Battlestar Galactica: Mid-Season Wrap-Up

I went to the Los Angeles Times-sponsored Battlestar Galactica Emmy preview screening at the ArcLight last week. They showed the mid-season finale, “Revelations”, in which President Apollo was unexpectedly awesome, Colonel Tigh was unexpectedly heartbreaking, Admiral Adama reached bold new levels of ineffectuality, and Earth turned out to be somewhat less lush and verdant than advertised. Good stuff. The screening was followed by a Q&A panel with creator Ronald D. Moore and actors Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck), Mary McDonnell (Roslin), and Tricia Helfer (Six), all of whom were good sports about answering the same questions they’ve probably been asked a thousand times before.

Through no fault of anyone -- panelists, moderator, audience members -- the Q&A was pretty dry, actually, as these things tend to be. In order to have a rip-roaring panel, you either need to be insightful and informative, or you need to be funny and raunchy. What with the rabid level of secrecy cloaking the remainder of this final season, the panel guests, ever vigilant against letting any genuine information slip out, were pretty much prohibited from being either insightful or informative. As for being funny and raunchy, while it’s clear the BSG cast is teeming with snarky, hyperactive loose cannons (Jamie Bamber, James Callis, Aaron Douglas, Alessandro Juliani, Grace Park, and Tahmoh Penikett are all awesome in interviews), it’s equally clear that Sackhoff, McDonnell, and Helfer, while lovely and gracious, do not belong to the snarky, hyperactive loose cannon club. Hence, it was sort of a dull evening.

(Mystery of the universe: why does my spell-check program recognize “Tahmoh Penikett”?)

Now, with the mid-season finale behind us, we’ve entered the six-to-eight month hiatus before the season resumes in early 2009. Online, the interim will probably be filled with fervent guesses as to the identity of the as-yet-unrevealed Final Cylon. Speculation is already rampant: the Final Cylon is Hera! It’s Boxey! It’s Starbuck’s dead mom! It’s Apollo’s dead mom! It’s Apollo’s dead grandfather! It’s Apollo’s dead brother!

Anything’s possible, of course, and my guesses aren’t any more valid than anyone else’s, but strictly from a storytelling perspective, I’m going to have to say no, it’s not going to be any of the above. The revelation of the last Cylon is not, or should not be, the television equivalent of a sudoku puzzle or a parlor game; the need to tell a good story trumps the need to have a fun gimmick. If they do this right -- and Battlestar Galactica tends to handle dramatic revelations very, very well -- the shock won’t come from the identity of the last Cylon, but from the method of the revelation and the ensuing emotional impact on the rest of the characters.

So I’m not going to bother puzzling out the identity of the Final Cylon. I’m not spending my time poring over the infamous Last Supper publicity photo for clues or looking for hidden meaning in D’anna’s words, or in the lyrics to Gaeta’s Lament, or in the Hybrid’s prophecy in the stand-alone movie Razor. I’ve got more important questions to occupy me.

Chiefly: Is there some point to what they’ve been doing to poor Gaeta, or have the last couple of seasons just been some prolonged exercise in gratuitous sadism?

Ah, Felix Gaeta, Galactica’s much-beleaguered tactical officer, Gaeta of the beautiful eyes and the beautiful singing voice and the unrequited crush on Baltar and the freakish string of misfortune. As of “Revelations”, four episodes after getting his leg blown to pulp by a fellow officer (thank you, Anders), three episodes after getting his leg hacked off at the knee sans general anesthesia, Gaeta is back on duty in the CIC, though he’s still desperately ill, miserable, in horrible pain, hobbling about on crutches, and, one hopes, drugged to the gills. Such is life for unlucky Felix.

It started out so well for him, too. Gaeta spent the first couple of seasons being well-liked and super-efficient and quietly brainy, in stark contrast to the rest of the crew (see: Tigh, Starbuck, Adama). Oh, sure, there was that time he misplaced the entire fleet, but he found them again by the end of the episode, so that worked out fine. No harm, no foul.

And then things started to go horribly, horribly wrong.

We can pinpoint the exact moment things went egg-shaped for poor, pretty Felix: at the end of Season Two, when he noticed the fraudulent ballots in the Roslin/Baltar presidential election, and when, precisely as any dutiful officer should, he quietly reported this fact to Adama.

(Note to Laura Roslin: whatever your motivations, rigging an open democratic election to ensure your own re-election automatically moves you into the Bad President column. It’s the sort of thing History will judge you harshly for.)

By ensuring Gaius Baltar’s transition from Betrayer of the Human Race to President of the Colonial Fleet, Felix brought a shitload of bad karma down upon himself. Because, naturally, Baltar turned out to be the Worst. President. Ever. This is noteworthy on a show with no shortage of bad presidents: there’s Roslin, who made major policy decisions based upon her drug-induced religious visions, there’s Tom Zarek, who, during his brief, bloody reign, ordered dozens of suspected Cylon collaborators tossed out of airlocks without the benefit of due process, and there’s Apollo, who… okay, actually, Apollo was a pretty awesome president, which is all the more surprising, since he’s often a pretty sub-par human being.

