THE WEST WING is no longer the exclusive home of quality dramatic politics on TV. With "Colonial Day", Ronald D. Moore and his writers have taken the political underpinnings that Joe Straczynski made the purview of science-fiction storytelling in BABYLON 5 and created an SF political thriller for the Twenty-first century.
Taking a page from the original BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, a Quorum of Twelve has been established to represent the twelve colonies and function as a senate to balance the power of President Laura Roslin's executive branch. As steadfast fans of the original series will remember, the Quorum of the Twelve was the ruling body of which the original Baltar was a member before betraying the colonies to the Cylons. Here, Moore and his writers have appropriated a concept from the original series to employ in a fascinating dramatic fashion that creates an episode filled with political maneuvering, under-the-table deal-making, and the ever popular question of "freedom fighter vs. terrorist." Opening the episode with three pundits analyzing the president's aims allows the story to draw parallels between Roslin and her principal political advisor, Wallace Gray, and the Bush administration. Roslin is called a puppet of her right-hand man, who allegedly runs her administration with behind-the-scenes deals and the aim of getting his cronies into the Quorum. With the audience's personal political feelings engaged in this fashion, the script manages to suggest a number of scenarios that parallel real-world politics in order to mislead the viewers into false assumptions. Kudos to writer Carla Robinson for her manipulative storytelling skills.
Along with the appropriation of the Quorum concept, original GALACTICA veteran Richard Hatch returns as terrorist-cum-revolutionary Tom Zarek, whose political machinations form the primary conflict of the story. The one-time GALACTICA good guy turns in a fantastic performance that wonderfully walks the line between sinister villain and charismatic nice guy. The even-handed, three-dimensional characterizations of this series are on full display as Zarek and Roslin duel with words and actions in a political battle that culminates in a plot twist that will fuel some very interesting storylines down the line.
With such strong performances from the guest cast including Hatch and Roberts Wisden as Gray, it's almost too easy to overlook the excellent work of Jamie Bamber as Apollo and Katee Sackoff as Starbuck. The two take a backseat for most of the episode, but the scenes featuring them sparkle with their unquestionable chemistry. The political views of the fighter jocks play an important role in the story as their duty to the security of the Quorum's deliberations and their desire to remain even-handed in their treatment of the volatile Zarek situation collide. Meanwhile, Number Six's manipulation of the arrogant and amorous Dr. Gaius Baltar continues apace with more Cylon-influenced decisions leading the doctor into rather interesting narrative territory. Speaking of Cylon influence, things get complicated for Helo on Cylon-occupied Caprica as he and Boomer prepare to steal a ship and make their escape. An excellent episode has set the stage for the two-part season finale airing next week, and now it's only a matter of time before Moore and his writers start tripping the numerous traps they've set for their audience.