Monday, February 26, 2007

BSG Mondays: Season 3, episode 53, "Dirty Hands"

When the producers of Battlestar Galactica said they wanted to examine the life of the civilians in the fleet, I pictured episodes like the one that aired Sunday night, “Dirty Hands.” The episode’s focus was the grunt workers who keep the fleet running by refining fuel, and the voyage into their refinery, basic as it was, was fascinating, shot in a style reminiscent of those famous photos of men constructing skyscrapers and working in mines during the 1930s. One of the things that has prevented Battlestar from taking us into this world in the past is its steadfast resolution to avoid technobabble, something that sunk many an episode of Star Trek. Certainly we wouldn’t buy that these massive spaceships run on gasoline or anything like that, so it’s necessary to come up with a cheat like tillium (the fuel used in the episode), but once you introduce such an element, there’s a temptation to explain how it fits into everything, how it’s processed, how the spaceships fill up and so on. Battlestar got around this by keeping everything deliberately vague, as if we were citizens of the Battlestar world and would already know what was going on, as we might when watching a documentary on how gasoline is made.

The episode, written by Anne Cofell Saunders and Jane Espenson, and directed by Wayne Rose, was also wonkier than usual for the series. "Dirty Hands" introduced the idea of Baltar (James Callis) writing something very similar to Mao Zedong’s "Little Red Book," its title ("My Triumphs, My Mistakes") likewise paralleling Adolf Hitler’s "Mein Kampf" ("My Struggle," of course). The book appears to be a manifesto for a pseudo-communist ideology -- or, at the very least, an instigation to class warfare. Since Baltar has usually been portrayed as a sniveling weakling who takes the easiest possible road in every possible situation, it doesn’t seem likely that the writers are suddenly siding with him. But the introduction of a plotline where the rich (admittedly, through circumstances beyond their control) are keeping the poor underfoot, insisting they work seven-day work weeks while never rising above their station is bold to say the least, even if the episode ended a little too conveniently (more on that later).
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