Air date: 2/25/2007
Written by Anne Cofell Saunders and Jane Espenson
Directed by Wayne Rose
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"Dirty Hands" has an intriguing focus on a topic that's one of the series' crucial "big idea" questions: Just where is this broken society headed? In the absence of Cylon siege, can the fleet continue to function as a society, and what will that society look like if and when it reaches Earth?
As was usually the case with the various Star Treks, the focus of this series is generally on the more elite characters: the people who run the show. Admirals, captains, pilots — the ones who make the big decisions and get the lion's share of the glory. In the opening sequence of "Dirty Hands," on the other hand, we experience what life is like on Chief Tyrol's flight deck. Much of it is hard, physical, repetitive labor with a minimum of glamour and no shortage of extraneous crap jobs, like delivering the weekly laundry. You don't normally think of who delivers the laundry on the Battlestar Galactica, but somebody has to do it.
The message of "Dirty Hands" is that the rote routine of such jobs can't be sustained by the same people forever. At some point, human beings become unhappy and disenfranchised. This is demonstrated in an early scene where Seelix, who has taken the pilot's entrance exam and scored well, has been turned away for no other apparent reason than because she's too important in her current operation as a mechanic on the flight deck. Few things are more infuriating in the career world than being told you are ineligible for advancement because you're too vital where you are now. At some point, what's the incentive for continuing to do a job you hate?
In Galactica's universe — and here's the rub —the incentive is that if you don't do your job, people die, and perhaps the entire human race is destroyed as a result. The grumbling on the flight deck is a problem, but a much bigger problem is the grumbling on the fleet's tylium refinery vessel, the Hitei Kan. Once the fleet's most reliable ship, the president notes how it has descended in recent weeks into a disaster waiting to happen. The chief of the refinery, Fenner (David Patrick Green), has become a thorn in Roslin's side, with daily requests for better working conditions and even overtime pay. (I'm not sure what overtime pay can possibly mean in a fleet that has no apparent working economy as we know it, but there you are.) The situation comes to a head when a Raptor with a contaminated fuel supply goes out of control and crashes into the Colonial One and only by pure luck doesn't kill anybody.
When Roslin and Adama call Fenner in to discuss the problem, Fenner explains that contaminants in the fuel are a side effect of a refinery whose production line has been overworked to a breaking point. Roslin says, simply, "Fix it." Fenner then makes a veiled threat that if he isn't heard on his labor issues, further problems with the fuel supply might surface, and perhaps not unintentionally. Roslin orders Fenner jailed for extortion, in part because Fenner quotes from Baltar's new prison book, which was smuggled out by his lawyer and predicts an opening class divide.
Adama puts Tyrol in charge of getting the refinery back up and running. Tyrol's eyes are opened — and so are ours — when he goes over to the refinery and sees exactly what the working conditions are like. This is a harsh existence of hard, dirty, dangerous, unremitting labor, with 12-year-old workers and a ship full of people whose perception is that no one cares about their plight. I have no idea whether BSG's production staff built this set or repurposed an existing location, but the effect is vivid: This is an implacable juggernaut I would not want to spend a day on, let alone define every working day of my life — which for many of these people has been every day since the original attack on the Colonies. It's also a place whose workers are on the verge of exploding, with the power to hold the fleet hostage. They've already hidden key filtering components that halt production, and the remaining tylium supplies are dwindling.
One question about Roslin and Adama and their reaction to the refinery crew's grievances: Isn't it awfully shortsighted for them to approach the problem as hardliners rather than more even-handedly? These people aren't terrorists, after all. Roslin's initial closed-mindedness borders on being out of character. (Yes, she would react in such a way to, say, Baltar, but would she cut Tyrol off so quickly regarding legitimate working conditions? This is the same Roslin who negotiated over a labor dispute in the flashbacks of "Epiphanies." Or maybe she's not the same, and that's the point.) If the fleet's sole refinery ship is in such bad shape that it could literally explode, shouldn't it be top priority to repair it? And this is in addition to the awful working conditions, which are threatening to cause the workers' morale situation to explode.
