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[BSG] Jammer's Review: "The Woman King"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Note: This review contains significant spoilers. ... Battlestar Galactica: The Woman King Helo finds himself estranged from much of the Galactica crew when
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 20 12:03 PM
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      Note: This review contains significant spoilers.

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      Battlestar Galactica: "The Woman King"

      Helo finds himself estranged from much of the Galactica crew when he embarks
      on a questionable investigation of a civilian doctor he believes is killing
      patients.

      Air date: 2/11/2007 (USA)
      Written by Michael Angeli
      Directed by Michael Rymer

      Rating out of 4: ***

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      -----

      "The Woman King" is perceptive in its portrayal of characters who are lulled
      into a dangerous groupthink based on prejudice. It's also manipulative
      enough that the groupthink's cues were able to lull me along with them -- in
      the absence of hard evidence to their contrary. I began to believe this
      episode was the tale of one character's self-destruction rather than the
      tale of one character trying to overcome adversity and do the right thing.
      Why did I find myself agreeing with the general notion that Helo just needed
      to shut up and do his job?

      I think a big part of it was the fact that this storyline plays like the
      military version of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf." Under his own volition, Helo
      has taken some questionable actions in the recent past that have given him
      the credibility problem that dogs him here. Indeed, that's the most
      interesting aspect of the show: the notion that Helo is facing an uphill
      battle constructed of his own previous doing.

      Helo has been placed in charge of overseeing the settlement facilities for a
      large group of Sagittaron civilian refugees who have been moved to
      Galactica. It's a crappy job (especially after having been the ship's XO
      before Tigh came back), but somebody has to do it, and one implication is
      that Helo has been kicked below decks in part as a punishment for his
      tendency to be on the wrong side of controversy. He's suspected of having
      killed the Cylon prisoners that ruined the plan in "A Measure of Salvation,"
      and in "Rapture" he took it upon himself to send Sharon back into Cylon
      custody, something which could've had disastrous consequences. Then there's
      the very fact he's married to a Cylon, which rankles a certain segment of
      the crew (specifically Tigh).

      At issue are the Sagittarons again, the apparent misfits of the Colonials.
      (Although why they have suddenly been transferred to Galactica is a detail
      this episode doesn't make clear. What happened to the ships they were on? If
      they were lost at New Caprica, where have these people been since?)
      Previously established in "Bastille Day" was the notion that the Sagittarons
      were long subjugated and mistreated by the other 11 colonies.

      The episode explains that part of that stems from their backward religious
      fundamentalism, which goes so far as to prohibit preventative medical care.
      Many of the Colonials resent the Sagittarons for their beliefs, particularly
      now, where a possible outbreak of a disease within this group of Sagittaron
      civilians could put a serious strain on the existing supply of the
      penicillin-like treatment. The civilian doctor in charge, Mike Roberts
      (Bruce Davison, often a wild card as character actors go), has his hands
      full, particularly when a Sagittaron woman named Mrs. King accuses him of
      killing her son. Is this one of those "doctor of death" plots where a crazy
      doc is killing his patients?

      Working both in favor and against the show is the fact that the Sagittarons
      are such an enigma. We know so little about the circumstances surrounding
      their beliefs and the prejudice held against them by the other Colonials
      that we're not sure what to make of scenes where main characters show such
      obvious, unmasked contempt for them. When Tigh and Tyrol and others make no
      mistake that they're sick of the Sagittarons and their backward beliefs, and
      Helo's expression is patient but clearly annoyed, what exactly is the scene
      trying to say about the nature of prejudice? That it has reasons or that
      it's wrong?

      This works in the show's favor because the plot becomes less predictable; it
      takes a while before it's clear whether the story is siding with Helo or
      viewing him as a foolish crusader when he launches an investigation into Dr.
      Roberts' practices. It also works against the story because, well, who *are*
      these Sagittarons and what are we supposed to make of them? If they are so
      stubbornly against medicine and they die as a result -- well, that it's
      their own fault for refusing treatment isn't exactly a prejudicial judgment;
      it's a fact.

