Many times before, I've talked about the guilt, tragedy, and unintended consequences of Gaius Baltar. It's one of the central character themes of the series. Now we have an episode that's like the ultimate culmination of and reflection upon that theme, presented as a case study that the other characters are forced to examine. The truth is more gray than they perhaps expected.
The title of the episode is "Taking a Break from All Your Worries," which is just an awful title considering the episode's content. The writers should have had the word "guilt" or "guilty" in there somewhere (which would apply to both of the show's storylines) and certainly not the words "taking a break." Perhaps "taking a break" refers to the recently erected makeshift bar called Joe's, which occupies (I hope) the non-operating flight deck, and where off-duty Galactica crew members can go to, you know, take a break from their worries — or in the case of Lee and Tyrol, take a break from their marriages. (Tyrol's toast: "To marriage — why we build bars.")
That the show's title, its trailer (at least as seen after "Rapture") and, indeed, the entire subplot are so far removed from the main thrust of Baltar's drama is something of a mystery. Make no mistake — this is an episode whose success revolves around the analysis of Baltar. As far as I'm concerned, everything else might as well be background noise.
The episode opens with an eerie nursery rhyme that's an effective stage-setter. Baltar, locked in his cell, attempts to hang himself, with the help of Imaginary Six, who kicks his footing out from under him. You could say Baltar is at least partially suicidal, but he's really hoping that he's a Cylon that will wake up downloaded to a new body. As he's hanging, he has a dream/hallucination that he's being resurrected on a Cylon ship. Ironically, even this dream turns against him, making him a victim within his own hallucination. This should come as little surprise to Baltar, who has a similar love/hate relationship with Imaginary Six.
Baltar's failed suicide attempt merely sets the stage for a battle of wills between Baltar and his interrogators, who want to know what the Cylons know about the next step in the race to Earth. Roslin also wants to use this opportunity to probe into the past. She knows Baltar was involved with Caprica Six, and she wants to know the level of his involvement in the attack on the Colonies.
The interrogation tactics are at first conventional, with varying degrees of good cop and bad cop. In one scene, Roslin plays bad cop, and the results are a little startling; you don't usually see Mary McDonnell unload with both barrels on this series, but we get to see it here. It's actually kind of a relief to see the usually soft-spoken Roslin driven into a fury, whether staged or sincere. This is a man that most blame for the horrors on New Caprica, and Roslin's line of attack is like the cathartic expression of those feelings on behalf of everyone.
Still, even under every kind of threat, Baltar does not confess his sins (in part because he doesn't feel that his sins are his own fault). Adama suggests a more radical approach involving some dangerous, experimental, hallucinogenic drugs that will put Baltar in a unique frame of mind. The drugs make the interrogators seem like a life line, where only truthful answers will allow them to throw buoys.
This leads to a haunting series of dramatically intense scenes where Baltar is tied to a gurney and pumped full of drugs and psychologically tortured. James Callis' performance makes these scenes powerful. Adama asks questions, and Baltar is forced to confront the horror of the truth. In some cases, it drives him to madness and screams.
At the center of Baltar's inner torture is Caprica Six, the woman who tricked him into betraying humanity and has haunted him ever since. Baltar's interrogation powerfully demonstrates Six's influence over him and the damage she has done to his psyche. Is she an angel or a devil? Is she leading him into darkness or the light? What is Baltar to do? He's a slave to her influence, and he doesn't even understand what she represents. And none of it is his fault.
He confesses everything: His unintentional role in being used to attack the Colonies ("Conspiracy requires intent!"), his being forced at gunpoint to collaborate with the enemy on New Caprica, and his hope that he might turn out to be one of the Final Five Cylons such that he will no longer have to live with being guilty. Cinematically, these scenes work because of their starkness and simplicity. Baltar's imagined predicament is that he's drowning alone in a dark pool of water. The images are cold and isolated, and they go a long way to making us understand how Baltar feels.
I was less enthused about the B-story involving Lee and Kara and their ongoing marriage crises. This subplot isn't badly handled per se, but it's already getting stale, and I don't think it's a good fit with the Baltar story, which is incomparably more interesting as a character study. With Lee's marriage falling apart since Dualla no longer trusts him, Lee starts coming home from Joe's drunk at night. Dee has about had it with him. Both Anders and Dee give Kara and Lee options out of their marriages. Kara even comes to Lee and asks him if he'll still leave Dee if she leaves Anders.
The point here, I think, is that Lee actually stops and takes stock of what he has with Dee versus what he might have with Kara. The way I see it, Kara's probably never going to be material for a stable relationship (God knows Anders already knows that), and I think Lee slowly comes to that conclusion here. As much as I was indifferent to this storyline, I should probably point out that all the involved parties react to the situation in a way true to their characters (Kara in an impulsive way, Lee in a rational way, etc.).
But I question the wisdom of cutting back and forth between a scene of Lee and Dualla reconciling and a scene where Gaeta questions Baltar. The Baltar scenes are so compelling as to make the marriage melodrama seem unworthy by contrast; it seems like a lame distraction from otherwise tense material.
I also question the conveniently sudden availability of the mysterious interrogation drug. Why have we never heard of it before? If the Galactica has had these drugs on hand all along, why haven't they been previously used on other prisoners, particularly Cylons?
So, no, "Taking a Break" is not perfect. But it definitely has some shining moments, and it ends by hinting that what's coming next is the trial of Gaius Baltar. He's guilty of something, but what exactly he's guilty of is still in question. As Adama notes, he's a man who could never confess to guilt, because he believes himself to be a victim, not a criminal. Where do you draw the line and where do you assign blame? I think that's what makes Baltar the intriguing conundrum that he is: He's not good for humanity, but is that really his fault?
Footnote: SciFi.com offered an online "bonus scene" in which Roslin questions Caprica Six. This scene was not in the episode but clearly should've been, particularly since any number of scenes involving Kara/Lee/Dualla/Anders could've been excised. As it is, Caprica Six is not in the episode at all, which to me is a notable oversight.