In the seventh episode of the first season of Battlestar Galactica, Baltar’s anger with Six over her constant profession of her religion causes her to disappear from his mind, only to reappear in a much more troubling place. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Battlestar Galactica.
It’s a good thing there’s so much to like in “Six Degrees of Separation,” which might be one of the more awkward episodes of television that I’ve seen, because it does contain one of my least favorite tropes of all time: the Hollywood Atheist.
I know that, by the nature of how Mark Watches operates and by virtue of the fact that I am just barely on episode seven of the show, not even a tenth of the way through the story. There is much that I could (and probably will) get wrong about this, but that’s part of the fun, isn’t it? And I’m also willing to admit when it happens (if it happens) that this whole thing was a part of some grander plot or plan for the show. I know that it’s possible this early into the show.
But I still couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable watching an atheist be converted to one who fears God, and having it improve his immediate situation. (I say immediate because, again, it could have very dire consequences in the latter future.) One of the reasons I stopped watching Glee was because of the “Grilled Cheesus” episode in the second season. (Well, there were other reasons, but that was the last episode I saw.) I’m not a particularly sensitive atheist these days, and I’m comfortable enough in my lack of belief that I generally don’t talk about it. I liked Glee as a fan of musicals, and “Home” in season one was what got me hooked, but the treatment of atheism in that particular episode was so forced and over-the-top that it left a bad taste in my mouth. It was made even worse by Ryan Murphy’s insistence that Christianity needed to be represented in order for the episode to be “inclusive.” I’ll just come out and stay it plainly: Christians in the western world, specifically in the United States, are already included in practically everything, and nothing could make the more clear than a storyline that involves atheists who are only disbelievers because they are angry at life or God and appear to hate being non-believers.
Yet I do want to limit my discussion of this for now, because we have no idea who else in this show aside from Six and Baltar has explicit religious (or non-religious) belief. As I said before, “Six Degrees of Separation” works so well because of the awkward sense of urgency that propels the story forward. Even Baltar’s argument with Six, much of which takes place in his mind, is nearly unbearable, especially as he becomes more and more furious at her. The very idea that conversations can be so seamless between reality and the mind is actually really neat to me, and it definitely adds to the intensity of it all.
And then Six disappears. Just gone. Did she disappear forever? I thought. Almost instantaneously, though, Dualla appears: Baltar is needed by Commander Adama. I couldn’t help but think about past interactions with Six and how a high degree of coincidence always seemed to follow her. As much as I might not like Baltar’s conversion, I am intrigued by the idea that Six, who is still just a hallucination as far as I know, can actually control events. She appears in the CIC room, dressed appropriately, but Commander Adama speaks of her. When Baltar makes an offhand comment to Six, she balks at his humor.
BECAUSE EVERYONE CAN SEE HER. IT’S NOT SIX. It’s a goddamn copy. HOW DID SHE GET ON THE SHIP? HOW WAS IT INSTANTANEOUS? Do copies share a hive mind sort of thing? Wait, how could that even be possible? Six is a vision inside Baltar’s head.
Suggesting that Baltar’s rebuke of God is a grievous mistake, this version of Six, named Shelly Godfrey, accuses Baltar of treason, correctly so, too. It seems that Baltar is about to be punished for his crime against God. But not humanity? Unless God is on the side of the Cylons??? Why do I have so many unanswered questions???
We certainly get one fantastic episode out of this, though, that even the conversion scene at the end can’t ruin. It’s amazing to me how quickly this episode, like every single one before it, just transforms into NON-STOP EMOTIONAL TERROR so quickly. Once Shelly Godfrey starts telling what we know is the truth–that Baltar is actually responsible for the Cylon invasion–it’s clear this is going to be a rough journey for him.
Yet as fascinated as I am by his character, I was entirely conflicted by how I should feel. On the one hand, I believed this was an attempt by the Cylons to stop production on the Cylon test Baltar was developing, so in that sense, I wanted Baltar to get out of this. But….he did help the Cylons? And he is partially responsible for the genocide on humanity? And he’s kind of an asshole? WHICH DO I CHOOSE?
Well, I didn’t have to choose either, really, and his character growth in “Six Degrees of Separation” is written in a much more ambiguous way than most shows may have tackled the very same topic. As Adama shuts down Baltar’s lab, stripping him of his security clearance, we then watch Baltar reach out in that slimy, self-serving way of his, contacting people who might be able to “save” him. He wishes to use Roslin’s own hope to benefit himself, but even that doesn’t work. Right at the moment he accuses Shelly of being a Cylon, Roslin collapses at her desk, and Baltar loses one of his chances for freedom and exoneration.
And even that is another bit of awkward tension that this episode provides. I imagine it’s not going to be long before Roslin’s cancer will become public knowledge. Poor Billy accidentally blasted the call for help to the entire fleet, so how much longer will it be before she can no longer hide in secrecy? It also looks like she got the dosage of chamalla she was looking for…but maybe that’s a traditional medicine? It wasn’t clear, but whatever she is taking, she foolishly upped the dosage, appearing to believe it would speed her recovery. Which…Roslin, seriously. When does that ever work? Rarely, if ever, but it’s a sign of her desperation to rid herself of her cancer.
