STRIKE! in Battlestar Galactica

One of the common characteristics of an energy narrative is labor inequality. The narrative will discuss poor labor practices, process malfunctions that lead to injury, the resistance that labor unions face, and there is usually some element of insurrection or strike. The Battlestar Galactica episode, Dirty Hands, is a prime example of this type of energy narrative.

The episode starts with the camera focusing on tylium fuel being pumped into a raptor. Shortly after the raptor takes off from Galactica one of the raptor’s engines catches on fire and stops functioning. The pilots are forced to eject from the raptor and the raptor crashes into President Roslin’s office on Colonial One. In the next scene Admiral Adama is helping Roslin move her supplies from her office to another part of Colonial One. Adama says that the raptor lost control because the tylium fuel was contaminated with impurities in it and that it was likely the result of a problem in the refining process. Roslin then mentions that she has been receiving complaints from the tylium refinery ship and Adama mentions that his patience with ship chief, Zeno Fenner, is growing thin:

The refinery used to be the most reliable ship in the fleet and now every day I start with a stack of messages from that chief…complaining about working conditions and deliveries and spare parts and compensation, if you can believe that. We’re on the run for our lives and the guy wants to talk about overtime bonuses. –Laura Roslin (Dirty Hands)

In the following scene Roslin and Adama meet with Fenner. He mentions that his men have been working 18-hour shifts for the last six months. Adama counters with the statement that the fleet only has enough fuel to do one or two FTL jumps if they come into contact with the cylons. Roslin then says to Fenner, “just get the gas flowing and then we’ll talk, I promise you that.” Fenner responds that “it is always later” that his requests are heard: “You know, it’s funny that when the gas flows my phone calls don’t get returned, but the minute there’s a glitch in the fuel supply I’ve got face time with the president and the admiral? Hmm…maybe we should just start having more glitches.” The president then has Fenner arrested for “extortion and interrupting vital services in a time of war.” This scene is yet another example of the idea that fuel is expected to be a certainty. It’s just supposed to be there when we need it.

Adama places Chief Tyrol in charge of the tylium ship. When Tyrol comes aboard the tylium ship his friend and now employee, Cabbott, shows him the dwindling supply of raw tylium ore. Cabbott claims that they will be lucky if they make it out of the star system. Next on the Chief’s tour is the refinery process. Cabbott says that when the operation is up and running it’s “as loud as an A-bomb and about as safe.” The Chief tells Cabbott to fire up the refinery line so he can see how it works but a kid (CHILD LABOR) tells him that the process will not work. Cabbott says that the kid, Milo, is the best grease jockey he has. The Chief asks why the process will not work but Cabbott and Milo refuse to give him an answer. The Chief discovers that the pressure seals for the machinery are missing and that the process will not work without them. Milo answers, “I guess they got lost.”  Cabbott says that once working conditions improve and the president lets Zeno out of jail they will find the pressure seals, but until then the ship is not going anywhere.

The Chief reports to Adama that he cannot find the seals. Adama threatens to put the workers in jail but the Chief urges him not to, considering that this act is nothing compared to the sabotage the workers could have done to the fleet if they wanted to cause any real harm. The Chief makes the case that the workers have not had a day off since the original attack on the colonies and that is “slave labor”. Adama tells him to stop being ridiculous and the Chief responds, “The men and women aboard that ship are stuck there. They can’t leave. They can’t transfer. They have no control over their lives.” Roslin claims that the fleet is filled people working under horrific conditions trying to take care of food and waste and to provide water and so the tylium ship needs to suck it up. The Chief maintains that if the president releases Zeno and begins to work on improving working and living conditions than the strike will end. Roslin answers that extortion is not an acceptable means of protest and demands that the Chief give her a list of the leaders. Chief tells her that Cabott is leading the protest and she has him arrested.

The next scene shows a mentally unstable Cabott scratching at the walls of the cell he shares with Zeno when the Chief comes to check on them. Zeno reveals to the audience that Cabott was held in a cylon detention cell on New Caprica and that he is having a posttraumatic stress reaction to being held in the cell. Zeno asks that they be moved out of the cells and the Chief realizes that the best way to go about this is to tell Adama where the seals are hidden. The Chief uses Cabott’s distress as an interrogation technique to get Zeno to tell him where the seals are. It is unlikely that the Chief wanted to end the strike this way and found it ethical to use Cabott’s PTSD as an opportunity to do so. Rather, it is more likely that he knew that the best way to get Adama to agree to let Cabott out was to get him the location of the seals.