Some key moments in Gaeta’s downward spiral:

--Gaeta quits the service and becomes President Baltar’s Chief of Staff on New Caprica. Not his best move ever, but love makes people do crazy things. It dawns on him, albeit belatedly, that Baltar does not have the best interests of the colonists, or of Gaeta, or of anyone other than Gauis Baltar in mind. The Cylons invade and take over New Caprica, with Baltar as their puppet. Gaeta maintains his position in the occupied government, which is presumably no cakewalk for him (at one point, we see him doodling violent scrawls while sitting in on a Cylon meeting. This is our first indication that Gaeta is on the brink of losing his mind). All the while, he secretly passes crucial information to the Resistance, which directly leads to their rescue by the Galactica.

(Sidebar: Have you ever noticed how Gaeta’s mental state at any given time can be assessed just by glancing at his hair? For the first half of the series, he’s always impeccably coiffed, with every curl lacquered into place.

By the time New Caprica rolls around, he’s fighting a losing battle against frizz. Since then, it’s fluctuated from episode to episode, depending upon his level of angst: neat, frizzy, neat, frizzy.
When Gaeta’s stressed, he can’t be bothered with conditioner.)

--Post-exodus from New Caprica, Starbuck, Tigh, and Tyrol join a president-sanctioned gang of vigilantes who start murdering suspected Cylon collaborators. They hold a top-secret meeting, wherein they all agree that they really like Gaeta, that he’s kind of like family, and that there’s no concrete evidence to suggest he collaborated with the Cylons down on New Caprica. Then they unanimously vote to toss him out the airlock. At around the same time, it dawns on Gaeta that the Galactica is crewed almost entirely by assholes. (Starbuck kicks him and mocks him when he’s bound on his knees awaiting execution, which is swell of her. Hey, remember when Starbuck was dumb and reckless and exuberant instead of dumb and cruel and sullen? I miss those days.) There’s the obligatory eleventh-hour rescue, when it finally occurs to Tyrol that Gaeta was their anonymous inside mole, but if any apologies are forthcoming, we don’t see them. Even after his crucial part in the Resistance is revealed, Gaeta is still largely persona non grata aboard the Galactica.

--Through a freakish turn of events, Baltar, who had sought sanctuary with the Cylons post-New Caprica, returns to the Galactica. Adama’s and Roslin’s attempts to extract information from him via torture prove fruitless (guys, seriously, don’t torture people. I know Baltar’s annoying, but, in the interest of preserving what’s left of your souls, don’t do it. Don’t torture people, don’t condone suicide bombings, don’t rig elections, don’t chuck people out of airlocks. It makes it tricky to claim the moral high ground when you do crap like this). As a backup plan, they send in Gaeta to sweet-talk the information out of him. Baltar, predictably, gets nasty and threatens to expose a damaging secret about Gaeta (I can’t be the only one hoping this secret turns out to be less “involvement in political intrigue and double-dealing on New Caprica” and more “involvement in hot Cylon threesome”, can I?). So Gaeta stabs Baltar through the neck with a pen. I mentioned that Gaeta’s losing his mind, right?

--As if the pen incident weren’t enough, there’s more evidence that Gaeta becomes a vicious bitch when you cross him: he commits perjury at Baltar’s trial in the hopes of seeing him convicted and executed.

--Gaeta gets stuck on a hopeless mission to find Earth under the command of a loonier-than-usual Starbuck, whom he still hasn’t forgiven for almost tossing him out the airlock. The mission goes poorly: during an attempted mutiny led by Helo, Gaeta gets his leg shot to pieces by Anders, then waits for fifteen hours with a mangled leg and a life-threatening infection before receiving proper medical attention. He loses the leg. On the plus side, his beautiful singing voice is revealed when he sings to distract himself from the mind-blowingly awful pain.

So… what’s the point of all this? As far as I can figure it, there are four possibilities:

Possibility #1: There’s no point to any of this. If we’ve learned anything from three and a half seasons of BSG, it’s that people suffer and die, often without purpose or redemption. Just look at Cally, Kat, Billy, Jammer, Duck, and the entire population of the twelve colonies nuked by the Cylons. Gaeta could be just another name on a long, long list.

Possibility #2: Gaeta will find some vindication by the end of the series. Granted, there’s no shortage of horror stories among the crew of the Galactica. Look at Starbuck: the Cylons stole one of her ovaries, then creepy Leoben kept her prisoner on New Caprica, then she died and (somehow) resurrected. Grueling stuff, but she’s had ample support to help her through the aftermath: she’s got a husband in Anders, a lover/best friend in Apollo, and a surrogate father in Adama. With Gaeta, though, there’s an added element of cruel isolation to his trials, and it’s hard to believe that’s accidental. His experience has been notable for what we haven’t seen: no apologies from his attackers after the attempted airlocking, no visitors in the infirmary after the amputation, no connection with anyone, save for the occasional kind word from Dualla. It seems significant, and it seems to be building to something. There’s an informative recent interview with Alessandro Juliani over at IGN (could be considered spoilery, depending upon how you interpret it), which gives some indication that, at the very least, his open issues with Baltar will be resolved. Let’s hope so.

