Battlestar Galactica

“The Woman King”

3 stars.

Air date: 2/11/2007
Written by Michael Angeli
Directed by Michael Rymer

Review Text

"The Woman King" is perceptive in its portrayal of characters who are lulled into a dangerous groupthink based on prejudice. It's also manipulative enough that the groupthink's cues were able to lull me along with them — in the absence of hard evidence to their contrary. I began to believe this episode was the tale of one character's self-destruction rather than the tale of one character trying to overcome adversity and do the right thing. Why did I find myself agreeing with the general notion that Helo just needed to shut up and do his job?

I think a big part of it was the fact that this storyline plays like the military version of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf." Under his own volition, Helo has taken some questionable actions in the recent past that have given him the credibility problem that dogs him here. Indeed, that's the most interesting aspect of the show: the notion that Helo is facing an uphill battle constructed of his own previous doing.

Helo has been placed in charge of overseeing the settlement facilities for a large group of Sagittaron civilian refugees who have been moved to Galactica. It's a crappy job (especially after having been the ship's XO before Tigh came back), but somebody has to do it, and one implication is that Helo has been kicked below decks in part as a punishment for his tendency to be on the wrong side of controversy. He's suspected of having killed the Cylon prisoners that ruined the plan in "A Measure of Salvation," and in "Rapture" he took it upon himself to send Sharon back into Cylon custody, something which could've had disastrous consequences. Then there's the very fact he's married to a Cylon, which rankles a certain segment of the crew (specifically Tigh).

At issue are the Sagittarons again, the apparent misfits of the Colonials. (Although why they have suddenly been transferred to Galactica is a detail this episode doesn't make clear. What happened to the ships they were on? If they were lost at New Caprica, where have these people been since?) Previously established in "Bastille Day" was the notion that the Sagittarons were long subjugated and mistreated by the other 11 colonies.

The episode explains that part of that stems from their backward religious fundamentalism, which goes so far as to prohibit preventative medical care. Many of the Colonials resent the Sagittarons for their beliefs, particularly now, where a possible outbreak of a disease within this group of Sagittaron civilians could put a serious strain on the existing supply of the penicillin-like treatment. The civilian doctor in charge, Mike Roberts (Bruce Davison, often a wild card as character actors go), has his hands full, particularly when a Sagittaron woman named Mrs. King accuses him of killing her son. Is this one of those "doctor of death" plots where a crazy doc is killing his patients?

Working both in favor and against the show is the fact that the Sagittarons are such an enigma. We know so little about the circumstances surrounding their beliefs and the prejudice held against them by the other Colonials that we're not sure what to make of scenes where main characters show such obvious, unmasked contempt for them. When Tigh and Tyrol and others make no mistake that they're sick of the Sagittarons and their backward beliefs, and Helo's expression is patient but clearly annoyed, what exactly is the scene trying to say about the nature of prejudice? That it has reasons or that it's wrong?

This works in the show's favor because the plot becomes less predictable; it takes a while before it's clear whether the story is siding with Helo or viewing him as a foolish crusader when he launches an investigation into Dr. Roberts' practices. It also works against the story because, well, who are these Sagittarons and what are we supposed to make of them? If they are so stubbornly against medicine and they die as a result — well, that it's their own fault for refusing treatment isn't exactly a prejudicial judgment; it's a fact.

Of course, the question of the Sagittarons having, or not having, universally shared views is an issue that the script doesn't fully deal with. While it's said that not all Sagittarons hold the same beliefs (Dualla, for example, is Sagittaron, and is as frustrated with their commonly held beliefs as most), we don't get much insight into the matter — although to delve too deep into Colonial subcultures might merely make the story impenetrable.