With the seals replaced the Chief restarts the refinery. While he is watching the process he notices all of the children working and discovers that Milo is only eleven. The Chief meets with the president about this problem and while she agrees that it isn’t ideal to have the children working that it is likely that they are doing so under the supervision of their parents who are training them in the process. The Chief then argues that jobs are starting to be inherited and that children should not have to have the same jobs as their parents. The president smiles at this and tells the Chief he has made a good point and then has her assistant make a list of all the people in the fleet who have work experience that would prepare them for working in the refinery. The president tells the Chief to hold a public lottery with the names and to recruit those people to work shifts in the refinery, but of course this means that people without the ideal skill-set are sent to the refinery.

With the new labor force, the refinery is up and running again but the machinery malfunctions. The Chief tries to shut down the line but Zeno warns him that if that happens that the machine will explode and that they must quickly fix the problem while the machine is running. They locate the source of the problem but the Chief is unable to pull out the part that is caught in the machine. One of the new laborers is successful at pulling it out but severely injures his arm in the process. The Chief looks around at the distraught laborers, pulls the switch to stop the refinery and calls for a strike.

The Chief expands the strike to the deckhands on Galactica and is arrested. Adama tells the Chief that his actions are mutiny and that the punishment for that is death. Adama has the Chief’s wife, Cally, arrested and he threatens to shoot her. The Chief calls off the strike and Adama lets both Cally and the Chief go. As Adama opens the Chief’s cell door he tells him to go speak with the president.

While he is talking with the president the Chief suggests that some of the “dirty” jobs be allocated to the high ranking individuals in the fleet to help even the playing field. Roslin agrees. The Chief also asks for a formal training program, which will allow the laborers some time for R and R, but Roslin says that this has to be an area where the union gives ground. The Chief is confused at first because there is no union but Roslin assures him that he is the head of the Colonial Workers Alliance, a union that was on New Caprica, but fell apart after the cylon occupation. The Chief realizes that the president is suggesting that they continue the union and that the Chief head it so that the workers will have more of a voice within the fleet.


When I first watched this episode I was unsure if it was an energy narrative. While tylium is the primary fuel source in the BSG universe and the episode centers around the tylium refinery ship, I thought that the episode was more of a comment about labor in general rather than a specific energy narrative. Though, as I mentioned before, issues surrounding labor are often characteristic of energy narratives, sometimes you can simply replace the energy resource with Coca-Cola or any other product the narrative would still by the same. However, as Roslin mentions in the episode there are plenty of other ships performing hard labor in the fleet. The reason the tylium ship is the focus of the episode is because without it the fleet is stranded, unable to continue to pursue earth and is in danger of being unable to run from the cylons. Fuel is expected to always be there as Zeno mentions when we is speaking with Adama and Roslin. People hunt for food and water; they are corporeal to every person, but fuel is abstract. Therefore when the tylium workers go on strike, the president and admiral are outraged.  This episode is an example of a negative energy narrative. There is a weaker force (the laborers) exploited by a stronger force (high ranking colonial officials) to work to produce energy. It is also a dystopian energy narrative since the fleet is fighting for the survival of the human race after what was essentially the apocalypse. This complicates the narrative because in a time of war not having sufficient fuel to out-maneuver an enemy can endanger the lives of many people. Therefore, is the Chief’s action to declare a strike mutiny in a time of war? Or is the Admiral just acting like the bully in a negative energy narrative? Does the wartime status of a country effect its duty to protect people and the environment? Is it okay for the United States, for example, to use unethical practices to make sure that its military is able to provide fuel for its soldiers on the front lines?


Battlestar Galactica-The Reimagined Series: Punching the schoolyard bully

In the episode “The Hand of God” the Colonial Fleet is down to 5% of its fuel. During a press conference, the audience is made aware that the fleet only has enough tylium to make two additional faster-than-light (FTL) jumps to avoid the cylons. Tylium ore is quite rare so the odds of Galactica stumbling upon it are quite slim. The salvation of the human race depends on the fleet finding a new source of tylium, mine it, refine it and then refuel their ships. One of Galactica’s raptors is lucky enough to find a large source of tylium on a nearby asteroid, however the raptor pilots also notice that the asteroid is “crawling with cylons”: “Only Tylium in 12 light years and we’ve got to kiss it goodbye” (Crashdown-The Hand of God).

Though the cylons are mining the tylium for themselves, Lt. Gaeta remarks that they are also “staking out every waterhole in the desert” hoping to lower the humans chances of survival. The Galactica officers note that if the cylons have occupied this asteroid that they have probably occupied all the nearby tylium sources as well. Commander Adama decides that the Galactica must then take the tylium from the cylons. The crew notes that even if they take the tylium from the cylons that there is nothing to stop the cylons from returning with more ships to take it back, but Adama argues that taking the base will buy the fleet some time. He likens the attack to giving a bully a bloody nose on the school playground: “If you keep running from the schoolyard bully, he keeps on chasing you but the moment you turn around and stop and punch him really hard in a sensitive spot, he’ll think twice about coming back again.”

