SciFi Weekend: A Coup Ended; The Aries Project; A Pregnant Young French Girl; And Summer Glau Left Reeling

The rebellion arc on Battlestar Galactica concluded in Blood On The Scales and primarily seems to have been a diversion to stretch out the final episodes. It did provide closure for the story lines of two characters, Gaeta and Tom Zarek.  Seeing how blood thirsty Zarek was also answered any remaining doubts about whether Zarek should be considered a villain. There are a couple loose ends which may or may not be dealt with in the future. Zarek had the entire Quorum killed, leaving little of a civilian government. This could be resolved with either an end to this body or more likely having another group elected. The more serious question is how the men who carried out Gaeta and Zarek’s orders will be treated. While Gaeta and Zarek were executed, there are still the revolutionaries who killed members of the Quorum, attempted to execute Adama, and otherwise participated in the attempted coup.

While this coup storyline was a distraction from the real mysteries of the final season, the previews did reveal something major. Ellen will be returning from the dead. Her character in flashback seemed to know more than the others about their rebirth, and having Ellen return once again might reveal even more.

Maureen Ryan interviewed Michael Angeli, writer of the episode. Here is a portion of the interview:

Why did Gaeta insist on a “trial” of Adama? Was it because he wanted to hang on to the idea that this coup was a legitimate transfer of power? Was it because he needed to hear Adama to say that Adama was wrong? What was that about?

For whatever else he was (or might’ve been) Gaeta was an idealist and despite his near occasions of peevishness, he was a romantic. He believed in the idea of government, laws, leadership, service, etc. and if you look at his behavior away back on New Caprica, there was a certain nobleness to his intentions. He wanted to do things right, he was an advocate of justice, fairness.

So, it’s not surprising that even with a coup snowballing, he’d want some form of a trial.  But more importantly, Gaeta was conflicted.  He loved Adama and just couldn’t get around to killing him. Gaeta was the romantic; Zarek was the realist. For Gaeta, the “trial,” was a stall. And having Adama admit that he was wrong was really about Gaeta convincing his own intellect that Adama should die – because he, himself admits he’s wrong.

Why did Zarek let Gaeta have that “trial”? Was it the cost of Gaeta’s participation, which Zarek still needed?

Zarek knew Gaeta had the greater support of the mutineers. They were behind Gaeta, not so much Tom Zarek.  What Zarek underestimated was Gaeta’s lack of resolve.  Remember, it was Gaeta who freed Zarek and actually seduced Zarek with the offer of power in the previous episode. When Gaeta impulsively demanded a trial, Zarek knew he had to humor him for the moment.

Zarek had experience in these sorts of things.  He understood that time was of the essence. Coups succeed or fall apart in the first few hours (something Laura also understood, by the way, re: her rallying cry on the base ship), and going toe-to-toe with Gaeta at this early stage could queer the whole deal.

I’m a little unclear on what the Quorum knew and when they knew it. Had they heard Laura’s broadcast from Baltar’s headquarters? Did they know that Gaeta and Zarek had seized control — or were attempting to seize control — of the fleet? Did they know that Adama and Tigh and others were in the custody of the rebels? Did they assemble to hear out Zarek because they thought the coup was non-violent?

Yes, The Quorum was able to hear enough of Laura’s partial transmission as she was escaping and they also heard some of Gaeta’s orders.  Originally, there was a brief scene on Colonial One where Zarek and the Quorom are monitoring the transmissions but there was so much to cover in the episode that it just had to go.

Zarek brought the Quorum with him to Galactica where they would be “safe” and he could keep an eye on them, keep them close. He gives them one last chance to support his presidency by making this “from-the-heart” plea to them; he thinks he can flatter them with praise and, as we know, it doesn’t quite work,does it?

Even if the Quorum had gone along with Zarek, would he have killed them anyway?

Don’t know.  We could ask him, but he’s dead.

Why did the Quorum resist Zarek’s coup, given that their relations with Laura Roslin and William Adama had not been very smooth?

The Zarek/Quorum scene had to be edited for time. What got cut was Zarek informing the Quorom that President Roslin has defected, he’s assumed the presidency and appointed Gaeta to replace Admiral Adama, who is to be tried for treason.  The quorum vocally objects to Zarek making all of these decisions without including them.  But even with this material excised, I think the scene works well.  It’s a little more of a shock when they rebuff Zarek, gives them some cojones before they’re wiped out.

