Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Oath—Attack of the Day Players

One of the difficulties of an episode like "The Oath" that involves a significant portion of the cast turning on the rest is that unless it calls for a series-ending bloodbath (which given BSG's track record and the fact that this is it's final season, is not out of the question), it will require a lot of little-seen day players to come to the forefront. Because of this, a lot of the effectiveness of such an episode will depend on people who normally get only one or two lines per episode if they appear at all. Luckily for BSG, this show has been around for a long time and has a large supply of day players and red shirts.

First and foremost among these secondary characters whom must rise to the occasion is Felix Gaeta. While Alessandro Juliani has always given a nice, nuanced performance in the role and Gaeta has been on the show since the beginning, until recently he has always been a second tier character who mostly labored in the background. Perhaps this is why he has slowly ascended in status and air time over the years, because the writers needed to build someone up to take the fall when the main characters would have to be put through the crucible. Ron Moore is a harsh master indeed.

Our story begins at 0620 hours in the Admiral's Quarters. In his podcast, Moore explains that the purpose of these chirons announcing the time and location was to make the episode feel more fast paced and to give viewers a sense of the scale of the ship. The latter worked very well for me, making the ship feel like a giant set of interconnected shooting galleries—sort of like the environment of a first person shooter. The former however was a little less successful, while Gaeta's machinations as he orchestrates the mutiny become fascinating upon repeated viewing, in the first viewing the action feels a little slow.

Last week's problems are still with Galactica, the civilian ships are still resisting the Cylon upgrades which Adama feels are needed to keep the fleet going. Roslin has effectively abandoned her post as president for the time being and Bill is shouldering the load by himself. But they are happy. Bill and Laura have essentially settled down and are openly a couple. Neither makes an attempt to hide their relationship despite Tigh's obvious discomfort with it.

Twelve minutes later Gaeta shows up in the brig to spring Tom Zarek and the mutiny is underway. As they plot, the first seeds of dissension are being sowed in the co-conspirators. In discussing the Quorum, Zarek without mentioning his name brings up the idea that Lee Adama will have to be killed and Gaeta balks suggesting that Zarek can "push his buttons."

While Laura is still reluctant to get back into politics, she can also sense Bill passively-aggressively trying to push her back. While she stands her ground initially, their conversation suggests that his silent prodding is starting to work. She'll be back sooner rather than later.

In the hanger deck, Racetrack complains about a fuel leak and has the deck evacuated to clear the way for Gaeta to take over. Laird complains that Zarek's shuttle has no permission to take off. While Gaeta tries to smooth things over, Zarek takes a more direct approach, killing Laird with a heavy wrench to the back of the head. Skulls has more lines here than he has had over the entire course of the series in declaring "good riddance" to the former Pegasus and now former Galactica deck chief. Gaeta and Zarek argue again as one of Baltar's chippies witnesses the murder from afar. Zarek's speech about how revolutions can be stopped by even the slightest hesitation suggests on possible way that this mutiny will end.

By 0704 hours, Gaeta is in CIC providing cover for Zarek's escape and setting his plan into motion. Gaeta suggests that the DRADIS is failing and convinces Adama and Tigh to take it offline for a diagnostic. By 0741 hours, Zarek is back on Colonial One claiming that Admiral Adama has backed down. In a gym on Galactica Seelix brings up her non-relationship with him as a ruse for the mutineers to kidnap our favorite Cylon ex-jock. The beat down is brutal but they let him live and take him prisoner in accordance to Gaeta's plan.

Back to CIC. It's now 0809 hours and Gaeta reports a fire onboard close to ship's main antenna array. This fake fire harkens back the series pilot where a fire onboard breaks out during the initial Cylon attack. Recall that eighty-five deck hands were killed in that scene when Tigh ordered the burning compartments to be vented and exposed to space to stop the fire. So shipboard fires are a serious matter on Galactica. Gaeta suggests that because of the location of the fire, which could potentially cut off Galactica's communications with the rest of the fleet, might be the result of sabotage. Adama agrees and orders that a Marine fire team accompany the damage control team and that the deck be evacuated.

There is a blink and you missed it moment in this scene as Adama calls a young crewman, Private Jaffe, by name. I missed it the first time that I watched this episode and it turns out to be an interesting if not critical reveal as this boy who has never been seen before is now marked for death because we know his name at a time when a lot of people are expected to die.

By 0812 hours Starbuck is making fun of Hotdog for his new son in the Jr. Officer's Quarters. Vernon Costanza (Vernon? Really?) comes back and Kara can't take what she dishes out. As the evacuation order comes in Kara is suspicious and talks to Narcho. His brusque reaction makes her even more suspicious and when she spots civilians raiding the weapons locker, it's pretty easy for her to put two and two together. She tries to report it to CIC but Gaeta gives her the brush off.

