Air date: 1/27/2006
Written by Mark Verheiden
Directed by James Head
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"Black Market" is one of those mixed bags I respect for its virtues even though I can't recommend it because of its missteps. Here's an episode that tries to deal with something realistic — a black market — that would obviously emerge in any society facing shortages like this one, but at the same time feels the need to fall back on manipulative emotional-crutch devices — like, say, threatened innocent children and a perceptive, well-intended woman forced into prostitution. (Naturally, the prostitute is the mother of one of the threatened children, but I'm getting ahead of myself.)
The black market emerging in the fleet is becoming more visible and its leaders more brazen. Roslin wants to institute an economic policy that would make trading in the black market illegal, and Adama agrees to support it, but perhaps no one has stopped to consider the implications in light of the fact half the fleet — military personnel included — is using the black market to get the supplies they need. This brings up the interesting question of how exactly the economy in the fleet operates considering there are no means of production beyond, presumably, the most rudimentary needed for survival. The economic questions Zarek posed in "Colonial Day" could still benefit from a concrete answer, assuming one is possible.
In the opening teaser, Pegasus' Commander Fisk is abruptly garroted. Adama puts Lee in charge of finding out who did it and why, and the ensuing investigation quickly reveals that Fisk was strong-arming the controllers of the black market in order to turn his own profits.
First of all, I have some major reservations about this surprise "twist." While I have no doubt the writers thought killing Fisk in the first five minutes would be unexpected, I don't see it as particularly good drama. Fisk was a guy who we watched squirm all through the unfolding drama of "Resurrection Ship." He seemed like a decent guy who wanted to avoid the internal violence that Cain seemed so capable of. After Cain's death he became the obvious character link to Pegasus. Now the writers unceremoniously kill him off, retroactively painting him corrupt. I don't care for it. Who do we have now linking us to Pegasus?
Lee's investigation starts off police procedural style. The plot is set against Lee's personal crisis: Here's a man who's imploding. After the emotional trauma of "Resurrection Ship," there's something different about Lee; even his father mentions. Jamie Bamber's performance gets the message across, creating a man who goes about his duties but seems dead inside. In the early scenes we see him with a woman named Shevon (Claudette Mink), who has a young daughter. The scene slowly reveals that Shevon is actually a prostitute whom Lee has a standing arrangement with. Flashbacks reveal a woman with Lee from before the Cylon holocaust, but the context remains obscured to us; Lee and the mystery woman were lovers, we assume, and something happened between them.
Now Lee seems adrift. There's an odd but somehow effective scene where Dualla confronts Lee, asking if there's something unspoken that's going on between the two of them. Lee is evasive. Dualla doesn't push. There's a Lee-Dualla-Billy triangle here somewhere, but the writers have teased it and been reluctant to play it. This is about as overt as it's been.
Meanwhile, Lee's investigation, even if he does find the suspects, isn't likely to end promisingly. The scene between Lee and Tigh proves that when supplies are hard to obtain, that doesn't stop people from obtaining them. To outlaw the black market would be like outlawing drugs; it may drive the problem underground, but it doesn't make it go away. There's a good scene of exposition between Lee and Zarek (who always has clues about the shady types) leading to my favorite line of wry observation by Zarek: "Did you really expect some utopian fantasy to rise from the ashes?" You hear a line like that, and you begin to wonder if Roslin, with her trade policy, is naively living in that utopia.
Speaking of Roslin, I'd better mention the scene on Colonial One where she asks Baltar to resign the vice presidency. She does this because of what she saw in her memories — Baltar with a Cylon — in "Epiphanies." Neither Roslin nor Baltar say exactly what the other knows, but this makes for an interesting and complex dynamic: Baltar saved Roslin's life, and now Roslin hopes to bring him down because of what she knows yet cannot prove. When Baltar refuses to resign, you know instantly that these two are going to war. And an intriguing war of wits and wills it should be.
