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Sunday, May 08, 2016

Battlestar Galactica: Dirty Hands (S3/E16)

by JASmius

Rating: ** (out of four)

Written by: Ann Cofell Saunders & Jane Espenson
Directed By: Wayne Rose

“Dirty Hands” has drawn rave reviews from some quarters for its portrayal of the, shall we say, less glamorous side of life in the ragtag, fugitive fleet, and how those on that side of the tracks might start to resent the lot in this new life that has been imposed upon them.

I will make full and free disclosure at this point that I inhabit the right side of the political spectrum. I’m no fan of unions or labor movements. Professionally I [was] in management, though not very high up within the management structure, thank you very much. So when I saw the promos for this ep, I was dreading having to sit through a pro-labor/anti-management piece of thinly veiled “populist” (i.e. hard left) propaganda.

I have to say that isn’t what Saunders and Espenson offered up. And I did appreciate the exploration of what life would be like on ships other than the Galactica and Colonial One. What I did not ultimately buy was the knee-jerk hard-line unreasonableness exhibited on both sides of this labor dispute and the abruptness with which both sides back-flipped into rationality and even comity.

The dispute began with a rather eye-opening scene: a Raptor, gassed up with impure tylium, blows an engine and goes tumbling, out of control, straight toward Colonial One. The shot even included a close-up of President Roslin through one of the windows, working on some piece of mundane presidential business when she looks up at what’s coming at her and starts exclaiming, “Oh, FRAK!!!” I’d have thought it would have been the Kobolian equivalent of, “Oh, SHIT!!!” but I don’t know what that Kobolian equivalent is – “scut” perhaps?   It WOULD be nice if they would vary the fake profanity once in a while.

This leads directly back to the tylium problem, and that gets the skipper of the tylium processing ship Hitei Kan, one Zeno Fenner, hauled before Roslin and Admiral Adama for an “operational review.” But Fenner doesn’t give either leader the chance to chew on his ass; he bluntly declares that broken machinery, unsafe conditions, and sheer exhaustion is making it impossible for his workers to do their jobs, and if Roslin and Adama don’t fix these problems, they just might find themselves running out of tylium in the very near future.

Roslin and Adama, as we all know, do not respond well to threats. They respond even less well to quotes from “populist” propaganda clandestinely distributed by their prized prisoner and perfidious patsy, Gaius Baltar, from whose recent work Fenner directly quotes. That wasn’t a very shrewd move, as the President orders Fenner’s immediate arrest, and Adama orders Chief Tyrol to go over to the Hitei Kan and get tylium processing moving again. Also not a very shrewd move, as we’ll get to a little bit later.

My first reaction to Fenner’s punk-ass attitude was wondering if he had forgotten that the Human diaspora is still running for its 41,400 lives, still in an emergency life-or-death situation, and that his little labor stunt was endangering the entire fleet. Going to the top brass and smirkingly mouthing off appallingly myopic threats was hardly going to advance the case of his workers, who ought to be damned grateful that they’re even still alive.

But, on the other hand, there is a limit to Human endurance. This emergency situation long since became de facto permanent (all the more so after the disastrous New Caprica experience), and after months and months on end with no relief, working endless hours with deteriorating equipment, some solution to this situation would seem a practical necessity just to keep the tylium flowing. Whether Fenner’s workers go on strike or collapse from exhaustion or perish in preventable accidents, sooner or later something on the Hitei Kan has to give.

It is against this background that Chief Tyrol makes his way to take Fenner’s place. But although Tyrol is probably the most level headed character in this episode, even he is not immune from hard-headedness. First of all, he was the Big Labor poobah on New Caprica. More recently one of his deck crew, a woman with pilot potential named Seelix, was denied pilot training on the grounds that she was needed more where she was. That was probably the truth and the extent of the decision, but as the disgruntled are prone to do, she thinks it’s because she isn’t Caprican. Cally, aka Mrs. Tyrol, agrees, having also swallowed Baltar’s class warfare BS, and spends the entire episode like a pint-sized Evita Peron, goading her honorable but henpecked blue collar hubby to take up the cause of the proletariat and rise up against the capitalist oppressors and string them up from…well, you get the idea.

The thing is, Tyrol is also a practical man, and he knows that the tylium has to flow, whatever it takes. And for a while he really believes it.

When the Hitei Kan’s crew sees that it’s Tyrol that has been sent to them, they think their prayers have been answered. Their awakening is therefore all the ruder when he has Fenner’s deputy arrested for hiding two pieces of equipment without which tylium production cannot resume and berates him at the top of his lungs in the Galactica brig to force Fenner into giving up the location of the tylium equipment. That the other man was held captive and tortured by the Cylons on New Caprica added to the angst that Tyrol endured in this conflicted role.

Feeling like a thorough fink, the Chief goes to President Roslin and pleads the workers’ case. Abruptly, Roslin turns reasonable and proposes that a work rotation throughout the fleet be set up, and not just for tylium refining, that will match “dirty” jobs skills with “dirty” jobs so that people will not get trapped in such jobs, especially if the fleet’s journey becomes multi-generational.

