NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Three: “Collaborators”

This is about justice.

Air Date: 27/10/2006

Director: Michael Rymer

Writer: Mark Verheiden

Synopsis: In the aftermath of the escape from New Caprica, a cadre of Resistance fighters enact a secret court to punish collaborators. Starbuck struggles with her trauma, the political quagmire of the Fleet finds resolution and Baltar adjusts to life with the Cylons.

Review

“Collaborators” is an ugly, ugly episode. I don’t mean visually, though it is plenty dark and grungy in that respect, I mean that in a show where the nastier side of humanity is frequently something to be explored, it really goes into the depths. I’m not sure we have ever seen the crew of the Galactica in this light before: torn apart by their own rage and resentment, and siphoning it through a methodical execution of those they feel have wronged them. It is the ugly aftermath of New Caprica and we have a front row seat, with a crawling sense of tension driven by the dread that comes with what seems like inevitable injustice.

And the episode lays on thick right from the start, in a prologue that is among the longest of the show’s run. “Exodus (Part Two)” ended on mixed emotions, but we veer decidedly into the black here. We get to see the workings of “the Circle” in action, a shadowy kangaroo court pretending like it is some kind of omnipotent Star Chamber. Rymer really takes his time here: the bleak surroundings, the dictatorial arrangement of the judges, Jammer’s pleading and a frustratingly insubstantial debate on the weight of one good act against a a lot of bad ones placed in opposition to a man like Connor whose only reason for being seems to be to exact revenge on others. And it all ends with a summary execution. “Hard to watch” can be applied to a lot of BSG, but I will always place this opening, the awkwardness of it, the pitifulness of it, near the top of any list of such moments for the show. “Collaborators” sets its stall out pretty early in depicting the stomach-churning acts of the Circle, and it’s difficult, even with the knowledge of what Jammer has been accused of, to think well of them in that moment. From there the episode sets out to examine why the Circle is doing what it is doing and to grant us some form of understanding.

Those reasons are multi-faceted, but I liked that they all fitted to the characters they were assigned. Connor just wants revenge for his dead son, and isn’t shy about saying so. Tigh says he wants to bring justice to collaborators, but we can tell that Ellen’s death is weighing on him extremely heavily with every decision he makes. Anders wants justice, but realises eventually that the Circle is not the means to get it. Starbuck wants some form of healing for her trauma, and is willing to latch onto the Circle to get it. And Tyrol, well, Tyrol is perhaps the biggest quandary: he seems to believe in an idealistic vision of what the Circle is for, but his rapid disillusionment is also manifest in how he becomes the odd man out. I wonder if this is because, of all the people I have mentioned, he lost the least on New Caprica: Cally and his son escaped, so he lacks the same motivation for brutal execution.

There are lots of small things to mark it out, but the illegitimacy of the procedure is screaming at you. You can tell how hollow the Circle really is when you realise that after the earlier executions they add formal-sounding lines to the procedure. Unlike Jammer, Gaeta’s sentence is pronounced under the jurisdiction of “the President of the Colonies” and and he’s given the chance to speak in his defence. In other words, in the course of the episode the Circle has realised how shoddy it really is, and is desperately trying to dress up their actions in faux-legitimacy. Kangaroo courts after revolutions, liberations or civil wars tend to be messy, violent things that make for uncomfortable discussion: it’s good drama for BSG to mine this feeling for this episode, and twist an audience that wants justice for collaborators up in knots when they are presented with the reality of what this means. It’s like a grim parody of the ceremony we saw in “Colonial Day”.

In the end, a lot of what drives the Circle is less about justice and more about guilt. In this BSG is starting a theme regarding New Caprica that is going to run all the way to the end of the season, of how the survivors of what happened on that planet now deal with their own existence, what they lost and how to live going forward. They all have guilt, whether it is a very specific kind or a more general kind. That guilt and pain propels them to seek those worthy of punishment as a form of release, of making all the loss worth it in some fashion, something we see manifested most concretely with Starbuck. But, to quote someone on the topic later in Season Three, “That won’t work”. The Circle is an abomination of legal proceeding, that has substituted cold hard logic in determining the guilty and their punishment for an emotional rage and retribution policy, and it says a lot more about the people doing the killing than it does about the people being killed.

Which leads us to the victim who breaks the Circle. The opening episodes of Season Three, especially “Exodus (Part One)”, already added a great deal of depth to Gaeta, and now “Collaborators” adds more. While not enunciated plainly in the episode, it seems to me that Gaeta has a death wish and it’s something the show will come back to elsewhere. How else to explain the fact that he doesn’t reveal he was the inside source in Baltar’s administration until he’s literally about to be executed as a traitor? Gaeta should be shouting to all and sundry that he was a de-facto member of the Resistance, and get Tyrol to confirm it, but instead he stays quiet except for when he is directly goaded by Starbuck, after which he shuts up again.

Gaeta too is guilty, and that guilt has eaten its way up inside him and taken out his vocal chords it seems. Not even Tigh’s grandstanding in the CIC can snap him out of it. He’s the key representation of the other side of New Caprica: yes he helped the Resistance, a lot actually, but he carries a huge degree of self-hatred for his position as a collaborator regardless. Thus, when it comes right down to it, when he see’s his fate coming at the hands of the Circle, he does not resist too much, at first. Part of Gaeta thinks he deserves punishment, to the point of death.

His last sliver of dignity, his refusal to beg for his life, is what paradoxically saves him in the end. It’s what pushes an enraged Starbuck to attack him, and in the muddle she gives the game away to Tyrol. All that’s left is for everyone involved to disperse, sickened to the core about what they did or were about to do. Gaeta doesn’t act like he has been granted deliverance. “I did what I could…I don’t know what else I could have done”. There’s an opportunity for healing, as demonstrated by the final shots of the episode, but the damage is done.

This leads us into discussing the wider political situation in the Fleet, which is predictably a mess. Zarek is President, only he’s going to appoint Roslin his VP, then resign so she becomes President, then he’ll be appointed VP. After all the trouble of the election in “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part Two)”, and going all the way back to the themes and ideas of “Bastille Day”, it seems like a stunning rejection of the democratic process. In plot terms they need Roslin back in the chair, and this is just the way to do it, with the implied lack of consent from the military for a Zarek Presidency just the icing on the totalitarian cake.

This makes Roslin’s horror at what Zarek has done in his few days as President a little hard to stomach, given she seemingly doesn’t care just now about due process herself. In outlining what he has done Zarek is essentially just making a bit of a powerplay, showing his true colours when he has a bit of control, true colours that will be confirmed (and how) in the last season. This is a man who has precious little time for the legal system, that much is clear when he spits out that the presumed traitors won’t get the opportunity for a defence. But what is more interesting is his justification for what the Circle is doing. He’s doing Roslin a favour: getting the ugly, but necessary, business of draining the swamp out of the way on his watch, so her Presidency isn’t marred by an endless series of trials.

That’s who Zarek is I suppose in many ways, underhanded but laser-focused. But it also portrays a lack of vision, because there is a middle path between the two extremes of drawn out judicial process and brutal summary justice. Roslin treads that path in issuing her blanket pardon and establishing a Truth Commission, essentially drawing a line under New Caprica and everything that happened there. But will it be enough to dampen the rage that so many would have been feeling? I don’t recall BSG ever coming back to the idea of this commission and its operation, so I’m not sure. For now these plot lines seem like somewhat hastily designed avenues for moving BSG on, and while they are necessary I can’t say that they are executed as well as they could be.

The other major arc in the Fleet is for Starbuck, truly damaged and all over the place since escaping New Caprica. Her pain over what Leoben did to her – the abuse, and the emotional manipulation represented by Kacey – comes out in a series of lashings out. Anders is the first target, with Thrace essentially rejecting any of his efforts to bring their marriage back to what it was: that kind of intimate relationship is simply beyond Starbuck right now, and Anders isn’t in a position to bring it back into being with a few kisses.

When Anders no longer suffices as a punching bag, Starbuck goes looking for other targets and lands on Gaeta. In the scene in the mess and then at Gaeta’s “trial”, the full range of Starbuck’s misery becomes readily apparent, first just verbally and then with physical violence. Like others on the Circle, Starbuck wants someone to pay for what happened to her: Leoben isn’t available so Gaeta serves as the best she can come up with. She wants Gaeta to express guilt, to beg for his life, because otherwise Starbuck has nothing: just her own pain and trauma, and no readily available means to make it go away. It’s going to be a long road back for her, if she ever makes it back at all, with her behavior here essentially a sort of self-destructive disassociation from the rest of mankind.

Last to mention is Baltar, embarking on a bit of an odyssey among the Cylons. It opens up with an amazing dream sequence where he imagines being exonerated for his actions on New Caprica by the leaders of the Fleet before getting jumped by Roslin. It’s a nice reminder of the kind of ego the man has deep down inside, that manifests in ridiculous internal fantasies like this: he still considers himself a hero for what he did on New Caprica. But that doesn’t really matter too much in terms of his situation now, where he is the potential cuckoo in the nest. Baltar as a representation of humanity is new and dangerous territory for him, and one wonders just what benefits his presence really brings to the Cylons away from New Caprica. That’s what some of them are wondering too, as Baltar finds his fate in the hands of a democratic vote of the seven Cylon models we have seen so far.

His life hangs in the balance, and it is the Six models with the casting vote. Caprica Six appears to have turned around on Baltar, or at least professes as much to his face: the bitterness of what occurred on New Caprica has seemingly convinced her that her way of leading the Cylons was not as righteous and infallible as she thought it was. Humanity scorned the possibility of working hand-in-hand with the Cylons to build a better way, while Baltar’s descent into self-loathing destroyed the vision of him that Caprica Six had: no wonder she now openly ponders on a life where she moves beyond Baltar and focuses more on her Cylon nature. But this plot establishes what appears to mostly be a holding pattern for Baltar, with no resolution forthcoming as of yet, and can’t really be judged too much in the context of “Collaborators”: we’ll be seeing more of basestar Baltar in episodes to come.

I’m alive. I suppose that’s something.

Notes

-Our introduction to “the Circle” is suitable , the sextet forming a literal half-circle around the victim, looking every bit judge, jury and executioner in one little package.

-Jammer’s pleading is really pathetic, and your heart can’t help but go out to him. In a way I think there’s an opportunity missed here: why not have him reference Tigh’s storing of arms in the Temple, where it was implied he was hoping for a Cylon crackdown?

-The description of a Temple shooting here doesn’t match what we saw in “The Resistance”, which occurred before Jammer joined the NCP. It must be in reference to a different incident.

-I did like Jammer’s description of whatever happened, implying a false surrender and decisions taken in the moment, creating just enough doubt for us to see things from his perspective.

-In pronouncing their sentence, the Circle declares it is the “third day of the second Exodus”. It’s strangely grandiose, indicating a change in calendar that hearkens back to similar events in the French Revolution and beyond.

-Anders’ frustrations are evident even here, as he declares there is “too much talk”. I don’t think he means too much talk in terms of legal proceeding, I think he means in how other members of the Circle are taking the chance to taunt their victims.

-Tyrol can’t bring himself to look at Jammer’s death, and it’s worth being reminded here that Jammer was once on his own crew, with our first glimpse of him in the Miniseries.

-While it is reflective of the limited means they have to execute people, I think it is notable that the Circle choose to have their victims killed like they would Cylons.

-First of a number of looks here at a now very crowded Galactica, struggling under the weight of two battlestar crews. Even established hands like Tyrol and Cally with a child can’t find quarters.

-I love Douglas’ performance as he questions Cally about her escape in “Exodus (Part One)”. The way he silently portrays the internal weighing of options and evidence is excellent.

-We get out first count since “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part Two) here. Between the children born on New Caprica and the people who died during the occupation and in “Exodus (Part Two)”, the human race has lost about 2’000 people.

-Things get weird in Baltar’s dream when Adama mirrors an earlier Head Six line, from “Litmus”: “You wouldn’t like her when she’s angry”.

-We cap things off with Roslin, putting on a sexy pout, basically coming on strong to Baltar, so this dream has the trifecta of ego, warped memories and sexual strangeness that we can associate with Baltar.

-I like that the basestar that Baltar is on has that moving red light common to Centurions, that takes on the form of an almost quasi-heartbeat for the ship.

-And he is being kept under guard, albeit not a very elaborate one: this would mean he is a prisoner, as opposed to an invitee.

-How painful is it to watch when Anders’ affectionate gesture to Starbuck is so roundly rejected by here? We don’t need any more elaboration to know things are seriously fractured there.

-It’s clear that Zarek regrets Baltar, and his part in anointing him as President, which may explain his willingness to step down into a subordinate role here.

-I love how Gaeta slinks into the CIC nervously, as if he can somehow make himself invisible.

-Tigh’s behavior contrasts sharply with Helo’s efforts to smooth things and avoid a scene in this moment. It’s not clear to me if Helo is still the Galactica XO here, I’m presuming not.

-Oh boy, Tigh goes for the jugular when he sarcastically asks Gaeta “Do you know where my eye is?”

-As easy as anything, Tigh slings the term “toaster-lover” in the direction of Gaeta and Helo, and in the case of the latter that seems especially nasty.

-Exterior shots of Galactica in this episode showcase how battered it is after New Caprica, with scores of scorch marks all over its hull. And there’s no shipyard for them to fix things.

-In one of their “trials”, we see the Circle working way too fast, announcing a target, considering the evidence and deciding on death in mere minutes. The potential for mistakes is enormous.

-Tigh’s justifications follow in the wake of this, and are as empty as you like. His violence towards Connor is just another mask for his own moral failings in this matter.

-Biers appears in an almost glowing white dress here, that seems a deliberate callback to clothes previously worn by Head Six, such as in “Kobol’s Last Gleaming (Part One)”. She’s meant to appear at least somewhat angelic.

-“Collaboraters” marries the Fleet and Baltar plots by having voting in both of them, right after the other, which is a clever throughline.

-Biers says the Cylons are deadlocked on Baltar’s face, and notes “seven votes”. It’s never really been discussed, but how does this reconcile with “There are 12 Cylon models”? Where are the other five?

-In terms of that vote, Biers doesn’t elaborate on where the non-Six Cylon have fallen, but we can presume the Biers’, Leoben’s and the Boomers probably want to keep him around, and the Cavils, Doral’s and Simon’s want him gone.

-There’s a deleted scene here where Apollo admits he’ll have to be demoted back down to Major, as there is no need for him to be a Commander anymore. In the circumstances the military’s hierarchy must be in a mess.

-Lee comes looking for assurance from his father on his efforts to lose weight, and doesn’t get it. “If you’ll excuse me, I have a date with a jump rope…I’ve dropped half-a-stone”. “Keep jumping”.

-I think it is fair to say that BSG never orchestrates more tension at a dinner table than it does when Starbuck sits opposite Gaeta. You know instantly something bad is going to happen.

-The mess empties as things get heated. Do they not want to witness what might be about to happen, or is just a general disgust aimed at Gaeta?

-I love Baltar’s pitching of himself to Caprica Six, a heady mix of soppy words and desperate pleading. It’s hard to know where the love ends and the performance begins.

