Friday, February 6, 2009

What scales? Blood, yes, lots of blood, but no scales.

Spoilers ahead:

I assume that the "scales" of the title refer to the balancing scales seen in those statues of blind justice. Those scales weren't here. Everyone who died in this episode merely died for pragmatic reasons, even Gaeta and Zarek.

Also, if you want even more opinion and insight into Battlestar Galactica, check out the blog carnival, "So Say We All."

Before you read the rest of my analysis of this week's Battlestar Galactica episode, 'Blood on the Scales,' I would ask you to get in the mood by downloading some science fictiony synth music I've created and put up on box.net:

1. RIGHT CLICK HERE
2. Select "OPEN LINK IN NEW WINDOW"
3. You should see a blue box with the name "computer_heaven.wav" on it.
4. Click the download button.
5. Play the music while you read:

The mutiny is over, and I am so happy about that. I was afraid it would take a few more weeks. There are now only 7 episodes left to go and I was frustrated with the mutiny storyline because it didn't get us any nearer to answering what should be the biggest questions on everyone's mind. Also, this kind of action story is just too common in TV scifi (if not done so darkly before). The writers, actors, directors and the rest of the crew did a great job, but this isn't the real test of good science fiction. It's just what Hollywood has turned science fiction into.

Science fiction is supposed to be the literature of ideas, not action and adventure and war stories. Yet Hollywood keeps putting out heroic action stories with silly upgrades on modern technology without really understanding the kind of ideas DARPA is even now working on. There may yet be a new and great science fiction idea buried at the heart of this re-imagined TV series, but presently it's shrouded in too much mystery. What we do know is that the Cylons have approached godhood with their technologies. That has implications that real science fiction writers have been dancing with for decades, as well as futurists like Ray Kurzweil.

Hopefully by next week the colonial fleet will realize they've got some important questions they need to ask about, ...no, more than that, they need to actively investigate, the true origins of both Cylons and humanity. Alas, by the looks of next week's previews it seems they may not have to investigate, much less ask questions. They just might have the answer handed to them on silver platter... by Helen, the fifth Cylon, whom I saw rise from a tub of goo in those previews. There's now another resurrection "hub" somewhere.

But that would be too easy. I get the feeling that people in the fleet don't really want to know the answers.

[CLICK HERE FOR DARKER MUSIC]

In the meantime a lot of people are dead; the whole Quorum and, of course, Zarek and Gaeta too. By next week they may tell us Anders is gone (well, as gone as a Cylon can be), for he was shot and nobody would help him but Starbuck and a reluctant Lawyer going by the name of Romo Lampkin. The last time we saw Anders, Starbuck and Romo were going to help him get to Doctor Cottle. If that weren't enough, there are big cracks showing up in the hull/walls of Galactica. I think soon the ship will start breaking up and spitting people into space.

[CLICK HERE FOR SOME SINISTER AMBIENT SFX]

They had me feeling sorry for Gaeta by the end of the show. I thought Gaeta and Zarek would get shot or blown-up in battle when, and if, they went down, but it was surprisingly bloodless the way Adama took back his ship. This was in part because Gaeta realized he was wrong half-way through the show and he lacked conviction. As the show went on it became clearer and clearer how stupid and irrational Gaeta was in deciding to go through with the mutiny. He was conflicted about it from the start of the show and he became more so as the show went on. There was no clue to this that I noticed in the last show. But there was a clue in "Face of the Enemy," the online webisodes. In those webisodes an 8 scolds Gaeta for his willful blindness and his inability to see how she was killing the prisoners Gaeta gave her lists of.

The same blindness now keeps Gaeta from seeing who Zarek is. However, once Gaeta realized that Zarek had the Quorum cold-bloodedly killed he started having doubts about Zarek and he said that they had now lost "having the truth on our side." Zarek said some version of "truth/history is written by the winners" thus demonstrating he didn't care about what was true. Gaeta also seemed to have doubts about Adama and wanted Adama to have a trial. It felt like a stall, like he didn't really want to kill Adama (that may not have been intended). He also wanted to see Adama admit that he was wrong (he clearly insisted on it).

