NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season One: “Six Degrees Of Separation”

Ah, there you are. Very nice. Blouse could open up a button or two…just a thought.

Air Date: 29/11/2004

Director: Robert M. Young

Writer: Michael Angeli

Synopsis: When a flesh and blood Six appears on the Galactica claiming to have inside knowledge of his role in the Cylon attack on the Colonies, a panicked Baltar undergoes a trial by fire. On Caprica, Sharon makes her move.

Review

“Six Degrees Of Separation” is our first full-on Baltar story, after seeing him have a substantial enough, but not primary, part of “33”. And it is a hell of an effort. This episode might be one of the best meshing of high drama and comedy that I have ever seen in this medium, as Baltar faces the ultimate irony: being accused of having a role in the holocaust, but actually being innocent this time.

It’s a delicious predicament, that BSG again dresses up in the language of a religious test of faith, with Head Six having enough of Baltar’s latest round of blaspheming, and determining that he needs a reminder that God is real, and God doesn’t like your bullshit. Baltar, a man of science, rationality and skepticism, just can’t come round to the religious way of thinking, and it takes this enormous crisis, wherein he seems set to be thrown out an airlock, for him to get back onto the, apparently, righteous path. Threats to his physical existence have proven effective at getting Baltar to suddenly profess a monotheistic acceptance before, but what occurs in “Six Degrees Of Separation” is a bit different to “33”: there, it was very much a flustered, fatigued, panicked repentance, while here Baltar’s “Come to Jesus” moment is a bit more considered and thought out. I wouldn’t call it fully genuine, but it’s a bit more genuine than whatever happened in “33”: here, Baltar seems to recognise that his own survival really is dependent on playing ball with Head Six’s religion, and Baltar is a man who can play ball when his life is on the line.

Callis is amazing here, playing the under-strain Baltar with the right measures of deadly seriousness, childish malevolence and comedic terror. No one does blind panic like Baltar in this episode does it, and it’s amazing seeing him lose his mind as the situation slips away from him bit-by-bit. It’s here that the comedic element really comes into its own, as we get laugh-after-laugh watching Baltar try and pull his ass out of the fire in increasingly desperate ways, from trying to chat Gaeta up in a toilet to attempting to smash the incriminating evidence with a chair (my favourite: trying to get Gaeta to stay in the toilet by pointing out “You haven’t washed your hands!”) Where in other hands and in other shows all of this might seem like a very odd mix, in “Six Degrees Of Separation” I do think it’s a really masterful job: Baltar’s verbal and physical pratfalls fit what is happening in the episode to a tee, as he falls back on cheap words and over-the-top destruction as his saviours.

Baltar’s various attempted solutions shine a light on where he is as a character, approaching a missing Head Six like she is a stubborn women to be placated with “I Love You”, trying to outwit “Shelly Godfrey” with crazed conspiracy talk and then clumsily trying to smash the incriminating picture away. The suave facade is gone, and we are left with a fairly pathetic individual whose mental health is hanging by a thread. We see plenty of other picking up on this too: while Roslin is the most upfront about it, the role of Six and Adama in this episode show how unlikable Baltar is to other people in this universe, calling to mind Apollo’s later thunderous denunciation of Baltar at the end of the third season: “…we don’t like you very much. Because you’re arrogant, because you’re weak, because you’re a coward…”

Of course Baltar comes out of the whole thing in a better position than ever, at the literal right hand of the President and a maligned hero unjustly accused of treason as part of a Cylon plot. Which, of course, appears to have been one of the whole points of the exercise. In this, we see the beginnings of a road that is going to go to New Caprica and beyond, and adds a fascinating new dimension to Baltar, Head Six and what their purpose to things is.

But is it all just a demented plan of Head Six? Or are we back to the enduring question of “God did it?”. There’s a lot of coincidences here, like Shelly Godfrey’s miraculous disappearance (is that covered in “The Plan”? I can’t remember) and the sheer number of Cylon agents hidden in the fleet (not counting the “Final Five”, there are three more at least to the best of my recollection). It seems difficult to accept this all as mere coincidence. Is there an omnipotent directing force that decided to screw with Baltar a bit as a test of faith, with Head Six as his agent, and is also enacting a larger plan with what’s left of humanity? It seems like a fairly likely bet at the present time, and again calls to fallacy of complaining about the “God did it” nature of BSG’s finale.