Zarek turns Lee on to the Prometheus, the ship running the black market under an ex-mercenary named Phelan (Bill Duke), a guy who has upped his brazen activity by killing Fisk and now ordering Lee to convince Adama to back off, using Shevon and the daughter, both kidnapped, as leverage. The story paints Phelan as a pragmatist who has crossed one line too many. He makes a good point when he says, "The fleet needs us. We're the pressure valve." Yet at the same time he sells children to people with "specific needs." What I like here is that the show recognizes the need for a black market in the fleet. Phelan makes some good points, and Bill Duke (he directed Deep Cover; go rent it) approaches the role with a purely intellectual performance rather than a visceral one. What I don't buy is Phelan's greedy inflexibility. His pragmatic platitudes don't seem in tune with his willingness to extend into the evil of dealing children to pedophiles.
Lee's solution is equally pragmatic: He shoots Phelan, and then tells Phelan's associates that what's done is done, so now let's work something out. He acknowledges the fleet needs the black market, but there must be limits, like no trafficking in children. What blunts the suspense of Lee's solution is the unnecessary very first scene of the episode, which shows Lee holding a gun on Phelan before jumping back "48 hours earlier." It's a framing device that wasn't the least bit necessary and gives more away than it should. I also could've used fewer flashbacks of Lee and the mystery woman, which become repetitive and pretentious. The emotional payoff, which is helpfully explained to us by Shevon's armchair psychology while we watch the flashbacks, is disappointing.
I guess what I'm saying is that the plot involving the black market works (there's a scene where Roslin has to unhappily accept the black market as a fact of life, and also as a scene showing Zarek involving himself in the operation with Phelan now out of the way), but the character aspects are less certain. Lee's implosion is believable, but Shevon and the woman from Lee's past both strike me as extraneous. And Fisk's death is an example of the writers simply throwing a perfectly good supporting player in the trash.
Note: I revised the rating for this episode from 2.5 to 2 stars at the end of the season.
Previous episode: Epiphanies
Next episode: Scar
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30 comments on this post
Thu, May 8, 2008, 9:18pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Jun 14, 2008, 8:14am (UTC -5)
On the other hand, I didn't really care for the children aspect, and not just on moral grounds. It seemed sort of thrown in as the way to make Lee turn to the "Dark Side", so to speak (like Luke in Star Wars), and kill Phelan in cold blood. And I agree that a great actor/supporting player was lost just to show Lee's duality.
I also didn't quite understand Roslin's complete dismissal of the black market. I don't know how easy it is to get chamalla root, but it wasn't through regular channels. She had participated in the black market herself, if only in a small way. Of course, there is the "Do as I say not as I do" mentality that might be in play.
Thanks for taking the time to have this site and for your outstanding reviews. Kudos... Todd
Mon, Jul 28, 2008, 3:23pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Mar 6, 2009, 3:31pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Sep 29, 2009, 12:45am (UTC -5)
Fri, Jan 29, 2010, 10:33am (UTC -5)
Mon, Jun 21, 2010, 1:21am (UTC -5)
Surely the early comment by Adama in response to Fisk's murder, "we start killing our own, all the Cylons have to do is sit back and watch," is a clanging anachronism. How did this silly line of dialogue get through? Why would Adama make such a trite observation after the conflict betwen the Pegasus and the Galactica, the "Gideon Massacre," his attempted coup against Roslin, shooting down the Olympic Carrier, the prison ship mutiny, etc., etc., etc. It's like Adama has forgotten all of that and is suddenly worried about the implications of "killing our own."
And it doesn't get much better. The confrontation between Lee and Baltar in Fisk's quarters is just a rote exchange of cliches that leads to nothing and means nothing. In fact, most of the dialogue in this episode is just characters barking dramatic cliches at each other.
But the worst and probably most lasting development from these two episodes starts during Epiphanies, when we realize the writers have decided to push the RESET button on Six. Frankly, like Jammer, I'm weary of Six as a sexy imaginary troublmaker in Baltar's head. I had hoped Baltar would come out of the Resurrection Ship episodes changed, and with a new relationship with Six built around the actual woman he had rescued, who I hoped would be more complicated, like Sharon, at least when it came to Baltar.
