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Battlestar Galactica Newbie Recap: A Day in the Life, Dirty Hands


I’m a sci-fi geek who has never seen Battlestar Galactica. Yes, I know, I know. 2013 is the year I change that, and I’m blogging as I go.

Two sub-par episodes in a row. But sub-par for Battlestar Galactica is still great by the standards of most other TV shows, so I’ll let it slide.

A Day In the Life

This episode was so boring. Black Market was a scourge upon humanity, but at least it didn’t make me want to fall asleep.

It’s the wedding anniversary of Adama and his late ex-wife Carolanne. Tigh knows that this is the one day a year his friend pulls out his old wedding photo and boards the angst train, so he tells him he can take it easy. Adama refuses, determined to go about business as usual even though Carolanne keeps talking to him. But in an artsy, flashback way, not a psychotic Head Six way.

The two of them parted on bad terms, with Adama leaving his two boys to be raised by her. Serving as a counterpart to their relationship is that of Tyrol and Cally, who’ve started fighting since coming back to the Galactica. Cally wants them to spend more time with their kid. Tyrol isn’t willing to decrease their workload. Yada yada yada.

Tyrol and Cally go to look at an airlock that was damaged during the rescue from New Caprica and end up getting trapped there. The doors will open back up if they manage to fix a tiny leak in the hull, but in the process of applying a patch they actually make the leak grow larger. They have minutes to live and no way to escape.

While all this is happening Carolanne is giving Adama flack for various things: For trying to remember his crew members’ names, for liking Laura, for creating a “godlike façade” for himself, etc. He goes to talk to Roslin about Baltar’s trial. Her plan is to set up an organizing committee full of legal experts who can figure out the nitty-gritty, like will it have a jury and what colony’s law it’ll be under. The committee will need a chairman, someone who knows right from wrong and has a good head on their shoulders. She suggests Lee, and Adama says he’ll ask him about it.

When Adama approaches his son Lee is in the briefing room giving his pilots an angry speech about how they’d better stay on task and stop talking about how many days it’s been since the Cylons attacked, since they only need to make one mistake to completely screw humanity over. Adama comments to his wife that Lee is like both of them: Proud, stubborn, and angry. Carolanne tells him to let Lee know how proud he is of him, not as a commander, but as a father.

After the briefing Adama initiates a conversation with Lee, who asks him how he’s doing. Adama’s response is to say that it’s been a tough morning and then go on to tell him about Roslin’s legal plan. Adama, you bonehead. Lee clearly sees that something’s up with you and wants to talk about ~feelings~. Lee is interested in being the legal coordinator—he says at one point he wanted to take after his grandpa and be a lawyer, which Adama didn’t know—but says that being the CAG doesn’t leave him enough time.

This pair of Lee-related scenes put me in mind of something Susana says that’s absolutely true: The writers, at this point, haven’t figured out who Lee is. Compare that to Helo, with whom the writers are consistent about what a decent, upstanding guy he is. Even when the writers focus on Helo’s morality, like they did last episode, it doesn’t seem out of place like it does when Lee’s is highlighted. The reason for that is that even when Helo’s not fighting the (old) man, even when he’s just in the background of a scene and has three lines, you get the sense from what little he says and does that he’s totally the kind of guy to help little old ladies across the street and buy Girl Scout cookies even when he’s already been suckered into buying twelve boxes. It’s not like Lee, who’s alternatively presented as the moral firebrand, the more empathetic Adama, and the guy who’ll cheat on his wife and blame her suspicions on her lack of trust.

At this point Adama and Lee get the news about Tyrol and Cally being stuck in a leaky airlock. It would take more time to cut through the blast doors than the two of them have left, and the explosive power needed to blow the windows would kill them, too. The only way to maybe save them is to send a Raptor outside the airlock and shoot Tyrol and Cally out through open space into it. It’s a dangerous plan, but it’s the only option left. Tyrol and Cally have a lovey-dovey moment before the airlock opens—nothing like looking death in the face to fix your marital problems. Tyrol apologizes for making Cally work so much, and Cally reassures him that they’re going to make it out of the airlock alive and raise their son. Surprisingly, the plan goes off without a hitch, and Tyrol and Cally are taken to recover in sickbay.

Lee goes to visit his dad and ask what’s going on with him. Adama explains about his wedding anniversary, and the two of them have an emotional conversation about how Adama leaving screwed his sons over more than he knew, since their mom turned into a drunkard who’s heavily implied to have beaten her sons. Adama asks Carolanne whether it’s true, and she goes off an angry rant about how horrible a husband and father he was. You pride yourself on being a leader of men, she says, but when it came to the hardest decision of your life, you messed up. We never should have gotten married, but you can’t accept that, because admitting you made the wrong call would throw all your other decisions into question.

