NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Two: “Fragged”

Murder is my heritage. Is that the lesson I’m supposed to pass on to our child?

Air Date: 29/07/2005

Director: Sergio Mimica-Gezzan

Writer: Dawn Prestwich and Nicole Yorkin

Synopsis: On Kobol, the survivors reach the breaking point when Crashdown proposes an attack on a Cylon missile battery. On Galactica, Tigh struggles with the pressures of command, while Roslin goes through Chamalla withdrawal.

Review

“Fragged” is a bit of a change-up for BSG, choosing to zero in on two plots – maybe three if you want to be technical – having jumped all around the universe for the last two entries. That might reflect the change of writers and director, but also I would say a desire to start tidying things up a little bit as we move forward. The effort is a worthy one: “Fragged” is another top-class edition of BSG, jumping smoothly between the military drama on Kobol, and the more character-driven drama on Galactica.

Kobol takes most of the focus for the first time, and it is a really well executed plot, a perfect 20 minute war drama. There’s a simple set-up of marooned soldiers having to deal with a commander who is going slightly off his rocker, a military objective between them and their rescue and a fateful moment when they have to do-or-die, in more ways than one.

I like how, despite the fact that it is clear Crashdown is heading for a fall, at first things appear to be working at least a bit with the survivors. They bury their comrades, they move on. They realise what the Cylons are doing, and every person does their bit in determining the reality of the station (hilariously signified by Baltar scrambling on an upturned tree trunk). Crashdown even has a not-terrible plan for how to deal with the issue.

In fact, I would go so far as to argue that Crashdown is dead right for most of “Fragged”. Tyrol doesn’t think they should take on the Cylons, and has legitimate reasons for concern – only he and Cally have actually fired weapons in combat, and it was the same day – but the Cylons are going to take out the rescue Raptors if they do nothing. Crashdown pushing for the attack absolutely has elements of losing control, but he’s right when he says its up to them to save their comrades who are going to try and rescue them. Tyrol’s conflict appears to be less with this plan, and more with the pull between two axis: loyalty to the chain of command, and loyalty to the idea of not losing any more people. But, at the end of the day, that dish still has to be taken out.

Of course the episode then gives Tyrol an out, as the opportunity to to target the DRADIS dish, undefended, presents itself, and Crashdown still pushes for the planned attack. This leads to a brilliant, tense crisis point, as Cally finds herself unable to raise her weapon anymore, and a desperate Crashdown holds a gun to her head. A regular old Mexican standoff is the result, and, to our shock, it is Baltar of all people who resolves it. The following battle is more traditionally exciting of course, in a helter-skelter sort of way, but the true drama of “Fragged” is in that brilliantly set-up moment, when we genuinely don’t know who is going to take the fateful step and deal with an unhinged Crashdown. It’s the pay-off for, to this point, three episodes of really effective set-up.

The Kobol drama also has, at its heart, a much more philosophical crisis with Baltar and Head Six. Baltar spends the episode ruminating on existence and non-existence, with Six offering the rather terrifying thought that, as Kobol is a place that God has turned away from, anyone who dies there doesn’t get an afterlife. There’s shades of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in this, they being a sect who believe that certain individuals, like victims of the Great Flood or Armageddon, will find no afterlife if judged to be wicked by God. Heavy stuff, and Baltar is having to go through this exercise while literally fighting for his life.

Six has patience for all of Baltar’s ruminations, to a point, but when he presents the idea that he can’t be a father or guardian, she loses it a bit. Her exhortation for Baltar to “be a man” is very interesting, a sort of naked appeal to masculinity we haven’t really seem from her before. What does being a man mean in this context? Accepting responsibility? Exerting your will on others? Not really it seems. For Six, being a man means being human, and that means killing. It’s a perverse right of passage for Baltar I suppose, but it isn’t clear to me why Six pushes for him to undertake that passage. I suppose this is a very out-of-character moment for Baltar, something approaching heroism, or at least an unlikely decisiveness, and trying to jolt Baltar into being the kind of person might be the point.

