Cylons and politics --
is there a back in the entire cast which hasn't been
Since this is the first BSG2K commentary
I'm doing, there will be a bit of introductory ruminations
on the characters which don't necessarily relate to
this episode, so bear with me.
"Colonial Day" features the
return of Tom Zarek, played (for those of you joining
us late in the program) by Richard Hatch, the actor
who was Captain Apollo in Classic BSG. Hatch tried
for many years to revive Classic BSG as a movie, spending
a great deal of time, and his own money, in the effort.
I'm not entirely sure who owns the rights to what,
but as it happened, the revival idea was shelved and
the "re-imagining" of BSG was what ended
up being filmed. Understandably disappointed, Hatch
fought the new version at first, but when he met with
writers and producers and actors, he found that the
people involved were committed to making a high-quality
product -- not the same product with the same goals
as Classic BSG, but a damn fine show nonetheless. Hatch
relented. He was offered and accepted the role of Zarek,
and from events in "Colonial Day" it appears
he'll be returning.
I bring this up not just for the sake
of behind-the-scenes gossip, but because I think it
provides some context for Hatch's performance and for
Zarek as a character. Hatch has spoken frequently in
many interviews of his love for and dedication to the
craft of acting, of how seriously he takes each job.
Even in truly crapola films like Iron Thunder,
Hatch can take sub-mediocre material and give it surprising
weight. So when he gets a really complicated and deliberately
mysterious part like Zarek, it's going to be gold.
Okay, so he's prone to over-speeching, but that's partly
the script's fault too. Hatch is still a vivid presence
among several solid actors, and Jamie Bamber repeatedly
looks pale and uncertain in his wake.
Zarek got more airtime in "Bastille
Day," the episode which introduced the character
at the beginning of the season, but what we see here
is both more revealing and more muddying. I don't think
Zarek is purely power-hungry; I think at least some
of his propaganda is genuine. I think he does want
to lead a proletariat revolution and overthrow the
status quo government because it and society no longer
work according to the old models -- but the key word
is "lead." It isn't that he doesn't want
freedom, rights, food, etc. for 'the people,' but that
he also wants followers. And not just allies,
but people devoted to him personally. That makes him
much more intriguing than someone like Ellen Tigh,
who just wants power for its own sake -- for the ability
to order other people around, for the benefits and
trappings and luxuries, for being In The Know. We assume
he has a secret agenda, but is it evil? Or just politics?
Or is it more of what he was thrown in jail for?
Hatch plays Zarek as though he's not a
bad guy -- I think Hatch doesn't see Zarek as a murderer,
but as a revolutionary. That brings a fascinating edge
to the performance, because Zarek is behaving as though
he's a crude Nelson Mandela rather than a sophisticated
Fidel Castro. It keeps the audience guessing. We don't
know whether he actually is bad or good. He's
both at the moment -- capable of atrocity, but also
of brilliant political thinking. He's absolutely right
about reinventing their society. Not everything needs
to be scrapped, but certain things have to be reimagined
and rebuilt. Does there need to be currency? Could a
real communist/socialist society function? There's still
freedom of the press, there are still elections, there
is still a Quorum of Twelve. Basic rights which we (the
West) have should not be abrogated. But what things
can be cast aside? Is it necessary to rebuild as it
was, or could things be planned better? Zarek is the
only one bringing up these questions. Granted, he's
able to because he doesn't have the day-to-day responsibility
of keeping the fleet safe from the Cylons or all the
administrative details which go into running a government.
But he is thinking of things beyond the way they used
to be, which nobody else is doing publicly, and that
may be the best way of keeping the society alive.
You know, I hate that they run a spoiler-preview
in the credits of each show. In fact, since we figured
that out in the second episode, we haven't sat through
the credits once. We were watching "Colonial Day" and "Kobol's
Last Gleaming" to refresh our memories and hubby
noted that since we don't ever watch the opening sequence,
the music is entirely unfamiliar.
Six writhes slowly like she's so turned
on all the time she can't help but squirm -- but it
works for the character. In contrast to the last two
Trek incarnations, the siren is a siren, she's
meant to be a siren, and she knows it, dresses it,
acts it, and uses it as a weapon. I have no problem
with Six's blazing sexuality because she doesn't
have a problem with it. It's rather refreshing. (It's
better than when she gets religious and preachy, which
got on my nerves earlier in the season.)
So what kind of technology do they have
on the Cloud 9? Is the backdrop painted, leading
to Kara's comment about the horizon not being very
good? They have some kind of artificial sunlight, and
something to make the atmosphere feel planetary. Why
wouldn't some of that be torn apart and shared among
the other ships which are struggling? Why is a luxury
liner allowed to continue operating as such?
The Kara-Lee water fight was a lot of
fun. These two have an interesting relationship --
it's part brother/sister, part captain/lieutenant,
part they-might-be-lovers-eventually. Because Kara
was originally involved with Zak, Lee had to see her
as My Brother's Girl, but it's been long enough that
he can now see her in her own right. But that doesn't
obliterate the earlier more familial feelings, nor
does it allow him to ignore his duty when called for.
We never quite know how these two will react to one
Ellen Tigh is actually more dislikable
than Baltar, to me. They're both liars, manipulators,
and backstabbers, but Ellen takes a malicious glee
in her deliberate machinations, while Baltar is as
much a puppet of Six's as a traitor in his own right.
He's a spineless coward, which makes him pathetic.
She's in control even when she's drunk out of her mind.
On the receiving line, she's the perfect political
wife: bright plastic pleasantries and calculated gestures
designed to get her, and Tigh, "ahead" in
whatever game she's playing. At the bar, she flirts
greasily with Zarek because she sees the potential
for future power and wants to start building alliances
(and building up favors) now. Baltar's treachery is
casual, almost impersonal. Ellen is a deliberate snake.
