"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.