Jammer's Review

Battlestar Galactica

"Collaborators"

***1/2

Air date: 10/27/2006
Written by Mark Verheiden
Directed by Michael Rymer

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

It's strange to start a season off with an arc that's such a departure from the norm of a series. I think back to that six-episode arc that started the sixth season of Deep Space Nine. More recently, we had the Kobol arc bridging seasons one and two of Battlestar Galactica. When things are so shaken up, you find yourself wondering how situations will ever go back to being the way they were — or at least resembling something similar to what they were. And yet somehow they still do — with enough change to avoid feeling like a cheat.

Obviously, with this most recent storyline, humanity wasn't going to be trapped on New Caprica forever under the rule of the Cylons. But I still nevertheless found myself asking: What's the rest of season three, which is to be some 20 total episodes, going to be about if the Galactica was able to rescue the human survivors from New Caprica by the end of episode four?

"Collaborators" seems to let us in on some of that. Here's an episode where the whole point is that even though we might not be on New Caprica anymore, the consequences of what took place there will continue to play themselves out now that everyone is back aboard the Galactica and the fleet. "Collaborators," as its title implies, is all about how characters deal with the aftermath of the failed occupation, and specifically about dealing with those who worked for the enemy. Even though "Exodus" might have gotten the characters off New Caprica, it was not a Reset Button Plot.

Take, for example, the small details. Although there isn't a single line of dialog about it, the Galactica is shown here as overcrowded, which makes sense considering that the Pegasus has been destroyed and there are now two crews occupying one battlestar. How exactly are the crews going to be integrated? Also: When so many people left both ships to go live on New Caprica, that left a lot of changes in the duty roster. Now that no one lives on New Caprica, what will the new duty roster look like? This episode brings up that question without dealing with it directly. For example, we see Helo is still the XO of the ship. Will he continue to be now that Tigh is back aboard?

The answer appears to be yes, at least for the time being. There's a scene in CIC where Tigh, as a character of this show, seems to represent the living proof that the events of New Caprica are not, by any stretch of the imagination, forgotten or forgiven. Tigh calls out his replacement, Helo, a "Cylon lover" in full view of the CIC, and then bemoans the fact that Gaeta, who was Baltar's chief of staff, has been given full access to the CIC simply because "the old man needs his phones fixed." Adama has to call Tigh off as if he were an attack dog. Every once in a while you get a scene that announces, loud and clear, that things are not simply going to be okay, and this is one of those scenes. Tigh is going to be a problem. Michael Hogan's performance portrays a bitter and damaged man who has been through hell and back and has earned his bitterness. "I'm not just going to forget," he says.

The episode's plot is actually about dealing with the scars of New Caprica. In the strong opening sequence, we see Jammer being tried for collaborating with the Cylons as a member of the New Caprica police force. Jammer's trial is a secret tribunal conducted by six jurors (called "the Circle") in alarming swiftness. All the jurors were residents of New Caprica and probably members of the resistance. Among them are Tigh, Tyrol, Anders and Seelix — familiar faces that demonstrate how this is not an episode about good guys and bad guys, but about a big mess that is now in the process of being cleaned up by the regular characters in a very messy way. Jammer's crime is treason. The sentence is death. To be carried out right now.

I see now that the "Resistance" webisodes are more crucial than I initially thought, because they further flesh out Jammer's arc. He went from a fellow resistance member to a misguided puppet of the Cylons who hoped he would be making things better for the human citizens of New Caprica instead of worse. If history is written by those who survive rather than those who die, then Jammer's obituary is one of a traitor. The reality might not be so clear cut. In his defense, he pleads to Tyrol for forgiveness, and he explains how he helped Cally escape from being executed by the Cylons. Tyrol doesn't necessarily believe him (and even if he does, the rest of the Circle weighs Cally's survival against dozens of other deaths), but when Jammer is put out the airlock, Tyrol can't watch. It's an interesting moment, made more interesting when you consider that Jammer was once a member of Tyrol's deck crew. People are being put to death by their own former friends.