And, by the way, what the hell does "black market" even mean in the context of the fleet? Obviously trafficking in illegal goods and services, like controlled substances, illegal drugs, and child prostitutes is going to be a problem that needs to be addressed, but why the hell would anybody have a problem with Tigh trading a piece of jewelry for some other goods? Isn't most of the fleet operating on a bartering system now? What good is money? Is everybody still accepting money as a valid medium of exchange? It seems to me unlikely that whatever money made it aboard the fleet along with the survivors was distributed in any rational or fair way. Was there some discussion of a new monetary system that I missed?
Thu, Jun 24, 2010, 11:42pm (UTC -5)
Its too bad, because that would have been a refreshing change of pace and also made that moment in Lay Down Your Burdens even better.
Sun, Apr 10, 2011, 1:40am (UTC -5)
It's also a shame to see such an intriguing villain get offed after some last-minute revelations about how evil he is. If this episode was going to count for anything in the long term it would've kept that villain alive. Sadly, it's not the first time a bad guy more interesting than Zarek has been created and disposed of while Zarek continues to wander around being too important to kill off but too boring to feature significantly in the plot.
Fri, May 6, 2011, 9:02am (UTC -5)
So here is my big question...Where the hell is Earth? didn't they find it like 7 episodes ago? Does no one care? I am really getting bothered here. did I miss an episode, or a line explaining why they aren't going to earth?
Anyways, the reason the concept of the black market is so stupid (my friend is an economist) is because since it is a contained community with no taxation, there can be no such thing as a black market. It is simply the market. What Rosslyn is really saying is she wants knowledge of what everyone does all the time at all costs. which is very surprising coming from her, and not Adama. And it also makes her look little and trite, since she was using illegal drugs herself. There isn't a little "Do as I say, not as I do", it is the whole episode.
Add to that the stupid flashbacks, the begginning reveal, the cliche child slaves, and killing off the only sympathetic character from Pegasus, and you have a disaster of an episode. Not only is it bad on its own, but much like "Tigh up down" or whatever it was called, it cripples future episodes as it invloves the pegasus. The only reason to watch this one at all was the Balter Rosslyn scene.
One more thing, to add to the growing list of Adamas "what the hell??" command decisions, he gave the lead of a murder investigation to HIS SON???? I thought Adama was past this garbage. These decisions are what keeps me from fully embracing Adama as a Commandar.
Mon, Jun 13, 2011, 9:59pm (UTC -5)
To answer your question Nick P., in "Home, Part II" they mentioned that the coordinates for Earth were very far away, so my assumption is that they ARE travelling in that direction. It's too bad it hasn't been mentioned in dialogue though.
Tue, Sep 27, 2011, 2:54am (UTC -5)
Fri, Nov 18, 2011, 8:35am (UTC -5)
By killing off Fisk, the Pegasus is now just another vessel, albeit a strong one.
Yeah, Apollo was a very odd choice for a lead investigator. But it had to be someone "high-profile" from the lead cast, and I guess he was the best choice, what with subsequently almost getting garrotted (which Tigh, for instance, would probably not have survived).
I was wondering about the Earth angle myself and, like Nic, assume they've been traveling toward it since discovering its location. That SHOULD though have been getting them further away from the cylons, which doesn't appear to have happened...
Thu, Jul 5, 2012, 2:09am (UTC -5)
OK, so Fisk is dead. Who's the new commander of the Pegasus? Shouldn't it be Tigh?
This is the second time Lee has snatched a dude's gun away from him. Pretty badass. I also like the fact that he didn't hesitate to kill Phelan. Pragmatic, indeed.
What's with Lee's death wish? I don't really get it...
