Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Embodiment of Evil?

Sometimes I have to wonder what show people are watching.

Apparently, this site lists Gaius Baltar as the 21st most evil villain.

In the video, we start off with Alicia Quarles, "EP Entertainment Reporter", saying: "What makes a good TV villain is somebody that embodies pure evil."

Voice-over: "James Callis plays the embodiment of evil known as Gaius Baltar..." ['evil' music playing in the background]

Wait, what? This logic is so off, I don't even know where to start. Because one person - granted, she's probably not the only one, but her opinion isn't canon just because she said so - thinks a good villain is the "embodiment of evil", and because Gaius Baltar is on this list, he must be the embodiment of evil. This is not based on anything on the show, and I don't think she's even talking about Gaius Baltar. I hope she's not.

Gaius is not the embodiment of evil. Kevin Khatchadourian is the embodiment of evil. Hannibal Lecter or Sylar might be too. But Gaius Baltar? Half of his scenes in season one consist of "Gaius feels really, really guilty for unwittingly causing the destruction of mankind, and tries to escape the guilt". Actually, half of his scenes in the entire show are all about that. When I think "embodiment of evil", I think utterly remorseless, cruel, plotting, devoid of feeling, etc. etc. Maybe others have a different definition, but "causing a lot of harm by accident" isn't my idea of evil.

Michael Emerson from Lost describes Gaius, and this time I can agree:

"He's both vulnerable and manipulative at the same time. We're never really sure if we ought to feel sorry for him or if we ought to despise him."
Thank you, Michael. So - embodiment of evil? No. Vulnerable? Yes. The whole ambiguity that he describes here is what, to me, negates the idea that Gaius is evil. If he's completely evil, we're supposed to hate him. How could we ever feel compassion for a completely evil being? If we feel compassion, that must mean that he somehow shows he is worth it. We can relate to him on some level, and that must mean he has some goodness to him.

What baffles me is that they show James being photographed at the Comic Con, but don't actually have an interview with him, not even a soundbite. If they had, maybe he would have said, I don't know, something like this:

"My whole thing about baddies, anyway, or playing somebody who's uh.. morally bankrupt... You know, you always see these people and they're always, in some strange way, very powerful, and this.. he he hee, and you know, manic laughter. I think the reality of someone like that is that... you have to go through a lot of colors in your system or in your soul before you get to be that way. And I don't believe anybody's born bad and I certainly don't think Gaius Baltar is born bad, he's just made a dreadful, dreadful mistake." (Sci Fi interview)

This is why I think evil characters tend to be dull. It might be exciting to see them plot against the goodies, especially if they fail with their plans, but just to see an evil person go about his day is not very interesting. There's no moral conflict, no human edge, it's just some writer's idea of a completely bad person, and that makes it very black and white, very stereotypical. This is one of the things that elevates Battlestar above many other shows - they had the guts to write a character who's very human, very weak, sometimes does despicable things, yet feels bad for doing them. All of this raises questions about what good and evil really are and what makes a villain.

I'll probably write more about the guilt and "evil" of Gaius in the future, but here's a quick rundown of why I don't think he's evil:

Cruelty - I've never seen him be cruel. Well, maybe once, when he almost killed Chief to get an answer out of Boomer. But then he sat on the cell floor looking so guilty that it's hard to believe that he had thought it through. He seemed shocked by the prospect that someone could have died. It doesn't make the act itself less cruel, but it shows he has a conscience that might not let him be cruel in a premeditated way. (I'll admit that he almost never listens to it in beforehand, but even if his conscience might work with a lag, it would surely kick in if he was considering something really evil.)

Evil intentions - When has he ever intended to hurt, kill, or destroy someone else? He's caused a lot of bad things, but none of them were intentional, and he always feels terrible when he realizes his own role in it. He did provide the cylons with the codes for mass destruction - but if Caprica-Six had asked him, "Hey Gaius, wanna give me the codes so I can destroy mankind?", he would never have done it. I'm not going to defend the act of giving away military secrets to anyone, but Caprica-Six was someone Gaius trusted, so you could also argue that he was betrayed to do it. That's certainly the way he chooses to see it. But he didn't sell mankind out for his own benefit, and he didn't evilly cackle as he watched it unfold. And when the cylons asked him to sign that death warrant for 200 people? He flat out refused and only signed it because he was at gunpoint. That's how evil he is.

Hate - He doesn't hate anyone. He doesn't love people either, but there's a huge difference between hate and indifference, or even hate and superiority.

Lack of compassion - sometimes it seems that way, but other times he'll turn around and be very compassionate - in Pegasus with Gina, in He That Believeth in Me with the sick child. He's narcissistic, and by definition, that means you care way more about yourself than about others. But he's not completely without compassion. It's funny that people don't say Starbuck is without compassion, and yet she can torture Leoben and kill him over and over; Laura Roslin can airlock cylons left and right and lie to parents that their baby is dead and she's not seen as lacking compassion. I'm not saying that I think these two characters are completely narcissistic and don't care about other people; my point is that all characters on the show have, at some point, done things like this.

That's one of the things I really like about Battlestar, because no one's perfect and no one's a clear cut hero and villain. It's also the thing that baffles me the most about some viewers, because it really looks like some people try to make it more black and white than it is.

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