Having spent the episode delivering very biblical comments on the origin of murder, along with prophecies of betrayal, Six closes the episode trying to soothe Baltar, and declares, after his tortured ennui on having nothing to teach their child other than death, that “I’ll be your conscience”. So, was this whole thing about exerting a new form of control on Baltar? Making him kill so that his fragile mind will more happily accept Head Six behind the wheel, rather than face the enormity of what he has done? And to dress all this up in a vision of angelic serenity? Or maybe I am being too harsh on Six. Perhaps this was all a test of Baltar’s determination in dire circumstances, one he has passed, and in doing do proven his worthiness as a guardian for “the new generation”. The scenes between the two are intriguing and well-acted, but there is a sign that it’s becoming a bit too obtuse again.

Of course all of that is just half the episode, even if it was good enough that you could conceivably stretch it to its own. The other half is back on the Galactica, where the slow, painful downfall of one Colonel Tigh is being played out in front of us. His portion of affairs is bookended by similar scenes, where he takes a swig out of flash concealed in his boot. The episode ends and begins on such moments of weakness, and leaves us in no doubt as to the limitations of Tigh.

Not that the rest of the episode skimps on such things either. To a certain degree Tigh got away with his limitations in “Scattered” and “Valley Of Darkness” because of an ongoing crisis of life-or-death proportions (and he’s made hard choices before, in the Miniseries, “You Can’t Go Home Again” or “Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down”). Now, away from that, the crushing realities of command are beyond him. Within just a few minutes of “Fragged” we see it all start to spiral out of control for him: Adama’s second surgery, political leaders baying for an audience, Roslin in the brig, the people on Kobol who need rescuing, it piles up and up and up. Tigh is incapable of handling it, in either ability or temperament. We can see that in his flare-up with Apollo in the CIC, where he blunders his way into foolish confrontation where he can either back down and look weak, or stick to it and look like a stubborn fool. What’s the better option?

In every challenge Tigh faces in “Fragged”, he fails in some way. He needs to stay off the drink, he fails. He needs to not let his wife get inside his head, he fails. He needs to keep his cool in front of other crew members, he fails. He needs to keep the Quorum of Twelve at least somewhat onside, he fails. He needs to neutralise Roslin as a threat, he fails. He needs to maintain Adama’s belief in “the good stuff”, he fails. And he not only fails at these things, but he blunders along, turning a bad situation into an even worse one. The best example is how Tigh childishly tries to use Roslin’s condition as a visual aid in undermining her, gets one-upped when Roslin gives a cogent response, and then digs an even deeper hole by allowing Roslin the chance to emphatically declare herself to be prophet of holy scripture. Michael Hogan is great here, showcasing a very realistic frailty, borne of self-loathing, insecurity, stress and alcohol.

The situation is so bad that Tigh feels the need to declare martial law (though I question how exactly that is meant to work, see below), something that flies in the face of “the Old Man” and what he believes in. It’s Tigh’s final failure of the episode, and portends a greater disaster to come: if he’s incapable of handling Galactica properly, what hope does he have of handling the Fleet? At the end of the day, Tigh is approaching every problem from a position of either anger, or fear, or a lack of self-confidence. He doesn’t think that he can do the job. He’s right.

For Roslin, Billy and Corporal Venner, “Fragged” is a chance to make opportunity from weakness. At the start of the episode things are bleak: Roslin is literally losing her mind, Billy is in limbo and the civilian government appears to be living in a fantasy land where they think they can order Colonel Tigh to do things (that last one always gets me: excepting Zarek, the Quorum seem to honestly think they are in charge, like the events of “Colonial Day” have really gone to their heads). But all it takes is the simple acquisition of drugs – and the connivance of one Marine – for things to change. Despite being behind bars, Roslin ends the episode more powerful than ever really, with a religious sway she never had before. The scene where she steps back into the role of authority, as much as she can have in a cell anyway, is a powerful one, where she is ably contrasted with Tigh. With Apollo also looking good by comparison, it would seem the resistance is surprisingly well placed to take on Tigh.

