NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Three: “The Woman King”

You killed him, you sick frak.

Air Date: 11/02/2007

Director: Michael Rymer

Writer: Michael Angeli

Synopsis: The latest influx of civilians into Galactica’s “Dogsville” heaps the pressure on Helo, a situation made worse when a deadly sickness begins to spread among the disliked Sagittaron contingent. But what seems at first to be misfortune soon begins to appear deliberate, pitting a suspicious Helo against nearly everyone above him in the chain of command.

Review

“The Woman King” gives us a look at Colonial society and life in the Fleet that we won’t have experienced before in the form of the Sagittarons and “Dogsville”. We don’t know much about Sagittaron before this save for some words in “Bastille Day” that indicated it was a lower-tier class of the planet in the Colonial system, enough that Tom Zarek decided to instigate some terrorist acts in response. Now we get a lot more, with Sagittarons depicted as something like a cross between Amish and Jehovah’s Witnesses: isolationist, pacifistic and with a religiously minded culture all of their own that emphasises natural remedies to diseases and a resistance to more conventional methods of healing.

A pacifist is always in danger of being made a hate figure, and that goes double in the situation that humanity finds itself in here. It’s easy to understand why so many in the Fleet, especially the military, hate the Sagittarons: when you won’t take up arms in the face of a literal apocalypse, then what good are you? When you won’t take the necessary steps to prevent a pandemic, why should you be helped? The inherent humanity in the Sagittarons gets reduced as a result, until it becomes normal for them to be viewed as a bunch of whinging malcontents. Hell, even the Cylon onboard Galatica expresses a dislike for them, which seems like taking the idea to an extreme. “The Woman King” leads us down the path of where all this thinking goes gradually, until those involved need to face the horror of what they have done.

Excepting the fundamentalist Gemenese as seen in “The Captain’s Hand”, we’ve never really gotten a feel for planetary relations in the Colonies, but what we get here does not paint a very pretty picture. It seems like bigotry, ingrained and systemic, is alive and well in the Fleet as it was on New Caprica and before the holocaust. It’s great to see this concept explored in an episode, as it would be far easier to paint humanity as the good guys in a battle with the evil Cylons in a general sense. I mean, the comparisons to the Hebrews wandering the desert have long been made about BSG. But here the paradigm shifts hugely. “The Woman King” opens up the door to the possibility of racism and religious discrimination which the leadership of the Fleet (certainly in the case of Adama, who admits as such at the conclusion) practically condones, to the point that one guy starts instituting his own private holocaust against the disliked grouping and thinks he should be congratulated for doing so.

It’s a miserable situation in a miserable glimpse at what life in the Fleet is really like, arguably our first such glimpse since “Black Market”. With the reduction in ships as a result of all that’s happened hundreds are reduced to living like beggars in a Galatica hanger deck, with seemingly nothing to do with their time then sit around, eat, wash, become ill and repeat the cycle until they die. “The Woman King” does a great job with its depiction of such decrepitude, which so easily creates the kind of lingering resentment summed up by everyone’s distaste for the Sagittarons. Even at the very end of all we know, we still have the capacity to feel superior to someone else.

All of this finds its centre in Helo, back in the spotlight for the first time since “A Measure Of Salvation” which had some similar themes for him. In fact, BSG is starting to get practically meta when it comes to the character, with the running commentary of others and himself now being that Helo is obsessed with being the guy who is “on the outside looking in”. He voluntarily stranded himself on the Colonies in the Miniseries. He fell in love with and had a child with a Cylon. He pulled a gun on Apollo in “Home (Part One)”. He got into a fistfight with Tyrol in “Flight Of The Phoenix”. He ended up on Death Row after defending Sharon in “Pegasus”. He elected to stay away from New Caprica all together in “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part Two)”. There’s the sabotage he perpetrated in “A Measure Of Salvation” and his killing of Athena in “Rapture” that endangered the Fleet. The evidence mounts and mounts.

