TV Article

A Question of Humanity

On ''Battlestar Galactica,'' Roslin has the opportunity to end the Cylon threat forever. Would that be extermination or genocide?

WEAPON OF SELF-DESTRUCTION What did Roslin lose in ordering the mass killing?
Image credit: Battlestar Galactica: Carole Segal
WEAPON OF SELF-DESTRUCTION What did Roslin lose in ordering the mass killing?

''Battlestar Galactica'': The price of survival

Is it perverse of me to be giddy about an episode that comes with a ''mature content'' warning? Of course, this is a show that routinely is full of mature content. After all, one doesn't often come across TV programs that have their characters wrestling with ideas like genocide, does one?

Something really bugged me about the opening of this show. Why, exactly, didn't the team that boarded the dead basestar wear containment gear? They all saw, flying in, that there was something very wrong with that picture: raiders drifting about, the lights off on the basestar. Wouldn't there be a protocol in place for a situation like this, one that would've required some kind of clean suit, like the one Baltar wore when he inspected it? It's a minor thing, I know, and one I'm sure the writers thought of and then discarded so they could preserve the is-or-isn't-Sharon-infected story thread. But it bothered me nevertheless.

There are some episodes where I think that if something ever happened to Doc Cottle, the entire fleet would crumble. He's the very, very crusty glue that keeps them flying. If anyone wanted to truly disable the Colonial fleet, just introduce a toxin that would take Cottle out of the picture. I'm just saying.

There will come a time, I'm sure of it, when Baltar will face a problem he can't talk his way out of. But we've yet to see it. He's like an ego dealer; he finds each person's weakness and learns to exploit it. He figured out how to play Roslin, Adama, Caprica Six, Gaeta, almost everyone he's ever come in contact with. He discovered the part of their egos that needed feeding and fed it. So it was perfect that he figured out D'Anna's weakness: She was jealous of Caprica Six's love. She wants to know more than God's love; she wants man's love. Even if she can't admit it. (By the by, I wonder which part of that scene irked the network's standards-and-practices division to the point where they needed another warning: the torture or the sex. My money is on the sex. Because, at heart, we're still puritans.)

Is genocide ever a valid course of action, even if you commit it with the best of intentions? Does the power of a weapon of mass destruction lie in having it or using it? Should you destroy the Cylon threat if, by doing so, you would also destroy a fundamental part of yourself? I believe Brother Cavil said once, ''We have become what we have beheld.'' Is the moral high ground as valuable as military high ground? While it may help you achieve victory, what will you, in the end, have won? (When newbies ask me why they should bother watching BSG, I tell them that it makes you ask questions that no other series does. No one walks away from CSI pondering eternal moral quandaries about socio-political responsibility.)

The crux of this episode seems to be the very concept of choice and whether or not we can live with the choices we make. Athena is faced, every day, with the consequences of her choice to wear the Colonial uniform. Could she handle being the universe's last living Cylon? Roslin must shoulder the burden of sanctioning the use of biological weapons to destroy the Cylons once and for all. (And Adama will probably sleep better for shuffling the choice directly onto Roslin's plate.) And Helo will have to deal with the fallout from his choice to countermand a direct order from the president. Sure, Adama closed the book on the investigation into his treasonous act, but you have to think that Helo's trustworthiness will be called into question. If your officers escape punishment when they disobey orders they just don't agree with, the effectiveness of the military chain of command takes a direct hit. (I wonder if the sight of Tigh back in uniform in the next-episode teaser gives us some insight into Helo's fate.)

Usually, an episode of Battlestar Galactica leaves the viewer with lots of questions. This time, there is really only one. But it's a doozy: Would you have killed the Cylons?

Originally posted Nov 11, 2006
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