Jammer's Review

Battlestar Galactica

"Colonial Day"

**1/2

Air date: 3/18/2005
Written by Carla Robinson
Directed by Jonas Pate

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Colonial Day" is the thematic sequel to "Bastille Day," in that it features Tom Zarek and showcases his skill for using free speech as a tool of empowerment. Also like "Bastille Day," it isn't quite convincing in the way it portrays life following the downfall of society.

As I look over the plethora of facts in my notes, it's occurring to me that "Colonial Day" has more value as governmental background material for this series than it does as a standalone episode — even though the primary thrust of its plot acts as a standalone. Paying attention will provide you insights into the governmental workings of the Colonies, each of which has a delegate that sits on the Quorum of 12. As "Colonial Day" opens, we learn that an interim Quorum of 12 is being put together.

We hear this from three reporters who comprise "The Colonial Gang," which is the fleet's low-rent equivalent of the McLaughlin Group. They are reporting from the grounds of the Cloud 9 luxury liner, which appears on the series for the first time because it was damaged in the Cylon attack and uninhabitable until now.

The Cloud 9 is like a luxury hotel and conference center, and features a large dome with artificial sunlight that shines down on the well-kept gardens. The Cloud 9 is such an odd part of the fleet — and raises questions that the episode can't begin to address — that I began wondering whether it was such a good idea to even have it on the show. Isn't a ship like this with all its creature comforts a place where everyone in the fleet would want to live? For that matter, who's going to live there? Are there going to be fights over it? Maybe the government should set up a rotation system so everyone gets to spend time on this ship.

But I'm getting mired in technicalities. Obviously, the Cloud 9 is a filmmaking device that allows this show to take place in Earth-like settings that have the rare opportunity to be filmed outdoors. Also, it gives the governmental proceedings the added benefit of a senate-floor-discussion scope, since watching Roslin continuously give speeches from the aisle of the Colonial One simply will not do.

The charismatic Tom Zarek, who has been freed from prison since the events of "Bastille Day," apparently has enough support from Sagittaron that he's able to secure their delegate seat. This is a thorn in Roslin's side, who does not trust Zarek one bit, but as a matter of law cannot stop him from participating in government. I myself wonder if Zarek, being such a polarizing figure, would so easily have been chosen even by Sagittaron. Perhaps this demonstrates how the divides between the "unified" Colonies still live on even after the Cylon invasion, but one of the problems with the episode is that it never really gives us enough detail to believe that its events are democratically plausible beyond the actual players of the game. What about all the "unrest" in the fleet? We don't get a real sense of it.

Baltar's own popularity has given him the seat for Caprica, which is a nice (if obvious) irony; the man who was used as the Cylons' instrument now becomes a key member of government representing one of the worlds they attacked.

Meanwhile, an unseen figure loads a gun ominously and repeatedly as the camera style makes it look all Intense and Foreboding and Assassin-y. Could Zarek have hired an assassin to take out Roslin?

The government proceedings take place on the Cloud 9 in a room vaguely reminiscent of the U.N., in which Baltar — hopelessly bored — now sits behind a placard that says "Caprica." Zarek, wasting no time in exercising his newfound powers, moves for the selection of a Colonial vice president, and at Six's behest, Baltar finds himself seconding Zarek's motion. Another delegate then nominates Zarek for the VP office; another delegate seconds the nomination. Suddenly, Zarek is a VP nominee. Talk about swift government.

One of the best points made in the episode is actually made by Zarek, who talks to reporters about the way society is still going through the motions of its former self, with people hanging on to what was, and is no longer. The Colonies have been destroyed and the fleet is limping across the galaxy, and yet people do jobs that are now meaningless. Take, for example, the groundskeeper for the Cloud 9. Is he still being paid? If so, what is there left to buy? There's no manufacturing or industry; it has all been left behind on the Colonies, presumably destroyed by the Cylons.

