Image courtesy Galactica BBS.com
I’ll begin this review with two questions that I invite comment on below. One: what on earth do you think the phrase The Woman King means as an episode title? And, two, when you first heard the name of this Battlestar Galactica episode, what image came to mind? My answer can be found at the end of this review.
Overall, I liked The Woman King. I thought there were powerful performances, and the storytelling mostly held together, despite a rather odd out-of-character moment on the part of Adama and, more importantly, a frank admission by the Galactica writing crew that they’re no longer able to shoehorn their story into the allotted episode run times.
Previously on Battlestar Galactica, the Galactica crew were forced to house a large number of refugees in one of its holds, and Helo, who is sort of in the doghouse after killing the infected Cylons before they could spread their virus through the Resurrection Ship, and risking the fleet by killing Sharon to send her after her daughter, has been put in charge of managing a frankly unmanageable situation. He— hold on a minute! This wasn’t seen previously on Battlestar Galactica!
These extra scenes, filmed for previous episodes, were actually cut for time. We never saw them take place, and until their appearance in the “Previously on Battlestar Galactica” segment, they weren’t part of the canon. Using them in the “previously” scene strikes me as a significant cheat.
This is not the first time they’ve done this. Starbuck’s lobbying of Adama and Roslyn to go back to Caprica and rescue Anders and his band of guerrilla fighters was treated in the same manner. The difference is, this plot point is still carried by the series. When Adama and Roslyn make the decision to send a rescue team back to Caprica, Starbuck’s lobbying becomes something that happens off screen, and we breeze by it. Bringing it up in the “previously” scene becomes a bonus.
This cheat is more egregious with The Woman King. Significant things have happened to Helo that we’ve not been privy to. The episode itself doesn’t even take the time to explain it as part of the narrative. Showing the scenes in the “previously” segment amounts to the writing crew saying: “yeah, it happened. We filmed it. It’s not our fault you were able to dumpster dive outside our cutting room floor.”
Bad editing, guys. But we’ll set that aside.
It’s instructive comparing The Woman King to The Passage (an episode which, despite author Jane Espenson’s pedigree, is rapidly standing out as the weakest episode of the season for its inability to fit itself in character or narrative to the Galactica canon). Like The Passage, the The Woman King steps away from the political and military machinations of Adama and Roslyn and shows us the impact of three years of flight and dwindling resources are having on the refugees. And the immediate sense I had is that these humans need to find themselves a planet, soon, despite how badly their last attempt to settle went.
With shortages of medicine making themselves felt, not to mention a shortage of space, there is a definite sense that the human race is nearing the breaking point. And, unlike The Passage, the The Woman King makes the situation feel like a crisis that has been developing in the background for weeks, if not months, rather than something that’s gotten shoehorned in. Everybody’s temper is at that short leash level that can only be achieved through constant pressure spread over considerable time. Director Michael Rymer gets this across with tightly-paced scenes that convey the tension and the barely-contained squalor down below, and the actors themselves do a good job of showing this with a scene in the bar so full of sniping, you really have to worry about their future.
But it’s Tahmoh Penikett as Helo who really stands out here. He makes the most of a Helo-centric script and delivers a riveting performance. He has wonderful chemistry with everybody interacts with (especially Grace Park’s Athena Sharon), and he conveys much with just a simple turn of the head. One quiet moment that stood out for me was his facial reaction to Tigh’s dismissive response to the Sagitterons’ culture. There is just a little turn and a twist of his mouth that just says that he wants to say so much but rank prevents him.
And Michael Hogan’s Tigh also contributes to this episode, sparking with Helo and really carrying himself like the ass that we know and (grudgingly) love, capping it off with an acknowledgement that Helo was right all along that unveils the core of decency that still resides in the centre of his character. Cottle also puts in a good performance here, as we see the stress of his position start to take its toll. Again I wonder, how much more can the human race take.