Yet no one personifies desperation more than Baltar. When Shelly reveals that she has a defense disc with an actual photo of Baltar planting a bomb in the defense mainframe, Adama sets Gaeta on the task of cleaning up a reflection of this alleged terrorist to prove definitively that it’s Baltar. It’s very much in Baltar’s nature to use emotional ploys to attempt to manipulate other people, and this is what he does with Gaeta. Only…wow. I don’t know that I have ever laughed and cringed so hard at the exact same time as I did during the bathroom scene. Baltar is not particularly socially adept in any sense, and his flaws are exposed here: he simply cannot gauge what is tactful and what is not when he needs something from someone. I can’t deny that the scene with Gaeta and Baltar in neighboring stalls was actually kind of charming in a way, yet for every moment of charm, I found myself grimacing in embarrassment for both of these characters.
And it’s not that my embarrassment necessarily disappeared after Gaeta fled the bathroom in terror (POOR DUDE); it was just put in the back of my mind, replaced by COMPLETE CONFUSION, when Baltar decided to confront Shelly Godfrey in the stall next to him. (Can I just say that I think it’s cool that the bathrooms appear not to be split by gender?) This was the first time that I believed that this “Shelly” Cylon was truly unconnected to Six. She seemed genuinely shocked by the notion that she was both a Cylon and she knew Baltar in a much more personal sense than what she believed.
However, that didn’t last long, as Shelly soon visits Commander Adama, and then my insides felt like they were being crushed and oh my god this is so awkward it physically hurts. Of course, a great deal of the success of this scene rests solely on the shoulders of Tricia Helfer, who is able to go from a woman dejected and destroyed by the loss of her lover, to one who can hit on the commander of the Battlestar Galactica in a manner of seconds. I’m not sure I know why Shelly/Six did this, but now I knew that she wasn’t unaware of who she was, either. Thankfully, Adama knew that something was fishy about her, order Tigh to have her surveilled while she is on the ship.
Speaking of Cylons (and as if this episode needed to be any more unsettling), how goddamn creepy was Boomer’s entire monologue regarding the Cylon Raider ship? It’s so bizarre how quick she seems to be able to turn it on when she’s right next to the ship, unaware of how she sounds or looks. I mean, she was seconds away from taking off all her clothes and humping the thing. Fortunately that didn’t happen. WITH THE SHIP. Oh, Helo, are you going to make human-Cylon babies with the other Boomer? I mean, that can be the only reason why the Cylons would want to manipulate his love for Boomer. Unless they just want to like…film them having sex? Maybe Cylons are really into porn with human or something LOOK I DON’T KNOW I’M JUST GUESSING.
There’s no guessing involved, though, when I thought about Baltar’s actions for the entire last part of “Six Degrees of Separation.” We’re essentially watching a man make on bad decision after another. Asking Adama to have access to his lab? Or to assist Gaeta? Or to test Shelly Godfrey’s tissue sample? I mean, COULD YOU BE ANY MORE OBVIOUS ABOUT YOUR GUILT, DUDE? You are not helping yourself in the slightest, sir. But that’s the thing about Blatar: he doesn’t seem to possess a lot of foresight. He’s a scientist who is brilliant at his craft, but he lacks craftiness. You can see that acted out when he decides to pull the fire alarm in order to get Gaeta out of the lab so he can go in. It’s an absolutely atrocious idea, especially since it will take anyone in the CIC maybe three seconds at best to determine where the alarm is coming from. Oh, it’s in the same wing as the lab that Gaeta was working in? Balter, YOU FOOL.
Even his actions in the lab show this massive collision between guilt and desperation. He knows Shelly Godfrey is partially right, yet he also knows he didn’t plant the bomb, so he is being framed. Sort of. Yes, it’s quite confusing, but I knew that either way, there was no way Baltar could truly get out of this. Even if he “deleted” the photo, he’d be found alone in the lab. And in what universe would that be viewed in a positive light?
Still, I couldn’t help feeling a bit defeated as Baltar was dragged off to the brig. If he’s going to eventually be forced to be accountable for what he did, it should be the right action, not a frame job. So I felt sad for him when Roslin visited him, only to express her pity for him. I think that, at the very least, it is understandable that after his final hope walks away from him, Baltar might entertain the notion that some divine power is his last resort.
Just like before, though, the very instant that Baltar appears to genuinely accept God and beg for forgiveness, the photo is discovered to be a fake. Shelly Godfrey disappears. Six returns to Baltar’s head. In every sense, his world has been righted, with him coming out even more invincible than before, as the act actually gives the man more credibility than without it. I hope we are just seeing Six’s manipulation, and that this is not some grandiose commentary about how turning one’s life to God will give them everything they ever desired. Again, it’s far, far too early to tell how this will play out, so I’ll reserve my commentary to avoid being too foolish about it. I suppose I just wish that atheists were portrayed more immutably in the media.
“Six Degrees of Separation” is a strong episode despite this, and I think it’s a great example of how you can dislike a part of something, but still like it as a whole. We advance Boomer’s storyline (in both worlds) rather dramatically, as someone on board the Galactica clearly suspects she is a Cylon. We also deal a bit with Starbuck’s recovery, and the attempt to get the Cylon Raider ship up and running. But the bulk of this episode is a character study of Baltar, a man caught between selfishness and fear.
And oh lord, the Cylon threat sure is getting awkward.