I'm not sure I always believe the characters would act the way they do, but given these actions the episode powerfully dramatizes the problems on both sides in this dispute: Adama and Roslin cannot negotiate with extortionists because they fear a potential floodgate of subsequent worker revolt if they cave. Meanwhile, the refinery workers are realizing they are doomed to an unending existence of dangerous labor.
What I found interesting about the episode were the implications of the emerging class divide, in which societal lines that were drawn long before the Cylon attack now play out in the newly emerging post-apocalypse. Poor colonies like Aerelon and Sagittaron, which were known primarily for their farmers and manual laborers, were like second-class citizens to wealthier colonies like Caprica, which had more professionals, artists, and politicians. Tyrol makes an excellent point about the inheritance of duties that's chilling when you hear it spoken aloud. People trapped on ships like the refinery are stuck along with children who are now being taught how to man the refinery because there's no one else to do it. Is this the start of generations of laborers who will have no control over their lives?
Roslin concedes the point and enacts a random fleet-wide lottery among qualified workers for such jobs, but even that process is problematic, as evidenced by the kid who was a "farmer" in title because he spent a summer doing it before college. It's an imperfect post-apocalyptic world with imperfect solutions.
The episode's best scene comes when Tyrol feels compelled to visit Baltar in the brig and hear the prisoner's theories on the rising aristocracy. In a surprise bit of character backstory, Baltar reveals that he grew up on Aerelon and tried to suppress his true working-class heritage by ridding himself of his native accent and leaving his old life behind for a more prestigious one on Caprica.
This scene is brilliant in its ideological observation about the class divide as well as its notion of redefining who we think Baltar is. James Callis is superb at convincingly revealing dimensions to Baltar that we'd never suspected, while at the same time showing Baltar as a master manipulator able to cause problems throughout the fleet from inside his jail cell. (Is it true what he says about his past, or just something he concocts to lend credence to his ideological argument? With Baltar you can never be sure.) There's a credibility to Baltar's missives on the "emerging aristocracy" that's frightening to contemplate.
I also liked the scene where Tyrol, after witnessing a work-related injury, makes an emotional decision and declares the refinery on strike. It's a satisfying moment of drama as a populist gesture, sold in no small part by Bear McCreary's score, which has a flavor that feels just right.
Tyrol also puts the entire flight deck on strike, a gesture that gets him thrown in the brig. The ensuing showdown with Adama is dramatically charged but not entirely believable. Adama threatens to have Cally shot as a mutiny ringleader, which strikes me as more oppressive than Adama would likely approach the situation. While Adama makes completely valid points about how the chain of command cannot be viewed as "optional," his reaction strikes me as excessive. And when Tyrol relents and calls off the strike, Adama immediately allows him to talk to the president. I don't know about that either. If Adama is trying to prove a point (the only possible conclusion to draw from this scene), why doesn't he simply appeal to Tyrol's sense of duty more directly before threatening to kill people?
Thematically, I see what the writers were going for here, but I don't think it works when compressed into two minutes of screen time. (I also don't think you can have Adama threaten to execute mutineers here if he's going to let Helo walk free without an investigation in "A Measure of Salvation.") And the next scene where Roslin hears Tyrol's labor grievances (over drinks, no less) and appoints him as the head of a labor union is also an awkward about-face. Simply put, if Tyrol makes so much sense to Adama and Roslin now, why didn't they listen to him before the strike?
So the ending is problematic. Still, this is one of the most useful and provocative episodes yet about the way society functions in the BSG universe. It's a reminder that aside from this series' focus on the military and the Cylon threat, there are also a lot of civilians and workers out there that are going to have to grapple with an emerging future that has not yet taken form. Balancing the creation of that future society with the immediate reality of a fleet still on the run from possible attack is, obviously, a major challenge that will require concessions from everybody. Some will have to live harder lives than others. This episode is hopeful that with responsible leaders and the right decisions, a just outcome might be possible, despite the validity of skeptic opinions like Baltar's.