“Fragged” is an episode that is also conspicuous by what is not included. For the first time we get no glimpse of Cylon-occupied Caprica, which surprises me as it seems like they have an awful lot to do there over the next couple of episodes. And we also haven’t seen sight nor sound of Boomer since “Scattered”. “Fragged” doesn’t really need any of them of course, but I did find it a bit curious that it is now that the decision to taken to start prioritising plots per episode. There’s still so much going on, and so much to resolve, as we move forward, to try and get our scattered bands of plots back into a single-ish narrative.

Maybe we should tell them to shove their demand up their collective asses, how about that?

Notes

-Mimica-Gezzan is back to direct, after the slightly iffy “You Can’t Go Home Again”: I think “Fragged” is a much better effort overall.

-The title is a reference to the practise of “fragging”, the deliberate killing of an unpopular military superior by their subordinates, usually performed under the cover of combat by a fragmentation grenade. The term is largely synonymous with the Vietnam War.

-Even Crashdown’s prayer over the dead sounds weak, like it’s just a meaningless obligation to him.

-Baltar’s been a little “hundred yard stare” throughout the experience on Kobol, but if there’s one thing that can snap him out of it, it’s an assault on his ego, like when Tyrol calls him “doc”. “A dock is a platform of loading and unloading material, my title is “Doctor”, or “Mr Vice President” if you don’t mind”.

-Billy comes off as real stupid in the opening, trying to waylay Cottle when the Doctor is rushing to see Adama. What did he think was going to happen?

-Cottle’s competence is clear from the get-go, as he instantly realises from what the medics tell him that Adama is still bleeding internally. You really come to love the old codger at this point, because it’s clear that Adama isn’t just a patient to him.

-Is Cottle’s “What am I, psychic?” line a reference to Bones “I’m a Doctor, not a…” McCoy?

-The count is down 12 from “Valley Of Darkness” which, discounting Socinus, means only 11 people were apparently killed in the Cylon boarding action. It seemed like a lot more give the piles of bodies that episode showed.

-“Why aren’t you in the brig?” Tigh asks of Billy, who appears to be free to just wander around Galactica. It’s reflective of the chaos on Galactica and in the Fleet that the President’s right-hand man is deemed unworthy of detention.

-Tigh butts heads with Apollo pretty quick in the CIC, and it couldn’t be more clear that he considers the younger Adama a threat to him. I suppose he did point a gun at Tigh’s head. Regardless, losing it in the CIC like this does not inspire confidence.

-“Demanding/Demands” is a recurring word for this episode, with Tigh dealing with plenty of both. It’s the wrong tack to take with Tigh, who has his own sense of superiority.

-We’re back in Baltar’s lake house for the first time in a while (“Colonial Day” I think?). I was starting to think they didn’t have access to it as a filming location for Season Two. But Baltar remains in his Kobol clothing, so the illusion is not as acute as before.

-Tigh’s sudden burst of anger at Apollo in the Raptor is truly pathetic: if it’s genuine it’s terribly misplaced, and if it’s an attempt to buoy up the troops it misfires.

-Tigh’s efforts at placating the Quorum of Twelve could go better, especially when he refers to “freedom and democracy” as “all that good stuff”. He drinks a glass of water while he does so, and it’s easily seen as a substitute for something else.

-Ellen Tigh seems to live purely to stir pots, and she gets to give a very big pot an almighty stir here. BSG is pursuing this ongoing idea of her trying to push Tigh as a leader of the Fleet, but that isn’t going to go anywhere as I recall.

-I think Laura McDonnell does a good job with “crazy” Roslin, giving us a believable look at someone slipping in and out of being cogent.

-Crashdown, losing his cool big-time, tells Tyrol not to lose his cool. I love Aaron Douglas’ icily delivered response “I don’t believe I’ve lost my cool”. Never has the word “cool” had such a deeply emotional meaning.

