In the fifth episode of the third season of Battlestar Galactica, a clandestine jury begins the process of secretly prosecuting the humans who collaborated with the Cylons. When both Starbuck and Gaeta get involved, everything is just goddamn awful. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Battlestar Galactica.
This really isn’t going to be a comforting show to watch, is it? The writers have wasted absolutely no time in taking the bittersweet victory of rescuing the majority of survivors on New Caprica and then turning it into shit. (In a good way, I mean. Well…not that what happens here is good, but in the sense that it is riveting and entertaining as much as it is disturbing.) It’s very clear now that Tyrol’s angry outburst to Jammer in the season opener was setting up “Collaborators.” When faced with that promise, though, Tyrol doesn’t seem so willing to cheer on the execution of “traitors.”
The cold open of this episode gives us the tone for the whole story, and I don’t think that Battlestar Galactica has ever been quite this bleak or destructive. I’m reminded of Sharon’s words to Admiral Adama last season: Is humankind worth saving? It seems that humanity, even in a moment of victory, is prone to turning on themselves in the name of vengeance.
For all the moral ambiguity that exists in “Collaborators,” I know in my heart that what the Circle does in this story is completely and utterly wrong, and Jammer’s story is a perfect representation of that. Kidnapped and brought before a makeshift “jury” of six members of the fleet (including Tyrol, Tigh, and Seelix), he is forced to answer for his “treason,” namely working for the New Caprica Police. Even before it was outright confirmed, something just felt fishy about this. Why were there only six people running this? Why put a sack over Jammer’s head? Why the impromptu and poorly organized “trial”?
I thought that this episode would introduce the uncomfortable nature of these trials when Jammer told Tyrol that he saved Cally. Perhaps they would exist to show the “jury” that there was no clear innocence or guilt, and they’d increasingly find it more and more difficult to execute anyone. But they are unconvinced, and the six leave Jammer in the launch tube. They won’t actually kill him, will they? Tyrol will stop it at the last minute and say it’s wrong, won’t he?
He doesn’t, and I watch in horror as Jammer is sucked out of the launch tube, ejected into space. They killed Jammer. They killed him. What the fuck???? WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING? This wasn’t that black and white! WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING???
Surprisingly, this is the LEAST AWFUL THING IN THIS EPISODE. From this point on, Tigh goes on a warpath against Gaeta, Starbuck joins in, and then….THIS IS ALL SO TERRIBLE. I know I’m getting ahead of myself, but could these characters just have one day where things go well for them? Of course not! But still.
Well, there is a brief moment that made me smile in all of “Collaborators,” and it’s the first conversation that Roslin and Zarek have onboard the Colonial One after their escape. It was remarkable because of how positive and surprising it was: Zarek would essentially give the presidency back to Roslin instead of taking Baltar’s place. Even more shocking (but altogether pleasant) is Roslin inviting Zarek to be her vice president. I know that the two haven’t spent much time together, but out of everything that happens in this episode, it was one of the only things that felt right. I could suddenly see the two working together and it actually made sense. I was sure they would disagree on a lot of things, but I think Zarek and Roslin gained a lot of respect for one another because of what happened on New Caprica.
But the same events on that planet have negatively affected Felix Gaeta, and so began the thirty-minute clusterfuck of tense horror on my part as the Galactica turns against the man who helped them all survive. I’m glad Gaeta is getting an episode that focuses on him, though there is a part of me that wishes it highlighted more of how dependable and awesome he has been instead of a half hour of me wondering how hard I’m going to cry when he dies. Right from the start, when he steps into the CIC, Tigh is at his throat, scorning him for working with President Baltar. And look, I understand that Tigh is in a terrible place and he just lost his wife. He had to kill his wife for being a collaborator, so he expects the same measure of everyone around him. I get that. I do! But I don’t give a fuck. This is wrong, and you were wrong to kill your wife. What did it do to help the rebellion? Is everyone safer for it? Are you more respected because of it?
I’m glad that Admiral Adama steps in to put Tigh in line. I know that this is an uncomfortable and painful situation for both Gaeta and Tigh and there’s no way to navigate this story without this. With all the loss that the fleet has suffered (does the count at the beginning state that over 8,000 people died/were left behind? SWEET JESUS.), why are they continuing to turn against themselves? And it’s not just people in positions of authority. We see how the bulk of the crew treat Gaeta as if he is a Cylon walking in their midst, much like they treated Sharon. Of course, I entertained the thought that if Gaeta just admitted he was the source inside the government, it would clear things up, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this probably wouldn’t work. Only Tyrol would be able to validate it anyway. It’s not like he could have burst out with the truth in the mess hall and the others would listen to him.
So when Starbuck sat at his table, I believed she was going to try to welcome Gaeta back. And she was! And then even she turns against him. Like Tigh, I understand completely where she’s coming from. She was held in detention for over four months, tricked into believing she had a child, and forced to give Kacey up to her real mother at the end of it all. From her perspective, Gaeta did nothing to help her or anyone else. This is when he blurts out his role as the informant and, as I realized just seconds before this, it does nothing. It means nothing.
Even worse, the Circle has chosen Gaeta’s file next for consideration. It’s here the writers begin to break up the resolve of the group, with Anders being the first to break and Tyrol close behind with doubt. While I think the actions of the Circle work well as a metaphor for capital punishment in general and how it’s inherently flawed, I think that this has a much more modern reference built into it. It’s hard for me not to think about the military presence of multiple nations in the Middle East, and specifically how the United States suspended habeas corpus for countless people that were incarcerated by the government for reasons that were iffy at best for the bulk of them.
