"Blood on the Scales"
Air date: 2/6/2009
Written by Michael Angeli
Directed by Wayne Rose
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"Blood on the Scales" is a suspenseful and effective hour, but notably inconclusive. While it wraps up the overall events as put forth in last week's superb and exciting "The Oath," it does not put to rest half of the many issues raised there. This episode is satisfying as a resolution to the action and as the final word on some of its characters, but it does not live up to "The Oath." And it is my sincerest hope that what happens here is not the end of the story concerning this earth-shaking mutiny.
"The Oath" was a great cliffhanger because it was an action-oriented meditation on character (Adama/Tigh and their defiant last stand on the basis of principle; Adama/Roslin and their parting of ways, in their minds possibly forever) and it made you thirst for more. It was not an OMFG cliffhanger in the sense that I wondered whether Adama and Tigh were still alive at the end (because I didn't). Pretty obviously, that had to be a non-lethal stun grenade that the marines threw into the airlock, designed to disable but not kill them.
So if this episode's pickup is the fairly obvious sight of marines taking them into custody, there is the cliffhanger's ace in the hole: the exciting conclusion to Gaeta ordering Roslin's Raptor to be shot down. Hot Dog is one of the pilots ordered to engage the target. Narcho is another. Narcho is one of Gaeta's mutiny soldiers. Hot Dog is not. The way this plays out is logically sound, plenty exciting, and very nicely executed as a piece of directing and the usual CGI brilliance from Gary Hutzel & Co. Roslin escapes to the rebel Cylon baseship, where they must plot their next move. Roslin suggests hiding the ship in the middle of the fleet where Gaeta cannot easily open fire on it.
The meat of the story is in the war of wills that goes down between Adama, Gaeta, and Zarek. They say two's company and three's a crowd, and that certainly proves true here. While Gaeta and Zarek were on the same page in their desire to take power away from Adama and Roslin, they have a very different notion of how the game should be played from there. Zarek would preferably shoot Adama and Tigh and be done with it.
But Gaeta does not simply want to grab power and take over. He needs to make the case as he sees it in his mind, and to show why Adama is in the wrong here and why his own hands were forced in staging the mutiny. He insists on court-martialing Adama for treason. It's telling that the primary audience for Gaeta's case is Adama himself. This is not a show trial. Gaeta mostly wants an admission from Adama that he coddled the Cylons and that he betrayed his promise to protect the fleet. Not that Gaeta for one second intends to make this a fair trial. There's only one judge, self-appointed: Zarek. Nor does Adama intend to lie down and negotiate anything from this mutineer. Watch how he throws his admiral pins down in disgust.
Romo Lampkin is enlisted to defend Adama in this tribunal. For once, Lampkin's shrewd insights into human nature do not in any way grant him an advantage. He knows that this trial is a sham, that his part in it is a farce, and that he must go along with it or probably be shot. But none of that knowledge is useful in any way. He holds no cards. You know it's not a good day when Lampkin's brilliant legal strategy is to beg Adama to cave in to his captors' demands and make some sort of statement, if only to stall desperately for time.
I think the key moment in the episode, for better or worse, is when Zarek explains to the Quorum that he is taking over the government and that Adama has been removed — and the Quorum rejects him. When it's clear they won't support his power play, Zarek has the entire Quorum executed in a hail of machinegun fire. I have mixed feelings about how this goes down. While it makes for a stunner of a scene and I believe Zarek to be capable of this sort of take-no-prisoners approach, I think it's too shortsighted a move on his part. Isn't Zarek smarter than this? Why overreach by such an obscene margin? Why not simply throw them all in a cell, somewhere out of sight and mind? (Nitpick alert: Shouldn't opening machinegun fire inside the close quarters of Colonial One compromise the cabin, or at least leave bullet holes?)
Zarek should know from Gaeta's past behavior that this is not what Gaeta signed up for, and that it's the sort of move likely to give Gaeta pause and jeopardize the entire coup. As Gaeta says, "We had the truth on our side!" And now they don't. Zarek's response: "The truth is told by those left standing." Speaking to Zarek's character, this clearly crosses a line that previously had not been so bluntly violated, and it makes it easy to see Zarek as a murderous thug and a hypocrite rather than a man with a legitimate point of view.
Such a cold-blooded show of force essentially says that, to Zarek, winning over "the people," which is the cause he has always supposedly championed, is no longer important. It's now all about the power play, and finding out who's with us and against us. Those against us will be amputated, because they are contrary to the only possible course of action available to the fleet, which is the expulsion of the Cylons. Really, this wipes away any remaining possibility for the audience to side with Zarek, because the moral gray areas are obliterated. It made me wonder what really makes this guy tick. "The ends justify the means," I suppose. I think that's too bad, because up until this moment, Zarek's argument had merit (even if the mutiny wasn't going to solve anything).
