Saturday, January 24, 2009

So Say We All -- Part 2

"A Disquiet Follows My Soul" (412)

After the revelation-filled (no pun intended) mid-season opener, the first regular episode of Battlestar's season 4.5 is a smaller, more intimate, more character-centric tale -- although it still has its fill of surprise moments that will be felt for episodes to come.

Our analysis, as such, will likewise be character-driven.

* * * * *

Tom Zarek has, essentially, come full circle.

In very much the same vein as Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Gul Dukat, the character was introduced as an antagonist, slowly maturated into an erstwhile and would-be hero, then, under the weight of his hubris and -- more importantly -- his self-delusion, finally settles into an irrevocable, highly nihilistic villain. It's an interesting arc, although a bit on the inexplicable side, given his sudden-though-gradually-implemented mellowing out starting in the show's second season. His hard right back into full-out villainy isn't ambiguous, however: the constant denials to the position and power that, in all reality, legally and justifiably belong to him (first in "Collaborators" [305], when Admiral Adama and schoolmarm Roslin connive to deny him the presidency, then in "Sine Qua Non" [408], when Adama again blatantly refutes him and thereby allows his son the opportunity to simply and swiftly snatch the office away from him) have pushed him over the edge -- or is that the fear? -- of inaction.

Regardless of Zarek's orientation or trajectory in regards to the powers that be of the Colonial fleet, all along he has been a foil in the most literary sense of the word, providing an alternative view to the two most central characters in the series, the admiral and the president. Roslin might be more than a utilitarian, religiously-motivated and -vindicated leader who makes the hard choices and plays for keeps -- she just might, in a reflection of George W. Bush, be a head of state who fundamentally believes in the beneficence and propriety of an unbridled executive, an individual who excludes more and more from the decision-making process and who fundamentally rejects a transparent (and, therefore, an accountable) government. Zarek is, in many ways, despite his debatable motives, the show's version of Cassandra, foretelling the disasters of an insular regime that is beholden more to an internal ideology than the reality on the ground.

The main question, of course, is what happens to the character. Does he get stricken down at the height of his turpitude, like Dukat, or does he evolve beyond his ambiguous and dubious collection of faults and quirks and attain redemption, a la Elim Garak? Whatever the outcome and however he is ultimately used, it is immensely gratifying to see the character simply used at all -- after the travesty that was his character arc in season three, it's nice to behold a Zarek onscreen, in action, accruing more nuances and consequences to his ever-expanding shades of gray.

* * * * *

Little Nicky is not, after all, a member of the rather exclusive Cylon sub-species club.

This is a not insignificant development. In fact, it underscores a profound story thread that has wound its way through the series since its very first day, an element established in the opening installment of the miniseries five years ago -- though, like most everything else in "Disquiet," it is a storyline of character rather than of plot: love.

Galen Tyrol didn't love Cally Henderson. Or, perhaps more accurately, Cally didn't love the chief.

The only way Athena and Helo conceived, despite the female Cylons' inadequate plumbing, was through true, honest, and deep love. It made that copy of Number Eight not only the first (and, so far, the only) Cylon to give birth, but also the first to reject the machinations and designs of her society. It led her to boldly leave her people behind and endure over a year's worth of captivity aboard the Galactica, living in a cell and being raped and having her baby almost ripped out of her belly and killed before it was even born. And through it all, despite her ups and downs and the twists and turns of her relationship, she and Karl Agathon have remained together, have helped the other to endure unspeakable hardships, and have created and maintained a family -- no small feat in the Galactica universe.

What did Tyrol's marriage with Cally result in? Constant bickering, lack of sexual contact, and a suicide attempt. In this context, the reveal of Callandra's previous relationship with Hot Dog -- Hot Dog! -- is not surprising in the least.

And the subsequent revelation that little Hera is, after all, by God, the only human-Cylon hybrid is not that shocking, either.

* * * * *

A quick observation regarding the good Dr. Gaius Baltar: it was great to see him don his old scientist's white lab coat, both figuratively and literally, in last week's episode -- it's a role the character hasn't assumed in at least two seasons, and it's even more telling that Adama, Roslin, Tigh, et al put all their hatreds and recriminations aside and asked for his help -- and it was even more fascinating to see him possibly don a new mantle in this episde -- that of the skeptic. Is he turning his back on the God that "angel" Six forced him to accept as his own three years ago? I thought not -- until he very literally turned his back on a fistfight that, for all he knew, he himself had instigated through his soaring and vitriolic rhetoric.

Is this more of the character's old fears and flaws reasserting themselves in the wake of the devastating discovery that was Earth? Or is it something different, something new that will propel him to his indeterminate fate in the series finale?

Either way, it was the most ambiguous -- and ambivalent -- of all the episode's scenes, and it was superb.

1 comment:

alex-ness said...

Here is the thing, Gul Ducat was misunderstood, all he wanted was the best for the Bajorans, and if they couldn't understand that then screw them!