Previous episode: A Day in the Life
Next episode: Maelstrom
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41 comments on this post
Mon, Nov 26, 2007, 1:58pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Jan 8, 2008, 2:18pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Mar 21, 2008, 4:20pm (UTC -5)
By being force-of-will hardliners, they then couldn't back down when it degraded to thinly-veiled extortion. While their turn-arounds may have been too quick, I thought the episode showed how the characters realized they have been acting poorly and how they need to fix a situation that they have made worse with hasty decisions and words.
Thanks for the reviews, Jammer. They are enjoyed.
Wed, Apr 23, 2008, 8:48pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Apr 25, 2008, 5:44pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Jul 30, 2008, 2:07am (UTC -5)
I also don't buy that Roslin would be so closed to hearing the plight of labor.
But my biggest question is, why why why are they short-handed on the flight deck? Didn't they just absorb a *whole other crew*? Give me a break! There are thousands of civilians who no doubt have lost their jobs on Caprica, who I'm sure would be looking for something to do. People get bored with no job. While I'm sure they wouldn't be lining up for ore processing, surely, surely there are incentives in place, such as, oh, I don't know, higher "salary" for more labor without education - just like the real world. People don't work on oil rigs or in coal mines in developed countries because of class. They do it because they can make more money than artists. Yeah, I don't quite buy into the Dickensian conditions on a frakking spaceship.
Fri, Nov 14, 2008, 11:29pm (UTC -5)
But it also led to a fristration I have had since Kobal - but let me digress by saying I am serving in Iraq and am on my seventh combat tour in 20 years, I have been around and in the military my entire life, so this is where I am coming from. This series has Soldiers, ok, Colonial warriors, drawing their weapons on one another WAY too much. I know it builds suspense and is drama, but I am sorry, it bugs me.
Sorry about the length, but it has been bugging me as I watch the series, and please understand, I am SO hooked on this series now that I have it, but when it seems they are pulling weapons on one another as often as I rotate my boots, it pulls me out of the show. Just a rant, thanks for listening.
Sat, Nov 15, 2008, 12:24pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Dec 17, 2008, 6:19pm (UTC -5)
I've never had a gun pointed at me, but I imagine my reaction would not be pretty. If a friend were to pull something like that, we would no longer be friends. I would think that a professional relationship, like the one between soldiers, would suffer similarly. Too often, it is treated as business as usual on BSG; this may well be a nihilistic streak that comes from being the last of their civilization.
Wed, Dec 17, 2008, 6:22pm (UTC -5)
I reminded myself of Lee's assertion that the people of the Fleet are a gang, not a civilization. Worth noting in this context, I think.
Mon, Jul 26, 2010, 11:08pm (UTC -5)
I also have no problem with Adama's reaction. Had the strike been confined to civilians, that would be different, but for some reason Tyrol saw fit to extend it to the deck crew, which was asking for trouble.
S3 has a lot of bottle episodes that are lame and pointless, this is not one of them. While it cannot stand up to series classics because it is too far removed from the core theme and mythology of the show, it is still a really good hour of TV, imo.
Mon, Jun 20, 2011, 5:00am (UTC -5)
Adama's actions were completely unreal, threatening to shoot Cally!? His argument about obeying orders was sound and well voiced, but threatening to kill a pretty much innocent woman as a means of coercion is unprecedented and uncharacteristic. This was the only scene I found unbelievable.
Still, it's the best episode since Collaborators and for that, I am thankful - most of season 3 has been rather disappointing in the shadow of the first 2.
Tyrol has always been one of my favorite characters, and this episode completely sells me on that opinion.
Wed, Jun 22, 2011, 11:00am (UTC -5)
What Adama and Roslin are actually leading is the entire human society.
True, he flipped out when Tyrol put the deck crew on strike, but it was about the refinery strike as well.
And if he starts calling any dissent "mutiny", he'll truly become a tyrant he is nominally trying not to be.
"Will anyone lead this fleet whose last name is not Adama?" indeed.
Sun, Jul 3, 2011, 1:21pm (UTC -5)
I will start with saying I absulotely LOVED the 1st 43 minutes of this episode. But the Cally order I think is tragic. I think Adama has never been a well written character, and this I think has finally crossed the line with me.