      Of course, the question of the Sagittarons having, or not having,
      universally shared views is an issue that the script doesn't fully deal
      with. While it's said that not all Sagittarons hold the same beliefs
      (Dualla, for example, is Sagittaron, and is as frustrated with their
      commonly held beliefs as most), we don't get much insight into the matter --
      although to delve too deep into Colonial subcultures might merely make the
      story impenetrable.

      But I'm rambling about the Sagittarons when this episode is really about
      Helo. For a while it looks like Helo is embarking on a futile and
      politically unwise crusade to expose a crime where there might not be one.
      No one wants to hear about it, and Dr. Roberts appears to be what he says he
      is -- a man trying to treat patients who don't want his help. When his
      patients die, it's plausibly, more or less, chalked up to the fact that they
      didn't get treatment until it was too late. (Does Mrs. King have an ax to
      grind, or is she right about the timeline?)

      Helo's credibility problem has dug him a hole before he even opens the case.
      Adama tells him to drop it. Cottle tells him to stop poking around in the
      medical logs. And Tigh, in the episode's best scene, openly mocks Helo for
      his list of unpopular decisions, one of which is being married to a Cylon.
      Helo punches Tigh right in the face, which he deserves. Even better is
      Tigh's response to being punched: He tells Helo, "Good for you," and then
      walks away with a great mocking line ("Have sickbay take a look at that
      hand"). Colonel Tigh -- I love this tough, crazy, contemptible bastard.

      There's even a scene where Sharon tells Helo to drop it. I liked the
      acknowledgement in the dialog that it's been hard for Sharon to earn
      everyone's trust, that Helo's existence is not merely "the guy who married a
      Cylon," and how everyone is so fed up with the Sagittarons that it's
      essentially allowed them to turn their prejudices on a target other than
      Sharon. These are interesting dynamics that explore some of the issues of
      prejudice and racism. What's more interesting is that the episode's
      structure makes it looks equally possible that Helo is right and about to
      expose a crime, or that he's on an ill-advised mission and about to go down
      in the flames of his self-righteousness.

      Ultimately, the story sides with Helo and it turns out that Roberts was and
      is in fact killing Sagittaron patients with drugs. Roberts' motives fall
      under the usual sick delusions of such people who think they're doing
      everyone else a favor by making the tough decisions on who should live and
      die. That Helo was willing to be, as Adama notes, "the lone voice in the
      wilderness" is a credit to his convictions and a rebuke to everyone else who
      let their hatred of the Sagittarons get in the way. Preachy? Perhaps a
      little at times, and one wonders where all this mess with the Sagittarons
      came from, but the show's points are on target.

      The episode also has two intriguing scenes away from the main story. One
      involves Zarek, who warns Roslin about the consequences of having a trial
      for Baltar. He calls it a potential "hurricane" of civil unrest and
      potentially violent backlash. As Roslin notes, he seems positively
      frightened of the possibilities. I'm relieved to finally see Zarek in the
      role of vice president again, but I couldn't understand (1) why exactly he
      believed Baltar's trial would spark such an extreme reaction from the
      populace, and (2) given that Zarek is Sagittaron, why wasn't he a part of
      the main story as well?

      The other scene involves Caprica Six in a cell, who confesses to Sharon that
      she's not exactly sure why she surrendered herself, given where it has
      landed her. Later she has a conversation with the imaginary Baltar that has
      gone unseen since first established in "Downloaded." The episode finds a
      note of humor where Six talks to herself and kisses thin air while Roslin
      and Tory watch through a one-way mirror. Roslin wonders aloud, "What's she
      doing?"

      I don't know, but if Six is called to testify at Baltar's trial as hinted
      here, this is going to be a two-way mirror of profound guilt.

      -----
      Copyright 2007, Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
      Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.

      Jammer's Reviews - http://www.jammersreviews.com
      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...
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