Friday, August 8, 2008

My First Impressions of Gaius Baltar

Baltar Kitteh is trying to erase the photo. Made by didymos1120 at the SciFi Forums. More BSG LOLCats in this thread.

The first episode of BSG I ever saw was Six Degrees of Separation. I caught it by accident one night - it had a terrible airtime, something like 11:30 PM on Fridays - and I didn't become a rabid fan or anything, but it was an interesting watch. I've tried to go back to what I felt watching it then, and it's rather amusing to compare that to my current knowledge of the character. It's also a case study of what a casual viewer might pick up about Gaius Baltar.

My impressions, as I remember them:
-This guy is the villain. He's obviously guilty and they're about to find out. He's very despicable - lecherous, cowardly and selfish. I like this type of villain a lot more than the cackling evil genius, because he obviously suffers for what he's done.

-He's some kind of mastermind behind these "cylons" (are they robots?) - he knows more about them than the others do, and even seems to share a mental connection with this female cylon. Has he designed the cylons? Does he control them?

-What's this house it keeps cutting to? Is he actually on the spaceship or inside this house? Maybe the house is where he really lives and he's only mentally projecting himself on the spaceship. Or the other way around. No one else has this alternate reality thing going on, so he must be some cylon agent - or the cylon creator - living on the ship and finding out about humans.

-Wait, they let him go? WHY? Clearly he's guilty. He looks like the embodiment of guilt and deceit. How can they not see it? He must have played some mind game on them.

-Eww, he's so lecherous. (The scene where Baltar runs up the stairs, unzipping his fly, and going, "May God's will be done" - I still consider this to be one of the more yucky sex moments for some reason.)

It's interesting that I gave Baltar so much power, even if he spends most of the episode in a state of cowardly panic. Obviously he has no power whatsoever, and HeadSix controls him - but on a first watch, without knowing anything about the show's themes, I saw him as the mastermind with all the power, and Six as some kind of ... love slave for him? I don't even remember what I thought of her. The alternate reality he has going on - which I thought was about where he is, but is really more about who he's with - sets him apart from the other characters and gives him a special dimension. I thought he was on the cylons' side, which is really sort of true, although he's not the criminal mastermind I thought he was - a thought that rather amuses me now. In the third season of the show, the other characters actually see him somewhat that way, especially Laura, who even asks him if he is a cylon.

One thing that strikes me about my initial reaction is how disgusted I was by him. I found him repulsive. It's not just the scene where he unzips his fly, either - throughout the episode, I found him intensely unlikeable, yet fascinating in some way. The nervous ticks and emotional highs and lows make Gaius interesting. If he didn't suffer at all on an emotional level, I think he'd make a very boring standard villain, even if he didn't knowingly collaborate with the cylons. I've always been a sucker for guilt, especially the deserved kind that isn't redeemed by the character becoming a better person. If the baddie expresses any guilt over his actions, no matter how slight, I immediately start liking him a little. You could say that what Baltar experiences in this episode is not guilt, but the panic of being caught; I personally think both are in there, but the latter is definitely stronger - perhaps strong enough to conceal the very real guilt Baltar feels, which would have made me like the character a lot more.

But that's not all. I thought he was ugly, and that's what shocks me the most now. When I began to watch the show from the beginning, I instantly found him likeable and attractive - and I don't find many men attractive. All of the other men on the show leave me cold. It's not that I have such high standards, I'm just gay.

Why did I think he was ugly, then? He had oily hair and a sweaty gray shirt on most of the time, so he wasn't at his best in that episode. But what else was there? I seem to recall something about his lips - this is where the Baltar character happens: arrogance, narsiccism, lechery, cowardice. When you see an interview with James, the same lips signal intellect, humor, kindness and modesty; this must be why I mostly find him more attractive in interviews than on the show. Maybe this also explains why he's not usually toted as one of the hunks of the show, and doesn't have a thousand-page bunny love thread at the Sci Fi forums. There may be some not-conventionally-attractive cues I'm missing, but I dare say that there's something so detestable about Baltar's face that most viewers don't want to feel anything positive for him.

I can say that James did an effective job portraying him in that episode, since I was able to deduce so much about the character. I saw him as someone who stands out from the rest of the characters, and I still see him that way. This episode shows how alone he really is, and how he has no one to turn to in times of need - other than Six and her God, both of whose motives are at best questionable. I don't focus as much on the sexual debauchery and such anymore, knowing about the more intricate details of his life and character, but it's not like he's not debauched, so I read him right there also.