Now, I am not a liberal person, one reason I love this show over Star Trek is the ludicrous PC hippie ST, and its fake protrayal of humanity. BSG generally shows humans more as they actually are, with flaws.
Adama makes a MAJOR mistake with the Cally order. Think about this. To end a strike, he threatened to shoot the wife of the head of the union. WOW. Let me be very clear, Patton, Union-Busters, Hitler himself never threatened union leaders families with death. The only real power workers have is the means of production. That is why I support strikes, even though I am quite conservative. For Adama to threaten death for a Strike, well, the only real negotiating is hoping Adama and the president are nice this week....
I have been questioning Adama's command style from the first episode, and I am def. on the verge of wanting a replacement Admiral, this guy has problems. He cannot make personnel decisions to save his life, as I have documented here many times, he is very self-involved and has seemingly never made a good decision in his past, he favours his friends and family in almost all respects, and at the end of the day, he IS A DICTATOR. He is only nice to Roslin when she is flirting with him.
I would actually like someone here to argue he is not a dictator.
Tue, Jul 19, 2011, 4:00pm (UTC -5)
Mon, Sep 26, 2011, 9:57pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Nov 26, 2011, 9:48am (UTC -5)
Firstly, after what Baltar did, how is it possible that his "book" (smuggled out of prison, really?!) would gain traction with anyone in the Fleet, regardless of the validity of his ideas??? Baltar, a "man of the people." And Chief, of all people, fell for it. Give me a break.
Secondly, the human race is in an existential war and some people find it fit to start peddling commie crap about working conditions? Are ANYBODY's working--or living, for that matter--conditions favorable?! Affirmative action and R&R!!?
Thirdly, Adama did select Cally because she's Tyrol's wife, but she was also a high-profile part of the gang of mutineers. I don't see anything particularly wrong with threatening to shoot her, although he should have put Tyrol up before the firing squad first. If you ask me, Adama was not forceful enough with the strikers, and neither was Roslin.
I've no problem with organized labor or with workers' right to strike as a last resort. Heaven knows workers have been grossly exploited over the course of history, especially since Industrialization. But in war such niceties are rendered subordinate to the war effort.
Bottom line: If the flight crew can risk their lives to protect the civilians, then the civilians can put in seven days a week at work to keep the flight crew in the air. And those who do not, forfeit their membership of the society.
Sat, Mar 10, 2012, 3:23am (UTC -5)
Is it so hard to understand that working the same back-breaking job 18 hours a day, 7 days a week for years on end my bum a person out a little bit? Maybe for Roslin, considering she's seemingly never done a hard day's work in her life. I mean, in the end, it turned out there was a pretty simple solution to everything, so why did it take them so long to find it? Because they were being (uncharacteristically) stubborn and asshat-ish.
My other concern is why Tyrol thought it was a good idea to include the deck crew the strike. Surely he should have recognized this as unnecessary and not likely to end well.
Just poor writing all around, with the exception of the big Baltar scene. He is quickly becoming my favorite character (perhaps simply by process of elimination).
Thu, Mar 22, 2012, 4:49pm (UTC -5)
I will mention that the class divide issue touched on here was handled much classier than on DS9 (the Bajoran Dijara system), although I'm glad both series touched on it.
Wed, Jul 11, 2012, 8:32am (UTC -5)
I think this point was deliberately made right at the top of the episode. After the raptor hit Colonial One, Roslin was all "Oh poor me, I have to move to the other end of the ship. Tory had her shoulder dislocated." That to me was there deliberately to show how she thinks she's got it bad, and then to show us how bad it REALLY is. Hell yes she's got favourable working and living conditions, if the worst she can complain about is moving to the other end of her personal palace. That's the point. The refinery crew do have legitimate concerns, and claiming that "everyone's in it together" is simply a way of willfully ignoring their rights.
As for the hardassness of Adama v Tyrol, I read it as Adama actually agreeing with Tyrol all along. But because neither he nor Roslin could be seen to be negotiating with strikers, or else everyone else would try it, he had to do something so deliberately and blatantly "eeevil" that there was no chance Tyrol would not back down. Then, once he has, Adama can give him everything he asks for and that he wanted to give him all along. Tyrol just had to be seen to give in first, for the sake of the chain of command.
