Jammer's Review

Battlestar Galactica

"Black Market"

**

Air date: 1/27/2006
Written by Mark Verheiden
Directed by James Head

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Black Market" is one of those mixed bags I respect for its virtues even though I can't recommend it because of its missteps. Here's an episode that tries to deal with something realistic — a black market — that would obviously emerge in any society facing shortages like this one, but at the same time feels the need to fall back on manipulative emotional-crutch devices — like, say, threatened innocent children and a perceptive, well-intended woman forced into prostitution. (Naturally, the prostitute is the mother of one of the threatened children, but I'm getting ahead of myself.)

The black market emerging in the fleet is becoming more visible and its leaders more brazen. Roslin wants to institute an economic policy that would make trading in the black market illegal, and Adama agrees to support it, but perhaps no one has stopped to consider the implications in light of the fact half the fleet — military personnel included — is using the black market to get the supplies they need. This brings up the interesting question of how exactly the economy in the fleet operates considering there are no means of production beyond, presumably, the most rudimentary needed for survival. The economic questions Zarek posed in "Colonial Day" could still benefit from a concrete answer, assuming one is possible.

In the opening teaser, Pegasus' Commander Fisk is abruptly garroted. Adama puts Lee in charge of finding out who did it and why, and the ensuing investigation quickly reveals that Fisk was strong-arming the controllers of the black market in order to turn his own profits.

First of all, I have some major reservations about this surprise "twist." While I have no doubt the writers thought killing Fisk in the first five minutes would be unexpected, I don't see it as particularly good drama. Fisk was a guy who we watched squirm all through the unfolding drama of "Resurrection Ship." He seemed like a decent guy who wanted to avoid the internal violence that Cain seemed so capable of. After Cain's death he became the obvious character link to Pegasus. Now the writers unceremoniously kill him off, retroactively painting him corrupt. I don't care for it. Who do we have now linking us to Pegasus?

Lee's investigation starts off police procedural style. The plot is set against Lee's personal crisis: Here's a man who's imploding. After the emotional trauma of "Resurrection Ship," there's something different about Lee; even his father mentions. Jamie Bamber's performance gets the message across, creating a man who goes about his duties but seems dead inside. In the early scenes we see him with a woman named Shevon (Claudette Mink), who has a young daughter. The scene slowly reveals that Shevon is actually a prostitute whom Lee has a standing arrangement with. Flashbacks reveal a woman with Lee from before the Cylon holocaust, but the context remains obscured to us; Lee and the mystery woman were lovers, we assume, and something happened between them.

Now Lee seems adrift. There's an odd but somehow effective scene where Dualla confronts Lee, asking if there's something unspoken that's going on between the two of them. Lee is evasive. Dualla doesn't push. There's a Lee-Dualla-Billy triangle here somewhere, but the writers have teased it and been reluctant to play it. This is about as overt as it's been.

Meanwhile, Lee's investigation, even if he does find the suspects, isn't likely to end promisingly. The scene between Lee and Tigh proves that when supplies are hard to obtain, that doesn't stop people from obtaining them. To outlaw the black market would be like outlawing drugs; it may drive the problem underground, but it doesn't make it go away. There's a good scene of exposition between Lee and Zarek (who always has clues about the shady types) leading to my favorite line of wry observation by Zarek: "Did you really expect some utopian fantasy to rise from the ashes?" You hear a line like that, and you begin to wonder if Roslin, with her trade policy, is naively living in that utopia.

Speaking of Roslin, I'd better mention the scene on Colonial One where she asks Baltar to resign the vice presidency. She does this because of what she saw in her memories — Baltar with a Cylon — in "Epiphanies." Neither Roslin nor Baltar say exactly what the other knows, but this makes for an interesting and complex dynamic: Baltar saved Roslin's life, and now Roslin hopes to bring him down because of what she knows yet cannot prove. When Baltar refuses to resign, you know instantly that these two are going to war. And an intriguing war of wits and wills it should be.