With Battlestar Galactica ending in the near future, there is an attempt to increase interest in its prequel show, Caprica. The pilot will be released on DVD on April 21, over a year before the show will begin on television.

Last week I complained that Life on Mars ran an episode out of order, running a more routine police story as opposed to one dealing with the mystery of why Sam is in the 1970’s. I felt that fans of Lost, which airs prior to Life on Mars, would be more interested in this type of story. Perhaps they have now made the show too much like Lost as they are varying even further from the original BBC series. Suddenly we have the Aries Project, which sounds a little too much like the Dharma Initiative. Having people in the 1970’s who seem to know why Sam has come back to the 70’s (assuming this really is taking place in the 1970’s) could lead the show in a totally different direction.

There’s also the question of whose voice is on the phone. All clues seemed to point to Skelton, but they might also be misleading us and perhaps future developments will suggest something different.

Meanwhile on Lost, the major development was to find that Jin is alive. Presumably the healing powers of the island saved him, perhaps as there is more for him to do. He has also been jumping around through time, even if unconscious. Jin awoke to meet a young and pregnant Rousseau. Perhaps we will see what really happened to drive Rousseau crazy and why she killed the others with her. Meanwhile, in the present, all of the Oceanic Six are again together. Perhaps the news that Jin is alive will get Sun to drop her plans to kill Ben and join them in attempting to return to the island.


Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles will be returning on Friday nights. SciFi Wire reports on a conference call with Josh Friedman, creator and show runner of the show:

It looks like we’ve seen Kyle Reese in the teasers for the rest of the season. How will he reappear?

Friedman: Let’s all just wait and see what that one looks like. This is a whole larger thing. I wish no one could see anything. I wish everyone would just show up. I wish that 10 million people showed up every week and watched the show regardless of what was advertised during the week. That’s just not reality. The reality also is our show is a bit ratings-challenged, or has been, and people want to do things to cut through the noise. I appreciate that, but what that usually translates to for marketing people is spoilers. It’s hard to just tease things and not show anything. That’s a long way of saying it’s good that people know that Kyle Reese is in the episode, but I wish people were surprised that Kyle Reese is in the episode.

Will the season finale be closed-ended just in case you don’t get a pickup, or are you operating on the assumption there will be a third season?

Friedman: Well, I’m always optimistic. I wrote the finale the way that I was planning on writing the finale for a long time. I think there were things that we’ve been building to all season, and you owe the audience that’s been watching the show kind of a logical conclusion to the things that you’ve been building towards. Everyone says, “Well, fans get really upset if a show gets canceled and things are left hanging.” But fans get upset if a show gets canceled. I think fans also get upset when you write a crappy finale. So I think that you have to try to write the best finale you can, providing closure to the stories that you’re telling, but if I tried to kind of sum up every single thing in 43 minutes, it would be a disaster. I think you’d end up with like a clip show. Hopefully it’s going to be something that feels satisfying for people who’ve watched all year and also certainly lets you know where we would be going in a third season.

Summer Glau (Cameron) also held a conference call where she said the script for the show’s season finale “has left her reeling.”

“I just got a hold of our season-finale script, and I am shocked,” she said. “I am not going to give it away, but I’m excited and I’m a little bit sad, but more excited and just really proud of what [series creator] Josh [Friedman] has done.”

Dawkins on Darwin

RD on NatGeo

The National Geographic Channel has a series of videos posted in which Richard Dawkins discusses the work of Charles Darwin:

VIDEO 1: The Importance of Charles Darwin

Richard Dawkins Exclusive Interview: Professor Richard Dawkins explains the importance of Charles Darwin, what evolution means and why the National Geographic Channel should celebrate the bi-centenary of his birth.

VIDEO 2: Richard Dawkins on Fossils & Darwin

Richard Dawkins Exclusive Interview: Professor Richard Dawkins explains the importance of fossils in proving evolution and how whales offer living proof of evolution.

VIDEO 3: Richard Dawkins: Why Darwin Was Right
Richard Dawkins Exclusive Interview: Professor Richard Dawkins explains why Charles Darwin was right and how evolution is true.

VIDEO 4: Richard Dawkins on Creationism

Richard Dawkins Exclusive Interview: Professor Richard Dawkins on creationism, evolution and religion.

VIDEO 5: Richard Dawkins on God & the Universe

Richard Dawkins on the origin of the universe, the future of human evolution, plus, his argument about why God does not exist.

