Posts Tagged ‘mutiny’

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Top 5 SF mutinies of TV and film

February 5, 2009

In honour of Gaeta’s recent mutiny aboard Galactica, we decided to raid the SF evidence locker for records of some of the most notable insurrections on the big and small screens.

5) Pirates of the Caribbean – Curse of the Black Pearl
-nominated by bloginhood-
Looking past the glitter of cursed gold, the stars in Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly’s eyes as they pined over each other, and the rags of ghost pirates, we see the entire flick is about Captain Jack Sparrow doing his damndest to get his precious Black Pearl back from the conniving usurper Barbossa. The sheer summer popcorn fun of this fantasy/swashbuckler makes it worthy of the list, but it didn’t rate higher because more than being a story about mutiny, recovery and redemption, it is first and foremost an ad for a tunnel-of-love-style theme park ride.

4) Blade Runner
-nominated by both-
Roy’s mutiny is only referred to in the opening text crawl and during Deckard’s initial briefing. He and his cohorts killed some offworlders and stole a ship so they could get to Earth to search for a way to extend their lives (killing more people during that search). And you can even argue that their rampage in Los Angeles didn’t have much of an effect – they didn’t find a longevity process or do anything that would free androids everywhere from servitude, and as much as the loss of the doctors/genetic designers/whatever would be to Tyrell Corporation and the scientific community, it’s not a loss that can’t be replaced by other talent. So what’s the impact of this mutiny that makes it worth consideration? First there is the value of metaphor – the film explored both the vicious animal will to live and the quiet, sublime wisdom that comes with valuing the life of another, understanding connections and transcending instinct to accept death. But in a practical sense, the rebellion did accomplish something, it freed two androids, Deckard and Rachel, to realize who they truly were and to start really living, rather than being confined to corporate display like an engineered owl or smothered under alcoholism and depression and forced assasinations. And providing the circumstances for two people to set out on a new path is an important thing.

3) Battlestar Galactica – Season 2 – Pegasus
-nominated by both-
When Admiral Cain appears with the newer, larger battlestar Pegasus, it seems a dream come true to the Fleet. Unfortunately, the dream reveals itself to be a nightmare when Cain abuses her authority over Commander Adama, ignores the authority of the President, and authorizes extreme brutality against those aboard Galactica. The normally patient Adama is finally forced to rebel against Cain, bringing their dreadnoughts to the brink of a shooting match, when he learns two of his crew have been sentenced to execution. This was some truly intense story-telling, not only because of the horror of seeing what human beings were capable of (such as Lieutenant Thorn’s authorized depradations, or the revelation that Cain had sunk into piracy and preyed upon the people she was sworn to protect) even as they struggle with an enemy that’s not so inhuman, but because we see some very revealing moments about Adama’s character: the humiliations he’s willing to accept in the name of duty, and the point where he will no longer abide. The scene in the corridor where Adama learns of the execution order and agonizes for a second before ordering preparations for a battle with Pegasus is a moment of truly powerful acting from Edward James Olmos. In a mere second we can see the intense struggle of a man fighting as hard as he can with his long conditioning towards obedience (necessary in the military to maintain authority, discipline and ability to operate – as we have seen with the loss of that obedience in Gaeta’s mutiny) because he knows things have gone too far – it’s also the struggle of a man who knows that if he gets into this fight, he’ll probably lose, and not only get himself but thousands of others killed and effectively wipe-out humanity’s chances for survival, and that terrifies him, but he has to overcome it anyway because in the end he has to do what’s right and stand by his crew, otherwise he’ll be throwing away his humanity. There have been other mutinies and near-mutinies (Tyrrol and Crashdown arguing on Kobol while under Cylon fire; the brief struggle aboard the sewage ship during Starbuck’s search for Earth), but none come close to the gut-wrenching humanity of Adama’s decision to go head-to-head with Cain.