-Crashdown’s “Five graphs” is also a real thing, the “five paragraph field order” of the US military, that is meant to help units understand and execute operations in the field. It’s best summed-up as “SMEAC”: Situation, Mission, Execution, Administration, Command. Despite Tyrol’s criticism, it’s not a bad way of making sure everyone is clear on what the situation is and what their individual jobs are.

-Tyrol, momentarily following the guiding star of rank, puts Baltar in his place very directly, in what is a deeply humiliating moment for the VP. But Douglas is so good in this moment that you can still feel the regret that the Chief has about backing Crashdown up.

-Crashdown’s plan isn’t actually that bad, in terms of mis-directing the Centurions so they can have a shot at the target. It just maybe gives the people under his command too much credit.

-A quick look at religious life in the Colonies/Fleet, as Venner outlines that, as a Gemenon, he believes in the literal truth of the scriptures. That’s going to come up again! It’s good to see the Colonies fleshed out as more than just a homogeneous group of people, having last seen such elaboration in “Colonial Day”.

-It’s “softly softly” from Ellen as she starts planting the idea of being in command more permanent with Tigh, aided by alcohol of course. This notion reflects her one-track mind in terms of grabbing power, but makes little sense in the larger situation. Ellen remains a bit of a caricature.

-I liked Cally’s repetition of basic rifle handling instructions ahead of the attack, a mantra drilled in during basic but whose meaning was never more relevant than right now.

-Crashdown literally wears the dogtags of Socinus and Tarn, in a metaphor about as subtle as Carl Frederickson carrying the house he spent with Ellie around.

-I love Dee’s “Drinky drinky” motion to Gaeta when she realises Tigh has had a few, and Gaeta’s exasperated reaction. They’re not shocked, just irritated: this isn’t new behavior.

-The moment of betrayal is marked really well in “Fragged”, with lots of close-ups of desperate looking faces, before Baltar is the one to suddenly pull the trigger. You would have thought it would be Tyrol wouldn’t you?

-Baltar’s killing of Crashdown has an even deeper relevance if we remember Six’s comments on the cosmic dead end that dying on the planet seemingly carries: if true Baltar hasn’t just killed Crashdown, he’s destroyed his soul.

-The finale of the gunfight, with Tyrol’s desperate fire blowing up the Centurions only for it to be revealed to be the work of the Raptor, seems a fairly obvious nod/homage/rip-off/whatever you want to call it to the finale of Saving Private Ryan. And what would you know, Mimica-Gezzan was one of Spielberg’s assistant directors on that film.

-Tigh really lets himself down in the brig, encouraging the Quorum to ask Roslin about her religious prophecies, only to see this blow up in his face. This after basically threatening Zarek too.

-“Thank the Gods” says Venner, and he might as well be including Roslin in their number with the manner that he says it.

-The lie comes all too easily out of Baltar’s mouth, that Crashdown was a hero. Tyrol is more hesitant about supporting it, but does anyway.

-I have to love Nicki Clyne’s look when she hears that lie expressed. She owes Baltar her life, but the idea of how it was saved being covered up disgusts her.

-When will Adama wake up? “Knowing him, when he damn well feels like it”. There’s a hint there that Adama and Cottle have some kind of relationship. And a good line too.

-Tigh declares that the civilian government cannot function and that he must institute martial law. But what’s the difference between that and the preceding state of affairs? There are no courts, no tax offices, no police (as far as we have seen) no economy really, and the Fleet is dependent on the Galactica for nearly everything.

-It’s a foreboding moment when Tigh tells Marines to get the journalists off “my ship”, right before he takes another drink. Just a turn of phrase, or is Ellen getting into her husbands head?

Overall Verdict: In zeroing in on just two main plots, “Fragged” gives us a more concentrated episode of BSG than we have seen in a while, but is all the better for it. The stuff on Kobol is “heart-in-your-mouth” militaria at its finest, and the Galactica-based stuff is an expertly crafted glance at an unfit commander falling to pieces in an elongated crisis. The larger narrative of the schism in the Fleet could so with some advancing though, and that will come in the next episode.

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

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5 Responses to NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Two: “Fragged”

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