Thu, Jul 26, 2012, 11:12pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Jul 29, 2012, 2:12am (UTC -5)
Tue, Sep 3, 2013, 8:00pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Oct 24, 2013, 12:15am (UTC -5)
Tue, Jan 7, 2014, 9:22am (UTC -5)
Fri, Jan 24, 2014, 9:35pm (UTC -5)
Nevertheless, I thought it was a very interesting episode and a good concept. I generally don't agree with union tactics, but in this episode I totally empathized with the Chief and Baltar.
PS. Caleb, I wouldn't say Baltar's the only character I like, but he's definitely the one I like the most. I agree with Jammer, James Callis is awesome and so is Baltar!
Sun, Apr 13, 2014, 12:53pm (UTC -5)
Sam brings up the DS9 episode on the Bajoran caste system; DS9 also had an episode on worker organizing as did Babylon 5. All of those episodes like this one had commendably pro-labor messages but they all shared the same nice ending where the heroes pull a solution out of their asses to meet the demands of the workers. In reality successful labor mobilization are extremely difficult. It'd probably be easier to defeat the Cylons than win a union election in the contemporary US!
Mon, Jul 21, 2014, 10:42pm (UTC -5)
So, the question is whether Adama went overboard by threatening Cally. Maybe. For the reasons many here have made. On the other hand, Chief's mistake was to "unionize" the flight deck crew. That violates the chain of command. Ooops. I am all in favor of unions, and this episode does a good job of showing why. But the military is NOT a civil society. The chain of command can only be bucked when an immoral order is given.
Sun, Oct 5, 2014, 12:12pm (UTC -5)
Kids have to work to survive in the BSG world and despite what we as a civilized society might want to see in fair labor practices and no child laborers, it just doesn't work as fair world.
Sat, Sep 5, 2015, 3:50pm (UTC -5)
I am a firm believer in justice and fairness, and in social mobility based purely on meritocracy. But cheese and rice, that does not happen in the middle of a godsdamn war!
Tue, Oct 20, 2015, 3:53pm (UTC -5)
The only thing communist is forcing them to work unending 16 plus hour days because they aren't in the right social class.
War is made by people, and in this case there is a society there. Calling for the death of brutalized workers faster than a treasonous admiral says something about you.
Wed, Oct 21, 2015, 10:16pm (UTC -5)
On the Colonial Fleet Adama is more or less the President and Roslin, their "president" is like the Prime Minister, with the exception of the running of the day to day military operations is of course done by Adama. In this aspect the Fleet more closely resembles a Constitutional Monarchy where the Monarch takes an active involvement in running his military. Like the Presidents of newly formed Semi Presidential Systems Adama's authority at least nominally came from a republican origin- he gained is rank by serving in the military of a republic- but now given the fleet's situation he is likely to serve a long term, and in that time he cannot be overruled by the Prime Minister (Roslin). Now it should be obvious that my analysis comes from a de facto viewpoint more so than de jure; obviously the public expects Roslin to make decisions but Adama has the ultimate power to influence what she does or remove her if she refuses to go along with his "behind the scenes" guidance; like that time he "terminated" her presidency. From a de facto standpoint his supreme authority over "military decisions" can always trump Roslin's authority over "political decisions", and in reality while Adama became more and more accommodating to the democratically elected authorities (like allowing the fleet to settle on New Caprica on Baltar's authority), it was really always at Adama's discretion whether to overrule a "political decision" or not, because not only does he "have the guns" that can be pointed at the fleet he also has the guns that are pointed at the Cylons when they attack and the fleet knows they are as good as dead if a ship or group of ships went their separate way from Galactica.
I'm not saying that I disapprove of this system either, as I think the extraordinary circumstances of the fleet allow for a form of government I would not accept is normal circumstances. The status of the fleet as moving with Galactica almost like one big pseudo military unit makes it necessary for Adama to have a king like authority over many issues. Or one could compare the situation to Republican Rome where in emergencies a dictator could be appointed (and to better understand this try to think of the word without its strong negative connotation it has accumulated in modern times). I think in "Colonial Government's" situation of traveling a a fleet through dangerous territory a proper dictator may be necessary- and Adama's competence, heroism, public support (usually) and lack of challengers within the military who have any support he has a certain legitimacy as Dictator.
