Rating: ****

Written by: Michael Taylor
Directed By: Michael Nankin

Way back in the first season there was an episode entitled, simply, “Water”. It was the story of Sharon “Boomer” Valerii’s horrifying discovery that she was a Cylon.   My review began thusly:

Imagine that you wake up and find yourself in a place you don’t recognize. You have no idea where you are, how you got there, or how long you’ve been out. That would be pretty frightening, wouldn’t it?

Now imagine that you wake up in a place you do recognize. You still don’t have any idea how you got there, but you quickly discover that you’re all wet, and you find an explosive device in your nearby duffle bag, and you have no idea how it got there. Now add in that your people are facing an alien enemy that has made itself so much like your own kind that anybody you know could be one of them – even without their being aware of it.

This is the living nightmare into which Lieutenant Sharon “Boomer” Valerii emerged in the opening act of “Water.” It was a spellbinding character episode that takes the question of how well any of us really know ourselves or what we might be capable of and plugs it into a situation in which finding the answer to that question is both absolutely critical and equally terrifying as well.

One of the ironies, in hindsight, was that Boomer’s lover was, of course, Galen Tyrol, who almost compulsively did everything he could to protect her – and, unwittingly, her secret identity – from suspicion of having planted the explosives the ruptured the Galactica’s water reservoirs. Now we have to wonder if that was part of his own deeply buried Cylon programming.

But even if he hadn’t been a Cylon, and as hard as he took it when Sharon’s “Cylonness” was discovered, his emotional plight was decidedly secondary to the horror of her own living nightmare.

“The Ties That Bind” turns the tables and flips them upside down at the same time. Here Tyrol is the Cylon who already knows what he is, but is, so far, managing to live with it. Only he’s not alone, as he has his three sibling models – Tigh, Tory, and Anders – to help him protect their mutual secret.

It is Cally – poor, little Cally – who slowly makes the horrifying discovery of what her husband is, what her son, Nicholas, must therefore be, and what that means for her own future.

Mrs. Tyrol isn’t exactly enjoying life as it is. The Chief has always been a workaholic, a fact she lamented at length (and for good reason – which would become bitterly ironic before the hour was up) in last season’s “A Day In The Life”. Now, with his discovery of his true Cylon nature, he has withdrawn into himself, becoming so pre-occupied with protecting that knowledge in concert with the other three that he is almost completely neglecting his wife and son. Cally is now burdened with her own flight deck job plus taking care of a newborn and maintaining what passes for a household single-handedly. Almost as if she were a single mother. What time they do still share is usually spent in loud, stormy arguments in which neither can yield, for reasons that the Chief simply cannot tell her.

It’s a tragic “irreconcilable difference” that is inexorably dooming their marriage. It gets even worse when Cally, waking up to her “Nicky’s” bawling yet again and with Galen nowhere to be found, finds a napkin from the ship’s bar. On a hunch she scoops up the kid and goes down to scope out the establishment – and what does she find but her husband sucking down ambrosia and apparently canoodling with the comely Tory Foster.

Of course the Chief isn’t frakking Tory on the side; they’re together for the same reason that she was frakking Anders and they and Tigh have become so subtley inseparable – they’re Cylons and have nobody but each other to talk to about it.

But what else is poor little Cally to think? Isn’t that what you would conclude in her place? It isn’t like she caught him with his Viper in Tory’s launch tube, but the situation looked far from innocent.

For the Chief, for whom the proverbial walls were already closing in, this incident just makes it worse. He feels like he’s losing his identity. Now he’s jeopardized his marriage because of it. But even now he’s still helpless because this is the one thing he dares not share, not even with his wife. And that’s the one thing she has to have from him if their marriage is to survive.

Elsewhere, Admiral Adama’s lending the Demetrius to Starbuck for her crazy Earthquest is beginning to stir up uncomfortable questions for President Roslin, which, since she never believed the Kara Thrace that appeared out of the Ionian nebula ether as a walking, talking, breathing, swilling, frakking, snarling Earth-Mapquest printout was the genuine article to begin with, is another wedge threatening to come between her and “Husker”.

