In the sixth episode of the first season of Battlestar Galactica, Tyrol and Boomer’s lies begin to compound and complicate themselves when a Cylon agent is discovered on board the Galactica. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Battlestar Galactica.
So I must be a bit honest about what I knew about Battlestar Galactica before I started this. My only real experience with the show is entirely through jokes made about Dwight Schrute on The Office. That is possibly the most ridiculous sentence I have ever typed. And the nature of the jokes flung at him got this idea of what sort of show BSG would be, and I think it helps explain why I’m so instantly floored by what I’m watching.
Given Dwight’s character on the office, I think I expected BSG to be just as ridiculous and over-the-top as he is. In my head, Battlestar Galactica was far less sci-fi, and more a fantasy: ridiculously detailed, with a complicated mythology, with characters speaking in a self-important tone, and, most importantly, none of it contained a shred of realism.
I half-expected the show to be like those ridiculous fantasy covers you see sometimes:
What’s so absurd about this is that I cannot explain why I thought this way. It makes no sense at all! Even worse, when you think about Dwight Schrute’s character, he would actually be attracted to a sci-fi show that is hyper-real. FACT: YOU CANNOT SEARCH FOR STARBUCK WITHOUT WASTING PRECIOUS FUEL RESERVES. (Now I’m thinking about how hilarious it would be to insert Dwight into this show. Hmmmm.)
I’m also used to shows giving a strong pilot (at least shows I dedicate myself to watching) and then settling in for a lot of character growth and exposition. It’s not that Battlestar Galactica isn’t doing that (it is), but….seriously. We’re on the sixth episode, and all of them so far are incredibly tense and action-packed. They’re still intense, they’re still deeply tied to the main mythology and plot of the story, and now the entire Cylon plot has been blown wide open.
Yet even amidst that, we have so many brilliant, heart-breaking, and entertaining character portraits of the various people in the gigantic ensemble cast. This episode does something kind of amazing in that regard. In just fifty minutes, it feels as if the main cast was doubled in size. A lot of “Litmus” revolves around secondary and tertiary characters, who all have their own lives and own motivations, and we’re shown how the actions of Boomer, Tyrol, Adama, and Sergeant Hadrian affect people the main characters might never even speak to.
Boomer and Tyrol’s relationship really could not have lasted much longer, truthfully. I’m glad the writers decided to deal with it earlier, rather than later, and there’s probably no better impetus to do so than to prop up the couple’s complicated network of lies against a Cylon invasion. Part of this unraveling is pure chance, but the way this is framed, it is most certainly a painful, uncomfortable examination of Tyrol’s mistakes.
“Litmus” certainly has one of the creepiest cold opens of season one, and it became a guessing game to see who the civilian implant would be. (I don’t think it’s a bad thing that it was obvious that someone entering the ship would be a familiar face or a Cylon.) Once I realized it was Doral, a million questions flooded into my head, namely one specific one: Uh, don’t they know he’s a Cylon? But he was banking on the fact that only a small handful of crew knew his true identity. Second on my mind: What the hell is he doing there? If he was able to get on the ship as a civilian, this suggested something a whole lot more terrifying: He was in the fleet to begin with. And seriously, I love that this is barely addressed at all in this episode, understandably so, too, since there’s a lot to distract them from this idea. But if there’s a Doral Cylon in the fleet, how many other transplants are there? Is there a Six transplant? A Conoy transplant? (SEE I CAN GET NAMES RIGHT I LEARN THINGS.)
Given the severity of the Cylon threat (and how easy it will be for them to continually infiltrate the Galactica or any ship in the fleet), there’s something unbearably creepy about the smile that Doral gives Commander Adama when he’s chased down. It says so many things at once: You made this easier than I thought. This is better than what I hoped for. Even if I destroy myself and kill no one, it does not matter. There are more of me. I will have successfully disrupted the peace of this fleet.
And I will be back, again and again and again.
It’s during this bombing that Tyrol and Boomer set up an elaborate system where their pilots cover for them so they can continue their relationship. It’s fascinating to me that at the beginning of this episode, even knowing that Boomer is a Cylon, I still feel for these two, and I am happy they are bending the rules in order to see one another. I found it particularly sweet because in this context, they have a “forbidden” love of sorts. Yet by the end of “Litmus,” I now know I can’t watch their first scene of the episode in the same way ever again.
In that sense, “Litmus” is a story about dissolution and destruction, and we are witness to relationships, trust, and faith being torn apart by the Cylons. That’s their ultimate goal with this, right? To sow the seeds of so much distrust that humans destroy themselves? The Cylons play directly off of the worst of humanity, and this is where we see it acted out.
From the revelation to the whole fleet that Cylons look like humans to the appointment of Master-At-Arms Hadrian to lead the public inquiry into the security flaws that allowed a Cylon to get on board, we’re given a very nervous, uncertain tone to “Litmus.” It’s very clear from the start, though, that Hadrian is determined to get to the bottom of the security leak, and that Tyrol is no longer going to be safe from suspicion. Once Cally, Socinus, and Jammer all give conflicting information to Tyrol’s whereabouts, I started feeling nervous. I was certain that if Hadrian could determine that Tyrol’s personnel were lying for him, then there would be a whole lot of trouble. Not only would they discover that he was having a relationship with Boomer, even after being told not to, but it was inevitable that they’d soon figure out that he knew more than he let on about the destruction of the water tanks.
I’m a big fan of the use of dialogue in fiction, but especially in television and film, where its use is integral to forwarding the plot or giving the story urgency. This episode in particular seriously knocks it out of the park with all three of its interrogation scenes. It’s not an easy thing to pull off, either, so it’s fantastic to see both the writing and the acting come together to make me feel electrified.