Yeah, no. There is no way I buy that any part of Adama’s subconscious would come to the conclusion that, since he married someone he shouldn’t have, all the tactical military decisions he’s made might me wrong. It’s stupid, first of all, and it’s not in fitting with his character. It’s like every time there’s a one-off episode that needs some personal conflict the writers decide to give Adama some BS self-doubt revelation. See: “Boo hoo hoo, I feel responsible for the Cylons attacking Caprica because of a recon mission I went on“.

You have enough drama already, Battlestar Galactica. You don’t have to invent more.

Back in sick bay Adama watches as Tyrol and Cally reunite with their baby and reconcile their differences. Yawn. Meanwhile Lee, in his room, sees that Adama’s made him a present of Grandpa Adama’s old law books.

Roslin stops by Adama’s office to give him a book that she thinks he might like. Adama asks her whether she ever thinks about New Caprica, specifically about that night they got all flirty during the groundbreaking ceremony and what might have happened if the Cylons hadn’t come back. Roslin says that humanity probably wouldn’t have lasted under Baltar’s presidency and asks him whether he’d have stayed on the Galactica or settled on the planet. He says he doesn’t know, and the conversation takes a giggly turn on Roslin’s part.

Adama goes off on this tangent about how easy it is to lose track of what it means to really live, and Roslin immediately calls him on the fact that he’s talking about their relationship. He’s trying to skirt around the issue and be all subtle, and she’s all “No. We both know what we’re talking about. This is a no-BS zone.” Adama cops out of the conversation, saying the Cylons did come back so everything else is a moot point, but Roslin’s having none of it: I’ll be back in a few days, she says, and we can talk more then.

Love. HerYou know you want a relationship. I know you want a relationship. Stow your emotional constipation, Bill Adama, because we are doing this.”

The episode ends with Adama putting the picture of his wife away, telling her it’d be easy if he could hate her but he can’t, and saying that he’ll see her next year.

The boringness is finally over. Han Solo dance party!

Dirty Hands

This is by no means a bad episode, but I find myself wanting to forget it for Adama and Roslin’s sakes. Holy character inconsistency, Batman!

We start with three conflicts on the hangar deck. One: Seelix applied to be a fighter pilot but was turned down even though she aced the exam because she’s in a “critical position” doing dirty work behind the scenes. Two: A Raptor out on patrol goes wonky because its fuel is filled with imperfections as a result of screw-ups on the tylium refinery ship.

And three: One of the deck hands is Ellen from Supernatural, which is a conflict inasmuch as it made me want to scream in shock.

The Raptor crashes into the Colonial One, luckily causing no deaths. Adama goes to see Roslin and offer her the use of “one of my beds” until her quarters are repaired. Bill Adama, you smooth talker you. The pair of them talk about the refinery ship: It used to be ship-shape (sorry, I’m writing this on Friday, you know how it goes), but recently the captain, Xeno Fenner, has started complaining about things like working conditions and overtime compensation. Adama and Roslin scoff at the insane notion that people are working under horrible conditions and this Fenner dude might want to—gasp— make sure they get treated better. Thus begins this episode’s mischaracterization.

Adama explains that they have enough tylium for the whole fleet to jump one, maybe twice, if the Cylons show up, so Fenner and his crew just need to buckle down and start making more fuel. Fenner’s not pleased by that cop-out answer. The only way we ever get heard is if there’s a problem, he says, so maybe we should start making more problems. Like the book says, if you hear the people you’ll never have to fear the people.

The book he’s quoting is Baltar’s My Triumphs and Mistakes, which his lawyer’s been smuggling out of the brig. Quoting a banned book, in addition to threatening to mess with tylium production, is enough to spur Roslin to order Fenner’s rest on the grounds of extortion and interrupting vital services during a time of war.

Turns out the book has another fan: Cally. She tells Tyrol about it at dinner, how it talks about the pilots and officers coming from rich colonies and the “knuckle-draggers” like herself, Tyrol, and Seelix coming from the poor ones. Tyrol’s not buying it. He gets a call from Adama, who tells him that his old union buddy Fenner’s been arrested and he’ll need to step in and oversee operations on the tylium ship. Cally asks Tyrol if he ever thinks about the union back on New Caprica, which he was the chairman of. Tyrol says he does, but that New Caprica is gone, so there’s not much point. Cally points out that, while the union may be no more, the workers who were a part of it are, only now they have no one to stick up for them.