It's a really good point — and a challenging one for the writers to talk about so openly — but how do you address something like that? One of the problems with "Colonial Day" is that it sidesteps these very issues. What would the end of the world really look like? I honestly don't know, and I'm not sure the writers do either. But to tell us the world is over and yet we still have this luxury cruise ship with people hanging around the bar (isn't the booze going to run out?) and getting into heated political discussions — it's a little weird and disconnected.

One such heated discussion leads to a bar fight, which incidentally causes the would-be assassin's gun to be knocked into plain view where Lee and Kara see it, resulting in the arrest and interrogation of the suspect, a man named Valance. Lee and Kara believe Zarek hired him, and want Valance to give Zarek up. They make ominous (albeit false) threats about the fact that the law is on hold and they can do just about whatever they want in the interrogation room. After what happened in "Flesh and Bone," there's a certain menace behind these threats, although there's clearly a line of acceptability separating the torture of humans and the torture of "toasters."

The plot thickens when Valance turns up dead, in what could've been suicide but probably was murder. Did Zarek have Valance killed to head off the investigation? Does Zarek's maneuvering with Tigh's troublesome wife Ellen (a foreboding fact in itself) have something to do with it? Or is he innocent, as he claims? The problem with Valance's murder is that I don't buy it as a plot point. Valance died in custody. If he was killed, the killer had inside information and apparently came in "through the vents." This is a fairly flimsy idea. The notion of someone killing a guarded suspect without being seen makes the Galactica security look incompetent. Convenient that those vents have such handy access to the very room holding a would-be assassin. A better word would be "contrived."

What I like about this episode is the way it depicts Roslin as a shrewd politician willing to do whatever politicking she must to keep Zarek from the VP office. She asks her right-hand man Gray to walk away from his nomination because it looks like he might lose to Zarek (she tells him to claim "health reasons"). She then asks Baltar to step up because of his rapidly increasing popularity. The final vote in the quorum is a 6-6 tie, with Roslin casting the tie-breaking vote. Nice. This also gives Baltar more power, coming on the heels of his self-ascension to "instrument of God" in last week's "The Hand of God." Roslin's assessment of how this plays out: "Better the devil you know..."

We never really find out for sure who killed Valance, and we never really find out what Ellen and Zarek are exchanging ominous nods of acknowledgement about. We have our suspicions, but the episode leaves a great deal of ambiguity in its intrigue, which is fine and good.

The episode ends with an elaborate banquet celebrating Baltar's selection, which goes so far as to put Kara in a dress ("I clean up nice sometimes") and have Adama dancing with Roslin. There's a nice exchange where Adama compares politics to war, and Roslin notes that you can get killed in politics a lot more times than you can get killed in war.

And yet, the problem with this scene and the episode overall — with its expensive celebration and exceptionally 21st-century-Earth sensibilities — is that it feels too much like business as usual, like the political process of the society that existed before the Cylon attack. This does not look like the process of a mobile government scraping for survival and addressing unforeseen challenges. For all the political intrigue and shuffling of characters in this plot — which is interesting — the episode isn't convincing on the bottom line because it looks like government on Earth and not like government for a fleet of isolated ships and a population of a mere 50,000.

To forgo the pretense of a transition, here's your Caprica update: In their mission to get off the planet, Helo sees another copy of Six and figures out that she must be a Cylon. At the end, Helo sees another copy of Sharon and realizes that she is a Cylon. He runs away in a somewhat awkwardly edited scene; this moment of discovery should've had more impact.

Previous episode: The Hand of God
Next episode: Kobol's Last Gleaming, Part 1

Season Index

11 comments on this review

Mark Y - Wed, Mar 25, 2009 - 3:39pm (USA Central)
Popular opinion on Baltar sure seems to swing wildly. One episode, he's accused of treason, -- and Roslin goes so far to say she believed beyond a doubt he was involved in the downfall of the colonies -- and the next this gauche daydreamer is popular enough to democratically represent the (former?) citizens of Caprica. That being said, I did enjoy his extemporaneous defense of Roslin to the reporters.