But I'm rambling about the Sagittarons when this episode is really about Helo. For a while it looks like Helo is embarking on a futile and politically unwise crusade to expose a crime where there might not be one. No one wants to hear about it, and Dr. Roberts appears to be what he says he is — a man trying to treat patients who don't want his help. When his patients die, it's plausibly, more or less, chalked up to the fact that they didn't get treatment until it was too late. (Does Mrs. King have an ax to grind, or is she right about the timeline?)

Helo's credibility problem has dug him a hole before he even opens the case. Adama tells him to drop it. Cottle tells him to stop poking around in the medical logs. And Tigh, in the episode's best scene, openly mocks Helo for his list of unpopular decisions, one of which is being married to a Cylon. Helo punches Tigh right in the face, which he deserves. Even better is Tigh's response to being punched: He tells Helo, "Good for you," and then walks away with a great mocking line ("Have sickbay take a look at that hand"). Colonel Tigh — I love this tough, crazy, contemptible bastard.

There's even a scene where Sharon tells Helo to drop it. I liked the acknowledgement in the dialog that it's been hard for Sharon to earn everyone's trust, that Helo's existence is not merely "the guy who married a Cylon," and how everyone is so fed up with the Sagittarons that it's essentially allowed them to turn their prejudices on a target other than Sharon. These are interesting dynamics that explore some of the issues of prejudice and racism. What's more interesting is that the episode's structure makes it looks equally possible that Helo is right and about to expose a crime, or that he's on an ill-advised mission and about to go down in the flames of his self-righteousness.

Ultimately, the story sides with Helo and it turns out that Roberts was and is in fact killing Sagittaron patients with drugs. Roberts' motives fall under the usual sick delusions of such people who think they're doing everyone else a favor by making the tough decisions on who should live and die. That Helo was willing to be, as Adama notes, "the lone voice in the wilderness" is a credit to his convictions and a rebuke to everyone else who let their hatred of the Sagittarons get in the way. Preachy? Perhaps a little at times, and one wonders where all this mess with the Sagittarons came from, but the show's points are on target.

The episode also has two intriguing scenes away from the main story. One involves Zarek, who warns Roslin about the consequences of having a trial for Baltar. He calls it a potential "hurricane" of civil unrest and potentially violent backlash. As Roslin notes, he seems positively frightened of the possibilities. I'm relieved to finally see Zarek in the role of vice president again, but I couldn't understand (1) why exactly he believed Baltar's trial would spark such an extreme reaction from the populace, and (2) given that Zarek is Sagittaron, why wasn't he a part of the main story as well?

The other scene involves Caprica Six in a cell, who confesses to Sharon that she's not exactly sure why she surrendered herself, given where it has landed her. Later she has a conversation with the imaginary Baltar that has gone unseen since first established in "Downloaded." The episode finds a note of humor where Six talks to herself and kisses thin air while Roslin and Tory watch through a one-way mirror. Roslin wonders aloud, "What's she doing?"

I don't know, but if Six is called to testify at Baltar's trial as hinted here, this is going to be a two-way mirror of profound guilt.

Previous episode: Taking a Break from All Your Worries
Next episode: A Day in the Life

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Comment Section

34 comments on this post

    I got the impression that the Sagittarons were people that originally belonged on one of the two ships lost in "The Passage". It's mildly plausible that they have been shuffled around in the fleet for a while after being on some other ship during "The Eye Of Jupiter" and "Rapture".

    I think it was a mistake to paint all Sagiterrons with this religious fanatic brush - I mean, Tom Zarek is supposedly Saggiterron but we've never seen any hint of this from him.

    I must say that when I saw this episode, I really didn't like it. As much as I don't want to be prejudiced against Helo, because I like his character and think he's grown well over the series, I really think I am. Maybe it's just the actor. Since seeing this again, I do like it. I think it benefits from the removal of act breaks, because part of why I didn't like it was the groan-inducing Will Dualla Die?!?! act break.

    "Have sickbay take a look at that hand".

    favorite line of the series.
    ace reviews mate.

    I'll go on record saying that this is not a three-star BSG episode. Especially after seeing it again on DVD, it just doesn't hold up in comparison to other three-star BSG episodes.

