Battlestar Galactica – “The Ties That Bind”

“The Ties That Bind”

April 18th, 2008

Speaking to a friend ahead of this episode, I said the following:

“I’m curious to see where it goes from here – the human plot has kind of hit a roadblock, so it’s going to be up to the Cylons to carry the dramatic weight I fear.”

So, considering these expectations, I should have been really frustrated with “The Ties That Bind,” an episode where almost all of the dramatic weight was founded on Cally, one of the most maligned characters amongst certain populations of the show’s fans. While there were a series of intriguing and fairly fantastic revelations on the Cylon side of the coin, it was ultimately a footnote in the episode compared to our central drama.

Now, I’ve never been on the side of Cally haters per se, but rather of the mind that Cally’s character was never given a justifiable reason to exist outside of her relationship to Tyrol. The character was never asked to carry any dramatic weight outside of either being beaten to a pulp or being placed in mortal danger – as a result, we got a lot of screaming and crying, but little in the way of nuanced emotion or any such things.

I’m not saying that what we saw from Nikki Clyne last night was revolutionary performance, but Michael Taylor managed to draw from her past in order to craft, at the very least, an intriguing point of representation. Cally, through anti-depressant fueled journeys, becomes a loose cannon – she is suspicious and paranoid in her altered state, and begins to suspect Tyrol is hiding something. Upon investigation, she stumbles across his biggest secret, and all of a sudden Cally has gone from nuisance to all-out ticking time bomb.

And then it went off, much sooner than I think any of us expected.

This will likely be longer than usual, as I’m not rushing to get it out the door as soon as possible after the episode airs – this might become a trend, if only because I think it results in better analysis. This episode was also really quite fractured into four separate storylines that only really peripherally related to one another, compared to the broad strokes of the opening two hours, so it might work better this way.

First, and most slight, is Lee’s trip to the Quorum, his first experience in his newfound political career. I have to admit to finding this storyline a little undercooked, and to be honest somewhat confusion. I did not precisely “get” Zarek’s speech that he gave Lee as he arrived early (or late, or to look around) at their Quorum meeting room (Man, the cast must hate having to film something ELSE in the much-maligned Colonial One set). Zarek’s motive for giving Lee the confidential document appears to be not out of disagreement with the President in this moment, but out of concern over the integrity of the democratic system based on Adama and Roslin’s concentration of power despite the fact they are making decisions he agrees with.

I don’t know about anyone else, but this seems extremely out of character – Zarek’s terrorist roots may exist, and as a result skepticism of government is natural, but skepticism of decisions he agrees with? As we have never received a glimpse into Zarek’s character at all, really, after he stepped down for Roslin to take over post-Exodus, I guess I can’t judge – but where is this kind of altruistic for the people bullshit coming from? I might be totally misconstruing this, but Zarek appears to be endorsing Lee undermining and questioning ideas he agrees with for the sake of…I don’t even know what his purpose is. I’m not saying it’s not a good course of action, but it seems odd for Zarek to be its champion.

It also kind of emasculates Lee, especially when pretty much his only independent action was to speak using his big words. Zarek cleared the floor for him every time, and other than standing on cue and reading what Zarek basically spoonfed him, Lee isn’t exactly showing any initiative. This is perhaps realistic, since he so blindly stumbled into his stunning legal victory as opposed to actually knowing what he was doing, but I do think that for me to be invested in Lee’s storyline I need to get some sense of his opinion on things. His words are not his own, to an extent, but a stock point of division and contrast to the President designed by someone other than himself. I’m curious to see where they take this, as I presume they are creating these things for a purpose, but right now I don’t think it’s doing the show any favours.

The one benefit was that we got to see at least some semblance of the impact of Adama’s decision to send the Demetrius on a search for Earth, a decision that has ramifications although ones different than perhaps we expected. The Roslin and Adama split doesn’t seem too serious, considering his bedside reading after her cancer treatment, so it appears that in the three weeks that have passed since Starbuck’s exit they’ve come to terms with his action (Which did not stop us from getting a brief scene post-press conference where they rehash the basics of the argument, the first in a couple of passage of time issues in the episode). The real surprise, although it shouldn’t be, is that it is causing unrest amongst the people that Starbuck is searching for Earth when they’re supposed to know where it is.

At this point, I have to wonder whether we are to believe that after all of these course corrections, conveniently long stop-overs at strange supernova planets, and nebula battles with Cylons that all they’ve been doing is following the same map. But, then again, we are from an admittedly skewed perspective wherein we know that there is no official map to Earth – for us to take the opposite perspective as a viewer is too difficult to really handle. Still, it’s interesting that in returning to the Quorum, we may be getting a larger glimpse into the fleet dynamics at a political and media level, something I hope we see more of in the weeks ahead.