Speaking of Roslin's defense, Zarek's accusations of her administration's poor job seem to resonate with the characters, yet the show has done a poor job of offering any proof. Once again, Zarek is portrayed as a "freedom fighter" with very little portrayal of the freedoms he's fighting for. It gets tiring hearing the characters label him such without any reason.

The fact that the show did enter the realm of civilian life at all, however, is encouraging. There's been only glimpses of civilian life so far, such as rationing romantic retreats, and in turn makes this episode worthwhile.
Sci-fan - Fri, Jun 5, 2009 - 8:30pm (USA Central)
The lack of attention paid to how the fleet is now operating has a society has irked me from almost day 1. Its very frustrating that we haven't had any attention paid to this, at least this episode showed us another ship in the damned fleet for once!
Ulkesh - Wed, Nov 10, 2010 - 8:28pm (USA Central)
@MarkY's first point

While I agree in principal, one has to consider the fact that Baltar played an instrumental role (pun intended) in the salvation of the entire Human race in "The Hand of God"... and that's not hyperbole. :)
Nic - Mon, Dec 20, 2010 - 9:23am (USA Central)
I completely agree with your review, and I believe the depiction of how 50,000 space-fearing human civilians would run a government and go through their everyday lives is one of the weaker aspects of this series. It's almost better not to think about it because you keep finding little details that just wouldn't make sense in this situation.

I must take issue with your comment "there's clearly a line of acceptability separating the torture of humans and the torture of "toasters." I completely disagree with that. We know by now that the humanoid Cylons have the same capacity for feeling pain as humans do. As such, it's just as immoral to torture a humanoid Cylon than it is to torture a human, which I saw as being the point of "Flesh & Blood" - that by torturing another living being that thinks and feels, she actually lost some of her humanity. Otherwise, it would mean that the humans are no better than the Cylons, and as Adama said in the Miniseries "Why are we as a people worth saving?"
Nick Poliskey - Fri, Apr 15, 2011 - 2:23pm (USA Central)
I really liked this episode. Even though didn't really make any productive suggestions or complaints, I don't think it to hard to think of many...(How could you still have 12 planet representation when it looks like the majority of people are caprican, creating 11 tiny minority seats...etc) I don't know if it really matters what the complaints are, I think in this situation they will exist even if nothing is truly a problem.

I think sometimes you can be to critical. Jammer says what about the beer running out, but I think that is EXACTLY the point he was trying to make, the beer is going to run out, everyone knows it, and we are all here having a party pretending the beer isn't running out. That is what I got out of it. Then again, it wouldn't have taken much out of the episode to mention it explicitly.

I will say that scene where Zarek talks about pretending the institutions still mean anything, reminded me of a scene from Stephen Kings' book "The Stand", where, after the united states has been destroyed and there is only a few thousands souls left alive, one character complains because they few thousand were trying to recreate the US constitution, and how could it possible fit a rag tag group of people in the middle of no-where, particularily when the ACTUAL us constitution had so many problems before the US fell. Heady stuff.
Michael - Sat, Nov 12, 2011 - 11:36am (USA Central)
@Nic:
The Cylon in that episode had clearly stated he had vital information concerning a grave national security issue--a literally ticking time-bomb--and, even if he was lying about that, torturing him to extract that information is no way morally or, AFAIC, legally abhorrent. To argue that torture is never acceptable, no how, no way, is to shut one's eyes to reality. What's the point of getting into a ring and following Queensberry rules if your opponent brings in a chainsaw? Yes, you can argue that you preserve your honor by "not stooping to your adversary's level," but what good does that do if he ends up slicing off your head?!? I don't think either Starbuck or Roslin did anything amiss in Flesh & Blood. If anything, I applaud Roslin for executing the scumbag instead of doing something wishy-washy like imprisoning him... - which I would have expected from her character.

AAAAAAANYWAY...

I agree with Mark Y: I, too, would like more evidence of Zarek's unsavory activities.