    What the!? How did Hera get sick when it was established that her blood cures all forms of disease???

    Bob: Hi. I'm reasonably sure that it was only established that Hera's blood specifically cures cancer in humans--not "all forms of disease".

    "How did Hera get sick when it was established that her blood cures all forms of disease???"

    More to the point, how did Hera get sick when the Disease of the Week was established as being transmitted by close contact? Did her daddy bring it home with him? Or did she have a different, unrelated ailment?

    I didn't get the title of this episode until I listened to the podcast after a second veiwing, amazing considering that it was right infront of my face the whole time, every time helo talked with Mrs. King.

    In the podcast RDm mentions a dropped storyline about the Sagittarons throught at least the last part of this series. I don't know that it was a good thing or not, apparently it was dropped because it didn't work, but if it had perhaps it could have bettered the surrounding episodes.

    Oh well, at least the Season picked up again at the end.

    It's funny that Jammer and one or two people who commented on this episode disagreed with Helo. I actually found myself on his side, and I felt Adama in particular was harsh in refusing to listen to what Helo had to say; if there was a chance people were being murdered, I cannot imagine Adama not at least looking into it.

    If Adama can forgive Helo for allowing the Cylon race to live - despite everyone knowing how horrifically brutal nearly all Cylons are towards all humans - then I fail to see why he would not back Helo on this.

    The scene where Tigh charges in saying that they'd looked at the autopsy seemed deus ex machina to me as there was nothing whatsoever to indicate anyone would have done this.

    Galactica is a series I am completely swept up in but I will say here that I do not agree with many of the moral arguments the humans have with one another. Yeah they want to live for something, they have principles to uphold etc, but the "whining civilians" are really annoying me by this point, and the constant moralising about whether the Cylons deserve destruction seems completely moot.

    The Cylons have destroyed mankind; their brief co-existence with humans turned into a totalitarian, perhaps genocidal, nightmare; they are looking for the remaining human population centre (Earth) to do it all over again. To debate the ethics of wiping the Cylons out seems like a crime against humanity!

    Interesting. I personally felt the episode didn't work because the new doctor appeared so quickly and without any characterization that I didn't doubt Helo's suspicions for a second. If this doctor had shown up in an earlier episode and had some demonstrated relationship with Tigh or Cottle, their dismissal of Helo's suspicions would have been more believable. Instead I found myself cringing at Adama's uncharacteristic and unwarranted reaction.

    One of the weakest of Season Three so far.

    This episode keeps growing on me. I didn't like it at first, but in retrospect I started to. Now watching it again fresh on DVD, I actually liked it quite a bit.

    There was never any question in my mind that Helo was in the right here. For one thing, the simple fact that Dr. Robert was played by a fairly well established actor suggested something wasn't right with the character (something of a pattern with BSG - I correctly called that D'Anna and Cavill were Cylons based solely on who was playing them), plus the fact that "Dr. Robert" is a Beatles song about a less-than-medically-reputable "doctor" who provided drugs for the rich and famous. (Of course, I may be prejudiced by the fact that I've always liked Helo, in part due to residual fandom from Tahmoh Penikett's role on Joss Whedon's short-lived Dollhouse.)

    Even so, dramatically it felt like a cheat to have Cottle tell us that he'd done the autopsy on Mrs. King's son and then reveal at the end of the episode that he indeed hadn't at the time. It may have made sense from a character standpoint, I suppose, but dramatically it felt like one of those cheap rug-pulling stunts from The X-Files.

    Speaking of which, I remember Gabrielle Rose, the woman who played Mrs. King, from a few episodes from The X-Files' reputable early years. Something about her has always stuck me for whatever reason, and I generally enjoy seeing her cast in these sorts of supporting roles.