I mean even here he seems like a flagellant, volunteering for the thankless job of being the “Mayor” of Dogsville, where he deals with complaints and abuse all day. Someone who wishes to be unhappy will find many ways to prove their course, and Helo is that guy. I liked that this episode actually explores this idea as it does, with figures as senior as Adama and Tigh basically calling him out on this apparent martyr complex. Helo has come a long way from the Raptor co-pilot we saw in the Miniseries, he’s now essentially a senior officer with a beautiful wife, healthy baby daughter, friends, yet he still seems all too willing to put it all in jeopardy.

Unless the paranoia that afflicts him turns out to be justified of course. Helo chafes under the criticisms of others in this episode – from Adama, from Tigh, from Robert, from Cottle, from his wife even – but it’s telling that what really sets him off is the idea that he is viewed as just “the guy who married a Cylon”. He spends this story being pigeon-holed, and there comes a point when he can’t take it anymore. Maybe he finds himself in the minority a lot, but that’s because Helo has convictions, and a brain, and he isn’t going to lay either of those things aside when he see’s wrong being perpetrated. The evidence is there and, like a dog with a bone, Helo refuses to easily let go. Part of the episodes strength is that there are times when, as a viewer, you want Helo to just stop being that guy, but in so doing we are forced to evaluate our own conception of the kind of minorities we might hold negative feelings for.

The episode could easily have followed a well-worn sci-fi course of “Group X is warned by Y they need to do Z before it’s too late, they meet resistance, race against time, blah, blah, blah. SG-1 in particular did that kind of thing a lot. The expected beats are all here for a while, and you can imagine a draft that veered off at the halfway point into a narrative where the point was convincing the Sagittarons to get inoculated, and not uncovering a conspiracy. But BSG chooses a different, and much darker, route in the form of Dr Robert.

In truth I feel that Robert is the weakest part of “The Woman King”. There is a potentially very fascinating character there, someone so twisted up by what occurred on New Caprica that they have enough hate in them that they are driven to, well, a form of small-scale genocide. In effect we have something that calls back to the major themes of “Collaborators”: everyone hated the Cylons on New Caprica, and they want justice in the aftermath, With no Cylons around, and collaborators untouchable, Robert turns his hatred on the ones who stood idly by.

The problem I feel is that there isn’t enough preamble for this character. This is the first and only time we will see Robert, so the impact of his reveal at the end of the episode lacked a little something. We never got to see him as part of the Resistance on New Caprica, bandaging up Tigh’s eye for example, so we never got to fully form that connection between what happened there and what is happening in the Galactica hanger bay. Part of me wonders if it wouldn’t have been better for Cottle to be the Doctor in question, since we did see him on New Caprica, and he’s someone we’re very familiar with.

Robert serves adequately as a once-off antagonist, even if there were more daring choices to be made with him. I liked the way things built up and up with his murderous streak, which in combination with the way Helo was treated guaranteed an explosive finale, one that felt fully earned. I would go so far as to say that the finale of “The Woman King” is one of the best for BSG’s once-off episodes just in terms of the raw emotion on display, the catharsis when everything is revealed and the satisfaction we get from seeing Helo finally acknowledged as more than just “the guy married to a Cylon”. Would have been nice to see Robert again I’ll admit though: it isn’t like the Fleet can afford to keep trained Doctor’s locked up, can it?

“The Woman King” is also great in terms of how it showcases the characters who are very much in the wrong, namely Adama and Tigh. In Adama’s case I appreciate getting to see him being wrong, fundamentally so, for the first time in a long time really. Not counting some of his actions in “Hero” really, the last time he was really shown as flat out wrong was as far back as the mutiny in Season Two. Here he’s wrong in a different, but very damaging way. He joins in with the general disdain for the Sagittarons, and facilitates others in their prosecution of that disdain: “hate, and allowing hate” as the Admiral himself puts it later. Moreover, we see an Adama who seems really tired of it all, as he dresses down Helo by bringing up all the other things on his mind, Baltar, Caprica Six, everything. In so doing he temporarily abandons his key responsibilities as one of the guardians of the Fleet. The critical thing is that Adama is man enough to know he has messed up, both in allowing his personal prejudices to cloud his judgement of the larger situation, and in doubting the integrity of his senior officers. He apologises, because that’s the kind of person he is.

