What would happen if the world ended in the future because of mankind’s own hubris? That’s the basic premise of the show. We make the Cylons (robots who can also sometimes be people), and then the sci-fi standard plays out: rebellion, war, temporary truce. However, it eventually ends when they blow up all of our stuff in a Pearl Harbor reenactment X 1,000,000. The only one who saw it coming was Admiral William Adama (Edward James Olmos), which is why his spaceship, the Galactica, survives to fight.
The reboot of Battlestar Galactica expanded the role of Science Fiction television. It’s a show that can be interpreted as political commentary, religious commentary, a psychological study of humanity under both stress and during times of disarming peace, or just a show with awesome spaceships. There are probably brighter men than I who have written dense tomes on the philosophical implications of human/cylon relations. And, if you want a more focused story, just follow the character arc of Felix Gaeta (Alessandro Juliani).
Felix Gaeta was an idealist, despite the fact that he was living in a nightmarish future. He was trusting, enthusiastic and dedicated to the mission. Then, he worked for the new President Gaius Baltar (James Callis), the BSG version of Philippe Pétain (at least it looked that way from the outside). Basically, Baltar allowed the Cylons to occupy the new human settlement as a way of avoiding war. Gaeta secretly works for the resistance against the Cylons while appearing in public to support the occupation. Later, when the occupation is ending, Baltar is offered an opportunity to join the Cylons. Seeing that the man he had formerly idolized has completely morally lapsed, Gaeta almost kills Baltar, but instead gives him a chance to repent by stopping the Cylons from blowing everything up. This was probably a mistake.
Despite having acted as a secret resistance informant, he is then put on trial for working for Baltar, and almost executed (it’s later revealed that he accidentally played a pivotal role in the death of hundreds of civilians). Finally, he snaps, lies to frame Baltar, loses his leg due to a betrayal by another Cylon crewmember, and, upon hearing of an impending alliance with the Cylons, decides that the system he once so devoutly trusted is not worth a damn. He leads a mutiny aboard Galactica while a group of his compatriots leads a coup on the government. That’s the set-up for “Blood on the Scales.”
Throughout the episode it becomes clear that Gaeta has not really thrown away his idealism. He still wants to show everyone that the problem is that they have been deceived, and so he prepares to put the former leaders on trial, trusting in people to do the right thing. He is shocked to find, however, that many of them have already been executed by his conspirators. He spends the episode struggling with the weight of his ideals versus the horrors of reality. Finally, he caves in and gives up, approving the death of Admiral Adama, only to find that his missing leg is now unbearably painful as a sign of his own guilt. When the mutiny begins to fail, he surrenders to avoid more bloodshed. As he is walked to his execution, he tells Baltar that he hopes people will one day understand who he was. Before his death, his leg finally stops hurting.
Gaeta’s end is the death of idealism writ large, but it also carries with it a suggestion that an idealist doesn’t ever truly die. He will never fully give up on the hope that the world will work correctly, even if he’s not part of it. Even when Gaeta gives up on his own mission and decides to let the world burn him, he still believes, somewhere, that everything can still be made right. His leg, however, is a reminder that reality will always fight the ideal, until you leave reality behind. At least he finds his peace, even if he never finds his utopia.
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