The crew seeks help from the resident science and Cylon expert, Dr. Gaius Baltar, about how to destroy the cylon base. Starbuck suggests nuking the base but Baltar says that the radiation from the nuclear warhead would render the ore inert and it would then lose its ability to act as fuel. Baltar argues that if they hit the base in the right spot then the radioactive nature of the tylium will cause the base to explode as if they had dropped a nuclear warhead. However, he does not know where that spot is and turns to Head Six for help. She tells him to trust in the god that the Cylons believe in and he will show him where to hit the base. He points randomly at the photograph and tells the crew to hit there.

It turns out the Baltar was correct and with a some help from Starbuck’s crazy battle tactics, Galactica is able to destroy the cylon base and cause the cylons to flee the asteroid. At the end of the episode Head Six and Baltar are talking in his fantasy and she tells him that Galactica’s destruction of the base will allow an ancient prophecy to come to fruition since it will give the humans enough fuel to make it to Kobol where the events the prophecy describes will take place.

This episode has elements of both the positive and negative energy narrative. Like the rest of Battlestar Galactica (BSG), it straddles the line of being a creation myth and a futuristic series. The humans are in their “end of days” and are fulfilling the prophecies of their religion similar to those found in the Christian book of Revelation. God uses his prophet Baltar to tell the humans where to strike the cylons to take their fuel resource. This is a positive energy narrative. God, a stronger force, is aiding a weaker force in producing energy. However, the narrative also involves the humans taking an energy resource from the cylons. Adama expresses the human view of the cylons as bullies. If the cylons are bullies than the humans are within their rights in taking the tylium for themselves. However, even in its first season BSG has illustrated that the cylons may not be devious villains they seem to be and may be beginning to regret their decision to inflict genocide on the human race. If the cylons are not the enemy than this episode is an example of a negative energy narrative.

Battlestar Galactica (1978): Tylium

An Introduction to the series:

There have been three major series in the Battlestar Galactica (BSG) universe. The original series debuted in 1978, followed by a continuing series in 1980 and a reimagined series in 2004. For those of you who do not follow Battlestar Galactica, the series does not take place on Earth. The humans in the series inhabit the Twelve Colonies of Kobol, which are twelve different planets. At the beginning of both original and the reimagined the colonies are attacked and destroyed by the mortal enemy of the humans, a species of artificial life-forms known as Cylons. The series follows the survivors of this attack, which are protected by the military ship, Battlestar Galactica. The goal of the survivors is to outrun the Cylons and eventually settle on a new world. The main fuel source for these ships as they travel through space is “tylium”, which is a substance that is mined and refined into fuel. Remember, there are spoilers in these posts.

Battlestar Galactic (1978) Episode: Saga of the Star World-parts 2 and 3—

These episodes take place immediately after the Cylon attack on the human home worlds. Cdr. Adama gathers as many survivors as he can to protect them. The convoy needs to gather more food and fuel. The stop at a nearby planet, Carillon, where they think they will go undetected by the Cylons.

The convoy makes it to Carillon and everyone travels to the planet’s surface. Carillon seems too good to be true. The planet has more than enough food for the refugees and there is a fully functioning casino for their pleasure. Carillon also has the largest tylium mining facility in the galaxy. Starships use tylium as fuel.

Eventually Adama discovers that the native population of Carillon, the Ovions, mines the tylium on Carillon exclusively for the Cylons in exchange for their continued survival. The casino serves as a distraction for the humans from the incoming Cylons.

Eventually the Battlestar Galactica crew catches on to the plan of the Ovions and Cylons and is able to save themselves. They get into a firefight and the tylium mine is ignited. Tylium is so volatile that the ignited tylium triggers a massive explosion and destroys the planet, taking the pursuing cylons with it.

This episode is an example of a negative energy narrative. It is unclear what the motivations of each side are so the narrative could be structured in one of two forms. First, the stronger force, the Cylons, is threatening a weaker force, the Ovions, with their extinction unless they provide fuel to the Cylons. The Cylons are also manipulating the Ovions to destroy the humans. Second, the Cylons could have promised the humans as a food source for the Ovions (Ovions were seen feeding humans to their larvae in the episode) in exchange for the Ovions providing a fuel source for the Cylons. In this case the Cylons and the Ovions combine to be the stronger force and the humans are the weaker force. The Cylons also know that the humans need fuel in order to continue to flee from them, so they seek to control that resource and lead the humans into a trap.