Softness and Steel
(A Day in the Life and Dirty Hands Reviewed)


Image courtesy BSG Media.

Just before Taking a Break From All Your Worries, Greg Staples warned me. He said that the next four episodes of Battlestar Galactica pulled back from the Cylon/Human conflict and provided us with episodes that could stand more on their own, as a palliative for occasional viewers to try and get them back into the Galactica fold.

Truthfully, I wasn’t too worried. Yes, The Passage stuck out like a sore thumb, but it was pressed into service in the midst of several plotlines. After the events of Rapture, the show had reached a natural pause point, allowing us to move away and examine the impact of three years of flight on the human population. And certainly, with Sci-Fi Channel making noises of cancelling the series after the thirteen-episode long fourth season (the show is proving to be expensive to build, and it is everything syndication-happy networks tend to hate: a strong serial narrative that demands loyal as opposed to occasional viewing), anything that could toss a bone to those who still needed to catch up, was welcome.

Besides, this is Galactica we’re talking about: quite possibly the best show on television, with the highest calibre of actors, directors and script writers on any show in a long time. Stepping back from the action still meant excellent performances by strong characters. And I enjoyed Taking a Break From All Your Worries, and even The Woman King, although the latter suffers from some out-of-character writing. But what of the remaining two, A Day in the Life and Dirty Hands?

Both, in my opinion, highlighted just how good Galactica could be when it wasn’t shooting down Cylons. And for all my praise of The Woman King, it was misplaced. A Day in the Life is far more character driven, and Edward James Olmos gives a fantastic performance that’s never off key.

In A Day in the Life, it’s Adama’s wedding anniversary, and he’s going into his ritual of remembering his marriage and mourning his wife, even though the marriage ended in failure and acrimony. Director Rod Hardy elevates this beyond your usual flashback episode, integrating Mrs. Adama into the narrative as though she’s a ghost — which, arguably, she is. Caroline haunts her husband, a reminder of how someone who has held humanity together these past three years, still has his achilles heel, his blind spots.

That these are blind spots is not in doubt, from the throwaway line that Caroline could have married Colonel Tigh (suggesting that she was Adama’s Ellen Tigh), to Adama’s reaction to his son throwing the truth about Caroline in his face. Adama has never seemed more human in his refusal to see anything but an idealized version of his wife.

A more concrete depiction of a marriage counterpoints Adama’s memories, as Chief Tyroll and Cally bicker about the balance between work and family, before being forced to face a life-threatening situation as air escapes from a leaky airlock they’ve been sent to fix. Adama’s refusal to sacrifice his crewmembers, to the point of engaging in a risky rescue maneouver, probably speaks to the sort of measures he would have liked to have taken in order to save his own marriage. Would that marital difficulties be this easy to solve.

The challenge of balancing work and family carries over nicely into the next episode, Dirty Hands. And here, while A Day in the Life shows how soft-hearted Adama can be, Dirty Hands shows his steel. Even though it’s Chief Tyroll’s story, Adama provides a pivotal moment. The story also echoes what I liked about The Woman King, showing even more the cracks beginning to show in the human race as the prolonged flight takes its toll.

Chief Tyroll is having his own problems keeping things together as his deck crew copes with increasing maintenance issues, decreasing resources and an extreme shortage of manpower. His crew are chafing over the realization that what they’re doing could be what they’re going to do for the rest of their life. The years ahead seem a dark tunnel of labour with no hope of reward. Tyroll sympathizes with these feelings, but what can he do?

When President Roslyn sends Tyroll over to a tyllium refinery ship to see why productivity has dropped, he finds the same sentiments writ large.

To say it’s a volatile situation is an understatement, and it’s no accident that Baltar is able to stir things up with smuggled-out copies of his Mein Kempf knockoff. But as much as the President and Adama would like to initially deny that there is nothing to be done but sticking it out, Tyroll correctly sees that the situation is simply intolerable and, dusting off the leadership skills he showed as the head of the union of New Caprica, shuts down the refinery and takes up the workers’ demands. (It’s an effective scene of Tyroll showing himself to be a man who’s taken all that he can, and won’t take anymore — although the sudden intrusion of West Virginia coal-mining music was probably a little heavy handed).

Frankly, it’s better Tyroll than Baltar, which we see when Tyroll goes to Baltar’s cell. Tyroll knows Baltar is just out to save his skin (despite James Callis’ wonderful performance, taking on the accent of a rural Aerolon). One wonders, though, why any of the refugees would give Baltar the time of day. The suggestions we have had so far is that the population would jump at the chance to lynch the guy, as the figurehead leader and head collaborator during the Cylon occupation. The fact that the populace seems receptive to Baltar’s words suggests that Roslyn’s communication skills are dire, and she’s certainly taken the wrong approach in dealing with Baltar’s whisper campaign. Tyroll can see that the most dangerous aspects of Baltar’s writing is that he’s right. The people see themselves as increasingly trapped in deplorable conditions, and it’s getting to the point where some people are probably asking themselves if death at the hands of the Cylons wouldn’t be better to an unfulfilled life doing backbreaking labour. So Tyroll has no choice but to move, even as Adama has no choice but to smack him down, hard, in a scene which shows the steel that I alluded to before.

Dan thinks that Adama was bluffing when he threatened to line up Cally and the rest of the deck crew and had them shot. I don’t. Neither does my father, nor Erin. If Tyroll hadn’t backed down, there would have been blood on the floor, and Adama explains why. There is miles of difference between a strike and a mutiny, and with humanity as precariously placed as it is, the command structure must be respected. This isn’t to say that Tyroll’s issues weren’t valid, but he crossed the line from strike to mutiny when he allowed Cally to organize a sympathy strike on the Galactica flight deck. Once Tyroll stepped back from mutiny, then and only then did Adama allow negotiations on the strike.

So, four episodes of quiet(er) character development have come and gone, and we have a better picture of who Adama is, and just how badly the human race is faring in its long march to Earth. These episodes are important, and not just because we’ve given Tyroll and Helo some welcome air time. As the final four episodes of the season line up, we now have a better idea of what the stakes are — we’ve seen it.

We all love such episodes as Exodus and The Eye of Jupiter, but Galactica would not be nearly as good a show if all it served up was just these types of tales. These four character episodes represent the calm before the storm, a chance to take a breath, and go into the finale, ready and eager to be blown away.

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