This episode is about the ones being executed, and also the ones carrying out the executions. In a civilized society, the reason a criminal trial is made up of jurors is so that the verdict is rendered by impartial individuals. The Circle members are clearly too close to the case to be impartial, and that's the whole point. Guilt or innocence is being decided by a biased jury that's in too much of a hurry to get through the cases (they have only a few days to judge more than 50 people). What's interesting is how the Circle perceives itself: "We're not just thugs out for revenge. There was evidence against Jammer," Tigh says. They may not be thugs out for revenge, but the presumption is definitely one of guilt, and not innocence. Is that appropriate under the circumstances? Perhaps that depends on what your definition of the law should be, and whether those accused are worthy of still breathing.

The episode's central plot is that the Circle intends to bring Gaeta to trial. We know, and the Circle does not, that Gaeta was the crucial source that supplied the resistance with inside information. Can Gaeta relay this information before being found guilty, and even if he does, will he be believed? At the heart of "Collaborators" is the sinking feeling that an unjust execution is going to be carried out simply because the system set up to carry it out is an implacable machine that presumes guilt and doesn't have the time to look for truth. Tigh points out that while it's true that everyone used to like Gaeta, the price must be paid by all who collaborated. After all, Tigh's own wife paid the price for collaborating, and as Tigh dryly puts it, "I liked her a hell of a lot more than I like Gaeta." Anders is undecided on the evidence and would rather quit than convict Gaeta purely on unconfirmed circumstances.

In the rec room, Gaeta is shunned by everyone, and Kara sits down with every intention of picking a fight with an unpopular traitor. His professions of innocence fall on deaf ears, because the court of public opinion has already convicted him. Later, Kara is put on the Circle jury in place of Anders, who resigns because he doesn't intend to railroad a potentially innocent man. A scene where Kara confronts Anders (ending with their apparent break-up) is a powerful one for two reasons: (1) It further demonstrates how damaged Kara has been left in the aftermath of her ordeal on New Caprica ("I got out of that room, and it was like someone painted the world in different colors"); and (2) it demonstrates precisely how the Circle is not an impartial jury at all. In Kara's case it's the end result of a dangerous collision course: She's bitterly angry and looking to punish somebody — anybody — to feel better. Might as well be Gaeta.

If human beings are defined by their actions, then Gaeta is defined by his dignity, even in the face of a jury that is operating more on emotions than on facts. When the Circle pulls him in to read the charges, Gaeta doesn't grovel the way Jammer did; he simply and pointedly states that re-explaining his innocence to those who refuse to believe him is pointless. Surely, Gaeta would've been killed had the information about the dog bowl not surfaced at the crucial moment to reveal to Tyrol that Gaeta was the secret inside source.

Like the New Caprica storylines (this episode is basically the New Caprica coda), "Collaborators" asks tough questions: Do traitors deserve to die, and should the law be circumvented in order to get the job done quietly and quickly so that government can move on with more pressing matters? That brings us to the central issue of the government's role in all this: the revelation that Zarek, as outgoing president, is the one who ordered the formation of this secret tribunal to carry out these executions "legally." (Of course, they aren't legal, because they're conducted in secret and there are no lawyers.)

Early in the episode, Roslin makes an agreement with Zarek that includes his resignation, with the understanding that he will become her vice president once she resumes her role as president. It's interesting to ponder whether that offer still applies (the episode isn't clear) once she learns that he initiated this secret tribunal. Zarek makes good points, however: Trying collaborators in the open public would bog down the system for months if not years and would turn Roslin into "executioner in chief." Zarek's secret tribunal was an attempt to deal with the traitors quietly, efficiently, covertly. And, in some cases — let's face it — unjustly. Roslin's solution perhaps does not fulfill justice either, but it is pragmatic in terms of moving forward: She pardons everybody.

What makes "Collaborators" such a terrific episode is that it asks these big questions and allows for all these differing points of view. And it allows the various characters to play their reactions on all parts of the spectrum. This story showcases a wide-ranging cast of characters who have experienced wide-ranging hardships and have wide-ranging ways of responding.

