Sunday, April 24, 2016

Battlestar Galactica: The Woman King (S3/E14)

by JASmius

Rating: ** (out of four)

Written by: Michael Angeli
Directed By: Michael Rymer

With a name like “The Woman King,” I was hoping that this episode would be about President Roslin going on another chamalla binge and seizing absolute power over the fleet by seducing Admiral Adama via dying her hair blonde and pretending to be one of the unseen Cylon models that makes Number Six look like Roseanne Barr. Alas, it turned out to be what this series lapses into when not focused on the core story of the Human diaspora’s struggle for survival against the pursuing Cylon tyranny: another wasted hour of silly, preachy drivel that makes heroes out of do-gooder zealots.

Not that Captain Karl Agathon didn’t have some justification in feeling out of sorts. After all, it’s quite a long drop from serving as Adama’s acting first officer to being stuck in third class accommodations freight-managing an influx of Saggitarian refugees who got sent to the Galactica because no other ship in the fleet would take them.

Why are the Saggitarians outcasts, you may be asking? Because, evidently, they are a Kobolian cross between the Christian scientists and the Amish, only without the mustache-less beards and medieval clothing. Described as “insular and backward,” they have long been persecuted by the other eleven Colonies. But that doesn’t seem to quite account for the level of enmity and loathing they encounter in this episode. What does account for it is that they are collectively incubating a communicable disease called Mellorak sickness, a malady that, if left untreated, can be fatal. Oh, yes, and the Saggitarians don’t believe in modern medical care, preferring to chew on some sort of really smelly and disgusting root instead. Perhaps it serves as pre-embalming fluid or something.

Add all that up and the prejudice that has traditionally followed the Saggitarians around starts sounding a lot more reasonable. The last thing the 42,000 odd Human survivors need is an epidemic breaking out that is easily preventable but for the “quirkiness” of its initial carriers.

That is certainly the opinion of the doctor charged with trying to treat these people, name of Mike Roberts (Bruce Davison). Imagine how thankless a task he has; not only has he never garnered any airtime before now, allowing Doc Cottle to cultivate the notion that he was the fleet’s only physician, but he has to somehow keep the Mellorak disease from spreading without being able to actually treat the people suffering from it. Wouldn’t you get frustrated? Perhaps enough to decide to take measures into your own hands?

That’s what a woman named “Mrs. King” concludes after she allows her son to be treated by Dr. Robert and the boy dies anyway. When she tells Helo her suspicions, that triggers his insufferable do-gooder reflex and he begins sympathizing with the Saggitarians and suspecting that Dr. Robert is a bigoted murderer.

Well, actually “suspecting” is something of an understatement – it’s more accurate to say that Helo leaps to that unshakeable conclusion and cannot be pried loose of it with the nukes Adama was ready to fire at the Eye of Jupiter a few weeks back.

At this point I was optimistic about the story. I grew more optimistic when Helo accused Dr. Roberts of being a bigoted murderer in front of President Roslin, Admiral Adama, and Colonel Tigh, the latter of whom was a close friend of Robert’s stemming from their bond formed in the resistance movement on New Caprica. Euphemize it to say, Captain Agathon’s charges didn’t go over too well with the brass. I grew even more optimistic when Helo snuck into Doc Cottle’s office, rifled through his files, and got caught by Cottle, who chewed him out and threatened to have him arrested if he didn’t get the hell out and stop persecuting Dr. Roberts.

The best scene of the ep was when Colonel Tigh mercilessly taunted Helo for his serial contrarianism – sabotaging the attempt to wipe out the entire Cylon race in “Torn Salvation,” endangering the entire fleet by sending Athena over to the nearest Cylon base ship with a bang in “The Eye of Jupiter’s Rapture,” and of course being married to a Cylon. That last one shoved Helo over the edge, and “Mr. Valerii” punched Tigh right in the mouth. That’s when Helo found out what contempt really is, as Tigh just grinned and said, “Good for you. Have sickbay take a look at that hand.”

The beauty of that confrontation was that I understood both men’s motivations. Helo was richly deserving of Tigh’s ridicule, just as Tigh richly deserved Helo’s right cross for bringing Athena into it. The encounter left Helo feeling more impotent than ever, which is the worst thing that can happen to do-gooder zealots. Also the worst thing that can happen to everybody around them, since it causes them to simply re-double their do-gooder efforts. And, in Helo’s case, what should have been the worst thing for him, since continuing his vigilante investigation of Dr. Roberts ought to have been – and up until the final five minutes of the show looked like it was going to be – the path to career suicide.

How bad was it? His own Cylon wife told Helo to let it go. The self-same wife who was actually getting a breather from all the abuse directed at her from this Saggitarian uproar.

So you can imagine my crushing disappointment when after all that buildup the writers chickened out and turned Dr. Roberts heel. And not even a three-, or even two-, dimensional heel, either, but the cartoon variety, as Robert spewed his hatred of Saggitarians with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. It was the classic old-fashioned confrontation/confession of the villain who’s been found out and would have gotten away with it were it not for “those pesky kids.” Or, in this case, that pesky do-gooder zealot. Heck, Helo even kind of looks like Scooby-Doo when the lighting and camera angle are just right.

Would it have been too much to ask for Helo to have been wrong about the man? Or at least had Dr. Roberts employ the Spockian adage, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” by euthanizing a dire health threat to the rest of the Human race? Provide some sort of pragmatic-if-misguided motivation beyond “bwa, ha, ha, ha”? Create some tough choices for the characters and strong polemics for the viewers’ consideration? And get across the reality that sometimes lonely crusades are lonely for a good reason and can unjustly damage or destroy their targets’ reputations and lives? They don’t say that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” for nothing, after all.

Except on the battlestar Galactica, I suppose. A ship that would probably have to be quarantined before too much longer, since in all the fuss over Dr. Roberts the Saggitarian refugee/Mallorak disease problem didn’t get resolved at all to my recollection. Given Admiral Adama’s newfound ruthlessness to do whatever is necessary to protect the fleet and preserve the remnant of the Human race, that’s an awfully big loose end to leave hanging there, fraying out of control.

Ah, but there’s no need to fear, Captain Agathon is here! He’ll find a way to save the day – even if he has to get the entire fleet destroyed to do it.

But at least they’ll have been sacrificed for a good cause. Do-gooder zealots don’t have any other kind.

Next: The Tyrols have a really bad day at the office, and now even Adama is hallucinating about strange women.

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