Well damn, now that I've typed all this and thought of the Roman example I now see how another good comparison of Galactica's system of government would be with the Roman Republic's consular system with Adama and Rosilin as the two consuls, in a way. Haha oh well, I still stand by by original comparison as well.
Now this episode does illustrate the potential imperfections in this system (and the inherent problem in giving any one person, however "worthy", of near absolute power- if they lose their temper or their good judgment they can take things to an unwelcome extreme as illustrated by Adama's threat to shoot Callie.
As much as this would surprise many people who know me and my advocacy of freedom and the rights of the individual, in certain situations with a worthy, inspiring (if not perfect, as that is not possible) leader I would willingly bend my knee to the leader as a vassal to a king in support of creating a constitutional monarchy , and the fleet's situation is one. I would support "King Adama" and his head of government Laura Roslin with the Quarum of 12 as the leaders of the parliament. I would feel better all around that way then to allow the Quarum and the masses they represent too much influence as they have shown themselves to be volitile, too stubborn or too easily changeable, and giving their future election campaigns more priority in their decisions then what is best for the Fleet. They would still have some influence and their say, and to maintain the sense of propriety they under Prime Minister Roslin would ordinarily run the day to day business of governing, but Adama in his secure position as king (this sounds kinda funny haha) would be able to legitimately overrule them when they start acting out too much, like they do from time to time.
Sat, Jul 21, 2018, 3:16pm (UTC -5)
I mean, why do they have to be such assholes to the workers? Why couldnt they work with them, make some concessions, meet them halfway? Whatever their needs as a fleet, you cant work people to death. They are still an asset and even slave owners know they cant do that. People get tired, exhausted, even if they dont actively sabotage, they will burn out and mess up on the job. So the right thing to do would have been for Roslin to meet with these people and work with them, not arrest and abuse and torture them. And bullshit on Roslin saying you cant get things done via extortion. It is called collective bargaining. You rely on the labor of these people to turn the wheels, you dont pay up, the work stops.
Simple as that. Why? Because people are what makes the machine work and they need to be compensated accordingly. They dont owe anyone subpar working conditions or their lives.
And then the way they threatened Tyrol to throw his family out the airlock. Disgusting. It is really stunts like this throughout the show that have often made me wonder why humanity deserves to be saved in the first place. Often I find myself rooting for the Cylons hoping they finally put these wretched humans out of their misery and rid the universe of them.
Sat, Dec 15, 2018, 9:58pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Dec 26, 2018, 7:36pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Apr 21, 2019, 11:31pm (UTC -5)
I see you're becoming a bigger asshole as the time passes. Heartwarming. Tell me, who would work, if all the workers were airlocked? Repression like that only creates more rebellion. Pretty soon the whole Fleet would be in an uprising. It's not human nature to submit to repression. Never was. Never will be. If you don't treat your workers like human beings, why should they work for you? Why should they give a fuck? And if they rebel, what then? Execute their families as an example? Good idea. Galvanize MORE resistance and rage at you! Brilliant thinking.
I think you and Admiral Cain would get along nicely, in your societally-destructive ideologies. And you would also eat a bullet in the end, right alongside her. Thank the gods most humans don't think like you do, or I would root for the Cylons to finish the job and exterminate humanity.
Wed, May 13, 2020, 4:34pm (UTC -5)
Hate it. Feels like it was written by a college kid.
Tue, Jun 2, 2020, 5:10pm (UTC -5)
3 stars feels right, but a strong 3. First episode in a while that really felt like it was firing on all cylinders in all aspects (even other midseason stronger episodes had some weaknesses).
Tue, Jun 2, 2020, 5:14pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Jun 6, 2020, 7:04pm (UTC -5)
"Pissed off the President."
And then the awesome look Laura gives him.
Wed, Mar 8, 2023, 2:13am (UTC -5)
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