The Demetrius’ story is really simple: Kara has no idea what she’s doing, has course corrected a ridiculous number of times, and her entire crew is becoming extremely restless. The big question here is how, precisely, Galactica is operating without so many of its pilots.  With Lee and Starbuck’s exits, the flight deck is perhaps no longer the source of the show’s drama, and this is likely the explanation behind Helo, Sharon and Anders making the trip along with Gaeta to assist her in her mission. Helo is the requisite buster of chops of the recruits who are less happy about the mission, Anders sexes Starbuck up, and Starbuck herself paints pretty pictures above her bed to help her find her way.

Really, the storyline was only introduced this week – we left it on a note of Kara being a little bit too on the nose with her explanation of her current state of mind, an out of body experience wherein she feels like a machine (Or some such): Anders was dumbstruck, and we are left curious to see what he does with this new information.

It is on a similar cliffhanger that we left the storyline perhaps most interesting, the Cylon Civil War that is clearly brewing between the various models. The budgetary or scheduling constrictions of the show meant that our regulars and Dean Stockwell were carrying the weight of the storyline, but even considering this we still saw very little of the aftermath. We see the lead Cavil resurrect, and discover that Boomer is totally hitting that (Hence her decision to split from her fellow 8s) – I thought that was a little convenient, and kind of damages out impression that Boomer is a character driven by something different than other Cylons.

The problem this week was that we did lose those personalities, per se – we saw no moment of clarity for Natalie (The leader of the Sixes, still unnamed in the show’s terms) or for Boomer, and even Cavil still comes across as just another Cavil. I think we needed more of this, but cramming four storylines into one episode tends to result in certain things being cut back. The long and short of it was simple: Cavil in a damages position, Sixes and Eights demand that the Number Threes (The Deannas, as we know them) be unboxed, and then all goes to hell. Cavil gives in to their demands to stop lobotomizing the raiders, but tricks them into abandoning themselves away from a resurrection ship and then fires on their baseships. We leave on Boomer pondering the ethics of killing her own sisters, and I’m left pondering what happens to Natalie considering she made it into the Last Supper preseason image.

Rather than digging deeper into the philosophical meanings or into specific characters, this was like the Cliffs Notes – it was all political maneuvering with very little sense of consequences outside of giant things blowing up. I’m still really, really curious to see where it’s headed (We got no sense of what Cavil’s plan really is, or the fate of those Cylon models, etc.), but this episode was just a teaser – a simple little turning point that doesn’t feel like a satisfying piece of plotting isolated within this episode.

And, with all considered, it was isolated due to the surprising weight to be found in a character that we’d all but written off. Cally’s emergence as an anti-depressive, paranoid and downright dangerous figure seems a bit forced when you really sit down and think about it, but in her death I think it makes sense. It is a reflection of our own experience watching the show, as finally someone else is let in on the central secret: that there are three Cylon models on Galactica (Anders leaving the group is perhaps smart, he has more business with Starbuck and it allows the other three to emerge). Tigh is clearly the leader of this group, and Cally’s discovery gives image to Starbuck’s strategy in the premiere should she find out someone is a Cylon: WWCD (What Would Cally do?) wouldn’t particularly have been my first impulse, but it was a smart one.

The way they’ve managed to craft this works well: she reacts as any Cylon-hating person would considering that her son is now a Hybrid and her husband is the very thing she despises. However, we get to see this reaction without affecting the balance of the ship: her death will be presumed a suicide considering her actions previous and her discussions with Coddle, and thus nothing in particular will change outside of Tyrol’s concern over what he’s done. I like that this internalizes even more conflict, even more internal identity crisis within Tyrol and even Tori for that matter. One feels responsible for his wife’s death, and the other was the one who killed her to hide their secret: I have a sinking suspicion that Tori’s megalomania and her general mania in this instance are likely to see her splinter off even further into Baltar’s camp.

In the end, though, it was an important episode in many ways because it did get rid of Cally. While I was never one of the haters, I think that her character was a complication the writers saw as both a potential asset and a danger. On the one hand, this episode worked largely because she is a great foil for this information in order to demonstrate its volatile nature. On the other hand, she is so closely united to Tyrol and to our newest Hybrid baby that it complicated their ability to interact on a normal level. She was
standing in the way of certain storylines, but certainly had to be dealt with.

This is why isolating it in a single episode was good, although it certainly had some short term ramifications – we lost Baltar, we didn’t really get enough meat onto any of the other three storylines that one could argue are more important, and there were still some moments where I felt we were spending too much time with Cally as a character as a sort of sendoff for the actress. But when that final scene saw Cally walk into that Viper Chute, it became very real: I was shocked that they’d be willing to simply have her kill herself, but that Tori would so coldly murder her is enough of a shift in my perception of the series that I’ll weight its potential for character drama above any of my other complaints.

And that about does it for “The Ties That Bind” – on a last note, there was some great music from Bear McCreary during the first Demetrius montage, I was really pleased to hear us get some more fantastic original score material.

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