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 "Valley of Darkness", which originally aired on July 29th of 2005.
Previously on Battlestar Galactica: President Laura Roslin remains imprisoned, with most of the fleet unaware that she’s battling terminal cancer. With Commander Adama still recovering from an assassination attempt the Galactica remains under the charge of Saul Tigh.
The first two episodes of Battlestar Galactica’s sophomore season have seen the show deliver a three-pronged narrative, juggling events within the Colonial fleet, on the planet Kobol, and on Cylon-occupied Caprica. “Fragged” sees the show temporarily trim one of those story branches, and the result is a more focused episode that uses the extra screen time available to wrap up one of these dangling threads.
For the first time the Kobol story becomes the A-plot, and the writers skillfully explore the character of the Raptor 3 survivors that are physically and emotionally drained. It’s been obvious that Crashdown has been in over his head from the moment the doomed flight landed on Kobol. We saw hints of his dwindling sanity in the previous episode, but the death of Socinus appears to have broken him, perhaps the knowledge of his own role in what is now two deaths is simply too heavy of a burden for him to carry.
Chief Tyrol is obviously a better strategist than Crashdown, but the chain of command is clear and he must default to the lieutenant’s awful decisions. Noting that the Cylons have assembled a missile launcher that will shoot down the inevitable rescue team from the Galactica, Crashdown makes one of his rare good calls by ordering an attack on the launcher. In a painful sequence we see Crashdown lay out his plan to his under qualified team, which includes a man that has never fired a gun in his life and a trio of maintenance workers. Not exactly a squad that can go toe-to-toe with a team of Cylon Centurions.
Crashdown describes his strategy in a method ripped straight out of officer academy training, which is watched with growing panic by Chief Tyrol. At this point everyone knows that following Crashdown is suicide, but outside of the civilian Baltar they’re all conditioned to respect the chain of command. When the Vice President boldly questions Crashdown’s strategy Tyrol tells him to shut up, despite the fact that he knows Baltar is right.
Crashdown’s plan is clearly awful, calling for Callie to distract the Cylons while he and Seelix assault the launcher’s control panel. This is essentially a death sentence for Callie and she knows it, and when the time comes to execute her orders she can’t bring herself to do so. Tyrol points out that the Cylons have left the launcher’s radar dish undefended and that attacking it would be a far better strategy, but the overwhelmed Crashdown refuses to listen to logic. Callie’s continued refusal to follow his lead eventually inspires Crashdown to pull his pistol on her, demanding that she perform. Soon Tyrol has his gun on Crashdown, but it’s Gaius Baltar who finds the courage to pull the trigger, shooting Crashdown in the back. Justified or not, Baltar has now added murder to his checkered resume.
The gunshot draws the Cylons but Tyrol leads the remaining survivors towards the dish, and thanks to some heroic cover fire from Baltar manages to destroy it. Both Tyrol and Seelix are wounded in the crossfire, but just when it looks like they’ve met their end a Raptor flown by Apollo appears and saves the day. Baltar allows Crashdown to retain his honor as he tells Lee Adama that the lieutenant died leading the charge against the Cylons, an admirable act by the man that ended his life.
While it didn’t get a ton of screen time overall, the Kobol storyline ended up delivering a powerful emotional impact. For most of season one Crashdown was a forgettable character, barely distinguishable from the background filler people that populate the halls of the Galactica. But the slow crumbling of his sanity was handled with such grace that it proved to be an effective metaphor for the state of humanity on the show. As I mentioned in my review of the season two premiere “Scattered”, Crashdown was simply a man thrust into a position he never should have held because of the Cylons’ attack on the human race. While his poor leadership was unacceptable, he simply wasn’t capable of providing a higher quality of command, and while Chief Tyrol did his best to advise the lieutenant he couldn’t escape the shadow of Crashdown’s stubbornness. A stubbornness that not only got two men under his command killed, but ultimately claimed Crashdown’s life as well.
The events on the Galactica also relate to the chain of command, as well as the fallout from suffering under questionable leadership. While inexperience and an inability to listen doomed Crashdown, Colonel Saul Tigh is handicapped by alcoholism and his wife's poor advice. The continued absence of his best friend William Adama drives Tigh to look for answers at the bottom of his flask, which of course only leads him to make progressively worse decisions. The crew of the Galactica is aware that Tigh is drinking on the job, but just like on Kobol everyone is shackled to the military chain of command.
The Quorum of Twelve demands to see President Roslin, a request that Tigh initially refuses to grant. Tigh is unaware that Roslin is experiencing Chamalla withdrawals and that she is babbling incoherently in the brig, a fact that is brought to his attention by the ever-interfering Ellen Tigh. This inspires Tigh to let the Quorum visit Roslin in her cell, as he trusts his wife and believes that them seeing Roslin acting crazy will be the end of her political career. Unfortunately for Saul Roslin has gotten her hands on some more Chamalla, and when the Quorum visits she’s perfectly lucid. Roslin finally makes her terminal cancer diagnosis public, and all Tigh can do is storm out of the brig. Perhaps the most-painful moment of the episode comes when Tigh visits Adama and tells him that he’s screwed everything up, right before he makes his biggest mistake yet by declaring martial law over the fleet. Adama is going to have a hell of a mess waiting for him whenever he wakes up from his coma.
“Fragged” is the first episode of Battlestar Galactica to not visit the planet Caprica, as well as the first one not to feature the enigmatic Starbuck. But while the Fleet storyline might not have delivered as strong of a punch as it usually does, the events on Kobol more than make up for what the the Galactica events lacked.