away the loss of his leg as an unfortunate accident. He saw giddy Cylon parents getting medical care while humans suffered in line. He saw that morpha might be a way out. He saw his friend Dee, the heart of the CIC, bleed out after she shot herself in the head when the human-Cylon alliance to Earth led to a graveyard. He saw Bill Adama, whom he had loved, declare that anyone who wasn’t sure Cylons are good friends could go to jail, even though being free of Cylon technology was what saved the Galactica in the first place, even though a Cylon had slept with him and promised to save people for him and then killed them in his name.

Is that enough torment to break someone? Is believing that the charismatic leader who didn’t deserve your trust is so enamored of his pet Cylons that he will literally hand the rest of your species over to them for execution demonic enough pressure?

So Felix Gaeta made the decision to save the world, the decision that would redeem him for all the times he tried and failed to save people before, by removing Adama from power. He made the mistake he’d never learned to avoid, falling in with Tom Zarek, a charismatic leader who didn’t deserve his trust. He also made the mistake of not understanding that he couldn’t go all the way–that even now, he had principles he wouldn’t violate and lines he wouldn’t cross. He couldn’t even execute Adama without at least a semblance of a trial. When he bumped into those lines, he handed back the CIC without making Adama claim it with blood. He was broken, and he was wrong, but he was right. What if there had been no last ship to take Frodo someplace where he could face the parts of the failure that were his and piece himself back together?

And what did Felix Gaeta get for his troubles? Bill Adama and Laura Roslin, neither of whom have ever been elected and both of whom have committed mutiny before, embraced. And then Bill Adama lined Felix Gaeta up against a wall and had him shot in the head.

Well.

Maybe you could make the argument that there is no room for mercy during war or famine. But Bill Adama and Laura Roslin granted each other mercy after they split the fleet. They forgave Helo when he destroyed a weapon that could have put an end to the Cylon threat forever. They kept a Cylon as the XO of the only defense force the humans have. They gave amnesty to Athena after she murdered an ambassador in cold blood. They’ve forgiven Starbuck a thousand times. Helo and Athena nearly had their unborn child aborted against their will and then were told she was dead. Tigh executed his wife and lost an eye. Starbuck’s always had trauma. Is their pressure any more demonic than that Gaeta faced? Was their torment any less than his? Do Bill and Laura just love them more?

Maybe you could argue that death was Gaeta’s only chance for peace. We’ve seen that the Cylons understand that concept, as Natalie killed permanently a fellow Six who could not recover emotionally from one of her previous deaths. And it’s true that, like his friend Dee, Felix seemed to find comfort in his final moments revisiting childhood. He somewhere found a sliver of peace with which to meet death. It’s much harder to believe that the execution was meant to give that gift. It was vengeance, it was pragmatism, it was reckoning, but it wasn’t mercy.

Which is what makes it so sickening–Adama and Roslin can forgive the Cylons who destroyed their civilization, they can forgive their favorites. But the guy who tried to keep the majority of humanity taped together on New Caprica, who was the last person Dee smiled at before she killed herself, who became a morpha addict after losing his leg to their futile quest for Earth? He gets a bullet. It’s inhumane in a way even the Cylons can’t manage to behave. How can our beloved leaders be guilty of that?

So Dee and Gaeta are gone in the worst possible ways–will they be missed in the CIC, or can they just be replaced with friendly new Cylons? I miss them and am not loving Mommy and Daddy these days. How convenient for them that after this mutiny they’re right back where they started from, except without that pesky Quorum to obstruct their decrees. The source of their power is rotting from the inside anyway. Let’s hope a new day is dawning, maybe ushered in by Galen Tyrol and Captain Kelly. Their meeting in the munitions room–a Cylon desperately trying to save both races; a mutineer who finds his hate has no worth–is the only glimmer of hope in this. Captain Kelly, a guy who once placed bombs to try to make sure Gaius Baltar couldn’t find a lawyer, mustered up the mercy Adama and Roslin couldn’t. Maybe they’re the shape of things to come even more than Hera is.

(As an aside, while I appreciate the dedication to telling the story, racing to the end of this saga without Richard Hatch, Alessandro Juliani, and Kandyse McClure borders on criminal.)

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9 thoughts on “BATTLESTAR GALACTICA “Blood on the Scales”: To Win Us To Our Harm

  1. After watching that episode, I’m considerably less pessimistic about this season. I’m understanding a little bit better what the writers are trying to convey with this whole coup (last week it all seemed like a nihilistic blur to me). Roslin’s speech on the Cylon ship summarized it well – humanity is NOT doomed, they just needed to avoid panic and desperation and find a greater purpose. Gaeta and others including Roslin, while I agree with you were not entirely to blame for feeling this way, by forming the mutiny had essentially given up on the grand plan. Roslin and Adama needed this shock to wake their system back up and give humans a reason to fight for survival again. BSG, in a sense, needs a Mommy and Daddy, even if the basis of their anger and struggle to survive is based on love for one another.

    Besides that, I don’t see how Adama could have let Gaeta live. As soon as Gaeta started planning it, I knew he was a dead man. If nothing else, Gaeta was breaking the rules of the street by trying to overthrow the commander. As long as Adama survived, he couldn’t let Gaeta live. Like Zarek said, winners write the history and Adama as the winner sealed their fates as losers. Seemed fairly consistent with the show’s overall themes on evolution and survival.

  2. Hi, iread! Thanks for your kind words.

    Brayden, I *completely* agree with you about the writers’ goal here–the mutiny got Roslin (and, by extension, Adama) up off the deck, which they needed to execute the last few episodes. In fact, that’s really the only thing that came of this (at least, the only positive thing)–the same people are in charge; they’re still going to install the Cylon technology. But Madame Airlock is back in town.

