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Galactica - John C. Kirk

Mar. 15th, 2006

02:30 am - Galactica

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I've just been watching the Battlestar Galactica episode "Pegasus", and I think it's probably the best one of the series so far.

As with many of the episodes in the relaunch, there are echoes of the original series. I remember the previous Pegasus story (which I liked), and it basically portrayed Kane as someone who was on the right side, but was just too reckless in his attacks, particularly in terms of striking the balance between attacking the Cylons and defending the civilian ships. By contrast, the new Kane has just gone completely off the rails, along with the rest of her crew.

In my previous post on the series, I suggested that the Cylons are better than humans in certain physical ways (thinking primarily of the metallic version), although not in any moral sense. After this episode, I'm now starting to lean towards bazzalisk's point of view, that at the very least they may not be that much worse.

In last week's episode, large numbers of Cylon ships were disabled in space, so Commander Adama gave the order for the Vipers to go in and destroy them all. I felt a bit uncomfortable about the pilots' enthusiasm for this wholescale slaughter, but ultimately it was necessary, so I figured it wouldn't do any harm for them to blow off steam at the same time. There's a quote I remember from a novel I read a while back (possibly Pratchett?), where one character says "If you're ever at someone's mercy, pray that they are an evil man - a good man will kill you quickly, to get it over and done with, while an evil man will draw it out to make you suffer, and that gives you a chance to escape" (paraphrased from memory). Based on that, the humans did at least kill the Cylons quickly.

This week, however, things weren't quite so clean. When I saw the Cylon prisoner on the Pegasus, I didn't actually recognise her for a while, even after she was identified as a copy of Number Six. She was obviously being kept in rather poor conditions, and had been beaten (i.e. punched/kicked) by the crew, and although I'd say that was bad, it didn't particularly shock me. That's roughly on the same level as the Cylon camp on Caprica that was impregnating women in an attempt to produce Cylon/human hybrids.

When Lieutenant Thorne (the "Cylon interrogator" from the Pegasus) hit Sharon to get information out of her, that took things to the next level. It's not the first time something like that has happened to her (or to other Cylon prisoners), but this felt like the worst. I guess there's a difference between actually seeing the brutality and just seeing the after-effects. After that, seeing the guards holding her down while Thorne was undoing his trousers (in obvious preparation for rape) made me feel sick to my stomach - that's just Wrong. Even though he was stopped in time, I could understand why Sharon was upset, and why the other prisoner had almost become catatonic. In that context, I'd like to think that I would have acted the exact same way as Tyrrell and Agathon, when they burst in, pulled Thorne away, and threw him into the wall. It was unfortunate that this killed him before he could be court-martialled, but it was quick, accidental, and effective, so I hold them blameless.

This leads on to the more tricky question of law vs morality. Could Thorne have been court-martialled? Kane apparently condoned his actions, and Adama had already set a precedent by describing the other Sharon's death as "property damage". Similarly, I assume that the Colonial Fleet has the concept of an "illegal order", but it may well be that Kane hadn't actually issued any. This reminds me of a couple of issues that came up in Bujold's novels. In Barrayar, Aral Vorkosigan has to deal with a civil war, and says something like "All soldiers below a certain rank can be pardoned on the basis that they were just following orders", the idea being that the higher ranking officers are expected to exercise more of their own judgment. On the other hand, The Vor Game has Miles Vorkosigan getting involved in a mutiny at Camp Permafrost, and that was where I had to agree with the commanding officer - the sympathetic officer had handled the situation badly by countermanding orders. In both cases, the idea is that officers need to lead the enlisted men. In the case of the Pegasus, poor leadership had basically corrupted the lower ranks, as seen by the discussion in the hanger bay.

Having said that, I think there is a wider issue of peer acceptance (this is now getting a bit more topical). If people behave badly, and this is tolerated/encouraged by the people around them, then they will probably repeat the behaviour. After all, "it's no big deal, everyone does it". So, it was good for the Galactica crew to take a stand against that, and it's something I try to do in everyday life. For instance (and at the risk of trivialising the serious incident from the episode), when I drive/ride my motorbike, I stick to the speed limit. I know other people don't, and I try not to be too preachy about it, so I just offer a counterexample; "some people do it, other people don't, and you need to make your own decision about whether it's right or wrong".

Overall (although this may now sound a bit counter-intuitive), I'd say that this episode's events provide the best motivation for a new peace treaty between the humans and the Cylons. It's probably not practical (given that the Cylons broke the cease-fire and refused to accept the humans' surrender), but I think it would be in the humans' best interest, to avoid being corrupted any further.

I was also impressed by Baltar in this episode. Before I realised just how withdrawn the Cylon prisoner on the Pegasus was, it seemed that he was putting himself in a lot of danger - she'd probably been through a rough enough time that she'd lash out at anyone, friend or foe. While the guy is basically a weasel, he stood out as a model of decency on that ship.

I think it's significant that I saw the season finale of Stargate SG-1 just before this episode, which also ended on a cliffhanger. With SG-1, I'm certainly interested to see what happens next, but I'm happy to wait 6 months to find out (it may help that the Atlantis finale is tomorrow evening). By contrast, a week now seems like a very long time to find out what happens next in Galactica.

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Comments:

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From:alexmc
Date:March 15th, 2006 08:53 am (UTC)
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Seen the whole of BSG series 2 and SG-1 series 9. Life on Mars has finished. Hyperdrive wasnt much cop. ARGH what shall I watch now?

Oh wait - this SkyPlus box thing can record Kojak and Monk every day! Yay for daytime television.
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From:bazzalisk
Date:March 15th, 2006 12:00 pm (UTC)
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I wouldn't say that the humans were "becoming corrupted" humans behave like that, humans have always behaved like that. On Kobal number six tells Baltar that "human beings invented murder". The Cylons and humans seem roughly equal moraly speaking - they both commit apalling atrocities (and don't forget that the cylons were originaly engineered as a slave-race for the humans) and show no remorse for it.

To be honest both sides seem inclined to think of the other as "not realy peopl". Which may be the point the series is trying to get accross.

In the end, no, I very much doubt Thorne could have been courtmartialed - since Sharon is just a machine as far as most of the humans are concerned - she may look human, but she doesn't have a soul, and isn't a person.

Also I seem to recall that Kali's crime wasn't even property damage - it was unauthorised discharge of a firearm.
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From:johnckirk
Date:March 15th, 2006 12:48 pm (UTC)
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Yes, you're right about Kali's crime - I remembered that after I'd gone to bed.

I was wondering how significant it was that Sharon looks human; there was an argument that Maddox made in the TNG episode "Measure of a Man" (the court case about whether Data counted as property), where he said "If Data looked like a toaster then we wouldn't be having this conversation, so you're all just anthropomorphising him based on his appearance." I don't think that's skewing my judgment much, although this particular crime only makes sense against someone/something that looks human, so it's tricky to imagine a control experiment (e.g. raping the Enterprise computer).

More generally, it maoy be significant that I'm thinking of Sharon as a good person, more specifically than just a person. Having said that (and without asking for spoilers!), even if it turned out that it was all just an act, and she was in communication with the rest of the Cylon fleet, that still wouldn't justify Thorne's behaviour. When President Roslyn wanted to throw her out of an airlock recently, that mainly bothered me because she'd broken her word (having guaranteed Sharon's safety about 2 minutes beforehand) - if she'd said that from the start, then I'd disagree, but I'd accept her decision. I think it would be more merciful to shoot someone first (quick death rather than slow death), but even suffocating wouldn't be as bad as what went on in that jail cell.
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