“Six Degrees Of Separation” is a very focused episode, but there is time for a few other things, and a bit more character advancement. Adama gets to resist Shelly Godfrey’s seduction, showing him as a harder man than Baltar (and Helo, sort of). Tyrol attempts to bounce back from the events of “Litmus” by getting the captured Raider going. Starbuck attempts to get walking again, and struggles. Roslin has a medical set-back. Only a scene or two each, but I think that it’s all done effectively and these sub-plots fit in with the larger plot much better than BSG has been able to in the not-too-distant past. Adama’s interaction with Godfrey is a direct part of the Baltar plot; the Raider work and Starbuck are linked (and Tigh gets to have a look in); Roslin has her collapse while on the phone with Baltar. Blurring the lines between all of these things makes it seem like a properly connected world, and stops any feeling that these sub-plots are an intrusion.

That leaves only Cylon-occupied Caprica, where the Helo/Sharon plot continues its progression instead of standing still like it had been for a few episodes. The last bit of pressure is applied here, through an endless Cylon pursuit, a bit of rain and Sharon deciding, essentially, to jump Helo, letting the built-up tension do the rest. It’s another moment of perfect manipulation, and for the viewer the larger curiosity is now in seeing what the actual point is: we can guess that it is something to do with pregnancy, but then why the elaborate ruse? And of course, we are now waiting to find out what Helo’s reaction to all of this will be, when he inevitably learns the truth. A lot of that going around on BSG.

 It will be as God wants it to be.

Notes

-The title, aside from being not the last pun on Tricia Helfer’s character name, comes from the idea that people are always, at most, only six personal connections away from anybody else on the planet, an idea that has been the subject of some debate. I’m not sure how it fits here though, so I assume it’s more to do with the pun.

-Robert M. Young and Edward James Olmos have been frequent collaborators, and this won’t be the last episode Young directs: the others are good too, as I remember. He did this one at the age of 79 too.

-The episode opens with a rapid zoom-in on the Fleet, and ends with the same shot reversed. I’m not sure what the point was, other than to perhaps emphasise that the Fleet is a very small part of a very big universe: or maybe we could call it a worm under the eyes of God.

-Given the events of “33”, it’s amusing to see Baltar tempting fate with more blaspheming, but I guess that’s just his nature. As his outburst here indicates, he’s a guy under a lot of stress really.

-Something I have come to realise is that Baltar might actually be quite bad with women. His presentation as a Casanova-esque ladies man is based on his position of power on Caprica: with that stripped, he’s now just a somewhat pathetic guy whining for sex when Six isn’t immediately willing to give it to him. And I mean whining. Even his efforts with Starbuck seem to have hit a wall.

-I do love the comedy moments ahead of the instigating moment of the plot – Baltar deciding his dream world is his to mould (“It’s my fantasy, see if I care!”), having to cover with Dualla after suggesting “Let’s just skip the foreplay”, and then meeting Shelly Godfrey, with Baltar stunned to realise other people can see her (I especially like Michael Hogan’s bemused “She’s standing right there”). It establishes half of the tone of the episode very nicely.

-As Baltar reacts to being accused of treason, Adama and Tigh loom over him very nicely. It was a good way to show that sense of threat visually, and to make clear how small Baltar looks next to them.

-Getting a defined look at the image provides a decent ticking clock for the episode, even if it did smack a bit of CSI: I kept expecting the word “Enhance” to be used more than once.

-Tyrol and Cally get frustrated about Starbuck’s less-than-helpful notes on how to fly the Raider, which includes descriptions of a “dog-shaped mass” and various ganglia. I did get a chuckle out of that, and Tyrol’s disbelief at the situation.

-Love, love, love that recurring visual of Baltar searching through his fantasy home for a missing Six, it really makes that whole set-up seem like a more tangible and important part of their relationship, a mind palace that reflects his own state of being. It’s the most notable visual element of the episode for sure.

-We haven’t really seen Billy properly for a bit, but he’s back, and messing up almost immediately, broadcasting in the clear that the President has collapsed. He’ll come into his own a bit later I think.

-Doc Cottle is not having it in this episode, lambasting the President for self-medicating. “Three times the dose must work three times as fast, right?” he sarcastically asks, and that’s a line I’ve used in real life when I’ve seen family members do the same.

-Interesting line from Cottle here too: “The time is going to come when you are not going to be able to hide what you are going through”. It echoes the repeated line from the Miniseries that “The time comes when you can’t hide from the things you’ve done anymore”. There’s always that motif of action and consequence here.

-Six’s shtick really doesn’t work on Adama: he’s stone-faced as she pulls the usual routine, not reacting when she kisses him. Smash cut to him ordering her watched. This guy is made of sterner stuff.

-Helo and Sharon remain “on the run”, and again there is a fascination in seeing how the Cylon’s manufacture a close pursuit that Helo is oblivious of.

