NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Three: “Taking A Break From All Your Worries”

What were you looking for, doctor?

Air Date: 28/01/2007

Director: Edward James Olmos

Writer: Michael Taylor

Synopsis: Roslin and Adama begin interrogating a captured Baltar, and soon contemplate extreme methods. Apollo and Dee’s marriage reaches a breaking point, with Starbuck facing a similar situation with Sam.

Review

Having touched on the topic in “Flesh And Bone”, “Occupation” and “A Measure Of Salvation”, BSG comes back to torture in “Taking A Break From All Your Worries”. The show would be in danger of over-egging the practice as a mine for drama, but I think does a pretty decent job with the act in this instance. The route that is taken allows us to take a look at torture from a number of perspectives: its point, its method, its end result and the way it tends to turn around and bite the perpetrators on the ass. Bear in mind that this came out early 2007, with the Bush administration entering the vortex and struggling to shrug off accusations of being a pro-torture, pro-abuse government. It’s not terribly surprising that BSG would go back to that well.

So, the point. This is probably the most interesting part of the episode for me, as we explore just what is motivating Roslin to do all of this to Baltar. On the face of it she wants information relevant to the protection of humanity: what he told the Cylons, especially about Earth. But as things go on the goalposts start to change a bit for Roslin, as the spectre of revenge as a motivating force appears, before she dives back in to discovering Baltar’s part in the holocaust of the Miniseries. From the moment she starts screaming at him – and that is a startling change for McDonnell really – we can see it.

Roslin is never going to be able to let New Caprica go. She’s never going to be able to let Baltar beating her in the election in “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part Two)” go for that matter, which is the specific reason she wants Baltar to admit he was involved in the Cylon infiltration, as she accused him at the time. We saw her aversion to letting things go about New Caprica in the way she reacted to Helo’s misunderstanding of New Caprica in “A Measure Of Salvation”, or how she reacted to Baltar in “Rapture”. She wants justice, just as the Circle professed in “Collaborators” for what happened there, but like the Circle her methods of getting that justice betray an emotional need for retribution. It seems plain to me that Baltar is not being tortured just because he is a high profile prisoner with knowledge of the Cylons. He’s being tortured because Roslin can’t get past everything that happened on New Caprica, and just like Starbuck with the Circle she now has an avenue to get a little of her own back.

This is a damaged Roslin, which I think we see clearly in the final scene: the act of just being present for Baltar’s torture has left her exhausted. She’s done a decent job of hiding it after “Exodus (Part Two)” but for the rest of the season I suspect we’ll be seeing a different, more twisted-up version of the President, who has to balance her own need for some kind of vengeful catharsis for what was lost against her role as the head of the Colonial government. It starts here. Adama is only a little way behind her: he was pissed at the activities of the Circle in “Collaborators” in terms of making people vanish, yet here he suggests that the same thing could still happen to Baltar.

The methods of the torture showcase the slippery slops of such things very well. We start with stuff that Donald Rumsfeld would happily dub “enhanced interrogation”, such as the enforced sleep deprivation, then the psychological aspects, then the fake execution. We move on to more extreme things involving chemical intervention. Once you start in on the path of using torture as a tool, it’s hard to turn away, and every step justifies an additional one. It takes Cottle to finally put his foot down for the “freak show” to be stopped, but this episode highlights that the Colonial disgust for what happened to prisoners on New Caprica does not translate to an aversion to using similar tactics when they think it will help their cause.

And there’s the end result. It’s a truth, I firmly believe, that torture as a means of extracting information is useless: the information you get is usually unreliable, since the victim has a tendency to say whatever will get the pain to stop. BSG doesn’t go down this route exactly, just as it hasn’t in the episodes mentioned above, but Roslin and Adama don’t get the result they want. Baltar doesn’t implicate himself as a traitor (well, not exactly) and he doesn’t give them information about Cylons that is in any way useful. They could probably get an admission of guilt out of Baltar with more “traditional” methods, but the failure of the drugs seems to give Roslin the moments pause that Baltar’s physical well-being needs. Trying to force a confession out of Baltar is the wrong way of doing things, therefore a different means of getting justice will have to be found.

On Baltar specifically, we do get some character evolution despite the stationary nature of his physical self. A fairly brutal opening scene, wherein Head Six actively assists him in a suicide attempt – and what the hell is that all about, unless she knows it was destined to fail – means that BSG is taking a decisive move forward on the “Is Baltar a Cylon?” plot line, with the answer now a resounding “No”. If “Taking A Break From All Your Worries” did nothing else with Baltar I actually would have been happy enough with the idea of him being so tied to his own self-preservation and identity as a likely Cylon that he is willing to kill himself, but it proceeds from there as a starting point.