    This episode wouldv'e had a bigger impact had Sagutarians been established as outcasts throughout the series. Instead, we have each character deliver a line how he's ALWAYS hated Sagutarians.
    The conflict is intentionaly set up to pit the audience against Sagutarians. In a show where technology is the only thing standing between humanity and destruction (corded phones technology, not AI technoology, of cause) you don't just refuse medication because your rreligion tells you to.
    Sharon Athena scene is very interesting. I didn't expect Sharon to openly admit that she enjoys having a group of people almost as hated as Cylons. But, I guess it's just human nature.
    It was nice to see Baltar Halucinaiton again. I was worried that he won't be showing up again. Too bad we don't hate Caprica 6 anymore, so we won't enjoy her being tormented again. Also, why IS she on Galactica? Did she believe in human mercy over Cylon's? Oh well, knowing this show, she'll just end up living with Baltar on a farm somewhere happily ever after.

    This was a decent watchable episode, but alot of it kind of felt like story cheating. Alot of cliches here, the somewhat famous actor portraying a doctor killing innocent people, evil racist bigots who are wrong, the lone wolf super hero, and no one listens to him.

    That being said, it is BSG so it was still somewhat stonger than the sum of its' cheesy parts. One aspect I really liked, is that although the doctor is definately wrong, the show never insinuates that hating the sagiturans is wrong.

    Seriously, for anyone who thinks Tigh or Tyrol were overacting, I ask you to go to any European Country and mention the word "Roma" or Gypsey", and see how long your impression of the "tolerant European" lasts.

    anyways, I think BSG stumbled a bit earlier this season, but is certainly back on the horse!

    I knew Helo would turn out to be right from the get-go, and in the scene where Cottle says he did the autopsy, it was obvious to me that he was lying. It was completely by-the-numbers and definitely not a three-star episode.

    In fact, it's been quite a while now since anything truly unexpected has happened on this series. That's a shame, because unexpected yet logical plot twists are one of the things that made this series great in its first two seasons. Season three is definitely my least favorite so far, I hope it picks up again before the end.

    This is clearly a 2 star episode, very forgettable and irrelevant.

    This show didn't connect with me at all. As Pegboy stated, it all just came out of nowhere, was about nothing, and contributed nothing. All the protagonists bar Helo were parachuted into the episode and evac'd out at the end. So, there's a totally unknown-to-us bigot (NOT, apparently, racist)--and one with whose views I actually agree--on the vessel who started canceling unknown-to-us people.


    Incidentally, not that this angle ever came to the fore, but given the situation, I'd administer the vaccine to each and every diseased individual, perforce if necessary, and to hell with their religious sensibilities and sensitivities. Perhaps if that facet had been developed, this might have been a more interesting episode.

    I liked the octagonal clipboard in Helo and Athena's quarters :)

    It was ridiculous that people still thought Helo was crazy when he compared the death rates of Sagitarons to Capricans and Picons. 90% mortality as opposed to 6% and 10%? Is anyone on Galactica aware of statistical significance?

    A boring episode, with nothing to add in the general BSG plotline. And what a waste of such a nice special guest star, Bruce Davison.

    The VOY doctor's episodes, like season's 7 "Critical Care" were way better than this one.

    One of the first words that I learned in my classical Greek class was agathon (agathos declined). It is clearly purposeful why Helo was named noble/good. I think he is the character that makes the "right" choice most of the time, regardless of peer pressure or risk to himself. He is sort of the antithesis of Baltar who thinks of himself above all others. Helo went back for Athena in Caprica instead of going the opposite direction and caused her to turn. He went against Cylon genocide. He fights for his family to recover his daughter. And now he defends those who others hate the most. I think I've learned my lesson not to go against Helo.

    As a secular Jew, I found this episode particularly well-crafted, and executed.

    We need not know the specifics of why Saggitarions are despised. Our world gives us examples enough: Jews are despised for being stinky Jews; Romani for being thieving Romani; in Japan, barakumin suffer the same. Christian Scientists are despised for not believing in medicine. I am sure you can think of any number of examples.