Previous episode: Exodus, Part 2
Next episode: Torn

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30 comments on this review

Robert Murphy - Thu, Jan 31, 2008 - 10:40pm (USA Central)
I liked this episode and I liked your review. There is one area that puzzles me though, and I hope you can shed some light on it.

Maybe I missed something earlier but ...."Zarek, as outgoing president"? When did Zarek become president? Why is it not the former president? and why does it sort of "default" back to her anyway? (The story needed Zarek to do its dirty work, I know. Yes, he was a good choice for the master of this secret tribunal -but were there points in the past that properly establish these developments?) Maybe I did miss an episode at some point... Did the webisodes establish any of this somehow?

Josh - Wed, Feb 6, 2008 - 1:31am (USA Central)
Robert, Zarek was legally Baltar's vice president (he was his running made in 'Lay Down Your Burdeons'), so when Baltar was presumed dead by the fleet, Zarek inherited the throne. He then said he'd make Roslin his veep, resign, so that she succeeds him and she then makes him her veep.
Robert - Wed, Feb 6, 2008 - 3:04am (USA Central)
Thanks for clearing that up for me!
Sumedh - Wed, Feb 6, 2008 - 9:16pm (USA Central)
I think one thing you didn't mention was that during the scene of Gaeta's execution, it was Starbuck who felt remorse. Maybe I saw it wrong, but it seemed like she was begging him to beg for his life, because she wanted to believe what he said about his helping the resistance.
Claw - Sat, Mar 8, 2008 - 7:27pm (USA Central)
No, I rather think she wanted him to plead for his life.
Claw - Sat, Mar 8, 2008 - 7:30pm (USA Central)
Eh, now that I read your comment again, that seems insufficient.
I don't think she wanted to believe him. She wanted to see him humiliated, which is the more common reason why you'd want to see someone beg for his life. If you really want to spare someone's life, you don't ask that person to beg first.
Sumedh - Sat, Mar 8, 2008 - 7:36pm (USA Central)
Maybe she wanted to spare his life, but felt he deserved to suffer the loss of his dignity too. I don't know, just my $0.02
Brendan - Mon, Mar 17, 2008 - 7:59pm (USA Central)
One thing thats slightly convenient here is how Kara references "the dog bowl" as if it was some key point to his story... if not for the fact that thats how Tyrol knew about it, it would be a fairly benign aspect of how Gaeta helped the resistance.

It also got me thinking how that signal came to be in the first place when neither of them knew who each other were.... how did Tyrol find the first message without knowing the signal, or how did he know the signal first without some kind of communication?

I like this episode alot, just pointing out some things.
Sullivan - Thu, Apr 24, 2008 - 1:55am (USA Central)
Brendan, go back to the scene in the mess room when Gaeta was eating (alone) and Starbuck came over to harrass him. Gaeta protested and mentioned the dog bowl then. So it wasn't as if Starbuck thought of it first.
Brad - Tue, Jun 10, 2008 - 8:31pm (USA Central)
There are probably more significant things to remark on in this episode, but there was an exchange between Lee and Adama that'll go down as a favorite:

"I have a date with a jump rope. What? I've lost half a stone."
"Keep jumping."

It was the look on Lee's face and Adama's tone that sealed the deal.
Josh - Sat, Nov 1, 2008 - 2:33pm (USA Central)
I'm with the majority on this one. Starbuck's tone when demanding that Gaeta beg was clearly one of anger. As Jammer rightly pointed out, she lashing out at anyone she can plausibly justify.

On the subject of the Presidency, I'm thinking now that having Zarek resign in order for Roslin to return was a little contrived. Why is he now so humble? He wasn't in whatever episode it was next season.

And Roslin's legitimacy would clearly be in question. She has only ever fought one presidential election and lost. At least Zarek won as a running mate.
Grumpy - Wed, Jan 7, 2009 - 8:28pm (USA Central)
FWIW, I viewed the "beg" scene the same as Sumedh, as if Starbuck was trying to put the pieces together. Ron Moore's commentary, however, suggests that the angry interpretation was intended.