In essence, Baltar’s arc here is about responsibility, and what amount of that Baltar is willing to admit too for everything that has happened thus far. As Adama says towards the end, Baltar is a man who has trouble accepting any kind off responsibility for his actions, having to always be the victim in his own mind. To an extent this is true in “Taking A Break From All Your Worries” as Baltar waxes lyrical in the pool of water about how treason implies intent, and he never had any intent to cause a holocaust. He was seduced by Six, he was manipulated, and has been manipulated throughout the resulting disaster. But you can see, arguably for the first time, the cracks in this edifice of denial.

It isn’t anything that Baltar verbally outlines, but when he has a vision of dead children drowning him in a vat of Cylon goo, it’s difficult to interpret it as anything other than a huge sense of guilt. Deep down inside, Baltar maybe does feel responsible, whether it is for the holocaust, or for what happened on New Caprica (probably the latter rather than the former). Call it a 90:10 split between taking no responsibility and admitting it, but it’s more than we have seen from Baltar so far. His sense of self-preservation remains – even his suicide attempt was almost more a twisted way of finding out whether he was a Cylon or not – and Baltar won’t be accepting any penance willingly. But his experience on New Caprica and with the Cylons have brought something of a change in him.

The episode concludes with a really interesting scene where Baltar’s road collides with that of Gaeta once again, the two in the same room for the first time since Baltar convinced Gaeta not to shoot him in “Exodus (Part Two)”. Gaeta appeals to Baltar’s intellect, and Baltar is a man who never minded being buttered up that way. For a moment Baltar responds positively to this kind of approach – proof that it tends to be better than torture anyway – but relents when he realises that he’s being filmed. For a while I never liked Baltar’s reaction to this, since he must have known every move he made was being filmed, but this time I thought of the scene differently: I think Baltar uses the existence of the camera as an excuse to twist the knife into Gaeta, a person he has consistently been able to play like a fiddle.

He always wants to have an advantage, and here he gets to portray Gaeta as a traitor twice over: once for the camera, on top of an earlier, and seemingly graver, sin he only gets to whisper about. He even essentially claims that he helped Gaeta in terms of leaking information to the Resistance. He gets a pen in the neck for his trouble, but in a way Baltar does come out of the situation with the advantage: the torture stops, and Roslin is left believing the only way forward is judicial in nature. It’s a stretch to think this was Baltar’s intention, but it’s a good end result in his game to demonstrate superiority over Gaeta (and everyone else).

The other half of the episode is considerably less good, as we reluctantly wade back into the bog of Galactica’s dysfunctional relationships (which has little to do with the Baltar stuff, bar more guilt). It’s all falling apart here, for most of the episode anyway, with Apollo and Dee reaching what appears to be the breaking point, Sam no longer satisfied with being Starbuck’s occasional booty call, and even Tyrol left to claim that he and Cally could have “sold tickets” to their latest bust-up. Hell, Head Six is even helping Baltar kill himself. It’s an episode that speaks to the general unhappiness onboard, even as a familiar comfort in the form of Joe’s Bar gets opened.

Which brings me, briefly, to alcohol. I’ve noted before, in “Collaborators”, that Galactica and the military seems to have an issue with booze, which flows freely enough onboard, and not just with Tigh: the pilot’s mess seems to have a constant supply of the stuff, and now there’s enough liqueur to justify a place to dole it out. Dee’s drinking wine, Starbuck’s guzzling whiskey from a bottle, one of the senior officers on the ship stumbles around the halls drunk and that depressing maudlin air that only comes when alcohol consumption is a losing mission to generate a better humour is everywhere. Alcohol infects everything in “Taking A Break From All Your Worries”, present in nearly every scene where people are truly miserable. Soldiers will always seek alcohol of course, and one thinks back to “Flight Of The Phoenix” or “Final Cut” in terms of the Galactica crew reaching a breaking point. Maybe this is just how they deal. But it isn’t healthy, physically, or mentally, as becomes clear.

The problem with the relationships on Galactica appears to be that everyone is lying to themselves and others: no one wants to just be honest. Starbuck is caught between Lee and Sam, and can’t make up her mind; Sam can’t just let it go with Starbuck; Apollo has only one foot in his marriage, and can’t admit that he married Dee for the wrong reasons; Dee most definitely married Apollo for the wrong reasons, but also can’t bring herself to completely give up on the marriage. It’s all one big circular mess, and to be honest I’m getting a little tired of it. Since the moment at the end of “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part Two)” that we saw Apollo and Starbuck not on good terms, all the way through the New Caprica arc and after, we’ve been following this soap opera, and while it reached its height in terms of drama potential in “The Eye Of Jupiter”, its hit a low-point here. Maybe it’s because its just too played out, maybe it’s because, bar Sam maybe, there’s no one you feel you can really root for, maybe its just gotten a bit too maudlin. Whatever it is, it isn’t working.