    The writers cleverly exploit our very human prejudice that many -- including myself -- have towards insular religious communities, and how that prejudice allows and even condones persecution.

    The episode really shines, IMO, with the expression of this hateful prejudice in the bar scene. Characters who we know as decent people who strive to do the right thing reveal the insidiousness of this kind of bigotry. Tyrol and Dualla's were treated particularly deftly.

    Actually, I don't understand the derision that's usually hurled at this episode. It's not one of the show's greatest, of course, but in my book it's a very solid episode, miles above most everything we got to see on TV back then and even now.

    Actually, when I try to "sell" BSG to non-sci-fans (people like me, in other words), I tell them to watch "The Woman King" if they don't want to invest any time in the three-hours mini series.

    "The Woman King" is well-written, acted, expertly directed and edited. It is also an episode that doesn't use space at all (except for establishing shots).

    The story itself is closer to average TV, yet a lot more subtle. It convincingly exposes that murderous extremists and racists can't thrive without others looking the other way or simply not caring enough. A show like "Law & Order" would have been probably more "on the nose" here, but by using Ms. King and Helo as the protagonists I think all of this works very well as a stand-alone episode.

    This is a below average BSG episode, for a variety of reasons. The acting is fine and the specifics of the writing are fine. I side with Helo. I find the villainous doctor to be well-acted.

    And the idea of prejudice and a social hierarchy within colonial society is interesting, one that deserves exploration. This is one of the episodes that spends the most time on that topic. I wouldn't want it removed from the series (though I don't think it deserves three stars).

    Problems with the episode, in my opinion:

    1 - Is it honestly plausible that this sort of bias against other humans would lead to murdering humans? Put yourself in a scenario where the human population is down to 40,000 or so and scrambling to survive as a species. What would lead you to conclude, after careful thought, that it would be a good idea to kill some of those 40,000? If he was refusing to treat sick people because he's hoarding the medicine for people he prefers, that would be at least somewhat understandable, but he is injecting healthy people with something that makes them sick. He isn't conserving anything, at least not in the short term. Perhaps he rationalizes future savings, but that seems a bridge too far IMO to make sense even to a prejudiced person in this scenario.

    2 - There are certain episodes in which Adama and/or Roslin suddenly turn stupid or evil to support a plot. It creates a feeling that these episodes were written by a "guest writer" from another show who spent 15 minutes adapting a plot from somewhere else, plugging in BSG names ("I need a stupid slash evil authority figure, let me look up who that would be on this show - Adama?").

    Had it been a story about Helo's self-destruction it could've been interesting. I admit I don't particularly like the character (and the actor), but how many times have we seen this sort of plot? An idealist prevailing against the odds, rewarded in the end for doing the right thing?

    Up to this point, Helo was always in the right (eventually), which I find rather weak from a character building perspective. Idealism can be beneficial, but it can also lead to grave mistakes - and I wish the episode explored this avenue. It would be more true to reality and far more enjoyable I feel.

    Helo was robbed of a chance to become a more nuanced and better developed character.


    This episode IS terrible, but part of the reason I like Helo is that he's really the only one who manages to stay idealistic throughout the series. Even when he killed those Cylons in lock up, he had pure intentions. Now you can argue about whether he was right or not, but it's beside the point. Every other character slips into darkness and makes some morally questionable decisions for the sake of the survival of the greater good, and feels fine and justified for doing so. Helo on the otherhand, makes sure the greater good deserves that survival, and he seems to regret any decisions that draws him away from that ideal.

    I'd argue his idealism in the face of such overwhelming moral greyness and cynicism makes him a pretty facinating character. And frankly, one the series needed to maintain some balance.

    For a villain of the week episode, this is well done compared to other TV that is/has been on TV.

    This was also before the anti-vaccination movement.

    Felt more like regular TV than BSG episode.