-Case in point, Baltar remembers too late that he should have gone with “I need you too” after Six leaves. He was planning this display a little bit.

-Tigh’s hilariously hypocritical words on the Circle are “It’s not about settling scores”.

-It’s here that the Circle outlines they are operating under a Zarek executive order, but I suspect the President of the Colonies isn’t permitted to just wave away basic civil rights like this.

-Starbuck is blunt about her inner pain and how the Circle is just the most convenient way for her to try and deal with it: “They’ll do”.

-Tigh’s admission that he executed Ellen is interesting, as a tactic to buoy up the Circle and convince Tyrol to pass the death sentence on Gaeta. It’s plain that the act is at the centre of every action he is taking in “Collaborators”.

-Really wonderful description of Starbuck’s mental state and her inability to engage with the post-New Caprica world as she describes seeing things in a “different colour”. I’ve been there.

-Starbuck is perhaps the most honest of the Circle, which is admirable in a certain kind of way, when she tells Anders that “I just want to hurt someone”.

-Anders gives the dogtags back, which given their enormous symbolic value from “The Farm”, “Downloaded” and “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part One)”, is as good as a sign that his marriage to Starbuck has ended as anything.

-Oh, the anger and loathing and self-destruction evident in that one word that slips out of Starbuck’s mouth when Gaeta refuses to plead for his life: “Beg”.

-Tyrol realises the truth when he hears Gaeta mention a dog bowl. As I’ve said before, I feel like Gaeta’s status as the Resistance mole is something that he should have figured out before now.

-“I did what I could” says Gaeta softly as he leaves, with all of the enthusiasm of a man who feels it meant nothing. That death wish discussed earlier hasn’t gone away.

-The looks that are on the faces of the Cirlce after this revelation are truly amazing, a wonderfully portrayed mix of self-disgust, horror, anger, you name it.

-I’m reminded here that a deleted scene shows that Tory Foster is the go-between for the Circle and Zarek, and has bought into his line of thinking that they are doing Roslin a favour.

-Oh, the way that Zarek really lets rip when he snarls “They don’t get lawyers”. We must remember that he has spent most of the last four months in a cell too.

-Zarek insists that his action constitute an effort to save Roslin from doing what needed to be done. I’m not buying that: Zarek is a guy I would bank on to make full use of executive power as long as he had it.

-His vision for what the future of the Fleet could look like – neighbour against neighbour, endless trials, no closure – is remarkably bleak and I will give him credit for at least mapping out the details of it.

-Zarek really lays it on thick by painting a vision of Roslin as “Executioner-in-chief”, but this tactic backfires a bit: it’s the inspiration she needs to go in the complete opposite direction.

-Tigh gets rid of some of Ellen’s things from their once shared quarters, burying her in a fashion, but it’s just symbolic: that pain and rage are still there.

-“Truth and reconciliation” calls to similar commissions in the real word, most notably South Africa, and it would have been fascinating to see such a thing in action, but as far as I am aware it is never mentioned again.

-Gaeta dons his old uniform, a symbolic act to shed his New Caprica self and attempt to move forward as someone else. But will it work? The look on his face as he does so does not bode well.

-Adama makes sure to be the first one to clap Roslin’s announcement, enough that others join in. A symbolic gesture of support, but an important one. He thinks people need to move on too.

-The last gesture of the episode, with Tyrol sitting next to Gaeta, is a little high school, but a needed moment of light and, well, reconciliation for the episode.

Overall Verdict: “Collaborators” is a hard watch in many ways, and there are aspects of it I find very hard to get beyond. The ugliness of what we see, married to the hypocrisy of the motivations, makes for difficult viewing. But it is meant to be so, and BSG would be incomplete without this needed coda to all that happened on New Caprica. Beyond that, it’s well acted, well scripted and shines a spotlight on a few characters – Gaeta, Connor, Anders – that sometimes do not get the spotlight they deserve. But forgive me if I don’t relish a re-watch.

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