Friday night's episode of Battlestar Galactica resolved the mutiny on the Galactica - and explored the alliance between the human Fleet and the cylon rebels. Have the humans lost their way again?
"Blood on the Scales," the title of Friday's episode, referred to the kind of justice we saw meted out in this shoot-em-up resolution to the Gaeta and Zarek-led mutiny against the Fleet leadership. Both Adama and, later, the mutineers are subjected to mock trials that end in executions. These trials, and the ongoing tensions within the fleet over the human-cylon alliance, raise the question of what exactly counts as justice when you're marooned in space, pursued by ruthless enemies, and have no homeland to look forward to.
As we learned over the past two episodes, Gaeta and Zarek's idea of justice is to separate the human fleet from the rebel cylons. And then to execute Adama for the crime of "aiding and giving comfort to the enemy." While their actions are heinous, we can understand their motivations: The cylon have tortured and killed so many humans that it's hard to swallow the idea of trusting them with the future of the Fleet.
However, I think one of the flaws in this episode was that Zarek went so far over to the dark side that he became a moustache-twirling caricature of a bad guy rather than a misguided political leader. First he kills the entire Quorum, and then he turns Gaeta's trial of Adama into a joke when he appoints himself judge. There's a nice return from slimy-but-good-hearted laywer Romo Lampkin, who is appointed to defend Adama. However, even this corrupt attorney knows immediately there will be no defense, merely the vaguest pretense of it. If Zarek is judge and Gaeta is the prosecution, what other possible outcome could there be but execution?
So Zarek becomes the ultimate bad guy, who murders at random instead of mutinies for understandable reasons. And Adama himself becomes the ultimate action hero, a role which hardly suits our shades-of-gray leader. He makes wiseass cracks during the trial and chews the scenery: Yes, it's wonderful to see him taking charge and regaining the ship with help from Lee and Starbuck, but the tone feels a little too Die Hard for a show whose greatest strength is showing that even the most horrifying enemies have complicated motivations that make them wrong rather than evil.
Don't get me wrong - there was a lot to praise in this episode. The sequences where Tyrol escapes, in part aided by one of Zarek's henchmen who realizes that Tyrol is not the enemy after all, are terrific. And I liked the mood established in the faster-than-light drive room, partly because of Tyrol's desperate attempts to destroy the drive before Zarek can jump the Fleet away, and partly because the FTL drive just looked frakkin cool. Starbuck and Lee's rescue of the cylon prisoners and the retaking of the Galactica CIC was amazing, and the final scene where Gaeta and Zarek were executed was pitch-perfect (though I could have stood a little less of Gaeta's last confessions to Baltar).
However, what this episode really left unanswered was whether Adama and his crew's notion of justice was really so much better than Zarek's. Obviously Adama isn't killing people randomly to gain power, and he does make some efforts to answer to the Quorum, the Fleet's main political body. However, the Quorum has been almost unanimously opposed to the alliance with the rebel cylons, and especially opposed to those cylons upgrading the Fleet's FTL drives. Indeed, the alliance with the cylons has been done by fiat, ordered by Adama (and to a certain extent Lee and Roslin), over the wishes of the people.
As viewers, we may sympathize with the rebel cylons and know that they are basically good people - at least, as far as we know - but the Fleet doesn't know that. Is it really just to force the Fleet to use cylon technology to find another habitable planet? Why can't the cylons just follow along with the human Fleet at its slower pace while the humans grow accustomed to the idea of sharing their fate with their former enemies? Last night, we learned that in a pinch, the cylons will defend themselves rather than helping to defend the Fleet - they are about to jump their base ship away when Adama announces that he's taken over the Galactica again.
Friday's episode seemed to brush those questions about the wisdom of the cylon alliance aside in favor of an action-packed "retaking the ship" plot, which is fair enough. Sometimes we need to retake the goddamn ship. But at this point it's hard to ignore the fact that Adama's leadership is no less authoritarian than Zarek's would have been. We simply hope he's making the right decisions. I guess what I'm saying is that just because Adama may be right, that does not make him just.