"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.
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