Nick P.: I also had the same thought, viz, are all the twelve colonies represented more-or-less proportionally among the ca. 45,000? I doubt it. I think delegates of vessels with weighted voting rights would have been a better way to go, but that's all nitpicking. This is, after all, an entertainment show, not a documentary :)

And good entertainment it is!
Nick P. - Sat, Nov 12, 2011 - 12:12pm (USA Central)
@Michael, Philosophically, I feel me and you are probably closer than say, Nic, and I. These Moral issues pop up often on this show, and I look forward to a certain 3rd season episode where me and Nic have a mini-blowout over similar themes right here on Jammers board!!

BTW, I love Adama, but I do feel there are some "personel" decisions he makes, particularily in season 2, that make me wonder if you will come to my side on the Adama command issue. That all being said, i still believe this is by far the best television I have ever watched, and over 4 seasons worth of eps, I rarely felt disapointed. I feel you will absolutely love this series and I look forward to reading your comments.

Nic, I love debating with you man, but me and you certainly stand on opposites side of some good issues!

Michael - Sat, Nov 12, 2011 - 1:55pm (USA Central)
Nick, as a former Star Trek aficionado who's been let down spectacularly by Voyager and even worse by Enterprise, I can't begin to tell you how thrilled I am to have discovered this show, thanks to Jammer.

Prima facie, it's not my kinda thing. It's fantasy, nothing spectacular in the way of technology, and it's mostly about human drama. If I had someone describe a show to me that way, I'd probably not touch it with a ten-foot pole.

But B.S.G. is done so well in every respect that I'm gobbling up the episodes at a rate of 2-3 per day (a workday at that!). And I can't say that ANY of the dozen I've seen so far disappointed me in any way, and almost all were truly riveting. I usually start watching something but before long shove it to the background while I play a game of minesweeper, but not this baby! I can't remember the last time I could say that about a show!

Will definitely be commenting on forthcoming shows. Season 1 finale comin' up!
Elliott - Mon, Jan 2, 2012 - 6:54pm (USA Central)
I would, Jammer, like to direct your attention to the comments you made on Voyager's finale, "Endgame"--specifically your harping against "having their cake and eating it too."

That any of this pomp and ceremony could be happening not even 2 months after all-but total annihilation of the human race is totally implausible, forget "weird and disconnected" as your bias paints.

I do not, however, hold that against this series or this episode, which is quite fine (though imperfect). The conceit is accepted in order that an important, relevant and very true story be told. I wish you had had the same understanding when it came to that other series.
Rosario - Sat, Nov 17, 2012 - 3:16pm (USA Central)
Have to agree with Jammer on this one. This entire episode just seems completely implausible. I really can't rate it lower than a C- (2 stars) though because the characters are so well acted. The actors really portray their characters well, even the ones that I don't like.

@Michael: I find it strange that you're consistently hard on Roslin. I thought she would be the wishy-washy type myself but she has consistently made hard decisions that I can respect. I've really come to like her character. You can't fairly label her a "liberal" either. Or a "conservative." It's not like she has made her stance on social issues and economic issues known yet.

Concerning this episode, all I can really add is that I found it very distasteful when Zarek was questioning why the old gardener would still go to work. It was like he was encouraging him to go home and sit on his hands because the "old order was over." That old man probably enjoys what he does. He's a cog in an efficient wheel. Just because the economy and the market have dissapeared doesn't mean that he can't keep that garden beautiful. Just silly anarchist talk. Like the bartender, why should I have him make me a drink since there is nothing in it for him. What does that even mean?? The guy just promotes chaos. Anarchy. Things you're supposed to grow up from. Can do without Tom Zarek. /airlock
Peremensoe - Thu, May 30, 2013 - 4:04pm (USA Central)
It makes perfect sense to have twelve-colony representation in the ruling council, and a VP, if that was how things used to be done. As noted in "Bastille Day," the old law is all the order there is, until a new one is established.

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