BSG: The Oath

“I could do this all day. Who’s next?”

—Kara “Starbuck” Thrace

“Felix Gaeta. Who would’ve thought?”

—President Laura Roslin

“When this is over, there’s gonna be a reckoning. And live or die, it’s how you act today that’s gonna matter.”

—Admiral William Adama

Semper frakkin’ fi, indeed. What an amazing hour of television. So many chickens come home to roost in the form of a good old-fashioned hell raising, packed from fore to aft with petty comeuppances and epic betrayals, as well as a couple of gloriously dirty gunfights. “The Oath” was also a welcome reminder that nothing that’s happened so far—no decision too great and no grievance too small—has occurred in a vacuum. Everybody’s fair game for a smackdown, and into the breach we go.

First a tally of the traitors, of friends and foes alike, from Gaeta to Racetrack to Seelix and Skulls, to Connor and Narcho and those two hideous, smirking apes from the Pegasus. So many grudges still burning! All of them deeply personal, everything that’s eating its way through these people now coming from inside, straight from the gut. Who needs Cylons when they’re so willing to destroy themselves?

Still, line them up in a row and it makes sense that they would all come down on this side, which is inherently both right and wrong. Even Lee can see the logic behind Zarek’s reasoning, although not how it could happen so suddenly and brutally, and with the explicit participation of so many friends. But wait—they were never friends, were they? We made them friends because we knew their faces, but they were never more than fellow prisoners on this tragic march, victims of circumstance and soldiers of duty, and certainly never family. That was the admiral’s mistake from the start, one that he pledged to rectify in “Unfinished Business” yet managed to keep making, over and over again. If ever a de facto dictator has ruled from the heart, it’s Bill Adama, although it looks like those days might officially have just ended. But the stakes are even higher this time, and the outcome looks that much worse. And the question “What are we fighting for?” is once again lost on the air. He can’t even tell who he’s fighting anymore.

For Gaeta, though, this mutiny is his chance to prove his own worth—to himself and everyone else—and he was Zarek’s choice for all the right reasons. The brilliance of that choice, along with the slow revealing of its many implications, made it doubly horrifying, the fact that as the Great Communicator, Gaeta was both the way in and the way out of CIC, and controlled all points in between. His betrayal is an exercise in calculated manipulation, knowing exactly which buttons to push and when, and it highlights what is at once his greatest gift and fatal flaw: that he’s able to chart and execute a nearly perfect course of action, yet incapable of seeing anything outside that map. When events occur that he couldn’t plan for, he flinches (thus Laird dies, Jaffee dies, and Roslin and Adama will likely live. At least for now.). Zarek is a thug, but he’s also a man of action, however short-sighted; Gaeta is a follower, and the greater journey is simply beyond him. (I’m speculating here, of course, but how can it be otherwise? Do you think that when the Bad Cylons return, Gaeta’s gonna be answering the door? Gaeta? Not in a million years.)

And what a sight, to see the full fury of Admiral Adama finally brought to bear, as he went growling and shooting his way through the halls of his own ship with his XO by his side, two gunslingers reading each other’s minds, making split-second calls in tandem. This is who they are, and that is what they do. It lives in their bones, human and Cylon alike, and regardless of that distinction, they trust this in each other. They both swore that oath, and both of them are willing to die for it. I’m not sure I’ve ever cheered louder than when the Old Man himself cold-cocked that marine and grabbed his weapon, turning on a dime to shoot the other, dumber marine in the chest. And then what does he do? Brings Marine #1 along for the ride, just because he can, and later sets him free for the same reason. The power of the admiral lives in the decency of the man, and I can’t think of another actor who could sell morality the way Edward James Olmos does. Or show the life flooding back into him again with such purpose, kissing goodbye the woman he loves in order to save the only thing he knows.

On morality’s flipside, of course, lives Gaius Baltar, who will survive by his wits and the simple miracle of crossbreeding that somehow managed to turn him into both a weasel and a snake. Not only has he got a supercute new haircut, but yet another new lease on life to go along with it, and one that has him tossing aside his own religious dogma and girly/groupie/sex cult the second the bullets start flying. And the best thing about Baltar is that it’s nearly impossible to tell what his motivation is at any given time, and exactly how much of what he’s saying he ever actually believes. Did he genuinely take to God last season, or was he just trying to whittle down the non-sex time in that cuckoo’s nest? Who knows. The only thing he’s ever said that I bought was “I love living,” back in “The Hub,” and that’s only because he was dying and drugged up at the time. But I loved watching him and Laura come to terms with their collective prophetic failings (“Maybe we’re both frauds, and this is our last chance to atone”), and the fact that they’re both so willing to strip it bare for each other these days (that should’ve sounded less sexual) and go straight for the jugular. And the hubris in imagining that he, of all people, might be the one who could talk Gaeta down from the ledge, and do so by reminding him of the very sins he’s currently trying to repent? What a weasel! And what a snake. Also, have you noticed that he is by far the biggest crier on this show? Damn, the genius of Baltar.

Even more sensational was the return of Starbuck, who was so awesome we need a whole other word for “awesome,” probably something with a lot of tough, spit-making vowel sounds and at least 14 exclamation points. From the minute she let that dish fly at poor, dumb Hot Dog, you knew something else was about to go up in flames, and she did not disappoint. All the girl needs is a mission and a gun, and she remembers her reason for living. She knows who she is when she’s fighting something—and never more so than when she can drag Lee along for the fun—and she understands the rules of this particular game even better than the admiral. There are no hostages, for example, and remember who your enemies are. And who do you want on your side when the next reckoning comes? You want this new kind of awesome, who’s also an old kind of crazy, who’s not afraid to shoot first and doesn’t even care about the questions (which after all is what you drag Lee along for).

Also coming back to life was Madame President herself, mostly out of love but also at least partly out of duty and, I like to think, plain unspoken pride. Let Tom Zarek step into her shoes after all that she’s done? That thug? After she’s led them this far and given up this much? Unpossible! Of course she was always going to go back; she leads now out of habit but also, finally, by choice. Because this is who she is, too, no matter how badly she wanted to lay it aside for good last week, or however stubbornly she denied it to the admiral over their sexy morning coffee. Laura Roslin was never going to just fade away, and it’s possible that Gaeta’s biggest mistake in this whole affair was not getting rid of her first. Silly Gaeta! Beware a woman in love whose own death certificate has already been signed. I am so looking forward to her wrath.

To be continued…