Sunday, April 17, 2016

Battlestar Galactica: Taking A Break From All Your Worries (S3/E13)

by JASmius

Rating: **1/2 (out of four)

Written by: Michael Taylor
Directed By: Edward James Olmos

“Taking A Break From All Your Worries” isn’t really an appropo title for this episode of Battlestar Galactica. Harkening back as it does to the theme song from the 1980s sitcom Cheers, I expected a lighter, more whimsical edition after the heavy-duty action of the whole “Eye of Jupiter” arc – at least in part. What we got is better categorized as a second coda to the New Caprica saga, not unlike “Collaborators,” only this time accounts are settled not with the small fry humans who sold out to the “toasters” and “skinjobs,” but the unwitting architect of the original Cylon holocaust himself, ex-Vice President and ex-President Gaius Baltar himself.

Well, not quite settled, anyway. Baltar wouldn’t be Baltar unless he found a way to slither out of the, um, noose yet again.

He starts by trying to hang himself in his cell aboard the Galactica. Yes, I know, it doesn’t seem plausible for a man with such a day-glo streak of self-centeredness (and self-preservation) to want to die. But it does make sense in the context of Baltar’s recent obsession with learning if he is one of the five unseen Cylon models – the one and only reason why he cultivated D’Anna Biers and her vision quest. If he woke up in a tub of goo on a resurrection ship, it would confirm his Cylon identity and purge him of the guilt he’s been dragging around with him for the past two-plus years. If he didn’t, well, he chose not to think about that.

Initially he seems to have won his gamble, as he not only comes to in the goo but is surrounded by not one but several Sixes, which had to be one of his sex fantasies as well. The promos for this ep went out of their way to feature this scene, as a matter of fact. So you knew that it couldn’t possibly be true, and indeed it is just a hallucination. Gaius is instead saved and revived by, of all people, his former chief of staff, Felix Gaeta – a rather satisfying irony as it would turn out before the hour was done.

Baltar was, of course, not just any collaborator, but the puppet of the Cylon Occupation Authority in his erstwhile role as Kobolian president. He’s also been in their upper echelon since the human diaspora’s departure from New Caprica and was instrumental in leading the “toasters” to the Eye of Jupiter. So not only do President Roslin and Admiral Adama have personal scores to settle with this man, but they are convinced that he possesses Cylon secrets that they are determined to extract from him – by any means necessary.

What ensues is a fascinatingly multifaceted psychological exercise. First Roslin blows her stack at him and orders his immediate execution in an effort to bulldoze him into talking. Baltar says nothing other than to beg for a fair trial. Then Adama orders the prisoner pumped full of experimental hallucinogenic drugs designed for hard-core interrogations. Baltar enters a mental state in which he perceives himself barely afloat in a cold, dark sea with a single light shining in his face. The only voice he can hear is that of his interrogator – in this case, Adama. The procedure is intended to make the interrogator seem like the prisoner’s benefactor, the “good cop” if you will, provided he cooperates and answers the questions put to him.

Baltar, however, doesn’t confess to anything. Not out of any superior mental power or superhuman courage, but because he’s even more self-centered than even he appears to realize. He’s spent so long rationalizing what Caprica Six manipulated him into doing, buried it under so many layers of circumlotious BS, that even in this drug-induced haze he can’t admit with any recognizable certitude just exactly what he did, on Old Caprica or New Caprica. At one point he looks about ready to break and confess, but instead of uttering a declaration, like, “Yes, I gave the Cylon woman the access codes to the Colonial defense net,” he phrases it as a gaseous, insubstantial question (paraphrased): “Did I help Number Six destroy us? Did I love her? Did she love me? I don’t know. No, I couldn’t have, could I?” Etcetera, etcetera. Eventually it becomes clear even to the president and the admiral that even these extreme measures are no match for Baltar’s inpregnable drive for self-preservation. And if it hadn’t, Doc Cottle would have pulled the plug anyway because Baltar was once more about to croak.

But even setting aside these two factors, the truth, as only we, the viewers, know in full, is that Baltar really was a patsy, unwittingly manipulated by a Cylon deep cover agent into rendering his own people defenseless. He’s not a traitor; just a weak, pathetic fool. It would probably be easier for him if he was the former, because the latter is what his ego appears to have the much more difficult time living with, just as what there is of his conscience cannot abide what his weakness caused him to bring about. No wonder he begged Gaeta to blow his head off at the end of “Exodus” – his virtuous, elitist self-image had taken enough of a beating. Hanging himself in his cell was simply a second crack at crying “No mas.”

