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Battlestar Fodder

Medical Murder Mystery on "Battlestar"

On "Battlestar Galactica," we viewers live in anticipation of another Cylon being unmasked. TV Fodder has its own tie-in promotion--every few weeks, we'll unveil a new BSG blogger! Ok, that's not the real plan (nor as exciting as a Cylon reveal), but I'm shifting over from the "Friday Night Lights" feed to follow in Shannon and Mike's footsteps. My inclination is for recap-heavy posts, with some discussion at the bottom, but if there's a preference for more analysis and conversation, I'll go with what the commenters tell me.

Unfortunately, this episode was kind of a stinker to start with (why couldn't we begin with "Exodus"?), and I can't believe Michael Rymer--BSG's go-to director for cliffhangers and multiparters--was wasted on this one. Although on the podcast, Ron Moore cops to some retroactive changes that really dulled down the episode.

Episode 14--"The Woman King"
Survivor count reads 41,401, somehow down two from last episode.

Plague and prejudice
Ep opens as civilian refugees file on board the Galactica, taking up residence in little cubicles all over the starboard hanger deck. It's the grim reality of losing ships in the New Caprica disaster, and the whole depressing operation is overseen by Helo, who the other pilots have taken to calling "the Mayor of Dogsville." Complicating refugee central are the 51 recently arrived Sagitarrons, who are sort of the Christian Scientists of the Battlestar universe--they don't believe in conventional medical treatment. Unfortunately, many Sagitarrons are carrying "Melorak disease," which is both rapid and fatal should it go untreated. Galactica only has limited supplies of "Bittamusin," the drug to cure Melorak disease, and there's some debate over how to disburse it among the civilians, military personnel, and medicine-fearing Sagitarrons.

Seeing to the care of the refugees is Dr. Mike Albert, a civilian and friend of XO Tigh, but the Sagitarrons appear to be frightened of him. One of Dr. Albert's first patients is Willie King, a 19-year-old Sagitarron with Melorak disease, but the young man dies soon after. Dr. Albert says it's because Willie waited too long for treatment, but Willie's mom (the titular woman King of the episode) claims that the symptoms had just begun and Dr. Albert murdered her son. As other Sagitarrons start turning up dead, Helo becomes suspicious of the doctor, even as he and his half-Cylon daughter Hera are successfully treated by Dr. Albert.

When Helo takes his concerns to the powers that be, he's brutally rebuffed. Military doctor Cottle doesn't doubt his fellow physician's ethics, Tigh can't believe the accusations of a "Cylon-lover," and Adama basically tells Helo to get lost. Part of the problem is the anti-Sagitarron prejudice; the early episode "Bastille Day" introduced them as a "long-exploited" colony, and there's a scene in Joe's bar where the pilots mock the Sagitarrons' irrational behavior and their refusal to help with the New Caprica resistance. Helo sneaks into the New Caprica medical files and discovers that Dr. Albert--well, he's not the best PCP for Sagitarrons. More than 90% of Dr. Albert's Sagitarron patients ended up dead, compared to a 6% mortality rate for Capricans. Doc Cottle chases him out, telling him he autopsied Willie King and found that Dr. Albert *did* give him the correct dose of Bittamusin. Helo's confused but resigned.

Meanwhile, Sagittaron-born Dee has been working with Helo to manage the refugees, but comes down with the disease herself and goes to Dr. Albert. A worried Mrs. King sneaks off the hanger desk to tell Helo, who returns to discover an unconscious Dee. Helo tries to carry her to Doc Cottle, but Dr. Albert won't let him and calls the marines--mexican standoff! Just in time, Tigh and Doc Cottle arrive, and Cottle reveals he only now autopsied Willie King and found that Dr. Albert had killed him; Cottle had lied to Helo because he didn't want to believe the accusations another doctor. Dr. Albert reveals he hates Sagitarrons, or some motive equally Scooby-Doo villainish, Tigh commends Helo, and Adama apologizes that Helo was the "lone voice" of righteousness, as usual. Helo salutes Adama and goes back to his wife and child.

The trial of the century
President Roslin and aide Tory meet with Vice President Zarek (a Sagitarron, coincidentally) to discuss Baltar's upcoming trial for treason and war crimes. Roslin's confident of a guilty verdict, but Zarek goes all Cassandra when he hears this, warning that Baltar's trial will divide the fleet and suggests Roslin declare martial law. Tory assures him there's a contingency plan in place, but Roslin's confidence is shaken: She's never seen an alarmist Zarek before.