Zarek turns Lee on to the Prometheus, the ship running the black market under an ex-mercenary named Phelan (Bill Duke), a guy who has upped his brazen activity by killing Fisk and now ordering Lee to convince Adama to back off, using Shevon and the daughter, both kidnapped, as leverage. The story paints Phelan as a pragmatist who has crossed one line too many. He makes a good point when he says, "The fleet needs us. We're the pressure valve." Yet at the same time he sells children to people with "specific needs." What I like here is that the show recognizes the need for a black market in the fleet. Phelan makes some good points, and Bill Duke (he directed Deep Cover; go rent it) approaches the role with a purely intellectual performance rather than a visceral one. What I don't buy is Phelan's greedy inflexibility. His pragmatic platitudes don't seem in tune with his willingness to extend into the evil of dealing children to pedophiles.

Lee's solution is equally pragmatic: He shoots Phelan, and then tells Phelan's associates that what's done is done, so now let's work something out. He acknowledges the fleet needs the black market, but there must be limits, like no trafficking in children. What blunts the suspense of Lee's solution is the unnecessary very first scene of the episode, which shows Lee holding a gun on Phelan before jumping back "48 hours earlier." It's a framing device that wasn't the least bit necessary and gives more away than it should. I also could've used fewer flashbacks of Lee and the mystery woman, which become repetitive and pretentious. The emotional payoff, which is helpfully explained to us by Shevon's armchair psychology while we watch the flashbacks, is disappointing.

I guess what I'm saying is that the plot involving the black market works (there's a scene where Roslin has to unhappily accept the black market as a fact of life, and also as a scene showing Zarek involving himself in the operation with Phelan now out of the way), but the character aspects are less certain. Lee's implosion is believable, but Shevon and the woman from Lee's past both strike me as extraneous. And Fisk's death is an example of the writers simply throwing a perfectly good supporting player in the trash.

Note: I revised the rating for this episode from 2.5 to 2 stars at the end of the season.

Previous episode: Epiphanies
Next episode: Scar

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17 comments on this review

dworkin - Thu, May 8, 2008 - 9:18pm (USA Central)
I always found Zarek's comment about a 'utopian fantasy' to be a snarky comment on the old TV series which was a vehicle for Starbuck and Apollo have adventures, in space. Particuarly funny coming from Richard Hatch.
Todd - Sat, Jun 14, 2008 - 8:14am (USA Central)
I sort of liked the look into the duality of Lee in this episode. He is a law-and-order kind of guy and I actually thought he would arrest/detain Phelan rather than shoot him, but he is also all about Justice. If there weren't children involved, I don't believe he would have killed him, but Lee just couldn't let that stand.

On the other hand, I didn't really care for the children aspect, and not just on moral grounds. It seemed sort of thrown in as the way to make Lee turn to the "Dark Side", so to speak (like Luke in Star Wars), and kill Phelan in cold blood. And I agree that a great actor/supporting player was lost just to show Lee's duality.

I also didn't quite understand Roslin's complete dismissal of the black market. I don't know how easy it is to get chamalla root, but it wasn't through regular channels. She had participated in the black market herself, if only in a small way. Of course, there is the "Do as I say not as I do" mentality that might be in play.

Thanks for taking the time to have this site and for your outstanding reviews. Kudos... Todd
Paul - Mon, Jul 28, 2008 - 3:23pm (USA Central)
Go Bill Duke..... Maaaac, Maaaaaaaac!
Brendan - Fri, Mar 6, 2009 - 3:31pm (USA Central)
The best thing to come out of this episode was the soundtrack. Look up "Black Market" in the Bear McCreary music of BSG concert on youtube. Its wicked.
Derek - Tue, Sep 29, 2009 - 12:45am (USA Central)
I still think killing Fisk was one of the biggest mistake the writers made on this show, and overall ties into their difficulties with integrating the Pegasus into the show after "Resurrection Ship." I remember thinking how cool it was that suddenly our heroes had two ships, but other than "Captain's Hand" and of course the mighty "Exodus" the poor Pegasus was seldom seen and seldom mentioned, which I think is a big shame. Fisk would have been a good guy to keep around.
breadbohn - Fri, Jan 29, 2010 - 10:33am (USA Central)
I agree they made a mistake in killing off Fisk, who was headed for some interesting ambiguities. Also a pity is how they killed off Phelan right away. He could have been an good recurring character as they further explored the effect of the black market.