We’ll get to Gaeta’s psychology in a moment, but now I’ve got to deal with what for gods’ sake had better be the end of this Apollo/Starbuck shippering binge that has soiled the first half of this season. If by some great miraculous blessing it is, it still didn’t have anything resembling a satisfying ending.

In a, er, nutshell: Lee has turned into a lush, riven by his guilt over cheating on his wife, Lieutenant Dualla, and the countervailing amorous feelings he still haplessly harbors for Captain Thrace. Dualla has had it up to her eyeballs with Lee and is ready to divorce him. Meanwhile Sam Anders is playing the hopeless romantic, telling Kara that the fact they’re still together after all they’ve been through is proof that they were destined to be together, and that if she really loves Lee that she should go to him and live happily ever after. I guess ol’ Sam was playing the moronic, gelded sap as well.

As for Starbuck, as usual, she plays it by the seat of her pants. Or, as she put it to her husband in the dialogue, “I love you and I hate you, and I love Lee and I hate Lee.” Whatever the frak that means. Remember the old saying about there being two types of girls, the ones you bleep and the ones you take home to meet your parents? Kara Thrace is the former in spades. Why any guy would make any kind of relational commitment to this braggadocious slut, or even develop feelings for her when it’s clearer than a neon billboard that she is not and never will be a one-man gal, is a mystery even the Kobolian gods couldn’t figure out. (On the other hand, given what the Leobin Conoy model did to her on New Caprica, maybe it’s not completely un-understandable why matrimonial domesticity might give her the creeps.)

Major Adama isn’t close to that mental wattage level by a long shot, but he appears to finally realize what Anders figured out quite awhile ago. So, at his favorite haunt on the ship (the bar) he makes a pathetic attempt to make up with Dualla that is so wince-inducingly phony and overwrought with ersatz emoting that neither of them seem convinced by it. Or, rather, neither of them should be convinced by it; Dualla is stoically silent throughout Lee’s tearful performance, bearing an expression that radiates cynical skepticism. It would have brought the house down for me if she had slowly and deliberately given him the double finger, dropped her wedding band in his drink, and walked away. But instead a single tear dribbles down her cheek, and she takes him back instead.

But even then, as he embraces his wife, his gaze drifts over to Starbuck, raucously downing shots of Viper-coolant with ol’ Sammy, who is either a pussy-whipped panzy or the only point of this rectangle that isn’t drowning in self-delusion. Maybe Apollo AND Starbuck will be blown out of the sky this week and Sam and Dualla can finally run off together – if the gods (i.e. Ron Moore & Co.) have more of a sense of humor than I credit them with.

Gratefully leaving the psychology of high school romance, we return to Gaeta and Baltar and the reason why the former went to see the latter in the first place. Initially it appears to be a friendly interrogation session, if there is such a thing, in which Gaeta tries to trap Baltar semantically into revealing his role in aiding the Cylons. In such an arena this was the biggest mismatch since the 1996 Clinton-Dole debates, unless you count the 1996 Gore-Kemp debate, in which Jack Kemp bore a striking resemblance to Sam Anders. Baltar is so full of crap, such a walking compost heap, and so rhetorically slimy that in the space of a few minutes he has the tables turned and is berating Gaeta to the point of casting him in Baltar’s role of human Benedict Arnold plus trying to break up Apollo and Dualla and Anders and Starbuck using Cylon mind-control.

We know from “Collaborators,” that Gaeta had his own guilt issues to deal with after the New Caprica detour, and from “Exodus” how he felt singularly betrayed by Baltar into being an accessory to his own people’s enslavement. So it should be no surprise that the former president’s tirade caused Gaeta to snap and try to stab him to death with a concealed knife, the presence of which showed that the act was far from spontaneous.

Perhaps the most intriguing scene of all after all this psychoanalyzing was the epilogue, where Roslin and Adama are commiserating over what they’ll do about Baltar now that their clandestine, extralegal attempts to break him have failed. Roslin resignedly concedes that they’ll have to give the filthy, cowardly turncoat his “fair trial.” Which, to me, raised the words of Tom Zarek from “Collaborators” (again, paraphrased) back to the fore:

“Do you really want to put all the collaborators through civilian courts and turn your restored presidency into a divisive public circus guaranteed to fragment the fleet, combust public morale, and turn you into a glorified executioner?”

The difference here is that the only thing more publicly combustible than giving Gaius Baltar a public trial would be giving him a pardon, as Roslin did the lesser collaborators. The best solution would seem to be to just blow him out an airlock and be done with it. Except that he still might have information about the Cylons that they need.

It says a great deal about Baltar that the circumstances swirling around him are as convoluted as his own self-rationalizations – and just as effective at preserving his miserable ass.

Next: The divisive public circus begins, and now we know where Senator Kelly went.

No comments: