NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Two: “The Captain’s Hand”

You’re Adama’s pet. Let him deal with you

Air Date: 17/02/2006

Director: Sergio Mimica-Gezzan

Writer: Jeff Flaming

Synopsis: Newly promoted Apollo is assigned to work under Barry Garner, Pegasus’ latest commander, with the two soon clashing over Starbuck’s attitude and two missing Raptors. On Galactica, the sudden appearance of a teenager seeking an abortion and asylum creates a political crisis for Roslin.

Review

“The Captain’s Hand” is an episode about leadership. Multiple characters are called upon to showcase some of it, and not all of them succeed. There are hard choices to be made, conflicts to be managed, vital choices about the future of the Fleet with no easy answers. First up, and most important in the episode, is Apollo.

The episode opens with him declaring that a recent promotion to the rank of Major “doesn’t mean much”, with an assignment as a temporary XO for Pegasus more of an irritation than an honour. But Lee adapts quickly, and before the end of the episode he demonstrates an understanding of what a leader needs to be, especially in comparison to others. He knows when to give people a bit of room, like Starbuck, he knows when to pull people into a tight focus, like when he shuts down the complaints of Pegasus’ air group. He knows when to respectfully follow men like Garner, and knows when to challenge them. Most importantly of all, he’s cool, calm and collected in a crisis, keeping his head when all about are losing theirs: in the midst of a battle no-one expected, he keeps the Pegasus going and even gives the enemy a black eye before escaping.

These are all aspects of a good leader, and speaks to the lessons that Apollo has learned, in part at least, from his father: “Command is about people”. Ever and anon in “The Captain’s Hand”, Lee demonstrates the practicality of this factoid, but none more so with Starbuck. He admonishes her when she feels she deserves it, but only in private: elsewhere he is confident enough in her abilities to trust her instinct on the missing Raptors, and to encourage her to be exactly where she needs to be during the battle, in a cockpit. Later, he has the tact to not be too critical of Garner, or of his father for appointing him in the first place. “The Captain’s Hand” presents us with the scenario where a seemingly obvious case of nepotism is carried out by the elder Adama, but does the hard work in making us understand the choice to place Lee in permanent command of the Pegasus is more than that.

Apollo is put directly opposite the one-episode figure of Barry Garner. He’s an unnecessarily direct and rather bitter man: his rant about how nobody ever gives the engine room any slack early on is evidence of that. Garner gives the impression of being the sort of man who has been unhappy in his position for years, and now that he has been granted a level of higher authority, he is damn sure going to exact a little payback.

As stated perhaps a bit too bluntly over the course of the episode, Garner treats the Pegasus, and by extension its crew, as a machine. He uses the metaphor of a watch, saying that the whole doesn’t work if even one small component isn’t doing its job. Hence a mechanical devotion to procedure, a refusal to countenance “outside the box” thinking and an encouragement for the Pegasus and its crew to be a separate entity from Galactica. Garner has a one-track mind, beaten into him by years of engine room work, and that makes him unfit to be the overall commander of the ship, a job that requires much more nuance. His treatment of Starbuck is proof enough: he is unable to give her the space she needs to be a success, and can’t tolerate her independent streak, even if doing so would be a net benefit to the ship. He has no faith in his own personal authority over people, so he treats them like parts.

The episode progresses to the final crisis, when Garner, fixated on saving his men, disobeys orders and comes into direct conflict with Apollo. Lee’s response is to try and relieve Garner of command, but he isn’t his father in this regard – this most definitely is not “Litmus” – so he doesn’t get his way. In this Apollo betrays a little bit of an over-adherence to regulation, that I think ties into the bit of idealism his character is prone to, as we saw in “Bastille Day”.

But when things really go to hell, it is Apollo who has to rise to the moment. In a way Garner flees his post: that might sound harsh, but it’s a failure of his command if he feels the need to leave CIC to deal with an engineering issue during a life-or-death engagement, and the character does look scared in that moment. He redeems himself by getting the FTL drive going again, but the entire situation demonstrates his failure as a leader on numerous levels. Apollo, managing Starbuck, his CIC staff and himself, brings the Pegasus through the experience with minimal casualties. It isn’t just the calm demeanor though: he showcases some balls in taking on a basestar directly, and does direct the Pegasus to turn to shield its weaker side: he knows what he’s doing.

At the conclusion the older Adama is satisfied with how much Apollo has learned from the experience, most critically that a leader is someone who leads people, he doesn’t direct them like they are the cogs of a watch. This final promotion, unlike the ascension to Major that meant very little to Apollo, means everything: this is a huge example of the trust that Adama has in his son. Adama is following his gut in this decision, having tried and failed twice to follow the chain-of-command in determining Pegasus’ leader: that too, is a symbol of a better leader than Garner was, with Adama admitting his mistake and not second guessing his future choices.

Of course that’s just half of “The Captain’s Hand”, though an exploration of leadership as a theme is very much at the fore of the other 50%. In the Fleet, Roslin is suddenly faced with a very unfortunate choice to make: the human race is approaching extinction level, to the point where that reality is banging up against individual liberty. BSG doesn’t mince words much on this issue, with Roslin coming to a decision pretty quickly on the legal status of abortion. The logic is certainly understandable: as Adama reminds her in a very good moment between the two, one of the first things she ever said to him in the Miniseries was that “we need to start having babies”. Bodily autonomy is obviously something important to Roslin, but equally important is the number on the board.

Is her decision justified? Well, yes and no. Yes in that every possible measure must be taken to encourage an increase in birth rate, especially in an environment like the Fleet which presumably doesn’t scream “Great place to raise a family”. No in that the decision is based on some hard-to-swallow data from Baltar (see below) and can’t deflect from the heinous idea of a woman being forced to carry a pregnancy to term against her will. And the same problems with outlawing abortion still exist, namely it’s hard to stop them taking place. Roslin reaches a compromise in the case of Rya, but it’s just a sop to the idea that there can be any total good in this whole issue. Still, Roslin – with McDonnell putting in a great performance throughout – takes decisive action, and that is a sign of a good leader.

Not so good is one Gaius Baltar, appearing for the first time in a few episodes. Having spent a fair portion of “Colonial Day” mocking Tom Zarek he’s now happy to ally with him, taken in by a preening ego boost and the opportunity to get back at Roslin. It’s all personal with Baltar: he wants the praise, he wants the flashing bulbs, he wants to make a splash and be adored. He doesn’t really care about abortion laws – since when has Baltar ever really cared about women in that kind of way? – and he doesn’t care about religion. Just look how pleased he was when Zarek held him up as a sort of ideal for the non-religious occupants of the Fleet. This, combined with the lasting grudge with Roslin – which, again, was based on a personal slight in “Epiphanies”, not a political one – makes it all too easy for Baltar to betray the President in a very public manner. Does he even realise that his strings are being pulled by Zarek as much as Head Six now? If he does, it’s just another thing that he doesn’t seem to care about. Vengeful, a doormat and obsessed with his own image, the thought of Baltar being President is one to fill anyone with dread. But hey, what are the chances?

Oh my gods.

Notes

-Finally, a title with a bit of thought in it. It presumably refers to the unseen hand of command and how important it is, given the clash between Apollo and Garner.

-Mimica-Gazzan back in the directors chair for the first time since “Home (Part One)” with another very good effort.

-The “Previously On…” sections has some dialogue changes, with Gina now telling Baltar to “betray Roslin and run for President in the upcoming election”, something that did not happen in “Epiphanies”. Seconds later, the same thing is done to show Adama and Tigh discussing Garner’s appointment to command, in a scene that I suppose is meant to be in “Black Market”.

-Colleges have ties on the doorknob, Galactica has boots outside the hatch for when two people are intimately occupied inside.

-The sight of a naked Dee from behind is as, well, nakedly sexual as BSG has gone in a while, probably since the opening scenes of “The Farm”? Also, natural comparisons to the end of “Six Degrees Of Separation”.

-Dee outlines the two battlestars’ nicknames: Pegasus, which eats up Commanders at a frightening rate, is “the Beast” while the poor banged-up Galactica is “the Bucket”.

-Apollo has been promoted to Major, which again really doesn’t mean much in a military that is down to about 2’000-2’500 people or so.

-The count is down six from “Sacrifice”, though seven people died in that episode: the four hostage-takers, two marines and Billy.

-The Garner character allows us the chance to consider, like the Marines, the existence of an engineering section of the military that we never see. Since Garner was installed as CO of the Pegasus, he must have been an officer of some rank: does Galactica also have a chief engineer that we never see?

-Starbuck gives it to Garner with both barrels, and regrets it later: “Barely competent and paranoid”

-“Snipe” is indeed a slang term for an engineer on a ship in the real world.

-Our introduction to Tory Foster, played by Rekha Sharma, here, a stand-in for Billy. I doubt the production team had that much more important role in mind for her at this time though.

-I love Zarek talking to himself in the mirror, or at least appearing to, before it’s revealed Baltar is in the room. It’s like he’s trying to convince himself that buttering up Baltar is the right idea.

-I also love his description of how he is unable to beat Roslin electorally upon her “elevation from politician to prophet”.

-Baltar swings constantly back-and-forth on politics, depending on who he is talking to. After basically threatening to take Roslin on politically in “Scar”, he’s back to treating the whole affair as “tedious” with Zarek,

-Stinger, the CAG who clashed with Apollo in “Pegasus” has been demoted by Garner, and in fact will never be seen again: the actor, John Pyper-Ferguson, couldn’t be tied down.

-Doc Cottle is again luxuriating in his relatively untouchable position, bluntly outlining that he performs abortions on the side. Adama doesn’t kowtow too much though: when Cottle says he doesn’t ask questions, he gets a very stern “You’re gonna start”.

-Cottle is such a dick sometimes: “She could apply for asylum” he says, with a casualness that belies the calculated statement.

-Roslin very curtly dismisses the Gemenon representative when the possibility of banning abortion is brought up. You can tell that’s a mistake from the moment she does it.

-“She’s not Billy” Adama says in response to Tory’s matter-of-fact reaction to the growing crisis. “No she’s not” replies a wistful Roslin. The episode could, perhaps, have done with the inclusion of a deleted scene where Foster flat-out states that she isn’t there to be Roslin’s “counsel or conscience”, she’s there to help her win the election.

-Adama and Roslin have a quiet moment to talk here, in a very relaxed and comfortable manner, which I did like.

-“No…no” says Roslin when she realises what Adama is proposing, with the tone of someone who already knows the answer is going to be “Yes”.

-Starbuck figures out that the “eve” in the missing Raptor’s message about a distress call means “received”, but I really don’t find that the kind of stunning leap that exemplifies her intelligence.

-A small but potent sign of Apollo’s leadership credentials is his urging that Garner and Starbuck take their argument to a private place. The Pegasus’ CO dressing someone down like this in public is unbecoming.

-In private though, Apollo is happy to be as angry as he likes with Starbuck – “Maybe you need a kick in the ass” – even going to the point of going too far by bringing up his wound from “Sacrifice”. Though, at least he is genuinely sorrowful for that call, knowing how much it hurts Thrace. Bamber is at his best in the episode at this moment.

-Apollo and Starbuck are left staring at each other after this emotional exchange, and we should remind ourselves that this potent mix of friendship, lust and command considerations can only ever end in a bad place.

-It’s interesting, and I assume intentional, that Garner’s “I’m going to get my men” is very close to a similar line delivered by Adama at the end of “Pegasus”, but lacks anything like the same punch.

-Adama’s solution to the issue of the missing Raptors showcases his own leadership qualities: reasoned, cautious and not a total shutdown of Garner. But the Pegasus CO just can’t see it like that.

-Roslin plays it very factual with Baltar in their brief scene. Interesting also her reference to “our administration”: she knows Baltar is a threat.

-Baltar’s report on how the human race will be extinct in 18 years makes zero sense. 50 subjects could establish a viable breeding pool for a species, albeit one with severe “genetic depression” likely: 500 is considered the real minimum for guaranteed healthy outcomes. The Fleet has many, many times that.

-I did like the brief montage of people listening in on the President’s speech through radio broadcasts, which is a nice reminder of the limitations of the Fleet as well as giving things a World War Two vibe.

-Nice duality as Garner and Apollo’s argument ends with them both declaring “and place you under arrest” at the exact same time, like it’s a race to the finish.

-Well set-up horror moment when the dead Raptor crews are revealed, suitably bloodied up and very lifeless.

-Sharon did warn Adama the Cylons would try and set-up an ambush at nearby pulsars in “Sacrifice”, so a nice bit of continuity there.

-Tellingly, Garner is frozen at the moment of the basestars’ appearance and the warning to brace for impact has to come from Hoshi.

-Garner tries to talk engineering through the problem with the FTL, but can’t do it. His “They don’t understand” is one of despair, at a machine he can no longer control.

-The engineering set is very basic and very cheap looking, given how advanced the Pegasus is supposed to be. It’s been a while since I’ve had cause to point that out: compare with the well-realised bar of “Sacrifice”. Also the breach in the section Garner goes into shouldn’t be accessible: the breach would make it impossible to open the door.

-Starbuck is enjoying herself in the cockpit. “The Captain’s Hand” would seem to indicate that this is the limit of her effectiveness as an officer: anything higher, even CAG, and she begins to fall apart.

-In the course of the fighting, Lee orders the Pegasus “left” instead of port, which does hue to real-world traditions in the heat of battle: you’d rather not have to take the time to explain which direction to a stressed-out draftsmen.

-Garner collapses in trying to get the FTL going, and with his very last gasp – literally – gets the job done. There is at least that.

-Neat production detail I only noticed this time around: Pegasus has two landing pads on both sides, one of which appears upside down relative to the ship.

-There is a very sudden cut from the Pegasus jumping out of the battle to Apollo and Adama in the Admiral’s quarters. Didn’t seem like a commercial break cut either. It was weird.

-Adama is just a little withering in tone when he remarks on Apollo’s report “You give Garner a lot of credit”. His elevation to command is something Adama clearly regrets.

-Adama’s final test is to ask Apollo what Garner’s failing was. Apollo passes by outlining what his own philosophy on leadership is, and by not being overly-critical in the same turn.

-When Adama calls his son “Commander Adama” and the familiar strains of “Wander My Friends” begin to play, it is a very powerful moment, of trust being imparted and respect earned.

-Roslin’s compromise is to ban abortion but allow Rya to have her termination, reasoning it was requested before the law was changed. It’s reasonable, legally speaking, but it’s a cop out in other way. You can see that in Roslin’s face.

-Roslin has little time for fundamentalist dehumanisation of sinners: “She has a name”.

-The Gemenon rep dangerously misjudges her amount of power over Roslin by demanding Rya be handed over: “I insist”. Roslin bites back with a viciousness we rarely see.

-In the process, Roslin says that “you have your pound of flesh” which would appear to be a reference to Shakespeare’s The Merchant Of Venice. A bit anachronistic.

-“The Captain’s Hand” had a darker sub-plot that was deleted, wherein Rya, fearing she won’t be granted the abortion, attempts suicide. This closing exchange between Roslin and the Gemenon rep was meant to be intermingled with Cottle resuscitating her on Galactica.

-Apollo’s heart-to-heart with Starbuck is a nice close for the two in this episode, reconciling them and leaving things open for more, potentially.

-Baltar’s speech where he turns on Roslin is a really vicious piece of political theatre. The comparisons to Cylons especially is very calculated not just to make a big splash, but to hurt.

-Love the closing contrast between Head Six’s clapping and Baltar’s evil smile.

Overall Verdict: “The Captain’s Hand” rights the ship a bit after the fundamentally flawed “Sacrifice”, offering a brilliant character study in the form of Profiles In Leadership. Apollo, Roslin, Starbuck and Baltar all forward their plots and development really well here, and we get a good one-episode version for Garner. It’s well balanced, exciting and has something important to say. It lacks the flash of earlier episodes in this season, but “The Captain’s Hand” is still one of the better offerings from the show total.

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

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3 Responses to NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Two: “The Captain’s Hand”

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

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

  3. Pingback: NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Two: “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part One)” | Never Felt Better

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