Tigh is a bit different of course. He doesn’t like Helo, because he’s married to a Cylon, because he didn’t fight on New Caprica (at least not on the ground; the fact that Helo was a hairs breath from death in orbit doesn’t appear to matter) and he took Tigh’s job as XO for a while. In “The Woman King” every negative opinion he has about Agathon seems to be confirmed: he’s a martyr, he’s incapable of doing the job he’s being asked to do, he’s paranoid and, worst of all, he’s all too happy to denigrate men like Robert, whom Tigh holds in very high esteem. Tigh just plain detests the kind of person that Helo purports to be, to the extent that he’s happy to take a punch just to prove that the Captain has a greater care for what people think of him then he might let on. Unlike the Admiral, Tigh never says sorry when the truth behind Helo’s accusations is made clear: he really does the complete opposite, making it all about him when he tells Robert how much he hates being wrong. His form of apology is to let Helo cart Robert away, which is about all you can expect from Tigh: he isn’t as good a man as Adama, but he has his ways.

All that’s left for “The Woman King” is the time it dedicates to the Baltar/Caprica Six sub-plots, which are limited enough to one scene a piece. We get the alarming sight of Tom Zarek being freaked by the implications of Baltar’s trial, which given his penchant for making the most out of chaotic circumstances should certainly be viewed as a bit alarming. We also get the very welcome return of Head Baltar and all that such a manifestation brings in terms of poignant scenes heavy with emotion. Other than that I would say there really isn’t much there for the sub-plots, with the time dedicated to them something that borders on the pointless: it’s important to keep these larger narratives ticking over I suppose, but they didn’t really add anything that important to “The Woman King”. It remains a Helo episode where they butt in a few times, and I think perhaps the last Helo episode unless I am very much mistaken. The ship’s been righted a bit now after the last two episodes, and long may that continue.

There’s hate, and there’s allowing hate. Two sides of the same coin, really. We’re guilty of both.

Notes

-The title is a bit of a weird one, but is apparently just a quotation from the episode, where Helo refers to Mrs King as “the woman, King”.

-Angeli returns to main writing duties for the first time since “A Measure Of Salvation”. This episode is better.

-The “Previously on…” includes a number of new ADR lines to sum-up the Dogsville situation for us, and for the first time I would say it is very obvious.

-Gotta say, relevant to the size of Galactica, Helo and Athena have some fancy digs. Think only Adama’s quarters are bigger from what we have seen thus far.

-As we’ll see more concretely in future episodes, Galactica now has a functioning daycare.

-Dogsville has been renamed from “Camp Oilslick” in “The Passage”.

-I love that Colonel Tigh is just hovering next to Helo as he welcomes the new batch of civilians, presumably just trying to get on the Captain’s nerves.

-Racetrack’s words of wanting to “break in” a new pilot indicates the military is still recruiting, despite Galactica’s overcrowding.

-Dr Robert is played by Bruce Davison, best known as Senator Kelly in the X-Men franchise, which was a good get for a once-off role.

-The show maybe overeggs this early montage of seemingly everybody in Dogsville coughing to some degree, but I thought it was framed well as being representative of Helo’s perspective. When you know something’s going around, everyone looks sick.

-The count is down two from “Taking A Break From All Your Worries”. It would stand to reason these might be Sagittaron deaths from the illness pre-episode.

-“Mellorak sickness” is made-up for the show, unlike the real-life based plague of “Torn”.

-This meeting scene has some more really obvious ADR as characters have their back to camera, and it’s becoming concerning how much the show is leaning on that technique for exposition lately.