Tue, Oct 16, 2012, 3:29pm (UTC -5)
The producers should have not killed Fisk, I liked that guy especially when he stopped his 2 crewmen who were torturing Helo and Tyrol.
Also, the "black market" idea is a BS in a small society of 50.000 survivors. There should not be a black market at all! Instead, the government should have used military force to gain all the available resources and distribute them equally to all the people. Black market can only function when there's currency and people tend to gather currency cause it means power. But that currency power is so useless in this small society, for its main goal is to escape the Cylons and survive...
Mon, Jul 8, 2013, 9:49pm (UTC -5)
Mon, Mar 24, 2014, 5:01am (UTC -5)
So *something* is up with Lee, that's nothing new. But instead of exploring what's already on the table for him, we get thrown into the middle of some bonus cooked-up back story.
Could have been an interesting detective story that explores life in the fleet. Why use Lee when the guy is already be involved with everything else in the show (and fleet)?
If the season needed to take a break from the main ongoing plot lines (of which there are plenty), the writers should have used a new, side character. Instead, following a main character through this sever left-turn of a story just felt like a frustrating distraction forced into the middle of the season. One star.
Wed, Mar 11, 2015, 10:12pm (UTC -5)
We've seen fuel and metals, but how about:
Pharmaceuticals? This is pretty high-tech. It's likely no one knows how to make antibiotics -- and even if they did, the facilities simply don't exist.
Electronics? Even the low-tech Galactica is filled with components they can't possibly manufacture. Once they've used all their spare LCD displays, then what?
Could they manufacture ammo? Warships on Earth don't make ammo, they get resupplied. Would a mothballed ship have working production facilities? How about chemical processing (another very high tech facility) to make the propellent for the ammo?
Finally, what do they eat?
Cloud 9 could be farmland, but it's not.
Hydroponics? Maybe, but where was the crash program to turn a bunch of random freighters into hydroponics gardens? And who has the expertise to do it?
Think about the skills needed to do any of this. Then pick 50,000 people at random -- what's the chances that you'll have the right skills for long term high-tech (e.g. spaceflight) survival?
The cynical answer to "why haven't they answered basic questions about the economy" may be that there aren't any reasonable answers, and the closer you look, the sillier the whole proposition becomes....
Sun, Jun 19, 2016, 4:02am (UTC -5)
So, I made a fan edit that addresses these issues. Here is my list of changes.
1) Instead of the woman from the past, Lee is thinking of Starbuck and of how Zack died. Basically, he loves Starbuck but doesn't know if he can ever be with her. Shevon is Kara's replacement. When she doesn't work out, basically Dee is next in line.
2) Fisk's killer is not revealed in the opening. This makes the questioning scenes far more compelling, because we're not sure where we're going now.
3) In the end, it's a twist, and not only is Zarek the head of the black market (last scene with him with henchman) but flashbacks show HE, not Phalen, was the one in the room when Fisk died. It's because Fisk was keeping shipments from the Astral Queen, in attempt to get him to renegotiate. I would bet this was their original intention too, given all the info in the episode.
4) The Dee scene welcoming Lee on board, and saying sometimes she wishes she'd been back on Caprica instead of here, is back in. This builds up the Dee relationship SO WELL.
5) The Pegasus Tremmel introduction scene is back in (But the head slam bit is not. It's trimmed down). It builds the noir tone really well, and sets up that Pegasus is still at odds a bit with Galactica and wants to do things their own way.
6) Scene in the middle of Colonel Tigh scene, where we cut to Shevon's daughter coughing, is DELETED. It's more compelling to stay with Tigh, and this just gives us no new info that the previous Shevon scene didn't. Also, in this cut, Shevon is just replacing Kara. So emphasis is taken off the daughter.
7) Scene with guy in black market telling Lee where Phalen is, is now back in. It's cut down (Lee trades his gun and guy accepts, instead of trading necklace). This builds the noir tone more.
8) Scene with Lee fighting Phalen's guards before being taken in to meet him is back in. It builds the noir and sense of dread more.