Possibility #3: Gaeta gets a happy ending. It seems unlikely anyone’s getting out of this alive, much less surviving to see a bright future, but if anyone should, it’s Gaeta. Look, here’s a list of the various Galactica love connections over the past three and a half seasons: Adama and Roslin, Apollo and Starbuck, Apollo and Dualla, Starbuck and Anders, Baltar and Caprica Six, Baltar and Starbuck, Baltar and Gina, Baltar and D’anna, Baltar and Tory, Boomer and Tyrol, Boomer and Cavil, Athena and Helo, Tigh and Ellen, Tigh and Caprica Six, Tyrol and Cally, Dualla and Billy, Tory and Anders… Wait. Who’s missing from this list? At the very least, some possibility of romance, somewhere, with someone, should emerge for poor, lonely, extremely cute Gaeta. Baltar? Hoshi? Dualla? Racetrack? Hotdog? I’m not feeling particular.

Possibility #4: Gaeta is the Final Cylon. Well, yeah. In many ways, he’s the most obvious candidate. Either he’s it, or he’s been deliberately established as a red herring. He’s been a popular choice for a potential Cylon right from the beginning (speculative articles about why Gaeta is totally a Cylon are almost as prevalent as speculative articles about why Gaeta is totally gay). His competence has made him seem suspicious from the onset: the Galactica was established way back in the original miniseries as the dumping ground for screwups, attitude problems, and people with the last name Adama, so what was someone like Gaeta doing there in the first place? Like sleeper Cylons Tyrol, Tigh, and Anders, he was a key member of the Resistance on New Caprica. He’s never had a significant solo plotline, but he’s been a crucial part of major events. He has no established background. Easiest thing in the world to make him a Cylon, no retconning necessary.

As I implied earlier, piecing together all the clues is something of a sucker’s game. Still, here goes: Gaeta fits the Hybrid’s prophecy better than anyone else at this point: “And the fifth, still in shadow, will claw toward the light, hungering for redemption that will only come in the howl of terrible suffering.” “Suffering” and “redemption” are recurring buzzwords when it comes to Gaeta. I’m not convinced the Last Supper photo is as significant as it’s been made out to be, but for what it’s worth, apart from Dualla, Gaeta’s the only key cast member not pictured in it, and he’s the most likely candidate to fill the empty Judas seat.

My opinion? He’s a red herring. Still, if he turns out to be the last Cylon, it’d be pretty awesome, whether he ends up devoting himself to seeking redemption, or wreaking terrible vengeance. It’s wrong of me, but I get kind of a warm glow at the thought of seeing the airlock slowly opening, with Gaeta standing at the controls, while Starbuck, Adama and Roslin claw at the glass: “Gaeta, for the love of the Gods, let us in!” There could be worse ways to end the series.


Anonymous said…
May I direct you to (a popular Portland, Oregon-based radio show) which Katee Sackhoff has been known to frequent? She (and they) can be quite a lot of fun!! The most recent audio interview is quite tame, but if you dig back I think you'll find what your looking for. ;)
Morgan Richter said…
Thanks for the link! Sackhoff seems like she'd be fun to grab a drink with. I think everybody was on their very best behavior for the panel, which, honestly, is no fun at all.
ohos said…
I didn't know where to post this, but I've just been reading your guide to Hornblower and I can't decide which I enjoyed more - your commentary, or the series. I think on the whole, after the first series, I almost started looking forward to reading your commentary more than watching the episodes. Almost. Had it not been for the delectable Lt. Bush, I would have :) Thanks for a good read!!!
Morgan Richter said…
Aw, thank you, ohos! I'm glad you liked my Hornblower guide. It's such an awesome series that it was a joy to write about it (and yes, those later episodes were greatly helped along by the presence of Lt. Bush, weren't they?).
Anonymous said…
Excellent analysis of our tragic Gaeta! I just keep hoping that it will all mean something for him. If he's not the Fifth, then maybe he is some sort of special key to the story. Doesn't hurt that he's so damn cute.

Poor guy. He looked awful in Revelations. (why, in an episode that moved so quickly, would they focus on how tragic he is?? Hmmmm..) Someone needs to keep a count on his painkillers....but of course he has no one...
Morgan Richter said…
Thanks for commenting! (Sorry it took me so long to respond -- your comment somehow slipped under my radar. My apologies.) Gaeta broke my heart in Revelations. I hope something good is in store for him in the second half of the season. Poor guy could use a burst of good karma.

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