"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.
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