In Breakdown we have a great opportunity to make some sense of Olag Gan, a gentle giant who is prone to terrible violence. A man who, in Space Fall and Cygnus Alpha, is one of the more able members of the crew.
But by Breakdown he is barely expected to be able to cope with even the most simple tasks; in the episodes leading to Breakdown Avon’s barbs seem genuine – he believes Gan to be an oaf and a liability.
In Breakdown we have the most often-cited examples of Gan’s hatred of women and while there is no hard evidence for this on screen – as opposed to vague inferences of Terry Nation’s true intentions – there’s plenty to suggest there’s something awful in Gan’s true nature, having suffered the titular breakdown due to a fault with his ‘Limiter’ – a device implanted in his brain that prevents him from acting violently.
While Gan attacks Blake, Avon and Vila it’s the specifics of his interactions with Jenna and Cally that are a cause for concern. After he incapacitates the former he is seen dragging her, by her leg, across the flightdeck. Where? For what purpose? Later, when Cally tends to him, Gan pretends to sleep, observes her covertly and then snarls at her turned back.
Perhaps most disturbingly, having manipulated Cally into freeing him and as he strangles her, he smiles and nods calmly – as if to confirm her worst fears that he is going to kill her. It’s a creepy moment from David Jackson, who has made Gan into perhaps the warmest member of the crew. No wonder Cally is so shocked, so horrified.
There’s a vital, unanswered question in Breakdown. Does the malfunctioning Limiter send Gan mad? Or does it stop working, allowing his natural, brutish instincts to come to the fore? A comment from Blake – “the Limiter didn’t even slow him down” – implies the latter. Regrettably neither the episode, nor the series, go any further with this troubling storyline.
Gan’s condition and potential death do evoke some interesting reactions from the rest of the crew, however.
Perhaps surprisingly Avon is all for pulling out the stops to save Gan’s life – but Avon has other reasons for wanting to make the journey to space station XK72. Vila, a clear friend of Gan’s, is equally reluctant.
The thief does enjoy some rare heroics however, first by working out Kayn’s plan to delay the Liberator at XK72, then by confronting him. Blake, says Vila, has “a conscience. He might not be prepared to kill you.” He looks serious.
So too Avon, but Kayn looks unimpressed by threats from both. Not so Blake’s chilling warning that if the surgeon does not repair the Limiter within 20 minutes he will “destroy [his] hands”.
Kayn is prepared to call the bluff of Avon and Vila. But, like Servalan, he is not prepared to risk it against Blake.
Blake’s superpower – and what makes him so convincing as a resistance fighter – is his ability to identify the weaknesses of opponents and in convincing enemies and allies alike of his complete sincerity.
The women are more protective of Gan – and Cally’s role as the mystic / warrior / healer is further cemented in her concern at the big man being restrained. Meanwhile Jenna acidly rebuffs Renor’s clumsy advances.
“Do you believe in love at first sight, Jenna?” asks Renor. “Not yet,” she replies. Jenna may be less worldly than Blake or Avon – but she’s less gauche than Cally.
We also see how news of Blake has spread throughout the Federation, with reactions both positive and negative from Renor and Kayn respectively. “The Blake?” asks the former.
Frustrated at another blunder into mortal danger, and while the crew fret over Gan, Avon has scoped out XK72 as a potential bolthole. Vila admits he stays with Blake because he has nowhere else to go. That has previously been the case for Avon too, but here he chooses Blake over his own personal freedom.
For his part, Blake seems neither surprised nor concerned that Avon is ready to leave. Perhaps – as he has previously implied – he simply cannot believe Avon will not leave him. There is a bond between the two men, but it’s not clear if Avon knows it.
“You know what to do,” says Blake, ordering Avon to take the controls of the Liberator. With a brief look of realisation, Avon demonstrates that he understands what compliance signifies. Darrow plays it perfectly.
The events of Breakdown have brought Blake and Avon even closer to one another. With XK72’s destruction – another example of the causal destruction interacting with Blake brings – Avon’s window of opportunity for ever decoupling from Blake narrows further.