pop culture | no politics
Author's Note: Having grown tired of what's currently available on TV I've decided to rewatch some of my all time favorite shows. I'm limiting myself to one episode per week in order to experience the storytelling as it was originally intended, which hopefully will preserve the thrill of having to wait a week to see what happens next. This article covers the Battlestar Galactica episode "Colonial Day", which originally aired on March 18th of 2005.
Previously on Battlestar Galactica: The charismatic former prisoner Tom Zarek expresses his displeasure with the current government. Helo and Robo-Sharon make their way towards Delphi, where they hope to steal a shuttle to escape Cylon-occupied Caprica.
Pacing is so important in storytelling, if you give your audience nothing but intense action it won’t be long until they’re emotionally exhausted and unable to stay engaged. Battlestar Galactica wisely identifies all the different angles that can be taken thanks to the show’s strong world building, and consistently does a good job of mixing up the content it offers. After last week’s intense “The Hand of God”, an episode full of space battles and military strategy, the show runners give us “Colonial Day”, which focuses on the more civilized, but equally dangerous, world of politics.
I’ve spoken before about how effective Battlestar Galactica is at making its fantastical world relatable to our own, a performance on par with both the Star Wars the Alien franchises. While the technology is clearly an upgrade over our own, the ships and vehicles have switches and levers that we instantly recognize. In this episode we see the same thing with the government, which not only celebrates this world’s 4th of July with Colonial Day, but also with the introduction of the Quorum, BSG’s version of the Senate/House/United Nations. These elements are simultaneously familiar and foreign, we have a general understanding of what these things are based on their real world counterparts, yet they feel distinctly Battlestar. There’s a sense of wonder in seeing how they compare to that which exists in our own reality.
The episode opens with Colonial Day on the horizon, which inspires President Laura Roslin, who has been running the government single-handedly since the Cylon attack, to reinstate the Quorum of 12. Each of the twelve colonies gets a seat at the table, and unfortunately for Roslin Tom Zarek is able to use his infulence to win Sagittaron’s spot. This puts her in the uncomfortable position of either acknowledging a spot he legally earned or to remove him by force, which Adama offers to do. Knowing that choosing the latter would likely end her political career she turns Adama down, even though she’s fully-aware of the danger that Zarek brings to the political arena.
Zarek’s presence is immediately felt as his first act on the Quorum is to demand that a Vice President be nominated, citing the need for a succession plan should something unfortunate happen to Roslin. He instantly finds himself a candidate for the position, a reward for favors he’s been doing throughout the fleet while Roslin has been occupied with other matters. Recognizing the threat Zarek poses to both the fleet and her position as Colonial President she asks one of her aides Wallace Gray to be her nominee, hoping to block Zarek from the position.
Tom Zarek is an understandably polarizing figure, and quickly divides the population. Lee and Starbuck find themselves in the middle of a bar fight with some pro-Zarek citizens, and in the confusion a customer’s briefcase spills open revealing a handgun and details on Roslin’s schedule. Suspecting that he’s on a mission to assassinate Roslin they haul him in for questioning, hoping to find a connection between him and Zarek. But somehow the potential assassin ends up dead himself, killing any chance of getting him to point a finger at Zarek.
Roslin begins to panic once she sees how effective Zarek is at speaking, how easily he’s able to turn a spotlight on her shortcomings and play to the masses. In contrast she takes note of how silkily smooth the enigmatic Gaius Baltar is, and fearing that Gray doesn’t possess the swagger necessarily to defeat Zarek’s charisma she decides to cut ties with him. In a powerful scene she dumps him, only to have Gray correctly point out just how much the job has changed her. And perhaps that’s the most authentic part of this episode, Roslin’s decision to end her friend’s political career after recommending him for the job is an accurate portrayal of how politics work here in the real world. Roslin and Adama drive home this fact as they discuss the similarities between politics and war, with the President correctly pointing out that in politics your enemies can kill you more than once.
The gamble pays off for Roslin as Baltar defeats Zarich in the election, with the President herself casting the deciding vote. In the celebration that follows Zarich makes it clear he isn’t done with her, pointing out that the presidential election is just a few months away. While Zarich would appear to be the most dangerous threat, it’s important to remember that just a handful of episodes ago Roslin threw Baltar under the bus, refusing to help him after it appeared he played a role in the Cylon attack. We’ll see if that comes back to haunt her in the future.
The Caprica story has one of its better chapters in “Colonial Day”, mostly because Helo finally figures out that the Sharon accompanying him is a Cylon after seeing another version of her in Delphi. His Sharon murders this other one, saving Helo’s life in the process, but this isn’t enough to prevent him from abandoning her. All she can do is watch him as he runs away from both her and the opportunity to escape from the war torn planet.