Boomer’s interrogation in particular is so bizarre because we know who she really is, and now knowing the final scene of the episode, I can’t believe I never thought about how ironic it is that she was there in that room. In that context, Hadrian had a Cylon right in front of her and instead focused entirely on Tyrol as a conspirator. Even considering that, there’s still a part of me that rooted for Boomer to get off the hook, and I found myself confused about such emotions by the end. I mean…she’s a Cylon! But I like her character! I don’t understand how Cylon identity works, especially for a sleeper agent like Boomer. She’s clearly her own person, but….how.
Tyrol, on the other hand, underestimates what the point of these proceedings are and, in hindsight, his arrogance and selfishness as a person shines through. His scene with Hadrian is still intense, though, and it’s uncomfortable to watch as Hadrian continues to connect all of the lies that Tyrol told or were told about him. It seemed for a second that Tyrol had the upper hand when he brought up the fact that several people–including Hadrian–had the access code to the hatchway that was apparently unlocked, but Hadrian then asks if Boomer left the door open on purpose.
The thought is planted, both in Tyrol’s mind and our own, and it’s something I hadn’t even considered. I was so caught up in Boomer’s human side, and the desire to see her happy with Tyrol, that I forgot she was still a Cylon. God, what a confusing character arc. I want to stop myself from splitting Boomer into some sort of dichotomy because this situation is far too complicated for that. But she is a Cylon who is activated remotely to carry out sabotage missions! WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO THINK?
To make matters worse, Tyrol cites the 23rd Article of Colonization, which is his right not to self-incriminate. And while that may have held up more solidly in any other situation, we’re at the end of the human race. Cylons are infiltrating the fleet. The destruction of every human every is not only conceivable, it’s imminent. Tyrol, you have the legal right to not self-incriminate, but holy shit you just screwed up. It’s amazing how easily we’re able to see the gravity of this choice, that the faces of the tribunal (and especially Hadrian) are wrought with both frustration and terror. Not only will they not get a confession, but their suspicions for Tyrol are even higher. But they can’t do anything. And that irritates them all because it’s entirely possible that this man’s lies are putting everyone at risk. (Newsflash: They are.)
It’s because of this that Specialist Socinus’s interrogation simply depresses me. As I watched that tragedy unfold, I couldn’t help but get more and more furious at Tyrol for refusing to own up to his mistakes. This poor kid lied for some sense of duty and loyalty to Tyrol, because the man was his friend, and now he’ll probably spend the rest of his days (however numbered they are) in the brig. It made me furious. TYROL WHAT ARE YOU DOING.
Yet as mad as I was at Tyrol, I suddenly found myself unable to stand Hadrian either. When Adama was called into the tribunal, I was shocked. What on EARTH could she need him for? It was at this point that I came to realize just how complex and morally ambiguous this entire episode was. I was angry with Hadrian for insisting that Adama was part of this conspiracy, especially given what Adama had done since the Cylons attacked. It offended me. (And for the record, I agree with both Roslin and Adama, and waiting to reveal the Cylon secret was very, very smart.) Yet I am conflicted. She was right about Tyrol and Boomer, and she was so clearly concerned about the Cylon threat that she got a bit zealous about it. And this is entirely understandable! But taking it all the way to Adama? That was too far, for me, but at the same time, not a single character is right in all of this.
Thankfully, though, Adama provides the proper scorning to Tyrol by the episode’s end: Tyrol’s actions compromised his ability to be a leader, and an innocent kid is locked up. Because Tyrol’s credibility is now shattered, Adama couldn’t help him get Socinus out if he tried. In essence, Adama forces Tyrol to face his guilt and uses it as his best weapon to punish him. Tyrol put Socinus in jail, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. But there is something he can do about the future: break things off with Boomer. The dynamic of this scene is bizarre, and I mean that in a good way. Boomer seems less dejected at Tyrol ending their tryst and more like she’s furious. I don’t know which side of her we’re getting. But it seems to me that she’s upset for losing the one person who has been protecting her this entire time, and nothing makes that more clear than when he flat out asks her if she left the hatchway door open on purpose.
As I said before, the thought was planted in Tyrol’s head, and now he vocalizes it. This scene gives me chills just thinking about it. But now the cat’s out of the bag, so to speak, so I’m curious to see how the Cylon threat from Boomer is going to be developed in the future.
- Well, things are certainly interesting for Baltar, aren’t they? I loved how he went to go flirt with Starbuck and instead left filled with dread when she suggests that maybe the Cylon Doral was headed to his lab to destroy the Cylon identification test. Which opens up a billion questions: How could the Cylons even know? Is there another Cylon agent on board that we don’t know about? For the first time, Six outright confirms she is in Baltar’s head and has absolutely no connection to the Cylons at all. Is she lying? I’m still confused as to what ultimate purpose she is going to serve.
- The Cylon story on Caprica is finally starting to come together, and I can’t believe I missed so many of the signs pointing to what they are doing with Helo. It took me a few seconds to register it, but when Six and Doral claimed that Helo didn’t love Boomer, it all made sense. They’re manipulating him to fall in love with Boomer. They’re using him. Oh god, are they going to try to make him procreate with Boomer???? THAT IS LIKE THE ONLY THING THAT MAKES SENSE. Well, it only sort of makes sense. What does a Cylon Human and a human create? 1/3 Cylon, 2/3 human? I DON’T KNOW THESE THINGS.
- Lee wasn’t in this episode once. Weird!
- Fuck Orson Scott Card, by the way.