Monday, February 26, 2007

Battlestar Galactica—Dirty Hands

The Upshot from the Sci-Fi Channel: After an accident nearly kills President Roslin (Mary McDonnell), Chief Tyrol (Aaron Douglas) defies Admiral Adama (Edward James Olmos) to demand safer working conditions throughout the fleet—and inadvertently makes himself the rallying point for a strike.

This was a disturbing and provocative episode on so many levels. A couple episodes ago in the Woman King, viewers got a hint of how ethnic differences from pre-Cylon attack society had carried over to create distrust and dissention throughout the fleet.

Dirty Hands carries the premise a step further and much more effectively by showing how the fleet is maintained and who it is who has to do the dirty work to maintain it.

We’ve had hints of this since the beginning of the show aboard ship—officers/pilots and enlisted deckhands/“knuckle-draggers”—but here we see that this informal but very real caste system is not just aboard Galactica.

In post-holocaust colonial society—where the human race stands at 41,400—one’s position in the fleet depends very much on one’s skill set and more often than not, one’s skill set is determined by which colony a worker comes from. Capricans are traditionally white collar while Aerelons are farmers and laborers.

Aboard the tylium refinery ship Hitei Kan, work conditions are particularly harsh—18 hour days have been the norm since the original attacks and where children make up the assembly line.

Amid the harsh work conditions with no relief in sight and as pleas by the ship’s foreman fall on the deaf ears of Admiral Adama and President Roslin, former Colonial President and current Treason Defendant Gaius Baltar (James Callis) is seeking to recast himself as a political dissident.

Copies of Baltar’s manifesto—“My Triumphs, My Mistakes”—(think “Mein Kampf”) has made its way smuggled from his jail cell to throughout the fleet to the laborers hungry for new ideas, desperate to be understood and resentful that they are not being heard.

Adama and Roslin are not especially sympathetic—they are ALL overworked but the fleet needs that fuel to survive.

We see Roslin twice shut down workers concerns. In the first case she orders the arrest of the refinery captain after he quotes Baltar’s manifesto. As Chief Tyrol (Aaron Douglas) later comes to his defense, Roslin acts more the school teacher to a backward child—“uh-ah, we’re done”—which makes Tyrol do the once unthinkable and he considers Baltar’s position.

Tyrol visits Baltar in jail. In his “book,” Baltar claims he grew up as a farm boy on Aerelon. Desperate to improve his social standing, he worked to hide his Aerelon accent so he could “pass” as a Caprican and move up the ladder of advancement.

There is one set of rules for the aristocrats and one set of rules for the rest of us” is his thesis. Here we see Baltar with some iron—less mad scientist and more mad as hell.

We all know he’s a skunk but his words strike a cord. The most dangerous kind of liar is one who wraps his lies with the truth. We know at the heart of it, he is looking out for his own ass but as always but is Baltar lying or is he—for the wrong reasons—pointing out an Inconvenient Truth so to speak.

Roslin is not unbending following the Chief’s pleas she agrees to find others with the “appropriate background” to be sent to the refinery as fresh labor. But even this has unintended consequences as some of those drafted are kids like Danny who worked a summer on a farm but otherwise has no experience, yet no one from Colonial One selected for work detail.

When Danny is maimed by the machines in the refinery, Tyrol has had enough and calls a strike at the refinery and a work stoppage with the deck hands aboard Galactica until he can get a meeting with the President.

Tyrol is ready to pay the price himself but Adama comes down hard ordering Tyrol’s wife Cally (Nikki Clyne) arrested. Adama says he’ll have her and the deck gang shot for mutiny in a time of war if the strike isn’t stopped and badly needed fuel starts flowing.

To Adama, there’s room for fraking around. The fate of the ship, the fleet and the entire human race will someday depend on someone following an order they don’t understand or like without hesitation—there can be no room for debate or selective interpretation. So Adama will line up 10 Callys against the wall if he has to.

There’s more than a little irony here considering that just last episode Adama was working hard to save the lives of Tyrol and Cally.

The Chief blinks and calls off the strike. Then Adama sets up a meeting with Tyrol and the President. A tired and dirty Tyrol makes his case to Roslin and she listens.

More than that, she asks him to resume his former role on New Caprica as union leader and representative to the workers of the fleet. If the fleet is going to survive and arrive at Earth as a unified colonial society, they have to learn to get along.

Once again the Cylons are nowhere to be found and it is the human beings themselves who end up being the worst threat to humanity’s survival.


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