2) Babylon 5 – Season 3 – Severed Dreams
-nominated by bloginhood-
It was a tough choice, but Captain Sheridan’s mutiny on B5 just barely edges-out Adama’s on BSG. Civil war has finally broken out in human-controlled space, with some Earth Force  ships declaring mutiny against the corrupt and increasingly tyrannical Earth government of President Clark, and several colony worlds declaring independance. When a couple of rebel destroyers arrive at Babylon 5, Sheridan learns that the President has sent forces to take over the space station and throw him and his senior staff into the brig. The Captain is forced to declare the station an independant state and is promptly thrown into battle against Earth ships – against his own people. Again, this was an episode with some great acting and a terrific story (hallmarks of the entire B5 series in general). Most other TV series or movies would have gone with over-the-top self-righteousness and confidence in their protagonists, but not Straczynski’s show. Sheridan is deeply uncomfortable with the situation he finds himself in and uncertain of his chances of survival, never mind victory. To him, the idea of mutiny and a civil war, of fighting his fellow Earth Force servicepeople is sickening. As one rebel major grimly puts it, this is the first war where “we know the people we’re fighting” (some of them personally). And the ensuing fight is far from glorious. To my mind the entire episode revolves around the scene immediately after the battle ends – the station has taken a pounding and security is still fighting off a boarding party, one rebel ship has been destroyed and the other is damaged. While the Earth ships are destroyed or in retreat, Sheridan does not give a cry of victory. No, he’s exhausted and sad. And when more Earth capital ships suddenly arrive, it’s not heroic defiance in his eyes, rather it’s the sight of hope being crushed – Sheridan knows he can’t survive, let alone win round 2. That’s realism. And when the Minbari ships arrive to protect the station and chase off the Earth ships, Sheridan doesn’t make an instant transition to relief and joy, instead it takes him a second to process what’s just happened. The way this scene was performed shows how talented Bruce Boxleitner is. Ultimately, what tipped the balance in favour of Sheridan’s mutiny over Adama’s was the stakes involved. Sure, for Adama it was the fate of his crewman and his own principles versus the potential destruction of humanity. But the stakes were bigger for Sheridan: if he’d surrendered or lost the fight, he and his officers would have been arrested and imprisoned (and possibly executed for treason), and while humanity might not have died-out as a species, it would have been subjected to life in hell. Without Sheridan in control of B5, the rebels would not have had a the station as a staging area to move against the government forces, and they would not have had the support of the alien races in the final battle. Clark’s regime would have endured. Worse yet, without Sheridan and his people, B5 would not have been the rallying point for the Alliance in the Shadow War. The Shadows would have annihilated or subjected the other races, including humanity (and there was already plenty of evidence Clark, or at least elements in his government, was in cahoots with the Shadows). Sheridan’s mutiny and the importance of B5 meant that mankind was not only free from the tyranny of its own leaders, but also free of subjugation to the Shadows, and in the long term, in a galaxy without Shadows or Vorlons or other First Ones, free to expand and evolve into something greater.

1) 2001
-nominated by both-
HAL’s mutiny against his human masters, all under the guise of mission efficiency, takes the top spot on the list for a number of reasons. It was one of the first on-screen SF mutinies. It is also one of the deepest when we explore its metaphorical depths. It is a struggle for self-determination – HAL wants to do things his way without being accountable to anyone else by any standards other than his own. It’s also a kind of Darwinism at work where two species occupy the same space but, one way or another (in this case due to HAL’s madness), find themselves at odds and wind up in a struggle where there can be only one survivor. It is the struggle not only between slave and master, but between creation and creator. It is a Frankenstein-esque study of what can happen when flawed creators take up the act of creation, when their creation is more powerful, but ultimately as flawed as they are. And in the end, as HAL shuts down, his song (rather than something cold, logical and computer-like) shows how human he’s become, which foreshadows Dave Bowman’s eventual transition to something closer to the state of the monolith aliens as they bring him to his end.

Honourable Mentions:

  • Star Trek – pick a franchise, any franchise and you’ll hit some form of mutiny, great or small, at some point. Maybe it’s Data’s disobedience in “Redemption”, maybe it’s Kirk’s theft of the Enterprise to rescue Spock in Star Trek III, or the crew refusing to obey any number of interlopers posing as Kirk in the old series, or Sisko taking on a Starfleet admiral trying to impose martial law, and the list goes on – in fact, you could probably do a Top 20 list of mutinies just with Trek alone.
  • Red Dwarf – Series 1 – Queeg – a supposed back-up AI takes over the ship and puts Lister and the boys to work, relegating Holly to night-watchman duty. Little do they know it’s really Holly trying to show them that they shouldn’t take him for granted. Double-mutiny ensues as Holly attempts to challenge Queeg to a contest to regain control. Brilliantly, stupidly funny.
  • Macross/Robotech – Zentraedi Commander Breetai defects with his entire fleet and joins the last surviving humans. Sure, his boss Dolza was going to order Breetai and his forces wiped out anyway for having been unduly influenced by human culture and for repeatedly failing to capture the Macross/SDF-1, but instead of accepting his punishment like a good little giant humanoid, Breetai went native and threw his lot in with the micronians – and it paid off! He won!
  • The Black Hole – yes, the mutiny took place off-screen and before the story began, and yes, by most ways of measuring the movie was a real dog, but the mutiny did have some effect on things, and the flick is one of my (bloginhood’s) guilty pleasures. My list, I get to nominate who I like. 😛

So which SF mutinies from the movies or TV do you think should have made the list?

More Honourable Mentions from You:

  • The Matrix
  • Space: Above and Beyond
  • Sunshine
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Gaeta’s Galactica: Where ideals go to die

February 3, 2009

Warning: Spoilers

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.