Ron Moore's relaunch of Battlestar Galactica was critically acclaimed, but that doesn't mean it didn't have a stinker or two during its four-season run. And if there's one episode where everyone agrees that BSG accidentally crapped the bed — even Moore himself — it's season 2's "Black Market," in which BSG tries to become a ‘40s detective noir story. Apollo takes on free enterprise! Also: Space prostitutes!
Our story begins with Lee "Apollo" Adama trying to forget his recent troubles –- specifically, the horror of floating through space, alone, after ejecting from his ship during a recent Cylon fight -– by sleeping with a space prostitute. Her name is Shevon, and Apollo is determined to make this business transaction as creepy as humanly possible; He's hired her because Shevon looks kind of like his dead wife, and is trying to turn it into an actual relationship by staying the night (which Shevon very rightfully charges him extra for). Apollo also tries to give gifts to her daughter Paya.
So two notes: 1) Shevon is the kind of Space Prostitute who keeps her kid in the next room while she does her "work" - awesome! — and 2) Apollo's gift to Paya is the world's creepiest doll, which doesn't even have both eyes attached. "THANK YOU, APOLLO, FOR NAILING MY MOM AND THEN GIVING ME THIS DOLL YOU FOUND IN SOMEBODY'S TRASH BIN," Paya doesn't say before running off to dwell on the unending trauma that is her life.
At any rate, Apollo clearly thinks he's going to "save" Shevon and her daughter even as he hands over his payment for sleeping with her, while Shevon is clearly wondering how much money she can get from him before she has to stab him in his sleep.
But that's just the set-up! The real mystery begins when President Laura Roslin calls for an end to the black market in the fleet –- not a Black Marcket White Market outlet on one of the ships, but an actual black market that has somehow arisen while the entire human race is on the run from killer robots. Recently appointed Pegasus commander Jack Fisk promises he'll get to the bottom of it, only to minutes later prove he's part of the market by sending Vice President Gaius Baltar some cigars and then he gets garroted in his quarters by a dude with piano wire.
The death of one of the commanders of one of the last spaceships carrying the last remnants of the human race is a cause for mild concern — not real concern, apparently, just mild concern –- but Commander William Adama puts his son Apollo in charge of the investigation, without any kind of help or back-up or training or anything.
What happens next is that Battlestar Galactica tries to become a ‘40s detective novel. You'd think everyone being on a spaceship might be problematic, and it is, but the real trouble is that the normally excellent Battlestar Galactica has stakes that are much, much higher than Apollo's goofy little Philip Marlowe role-playing, making this whole "mystery" an enormous waste of everybody's time from the get-go.
Apollo examines the crime scene that is Fisk's quarters (where he wanders around and stares intently like he has any idea what the hell he's doing). He finds a small closet where Fisk has very non-cunningly hidden a box full of gold he's received for black market supplies (with a familiar bracelet in it), as well as some of the cigars he's been sending Balthar. A-ha! A clue! thinks Inspector Apollo.
Apollo tracks Balthar down and accuses him of being part of the black marketl. Balthar does not yell "THERE ARE LESS THAN 50,000 HUMANS ALIVE GO DO SOMETHING USEFUL WITH YOUR TIME" but he does tells Apollo to blow, more or less. So Apollo stops by Commanding Officer Saul Tigh's quarters, since the necklace he found belongs to Tigh's wife, and now Tigh is enjoying fresh fruit and booze. To Tigh's credit, he also does not scream "I AM PARTIALLY IN CHARGE OF KEEPING THE LAST 50,000 HUMANS ALIVE SO I CAN EAT FRUIT IF I GODDAMNED WANT TO" but he does make a point that black markets always crop up in these kind of situations, they're inevitable, oh, and by the way, YOU, APOLLO, USED THE BLACK MARKET TOO WHEN YOU GOT ANTIBIOTICS FOR YOUR SPACE PROSTITUTE'S SICK DAUGHTER PAPAYA.
Yes, even Apollo has already used the black market! Why didn't he simply ask the guy who sold him the medicine where the black market was? Why didn't he bring this up with his dad, and say "Hey, maybe the Black Market is just a necessary evil of our horrible situation?" or even look at himself in the mirror and think "Hey, since I used it, maybe I shouldn't be a self-righteous prick to everyone else who's using the black market?"