Roslin goes to see Baltar and demand that he hand over the new pages to his book. She even says she’s known about them forever and has stopped them getting out to the people, which is a blatant lie. She’s doubtful of his new “man of the people” persona, as well she should be: He’s clearly playing the populace, getting public opinion on his side in advance of his trial. Baltar gets searched by the guards and gives up the pages. Head Six tells him that everything’s going to be OK, but he’s clearly nearing the end of his rope.

Tyrol goes to the refinery ship and meets the foreman, Cabott, who’s excited Tyrol’s there because of how he and his union helped the workers so much on New Caprica. Tyrol’s response: “Yeeeeeah, about that. How ’bout you just give me a tour of the ship instead?”

The reason the ship’s not been working at anywhere near normal levels is that the workers have sabotaged it by “losing” vital pressure seals. Cabott explains that when Fenner is released and working conditions improve he’s sure they’ll “find” them again.

Tyrol explains the situation with the seals to Adama and Roslin, the former of whom says the ringleaders should be locked up for sabotage. Tyrol defends the workers, saying they could have easily injured him or contaminated the fuel on purpose. All they want is better working conditions and for the failing machinery they use to be repaired. It’s like slave labor: The people on that ship are stuck there, with no control over their lives. Most of them haven’t had a day off since the original attack on Caprica. If Roslin and Adama release Fenner and at least agree to talk about figuring something out with the workers, everything will go back to normal. They brush off Tyrol’s concerns, saying they won’t respond to extortion and that the fleet is full of people working in horrific conditions. That’s just how it is. Roslin then orders that Cabott be arrested.

I’m sorry, but I call BS. I’m not saying Adama and Roslin are bleeding hearts, but it is way out of character for both of them, especially Roslin, to not give enough of a frak about how thousands of people are apparently suffering to at least look into it. Especially since they know Tyrol’s a hardworking, trustworthy man with a history of dealing with workers’ rights issues! It’s not like he’s some random dude complaining about how there are no Reese’s cups in the break room vending machine. I’d think Roslin would acknowledge that Tyrol knows what he’s talking about instead of saying “Well, everyone has it bad. A bunch of people in the Colonial One have to sleep in their offices instead of their bedrooms! Our officers don’t get their legally managed lunch breaks! Tigh hasn’t been able to get real liquor for weeks!”

Heck. Roslin, as we saw in Epiphanies, has experience negotiating with unions! Even if she thinks Cabott and the rest are idiots who’ve been duped by Baltar, the Roslin I know would at the very least check that an Industrial Revolution-era impoverished working class isn’t popping up on her watch.

Later on Tyrol goes to see Cabott in the brig. He was locked up and tortured by the Cylons on New Caprica, so now that he’s back in a cell he’s having major trauma-induced flashbacks. Tyrol presses him to reveal where the seals are so he can be released, and he eventually caves.

Tyrol goes back to the ship, replaces the seals, and starts the machine back up. On his earlier trip he talked to Milo, an eleven-year-old grease jockey, but this time around he sees that the place is positively teeming with child workers. He tells Roslin about the situation, and she defends it by saying it’s just parents passing on their skills. Roslin. It’s child labor. You are not naïve enough not to see that. I get that the kids still need to work because there are so few people left in the whole human race, but you might want to check that they’re not doing dangerous factory jobs that could easily kill them.

This episode’s labor-union-and-workers’-rights premise is great in theory, but in execution it’s gone so, so bad.

Tyrol tries another argument to get Roslin to throw the workers a bone: The way things are now, people will have to go into whatever jobs their parents had. There’ll be no social mobility, no option to choose one’s own career. Roslin thinks he has a point and says they’ll draw up a list of everyone in the fleet with a work history appropriate to working in the refinery. Then they’ll pull from that list and people will take turns.

The plan sounds nice enough, but it soon hits a snag. One of the people on the list is Daniel Noon, a teenager who supposedly has “experience with heavy machinery” because he spent a summer working on a farm to save up for college. He tries to get an exemption because, y’know, he won’t know what he’s doing on the refinery, but Tyrol says he has to go.

