277[BSG] Jammer's Review: "Black Market"
- Feb 10, 2006Note: This review contains significant spoilers.
Battlestar Galactica: "Black Market"
When the heads of a black market in the fleet are suspected of killing a
ranking military officer, Lee is assigned to investigate their operation.
Air date: 1/27/2006 (USA)
Written by Mark Verheiden
Directed by James Head
Rating out of 4: **1/2
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"Black Market" is one of those mixed bags I respect for its virtues even
though I can't recommend it because of its missteps. Here's an episode that
tries to deal with something realistic -- a black market -- that would
obviously emerge in any society facing shortages like this one, but at the
same time feels the need to fall back on manipulative emotional-crutch
devices -- like, say, threatened innocent children and a perceptive,
well-intended woman forced into prostitution. (Naturally, the prostitute is
the mother of one of the threatened children, but I'm getting ahead of
The black market emerging in the fleet is becoming more visible and its
leaders more brazen. Roslin wants to institute an economic policy that would
make trading in the black market illegal, and Adama agrees to support it,
but perhaps no one has stopped to consider the implications in light of the
fact half the fleet -- military personnel included -- is using the black
market to get the supplies they need. This brings up the interesting
question of how exactly the economy in the fleet operates considering there
are no means of production beyond, presumably, the most rudimentary needed
for survival. The economic questions Zarek posed in "Colonial Day" could
still benefit from a concrete answer, assuming one is possible.
In the opening teaser, Pegasus' Commander Fisk is abruptly garroted. Adama
puts Lee in charge of finding out who did it and why, and the ensuing
investigation quickly reveals that Fisk was strong-arming the controllers of
the black market in order to turn his own profits.
First of all, I have some major reservations about this surprise "twist."
While I have no doubt the writers thought killing Fisk in the first five
minutes would be unexpected, I don't see it as particularly good drama. Fisk
was a guy who we watched squirm all through the unfolding drama of
"Resurrection Ship." He seemed like a decent guy who wanted to avoid the
internal violence that Cain seemed so capable of. After Cain's death he
became the obvious character link to Pegasus. Now the writers
unceremoniously kill him off, retroactively painting him corrupt. I don't
care for it. Who do we have now linking us to Pegasus?
Lee's investigation starts off police procedural style. The plot is set
against Lee's personal crisis: Here's a man who's imploding. After the
emotional trauma of "Resurrection Ship," there's something different about
Lee; even his father mentions. Jamie Bamber's performance gets the message
across, creating a man who goes about his duties but seems dead inside. In
the early scenes we see him with a woman named Shevon (Claudette Mink), who
has a young daughter. The scene slowly reveals that Shevon is actually a
prostitute whom Lee has a standing arrangement with. Flashbacks reveal a
woman with Lee from before the Cylon holocaust, but the context remains
obscured to us; Lee and the mystery woman were lovers, we assume, and
something happened between them.
Now Lee seems adrift. There's an odd but somehow effective scene where
Dualla confronts Lee, asking if there's something unspoken that's going on
between the two of them. Lee is evasive. Dualla doesn't push. There's a
Lee-Dualla-Billy triangle here somewhere, but the writers have teased it and
been reluctant to play it. This is about as overt as it's been.
Meanwhile, Lee's investigation, even if he does find the suspects, isn't
likely to end promisingly. The scene between Lee and Tigh proves that when
supplies are hard to obtain, that doesn't stop people from obtaining them.
To outlaw the black market would be like outlawing drugs; it may drive the
problem underground, but it doesn't make it go away. There's a good scene of
exposition between Lee and Zarek (who always has clues about the shady
types) leading to my favorite line of wry observation by Zarek: "Did you
really expect some utopian fantasy to rise from the ashes?" You hear a line
like that, and you begin to wonder if Roslin, with her trade policy, is
naively living in that utopia.
Speaking of Roslin, I'd better mention the scene on Colonial One where she
asks Baltar to resign the vice presidency. She does this because of what she
saw in her memories -- Baltar with a Cylon -- in "Epiphanies." Neither
Roslin nor Baltar say exactly what the other knows, but this makes for an
interesting and complex dynamic: Baltar saved Roslin's life, and now Roslin
hopes to bring him down because of what she knows yet cannot prove. When
Baltar refuses to resign, you know instantly that these two are going to
war. And an intriguing war of wits and wills it should be.
Zarek turns Lee on to the Prometheus, the ship running the black market
under an ex-mercenary named Phelan (Bill Duke), a guy who has upped his
brazen activity by killing Fisk and now ordering Lee to convince Adama to
back off, using Shevon and the daughter, both kidnapped, as leverage. The
story paints Phelan as a pragmatist who has crossed one line too many. He
makes a good point when he says, "The fleet needs us. We're the pressure
valve." Yet at the same time he sells children to people with "specific
needs." What I like here is that the show recognizes the need for a black
market in the fleet. Phelan makes some good points, and Bill Duke (he
directed "Deep Cover"; go rent it) approaches the role with a purely
intellectual performance rather than a visceral one. What I don't buy is
Phelan's greedy inflexibility. His pragmatic platitudes don't seem in tune
with his willingness to extend into the evil of dealing children to
Lee's solution is equally pragmatic: He shoots Phelan, and then tells
Phelan's associates that what's done is done, so now let's work something
out. He acknowledges the fleet needs the black market, but there must be
limits, like no trafficking in children. What blunts the suspense of Lee's
solution is the unnecessary very first scene of the episode, which shows Lee
holding a gun on Phelan before jumping back "48 hours earlier." It's a
framing device that wasn't the least bit necessary and gives more away than
it should. I also could've used fewer flashbacks of Lee and the mystery
woman, which become repetitive and pretentious. The emotional payoff, which
is helpfully explained to us by Shevon's armchair psychology while we watch
the flashbacks, is disappointing.
I guess what I'm saying is that the plot involving the black market works
(there's a scene where Roslin has to unhappily accept the black market as a
fact of life, and also as a scene showing Zarek involving himself in the
operation with Phelan now out of the way), but the character aspects are
less certain. Lee's implosion is believable, but Shevon and the woman from
Lee's past both strike me as extraneous. And Fisk's death is an example of
the writers simply throwing a perfectly good supporting player in the trash.
Copyright 2006, Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.
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Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...