Felix Gaeta And His Death Wish

One of the reasons that I love Battlestar Galactica so much is the character development that can be seen in the four seasons of its run. There are numerous characters who can be described as almost throwaway at the beginning – Cally, Kelly, Dee, Billy, Kat – who become well developed, crucial players by shows, or the characters, end.

But the best example of this is Lieutenant Felix Gaeta.

He starts off as a very minor character, just another officer in the CIC. In fact, he was so insignificant in the mini-series that they altered the pronunciation of his name from Guy-da to Gay-Ta when the TV show proper began. Apart from a brief conversation with Baltar in the second half of the mini-series and a slightly expanded role in “Six Degrees of Separation”, he’s a nobody in season one, a character who doesn’t even get a first name. Dee, the other CIC officer of note, seems more important from her romance sub-plot with Billy.

This all begins to change in season two where the previously model junior officer begins to show signs of cracking, snapping at Tigh in an unusual fashion in “Flight of the Phoenix” a microchasm of the ship in general in that episode.  This is seen more clearly in his “Final Cut” appearance, where he appears dishevelled in front of camera, the first time we haven’t seen him all prim and proper, talking openly about his love for cigarettes and alcohol. It was an odd scene in that episode, a side of a character very far removed from everything we had learned about him thus far.

Moving on towards Season Three, Gaeta becomes an idealist within the crew. He sees and stops Roslin’s attempt to steal the election through fraud, then joins Baltar’s Presidency because he sincerely believes in the workings of democracy and the hope that New Caprica represents (Lay Down Your Burdens).

What follows is the main plot point for Gaeta, the Cylon occupation, as his all his dreams come crashing down.  He is a naive young man – he is seduced by a Cylon and betrayed (The Face of the Enemy), he sees Baltar’s Presidency crumble into collaboration, he sees his former shipmates suffer under an administration he is a leading figure in (Occupation, Precipice). He attempts to aid the resistance, but his efforts are, in his eyes, piecemeal and ineffective.

Gaeta has none, or at least never mentions any, family that were killed during the fall of the colonies, so maybe New Caprica can be seen as his loss, the experience that defines him.

As stated, Gaeta aids the resistance, and is actually their main source of information. But, in the aftermath, he refuses to speak about this, despite the fact that his actions were crucial in their success. Gaeta’s guilt is a complex that will haunt him. He appears to have a death wish, on at least a subconscious level, only discussing his role in the resistance when baited by Starbuck and when asked directly by Tyrol. Even when being berated by Tigh in front of the CIC, he doesn’t say anything. It’s that deep seeded sense of shame for all of the wrong on New Caprica. Gaeta is torn apart inside and won’t be fixed until near his end (Collaborators).

He attempts to kill Baltar on New Caprica, revealing that betrayed feeling – “I believed in you…I believed in the dream of New Caprica” he spits at the President like an accusation – but can’t bring himself to kill him (Exodus). But later, he stabs Baltar in the neck, a pre-meditated attack (Taking A Break From All Your Worries). It’s a viciousness born of New Caprica, of being a character torn, pushed around, bullied and threatened by everyone. It’s seen again later during the mutiny.

Of course, it isn’t his physical attack on Baltar that is the warning sign of his deterioration, but his performance at Baltars trial, where he perjures himself without any hesitation. He’s just as bitter towards Baltar as much of the fleet is but this is worse: the man who stopped the election being defrauded a year previously no longer cares about right and wrong. He just wants to watch Baltar swing (Crossroads).

Gaeta is a character who is wronged frequently, and it happens very directly on the Demetrius. He loses a leg to Sam Anders and gets no justice for it. That is, Anders, a character who is a military rookie, with no idea of how to actually incapacitate someone with a gun, shoots him and gets away scot free. He shoots Gaeta in defence of his wife, who was acting like a crazy person at the time, whose insane plans end up delaying Gaeta getting the medical attention that might have saved his leg (The Road Less Travelled).

This is definitely the big tipping point for the character, who becomes openly angry, bitter and resentful towards the Cylons and his own superiors, having to be reminded to use honorifics and openly questioning orders. The revelation that Tigh and Anders are Cylons naturally makes it worse, as Gaeta takes on the persona of a little kid being pushed around by a man who was actually a member of the enemy race.

Having to watch his close friend Dee die in front of him, a victim of the fleet despair upon the discovery of the nuked Earth (Sometimes A Great Notion), further turns him against the Adama/Roslin power bloc, the grouping that has brought the fleet to this point.

Gaeta’s anger sees him turn to Zarek, the military antithesis, a convicted terrorist, in order to get some right in a sea of wrong (A Disquiet Follows My Soul). Gaeta’s choice in mutineer partner is misguided to say the least. Gaeta seems to have no real concept of what he is doing as he plans and instigates the mutiny, beyond just getting blind revenge against everyone – Anders, Tigh, Adama, Starbuck – who has wronged him in the past. It is only when he is past the point of no return that he realises the true extent of what he has done, allowing Zarek to unveil his true colours and massacre the political establishment. The idealist inside Gaeta is horrified, now being responsible for the apparent death of democracy directly, and this leads him to essentially surrender without a fight when Adama retakes the ship, as he comes to his senses (The Oath, Blood On The Scales).

Gaeta goes quietly in the end, leading me to believe that he is still, at heart, carrying the death wish he gained on New Caprica. Perhaps the mutiny was simply an elaborate way for him to fulfil that wish.

