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.