One more amusing memory - I thought Gaeta had more power and a higher status than Baltar. I didn't realize he was the apprentice at all. It must be because he was so composed and calm throughout the episode, as opposed to Baltar's panicky weakness. He does play a major role in the acquittal, so based on this episode alone, he has a pretty central role on the show.

Maybe it's not that surprising that I should have read Baltar as detestable and lecherous. The real question might be why I like him so much and find him so attractive now. I blame James - he gave Baltar a human, relatable edge, a layer of guilt and compassion that I personally find irresistable.

2 comments:

boot-the-grime said...

Hi, I found your blog through the unofficial site forum (I'm Ivana).

"Obviously he has no power whatsoever, and HeadSix controls him - but on a first watch, without knowing anything about the show's themes, I saw him as the mastermind with all the power, and Six as some kind of ... love slave for him?"

I think you were more right than you think. But that's because I never believed that Head Six was real and a completely separate entity, and at the end of season 4.0 I still think of her as a product of his mind more than anything (please note, I am not saying that he is crazy or that HeadSix has no importance in the mystical big scheme of things). Why do I think that? Because Head Six has the personality of a male fantasy, or more specifically, of fantasies, fears and needs of a man like Gaius Baltar. She is like an exaggerated, all-powerful version of Caprica Six as she was in the Miniseries, or rather, of his view of Caprica Six. From the start, she has been fulfilling his needs - whether is was appeasing his consience, stroking his ego, punishing him when he felt guilty, comforting him, offering him an opportunity to give some sense to everything that has happened to him...

"I seem to recall something about his lips - this is where the Baltar character happens: arrogance, narsiccism, lechery, cowardice. When you see an interview with James, the same lips signal intellect, humor, kindness and modesty; this must be why I mostly find him more attractive in interviews than on the show. Maybe this also explains why he's not usually toted as one of the hunks of the show, and doesn't have a thousand-page bunny love thread at the Sci Fi forums. There may be some not-conventionally-attractive cues I'm missing, but I dare say that there's something so detestable about Baltar's face that most viewers don't want to feel anything positive for him."

I find Baltar/James the most attractive guy on the show, conventionally or unconventionally. ;) I don't think the lack of 10000 pages Bunny thread has anything to do with James's looks. His character is, as you said, despicable in many ways, cowardly, and even worse as far as the female fans are concerned, he's lecherous and sleeps around, and many BSG fans believe that he is totally selfish and "he doesn't love anyone but himself". I've seen quite a few female fans on Scifi and other forums say that James is incredibly attractive, but Baltar the character and his sex life are "disgusing". Whereas Lee Adama might sleep with a hooker, but "bunnies" will forgive him, because he's the show's Young Hero and "good guy", and, most importantly, oh, he loves Kara so much, poor sweetie! The "hunk" status is fairly predictable. Same goes for Helo, and of course, Anders - many women will love the guy who sticks by his woman even though she is treating him like her dog. Coz, oh, poor boy, he loves her so much. ;)

"Maybe it's not that surprising that I should have read Baltar as detestable and lecherous. The real question might be why I like him so much and find him so attractive now. I blame James - he gave Baltar a human, relatable edge, a layer of guilt and compassion that I personally find irresistable."

I find it very surprising that I like Baltar as much as I do, and that I find him so attractive even in character... because in real life, I normally don't like men like that at all! It's gotta be the way James plays him.

Deniselle said...

Hi there! And yay, my first commenter! :)

I think it's an interesting theory about Six, and it makes a lot of sense. I tend to think there's a mythical aspect to her, as well as an aspect of being a figment of Baltar's imagination. So I'd agree with what you said. There was some very interesting analysis of HeadSix and HeadBaltar in the Sci Fi forums that I was just reading last night - I'll post more about that when I get my head around it. It's definitely one of my favorite aspects of the show.

I loved your tone about the Lee fans. I myself am not exactly a Bamber Bunny. And don't even get me started on Lee/Kara/Anders/Dualla. But if the fans at least admit that James is attractive, then I am pleased.

I didn't realize people found the sex aspect that troubling. I've always been a bit amused by it myself. It's a part of Baltar's weakness, which is endearing to me. I guess if I were to imagine him as a potential partner, that would be a problem, but I don't think his character really lends itself to that kind of fantasizing anyway. So maybe it makes sense that there are no Baltar Bunnies.

I sometimes feel bizarre liking Baltar as much as I do, but it feels even more bizarre when people say he's totally irredeemable and awful. I empathize with him a lot, even when he brings the trouble upon himself. I think it's mostly James and the warmth he's brought into the character.