-Zarek’s presence here confirms that he is the Vice-President as agreed near the start of “Collaborators”, and that his approval of the Circle didn’t negate that deal.

-Roslin has it all planned out for Baltar, right down to him being found guilty and being “held responsible”. That doesn’t bode well for a fair judicial process now does it?

-Zarek’s prediction is rather chilling really, with him painting a vision of the Fleet eating itself if Baltar’s trial goes ahead. It’s another version of his “Executioner-in-chief” speech from “Collaborators”, and it works to keep him in the picture.

-Zarek suggests Roslin declare martial law during the trial, which you have to imagine is a ploy by him; he’s never been the type to advocate for such a thing, and took off with Roslin the last time it was done in “Fragged”.

-Mayor Agathon even gets his own danky office where he hears petitions, but his ability to do anything about them seems as unlikely as him being respected by Tigh.

-I’m unsure if the “Soma braid” custom of the Sagittarons has a specific influence. Look around for that stuff online and you’ll be buried in homeopathic shysters pretty quick.

-The interaction between Helo and Mrs King is heartbreaking. There was a nice sub-plot of her realising the system can work in terms of justice.

-Robert isn’t having any of Helo’s initial concerns, responding with a fairly ruthless denunciation of Sagittaron practice: “Willie King’s mother lost Willie King”.

-Joe’s Bar has set up some kind of erstwhile pyramid game, which still does nothing to make you understand how such a game can work.

-Conor has seemingly graduated from kangaroo court member in “Collaborators” to bartender in Joe’s.

-This bar scene features a lot of the main and supporting cast sharing the screen in one moment, that I don’t think is replicated anywhere else in the show’s run really. You have Apollo, Dee, Tyrol, Starbuck, Gaeta, Conor, Racetrack and Helo, and all in a unique relaxed atmosphere.

-Dee’s summation of Sagittaron obstinacy is pretty succinct: ” paranoid, pigheaded, and argumentative”.

-Starbuck’s look when Apollo and Dee get a bit PUA is pretty funny, but does give you that sense of unease that this plot-line just will not die.

-Head Baltar’s back for the first time since “Downloaded”, and I have missed him. We’re going to have to get used to seeing “real” Baltar as a scraggly mess, so this more debonair version is always a welcome sight.

-Caprica’s friend outlines that the reason she’s on Galactica is because she wants to be human, but there’s a trick to that:” You have to think only about yourself”.

-I love that we get some observers of Caprica’s kiss with Head Baltar, who are reasonably left wondering: “What do you think she’s doing now?” Helfer does a great job miming a kiss.

-The Marines, and Helo, are very quick to pull guns on the unhappy crowd, which given what happened in “Resistance” is obviously as bit scary. All it takes is one itchy trigger finger.

-Adama’s response to Helo telling him that Mrs King’s account doesn’t mesh with Robert’s is “Who?”. Helo adds that he’s already told Adama about her. It’s not a great sign.

-Helo does his cause no favours by outright saying that Robert is killing people. If there’s one thing he should learn, it’s to temper his language around people like Adama and Tigh.

-Adama’s summation of what he see’s as Helo’s inadequacy is utterly brutal, calling into question Agathon’s general competency in a way we have rarely seem him do. It’s unfair, and speaks badly of the Admiral.

-Tigh’s addendum to the Adama dressing down is dripping with rancour, as he continues to draw a line between New Caprica veterans and everyone else. He also drops in some casual racism: “You seriously want to stand up for these crazy frakkin’ people?…Mike Robert is a stand-up guy. A Caprican, one of our own.”

-I love Helo countering Tigh’s allusion to Athena: “Unless you’re referring to my wife. Again”. The “Again” is just perfect, serving as a demonstration of Helo’s weariness with this back-and-forth with Tigh, and a warning that the XO is straying close to the line.

-Helo is finally pushed too far, and lashes out at Tigh. It’s a good moment, because I think we need to see that Agathon does have his limits, and isn’t going to be pushed around forever.