-Gotta love the Gaeta and Baltar conversation in the head, it’s like something out of a Laurel & Hardy skit. “You’re busy I know…don’t let me distract you”.

-Baltar isn’t immune to puns himself, declaring angrily in the face of Godfrey, “No more Mr Nice Gaius!”

-Boomer and the Raider share what we might call “a moment” here, where she essentially outlines the Cylon relationship to their Raiders as that of a master and pet. She evens gives the thing a pet here, with her sleeper programming breaking down a tad. Tyrol is unnerved, for good reason, but it is an interesting moment all the same.

-A bit much, the scene where Baltar walks down a hallway and gets assailed by a crowd of whisperers. Or is it all in his head?

-I did get a chuckle elsewhere in the episode, as a nervous Tyrol reacts to Starbuck getting the Raider going again: “Don’t shoot anything”.

-Roslin, in a manner of chilling calm, really gives it to Baltar with both barrels, basically telling him that she considers him guilty because, well, it rings true from her interactions with him. He’s just too unlikable a guy.

-“You’ll forgive me Madam President, if I don’t wish to be executed based on your gut feeling”. Oof, what a line, and what a delivery, full of the same snobbish disdain Baltar previously showed towards Six when she was discussing religious faith.

-The last push on Caprica is another nice bit of manipulation: Helo starts rambling about his feelings for Sharon and how he respects what she has with the Chief, and then Sharon just plants one on him and goes for it. I think she’s realised that Helo isn’t the kind to make the first move, but is obviously so infatuated with Sharon, or more, that he will welcome an advance. In fact he’s desperate for one. We might as well call him Karl “Internet Nice Guy” Agathon here.

-Interesting montage between Sharon having passionate, animal sex with Helo in a thunderstorm and Boomer having a meltdown on Galactica when someone writes “CYLON” on her locker mirror. It was a kaleidoscope of conflicting emotions for sure, and called back to Starbuck’s lustful memories during the funeral in “Act Of Contrition”.

-I suppose at some point I am going to have talk more about the Cylon use of sex, as a manipulation and a weapon. Godfrey with Adama, Head Six with Baltar, Sharon with Helo, are all examples just from this episode alone. It’s like an inherent part of their character, at least the female ones thus far, to use sex or the promise of sex to get what they want. What is the show trying to say with this?

-Baltar’s prayer seems genuine enough to me, insofar as it is the desperate effort of a man facing his end to appeal to the last arbiter for some kind of salvation. Whatever about how this particular accusation was doctored, Baltar is still guilty when it comes to the Cylon attack, and we might think of that when he asks for forgiveness.

-The jokes keep coming, even as Baltar gets let off the hook: “I’d never wear a shirt like that” he says, in reference to whomever it actually was in the photograph.

-Talk about pandering to the shippers: Gaeta and Baltar share a hug after his “innocence” is proved. These two are going on a trip, let me tell you.

-One thing that “Six Degrees Of Separation” is missing is a lack of resolution for Roslin’s comments to Baltar after he is found innocent. I really wanted to see that conversation and how Roslin approached it, considering she was all set to condemn Baltar.

-The episode ends with Baltar talking for the audience and wondering what the deal is with Shelly Godfrey. Head Six says nothing and just undresses, in one of BSG’s most significant moments of titillation. Set-up for Baltar’s last joke of the episode: a enthusiastic “God’s will be done”. Sex remains a control, in this case against awkward questions.

Overall Verdict: A really good episode of television, that balances a deadly serious threat to the life of one of the main characters with a comedic through-line that really marks the episode out from the rest of the season. Good performances, good visuals, good progression of the plot. You can’t ask for much more. As I recall BSG would try comedy one more time this season, and we’ll see if that one is as humdrum as I remember.

To read more entries in this series, click here to go the index.

This entry was posted in Battlestar Galactica, Reviews, TV/Movies and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season One: “Six Degrees Of Separation”

  1. Pingback: NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica: Index | Never Felt Better

  2. Pingback: NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season One: “Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down” | Never Felt Better

  3. Pingback: NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season One: “Colonial Day” | Never Felt Better

  4. Pingback: NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season One – “Kobol’s Last Gleaming (Part Two)” | Never Felt Better

  5. Pingback: NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Two: “Scattered” | Never Felt Better

  6. Pingback: NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Two: “Valley Of Darkness” | Never Felt Better

  7. Pingback: NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Two: “Final Cut” | Never Felt Better

  8. Pingback: NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Two: “Flight Of The Phoenix” | Never Felt Better

  9. Pingback: NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Two: “Pegasus” | Never Felt Better

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s