This is not a good time for such distractions.   Roslin’s chemotherapy is grueling, leaving her nauseous and exhausted. She’d be on short patience reserves anyway, but all the more so for the futility of the whole thing. The cancer is terminal, she knows it, and she’s drifting toward the point where she’s giving less and less of a flying frak about more and more.

This likely explains the increasing secrecy and power-concentration that Vice President Zarek whispers into newly appointed Caprican Representative Lee Adama’s ear on his first day in his new job.

This is probably as good a time as any to bring up my gnawing problem with the direction in which the Apollo character has been taken. It’s no secret that over the course of this series his liberal do-gooder streak has never been far from the surface. Lee Adama has always been depicted as an idealist, and in the early days of BG he was a big supporter of President Roslin and often took her side against his own father, as in the early second-season Kobol saga. But that streak was, mercifully, kept in the background behind his core duties as CAG and then XO and CO of the Pegasus. He was never as natural a fit tempermentally for the military as his dad, but he was still good at it, and in that role his idealism was channeled into doing his duty.

Then came last season’s Baltar trial, Apollo’s assignment to guard duty of Baltar’s brilliantly scumbag defense counsel, Romo Lampkin, and his seduction into first lawyering, and then the final cannonball into politics. Lampkin effortlessly played Lee’s day-glo idealism like a ten-cent flute. He manipulated Lee like a puppet on a string.   He turned not only a CAG into an ambulance-chaser but a son against his own father for the sake of a “worthless piece of garbage” without breaking a metaphorical or literal sweat.

He made Lee Adama look like a moron.

The worst part was Lee, at some peripheral level, was aware of what Lampkin was doing to him. And yet he continued the descent. Almost as if a fastidious neat freak who’d been lured into a mudbog and discovered he liked wallowing in the mire. It was almost intellectual masochism.

The scene with Zarek is an instant replay. He comes into the Quorum room and lays the same basic rap on Representative Adama. That Roslin is trying to “sideline” him for trying to humiliate her on the stand in the Baltar trial, just like she did Zarek by making him veep. How he had Lee appointed to the Quorum because he believes Lee is “a man of integrity” and “courage,” who will “do the right thing” by challenging Roslin’s increasing “secrecy” and “tyranny”.

Or, in other words, Zarek wants to use Lee to humiliate, harass, and generally “undermine” Roslin the same way that Lampkin used him to humiliate her on the witness stand in the service of springing “the most hated man alive”. Only in Zarek’s case, it’s because he himself is no longer in a position to do so – because he’s “sidelined.”

You would think that Lee would start to recognize this pattern. That he would start developing a mind of his own and learn to recognize manipulators, and manipulation, when he saw them. That he would be his own man and start thinking for himself.

But no. He’s still the puppet on others’ string, the catspaw of users with their own personal agendas that they cloak in Lee’s insatiable moral supremacism. During the next Quorum session, the ex-CAG takes the opportunity of Demetrius-inspired heckling of Roslin from several other representatives to play the card Zarek slipped to him earlier: the text of an Executive Order establishing a secret tribunal system answerable only to the President.

But of course, Lee didn’t have the whole context of that Order, which the President proceeds to sketch around it. Or maybe she smoothly extricated her hand from the cookie jar for the time being. Either way, she’s no fool; she has to know who passed that document to the backbencher from Caprica. I would expect a pointed private meeting between President and vice president in the very near future.

As to Representative Adama, the smug look on his face as he sits down made me want to slap him. When this series began, I referred to him as a “punk”. Three years later, he’s become a prick who is becoming inured to the slime into which he’s been lured. If this is character development, its circularity is breathtaking.

Prediction: he’ll be the President of the Colonies himself before this final season is over. Gods help them all.