This is summed up by the final scene, where these two marriages attempt to fix themselves, only that doesn’t work either. Apollo gives one last desperate pitch to Dee noting that while he might love Starbuck, he married Dee – honestly not as powerful an argument as he might think it is, considering his recent conduct with Thrace – and that she’s “good for him”. We might note he doesn’t argue that he’s good for Dee. At the same time Starbuck and Sam get drunk together just across the bar, alcohol presumably a substitute for actual emotional connection. Eyes get locked together. In essence we’re back to zero: two crumbling marriages held together with tape and paper-clips, with half of those marriages still staring at the other a little moon-eyed.

Which brings us to looking at the shape of things to come, or to put it in a Tolkienesque fashion, the story as seen from the algae planet. On the one hand, we have something amazingly juicy: the imprisonment and eventual trial of Gaius Baltar, with all that comes with it. What will he be accused of specifically, who will speak for and against him, how will it all turn out, one way or the other? But then on the other hand you have what has rapidly become a fairly rancid relationship stew: Apollo and Dee, Starbuck and Sam, throw in Tyrol and Cally as well, all at each others throats, reverting back to the default with some heartfelt speeches and then getting ready to do it all again. If BSG isn’t going to bring these plotlines to something of a proper resolution it could do with at least parking them for a bit, as we head decisively in the back-half of Season Three.

What is normal anyway?

Notes

-The title is a line from the theme tune of Cheers, appropriate given the new bar that has just opened on Galactica.

-This is Olmos’ second directing effort, after “Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down”. It’s better, but that’s not saying a whole lot.

-The Fleet is orbiting a planetary body here, which seems strange to me: you’d presume they’d be safer from Cylon pursuit in the middle of nowhere.

-A bit of time has passed between this episode and “Rapture” it seems: Baltar has longer, more unkempt, facial hair, and Starbuck’s burns have seemingly healed.

-Things are starting to get a little intimate on Galactica as we see in early scenes: multiple couples appear to be sharing bunks, and two people are eating each others faces outside of Joe’s. It’s a far cry from “Water” when Tigh ordered Boomer to stop “fraternising” with Tyrol.

-The rhyme Baltar sings seems like a variation of Brahm’s Lullaby mixed with lines from the children’s bedtime prayer commonly dubbed “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep”

-Sleep deprivation only gets a slight depiction here really, but is far more brutal a technique than some might realise. Negative effects to the body start showing after only a couple of days, and then mentally shortly after that. “33” was probably a better representation I suppose.

-The manner of Baltar’s attempted suicide, and his obvious regrets in the midst of that attempt, instantly made me think of the outstanding Bojack Horseman episode “The View From Halfway Down” and the poem of the same name.

-Gaeta can’t sleep, and it isn’t just because Baltar’s onboard: it’s because Baltar onboard is the best way to make icily clear his own guilty feelings for what happened on New Caprica.

-I love Baltar’s “That’s a bit rough actually” as the Six’s start cutting him. It was a strange comedy moment, but worked.

-The count is actually up two for this one. Take away the two people we saw die on-screen during the fighting on the algae planet, but then add Hera and Baltar and it should be even (Caprica is there too, but the count hasn’t included Cylons before). I guess there’s two births in there somewhere.

-So Galactica now has a bar, which in early drafts was called the “Why Not?”. Its construction was meant to be the plot of the episode originally (hence the title), but there wasn’t enough material in that.

-But how does it work? Is it all moonshine? Does this mean stills are now accepted on Galactica? And are people paying for drinks in some manner?

-I do like Tyrol’s toast. “To marriage: why we build bars”. The fun and games won’t last forever.

-We see Dee in her quarters with what I assume is a glass of wine. Where did she get that from?

-It would have been enough for Roslin to hand Baltar his glasses and for him to mutter “Touche”. Instead the episode takes the unnecessary step of including flashbacks to the corresponding moment between the two in “Precipice”.

-Roslin claims that the difference between the Cylons and Baltar on New Caprica is merely “an academic distinction”. I’m not sure it is really, and that’s at the heart of what will dominate the rest of the season.

-The President gives a brief shake of the head when Baltar isn’t willing to admit to any larger pre-New Caprica treason, which is the last moment of calm logic from her for a while.

-“Adrian Bauer” is an interesting addition to the Baltar story. Unless he’s making it all up on the fly, which I wouldn’t put past him.

-Adama’s description of this shady programme to come up with interrogation drugs obviously makes one think of Project MKUltra. It’s interesting that what is viewed as an extremely bad thing in real-life is framed as a necessary act here.

-Sam gets portrayed in a very moody way here, far moodier than you often see in BSG. It’s the lighting I suppose, it’s rare to get curtains drawn in this show.