The result still clocks in right at the 44 minute mark.
And I think it is very compelling. It's a cool noir mystery with a cool tone. It has a great twist ending reveal. And Lee's backstory now carry's the show forward (Lee loving Kara and thinking of here streams right into the next episode of Scar extremely well). It's imo WORLDS above the cut they released. Please let me know if any of you would like to check it out!
Sat, Jul 9, 2016, 7:29am (UTC -5)
Wed, Sep 21, 2016, 12:18pm (UTC -5)
I just re-watched this one recently, and I'd enjoy seeing your re-edit if, as Chrome mentioned, you still visit and happen to see our messages. :)
Enjoy the day... RT
Sat, Nov 19, 2016, 4:07pm (UTC -5)
I just think the writers didn't really want to deal with the aftermath of Pegasus storyline - which reminds me of Farscape (spoilers below, be warned):
Every so often, the status quo has to be shaken up - a new set of rules gets established; it's an often used storytelling device. In Farscape's case it was the cloning of the protagonist. Now, you'd normally expect that plot thread to be resolved quickly and the consequences contained to a few episodes at best. That's not the case - the clone gets incorporated in the ongoing storyline and plays a very important role. It was a bold and surprising move and it paid off brilliantly.
I just wish the writers did the same with the Pegasus arc - it's an amazing one, don't get me wrong, but we don't get much in the way of fallout; it's resolved too cleanly. I really think they should've carried that story much further, with Fisk as the central character.
From this point on the quality drops significantly, in my opinion. Continued exploration of Pegasus story might just have saved the show...
Tue, Jun 20, 2017, 3:58pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Oct 24, 2018, 3:53am (UTC -5)
Not to mention that in the next episode they are mining asteroids to get resources to build new Vipers? How could they build new Vipers? makes no sense to me.
I think the problem with BSG is that is good for a short and intense story but beyond this point you have to start to ask questions like you made and all you get it is "a wizard did it".
Tue, Jan 1, 2019, 11:46pm (UTC -5)
Boy, it has been a while, but I thought there was a minor note in an episode that the Battlestars were meant to be self-sustaining, because of long deployments and whatnot. I seem to recall they had.the ability to make more fighters, but have no idea when I heard it.
As they were meant to be cities-in-space, as well as a weapon platform, that would be quite handy.
Tue, Mar 10, 2020, 8:07pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Feb 21, 2021, 9:15pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Jan 16, 2022, 8:42am (UTC -5)
For 2 years - from the miniseries to Resurrection Ship part 2, I would watch nBSG obsessively. Follow the podcasts closely. Enjoy the online chatter regularly.
Then "Black Market" hit, and it seemed nBSG was on life support. In parallel, David Tennant became the 10th Doctor, and suddenly Doctor Who was the premier scifi show out there.
@SlackerInc said that last week's Epiphanies was the moment the show jumped the shark for him. Maybe. But for me there are very big differences between the two.
First, Fisk. In Epiphanies, we still very much have the Pegasus, and Fisk personifies that more than anyone. Killing him off at the start of “Black Market” was a huge mistake. As @Derek says, Pegasus is never really the center of the show ever again. Ironically, this is the very problem that Voyager had. I say ironically because Ronald D. Moore made nBSG to show how these things should be done! ("Did you really expect some utopian fantasy to rise from the ashes?")
Which brings me to another problem with “Black Market”. The writer. For the second week in a row we have someone not intimately involved in the show writing it. Epiphanies was Joel Anderson Thompson’s one and only contribution to nBSG. This week we have the same guy who wrote “Final Cut.” Not exactly nBSG’s crowing hour of glory.
We don’t get another Ronald D. Moore script till the finale.
Then there is the overuse of Head Six. We very successfully transitioned away from Head Six to Gina-Six during Resurrection Ship. Epiphanies destroyed that. As folks have asked above, why the reset button? And more than that, why so soon? Last time Head Six went away - when we had Shelly Godfrey - her return was dramatic. We’re going to have Gina killed off with a BOOM soon enough (h/t @Brendan). Why not wait till then to bring Head Six back? How can I miss you if you won’t go away?
