Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Battlestar Galactica—The Woman King

The Upshot from Sci-Fi Channel: Capt. Karl Agathon/Helo (Tahmoh Penikett) suspects a doctor is murdering his patients aboard Galactica and news of Baltar’s (James Callis’) impending trial sparks unrest in the fleet.

Our apologies to FanBoyWonder’s faithful reader for the delay in getting this BSG review up but let’s give a nice round of applause (and the finger) to Mother Nature for providing much of the country—including the Metro Washington, D.C. area with a lovely snow/ice storm.

While unable to write anything until now, we’ve had The Woman King on the brain for a couple of days—all-in-all it was eye opening to see that racism and bigotry exists in the BSG universe.

At first glance we thought the episode’s “statement” came off as a little heavy handed but the more we chewed on it the more we realized that it wasn’t so much a statement than a revealing and yes painful admission that even the most noble of characters share prejudice in one form or another as their constant companion.

The object of the aforementioned prejudice is the burgeoning civilian refugee camp housed on the Galactica's starboard hangar deck, including many Sagittarons. Considered insular and backward by their fellow Colonial citizens—they are pacifists who refused to fight during the Cylon occupation of New Caprica and their religion doesn’t believe in medical care (think Quakers and Jehovah’s Witnesses).

Helo has been charged with the thankless task of overseeing the refugees—“the Mayor of Dogville”—his peers playfully but cuttingly chide. The overcrowding is bad but to make matters worse, Dr. Mike Roberts (guest-star Bruce Davison), the civilian doctor overseeing the refugees, diagnoses a number of the Sagittarons with Mellorak sickness. The disease is curable if it's treated within 48 hours. Untreated, it's fatal and the Sagittarons don't believe in medical care.

To Helo’s growing frustration, the sickness spreads and refugees start dying, all because the Sagittarons refuse treatment. Then a distraught Sagittaron mother, Mrs. King, tells Agathon that her grown son died even after she allowed Dr. Roberts to treat him. Mrs. King believes that Roberts murdered her son and Helo soon finds cause to believe her…but he is in the distinct minority.

Helo takes the Sagittarons' case directly to Colonel Tigh (Michael Hogan) and Admiral Adama (Edward James Olmos). Adama very coldly shuts Helo down, displaying muted but undeniable derision for the Sagittarions.

Tigh—who came to trust Roberts in the resistance movement on New Caprica—accuses Helo of always taking the wrong side in any fight, first with his Cylon wife now with the Sagittarions. In case you were thinking that Tigh may have been getting soft, we see here that he’s just as big of a pr*ck as ever.

It’s hard not to feel sorry for Helo—he’s a man all alone in the world—not even his wife Athena (Grace Park) believes him, especially after Dr. Roberts successfully treats their baby girl Hera.

It all comes to a head when Lt. Dualla (Kandyse McClure) herself a Sagittaron by birth, is sick — after being treated by Dr. Roberts. All hell breaks loose as a now discredited Helo risks all to rescue Dee. Just as it looks like the hammer is about to come down on Helo, Tigh, of all people rides to the rescue---now believing that Roberts is a killer.

There are some BSG episodes we can watch over and over again and some we see once and that’s it. The Woman King is the latter. It was a powerful episode and painful to watch as otherwise good characters act less than nobly….in other words human.

More than anything, this episode proved beyond all doubt that the BSG universe is most definitely the anti-Star Trek. Racism and intolerance was alive and well between human beings long before the Cylon nuclear holocaust.

Tahmoh Penikett carried this episode and we’re glad he got some spotlight but a special note of praise to guest star Bruce Davidson for a masterful job as Doc Roberts. In equal measure, he played the guy everybody likes and trusts, the Doc with the God Complex (is there any other kind?) and the man hiding deep seated ethnic hatred.

While Helo and Doc Roberts faced off, this episode had other things going on. While Athena visited an imprisoned Caprica Six (Tricia Helfer) in Galactica’s brig, we finally see the return of the Imaginary Baltar—Yes! As Athena implores Six to cooperate as (the real) Baltar’s upcoming trial for high crimes and treason nears.

Speaking of the impending trial, the episode’s scene stealer was the two-minute exchange between President Roslin (Mary McDonnell) and Vice-President Tom Zerek (Richard Hatch) as he warns Roslin that the impending trial will bring a “hurricane” of upheaval. Civil unrest on a massive scale, assassination attempts, media-scrutiny of Roslin’s every move and it will bring the entire fleet down. He advises Roslin to declare marshal law during the trial.

Roslin later notes that Zerek isn’t posturing, he’s clearly frightened, as he can seemingly see something coming that she can scarcely imagine.

But Gods bless Richard Hatch. Now wait a centon and hear us out. As the original Apollo on the original BSG, Hatch appeared early in life of the reimagined BSG in an inspired bit of stunt casting.

Hatch, who for years had sought to achieve a Star Trek: The Next Generation-like revival of the original Battlestar, had been a vocal opponent of the new BSG when new BSG producers Ron Moore and David Eick brought him on board—keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

Hatch’s character Tom Zerek is an odd hybrid of Nelson Mandela, Timothy McVeigh and Gerry Adams. Imprisoned for 20 years, Zerek is a terrorist/freedom fighter/political activist who is despised by Adama on principle but someone who has earned Roslin’s grudging respect.

What could have easily been just a forgettable, one-off gimmick cameo proved to be the most clever moves of the show. Hatch took the role and ran with it and Tom Zerek has proven to be one of the most compelling of the guest/supporting cast members. Not only have we long forgotten that he was the first Apollo but Hatch more than holds his own with Oscar-caliber heavy-weights McDonnell and Olmos.


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