Delusional robots
Sharon meets with Caprica Six, who's locked up in Sharon's old cell and still wearing her outfit from two episodes ago. Sharon thanks Caprica for rescuing her and Hera from the Cylons, encourages her to help "expose Baltar's crimes," and promises to return with clothes soon. Of course, Caprica's not alone: She's got her imaginary Baltar visiting her, as well as Roslin and others spying on her. While Roslin and Tory watch and wonder, Caprica "talks" with imaginary Baltar about her motivation to come to Galactica--her secret desire to be human.

Brillant but deleted
The most interesting scene is the one that didn't make the cut. In the bonus scene, an empowered Helo--having just uncovered Dr. Albert's crimes--confesses his own guilt to Adama: Helo killed the infected Cylons in "A Measure of Salvation." Rather than accept this statement, Adama warns Helo that should this be true, Helo could lose everything--taking him through every step from a formal hearing up to death by firing squad. Does Helo still want to stand by this statement? No, Helo says, perhaps the first time we've seen him pass on the "right" act, regardless of consequence. Then we see the salute that ends the Helo-Adama conversation in the finished episode.


* Paltry effort to portray prejudice
On the podcast, Ron Moore discusses how the ep is designed to highlight the existing "rivalries" between the 12 colonies that are exposed as the series-opening holocaust recedes further into the past. There's some truth in adding this wrinkle; look no further than our own country. After 9/11, our lawmakers pledged to work together, but how long did that period of national unity last? A couple weeks on Capitol Hill? A few months before New York City police and firefighters were brawling on the streets? But "The Woman King" is so ham-fisted in its approach that viewers don't really learn anything new--Zarek had already made clear that the Sagitarrons are outsiders, Dr. Albert's motives are idiotic, and the episode doesn't take us inside Sagitarron culture at all. Instead, I came away empathizing with all of the prejudice thrown their way: No Sagitarron emerges as more than a two-dimensional character and they *do* seem irrational. That can't have been Moore's intention.

* Editing undoes episode's goal
According to Moore's podcast, the Sagitarrons were being set up to play a major role in Baltar's trial, and this episode would reveal a Baltar-sanctioned Sagitarron massacre on New Caprica. However, the ultimate decision--to scrap that plotline and stick to the Baltar-related issues that we already knew--was made after this episode was in the can. As a result, the subsequent revisions basically torpedoed an entire Baltar-Zarek subplot and made this one-shot kind of a "what's the point?" epsiode.

* Memo to Moore: Stick with what works!
Editing aside, there's a formula to good BSG episodes--address the turmoil in the fleet, sure, but also add in some Cylon-related tension and perhaps inch the mythology forward a bit. The two episodes I like the least--"Litmus" and "Black Market"--failed by being so internally focused and didn't advance any of the major plotlines; I fear that "The Woman King" is a similar disaster. By nature, one-shot episodes aren't necessarily must-see for fans of the show, but if you're in a battle to retain old and attract new viewers like BSG, you need to come up with plotlines a lot more compelling and accessible than this one.

And quite frankly, I know Helo has his share of fans, but he's a dull character to build an episode around--he's so frakkin' noble and self-sacrificing that I feel guilty just watching him. Compare "The Woman King" to the brilliant "Six Degrees of Separation," also penned by Michael Angeli. While there are some similarities between the two episodes--a character knows something to be true but no one else will believe him--Baltar is just infinitely more fascinating and holds the screen better than Helo (well, fans of Helo's biceps may disagree).

Posted by DD on February 12, 2007 2:40 PM
Permalink | Email to a Friend | Add to | Digg This

Excellent point re: the one-off episodes. I hadn't considered the insular aspect, but looking back, you're right: when the focus is solely on the ever-dwindling society the overall vigor of the episode is reduced.

Of course, I'm not particularly fond of the faux-arty stuff that's been going on aboard the Base Ships, but I can forgive it because it does peer into the Cylon existence.

BTW, "Black Market" is my least favorite episode, but I didn't know why till you spelled it out. So thanks for that! -- mac

-- Posted by: mac at February 13, 2007 12:08 AM

so informative, thanks to tell us.

-- Posted by: DedoVioheds at September 25, 2010 11:01 PM

so informative, thanks to tell us.

-- Posted by: DedoVioheds at September 29, 2010 5:56 PM

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