Sunday, July 18, 2010

Blogging Battlestar - Politics, Theft and Treason

Tonight's Battlestar Galactica rewatch brought me to the final three episodes of season 1: "Colonial Day" and "Kobol's Last Gleaming" parts 1 & 2.

In "Colonial Day" all eyes, for once, are not on Galactica. Instead the fleet devotes its entire attention to the political battles taking place aboard the Rising Star. The movers and shakers among the refugees have gathered aboard the luxury liner to convene the Quorum of the Colonies - the Colonial parliament, where their newly elected representatives will attend to the government business of their civilization. But a wrench is thrown into the works when it's announced that terrorist and prison ship uprising leader Tom Zarek appears as a duly-elected representative of Saggitaron and forces the issue of the election of a Vice-President. For Roslin, it's a matter of life and death - beyond politics, because if Zarek wins the Vice-Presidential election, her days could be numbered. It's a great episode for showing some of the political battles that go on behind the scenes in any society, and for peeling back more layers from some of the lead characters. It's a chance to see the degree of Ellen Tigh's aspirations, to the point where she'll deal with anyone, even a known terrorist, if she thinks it'll get her a more privileged position in life. There's certainly more than a hint that her complimentary day aboard the Rising Star that she tells the Colonel about later is due to the fact that she divulged the location of where the assassin was being held to Zarek. With Zarek, we see his ability to turn on the charisma and make the cameras work to his advantage as he tries a legitimate drive at power, even as he keeps a retinue of prison barge thugs around him to intimidate others, and, let's face it, assassinate anyone who gets in his way (or who might implicate him in the plot to smuggle a gun aboard the ship and kill... someone who gets in his way). For Roslin, the epi reveals that she's not just a capable administrator, she's also a masterful political player. But not quite masterful enough... the scene were she invites Baltar to run for Vice-President is proof that she isn't quite the expert player she thinks she is or that she ought to be. Prior to the meeting, she said that meeting with Baltar was one of two unpleasant things she had to take care of. There's a mistake right off the bat - working with someone you don't trust or like. Now, in the political arena, no-one would argue against the fact that sometimes this is a necessity, but in order to work with those one finds objectionable, the good politician must at least keep a game face on. Roslin has no idea what a game face is. When she goes into the men's room to extend her offer to Baltar, she doesn't even make the effort to sound friendly, and she certainly doesn't extend her hand (even though he's made a point of washing his). It was very telling where she abruptly left the room without offering to shake hands after Baltar accepted. Very telling indeed, considering she had a handshake and kiss when she first came face to face with political opponent (and threat to her life) Tom Zarek. No, even though Baltar accepts, helping her out, making her political life so much easier, and eliminating the Zarek threat because of Baltar's own ability to charm the public and media, she can't be bothered to even extend the courtesy of a handshake or friendly tone. It's fitting that the scene takes place in a washroom, because Roslin essentially treats Baltar like a piece of used toilet paper - something that's been necessary, but something she doesn't want to be around. Here's a president who's either way too confident of her status as absolute ruler, or someone who's still got a helluva lot to learn about finesse in politics. Or both.

In "Kobol's Last Gleaming" parts 1 & 2, the fleet discovers Kobol, the original homeworld of the Colonial civilization (at least in its current incarnation - as we'll find out later in the series), and it runs into a major rift in its power structure between Roslin and Adama, while Boomer's depression and identity crisis finally resolve themselves in a way that will have near-tragic consequences. The discovery of Kobol comes at a time when Roslin is putting more and more faith in her kamala extract-induced visions and her perceived role in a religeous prophecy. Instead of seeing the abandoned homeworld as a source of resources and refuge, the President thinks it's only a roadsign that, if deciphered properly, can point to Earth. With this in mind, she wants to use Starbuck's captured Cylon raider to jump back to Caprica to recover an ancient arrow that can help point the way on Kobol. Problem is, Adama doesn't put much stock in religeon or drug-induced visions, and thinks the raider should be used to take out a basestar orbiting Kobol. In the ensuing confrontation, both leaders make mistakes. Roslin clearly oversteps her bounds by interfering with the military by going behind Adama's back, breaking the chain of command and inciting Starbuck to steal the raider and go AWOL on the mission to Caprica. The President also breaks her promise to keep the fact that the location of Earth is unknown confidential. After all of this, one can't blame Adama for needing to take some sort of action - Roslin has overtly undermined his authority and cannot be trusted again. That's even putting aside the fact that she's acting based on a drug-induced vision, and thus, technically, probably could be considered unfit to lead. And yet, Adama is not innocent in all of this either. He is guilty of conducting a military coup. The fact is, ultimately, as president, Roslin is the boss, and if she identifies some hare-brained mission to recover an antiquity as the priority for the survival of their people, that's the directive that has to be followed. If Adama didn't like it, he should have followed whatever process of impeachment was spelled out in existing Colonial law, accompanied by an agressive PR campaign and support of the government system's right to appoint an alternative civilian leader, rather than staging a coup.

