Your mileage on "Six Degrees of Separation" might very well depend upon how entertaining you find the performances of James Callis as the animated Gaius Baltar. Here's an actor who seems equally at home in the role of the cool-headed egomaniac as in the role of the completely panicked guilty innocent. In a way, that's been his role since day one, but "Six Degrees" takes it to an extreme when Six appears in the flesh.
It begins with Six spouting her usual religious Cylon rhetoric, until Baltar gets fed up and tells her enough is enough. Perhaps he's speaking on behalf the audience, which by this point may be finding the dialog that Baltar is having with Six (in his head) is becoming a bit repetitious. After Baltar explodes in frustration, Six leaves him. Being left by your fantasy woman must be its own special kind of insult, but of course the nature of Six's existence in Baltar's head has its own ambivalence.
Almost immediately after this confrontation (in what one is tempted to suspect cannot be a coincidence), a woman named Shelly Godfrey turns up in the CIC of the Galactica and accuses Baltar of being a traitor. Godfrey claims to be a colleague of Dr. Amarak (see "33") but is actually a version of Number Six in the flesh, which everyone else can see, and which puts Baltar in the odd position of mistaking a person (or, more to the point, a Cylon) for a hallucination.
Godfrey has in her possession an octagonal CD that she says contains proof that Baltar helped the Cylons attack the Colonies by accessing the defense mainframe. Personally, I would question the credibility of anyone who possesses an octagonal CD (or DVD, or whatever), since there can be no functional advantage for a spinning disc to have such a shape unless, perhaps, Godfrey has a career in gimmicky marketing.
On the octo-disc is a digital surveillance photograph showing a man of Baltar's height and build compromising security on Caprica. Godfrey claims that a digital enhancement will reveal Baltar's face in a reflection. Baltar cries foul, saying he's the victim of a frame-up. Lt. Gaeta says the enhancement will take about a day and will answer the question of who's lying. I was reminded of No Way Out, in which Kevin Costner must race against the clock to put himself in the clear before an enhanced photograph — which he knows he is in — reveals his face. The twist in "Six Degrees of Separation" is that Baltar isn't actually guilty of being in the photograph but is guilty of something else.
We've seen these issues of guilt/non-guilt with Baltar before; it's practically the definition of his character. This episode plays like the culmination of that theme, in which Baltar's possible guilt comes into the public eye and his conviction starts to go down in the court of public opinion. The episode also plays like the culmination of the James Callis panic-attack performance, featuring every possible permutation of Baltar trying to think his way out of this rather uncomfortable jam. For example:
- There's the scene where Baltar desperately calls Roslin on the phone to tell her that he believes Godfrey may be a Cylon, only to have Roslin collapse on the phone because of her illness.
- There's the scene where Baltar follows Gaeta into the restroom and takes the stall next to him, and begins asking him in a hilariously loud and increasingly desperate whisper how the photo enhancement is proceeding.
- There's the extension of this scene where Godfrey shows up in the (coed) restroom, and Baltar confronts her, ending with his announcement, "No more Mr. Nice Gaius!"
- There's the scene where Baltar is up against a wall and retreats into his fantasy where he finally admits to a nonexistent Six, "I love you!" and begs her to come back. This proclamation is predictably self-serving in its timing.
- There's the scene where Baltar's desperation reaches its end and he attempts a direct (and futile) assault upon the computers processing the photo enhancement. Even this ends in failure; he can't get the picture of himself on the monitor to go away.
- Eventually, Baltar has landed in a jail cell and prays to God for release, and vows that he accepts Six's God as the one and only God.
These scenes walk a tightrope act between broad comedy and convincing terror, because we find ourselves simultaneously rooting for and against Baltar. We root for him because in this case he's actually innocent, and the crime he's guilty of we can in many ways forgive. We root against him because — well, he so self-serving and narcissistic and hopelessly pathetic that he deserves whatever happens to him.
Meanwhile, "Shelly Godfrey" is free to walk the ship, and in one scene she tries to use human loss as a way of seducing Adama in his cabin. Adama isn't buying it, and Godfrey's move only raises his suspicions.
In addition to taking us even more directly into the hyperkinetic mind of Baltar, the episode keeps the supporting characters under watch with vignettes: Roslin's illness leads her to overmedicate, which brings a chiding from the ship's no-BS Dr. Cottle (Donnelly Rhodes). Starbuck grudgingly begins rehab for her knee injury, sparked in part by a perfectly orchestrated use of reverse psychology by Colonel Tigh. Meanwhile, Sharon has some insights about the captured Cylon Raider — perhaps more insights than she reasonably should. On Caprica, Helo and Boomer have comfort sex in an environment otherwise devoid of comfort; one begins wondering if the Cylons' entire motivation is to either learn the purpose of or take control of humanity through sexuality, and if so, then why.
But mainly the show is about the trust put in Baltar and how that trust erodes in the face of a false accusation. At one point Adama says that if Baltar is guilty, he has made fools of those who lead what's left of society. Are Roslin and Adama therefore fools, even though he's innocent of this particular crime? There's a scene where Baltar is in the brig and Roslin tells him that she believes that he is guilty of something, even if it isn't this. It's an interesting notion about gut instincts, although the story doesn't really get to the bottom of it. Once Baltar is cleared, Roslin drops the matter. Perhaps she drops it out of pragmatic necessity. The story doesn't specify. Was this on the writers' minds? It should've been.
One of the understated pieces to this story is the friendship between Gaeta and Baltar. It might be said that Gaeta is the only friend that Baltar really has. It might also be said that Baltar doesn't really appreciate that fact because he's too wrapped up in his own little world.
And then Godfrey, under surveillance as a possible intruder, mysteriously vanishes from the ship, much to Adama's ire. How did she do that? And is it a coincidence that Six reappears in Baltar's mind right around this time? One of the episode's pleasures is the way it toys with the nature of Six as a possible figment of Baltar's imagination, or possibly as a real spokeswoman for the Cylons. The net effect of Baltar's implication and eventual clearance is that it makes him possibly less susceptible to future suspicion and therefore more powerful, and at the same time more under the thumb of Six/God. Was that the plan all along?
Sneaky, those Cylons. I just wonder what it is they're doing that makes all this methodology worth the trouble.