It doesn’t work entirely to fit as a metaphor, but it’s enough that it gives me pause. For me, though, I think it works best to show that even the smallest shred of doubt when it comes to capital punishment is enough to call the whole thing out. The murder of Jammer is bad enough, but as the Circle debate Gaeta’s innocence, they quickly turn against him, despite the evidence only being circumstantial. NO. NO. NO STOP IT. What are you doing? You have no idea who this man really is, and you’re going to execute him based solely on what you imagine that he did.
I was so happy to see Anders quit and my respect for him grew because of it. Yes, he had contributed to the death of others, but at least he was getting out and he provided Tyrol with a chance to refuse to vote on Gaeta either. So the group will have to disband, right? Right????
Oh. Oh, you brought in Starbuck. But. BUT. Oh, that could not be a worse choice. But she calls out the illegality of the Circle! Yes! Oh. Oh. They have legal standing because they are using Baltar’s own executive order against his collaborators. (At least, that’s what I thought the order was, a remnant from the New Caprica days that hadn’t been cancelled out.) So now they only have their own morality to stand in the way, and Tyrol still staunchly refuses to vote guilty.
Yet at the same time (and I love when this show splits events to parallel actions like this), Anders pulls aside his wife as the rest of the Circle try desperately to convince Tyrol to vote Gaeta as being guilty. What we witness is destruction. Starbuck’s relationship with Anders is dissolved as Tyrol’s own moral sense falls apart due to the immense pressure that he’s under. Both characters are damaged from what they experienced during their time on New Caprica (I think Starbuck had it a lot worse, but that’s not the point), and those events creep back into their lives in different ways.
And they come together to send Gaeta to his death.
There are so many scenes at this point in Battlestar Galactica that are brimming with terror and tension that there’s not even a justification for ranking them. It’s not the scariest ever, or the most disturbing, because this is BSG. THE WHOLE THING IS DISTURBING. But we are far along enough in this story that absolutely no one is safe from harm, tragedy, or even death. As Gaeta is detained and brought to face his crimes before the Circle in the same launch tube where Jammer lost his life, I resolved myself to expect the worst. What I never anticipated is that Gaeta would give up. And it’s not a sign of cowardice, either. Gaeta has told his side of the story and no one listened or cared, and he knows that the rumors will outlive the truth. He is fighting a battle he cannot win because the general public has already convinced themselves that he is guilty. What’s so depressing about this is that it’s painfully realistic. Gaeta is right and we’ve seen the evidence of it already.
I’m still a bit unsure what it is that inspires Starbuck to lash out at Gaeta and tell him to beg for his life. Is she angry at him for accepting fate? Is she angry at herself for feeling guilty? Either way, she inadvertently saves his life when she teases Gaeta loudly with the same information that he told her: that he was an informant, and he used a dog bowl to signal the resistance.
If you’d like evidence of an entire group of actors and actresses being basically perfect, I’d recommend you watch the moment when all six members of the Circle realize that they were just about to execute the man who quite literally saved all of their lives. It is a damning moment, one that I won’t forget when this show is over. In that second of epiphany, all six members of the Circle are faced with a fucked up reality: If they were all so willing to execute Gaeta, who was actually a war hero, could they have also botched the executions of everyone before them?
Maybe Ronald Moore and the writers didn’t intend to send this message, but it still feels like one giant FUCK YOU to the death penalty here in the United States. If there is a doubt about guilt, why do we still execute people? If it’s not a deterrent for crime, why use state-sanctioned murder? For the survivors of Cylon occupation on New Caprica, what possible purpose did these executions serve besides acts of vengeance?
AND THEN IMAGINE MY SHOCK TO FIND OUT THAT IT WAS ZAREK WHO SIGNED THE EXECUTIVE ORDER, NOT BALTAR. Oh my fucking god, WHAT? I know that Zarek was looking out for Roslin’s best interest (which, in a twisted way, is kind of sweet???), but that meant that PEOPLE WERE EXECUTED. Dude, PEOPLE DIED SO THAT YOU COULD ENSURE AN EASY TRANSITION FOR YOUR PRESIDENT. oh my god this show is so fucked up.
But Roslin–BLESS YOUR HEART, I MISSED YOU SO MUCH–is finally the one to do everyone right by pardoning everyone on the fleet. What a brilliant move, I must say. I don’t think that it will magically absolve the fleet of guilt or poor behavior. (We see that the crew hasn’t fully accepted Officer Gaeta yet at the end of the show.) The guilt and the fear and the terror from what happened on New Caprica is going to be with these people a long, long time. What happens if Baltar comes back? Are they all just going to be okay with pardoning him? (OH GOD HOLY PARALLEL, THE CYLONS ARE VOTING ON BALTAR I LOVE THIS SHOW FOREVER) I don’t think this is something anyone can forget, and I think the writers will continue to reference the occupation for at least the remainder of season three.
For now, though, I have the utmost respect for Roslin for at least trying to put the past behind her and the fleet, to work towards truth and reconciliation instead of revenge, and for her and Admiral Adama to start making out again because I need more shipper fuel. Sorry. I do.