It’s hard to hate BSG’s Felix Gaeta, even though he’s become a treasonous little dink. He is, after all, a victim of his own idealism.
His biggest crime (aside from the whole mutiny thing, and all the deaths, injuries and various other possible associated assaults that go with it) is repeating the same mistake over and over – failing to consider the consequences of what happens when he pursues his ideals too blindly. Three times now his inability to think things through, see the situation for all of its multi-faceted greyness and understand how utterly necessary compromise is for human survival, has resulted in this normally competant young officer backing the wrong horse, and by horse I mean nightmare. What’s worse is that these absolute-driven decisions have resulted in escallating degrees of chaos and death.
We saw the first glimmerings of this in season one (and this is merely to set the stage, it’s not one of his big three tragic mistakes) in “Final Cut” where he confides that all he ever wanted was to be an officer aboard a battlestar, and now that he’s there, he doesn’t know what he wants anymore. The first indication of the pattern where he pursues the ideal without thinking it through – without asking what happens on the other side.
But the first true mistake comes during the Rosalin-Baltar election,where Gaeta uncovers the evidence of ballot tampering by Rosalin’s team. Rather than sit down and think things through, rather even than becomming an informed cynic and washing his hands of the entire dirty mess of politics, Gaeta goes rushing to the side of his hero, Baltar, and winds up propping-up his clumsy administration during the year on New Caprica before the Cylons came, and continuing to act as yes-man under the new Cylon regime. On this occasion, he at least had some degree of redemption by feeding information to the resistance. But it doesn’t take away from the fact that he’s exercised poor judgement and is living with the consequences.
During the Cylon occupation (as recently revealed to us in the 2008/2009 webisodes), Gaeta made his second fatal decision. Desperate to do something to get some people away from Cylon persecution, he forged an alliance with an 8, one based not only on subterfuge but on romance. The problem with being wrapped up in his romantic ideal of playing a role in a kind of Schindler’s List scenario, feeding names to the 8 to get the people to safety, was that he didn’t consider she could be playing him, and didn’t bother to follow-up to see if all of them actually escaped. His feelings for the 8 – again rooted in the ideal – certainly helped blind him to what was going on. As bad as propping-up Baltar’s presidency was, this was worse – Felix Gaeta’s own actions led to the deaths of his fellow Colonial humans.
Which brings things to the current blunder – the mutiny. Fuelled by anger over the alliance wth the rebel Cylons; fear of Cylon technology aboard Colonial ships; disappointment at the discovery of a dead “Earth” (I’m still not convinced this is the real Earth); dispair at the thought of a hopeless future of wandering the stars being hounded by Cavil’s Cylons; and depression, frustration, physical pain and possibly madness resulting from the loss of his leg and the circumstances that led to it, Gaeta has now decided that Admiral Adama is no longer fit to command Galactica or lead the Fleet. Assembling a force of discontented crew and civilians (several malcontents among them), he’s sprung Tom Zerek from the brig and led a bloody insurrection. And this time, it’s not just a few colonists on New Caprica who have died as a result of Cylon orders. No, this time his screw-up has risen to a whole new level where Gaeta’s issuing the orders about who to fight and where. In an immediate sense, this has led to dozens, perhaps hundreds of his own shipmates, along with many civilians aboard the battlestar, getting wounded or killed. This is fighting that has seen people like the new deck chief who are just doing their jobs die, as well as idealists like the young crewman who took a bullet to save Adama, and who knows how many others just caught in the middle. If Gaeta had thought it through, he would have been forced to ask himself about how wrong this is. He would have been forced to ask himself how could it possibly be beneficial to deplete and weaken humanity’s already small defence force with infighting. Moreover, this is a move that puts the power of the Fleet into Zerek’s hands and jeopardizes humanity’s existence. Never mind the long-term possibility of Zerek’s tyranny, let’s look at the likelihood of honking-off the rebel Cylons who are sitting on a load of nukes in their basestar at point blank range, who might not take kindly to their alliance being broken or the lives of their Final Four being threatened. That couldn’t lead to disaster, could it? The fighting aboard Galactica has ultimately landed Gaeta in the company of people his ideals normally wouldn’t allow him to associate with. He’s now giving orders to Specialist Gage(who’s taken Gaeta’s station in the CIC), a rapist, torturer and thug of Lieutenant Thorn’s aboard the Pegasus. He’s now taking orders from Tom Zerick, Vice-President of the Colonies, but also a wannabe Stalinist dictator, convicted terrorist and murderer, instigator of riot and assault aboard a prison ship where he was prepared to allow a fellow inmate to rape Cally, and architect of an assasination plot during his election race against Rosalin. And Gaeta is directly responsible for all of this – no excuses. It’s still a case of Gaeta jumping at his ideals without stopping to consider the consequences or other alternatives.
And so Gaeta’s almost a Shakespearean character, eschewing temperance for absolute ideals and righteous indignation and consequently landing on the bad side of fortune.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a total cynic. There are other idealists aboard Galactica/the Fleet who thrive. Lee Adama is one of them. He always strives to make things the way they ought to be, and yet he sees the situations, and the other players, for what they are and knows compromise is sometimes the only way to advance, or to prevent a total loss.
Gaeta’s still basically a good kid, but it’s his inability to be like Apollo and see the world for its greyness and think things through, his inability to learn from mistakes that couldn’t be any clearer as lessons, that has led to tragedy. He’s not worthy of hatred. That’s reserved for real villains like Zerek or Cavil. Gaeta, though worthy of punishment, is to be pitied.