Luckily, Apollo is prevented from examining his hypocracy when he gets an emergency call from Space Prostitute. He runs over –- which means he gets in a ship and flies over, since they're on different ships and all, where he's instantly choked by the dude with a piano wire and told to back off by Phelan, who is the head of the black market and for all intents and basically a low-rent Michael Clarke Duncan as Kingpin from the Daredevil movie. Apollo blacks out.
When Apollo awakes, Space Prostitute and Paella are missing, the dude who was strangling Apollo is dead, piano wire in his hand, with a bullet in his head. Space Councilman Tom Zarek wanders in to give a bit of exposition. He tells Apollo about Prometheus, the ship in which the black market is headquartered and which is "off the grid", that Phelan took Space Prostitute and her daughter there, and that Phelan gave him Fisk's killer so Apollo could close the case and "walk away" ignoring the fact that THIS IS NOT HOW MURDER INVESTIGATIONS WORK. CORPSES OF SUSPECTS MYSTERIOUSLY GETTING DROPPED OFF DOES NOT "SOLVE" THE CASE. IT JUST ADDS MORE MURDERS TO IT.
Anyways, Apollo flies to Prometheus, the ship that is somehow getting all the stolen supplies that the rest of the fleet –- which is remarkably crowded despite the fact everyone is pretending it doesn't exist. Even though it's one of the ships carrying the last 50,000 remaining humans on board. But the Prometheus has to be commended for staying hidden despite the fact THERE ARE KILLER ROBOTS TRYING TO WIPE OUT ALL HUMANITY. Would letting the rest of the fleet know they exist be helpful in an event of a Cylon attack? Yes, but it would also interfere with those sweet, sweet blackmarket profits!
And here's where the episode really gets absurd, because the first thing Apollo finds in Prometheus is a crate full of children, including Playa, to be sold in the black market. OH, COME ON. First of all, there are at least 12 children in there –- how many pedophiles could possibly be in the remaining 50,000 living humans? Second of all, really? No one notices a dozen fucking kids going missing? Okay, I have no doubt some food and cigars would disappear, and maybe even a box of antibiotics or two without a major investigation. But the disappearance of 12 whole kids, when there are less than 50,000 humans remaining? You're telling me people just shrug their shoulders and say oh well? I think not.
Apollo confronts Phelan, where he learns that his Space Prostitute set him up ("I had to!" she cries, although this is because Phelan forced her to or because Apollo was being completely skeevy is unknown). Phelan gives yet another big speech about the importance of the black market, how it helps those in need, how it's the pressure valve, yadda yadda. When Apollo asks about the Kiddie Room, Phelan says that some of his clients have other needs, as if selling contraband cigars and human trafficking just naturally go hand-in-hand.
Apollo, again showing absolutely no understanding of how the law or a criminal investigation works, shoots Phelan, and tells his lieutenants they can operate the black market, just no children. And then everything is… okay? Somehow? President Roslin is only mildly perturbed to find out that Apollo has disobeyed her direct order to destroy the black market, and even Shevron and Payayayaya have a happy ending when they tell Apollo to leave because he is too damn creepy. Then Apollo and his dad have a drink, which was probably bought on the black market. And suddenly, the Cylons and their plan to eradicate all of humanity seems a bit more justified.
What Did We Learn?
• If you hire a prostitute and she's keeping her kid in the next room, seriously, consider yourself getting another prostitute instead.
• Buying toys for the child of the prostitute you're employing isn't nice or cute, it's outrageously sad on about 100 goddamned levels.
• Murdering people apparently solves most if not all criminal investigations in the BSG universe.
• Even if there are less than 50,000 humans alive –- less than the undergraduate of a single major university -– people are going to be constant shits to their fellow survivors, to the point of stealing food from the hungry and medicine from babies.
• Even if there are less than 50,000 humans alive, no one will bother looking for a missing box of antibiotics or 12 missing human children. These will be treated like socks that mysteriously vanish in the laundry.
• Even if there are less than 50,000 humans alive, and you have a dry erase board with the exact number of living people on it, it will be impossible to know which ships they're on or even how many ships are in your fleet, which is, again, contains THE LAST GODDAMN HUMANS IN THE UNIVERSE. Somehow.
• I can't remember where the Galactica and the other ships picked up their civilian population, but it had a disturbingly high number of pedophiles, apparently.
• You can't buy dolls with two eyes in the Black Market of the future, apparently.