Monday, February 2, 2009

"The Face of the Enemy," the Galactica webisodes

I finally got around to watching "Face of the Enemy," an "online only" bit of Battlestar Galactica. Each webisode is about two-minutes plus a few seconds. Other people (like Annalee Newitz who wrote "Why Is Gaeta So Bad?") have been telling us these webisodes were critical to understanding Gaeta's motives. I don't think that they're critical, and they could be misleading. However, there are some revelations here that are not on the TV-only version of the show. And if you're a hard core Galactica fan you'll want to check them out, they do give one of the main themes of Galactica a bit more depth.

While I found a lot of the episodes on YouTube, it lacks a couple of them, so you might want to use Hulu (click here to view first Hulu webisode, the other webisodes are on a menu near the bottom of the page).

Watch the Galactica webisodes before reading the rest of this analysis for spoilers will follow.

This video series will figure into my analysis later:

One interesting bit of Galactica trivia we learn early on, Gaeta is either gay or bisexual and he has a boyfriend, Lieutenant Louis Hoshi. They even kiss after Hoshi gives Gaeta some "morpha" before Gaeta takes off in a raptor for another ship with some "red shirts" and two 8s. The fleet has to jump and the raptor gets stranded in space with only a limited supply of air because they jumped to the wrong coordinates. Then people mysteriously start to die, probably murdered to save more air for the survivors.

Spoiler: It turns out it's one of the 8s who is killing them and the first victim is the other 8. It wasn't obviously a murder, the other 8 was killed trying to fix a CO2 scrubber with pliers that had the insulation stripped off. Until near the end all the murders could be accidents or suicides, but still the paranoia sets in as one by one they die under suspicious circumstances. Those remaining automatically suspect the Cylon.

Weirdly, she seems to be doing it to save Gaeta, not herself. It turns out that the 8 and Gaeta knew each other on New Caprica, we get flashbacks to this history. And this is one of the reasons people think that these webisodes are critical. It's because we learn that Gaeta, thanks to the 8, was unknowingly complicit in the death of some people in the resistance back on New Caprica that the 8 pretended to help him save.

On New Caprica the 8 seemed to have betrayed her own kind and was helping Gaeta to get the resistance people out of jail. However, it turns out she was killing most of the people on Gaeta's list of people to rescue. She had tricked him. After she has killed everyone on the raptor but Gaeta and herself, and after Gaeta discovers this, she tells him what really happened on New Caprica.

At first Gaeta doesn't believe it, saying, "I saw them... I saw Jenkins... I saw Heather Redman and her baby, they were playing together..." He's having trouble accepting the reality of his blind complicity in the murder of his friends.

"I didn't seduce you," said the 8. "Hope seduced you. And the more you ate of it the less you saw. You ate yourself blind... You chose not to make the connection, to blind yourself... There is a fine line between ignorance and hope..."

It's close to something I wrote over a decade ago, in a very different context:

For some people, once the Biblical seed of unreal hope and uncertain fear has been sown, a process of desire, expectation, and imagination begins in the hidden workings of the unconscious mind, in a secret world of mystical ideas, a world of ignorance and enormous possibility.

The above quote is from "Hope is the Bait," a little essay I wrote in 1992 and put on the web when it was just a collection of linked bulletin boards and before the network of loosely linked boards became the organized web. It's now been reproduced on several different sites.

It speaks to the same kind of psychology that the 8 was talking about when she said things like "There is a fine line between ignorance and hope."

Sometimes, in this often ugly world, as in the Galactica's universe, it can seem that the more you know the less room for hope you can find. Knowledge has a way of limiting what we can consider possible. This is not what I was saying though, knowledge can also open up doors to new and more realistic hopes. However, the 8's philosophy seems a bit more twisted and fatalistic. The 8 was basically saying that Gaeta had always suspected what she was doing and had done nothing to stop her because he was so blinded by hope. The hope was his "Sine Qua Non."

"I trusted you," Gaeta complained as if that excused him. Then Balter shows up in a flashback. Baltar knew about how the 8 had used Gaeta to get resistance people killed and whispered in Gaeta's ear, "I know about what your 8 did." Gaeta freaks and attacks Baltar. That's from way back in Season 3, "Taking a Break From All Your Worries," when Gaeta interrogated Baltar and it tells us that Gaeta had been repressing his knowledge of what happened on New Caprica all along, so it wasn't just trust that blinded him. Deep down he suspected his own complicity in the deaths of the people he tried to save.

Saying what she said, while Gaeta had a scalpal in hand, cost the 8 her life. Gaeta killed her.

Later, of course, Gaeta is rescued to appear in the next TV episodes and they start setting up Gaeta's first moves toward becoming a mutineer. If you saw these webisodes before you saw the TV shows you might think you had some critical information that the TV-only viewers didn't, but you don't. The reason these webisodes are probably not critical (I didn't need to see it to get the last TV-versions) is because being betrayed by a Cylon isn't news any more. A 6 betrayed Baltar, Boomer shot Bill Adama... Everyone on Galactica has known that Cylons were like that. So Gaeta's once hopeful dealings with a Cylon are revealed to actually be a betrayal? All these webisodes did was take what everyone knew abstractly and make it personal for Gaeta. But even as a personal experience it doesn't justify Gaeta's fear and hatred of Cylons now. It happened in the past, during a war, and while the 8 was cold blooded enough to kill the other people on the raptor to survive, such acts are not beyond a desperate human's and that doesn't condemn all of us.