The positive impact this does have on the story, however, is to further up the ante of unease and raise the stakes: This is where the fleet is headed if the mutiny cannot be put down — into an utter chaos of survival of the fittest.
The progression of the plot is solidly engaging. The Cylons are notably alarmed over the fact that the fleet is falling apart over the issue of their presence. Roslin has to convince them not to jump away. And there's a certain irony to be found in the fact that Roslin is able to circumvent Gaeta's jamming frequency and get on the air again by virtue of Cylon technology — the very issue that sparked the mutiny in the first place.
Some other important beats in the story:
- Kelly's crisis of conscience is interesting. (For that matter, bringing back Kelly as a character is interesting, and I enjoyed Tigh calling him the "brig rat.") Not everybody is fully sure about this mutiny, and their loyalties to the Old Man don't necessarily die easily. At one point Kelly has Tyrol dead to rights, but lets him go. Later, he switches sides and helps Lee and Kara.
- Tyrol goes crawling through the tunnels of the ship for basically the whole episode, until his last-second pulling of the plug on the FTL drive. Having him scurrying in tunnels the whole hour frankly seemed kind of silly. But it did allow us to ultimately see the inner workings of the FTL engine. One question: What's the significance of the mysterious crack on the wall in the engine room?
- At two points characters are wrongly informed of the deaths of others. Zarek lies and tells Adama that Tigh was killed trying to escape. Later, Gaeta tells Roslin that Adama has been executed when he actually hasn't been. In the latter case that might've been a really bad idea. There's nothing quite like seeing the full wrath of Roslin unleashed: "I'm coming for all of you!"
- In a bit of guerilla diversionary strategy, Lee throws a grenade down a hallway toward some marines without pulling the pin — but also without telling Kara he didn't pull the pin. Kara: "Not funny." Lee: "Would've been if you'd thought of it." It's nice to see these two bantering again.
- There comes a point when Anders is shot and seriously wounded, and Kara stays behind to try to get him to sickbay. Anders' fate is left completely unresolved as the episode ends. (Unless you count Lampkin killing his guard with a pen and agreeing to help Kara as a notice of resolution.) This felt more like a forgotten loose end than a to-be-continued for next week.
- Baltar. What a funny and sad bastard. He can barely live with himself for running from danger yet again. But it wasn't fear of death that made him run this time; it was the fact that he was so utterly sick of his pathetic cultists, who worship him "like a fan club."
- Did you notice how Zarek tries to give orders in CIC late in the episode? Gaeta sure did. One gets the feeling that even had this mutiny succeeded, Zarek and Gaeta would not have been compatible for the long run.
Naturally, the mutiny is ultimately thwarted by the crucial actions of a few individuals at key moments, including people like Kelly, who perhaps did not conceive of the full consequences of the mutiny. I thought Adama's storming in to retake CIC was a great pulse-pounding moment, even though the episode itself does not begin to address the crux of the underlying issue, which is that the ship was so divided that this mess happened in the first place.
We don't see it here, but there should be hell to pay for what's happened. Adama promised there would be no forgiveness, and I want to know exactly what that will mean on his pragmatic Galactica. Given how many supporting players participated in the mutiny, there will be hard questions to ask and answer. Lines were drawn, which means relationships and trust among the crew have been destroyed. The Quorum has been killed, meaning the government is in tatters. What comes next? The episode doesn't even begin to go there.
And there needs to be some on-screen hand-wringing over all this. Roslin, for one, needs to face up to what her willing absence permitted. Yes, Earth was a debacle. But shirking her responsibilities has proven that there are even bigger debacles to be had. "Blood on the Scales" doesn't even hint at these issues. Its mission is to deal with the mutiny, and that's all it has time for. It feels, as I said, inconclusive. The episode has a lot going for it, but there are scenes that feel starkly absent, even if those scenes may very well show up next week.
But this episode does a particularly good job dealing with Gaeta as an individual. The final conversation between Baltar and Gaeta is perfect in its tone. After everything that's happened — after this hellish transformational arc that this character has gone through — the guy is able to let the anger go and approach what he did with a clear perspective. And he has no regrets. He seems like the old Gaeta, before he became bitter and took on the weight of his self-righteous cause. "I just hope that people realize eventually," he says, "who I am." Baltar replies, "I know who you are, Felix."
It's such a straightforwardly effective scene, made all the more significant because of all that has transpired between these two men, and because now all that can be put aside for this moment of reflection. Baltar's compassion for Gaeta is intriguing. Is it driven by guilt, loyalty, or the simple need to empathize with this man who used to be his only friend?
When Gaeta and Zarek face the firing squad, sitting side-by-side, there's an almost whimsical note to it. Zarek gives a bemused half-grin, as if to say, "Well, we did what we did, and this is how it worked out. Case closed." They knew what they were doing. They were comfortable with the choices they made. And now they will face the consequences.