-Things get a bit clumsy here as Sam basically recounts parts of the plot, specifically “The Farm”, “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part One)” and “Occupation” through to “Exodus (Part Two)” as it pertains to Starbuck.

-It all gets a bit cliche with Apollo and Dee around here, as the distant husband starts forgetting plans they had made so he can go drink. We’ve rarely seen Lee in this bad of a manner.

-With a simple change to past tense, Dee lands a devastating blow: “I loved you”.

-Dee nods to a scene from “Unfinished Business (Extended)” here, as she admits she knew she would only have Lee as long as Starbuck let her have him. I still don’t like that as a plot point, it feels too silly as a sticking point for marriage.

-Dee goes even further by describing her marriage with Apollo in brutal terms: “This is a lie”. And it’s one she can’t live with anymore.

-I love that Starbuck has this devastating conversation with Sam, and it’s revealed they’re in the pilots dorm, surrounded by people. There’s nowhere to get away from anyone on Galactica anymore.

-The set-up for Baltar’s torture carries obvious nods to A Clockwork Orange, but the manner in which he gets trapped in his own psyche made me think a lot of Get Out.

-Apollo’s “My Gods Kara” never landed right for me. Just a bit too dramatic really.

-Adama is a bit too practised at the interrogation he gives to Baltar. One naturally suspects he may have been involved in the programme he mentioned earlier.

-When asked if he conspired with the Cylons, Baltar isn’t even sure anymore: “No…I don’t know. No”. Callis’ performance is great throughout the episode, and especially here.

-Presumably the otherworldly scream that we hear from Baltar is something he is imagining, otherwise he has a very unique set of pipes.

-It’s striking, the difference between the first Apollo/Tyrol interaction and the second. By the time we get to the second all the joviality of Joe’s opening is gone, and now it’s just two miserable men and their booze.

-Tyrol is pissed off, and isn’t in the mood to re-hash his history with Boomer when asked if he has any regrets on that score: “No….no”.

-For Baltar, discovering whether he is a Cylon is still all about selfish needs to eliminate guilt, and have “All my sins forgiven”

-The dead children who try to drown Baltar are a bit much really. As I recall there’s a moment in Season Four where these kinds of memories are used in a different context, that is a good bit better.

-The nurse knocking over the table was part of cut content, where she, disapproving of the torture, leaked Baltar’s existence to the Fleet. It’ll happen soon enough.

-Drunk Lee is something to see. I think Bamber captures that sense of intoxicated despair really well, as he scrambles around on the ground for his wedding ring.

-Cottle perhaps is a bit “Too little, too late” when he declares “I’m putting an end to this freak show”. Still love the line though.

-“I married you” Apollo is quick to tell Dee, like it’s a prize she should be happy about. He cheated on her too!

-Roslin declares that having tried the stick with Baltar, it’s time to try the carrot. She won’t realise it, but she’s mirroring Baltar’s words to Admiral Cain in “Pegasus”.

-I really like how Baltar gets quickly seduced with the opportunity to prove his intelligence, when Gaeta presents astronavigational charts for his perusal. He really is that vain.

-With Apollo and Starbuck staring at each other, we really have just moved back to the status quo.

-I also love that Baltar, of all people, tries to weasel his way into the role of being some kind of resistance fighter, basically claiming he helped Gaeta leak vital information. I also love his “I had a literal gun to my head” in reference to “Exodus (Part Two)”.

-What Baltar whispers to Gaeta, that makes him flip out to the point of attempted murder, was long a point of interest. I believe the semi-official line is that it was to do with a dropped plot, where it would come out that Gaeta was involved directly in some kind of unseen New Caprica atrocity.

-Adama proper flattens Gaeta. Boom.

-Things are pretty intimate here with Roslin and Adama, as she lays down on a couch in front of him. Something’s off, and with the benefit of hindsight I know what it is. Still, an interestingly framed moment.

-“He’s the victim” says Adama of Baltar, putting into words what has long been something the audience has seen. His weariness as he says it is notable.

-“We give him his trial”. And with that, we have an arc for the rest of the season.

-There’s a deleted scene here, probably meant for the end of the episode, where Roslin visits Caprica Six and gets her to agree to be a witness at Baltar’s trial, which would have been a hell of a twist. But the plot-line was pretty-much dropped.

Overall Verdict: As has been the case a few times this season – “Torn” most notably, but there have been others – “Taking A Break From All Your Worries” is an episode where only half of what’s presented actually works, with the rest struggling. The stuff with Baltar is interesting and sets up the key narrative arc for the rest of the season rather nicely, but the soap opera of everything else is rapidly approaching insufferable, and displays no signs of coming to an end anytime soon. This is the first time I would say that BSG exhibits two sub-par episodes in a row, which I hope is not a sign of things to come.

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11 Responses to NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Three: “Taking A Break From All Your Worries”

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