Deck Chief Laird. He seemed like one of the few interesting folks from the Pegasus (Pegasus' CAG was an ass). How come we don’t see him again for years? How cool would it have been to include him in this little Black Market story line? A little like O’Brien and Nog in Treachery, Faith and the Great River.
Losing Fisk and basically dropping Laird for a couple years was, as @Sanagi says, a huge blow to the credibility of nBSG. nBSG set itself up as the modern show where people die and new people join. But with Black Market, Roslin isn’t dying, and Fisk isn’t joining. It is all status quo. No new nuggets, like Kat or Hotdog or Racetrack. No new deck hands like Jammer or Figurski. No new Cylons. No new villains - cause Phelan dies. No new officers from Pegasus. Nothing.
We don’t even see Ellen.
Did they just run out of money? No Gaeta, no Helo, no Sharon, no Mathias, no Corporal Venner, no nothing.
I agree with @Jason D, using Lee for the investigation was a mistake. Why not give Mathias a chance to redeem herself? Or Feelix - seems like a perfect job for Mr. Smoking Tatoo. Or how about Captain Kelly - the guy was X.O. at the start of the season under Tigh - you’re telling me he can’t handle an investigation? Maybe if Adama treated these folks with a little more importance, they wouldn’t go mutinying on him down the line (h/t @Nick P.)?
As @Nic implies, no fresh ideas.
The show is like Lee: no will to live. Just out there whoring.
Thu, Dec 29, 2022, 5:19pm (UTC -5)
Actually I remember reading the novelization of the Original BSG, and it feels like this episode was a poorly executed copy of one of the early chapters.
IIRC (it has been 25 years) the fleet in the early days was a mess. The luxury liners had people drinking champagne while other ships were full of refugees. Lee Adama met a professional escort/companion who opened his eyes to the problem of vast inequality and the preservation of a social hierarchy. I believe the solution was a forced sharing... the fat cats didn't like it, but they had very limited ability to do anything. It wasn't the second coming of Tolstoy, but it believably wrapped up the idea of forced sharing, along with a constant search for resources, which was the bulk of what the fleet did for the first big leg of their journey. IIRC Lee had some reservations about the escort, but eventually accepted her and maybe fell in love with her.
So the fucking hack writers (others have pointed out the writers of all the bad season 2 episodes were one-offs) took the idea of prostitute and black market and turned them into absolute fucking modern cliches, with child predators and mob enforcers... in a community of 50,000 people, of which at least 5% are military.
Sat, Feb 11, 2023, 8:28pm (UTC -5)
It's also a Lee character episode, fairly typical stuff of what he wants from a woman who can't be what he wants etc. The visions of his old girlfriend and being ejected into space just didn't resonate. It was pretty insipid. And Dualla is back with Billy after realizing it wasn't happening with Lee (which seemed to develop out of nowhere in the first place). And of course Adama also realizes Lee hasn't been himself since nearly dying. Lee doesn't hide his emotions well and clearly can be read like a book.
Not much to say about the whole black market and the people trading whatever to get whatever -- the usual thuggish characters involved. I don't see any follow-up to this story, but who knows. Zarek is involved, of course, and has a good conversation with Lee.
What is interesting is Baltar now very much wants to be VP even as Roslin offers him a chance to resign -- she tries to understand where they stand. This was necessary. Roslin's amazing recovery has allowed her to really take charge now and that will ruffle some feathers.
2 stars for "Black Market" -- didn't really feel like a BSG episode for long stretches. Maybe the ending resolution is a bit hopeful with monitoring the black market but it should win Lee some points with Adama/Roslin though the character will continue to have its issues... I will give the episode credit for the bold move of killing the new leader of the Pegasus Fisk, who I liked. But that just makes it a bigger fleet for Adama/Roslin to have control over.
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