Why did Zarek willingly give up the presidency? Zarek said Adama wouldn't stand for it (despite Adama's loyalty to legal authority), and that the government couldn't function without the military. Contrived, but sufficient. As for Roslin's legitimacy, she turned out to be right on the issue that decided the election. New Caprica sucked, and then the Cylons came. She wins the "anybody but Baltar" vote.
Odon - Fri, Aug 28, 2009 - 10:35am (USA Central)
Brendan was referring to the fact that Gaeta couldn't have set up the dog-bowl signal without talking to Tyrol or another member of the Resistance. The only way I can figure it is that Gaeta left a message explaining the setup somewhere where Tyrol (a known Baltar opponent) could find it.

As for Starbuck, she actually started kicking Gaeta during the "Beg!" scene, and her comments to Anders made it clear she was looking to work out her anger on anybody convenient.
eva - Sun, Jan 3, 2010 - 11:45pm (USA Central)
I thought they might have found out just by accident about the dog-bowl signal because it was upside down, so someone putting it up again spotted it the first time.
Nick P. - Mon, May 30, 2011 - 9:55pm (USA Central)
I had a completely different interpretation of the Zarek giving up the presidency scene. His line about everyone accusing their neighbors of collabarating was the give-away. I feel like he was giving her bait. She knew he was right and walked right into his hands. He knew she wasn't going to go around killing people, and would likely call a general amnesty (I predicted that 20 minutes before she did it, thus the end was not a surprise).

But the amnesty would probably be even frustrating for a lot of people (maybe a majority), so he willingly gives up the presidency even though he has the popular opinion on an issue, and lets Roslin tie her own noose. This way instead of trying to start as an unpopular president with the military against him, he sets himself up as the popular martyr against the weak unellected teacher, which he gambles, will get him popularily elected president.

That makes mroe sense to me, anyways. I guess I will find out in time.
Nic - Mon, Aug 1, 2011 - 8:34am (USA Central)
Great episode. Again, the resolution of all the loose ends seems to be happening a bit too fast, but I'm not going to complain when the show is this riveting. Kara's mention of the "bowl" seems a bit convenient (just as the random appearance of Kacey's mother on the Hangar Deck last week) but I'm glad they didn't kill Gaeta.

The Circle's actions are wrong. They're trying to punish those who collaborated with Baltar and the Cylons. But they're using Baltar's own unjust laws to do it "legally". Two wrongs don't make a right.
Michael - Sun, Nov 20, 2011 - 8:07am (USA Central)
A solid show but not worthy of 3.5*; more like 3*.

High point: Gaeta leaving the lynch mob in stunned silence after it emerged he had been responsible, in effect, for their salvation.

Low point: Yet more machinations to get that ghastly Roslin woman into the office of the president. As Josh said: She fought only one election in her life and bombed it ignominiously; yet, she ended up being APPOINTED president twice. Oy vey.
Caleb - Mon, Jul 23, 2012 - 2:40pm (USA Central)
Very good episode, but I kept wondering why Tyrol never even considered the fact that Gaeta might be the source until the evidence came out. Obviously someone was the source, and it had to be someone with a lot of access. Well, I know why, dramatic tension... and it worked for sure, just bugged me a bit.

I've always really liked Starbuck as a character, but her bloodlust here was pretty ugly. It makes sense of course, she's been through psychological hell and back. The "beg" thing was obviously about power and humiliation. She wanted blood, and wanted it bad. Remember how quickly she voted guilty?
Togah - Thu, Nov 1, 2012 - 10:38am (USA Central)
Lee: Now if you'll excuse me, I have a date with a jump-rope.

Adama: ...

Lee: Hey, I've dropped half a stone.

Adama: Keep jumping.

ZING!

That being said, after all the misery and suffering I've seen in previous episodes, I can now say that this is the darkest episode yet.
CC - Tue, Apr 30, 2013 - 6:05am (USA Central)
Really a perfect episode in my opinion, probably my favorite "quiet" episode of BSG, as quiet as it ever gets anyways.