Tom Zarek puts in a good, if short, appearance, warning Roslyn frankly what will happen if Baltar gets his trial. He clearly knows what he’s talking about, although the hurricane might not wait for Baltar’s trial to make its appearance. The human race might not need that excuse.
The picture we get of the various human cultures is also much appreciated, and while it is sometimes difficult to follow along, The Woman King makes it feel like the characteristics and the tensions have always been around the background. It is a critical fleshing out of the civilization, here, even though we only really know four of the twelve colonies: the Sagitterons are the oppressed minorities with some backward ideas, the Geminons are the religious fundamentalists and the Capricans are in charge. We also hear about the Picons who are, I don’t know, the fish people, I guess. One still wonders how the different colonial groups will respond to the different cultures, if and when they finally encounter Earth.
The only false note in this episode comes from, surprisingly, Adama himself. Erin found his dismissal of Helo’s initial allegations to be quite out of character. Helo presents his case very well, acknowledging that even if there was nothing to the Sagitterons’ allegations, it was still creating an unmanageable situation. Erin expected Adama to be more responsive to that. After all, if Adama has a fault, it’s that he listens to his men and women too much. Further, he’s worked with Helo; Helo was Adama’s first officer while Tigh was stuck on New Caprica. He should know enough about Helo to not take Helo’s warnings so lightly.
Yes, Helo may be in the doghouse because of his decision to kill Sharon in order to rescue his daughter, but that’s not enough. The “bonus” scene of Helo telling Adama that he was the one responsible for killing the infected Cylons before the plan to introduce that virus to the other Cylons bore fruit, just doesn’t help, because we have no idea where this goes in the narrative (hopefully not after Adama’s apology as it completely sabotages the emotional impact of that scene).
Still, the episode worked, and manages to stand alone without feeling isolated from the season narrative. It is a good character piece, populated with great performances and tightly directed. It reminds us yet again that the series is packed with great, young actors, who might well be turned into stars because of this.
- I liked the scene between Caprica Six and Athena Sharon (note that Six calls Sharon “eight”), and the return of Six’s own personal Gaius. And I’m waiting for Roslyn (watching Six talk to herself and mime a kiss) to put it all together. Surely she’s seen Baltar act in a similar fashion. And more and more I want Cameron’s suggestion, of real Baltar and Caprica six talking to each other and their hallucinogenic counterparts at the same time.
- Another nice character moment: in the bar scene when Apollo kisses his wife Dee, note the look that Starbuck gives the two. The situation between them may be resolved, but the underlying feelings have not gone away. Kudos to the production crew for giving us this nice little detail.
- One flaw in the credibility of this episode is the civilian doctor, although this has nothing to do with the actor himself (he’s very well played by Bruce Davison) and the script as it relates to the episode itself. However, if a statistically significant number of Sagitterons are dying on his watch (90% compared to 6% of Capricans and 12% of Picons), then why isn’t the number of survivors dropping steadily since the beginning of the third season? Is the number being covered by new babies born? Similarly, of Cottle is losing patients “all the time”, why aren’t we bleeding numbers?
- It is worth noting that, of the twelve colonies, we only really know three planets: the Capricans (those in charge), the Geminons (the religious people) and the Sagitterons (the oppressed, including Dee and Zarek). So, what are the other colonies like, one wonders. For example, the Virgons: are they prudes? Do the Cancons always end their sentences with “eh?”
- I still have no idea what The Woman King means as an episode title (unless it’s after the Sagitteron mother who first alerts Helo of the doctor’s activities — her name is Mrs. King — but that’s still a rather lame way to come to a title). But when I heard that the story was about a group of Sagitterons accusing a civilian doctor of killing his patients, I took up the idea of the Rat King as used in Terry Pratchett’s Maurice and his Amazing Rodents — that we were going to see a creature made up of multiple body parts. But it was not to be, and that’s probably for the best.
- So, what images came to mind when you heard of The Woman King?