Then comes a very good scene when Tyrol goes to ask Baltar about his book and his supposed lower-class upbringing. Tyrol says he thinks all of it is crap, to which Baltar responds “Obviously my analysis of a bifurcated society scares you.” Um, Baltar. If you’re going to cast yourself as a “man of the people,” throwing around phrases like “analysis of a bifurcated society” in your posh British accent ain’t the way to go. He explains that was born and raised as a farm boy on the poor colony of Aerelon but from the age of ten he trained himself out of his natural accent so that people might assume he was from one of the rich colonies, like Caprica. He left on his 18th birthday, leaving behind his family, his heritage, everything. The aristocracy wants to give lower-class people like you and me the illusion that they have everything they could want, he says, but there’s always going to be one set of rules for the rich folks and one set of rules for everyone else.

I believe he’s telling the truth about his heritage, but I also believe he’s only associating himself with the “lower class” because it’s convenient for him to do so. What he says about the poor standing up for themselves absolutely makes sense, but does he believe it, or is it all a ruse to garner people’s sympathy? Maybe it started as a ruse but he’s managed to convince himself that he really is some sort of savior of the people. This is a man with a remarkable aptitude for self-delusion, after all. It’s impossible to tell how sincere he’s being, and I love it.

Back on the tylium refinery everything runs smoothly for a few minutes until a section of the conveyer belt goes haywire. Someone needs to crawl under it and pull out a bit of detritus fast before the whole place explodes. Tyrol’s hands are too big to wrap around it, so the teenage not-farmer Daniel offers his services. He fixes the belt, but in the process he’s seriously injured. That’s all Tyrol needs to decide that the workers are going on strike.

Tyrol’s deck crew decides to strike in support: They’ll work the hours and peform the tasks they’re assigned, but they’re not working overtime and won’t be on call for whenever someone needs them. Tyrol’s taken to the brig, where Adama confronts him about how you can’t strike when you’re in the military. Well, you can, but it’s called mutiny, and mutineers get shot. Tyrol says the lower class is being abandoned to its fate and that the deck crew, in striking to support them, isn’t putting anyone in danger or abandoning their posts. Adama doesn’t see it that way, though. You’re in the military and you have to do what you’re ordered to do without hesitation, even if they’re things you don’t want to do, he says. He threatens to shoot Cally and the rest of Tyrol’s deck crew if he doesn’t call off the strike, so Tyrol folds.

Hold up. A grand total of two episodes ago Adama had a grand revelation that the general opinion about the fleet’s behavior—especially pertaining to how it treats civilians—isn’t always right, so when there’s a lone dissenting voice he should probably listen to it. And now Tyrol says the fleet is committing an atrocity, and Adama’s response is “No, you have to obey even order we give you, and if you don’t I’ll shoot your wife.” Come the frak on.

On the positive side, after Tyrol’s released Adama says he can go talk to Roslin, presumably because it’s twigged with them at least a little bit that maybe he actually has a point with the whole we’re-mistreating-our-workers thing.

Tyrol tells Roslin that they’re creating a society where people are drafted into service based solely on where they’re born. Even if they choose people to work on the tylium ship because they have experience in manufacturing, they still have that experience because they come from a poor colony. He suggests that they spread out the dirty jobs like cleaning, hauling, and low-level maintenance by making the rich people take their turns. Furthermore, they should set up a formal training program to cultivate a larger pool of people who can do the high-stress jobs, so it’s not the same people doing them with no time off. Roslin says they can talk about that second part later, but for now they have to maintain their current work force. The union will have to give ground on that. Tyrol responds that union doesn’t exist anymore, that it died on New Caprica, and Roslin says that it needs to exist to keep society from becoming polarized between the entrenched political class and the disenfranchised underclass.

Well that was an awfully convenient realization for her to come to with four and a half minutes left in the episode. It’s like the writers remembered “Holy crap, we only have two scenes left and we just remembered that Roslin has experience fighting for the disenfranchised and isn’t a totally evil person who doesn’t care that people are suffering. Time for a moral deus ex machina!” I know that Roslin must’ve been coming around ever since Tyrol told her that kids were being trained to do their parents’ jobs, but it seems absolutely ridiculous to me that it’s that that brought her to the negotiating table, not the fact that good ol’ even-headed Tyrol equates their treatment to slave labor.

The episode ends with Seelix, having been denied her chance to be a pilot at the beginning of the episode, getting told by Starbuck that she’s been accepted into Viper training. It’s sweet, but not sweet enough to erase the foul taste left in my mouth.

In an effort to avoid spoilers, comments on this post have been locked. However, Jill and Susana will be reading comments over at our Facebook page, so if there’s anything you’d like to say in response to this post head on over that way. Former Battlestar Galactica Newbie Recaps can be found here, and next week’s recap is here. Have a (non-spoilery, for the love of God) comment? Hit me up on Twitter.

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