Meanwhile, back at the Cylon civil war, the Six/Sharon/Conoy-engineered- and “evolved” centurion-administered “ethnic cleansing” of the Cavils, Simons, and Dorals has split the Cylon right down the middle.   Since, as Cavil also quips in the dialogue after his last “download,” democracy didn’t work, he resorts to subterfuge.

One of the Cavils goes to the other side under the Cylon equivalent of a truce flag. He appears to cave on lobotomizing the raiders, and predictably, the Six presses her perceived advantage by upping the ante: she also demands that the D’Anna Biers line be “unboxed”. Makes perfect sense from her side’s point of view; the Biers line was even more gonzo on this “Find the final five!” vision quest than her and her brother and sister models. Resurrecting the Biers would give them a permanent majority, and the power to get what they want: reunification of all twelve models.

I’m not sure whether the Cavil was serious about his raider concession, but either way he gains a valuable bit of intelligence: the Sixes, Sharons, and Conoys have no intention of negotiating. Consequently there’s no way to seal this intra-Cylon breach peacefully. And since they fired the first shots, the only thing left to do is engage in a fashion they’ll never suspect.

It’s manipulation worthy of…well, Romo Lampkin or Tom Zarek.   The Cavils, having promised to make the Six/Sharon/Conoy “case” to the Simons and Dovals, return claiming to have lost those two models’ support. They offer to go together to a resurrection hub six jumps away to reactivate the Biers.   Six, reflexively mistrusting anything Cavil suggests, retorts that they’ll go there without escort, thank you very much.

You could see this ambush coming…well, six jumps away even without Cavil’s parting line: “We wouldn’t feel comfortable here, anyway.”   Indeed. It was devastatingly effective. And Cavil was right: the Sixes, Sharons (minus Boomer), and Conoys did start this civil war. It looks as if their sibling models intend on finishing it.

Then there is the Demetrius diversion itself, which is already shaping up as the space opera answer to Moby Dick, only with a sewage barge for the Pequod, a hot blonde insomniac for Captain Ahab, and the planet Earth as the great white whale.

But enough of these subordinate plotlines. Mrs. Tyrol needs her next hit of opium. Which she actually gets from her connection, Doc Cottle.   Yes, her life has become such a wreck that she’s strung out on barbiturates. So she can sleep, you understand.

But even drug addiction can’t addle the pain of her husband’s apparent betrayal. As she restlessly prowls their quarters – alone, as usual – she discovers a note, carelessly left in plain sight by Colonel Tigh, that designates a meeting place and time. No gold stars for the conclusion to which Cally leaps.

Spying out “weapons locker 17010,” she makes an unexpected discovery: Tigh joins Galen and Tory (Anders is on the Demetrius). Now either her husband has some sexual tastes she never imagined, Tory is an even bigger slut than she suspected, or something else entirely is going on here.   Utterly baffled, Cally squeezes into a crawl space between the adjoining bulkheads to eavesdrop on the trio’s conversation. And what she hears makes her pine for the good old days when all she had to deal with was a squawling brat, drug addiction, clinical depression, and a philandering husband.

No, I shouldn’t be flip about it. What Cally hears chills her to the very marrow of her bones: Chief Galen Tyrol, her husband, and the father of her son, is a Cylon.

Put yourself in her shoes: What do you do now? You can’t ask Galen about what you heard without giving away that you were spying on him, just as he can’t confide in you because he doesn’t want you to find out what you just found out. Do you go to Adama? How?   You’re a lowly flight deck grease monkey. Besides, to get to the Admiral you’d have to go through your immediate superior – the Chief – and then to the XO, which you now know is also a Cylon. The President? Same thing, and her Chief of Staff is….Tory Foster.

The smartest thing Cally could have done is keep quiet, lay low, and see what happens. Maybe Galen still has free will – after all, Athena is a Cylon and she defected.   Perhaps even approach her….but wait, she was assigned to the Demetrius as well, wasn’t she?