    Front of the line as far as 2.5 star filler/breather/bottle shows go. I enjoyed the rewatch better than when it aired, and I appreciate the simple and clear focus on the main storyline—- it isn’t overbaked, it doesn’t do anything particularly wrong, and it is kind of refreshing to focus on Helo. No retroactive backstory. But, some things could use a bit of nuance, and the heightened prejudice against sagitarrons seemed a little excessive based on what we have seen so far.

    Like Jammer, I do really like how Helo’s predicament is very much the result of choices he has made. Ultimately, nothing really wrong here—- it’s just not quite what I watch battlestar for, and easily forgettable in a pleasant way. It’s the only episode on this current rewath where I went into it completely forgetting what happens, other than “helo gets on a mission with civilians on galactica.”— and I have seen the episode at least twice previously,

    As far as stand alone episodes go I liked it a lot, maybe better than most others.

    BSG is almost too good for it's own good sometimes. There are so many 9/10 or 10/10 episodes that push the series' plot forward and are dramatic masterpieces.

    When an episode like this comes along, one that's almost entirely skippable in terms of the series' plot but is still a good character study with good acting, etc, it might be easy to overlook it.

    I think it is worthy of 45 minutes. I can't say that for Black Market.

    Think about it like this, over the course of the whole show, there are only maybe 6 at most episodes that are "skippable."

    That's an incredible run.

    So far this series had insurrection/ military coup, and a crooked election. Now it's got an episode about anti-vaxxers apparently. Why is real-life trying to follow the events of this show danggit.

    "I think it was a mistake to paint all Sagiterrons with this religious fanatic brush - I mean, Tom Zarek is supposedly Saggiterron but we've never seen any hint of this from him."

    Zarek was nothing more than criminally underused ;>

    Agree with most of the reviews that gave this episode a B. But years later it was a good invite to those who didn't know all the plot threads.

    And it has aged very well. Hard to believe it was a decade before the real plague.

    Holy frak, I remember after 9/11 we'd all say that DS9 episodes like Homefront/Paradise Lost could never be made again.

    Well frak me, after COVID, will an episode like this ever be made again??

    A good drama, an opportunity for the Helo character (and the actor delivers the goods), but also the story comes a bit out of nowhere. I think it's pretty clear that Dr. Roberts is a racist and is pulling a "Kodos the Executioner" with rationing the medicine for those he wants to save and killing the Sagitarrons who many on Galactica are racist against. But how will Helo come out on top?

    I find it a bit weird that Helo would have to deal with this refugee problem -- he's pure military. Aren't there some other people who could deal with it? But in any case, Helo has shown himself to be one who thinks a bit differently than guys like Adama & Tigh (in addition to having a Cylon wife). He's taken matter into his own hands before. I've always liked the actor and character as different kind of officer.

    Glad we at least touch on the #6 Cylon in the brig in this episode -- felt like she'd been forgotten. Interesting that Sharon tells her to help expose Baltar for his crimes as a way to be treated better. And this #6 has Baltar in her head which is a great dynamic.

    Kept thinking of DS9's "The Quickening" here.

    It's a bit fortuitous how the end plays out with Tigh coming around very quickly -- I would think these entrenched prejudices are hard to give up but having Cottle confirm Helo's accusations would make it mandatory. There are some strong scenes with Dualla almost dying as Helo tries to save her. Tigh can be a real asshole but he knows right from wrong.

    The Sagitarrons as religious fundamentalists bring their own set of challenges as far as management / rescue of the populace, but it's good that such people are represented as part of humanity writ large in the BSG-verse.

    3 stars for "The Woman King" -- a story that benefits from the main characters (Helo, Sharon, Tigh) having developed over 2+ seasons in a standalone drama. Perhaps there's a message of going by facts and hard evidence instead of being guided by prejudice and racism but it's more a vehicle for Helo. Are Adama/Tigh's attitudes going to change? Who knows.

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