Max Udargo - Mon, Jun 21, 2010 - 1:21am (USA Central)
Epiphanies and Black Market are both huge letdowns after the previous three episodes. And, indeed, Black Market makes me imagine the writers, exhausted from their heroic efforts on the Pegasus story, turning to a box full of old scripts that were rejected but saved because they might have enough potential to serve in a pinch.

Surely the early comment by Adama in response to Fisk's murder, "we start killing our own, all the Cylons have to do is sit back and watch," is a clanging anachronism. How did this silly line of dialogue get through? Why would Adama make such a trite observation after the conflict betwen the Pegasus and the Galactica, the "Gideon Massacre," his attempted coup against Roslin, shooting down the Olympic Carrier, the prison ship mutiny, etc., etc., etc. It's like Adama has forgotten all of that and is suddenly worried about the implications of "killing our own."

And it doesn't get much better. The confrontation between Lee and Baltar in Fisk's quarters is just a rote exchange of cliches that leads to nothing and means nothing. In fact, most of the dialogue in this episode is just characters barking dramatic cliches at each other.

But the worst and probably most lasting development from these two episodes starts during Epiphanies, when we realize the writers have decided to push the RESET button on Six. Frankly, like Jammer, I'm weary of Six as a sexy imaginary troublmaker in Baltar's head. I had hoped Baltar would come out of the Resurrection Ship episodes changed, and with a new relationship with Six built around the actual woman he had rescued, who I hoped would be more complicated, like Sharon, at least when it came to Baltar.

And, by the way, what the hell does "black market" even mean in the context of the fleet? Obviously trafficking in illegal goods and services, like controlled substances, illegal drugs, and child prostitutes is going to be a problem that needs to be addressed, but why the hell would anybody have a problem with Tigh trading a piece of jewelry for some other goods? Isn't most of the fleet operating on a bartering system now? What good is money? Is everybody still accepting money as a valid medium of exchange? It seems to me unlikely that whatever money made it aboard the fleet along with the survivors was distributed in any rational or fair way. Was there some discussion of a new monetary system that I missed?
Brendan - Thu, Jun 24, 2010 - 11:42pm (USA Central)
Originally, Head Six was not going to appear between that moment in Res. Ship and the season finale at that moment that's obvious if you've seen it. RDM says he changed his mind because writing scenes with Baltar without here was akward and "didn't work".

Its too bad, because that would have been a refreshing change of pace and also made that moment in Lay Down Your Burdens even better.
Sanagi - Sun, Apr 10, 2011 - 1:40am (USA Central)
One of the things that's refreshing about BSG is the way it takes its continuity seriously, so seeing the status quo fall back into place after being shaken up so much is disappointing. The idea of getting the Pegasus crew involved is even specifically shot down by Adama. At this point the Pegasus is just a bunch of extra guns and hallways.

It's also a shame to see such an intriguing villain get offed after some last-minute revelations about how evil he is. If this episode was going to count for anything in the long term it would've kept that villain alive. Sadly, it's not the first time a bad guy more interesting than Zarek has been created and disposed of while Zarek continues to wander around being too important to kill off but too boring to feature significantly in the plot.
Nick P. - Fri, May 6, 2011 - 9:02am (USA Central)
Ill say this about BSG, when it does trite Cliche' it goes all the way with it, and throws it all into one episode!!

So here is my big question...Where the hell is Earth? didn't they find it like 7 episodes ago? Does no one care? I am really getting bothered here. did I miss an episode, or a line explaining why they aren't going to earth?

Anyways, the reason the concept of the black market is so stupid (my friend is an economist) is because since it is a contained community with no taxation, there can be no such thing as a black market. It is simply the market. What Rosslyn is really saying is she wants knowledge of what everyone does all the time at all costs. which is very surprising coming from her, and not Adama. And it also makes her look little and trite, since she was using illegal drugs herself. There isn't a little "Do as I say, not as I do", it is the whole episode.