If there's an important revelation here it's not what the 8 did, it is Gaeta's state of mind, his capacity for blocking out things he doesn't want to know about. And this brings us to the Nova video clip I embedded at the top of this post. The very fact that Gaeta is going into this mutiny with that bit of guilt on his mind is not a clue that he is right about the Cylons. It's a clue that he is wrong. In the battle between faith and knowledge, faith has won Gaeta's mind. It's just not faith in Cylons. And that makes Gaeta dangerous. Gaeta, quite irrationally, put his faith in Zarek. You don't have to be a Cylon to exploit Gaeta's blindness.

Gaeta's experiences with the 8, as Tigh pointed out, may not even be real. They may be the result of lack of oxygen combined with guilt. In the Nova science clip we see V.S. Ramachandran explaining some very odd irrational beliefs emerging from neurological problems, a person thinking that their mother and father are impostors, another person thinking that they are god. The series also delves into blindsight and phantom limb sensations. While those are the result of odd neurological problems it would seem that the normal human brain isn't free of neurological illusions either. Religion seems to be one example of a natural illusion, playing the lottery and all kinds of social neurosis too are normal but irrational side effects of our neurobiology.

It's not irrational to distrust the Cylons to some degree, they may indeed be, as I said before, genetically engineered flesh puppets with only an illusion of free will. Deep down their very psyches may have been designed as weapons of war in ways the Cylons themselves cannot understand or anticipate. What is irrational is what Gaeta is doing with that distrust. All the motivators they've given Gaeta are emotional and not thought out. He lost his leg in a failed mutiny, he's insulted by Starbuck, he was betrayed by a Cylon. Sure, I understand Gaeta's and the colonials desire for revenge, the Cylons committed genocide (or specicide?) on a massive scale. The humans have been fighting the Cylons for years and now, without enough explanation, the people in charge want to be nice to the Cylons?

As viewers of the TV show rather than participants in the drama we've seen the Cylons fight among themselves, we've seen their desire to understand themselves and their 'humanity' and it seems real. We've seen that the distinction between Cylon and human was blurred. That may not matter if their unconscious minds were designed to do what is needed to destroy humanity and their feeling of free will is only an illusion. However, the only rational and pragmatic choice is still an alliance. Without that humanity is doomed. The trust gamble could be a loser, but the paranoia gamble is a sure loser. Even if they do find a planet to settle down on they'll still be sitting ducks for Cavill's ships. Only a lasting and meaningful alliance with the rebel Cylons can give them the technology they need to fight and then to end the war peacefully.

That's how things work here in the real world. Sure the Cylons committed many atrocities but America committed atrocities in Vietnam too, in Japan during WWII, etc.. Now we're at peace and we trade. We get over our pasts, our hatreds, there is no other way to peace.

Unless Gaeta's mutiny continues to make bold moves, like, for example, going after Cavil before he can finish building another resurrection hub, then what has it accomplished? Just getting rid of the local Cylons but not dealing with what must come in the near future is bad planning. The questions about what do they do next are ones I haven't seen Gaeta ask and no mutiny should have happened before they were answered.

If they were asked and answered, it happened off screen.


Ms. SP said...

I was thinking the same thing about the future of the mutineers. What are they going to do when Cavill shows up?

I think the webisodes are important because it is Gaeta. To have him and Dee go completely off kilter is pretty jarring. From the start, they've had their dark-side hints, especially in that D'Anna Biers reporter episode, but for the most part, they were the reliable ones.

I hope Helo is not next in line. He's my rock.

Like many other characters, I think Gaeta is seeking atonement now. He was let down, not so much by the Eight, but by himself and by his sense of right. It read to me like he tried to do Right, to help, and for that intention to result in the systematic deaths of his friends--

It's caused a crisis of faith, and he's lashing out while still trying to pretend to be in control.

I also think that the Eight was seeking atonement in her own crazy way too. She confessed what she did "in a time of war" and gave the person she felt she had most-wronged the greatest chance of life.

She wasn't asking for forgiveness at the end. She was asking for her death. I think she was always going to be the second-to-last one standing.

normdoering said...

Ms. SP wrote:
"I hope Helo is not next in line. He's my rock."

I like Helo too, his values are so very on target.

I think you might be right about Gaeta seeking atonement, but he seems to be doing a poor job of that. I think he's more blind now then when the 8 conned him, he's got more emotional baggage now, his hopes are more desperate.

Words like atonement and redemption are not how I relate to and think about the world.

You think that the 8 was seeking atonement too. I'll give that a maybe. There's another possibility however. Remember when the 6 in the brig told Tigh that they knew humans better than they knew themselves? If the Cylons are unknowingly still acting as weapons of war then what the 8 said might have been said to get exactly the results she got; Gaeta becoming a mutineer and causing chaos and death in the fleet.

Ms. SP said...

Hmm. I hadn't considered that dissention was the point of it all. I suppose I'm partially blinded by the fact that she was an Eight.

Yet we continue to see that Eight is the most varied of the models.

Still, I'm one who thinks humans are perfectly capable of destroying ourselves without outside help. That also influences the way I experience the show.

normdoering said...

Ms. SP wrote:
"I'm one who thinks humans are perfectly capable of destroying ourselves without outside help. That also influences the way I experience the show."

I would agree that we are perfectly capable of destroying ourselves without outside help:
A woman suspected of recruiting more than 80 female suicide bombers has confessed to organising their rapes so she could later convince them that martyrdom was the only way to escape the shame.

That is why the Cylons, if they really understood us better than we know ourselves would only have to push a little here and there to get people to do that and thus save on a massive war effort.