Back on Colonial One Lee tries to call Adama about Zarek's release and is again cut off by Gaeta who claims to not know anything about the release. Zarek makes an attempt to manipulate Lee into joining him but it's pretty easy for Lee to see through it. He chooses instead to return to Galactica and thus walk into a trap. This is something of a personality trait for Lee, clever insight and idealism mixed with impulsive stupidity. On Galactica Gaeta reports a crisis as the "fire" has spread and cut off Galactica's external and internal communications.

By 0902 hours, Lee is back on Galactica being beat up by Skulls and some marines. It seems that Gaeta's confederates aren't fond of Lee. Defending Baltar at his trial and cutting a deal with the Cylons can do that -- they prepare to kill Lee. Luckily for Lee, Kara has been itching for an excuse to start shooting people and kills the marine who has a gun to Lee's head. She also shoots Skulls and a Caprican stand off ensues. Lee and Kara escape as Racetrack tends to Skulls but she's eager to be followed.

Athena is feeding Hera when Helo hears some commotion. It's too late as the mutineers break in take Athena and the kid and one of Thorn's (Thorn was the torturer from Pegasus who tried to rape Athena and was killed in a fight with Helo and Tyrol way back in season two) friends has Helo beaten bloody and senseless. This is interesting as it's the first time that main character is really hurt in this episode. Normally, the viewer response would be muted as Helo is probably an important enough character that you don't expect him to die. But this is the final season of BSG and they pretty much announced that people were going to die when Dee offed herself two episodes ago. So there is some genuine concern that Helo might not make it out of this one alive.

It's still 0902 hours by the time Starbuck and Apollo make it to Dry Stowage 5-3A-01. A typo? Or is Dry Stowage 5-3A-01 merely right next to the hanger deck? Either way, it feels confusing given that we just switched from Lee and Kara to Athena and Helo and back to Lee and Kara. Presumably these events are happening at the same time but you'd think that more time had passed. Anyway as Lee worries that they might have already lost, Kara plants a big kiss on his lips as she signals that the original Starbuck, the hard-drinking, hard-fighting hotshot who likes to frak around is back and that Apollo needs to come back too. They decide to go after the president.

By 0908 Tigh is furious at the lack of damage reports and Mr. Hoshi is starting to report inconsistencies between the ship's own sensor readings the claims that a fire is ravaging the ship. Gaeta tries to finesse things by claiming that the sensors might have been damaged by the fire but Adama sends Jaffe down to check on the damage control team.

Athena and Hera are hustled into a cell with Caprica Six and Sam Anders. Caprica is terrified thinking that they will be killed but Athena is confident that the mutineers need to keep them alive to use as bargaining chips against the rebel Cylons. As far as explanations of why these main characters have been spared go, it's a pretty good one.

By 0913 hours Starbuck and Apollo are fighting their way down Deck F Corridor 6. The scene is appropriately chaotic as they try to reach the president.

By 0922 hours Private Jaffe reports back there is no fire. Gaeta is forced to call on the marines loyal to him to take over the bridge and take Adama prisoner—likely sooner than he intended to do so—so he is probably improvising at this point. The marines have itchy trigger fingers and as the only named red shirt in sight, Jaffe is quickly cut down along with several marines who are not part of the mutiny. Gaeta is doing his best to keep the body count down but Adama isn't going quietly.

They confront each other. Adama talks about loyalty and the oath and how they've crossed a line from which there is no coming back. And Gaeta says some uncomfortable truths. He talks about Adama being blinded by sentiment and loyalty to his Cylon XO. It's interesting that while Gaeta is essentially right about Adama's blindness he picks the target wrong target. Adama is in fact much more blinded by his relationship with the Laura Roslin than by his relationship with Tigh.

In any case, Adama and Tigh are taken prisoner along with other senior staff, including Mr. Hoshi. The latter is curious as anyone who has seen the most recent BSG mini-sodes knows that Gaeta and Hoshi are a couple. Of course, the mini-sodes weren't filmed until after the series ended, so some continuity errors are to be expected. Of course one could argue that Gaeta and Hoshi's relationship ended following the mini-sodes and before Gaeta hatched his plot. As the mini-sodes are set after Galactica abandons Earth, it's a tight fit timewise. The only room for the mini-sodes would be in the week in between "Sometimes a Great Notion" and "The Disquiet That Follows My Soul."

By 0925 hours Starbuck and Apollo have reached the president and fill her in on the details of the mutiny. Laura's first thought is of Bill and it propels her to action. The steely politician is back.