I surmise there was an understanding underlying the exchange between Zarek, Roslin and Adama. The last decision that was left up to a vote almost resulted in the destruction of humanity's last chance for survival. I think the explanation that was given, in that Adama wouldn't support a Zarek administration, makes sense.

I'm glad to see the Zarek character fleshed out more, he was handled somewhat clumsily in the past.
Nebula Nox - Tue, May 28, 2013 - 11:58pm (USA Central)
For me, the one false note in the episode is when Starbuck lets out the information about the dog bowl. Didn't sound right.
Craig - Mon, Jul 29, 2013 - 5:34pm (USA Central)
I felt like this episode got Zarek's politics all wrong. I always viewed Zarek as an extremist on the side of civil liberties and democracy. If anything, he would be fighting for *more* visibility in the justice system and fighting *against* capital punishment.
Teejay - Wed, Aug 21, 2013 - 4:26am (USA Central)
To me, Kara mentioned the dog bowl as a way of mocking Gaeta. She thought his story was ridiculous, and was throwing it in his face to ridicule him.
Lloser - Sun, Sep 8, 2013 - 11:56pm (USA Central)
I think Roslin's pardon is not just of the "collaborators" but also for those who convened the illegal tribunal. If BSG laws were similar to ours, then the jury of six would be facing murder charges themselves along with Zerek facing impeachment (high crimes and misdemeanors). The so-called six "peers" were very biased: one lost his son, one his wife and an eye, Chief almost lost Cally and Starbuck went through psychological torture. So I wonder if the pardon just let's everyone move on. The Circle reminds me of the Star Chamber.
beej - Mon, Sep 30, 2013 - 3:51am (USA Central)
Anybody else wish Gaeta had shot the Circle the finger and told them to go frak themselves as he was walking away?
Cureboy - Fri, Jan 3, 2014 - 4:57pm (USA Central)
Interesting about Baltar. Lucy Lawless said the seven Cylon models are debating Baltar's fate. I know earlier in the series they said there were 12 models. What about the other five? Are they not with the Cylons? Maybe those models don't have "many copies" as the intro tells me everytime? Maybe they are way deep undercover? I know it wasn't an oversight. I'm intrigued....
Grumpy - Fri, Jan 3, 2014 - 7:54pm (USA Central)
Without giving anything away... yes, the final five are distinct from the other seven. So much so that, in retrospect, the simple statement "There are 12 models" was grossly misleading. That is, Six would not have phrased it that way if the writers had known, as early as the miniseries, how the whole "12 models" thing would be addressed.
Jammer - Fri, Jan 3, 2014 - 8:41pm (USA Central)
One other thing, Cureboy, as I watch you march your way through the series: Be careful reading your way through the comments. I cannot guarantee that there aren't spoilers, perhaps even major ones, that made their way into the comments, particularly as you get closer to the end of the series.

I've tried my best over the years to remove or redact spoilers for later episodes in the comments as I've seen them, so to preserve surprises for those like yourself who are just watching the show for the first time -- but I know that in a few cases I've failed, and previous people making their way through the series found comments for later episodes that gave things away. Just a warning.
Jason D - Mon, Mar 31, 2014 - 2:11am (USA Central)
I just wish someone had said "thank you" to Gaeta. Of course, so much was said with glances once he was cut loose. I guess Chief sitting down with him at the end was 'thank-you' enough, and part of the healing process.

Jammer - good call on the overcrowding. I noticed that, and it raises questions about the state of Galactica and the fleet.

Also, thanks for the caution you threw Cureboy. I don't know why it took me ten years to start watching BSG, but reading these reviews after watching the eps helps it feel more contemporary, like I'm not so far behind!
Kahryl - Wed, Aug 13, 2014 - 3:48pm (USA Central)
Watching this whole series for the first time right now (and just got to this episode). Amazing show, I wish I had gotten to it earlier.

I've more or less liked Starbuck up till now. She's never been good at dealing with her problems, but until now she's at least restricted it to self-destructive behavior.

But here she tries to get Gaeta killed. Just because she's frustrated. That is unforgiveable. She is scum.

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