Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Becoming monsters - the insurgency of New Caprica

This post contains spoilers for the first half of season three of Battlestar Galactica.

When the people of the rag-tag fleet of survivors were conquered by the Cylons and occupied, not everyone complied with Baltar's decision to give up (which I have discussed here). Most people reverted to a sullen acceptance, cooperating only to the minimum extent, but cooperating, some cooperate more willingly (especially the New Caprica Police, NCP), while some few chose the path to direct resistance. Led by the inevitable Colonel Saul Tigh, these guys formed "The Resistance", with the goal of "hurting the Cylons". It can't surprise anyone that the Resistance was heavily comprised of the old Caprica paramilitaries and military personell. When your enemy possesses not only superior numbers and equipment, but also the ability to respawn at any time, the damage you can actually do is rather limited. So, before we can assess what ramifications the insurgency of New Caprica had, we need to analyse its goals first. 
We're coming in peace.

Officially, the goal of the insurgency was to terrorize the Cylon occupation forces to such a degree that they would decide to cut their losses and leave New Caprica. This goal, however, is only paid lipservice to. Even without the knowledge of the Cylon plan to simply nuke the planet in the event of a breakdown of occupation authority, you only need to add one plus one to figure out that this story can't have a happy ending. Therefore, two other objectives come into view. The first one is explictly stated by members of the resistance time and time again: to hurt the Cylons. They know that downloading in a new body isn't exactly a good experience, so they want to force them to live through it as often as they can. The second objective is more sinister: taking revenge on the collaborators, an objective that survives the evacuation of New Caprica and is continued on the Galactica (as discussed here). 
Because it sucks. 
Obviously, the insurgency fails to fulfill its primary goal: the Cylons simply toughen up the security, pull back into save compounds and give much of the everyday policing to two forces equally ill-suited to the task: the Centurions, which may be able to kill efficiently (although they possess the actually depicted fighting capabilities usually displayed in an A-Team-firefight), but lack any meaningful means of communication, and the New Caprica Police, which is universally despised. The insurgency therefore succeeds insofar as the Cylons cannot reach their own objective, which is to control the human population. 

Look in the face of superior human moral.
So, with neither side fulfilling their objectives, it's only a matter of time before things escalate beyond the point of no return, which would be the Cylons deciding to pull the kill switch. Matters are already coming dangerously close to this solution; in fact, had the insurgency succeeded in the assassination attempt of Baltar, it's very likely that the Cylons would have given up on the collaboration government and either exercised brutal military force or settled the matter with nukes entirely. You can count this as a win, of course, and in the black and white world of the insurgency it is because it draws the battle lines more clearly and prepares everything for the final stand of humans vs. Cylons, to go down in one last blaze of glory.
No more Mr. Nice Gaius.

And here we are in the judgment of the insurgency on moral grounds. This is the area which is the most important, not the question of whether or not the insurgency could have succeeded (their real hour of glory during the evacuation, when their plans bear fruit, were more hindered by the terrorist attacks than helped along). And this is why the whole New Caprica segment feels so damn uncomfortable. Ronald D. Moore and David Eick, the creators of the series, have stated explicitly that they intented to make the New Caprica segment eerily reminiscent to the occupation of Iraq by the American army. It may be a distant memory now, but when the show aired between 2003 and 2007, the battle against the insurgency of the Iraqis was daily in the news, and many themes in the show more or less clearly echo the political landscape of the Bush years, which makes it seem outdated in parts (although the Prism scandal and the drone discussion gave new life to it, admittedly).

Say what you will, he had a gift for appearances.
The unique pitch of the show was to set our protagonists in the role of the Iraqi insurgents and the evil Cylons into the role of the American occupation troops. There's Abu Ghraib, which creates an even more determined Saul Tigh, night raids that capture innocents in the crossfire and motivate the survivors to strap bombs to their chest, there's the question about whether or not you're a hero or a coward when you blow yourself up and whether the whole damn thing is justifiable or not. The most important thing, however, is the result: violence begets violence. 