In one of Gaeta’s final scenes, it is outlined that he isn’t really sure “who (he) is”. He’s wanted to be an architect, a scientist, an officer, a politician, a mutineer, a commander. He’s been quiet, addicted, a victim, a collaborator and a spy. He’s been torn apart through the course of the fleets journey, and suicide by mutiny is his way out.

Gaeta’s final line is “It stopped”, apparently in reference to the pain of his amputated leg. Gaeta is a man in pain, and that pain, clearly psychological in nature, only ends when he comes to peace with himself and his inner conflict. In essence, only when his death wish is about to be fulfilled, when he can let go of his bitterness and anger towards his erstwhile enemies, can he achieve a measure of serenity.

Gaeta is an excellent character, the pre-eminent example of the minor role becoming the main focus. Alessandro Juliani should get a whole lot of credit for bringing a very human aspect to that character, making him relatable. It helps that, to a degree, Gaeta is right: he has been wronged by those around him, and he never really got anything resembling justice for it. But when he seeks to get his own justice, at the point of a gun, he ends up destroying his own idealistic dreams.

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16 Responses to Felix Gaeta And His Death Wish

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  4. none says:

    Very well written. Thanks

  5. t-monkey says:

    Wow. Very well written. Gaeta has always been one of my favorite characters on BSG with all his interesting qualities he’s shown throughout the show. He’s had the courage and heart to do the right things in his eyes, and we’ve all seen him suffer in so many ways whether it may be a physical or psychological.

    Gaeta shouting in the XO’s face out of pure frustration was exciting for me to see in him. Him not wanting to go under on anesthetics during the operation and singing alone in his bed after his amputation and were all very sobering. The truckload of shock he was hit with when he witnessed Dee pull that trigger on herself was almost unbearable for a viewer of the show like me.

    To name just a few that I found intriguing. All were aspects of Gaeta where I wanted to open his brain and heart to discover what was really in there. I wanted to know who he really was. I wanted an encyclopedia written on everything emotion and will Gaeta had in his heart.

    I always wanted Gaeta to have the best. That’s why it pained me to see him pull off the mutiny on the fleet.

    I was extremely sad to see him sit on the chair in front of the executioners. Towards the beginning of the coup, I wanted him pinned down to the ground and be tortured for what he’s done, but right before his death, I desperately wanted him to be spared.

    Felix Gaeta has been, and always will be one of my favorite characters.

  6. Frank Stallone says:

    Deep seated, not seeded.

    • Frank Stallone says:

      Also, nice article. 🙂 I just finished the mutiny episode and was surprised how emotional I felt regarding his character arc.

  7. Greg says:

    Excellent article. Really enjoyed reading it.

    If I could add another layer to the character and his development… He is actually gay. He’s “outed” in one of the webisodes (the first one in fact). This is an interesting secret. It’s never referred to or even implied in the show, yet in this webisode we discover not only that he’s gay, but he has a partner on board the ship – Lt. Hoshi (Brad Dryborough).

    • NFB says:

      Thank you. He also has a relationship with one of the Sharons, so I he’s bi-sexual. The shows creators have explicitly stated that sexual orientation isn’t as big an issue in the BSg universe as it is in reality.

  8. Galdrack says:

    Just after finishing his final episode there now. Can’t remember if I read this when you first posted it or if I figured I’d leave it till I re-watched the series. It’s a really great summary and look over someone who’s probably my favourite character in the series and always has been. Still now I think he was “almost” right and deserved some kind of justice. Though a lot of it had to do with bad timing.

  9. cappica says:

    Hello colleagues, nice paragraph and nice arguments commented at this place,
    I am truly enjoying by these.

  10. Luna says:

    Great article. Gaeta has always been my favorite character. I’ve been re-watching the series with a friend, and I still find him so fascinating, even though I know what’s going to happen. It’s nice to see that there are others out there that see his worth. ^_^

  11. Rika says:

    Thank you for the article, I loved it. This was my first experience with BSG, I started to watch it 2 weeks ago and almost finished 3 days ago, but after the mutiny and execution episode, I found myself completely torn apart. During those 2 weeks, I developed weirdly strong interest in the young idealistic lieutenant at first and now, I’m not able to continue watching the show until all my emotions from what he became and how did he end up in the end, flow away.
    Finding articles like this on the internet is actually very helpful. 🙂

  12. MDE427 says:

    I never liked Gaeta. By the time the mutiny came around i already had such a low opinion of him that it didn’t surprise me and I looked forward to his death and finally being done with his awful character.

    He never struck me as normal. He was weird and alone from the start. He was so easily manipulated that he went to bat for Baltar in the election, then went to work for Baltar administration. He then manipulated himself into purgery on the stand after already trying to kill Baltar more than once …. but then, the ultimate in weakmindedness – he allows a political thug like Zarek to recruit him. I was pissed and bored during this episode but I was also sure that both he and Zarek were finally going to be killed off and never make it to ‘earth’ of any form and THAT was payoff enough.

    Fuck Felix Gaeta and his whiny boo fracking hoo bullshit. Nobody liked him on the crew because he was what he was …. a sniveling conniving shit bucket that nobody would or ever could respect. He could be the worst character of the whole series, which is saying something about a show that had Laura Roslin on it!

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