Having Gaeta lack resolve undercut the action part of the show and it also half masked Adama's own irrational stupidity. Gaeta may or may not have been trying to stall by asking for a trial, but why wasn't Adama trying to stall? He shouldn't have been such a prick who almost dared Gaeta to shoot him. Adama should have been in there arguing for why he wasn't wrong, why it was smarter to befriend the Cylons. He should have taken the trial as his right and insisted on more rights. He could have insisted on a real trial with a jury and not just to stall, but to finally express clearly why they needed to join with the rebel Cylons and undercut the motives of other mutineers. The fact that Adama and the president went right for the rebel Cylon basestar when they ran also made it look like they defected, or at least Zarek could have made it look that way.

If there was ever a good argument about siding or not with the rebel Cylons, they left it on the cutting room floor. There was not a hint that such arguments ever happened outside the Quorum which we saw little of. And even with that gone they still went low key on the action; a few fight scenes in hallways and a Churchill-like speech from Madame President. Instead of fighting to the bitter end, Gaeta and Zarek were quietly arrested near the end of the show, they went without a final fight once they realized the game was up. Both Gaeta and Zarek smiled at each other before they died by a firing squad. I respect that.

What made the show was the smaller scenes that they hung around the mutiny storyline. For example, Baltar talking with a new 6, a non-blond who is ready and willing to give Baltar all the sex he wants. But Baltar says no. He is feeling bad about leaving his flock behind. I'm glad they kept that scene, but why keep it if there were more important ones missing?

My favorite nice little scene was Baltar and Gaeta sitting at a table smoking, drinking coffee and talking. It was the only scene that brought me close to tears, as Baltar seemed to be. Gaeta said that he just "wanted someone to know who I am," and Batlar listened to Gaeta tell a bit of his life story (I think that trivia bit about wanting to be an architect meant that Baltar listened to much more of Gaeta's life story, or maybe it was just writerly indirection). Again, they showed us nothing with Gaeta talking to Baltar about why he wanted to mutiny, no argument about the Cylons not having real human psychology, no. No sense of "I was wrong and I was stupid," no he bragged about his silly ideas. Instead we heard Gaeta talk about some fairly trivial things from his childhood; he wanted to be an architect and he thought he would design buildings that looked like food.

And then they shot him.


Instead of giving condemned prisoners last rites, on Galactica the atheistic crew talk to Baltar not about their sins, but about their lives overall. It gives the concept of confession a whole new meaning.



ABOUT THE MUSIC:

If you like the music I linked, there is more here:
[MORE MUSIC]

3 comments:

Daniel said...

Great review. I agree with almost all of your points, but I think this two-episode sidetrack was sort of necessary to an extent. It demonstrated the (rightful) confusion, despair, and chaos within the fleet due to finding a devastated Earth, and the lack of information from the powers that be. Not to mention Starbuck finally got a chance to be a badass again, if only for a short time.

I think they are going somewhere with the plot. They may have been using these episodes to do what I mentioned above, as well as to remove/resolve some of the less-important characters and story lines. Now that the Quorum, Gaeta, and Zarek are out of the way, there don't really seem to be too many things they can focus on other than the reasons why Earth is devastated (and all that entails), rebuilding morale in the fleet, and the probable upcoming confrontation between the fleet and Cavil. I'm not at all certain where they are going, but I think it will be interesting no matter what the outcome...hopefully starting with Ellen Tigh's return next week.

Daniel said...

Oh, and I forgot to mention I enjoyed the interactive background music. Perhaps virtual reality blogging will be the next big thing! ;)

Ms. SP said...

I respect your point of view, but for me, these two episodes were not merely action pieces. I love many things about BSG, but I think the biggest draw (idea-wise) for me is the exploration of governance.

Articles of government are important. The reality of survival is important. Where do you slide the marker on the scale of compromise? What do you give up to be lawful? What do you gain by being unlawful?

These are great questions for me.

Roslin and Adama had something like this coming for a while now. I would have been more surprised, and somewhat disappointed, had the two sacred cows not been challenged in this manner for the entire run of the show. There are reckonings all around, and this is a part of theirs.

As far as revolutions and rebellions, they succeed and fail for the most stupid of reasons. I liked that there were two sides to this conflict (plus the third side of those agonizing on the sidelines), but within each of the two sides, there were as many reasons as there were individuals. That's how things work.

Ellen
I think that if we see Ellen resurrecting, it would be back during the New Caprica exodus and not at this current place in time.

Scales
I agree with you that there's not much "scales of justice" in this episode, but I'm going to fanwank for a second and think of it as judgment by the weighing of one's soul. Is it the Egyptian afterlife in which this happens?