Then there's poor Starbuck. Carrying a freighter-load of emotional baggage even before the destruction of her civilization, Starbuck's caught between the demands of two powerful personalities that she respects (essentially Mom & Dad), is feeling alienated from Apollo, and is still reeling from her encounter with Leoben. It's all a symbol of her inner conflict over the question of where she fits in, what is her destiny. Given what we learn of her true, angelic nature (lame) in the series finale, one has to wonder if this turmoil is more deeply rooted in her inner guiding-angel self struggling against the muddled human personality overtop. Things don't get any easier when she arrives on Caprica, only to have the shit beaten out of her by a Six. Sure, Starbuck puts up one hell of a fight - she is, after all, Starbuck. But the Six is stronger, faster, better. Having her fighting ego crushed pretty quickly like that (despite her eventual win) is only a precurser to the real kick to reality she receives when she finds Helo alive (which is good), accompanied by Sharon - very bad, because as far as Starbuck knows, Boomer's back with the fleet. The fact that Sharon is a Cylon agent, that her friend is actually an entity committed to destroying her people, is too much to handle, and Starbuck has a meltdown. And again, knowing what we know about Starbuck as of the end of the series, I'm forced to wonder if this little breakdown isn't another manifestation of the struggle going on within Starbuck herself. As the Vorlons illustrated painfully clearly to Sheridan and Delenn, the most painful question in the universe is "Who are you?"

And clearly, Starbuck isn't the only one grappling with this question. Aboard Galactica, Boomer has been in crisis for some time. The bombing of the ship's water tanks, the explosive beneath her ejection seat, the blackouts, would have been enough to put Boomer into a tailspin as it is. Her breakup with the Chief (her former lover, but as we find out at the end of the series, one of her creators, and thus father of a sort - definitely some kind of weird Elektra thing going on, definitely a formula for mindfucking even the most healthy personality) has caused her even more hurt. As the episode begins, Boomer has hit bottom and is suicidal. Not knowing who she is, feeling that there's no-one there for her, has put her in a dangerous place. Talking with Baltar turns out to be near-fatal. Baltar's been many things up to this point, weak, cowardly, selfish, vindictive, spiteful, manipulative, but this is the first time he's been truly evil. Baltar knows that he has an opportunity to say something supportive that might help Boomer get to a place where she won't harm herself. He even knows he could do this and then exploit her vulnerability and seduce her. Instead, recognizing that she's a Cylon and thus a threat to himself, he says something carefully calculated to push this hurting individual over the edge. Say what you will about the need to defend yourself against an enemy that's exterminated your people and is likely to eventually kill you as well, what Baltar did was inhuman. Does she survive her attempt to shoot herself because she changes her mind at the last minute, or is it the submerged Cylon personality kicking in to save itself? We'll never know. In either case, it's in this conflicted state that Boomer accepts the mission to destroy the basestar over Kobol. But given the highly dangerous nature of the assignment, one might wonder if Boomer's just taking it as another way of trying to kill herself. Meeting her fellow Eights resolves her identity crisis though. Or does it? Is shooting Adama an act of her Cylon personality? Or is it the Boomer overlay personality concluding that since it's a Cylon, it might as well do what a Cylon would be expected to do, and in assassinating the Commander, find another way to guarantee that her live would end?

It's a season finale that leaves the fleet without its two strongest leaders and two of its best pilots.

See you next season.
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