Admittedly, they didn't show off Saul naked, so there's that.
The show never wanders in such dark territory again, despite the overall darker tone of season 4's episodes. The conflict within the human population is a very real one, although we get it in a bit of a muted way due to the fact that there are no collaborating main characters. The Webisodes show clearly how two people take very different routes, both believing that they are doing the right thing in the face of the overwhelming catastrophe of the breakdown of their accustomed lives and beliefs. Is the Cylon occupation in any way an improvement over the year before? No. Is it unbearable? No. The Cylons exercise authority but seem to leave the humans alone most of the time. It's their sheer presence that the insurgency finds untolerable.

Later, not so much.
The circle of violence quickly piles up great human cost. Civilians are caught in the crossfire, the insurgency tightens their ranks and start executing traitors (Tigh even kills Ellen in a display of amoral consequence) and people need to be fanatisized in order to keep faith in the cause. Pragmatic goals are more and more abandonded in favor of keeping the cause alive - as evidenced by putting the weapon cache in the temple to provoke a Cylon reaction and recruit more volunteers, or the serious discussion about bombing a crowded marketplace. Soon, most of the energy and time of the insurgency is committed to purely symbolical acts instead of doing what Tigh gave out as operative condition in the beginning - prepare for Galactica's intervention.

Heartbreaking, but nonetheless egregious.
After the evacuation, the experience of the insurgency creates a strong rift between the humans. The insurgents, having committed despicable acts of terrorism (you can't dub them anything else) and having lived under a sort of dictatorial martial right where the end justify any means, need to create a justification for their actions, especially since it was, in the end, the Galactica and Pegasus that rescued them (which were absent during the whole time of New Caprica). Tigh reverts to drinking heavily and trying to create a class-system, in which the ex-members of the insurgency are at the top. But the people don't revere them, they adore Adama for picking them up. The sacrifices that the insurgents made - Tigh especially, since most other people who made sacrifices are dead - are not talked about because they remind everyone of a time where humanity was at the bottom of a really dark pit. Lucky for the fleet, Tigh is not in charge, but Adama is - had the ex-insurgents any say in the matter, the fleet would look a lot different, and not to the better.


  1. Great essay Stefan, I live BSG. It would be cool to get one on what you thought of the entire series. When do you think it hits it's peak? What did you think of the ending? What character arcs did you like/dislike?

  2. I really think the beauty of these handful of episodes was the fact that you had the protagonists as the suicide bombers doing things you really could not agree with even if you understood why their flawed logic made them do what they were doing.

    Good read, though do you necessarily think the insurgency actually hurt their chances of escape? The fact that they continued to successfully hide weapons cache and had enough "freedom fighters" that had practice to facilitate the ground movements of the escape -- coupled with the explosives to cause chaos in the ground as Galactica came from above.

    You could argue that had they put down their arms and tried to cooperate with the Cylons, there would be no weapons cache or explosives, and you'd have a bunch of marines who hadn't seen action in a year all of a sudden trying to coordinate an escape plan with the superior foe. Not to mention, full cooperation would have probably led to more development on New Caprica, which if the Cylons were in charge of could mean they would have more control over the people when they tried to escape.

    1. The assassinations drew attention and provoked raids after hidden weapons and members. They didn't serve any purpose other than morale, but you might argue that they need the attacks and reprisals to recruit more members. I'm not really sure about that, though.

    2. We got verbal confirmation of that I believe (Can't remember if it was in S3 or in The Resistance web series), but after the attack on the temple one of the members was telling someone that it had solved their recruitment problems. The suicide bomber who targeted the NCP inauguration only agreed since his wife had died on the temple raid. Though I agree that the assassinations drew unneeded attention which made other possible options more difficult.

      I could never figure one thing out -- not sure if there is enough evidence to know for sure, but do you think they hid weapons in the temple because they had a good chance of getting away with it, or do you think they specifically wanted the Cylons to attack the temple so that they could recruit more people to join their cause.

    3. There were at least two suicide bombers we see on screen: Duck's bombing of the ceremony and one on security cam footage where a bomber blows himself up in a factory, but supposedly there were more.

      Regarding the temple, I guess Tigh saw it as a win-win strategy.

      The recruitment "problems" arise only if you actively fight the Cylons. Had they only prepared the evacuation, the military personell would have survived. That's the big difference between Caprica and Iraq: the Colonials don't want the Cylons to leave, they want to leave themselves. There's no need to terrorize them.