Problem solved, right? Um, no. There’s still the little matter of Baltar’s populist BS, circulated for this very purpose of turning the Human population against each other and setting Gaius up as “the champion of the little guy.” Never mind that Baltar himself is an effete, upper-crust snob, an irredeemable liver and pursuer of the good life who would make John Kerry look like…well, Chief Tyrol. And, you know, he also sold out Humanity to the Cylons. Twice.

This new work rotation plays right into “Capricans are oppressing the working poor” angle, as personified by a young man named Danny, who is drafted onto the Hitei Kan because he worked on a farm one summer during college. He protests this “miscarriage of justice” excruciatingly to Tyrol as he’s being all be dragged away. Like Galen wasn’t already drowning in guilt.

So what does the Chief do? He goes and listens to more of Baltar’s BS.

I have to say it was quite a sight seeing Tyrol listening with rapt attention that was not long in emerging to the same man that not two months earlier he pistol-whipped into unconciousness. The same man against whom he waged guerrilla war only a few months prior to that. And the same man that everybody knows – or at least used to know – is more full of crap than my un-pumped septic tank. If Bill Clinton and Barack Obama hadn’t been president of this country for sixteen years, and Donald Trump wasn't now the GOP presidential nominee, I would never have taken this angle seriously. There appears to be no limit to the Human propensity, near compulsion, to be willingly and willfully deceived. To be told, and soak in like a bone-dry sponge, whatever our itchy ears want to hear. And to hell with the truth.

And what exquisite sewage it was. Gaius claims to have actually been born on Arelon (one of the “poor” colonies) and to have struggled for years to shed his humble beginnings to make it into the upper crust on Caprica. Even to the extent of shedding his Arelon accent (James Callis dropped his voice an octave, threw in several pounds of gritty inflection, and a working class Limey accent for good measure). And now that he has nothing to lose, he says, he is rediscovering, and reconnecting with, his populist roots.

Oh, he’s good. He’s VERY good. Even Tyrol was swayed by this hogwash. Fortified with Baltar’s Bolshevik mendacities, the Chief returns to the Hitei Kan just as an accident threatens to blow the ship to bits. Little Danny – remember him? – manages to get into the machinery and fix the problem, but nearly gets his arm ripped off in the process.

For Tyrol, this proves the last straw. He snaps. He becomes Zeno Fenner II. He shuts down the tylium processing line himself and cries, “WE’RE ON STRIKE!” The workers erupt in cheers.

The Chief has lost his frakking mind. Unlike Fenner, he’s not a civilian; he was sent over to that vessel under orders to get the tylium flowing again. Those orders weren’t optional; they weren’t “suggestions.” Thus, declaring a strike was not just rank insubordination, but as Adama wastes no time in concluding, mutiny as well.

Remember back in “Unfinished Business” when the admiral let Tyrol beat him unconscious to make the point that the New Caprica disaster happened because he, Adama, got soft, and he was never going to go soft, or let anybody else go soft, or allow anything ever again that could remotely threaten the survival of the ragtag fleet? It always sounded vaguely Captain Bligh-esque to me; here we see how right I was.

Adama has Tyrol thrown in the brig even faster than Fenner was. He tells the Chief that he has committed mutiny, and mutineers deserve only one fate: execution. And unless he immediately terminates this labor uprising, he’ll start the executions with Cally, aka Mrs. Tyrol. You know, the same woman whose life, along with the Chief’s, he went balls-to-the-wall to try and save just last week.

I dunno. I suppose if the object was to get Tyrol’s attention, Adama succeeded. As much as he came to sympathize with the plight of the tylium workers, having your wife put up against a wall and shot would make pretty much any guy give them up without a second thought. Problem is, I don’t believe Bill Adama would do that. I think he was bluffing. And I don’t think Tyrol would have bought it, either. If the Chief had told him so, I think the admiral would have blinked. Unfortunately, we’ll never know because Tyrol buckled immediately.

Maybe the idea was that the Chief realized how carried away he had gotten and how carried away Adama looked like he was getting, and belatedly realized that somebody had to reintroduce some sanity into the situation. Or, in other words, maybe he wanted to be bluffed in order to be able to rationalize his unconditional surrender. And maybe that was the purpose of Adama’s bluff.

Regardless, that makes his telling Cally that Adama “caved” a lot funnier than it probably really was. What was as chortle-inducing as it looked was Adama’s whiplash-inducing pirouette into inviting Tyrol to return to Colonial One for further labor negotiation with the President, where he was wined and dined like a visiting head of state. Sorry, people don’t catapult from being that irreconcilable to breaking bread with the enemy like the best of friends overnight. Indeed, all the former roadblocks are now miraculously removed. Roslin formally reinstates the labor union, with Tyrol as its head. Seelix gets her pilot wings. And now the “dirty” job rotation will be expanded to include everybody, including Capricans (who can’t really be all white collar, but I digress), meaning job skills will no longer be matched up with labor needs, which will probably lead to another Raptor crashing into Colonial One in the not-too-distant future.

Don’t worry, though, that won’t lead to any protests on the Caprican workers’ behalf; they’ll be getting what they deserve.


Next: Starbuck finally cracks.

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