By 0934 hours Gaeta's confederates are struggling to establish control of the ship. Many of them lack experience with the operation of Galactica's huge CIC and their progress is slow.

By 0942 hours Baltar is preparing his escape and making excuses to the members of his cult. Tyrol is helping to organize them to possibly defend the compartment. Being fanatics, they buy his cowardly lies hook, line, and sinker. Tyrol is considerably calmer and more organized. Starbuck and Apollo bring the president to Baltar's compartment where Tyrol informs her that the Admiral has been arrested. Tyrol offers to help get them and Adama off the ship, "the old man deserves a better fate than what he'll get from them."

By 0947 hours Adama and Tigh are still being walked down to the brig. Adama talks to one of the marines, Neward, about his role in the assault on New Caprica. The other marine, Maldonado, is less talkative. Adama works him over verbally, forcing a confrontation, daring them to kill him. Tigh attacks Maldonado and Adama takes Neward's gun and shoots Maldonado. They take Neward prisoner. If Jack Bauer and Tony Almeida from 24 were old men, they'd be Bill Adama and Saul Tigh.

Roslin talks to Baltar. She wants access to his wireless unit so she can address the fleet. Roslin talks smack about the sincerity of Baltar's conversion and Baltar points out that Roslin herself was rather religious when it suited her politically. She concedes that, "maybe we're both frauds and this is our last chance to atone."

By 0956 hours Tigh and Adama are prowling the halls of the ship, spying on the mutineers and interrogating Neward.

By 1012 hours the fleet is calling in to Galactica asking what is happening. Gaeta talks to Zarek. He's disappointed that Adama is still alive. They are interrupted by a wireless broadcast by President Roslin. She calls for peace with the Cylons, reminding the fleet that there supplies are dwindling and insisting that the alliance with the Cylons is humanity's last hope. Gaeta's co-conspirators are unable to stop the broadcast, forcing Gaeta to abandon his post to do it himself. The fleet starts calling for Roslin when her broadcast is finally cut off.

By 1017 hours Starbuck and Apollo find Tigh and Adama. Starbuck wants to kill Neward and they let him go instead. Starbuck is furious, "They are not you men anymore. They are your enemy!"

By 1021 hours Roslin and Adama are in a secondary storage bay where Tyrol is preparing their escape. Baltar suggests that they both chose their aides poorly when they were president.

By 1023 hours Starbuck, Apollo, Tigh, and Adama are in Waste Water Stowage. Apollo and Tigh argue, tensions between Cylon and human are high even in Adama's extended family.

At 1027 hours Baltar tries to call Gaeta. He begs him to stop and brings up Gaeta's reason for having attempted to stab him with a pen during Baltar's trial. Again, this brings us to the recent BSG mini-sodes which also address the pen attack. Gaeta notices an unaccounted for Raptor. It's Tyrol's escape ship.

By 1032 hours the Raptor has reached the Secondary Storage Airlock. And so have Starbuck, Apollo, Tigh, and Adama. Adama and Roslin share a disturbingly passionate kiss. Tigh and Adama arm themselves and tell Starbuck, Apollo, and Tyrol to leave. They prepare to make a final stand against Gaeta's people as Roslin and Baltar escape in the Raptor. It's an impressive yet incongruous sight, two badass old men arming up for a gun fight.

By 1041 hours Roslin's Raptor is in flight. Gaeta pauses before he orders it shot down.

As Gaeta's men begin to breach the bulkhead, Adama calmly opens fire and settles down for a fight. Gaeta's men through a grenade through the breach and it goes off as the screen fades to black and the words "to be continued" flash on the screen.

Other than Clint Eastwood in Grand Torino and the occasional Die Hard sequel by Bruce Willis, action movies are generally a young man's game. One of the advantages of Hollywood's emphasis on youth is that a lot of older movie actors often become available for television roles. It's hard to imagine Jamie Bamber and Katie Sackhoff—even though they are both good actors—pulling off this confrontation with the style and aplomb that Edward James Olmos and Michael Hogan show here.

And it's not just a man thing. Broadcast and cable television is full of older Oscar caliber actresses like Mary McDonnell and Glen Close. Who says there's no upside to ageism?

One last issue that I'm interested to see addressed is whether Roslin's absence from her duties as president facilitated and encouraged the mutiny/coup. I would say that it did, if there was ever a time when the fleet needed its president it was when Earth turned out to be a nuked wasteland. Of course, Roslin was hit as hard, if not harder, than anyone else by this and she had been weakened by cancer and chemotherapy. But it's hard not to think that her funk created a vacuum that helped Gaeta and Zarek's uprising happen.

In the end, "The Oath" is a powerful and stylish start. Whether the payoff will be as strong is an open question. I'll have to stay tuned.

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