President Laura Roslin is a remarkable
character. Her political skills are astonishing. She
plays almost everyone around her with steel and silk.
Adama is the only person she can't consistently sway,
which is as it should be. She accepts Zarek graciously
in the receiving line, to give him enough rope to hang
himself with, but doesn't do it again at the party
at the end because she does not in fact want to ally
herself with him. She guides the quorum firmly without
strangling it, never losing her cool even turning some
insanely stressful moments. (Baltar seconds Zarek's
motion to put the vice-presidential nomination first
on the agenda, and she turns like a tank turret, face
completely locked, to bore her eyes into his face.
Even I cringed.)
The actress, Mary McDonnell, plays Roslin
with a tense stillness. She's coiled, tightly withdrawn,
as though her political power is a whip or an energy
blast she has to be careful about unleashing. When she
has to tell Gray to drop out and he zings her for being
too astute a political animal, she's looking up at him;
he walks off, and she just... holds... that... position
for several seconds. She sighs, or gasps, but that's
it. And something else to watch: during really high-stakes
moments...she doesn't blink. For minutes at a
time. She holds her eyes open and her expression unmoving.
It's a bit frightening.
Six tells Baltar "Love isn't about
sex...you can have any woman you want, but always remember
-- I have your heart." (Then she adds "I
can always rip it out of your chest if I need to." brr!)
I think this backfires on her in "Kobol's Last
Gleaming," but more on that in the commentary
for those eps. One of the Cylon agendas is about the
exploration of Love -- they're fascinated with it.
Is it because that's what defines humans, what makes
them the Favored Children of the god(s), what makes
them better? If the Cylons can experience Love, does
that make them Real, rather than mere machines, and
therefore equal or superior to humans? Caprica Six
and Doral were insistent that Caprica Sharon get Helo
to love her. When Helo debates if he's seeing Cylons
which look like humans on Caprica, the first thing
Sharon says is that she wonders if Cylons could feel
love. This might be a key to their defeat later on.
Zarek is absolutely right about having
a vice president in place before too much more is decided
about rebuilding. And it galls Roslin no end that she
didn't think of it first.
The cinematography on BSG2K is much different
from what we're accustomed to on Trek. There's depth
to the sets -- you really feel like they're airplane
hangars. The camera zooms in jerkily, in small increments
on people or large swoops on ships. (This was started
on Joss Whedon's Firefly, whence the camera
folks came.) Passim scenes are edited choppily to indicate
the emotional charge. One particular trick which varies
in effectiveness is to sit the camera immediately behind
someone's shoulder so that the person's head or hair
takes up a blurry third of the frame. If it's overused
it gets tiresome, but as an occasional shot it adds
nice visual texture. I should comment on the background
music as well -- it errs on the side of overdramatic,
with bass and drumbeats and violins (and a bagpipe?)
trying to emphasize what we're already feeling, but
it generally works. If it becomes noticeable, it's
Lee was absolutely wrong to pick the
bar fight. Even though Roslin wanted him to be aggressive
in taking care of security, arguing with one of Zarek's
supporters doesn't fall under that category. When the
Sagittaron guy said he wanted Zarek's speech back on,
Lee should have finished his drink, told the barkeep
to put it back on, and then left if it bothered him
that much. Lee was wearing a Colonial Warrior uniform.
He represented the military, who are also the police.
It was his responsibility to see that in a politically
charged, emotionally intense atmosphere, the situation
did not escalate in exactly the manner it did. The
fight was his fault. As a private citizen he can argue
about Zarek until he's blue in the face, but as a law
enforcement officer, his job was to shut up and smile.
There was no way for Lee or Kara to know that there
was an assassin, much less that Valance had a gun or
was in the bar at the time.
Then we have the interrogation. I guess
I'm too accustomed to Trek, but I can't see how that
kind of abuse is going to advance their case. (They
also weren't very good at it. Lee has the gun... and
Kara threatens to airlock the guy. Couldn't they at
least have organized their threats?) Is there really
no due process? Would no one believe that a Colonial
Warrior is capable of that kind of violence? The Sagittarons
are already clamoring about a conspiracy against the
poor -- wouldn't this just add fuel to the fire? Similarly,
I thought Lee sneering to Zarek "You're next"
was unnecessary and tactically stupid. What purpose
did that serve? Zarek had enough support that if he
reported the threat, he'd have been believed.
One thing I hope is trimmed in S2 is
the double conversations Baltar has with Six and whomever
else is in the room. It's even more annoying than the
preaching. I loathe fish-out-of-water moments, and
Baltar's repeated oopses and rewording his comments
to Six so that they address the rest of the room is
exhausting. It's masterful storytelling that the audience
can still find something with which to sympathize in
the main villain of the series, but I almost want them
to fish or cut bait -- reveal him as a traitor already!
Let us like him or dislike him more cleanly!
The bathroom scene was great -- both
Roslin and Baltar know she hates him, but they're both
getting something out of the deal, so it's worth it.
It's also a kind of reverse-echo of Classic BSG, where
Baltar was one of the original Quorum of Twelve before the
In an interview with two of the show's
writers, they revealed that it was actress Katee Sackhoff's
idea that her character, Kara, should wear the dress
at the party in the closer, which set up both another
layer of her interaction with Lee and previewed the
beginning of KLG. And it's nice to see the various
military women (Kara, Boomer, Cally) relaxed and dressed
up and having a good time with the military men. It
reminds us that despite the horror of the war and the
duty which has become their permanent career, everyone
does have a life outside the service.
I won't be keeping a Food Chain for BSG,
although I will point out notable Recycled Actors if
I recognize them.