One of the most brilliant things about Battlestar Galactica has to be the characters. Every single one of them has some sort of tragic flaw. That flaw ultimately defines them in a very powerful way, forcing them to act in shocking and unexpected ways. There’s one character in particular who, in my experience, gets a lot of hate for his flaws and how he responds to them: Gaius Baltar.
Gaius represents everything people despise about the intellectual elite. He’s the sort of handsome that only comes from never working a day in his life. He knows he’s the smartest guy in the room and has no problem flaunting it. He’s a coward. He’s arrogant to the extreme and get seemingly undo praise for his accomplishments, which only serves to feed his massive ego. He never has to deal with the consequences of his actions. Others pay for his screw ups. People believe, rightly so, that he’s getting away with murder. Worse, he gets the hottest women to sleep with him. He’s the only one who had a threesome! Probably on multiple occasions!!! Hell, he ends up with a HAREM at one point. A goddamn harem.
What I like about Baltar is how his guilt defines him as a man. Imagine with me for a moment what it was like for him, moments before the destruction of the 12 colonies. There he was, with an incredibly beautiful woman. He had everything he wanted. Wealth. Fame. He designed a defense system that was guaranteed to defeat the Cylon threat if they ever showed up again. He had everything that he ever wanted. And in a blink of an eye, everything fell apart. The Cylons used his flaws against him. They used a beautiful woman to win his trust. They used his arrogance, stroking his unbelievably large ego to get the codes for his defense system. They got him to drop his guard, and for that… nearly the entire human race was wiped out.
That event crushed him in ways we cannot possibly imagine. He walked in a daze, fully realizing he was responsible. Sure, he was tricked. But that didn’t matter. He created the defense system. He wasn’t careful. And because of his arrogance, humanity was on the verge of extinction. Worse for him, there was nobody he could turn to for help. Anyone he could talk to would kill him for what happened. He was constantly called on by the survivors to invent new ways to save them.
And his flaws started to manifest again. His arrogance took over. As others grew to trust him, his popularity skyrocketed. After some really powerful events, he became President and had humanity settle down on New Caprica. The Cylons attacked, capturing a good amount of humanity in the process. His hubris trapped him again. He thought his brilliance could keep everyone safe, and he was wrong. Once again, humanity stood at the edge of extinction. He was isolated like never before, because the humans were convinced Baltar was working with the Cylons… that he was a traitor. They never knew he was kept as a prisoner and the Cylons were using him as a figurehead. An order was put before him that the Cylons wanted him to sign, giving authorization to execute hundreds of humans.
He said no, he would not sign.
He was forced, at gunpoint, to sign that document. I cannot imagine what that was like for him. It was like he broke in half, the pressure was too much for him. Two times, he brought humanity to the edge. Two times, he played a role in the deaths of many people (yeah, I know, he also gave Six a nuke that was used to kill thousands… but I never got the sense that troubled him that much). And two times, he was isolated from it all. He had nobody to turn to outside of a voice in his head. But even then, he had nothing.
The Cylons captured him. And dear lord, you could tell he was shattered. At one point, he desperately wanted to be a Cylon so he wouldn’t have to carry around the guilt anymore. That, at least, he would have done something good for his own people rather than being the worst mass murderer in human history. And yes, he was returned to the surviving humans after awhile. You could tell he was changed after that. He wrote books, appealing for the rights of the working man (socialism, yo). He didn’t have any grandiose ideas.
It all came to a head at his trial, when Lee Adama took the stand to defend him. Lee pointed out, correctly, that everyone was always forgiven for the horrible things they do. Everyone but Gaius Baltar. He pointed out that Gaius was a scapegoat for everything that’s gone wrong for humanity. Everyone else is forgiven. Heck, Lee showed that he was horrible too, that he was ready to abandon the humans on New Caprica, yet he wasn’t punished for that.
In the end, Baltar was forgiven for his crimes and found not guilty, though everyone turned their backs on him. It was then that he became a cult leader. He didn’t start a cult. Nope. The cult picked him and dragged him in. And strangely, his arrogance was gone. He was humble, in his own way. He truly believed in some sort of higher power and felt responsible for the people around him. He willingly accepted people’s hatred. Heck, his womanizing ways slowly left him (though after he enjoyed his harem for about a season…. bastard) after awhile until he ended up with the woman he loved: Number Six.
I guess what I liked about Gaius was his flaws. How they isolated him from everyone and how he struggled against it. A lot of times, he ended up on the losing side of things. But that’s okay. One thing that Battlestar Galactica showed was that life’s a daily struggle. It’s okay to lose sometimes. As long as Baltar never quit… that’s what mattered. And he never did.