Add to that the stupid flashbacks, the begginning reveal, the cliche child slaves, and killing off the only sympathetic character from Pegasus, and you have a disaster of an episode. Not only is it bad on its own, but much like "Tigh up down" or whatever it was called, it cripples future episodes as it invloves the pegasus. The only reason to watch this one at all was the Balter Rosslyn scene.

One more thing, to add to the growing list of Adamas "what the hell??" command decisions, he gave the lead of a murder investigation to HIS SON???? I thought Adama was past this garbage. These decisions are what keeps me from fully embracing Adama as a Commandar.
Nic - Mon, Jun 13, 2011 - 9:59pm (USA Central)
This episode did not have the guts to deal with its subject matter, and that's really what makes it fail. It's been almost two seasons now, and they still haven't explained how they're allocating resources to the fleet. In a society like this, money would obviously no longer have any value. People would have to work not for personal gain, but to help humanity itself survive. Unfortunately, this has not been addressed.

To answer your question Nick P., in "Home, Part II" they mentioned that the coordinates for Earth were very far away, so my assumption is that they ARE travelling in that direction. It's too bad it hasn't been mentioned in dialogue though.
pegboy - Tue, Sep 27, 2011 - 2:54am (USA Central)
A real turd of an episode, 1 star tops. Killing Fisk for absolutely no reason, having Apollo picking up hookers and executing people. Talk about character assassination. This episode is a complete waste of time and ranks among the absolute worst of the entire run.
Michael - Fri, Nov 18, 2011 - 8:35am (USA Central)
A damp squib of a show, one of very few on B.S.G. It says nothing, it shows nothing, it explains nothing. There's no progress or progression in any way.

By killing off Fisk, the Pegasus is now just another vessel, albeit a strong one.

@Nick P.:
Yeah, Apollo was a very odd choice for a lead investigator. But it had to be someone "high-profile" from the lead cast, and I guess he was the best choice, what with subsequently almost getting garrotted (which Tigh, for instance, would probably not have survived).

I was wondering about the Earth angle myself and, like Nic, assume they've been traveling toward it since discovering its location. That SHOULD though have been getting them further away from the cylons, which doesn't appear to have happened...
Justin - Thu, Jul 5, 2012 - 2:09am (USA Central)
Fairly lame. Some random thoughts, though.

OK, so Fisk is dead. Who's the new commander of the Pegasus? Shouldn't it be Tigh?

This is the second time Lee has snatched a dude's gun away from him. Pretty badass. I also like the fact that he didn't hesitate to kill Phelan. Pragmatic, indeed.

What's with Lee's death wish? I don't really get it...

chris - Tue, Oct 16, 2012 - 3:29pm (USA Central)
A major letdown and 2 steps back after the exciting Pegasus arc.

The producers should have not killed Fisk, I liked that guy especially when he stopped his 2 crewmen who were torturing Helo and Tyrol.

Also, the "black market" idea is a BS in a small society of 50.000 survivors. There should not be a black market at all! Instead, the government should have used military force to gain all the available resources and distribute them equally to all the people. Black market can only function when there's currency and people tend to gather currency cause it means power. But that currency power is so useless in this small society, for its main goal is to escape the Cylons and survive...
voscerote - Mon, Jul 8, 2013 - 9:49pm (USA Central)
Yeah I know the blogger has pointed out in earlier review how lucky journalists must be to have survived with their profession intact. But outta 50,000 how many compulsive child-molesters survived? Is it that common?!
Jason D - Mon, Mar 24, 2014 - 5:01am (USA Central)
Jammer makes a great point about Fisk and the weak emotional payoff of Shevon's revelations at the end. The latter only emphasized this episode's biggest problem: a miscast lead.

So *something* is up with Lee, that's nothing new. But instead of exploring what's already on the table for him, we get thrown into the middle of some bonus cooked-up back story.

Could have been an interesting detective story that explores life in the fleet. Why use Lee when the guy is already be involved with everything else in the show (and fleet)?

If the season needed to take a break from the main ongoing plot lines (of which there are plenty), the writers should have used a new, side character. Instead, following a main character through this sever left-turn of a story just felt like a frustrating distraction forced into the middle of the season. One star.

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