Note: This review contains significant spoilers.
Battlestar Galactica: "The Oath"
Unwilling to tolerate the alliance with the Cylons, Gaeta and Zarek
stage a mutiny against the existing leadership of the fleet under
Air date: 1/30/2009 (USA)
Written by Mark Verheiden
Directed by John Dahl
Rating out of 4: ***1/2
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"The Oath" is a superb, straightforward action show that's more about
the execution of individual beats of action and character than about
complex storylines or mythology. Suffice it to say that it's a
riveting, pulse-pounding experience that moves its pieces (i.e.,
characters) around with near-ceaseless momentum, where the stakes
couldn't be higher and the drama couldn't be tauter. The overall vibe
I get from "The Oath" -- from its general action beats and nuts-and-
bolts approach to showing who is where and when -- is that it's a top-
notch episode of "24," right down to the title cards that serve as a
ticking clock. It doesn't take place in "real time," but it might as
well have. This episode is a dissection of crisis management,
punctuated by nice vignettes of character.
It also takes a back-to-basics approach to the series. After all the
mythology in season four, "The Oath" is simply about the explosive
uprising on board the Galactica and in the fleet after the weight of
that my-thology has come crashing down. Earth turned out to be an
empty promise, and the Cylon alliance is for many the final straw.
Something's gotta give, and that something appears to be the
Adama/Roslin admini-stration. Gaeta has organized an alarmingly
sizable mutiny (perhaps too quickly and quietly to be believed), and
has coordinated a power grab with Zarek, who is prepared to take
control of the civilian government.
What's perhaps most interesting to consider about this power play is
that neither Adama nor Roslin see it coming -- or indeed even as a
remote possibility. Consider the opening scene, where Roslin, who has
practically moved into Adama's quarters and is not bothering to hide
that fact, tries to offer up nuggets of advice for how Lee might
handle Zarek and the Quorum -- but then she backs off and insists she
is not getting involved in that morass. If she had an inkling of what
was about to go down, you can bet she'd be extremely involved.
Assuming the power grab is ultimately put down, both Roslin and Adama
are going to have a lot of hand-wringing to do: Roslin for stepping
aside and creating the power vacuum that allows this to happen, and
Adama for not having a better sense of the discontent festering under
The Galactica mutiny is all the more scary because it seems to be so
sweeping. It's not just Gaeta and a bunch of nameless marines. There
are notable secondary characters we know -- Racetrack, Seelix,
Skulls -- who are in on this. And that says something about the state
of the fleet. If people who are your friends have bought into this
uprising, what does that mean for the fleet at large? Perhaps that
the whole thing is on the verge of coming apart.
The way the mutiny goes down is simultaneously fascinating and
agonizing. We see how Gaeta has gotten all the pieces in place he
needs in order to move men and weapons where he needs them, all while
keeping Adama and Tigh completely in the dark. He's the one-man line
of communications between CIC and the rest of the ship, and that
allows him to manipulate the game and stage a series of complex ruses
that would otherwise be impossible to sustain (and even here is only
sustainable for so long). Galactica be-comes an exploitable
chessboard, with Gaeta as the gatekeeper. It's frightening how one
man, given his unique position, can mastermind taking over the entire
ship. The episode, in its writing and direction, is expert at showing
how Gaeta's ambitious plan unfolds, and the reasons for why Adama and
Tigh are blind-sided by it.
Ultimately it becomes a race. How long can Gaeta keep this up? Can he
get his men in place before the ruse falls apart? The story generates
great suspense in the way it puts us on edge for Gaeta as well as for
Adama. We of course instinctively root for Adama, but the action also
keeps us invested in the progress of Gaeta's plan.
Meanwhile, the episode is ruthless in its momentum. Violence is
uncorked, marines go marching, and prisoners are seized in successive-
whammy scenes of high adrenaline. The resident Cylons (Caprica Six,
Athena, Hera, Anders) and Helo are rounded up and thrown in a cell.
The hatred and angry words are allowed to boil over, after having
simmered for so long. One touch I liked: Spc. Gage (Mike Dopud), one
of the Pegasus dudes who beat Helo and Tyrol with a bar of soap back
in season two, appears here to grab the Agathon family from their
quarters -- and he makes it clear that bygones are *not* bygones.
Gage's presence as a former Pegasus crewman, as well as Narcho's
(Sebastian Spence), is in deference to poor Chief Laird (Vincent
Gale), who gets a wrench to the head from Zarek, and is the first
victim of the mutiny. (I'd wondered who replaced Tyrol after his
The action is also expert at putting in place the various characters
who, from the lower decks, will be instrumental in resisting the
mutiny. Kara gets a show-stopper of a bitchin' scene where she
rescues Lee without the slightest hesitation in using deadly force,
but while still doing so discriminately. She's so pumped up by the
adrenaline rush (as are we) that she says, "This is the most normal
I've felt in weeks." They slide quietly through the ship attempting
to make sense of the chaos, "Die Hard" style.
Then the marines take CIC by force. Adama's surprise to the mutiny is
telling, but even more compelling is his promise to the
mutineers: "If you do this, there will be no forgiveness, no
amnesty." It begs the question of what the aftermath of this mutiny
(again, assuming it will fail) will look like when so many people
have participated in it.
Adama and Tigh are led out of CIC to the brig. In another of the
episode's bitchin' moments of adrenaline, Adama and Tigh overpower
the marines. I like seeing these old guys in action. This is Adama's
frakking ship, and he's not going to be marched quietly into a cell.
Ultimately, Adama/Tigh meet up with Kara/Lee. And Kara won't hear
anything about taking prisoners. She bluntly tells Adama that it's
shoot to kill here: "They are not your men anymore! They are the
The president, meanwhile, is shocked by these developments back into
action, which leads her to try to get on the air to make a personal
appeal to the entire fleet, and Zarek's coup from displacing the
entire establishment. The only available person with a radio capable
of broadcasting this address: Baltar. There's a nice little exchange
where Baltar and Roslin fence over their roles in creating this mess.
Roslin to Baltar: "I never really believed in your conversion, so I
was counting on your well-honed sense of self-preservation."
Roslin's appeal to the fleet got me thinking about the value of
leadership. She makes her case, and it's a compelling one. People may
be pissed off with the leadership that led them to the dead end that
was Earth, and even more pissed off about having to ally themselves
with the very Cylons that destroyed them. But what, really, is the
alternative? Watching Gaeta's uneasy place in CIC as he tries to take
command of Galactica only drives the point home more. Okay, so you've
staged this mutiny. Assume you can take over the fleet and expel the
Cylons. Then what? What is your brilliant plan from there? Where do
The episode is occasionally canny in its choices of re-establishing
character details: Baltar tries to appeal to Gaeta's better sense.
When that fails he mentions their "little secret," the one sealed
with the stab to his neck with a pen. Here, the information from
the "Face of the Enemy" webisodes comes in handy.
Lee has a moment of playing devil's advocate when he makes a speech
about the fleet's very real inability to put the past behind them. He
rails at Tigh for being a Cylon. It's a valid point when Lee says
that the destruction of humanity has left everyone with very few
options. Still, just once, I'd like to get the sense that people like
Lee actually understand that Tigh is not simply "a Cylon" but an
individual who had absolutely nothing to do with the destruction of
humanity and has fought every day for its cause. Tigh has been
through every bit as much of an ordeal as any Colonial, and then some.
The overall feelings of "The Oath" are summed up with the
(inevitable) ending cliffhanger, as Adama and Tigh get the president
off Galactica before making what they know could be their final
stand. It's well-staged action, great cinematography and editing, and
Bear McCreary's score sells all of it. At its core, it's about these
two lifelong military guys defending their turf against those who
have abandoned them. If need be, they'll go down fighting. To Adama,
Tigh is not a Cylon; Tigh is and always will be Saul Tigh: "It's been
an honor serving with you, my friend."
Copyright 2009, Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
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Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...