    And I suppose it depends on what the grand plan is. If the grand plan was Earth, well, that didn’t work out so well and everyone’s given up on that. If the grand plan is survival at any cost, you’re right–the mutineers might have given up on that, and it does seem to be the Adamaite plan. (There is some question about the true believers–if they really believe the Adamaites bringing in the Cylons will lead to total destruction, they might think the mutiny is part of surviving at any cost.) If the grand plan is being a people worth saving, maybe the mutineers *hadn’t* given up on that–maybe the preservation of even a semblance of self-determination was part of that for them. In fairness, I can see where that would drive Adama and Roslin, who have worked so hard to ensure survival, absolutely batty, but it’s also the question Adama brought up all the way back in the miniseries, and to which he has returned more than once.

    I should note that as great as I thought Richard Hatch was, I’m not sure Tom Zarek belongs in either the true believers group or the people worth saving group. (EDITED to note that upon further reflection, I think Zarek’s problem is that while he’s a true believer, what Gaeta sees as a problem, Zarek sees as a symptom. We find Zarek less sympathetic because there’s a thick line between “impeach the jerk!” and “burn the Constitution!”, and Zarek is the radical.)

    In practical terms, it’s very difficult to imagine how Adama could let Gaeta live. I get that, I really do. And I agree with you that this reflects the *show’s* themes. It doesn’t, however, reflect *Adama’s* experiences and previous decisions. He’s forgiven previous mutinies and previous frak-ups that have resulted in death. He’s been forgiven of mutiny himself (and while we as the audience completely agreed with him, the stunts he pulled with Admiral Cain were mutiny). So instead of making the audience create the argument that this was different or that Adama had no choice, we need to hear *Adama* explain all of that. (We also need to hear both him and Roslin figure out what they’ve been doing wrong and change, but I think that’s even less likely to happen).

    Which reminds me of your reply last week–I don’t think we’re ever going to see the conversation (probably with Lee? Who else?) where Adama lays all that out. And as much as anything else, I think that relates to the pacing problems you mentioned. They’ve got to explain the Final Five, the opera house, what will happen to the refugees, how they’ll deal with the non-refugee Cylons, etc., etc. in six episodes. I doubt they’ll take the time to have Adama explain himself. I hope they prove me wrong–maybe they really are bringing both of them back to Adama’s questioning about whether they’re a people worth saving?

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  4. Very nice post. Helped me put some of my own thoughts together about Gaeta and his execution.

    I haven’t really cared for Adama and Roslin since the Baltar trial. There was a scene where they were willing to torture Gaius to get the truth basically because they were angry and needed somebody to take it out on. Gaius was at great fault, but he was human. He just wasn’t in power anymore.

    Gaeta’s execution was the same sort of moment for me: it wasn’t about justice in any way, shape, or form. It was about Bill Adama’s personal anger and frustration.

    In the end, Adama and Roslin have come to scare me as leaders. Just a handful of episodes to see if they keep their power in the end.

  5. Well, a benevolent dictator is benevolent right up until the minute he isn’t anymore, isn’t he?

    This is part of why Bill Adama is so confusing–sometimes he’s forgiver, the reconciler, the moral center (again, the only reason Helo is walking around free is because Adama fundamentally agreed with him that using biological weapons was wrong). But it seems more and more obvious that he’s very selective about that–at other times he’s a dictator; he just views himself as a benevolent one. Which is fine and dandy for an audience until we don’t see him as benevolent anymore.

    Friend O’ Bacon DoubleN suggests that those of us feeling this way have been snookered–that Bill Adama’s behaviors that have seemed benevolent or born of love in the past have always been about his personal wants, anger, or frustration. Certainly the Baltar torture story you mention falls under that rubric; the beatdown of Chief Tyrol in “Unfinished Business”, his insistence that no one else be troubled that his XO is a Cylon, and his abdicating his position as the senior military officer humanity has left so he can sit out in the car…er, Raptor with a book and an algae bar waiting for his girlfriend seem more suggestive of that perspective in retrospect.

    And perhaps I shouldn’t bring up the issue of whether President Roslin soothing her broken dreams by abdicating her leadership position for some sexy time is any different from what President Baltar did on New Caprica with the hot and cold running interns…(in fairness, I’m a lot more sympathetic to her heartbreak, but the abdication of leadership was disastrous all the same.)

    I guess I’m just not sure how the writers want us to view the Roslin/Adama administration. Are they intentionally drawing parallels between Roslin’s and Baltar’s leadership after tragedy? They went to great lengths to make sure the mutineers had good points (both politically and, in Gaeta’s case, that the snakes dancing in his head were hard-earned). Does this mean they’re actually okay with breaking (some of) the audience’s trust with two major characters, or do they think our affection for Roslin and Adama is so deep we’ll come out on their “side” in the end? Will any fall Roslin and Adama experience have as much impact on the audience if we’re no longer sure of their benevolence?

    That might be what worries me most–that the impact of the end of this years-long story will be blunted because not only do we no longer see Roslin and Adama through the same eyes we once did, but because they can’t even be bothered to acknowledge that there’s any question about who they are and the choices they make. We’re nearly a month past these events in our time (it’s less clear how much time has passed on the show), and my confidence isn’t boosted by the fact that we’ve had no reflection of that kind from either character. I need to see that, just as Laura Roslin has a little piece of paper with “Olympic Carrier” written on it, Bill Adama has one with ‘Anastasia Dualla” and “Felix Gaeta” written on it. Instead, we’ve gotten him wandering around drunk while looking at the Galactica’s beams. That could be symbolic, I guess, but it’s not really working at that level for me. So I’m not convinced they’re going to win me back for a big emotional climax with these characters, and that makes me sad.

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