-I do love Tigh’s final word though: “You better have the Doc take a look at that hand”.

-Would there be an issue with Athena mixing with the civilians? Is it common knowledge in the Fleet that she’s in the Colonial military?

-Getting Hera involved in the plotline adds a little something, but I’m not sure the episode made the most of it. Helo acquiesces quickly enough to the shot, and there’s no hint that Robert’s hate extends to the half-Cylon girl.

-I love Mrs King’s denunciation of Robert: “I couldn’t believe someone could have that much hate inside of them”.

-I like the argument between Helo and Athena at this point. It feels real, the way Helo over-reacts to Athena’s opening gambit of concern.

-Robert appears to have kept records of his atrocity, which strikes me as strange. Unless we look on it like a serial killer collecting trophies.

-Cottle’s anger at what Helo is doing is sold pretty well, enough that in hindsight you can see the little bit of doubt on the Doctor’s face. Protesting too much we might say.

-I love that Helo pulls a gun when someone knocks on his door in the middle of the night. He’s just that paranoid, but it’s believable.

-Athena warns Helo of the rumours going around the ship regards him and the Sagittarons: “You might actually be listening to them”. It’s odd to hear such distress at Helo’s openness coming from Athena of all people.

-Oh, but Helo goes for the jugular himself in response: “…is it because as long as everyone hates the Sagittarons they’ll forget you’re a Cylon for five minutes?” Athena barks back, understandably furious, but Helo has a point.

-I love Penikott in this moment of furious anger, to a degree we haven’t seen from him before, not even when he found out about the Hera conspiracy in “The Eye Of Jupiter”. There’s a snarl he puts on his face here that really gets across how far he has been pushed.

-Tigh’s “Shut the frak up!” really does come out of left-field, but is a eucatasrophe moment on a par with the Pegasus showing up in “Exodus (Part Two)”.

-Cottle’s regret is as well portrayed by Donnelly Rhodes as his anger earlier. He admits that the “Sagittarons annoy the hell out of me” but that just makes the truth worse.

-Robert is asked if he has forgotten the medical maxim of “Do no harm”. This is one of the cornerstones of bioethics, variations of which appear in early versions of the Hippocratic Oath. It appears to transcend time and space in the world of BSG.

-His last pitch is to Tigh, asking him to remember apparent thoughts he shared once: “Aside from a Cylon, is there anything that you hate more than a Sagittaron?” Tigh bites back: “I’ll tell you what I hate, Mike: Being wrong.”

-Adama sums up the problem on the ship, and with racism generally, in a very succinct and effective manner: “There’s hate, and there’s allowing hate”. In allowing racist attitudes to become normal, Adama has erred.

-In that, he notes “This is my ship.” Just like when Adama felt compelled to apologise to Athena in “Pegasus” for the attempted rape because it happened on a ship he commanded, Adama takes responsibility here.

-A key deleted scene at this point offers a coda to “A Measure Of Salvation”, where Helo admits he killed the Cylon prisoners, and Adama basically tells him to let the matter drop. I think that would have helped both this episode and that one a bit, but I suppose it was just cut for time.

-“The Woman King” gets a pretty happy ending unusual for BSG, with Helo sharing a kiss with his wife and embracing his daughter. I was genuinely surprised with how upbeat it all was.

Overall Verdict: This one has grown on me over the years. Initially I dismissed it as a pit-stop episode meant to fill in space between larger arcs, and one that featured the frequently annoying figure of Helo as a main character. But that’s unfair. Helo’s characterisation here is strong, and the episode builds and builds very nicely from revelation to revelation. It features a really interesting examination of Colonial society and Colonial racism and even if it is a bit of a narrative pit-stop, it’s a well put together narrative driven pit-stop. These sorts of single character-centric episode get a bit rarer as we go on, and I think this is one of the best examples.

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7 Responses to NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Three: “The Woman King”

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