A Defense of Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart is not a particularly popular company on the left, but those who actually work there seem to have a better view of the company. Charles Platt, a former writer for Wired, went undercover as a Wal-Mart employee to get a different view of working life in America than that presented by Barbara Ehrenreich in Nickle and Dimed. He found that many who worked for Wal-Mart were happy with their jobs:

A week later, I found myself in an elite group of 10 successful applicants convening for two (paid) days of training in the same claustrophobic, windowless room. As we introduced ourselves, I discovered that more than half had already worked at other Wal-Marts. Having relocated to this area, they were eager for more of the same.

Why? Gradually the answer became clear. Imagine that you are young and relatively unskilled, lacking academic qualifications. Which would you prefer: standing behind the register at a local gas station, or doing the same thing in the most aggressively successful retailer in the world, where ruthless expansion is a way of life, creating a constant demand for people to fill low-level managerial positions? A future at Wal-Mart may sound a less-than-stellar prospect, but it’s a whole lot better than no future at all.

In addition, despite its huge size, the corporation turned out to have an eerie resemblance to a Silicon Valley startup. There was the same gung-ho spirit, same lack of dogma, same lax dress code, same informality – and same interest in owning a piece of the company. All of my coworkers accepted the offer to buy Wal-Mart stock by setting aside $2 of every paycheck.

They were less enthused about health benefits, which offered minimal coverage during our first six months. The full corporate plan would kick in after that, but seemed to require significant employee contributions. Still, my fellow trainees assured me that health plans at other retail chains were even worse, and since the federal government had raised the limits for Medicaid eligibility, that was an option for people with children. (In the time since my experience at Wal-Mart, the company has improved its health plans significantly.)

Wal-Mart employees saw the potential of corporate advancement as a reason to work there as opposed to doing similar work for a mom and pop store. I wonder how many actually experience such advancement. The real problem is not that Wal-Mart pays so little but that we have so many people who are not qualified for other jobs:

I found myself reaching an inescapable conclusion. Low wages are not a Wal-Mart problem. They are an industry-wide problem, afflicting all unskilled entry-level jobs, and the reason should be obvious.

In our free-enterprise system, employees are valued largely in terms of what they can do. This is why teenagers fresh out of high school often go to vocational training institutes to become auto mechanics or electricians. They understand a basic principle that seems to elude social commentators, politicians and union organizers. If you want better pay, you need to learn skills that are in demand.

The blunt tools of legislation or union power can force a corporation to pay higher wages, but if employees don’t create an equal amount of additional value, there’s no net gain. All other factors remaining equal, the store will have to charge higher prices for its merchandise, and its competitive position will suffer.

This is Economics 101, but no one wants to believe it, because it tells us that a legislative or unionized quick-fix is not going to work in the long term. If you want people to be wealthier, they have to create additional wealth.

To my mind, the real scandal is not that a large corporation doesn’t pay people more. The scandal is that so many people have so little economic value. Despite (or because of) a free public school system, millions of teenagers enter the work force without marketable skills. So why would anyone expect them to be well paid?

In fact, the deal at Wal-Mart is better than at many other employers. The company states that its regular full-time hourly associates in the US average $10.86 per hour, while the mean hourly wage for retail sales associates in department stores generally is $8.67. The federal minimum wage is $6.55 per hour. Also every Wal-Mart employee gets a 10% store discount, while an additional 4% of wages go into profit-sharing and 401(k) plans.

If Platt’s experience is typical, it very well might be true that for many people with limited educations a job at Wal-Mart is one of their best prospects. There is also the possibility that those with limited educations are not in the best position to evaluate different options, especially when most are so poor.

Platt also discussed his article further in a blog post at BoingBoing:

If you haven’t heard of Adam Shepard, this illustrates my point. His remarkable book Scratch Beginnings, now being promoted through, describes how he went through an experience far more gruelling than my brief flirtation with low-paying work. He placed himself in a homeless shelter with $25 in his pocket, found a job as a day laborer, then worked for a moving company, and after 10 months had a pickup truck, an apartment, and $2,500 in savings. His conclusion: People can still make it in the United States if they are willing to live carefully on a budget and work hard.

Somehow that kind of news is never as popular as denunciations of the free market written by professional handwringers such as Barbara Ehrenreich.

Shepard’s example supports Platt’s underlying argument against Barbara Ehrenreich but also strengthens my suspicion that for smarter and harder working individuals there are probably better routes for potential success than a starting job at Wal-Mart. On the other hand Adam Shepard is certainly not typical of the average person taking a job at Wal-Mart. For many this might be their best option.