Still re-watching Battlestar Galactica, now nearly through the excellent Season Two. Watching the Pegasus three-parter, compromising the episodes “Pegasus” and the two part “Resurrection Ship”. I was struck by some things.
In the episodes, the Battlestar Pegasus, under the command of Admiral Helena Cain, is found by the fleet. Initially jubilant, the situation turns to suspicion and conflict when it becomes clear that the Pegasus has been up to some not-so-nice things in the past and is being led by a sociopathic Ahab-esque figure.
The entire three-parter serves as a mirror for Galactica itself. The Pegasus’ arrival shows us what Galactica could have been with the episodes being a lesson in the limits of military control and the importance of civilian authority.
It all goes back to the Ragnar choice. In the mini-series, Adama faces the choice of staying and fighting a hopeless war against the Cylons or running with what little of humanity is left. Pegasus, under Cain, faces the same choice. Adama chooses to run and Cain stays.
The difference is the presence of a civilian authority, in the form of Laura Roslin, who steers Adama away from the military choice. She doesn’t order him, it should be noted, but she convinces him the fight isn’t worth fighting. Galactica runs.
Pegasus stays and is an authority unto itself, lacking any kind of civilian control. In that way, Cain becomes God – in the fleet, the command is split, while in Pegasus it becomes committed to one person.
This dictator becomes anathema to the ideals of the Colonies (more or less the ideals of the United States) by running her ship like a madhouse with no responsibility: launching crazy attacks, executing her XO in front of the crew, abusing a prisoner. Galactica, on the other hand, has a civilian authority and the responsibility of a civilian fleet, to be a check and balance on any of its activities.
It is a very clear case of “There but for the grace of God (or maybe Gods) go I” Pegasus is what the Galactica could have been, would have been, if Roslin had not intervened at Ragnar.
This manifests itself in different ways. The worst moment of both ships up to the point are two different massacres – the Scylla for the Pegasus and the Gideon for the Galactica. The Galactica, in a time of crisis, sends Marines to forcibly resupply from a cargo ship. In the confused and desperate situation, command failures led to civilians being shot dead (Resistance).
It is a reprehensible situation, and no one really ever faces conventional justice for it, beyond simply “having to live with it”.
On the other side, the Pegasus finds its own civilian fleet, and as it is making the choice of life and death for everyone, proceeds to strip that fleet of parts and people. The Pegasus crew are, by and large, almost gleeful to have thrown off the limitations of a civilian controlled military, and end up killing the families of those who refuse to be levied into their forces. No one faces charges, and are congratulated on their success (Pegasus, Razor).
The difference of course, is intent. In the case of Galactica, the shootings are an horrific accident, born from a situation of necessity. In the case of the Pegasus, it’s a brutal, deliberate act, one meant to terrorise and coerce.
Going further, we see this mirror effect in more subtle ways. Both ships have a Cylon prisoner: the Galactica keeps theirs safe and uses standard interrogation techniques to garner information and engender trust, trust that ends up saving the lives of everyone in the fleet in “Flight of the Phoenix”.
Pegasus, upon discovering the Cylon in their midst, abuses, tortures and rapes her repeatedly. The result is a prisoner who becomes catatonic, kept as little more than a perverse entertainment for the crew. Who came out better of the Ragnar choice is made explicitly clear, as when Galactica applies its methods of interrogation, they end up getting results, gaining vital intelligence on a nearby Cylon fleet. Galactica is seen as the responsible logical ship, while Pegasus are merely butchers. And of course, Cain herself meets her downfall because of this abuse, becoming the victim of the Cylons rage once she escapes (Resurrection Ship).
How about the XO situation? Both XOs, Tigh on the Galactica and Fisk on the Pegasus are similar characters, drunks, unready for command. Both are treated in different ways by their respective commanding officers. Adama sees Tigh’s uses and shortcomings, encouraging one while curbing the other. He sees his strengths, how Tigh can be the hardass he can’t be with the crew (33) and how Tigh can, in a non-command role, prove extreme competent (Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down) and can save the day in command occasionally (Valley Of Darkness).
Fisk, on the other hand, is a man who is bullied, subservient and utterly spineless. He has been granted his position as a result of the execution of his predecessor and operates from fear of retribution from his commander. When he gains command of the Pegasus, he becomes corrupt and useless, murdered by underworld contacts (Black Market).
Basically, Adama sees how officers can be encouraged and grown with a soft touch and the right amount of direction. Cain sees officers as mere instrument of her will, a byproduct of her absolute power on her ship.
When Adama decides to assassinate Cain, he has enough trust to send just one person to do it. Cain has to send an entire force of Marines (Resurrection Ship).
This mirror goes all the way down the respective crews, often in little, sometimes in big ways. The CAGS conflict on issues of arrogance and trust, crewmembers of Pegasus brag about raping a prisoner while Galactica’s stop such an act, and even Baltar, the most morally ambiguous character in the entire show, becomes an heroic figure in his connection to Galactica and his treatment of Gina, the abused Cylon.
The divide is seen even in appearance, a descriptive method. The Pegasus is a bloated, ugly ship brimming with guns, a personification of the military God complex that Cain has, like the Galactica on steroids, with sleeky shiny fighters utterly devoid of personality or distinguishing features.
The trilogy succeeds in showing us what could have been with Galactica, reinforcing the importance of a civilian control, or at the very least influence, of military affairs.
Moving on, some words on the episode “Black Market”. It’s a bad episode, one with a preachy tone, poor characterisation, a bad piece of work from the writers.
The biggest fault though, is the underuse of the concepts that it raises. You have the black market, a mysterious ship that operates “off the grid”, a vicious ringleader with a penchant for garrotting and the emergence of what can only be described as a fleet wide mafia. Yet, after this episode, it all disappears.
A think a lot of potential was wasted in this once-off. Having to see the Roslin administration deal with such a mafia organisation in the fleet, unable to wipe it out but trying to stop it from growing too big, a mafia that is walking the their own tight line between establishing a stranglehold on the fleet and preventing their destruction from the Cylons would have been fascinating. They could have just merged the “Peace Now” subplot in with it, given the similarities (both radical organisations, opposed to the military and the government).
Phelan especially, had the chance to be something that was so much more than a throw away character to get shot by Lee Adama. An opportunity lost.