Thursday, June 27, 2013

"Battlestar Galactica" - "Bastille Day"

Spoilers for "Bastille Day" after the jump:


So, let's talk about Tom Zarek, shall we?

The guy is simply one of the most fascinating figures in the BSG universe. As is clear from an argument between Dualla and Billy early in this episode, he is many things. A man willing to use violence to achieve his goals? Certainly. But here's the thing: he's also not wrong about the government Laura Roslin and William Adama have set up. Or, more specifically, the government that they in fact are. Up to this point, the focus of the show has been so much on survival that we've never had the opportunity to consider the fact that the fleet is being ruled by a pair of dictators. They're advised by any number of people, but in the end they make the decisions and are, as Zarek points out, not accountable to anyone. This is not to say that they're bad people; history has seen plenty of benevolent dictators, and they've led the fleet admirably thus far. One could even say that their dictatorship is the main reason everyone has survived to this point. Can you imagine if some of the decisions Roslin has made had to be weighed against the potential political fallout? Things could have turned out vastly differently.

But should we sacrifice our most vital freedoms for the sake of security? This issue has been coming up a lot in our post 9/11 world, with the recent NSA controversy being merely the most recent example. Now, I'm not here to argue about any of that (although if you're not at all concerned about it, you're seriously delusional). But I think most of us would agree that the right to determine our own leaders is one that cannot and should not be given up under any circumstances. What Tom Zarek wants in this episode is that most basic cornerstone of democracy: an election. Don't get me wrong, he's not a virtuous person, and he's not doing this for selfless reasons. As Lee deduces, he's mainly looking to recapture the spotlight that has dimmed over his 20 years in prison, and he's equally willing to simply let the government collapse (and cause the deaths of numerous people, including himself) to achieve that end. But his aims are not unjust. Not at all.

Like I said, a fascinating guy. It helps, of course, that he's played so brilliantly by Richard Hatch, who of course also portrayed Captain Apollo in the original Battlestar Galactica. But as his initial introduction (in which the camera slowly moves towards his utterly calm face) immediately proves, this is no gimmick casting, as he dominates the screen in every one of his scenes in "Bastille Day". Nor are the scenes in which he converses with Lee merely an excuse to get the two Apollos in a room together for the sake of it. Building on what we saw from Lee's character last week, here Zarek forces him to consider exactly what he stands for, and (in a moment at once cleverly self-aware and quite effective on both a thematic and character level) brings up the Greek god Apollo, calling him both a "warrior" and a "healer" and arguing that Lee—a mere mortal—can't be both.

It's this internal conflict that drives much of the story in "Bastille Day". William Adama falls on the former end of the warrior/healer spectrum, but Lee has demonstrated that he's more prone to reflection and deeply considered thought than his father. Here, he goes over both Adama's and Roslin's heads in coming up with a solution to the prisoner takeover of the Astral Queen that will: A) Avoid violence. B) Ensure the supply of water so vital to the fleet's survival. C) Ensure the return of democracy to this civilization in seven months. As a warrior's actions to achieve constructive ends, it arguably draws from both ends of the spectrum. But as Adama states during the aftermath of those actions, "I guess you finally picked your side". And he has. By viewing Tom Zarek and the Astral Queen prisoners as more than just a danger (which is all Adama sees them as), Captain Apollo has cast his lot with the healers. Roslin, though initially upset, approves (even trusting him enough to make him one of the few people who knows about her cancer), for she aims to be one as well. Adama . . . well, I think it's fair to call him somewhat difficult to read at times, but I detect grudging respect in that last remark to his son. All in all, a big episode for Lee Adama.

Aside from all this rich material, "Bastille Day" is also just another phenomenally tense BSG episode. Lee's solution comes towards the end of an hour that is almost entirely spent on the lengthy standoff between the prisoners led by Zarek and the military led by Adama and Roslin. This occurs as a result of another issue: that of the water Boomer detected in "Water". It turns out most of it is salt water, and that the only pure water to be found is via ice, which they need the prisoners to remove. As the words "prisoner takeover" no doubt indicate, their attempt to secure said assistance by promising the prisoners "freedom points" doesn't go well, and Lee, Cally, Dualla and others find themselves taken hostage. And as Lee and Zarek are talking, Galactica is not simply standing idly by: instead calling in a team to take back the Astral Queen.

All the stuff aboard Galactica is superb for a couple of reasons, among them that it includes Starbuck delivering a brief but highly memorable address to the pilots, in which she discusses the topic of one of the pilots (Flat-Top) landing his Raptor at too high a rate of speed. If Kara Thrace is not the best character on BSG (and she very well might be, as the next couple of episodes will prove), she's at the very least the most quotable, and this scene features a couple of great zingers that are just plain hilarious. The entire storyline is also obviously necessary to the story, as the attempt to take back the ship adds another layer of tension to an already volatile situation.

Beyond all of that, however, it also provides insight into the mind of Saul Tigh. And what a hypocritical and delusional mind it is, even if he's wise enough to recognize the necessity of Starbuck being part of the mission to retake the Astral Queen. He spends much of "Bastille Day" doing such things as criticizing Starbuck's approach to Flat-Top's blunders and ordering Boomer and Tyrol's relationship ended, all the while ignoring his own—far more dangerous—drinking problem. And when Starbuck tries to reach out to him, he dismisses her statement that "I have my flaws too" by stating that his don't relate to his job performance. But they do, and not just the drinking, either. Tigh's approach to leadership is to use his position of power to push people around, and make them feel miserable about themselves, likely because he just wants everyone to be as miserable as he is. Adama gently pointed this out to him in "33", but neither he nor Starbuck can seem to make the XO realize it.

One could say "Bastille Day" is primarily about realizations. Lee comes to several—about both his own nature and what he believes in—during the episode, and ends up solidifying his role as one of Roslin's most trusted advisors. Tigh has opportunities to do some growing up of his own, but once again simply lashes out, his facade of sanctimoniousness doing a poor job of concealing what he is: a miserable man who has almost nothing other than his work and his alcohol. We're back to the question Adama poses in the miniseries: is it enough to just survive? Because that's all Saul Tigh is doing right now. Just as things are looking a tad brighter (relatively speaking) for the fleet as a whole.

Other Thoughts

- Things continue to move very slowly on Caprica for the time being. Helo and Caprica Sharon made their way to a city this week, and that's it.

- Well, not quite. There was also the conversation between two Cylons (a Number Six model and a Doral model) as they watched them go. What we learned from this is that some Cylons apparently have doubts about what they did to the Twelve Colonies.

- Some important movement on the Cylon Detector front this week, as Baltar (thanks to Number Six) appears to have finally figured out how to detect Cylons for real, using plutonium from a nuclear weapon.

Grade: A

Next Week: "Act of Contrition"

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