What Cally is, particularly in her current distressed state of mind, is trapped. Even her son, Nicholas, is no longer a comfort, because he’s half “skinjob”.   She has nowhere and no one to turn to.   She is utterly and completely alone.

She returns to her quarters, for lack of anyplace else to go.   No longer capable of rational thought, when Galen arrives soon after to try again to make amends (a scene shot with Cally in the foreground, her back to him, and the Chief a fuzzy figure in the background, his words sounding muffled and vaguely mechanical – a riveting, nightmarish cinematographical nuance), she caves in his skull with a wrench, scoops up Nicholas, and flees to one of the launch bays.

Where she finds Tory, who found the panel to the aforementioned crawl space not put back in place, waiting for her.

This last scene is eerie and ominous. The launch tube is deserted, which adds to the atmosphere of foreboding. You’re not quite sure what Cally has in mind – to hide (since now she can’t go back to her quarters), to space her half-breed child, and perhaps join him.   What would she still have to live for?   She is overwhelmed by her feelings of fear and betrayal, but perhaps most crushing of all is….humiliation.   She got tricked, deceived, and used as a sexual plaything and a living incubator by a Cylon. She doesn’t know that Galen only discovered his true nature a few weeks ago. All she knows is that the Chief has become to her what Leobin Conoy was to Kara Thrace back on New Caprica. And we all saw how badly that devastated Starbuck.

When Tory appears, Cally loses it. She starts screaming incoherently that she knows what they are, and threatens to space all three of them if Tory comes any closer.   Tory, by stark contrast, is calm as a clam in deep sand. She speaks quietly and soothingly – and candidly – that none of them knew what they were until the Ionian nebula, that it’s been difficult for them to adjust to.   She appeals to Cally to “come back in off the ledge” and let them help her, that everything will be alright, that she and Tigh and Galen are the same people they’ve always been. As far as they know, of course, a suffix left unspoken but yet hanging in the stale flight deck air, the words almost visible and vibrating.

You get the feeling Tory has done this sort of thing before – either that or Human psychology is part of her programming.   She continues to slowly approach Cally, whose terror and rage are inexorably swallowed up by her utter exhaustion. As she says in her dialogue, she can no longer live this “frakking nightmare,” she wants it to be over, and the allure of Tory’s steady, quiet reassurances suddenly becomes overwhelming.

She shrinks to her knees on the deck. Tory kneels with her, still a warming source of verbal comfort.   Finally, Cally allows Tory to take Nicholas from her arms.

Then she backhands Cally clear across the launch tube.   By the time Mrs. Tyrol regains her senses, Tory, with Nicholas in her arms, is in the control room, her hands at the controls. As Cally beholds this ultimate horror, her last thought is probably nostalgia for the good old days when she still had her son and a place to hide from her skinjob husband. Or perhaps relief that her nightmare will soon be over.

Either way, we’ll never know. Nor will anybody else. Because Tory presses the button, opens the launch tube doors, and blows Cally Tyrol into the icy vacuum of space, never to be seen again.

Or maybe she’ll show up out of nowhere in a few episodes, like nothing ever happened. Heck, it worked for Starbuck, didn’t it?

It does leave questions, though. Did Tory commit this murder because of her Cylon programming?   Or to silence Cally permanently?   Did she want to add Galen’s notch to her belt after all? What does the Chief do now that his Cylon-ness has destroyed not just his marriage, but his wife altogether? Will he succumb to Tory’s advances – or “offers of comfort” – or will he allow his guilt to destroy him just as Cally’s fear destroyed her? If that prompts him in a direction that will breach their secret, will Tory off him next? And if he discovers that Cally didn’t “commit suicide,” will he beat her to the kill?

I was no fan of this “Everybody’s a Cylon now” angle.   I’m still not, really. But for one episode, at least, Ron Moore and his staff made it the vehicle for a borderline masterpiece.

Next: The quaking aftermath, and Baltar’s (attempted) martyrdom.

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