"The Ties That Bind," the third episode of the season, was dark, dark, dark indeed. While the title implies that the episode is about the things that hold us together, what we got was a look at what happens when those ties unravel.
The main themes this week are alienation and disassociation, and they play out on every possible level, from the alienation we sometimes feel from ourselves at the most personal level to the alienation we can feel from the institutions that govern us and represent the societal values we hold dear. Apart from the personal stories we look forward to following every week, BSG is compelling drama in part because it offers us space opera parallels to contemporary issues. Like most good science fiction, it's never about our future as much as it's about our present, and it's no accident that a lot of the issues the Colonists worry about sound as if they're ripped right from the headlines of our morning newspaper.
On a personal level, we witness the alienation of Cally Tyrol, who's life is unraveling in a very big way. Left alone much of the time by a husband who is distracted (and alienated) by his newfound secret identity, she's trapped in their quarters with a frequently fussy baby and suffering from depression. She's so cut off from the things that sustain her that by the time she discovers the Chief's secret Cylon nature, her best option seems to be taking her own life and that of her baby.
Laura Roslin is alienated from herself too, in particular her body. In sick bay, she settles in for another nausea-inducing round of chemotherapy. In spite of the fact that Adama comes in to read to her while she waits out the chemo, it's clear to us later on that these two are now alienated from each other as a result of Adama's unilateral decision to send Kara Thrace off on a search for Earth. And on board the Demetrius, Kara pores over her star charts and maps, trying to plot her way to her destination, but she keeps herself at a distance from her crew — and they have little confidence in their mission as a result. When she tells Anders that feels disconnected from herself, as if she's on the outside looking in, we wonder whether to take it literally or figuratively given recent events surrounding her re-appearance (and judging from the expression on his face as she talks, we know that he's wondering the same thing).
On a somewhat larger scale, Lee Adama and Tom Zarek are finding themselves increasingly alienated from a government that keeps secrets and makes policy unilaterally and behind closed doors. Lee's intent to uncover secrecy and expose it to the light of day will no doubt increase the separation between himself and his father. And in a most extreme display of self-alienation, the Cylons look to be engaging in a full-out civil war as they can find no common ground among themselves.
Interestingly enough, it's Tory who brings Cally's alienation to an end (being careful to save baby Nicky, who we now know is a human/Cylon hybrid like Hera). Tory seems to be, thus far, the only Secret Cylon who's becoming comfortable with her new identity. Early on she tells Chief that she's beginning to enjoy being open to new possibilities — and we watch, horrified, as she knocks Cally across the airlock with her Cylon super-strength and then blows her out the airlock with nary a second thought.
The look of this episode went a long way toward illustrating the themes. To put it plainly, everyone pretty much looked like hell. Most notable were the dark circles under everyone's eyes, in particular Cally and Kara, who probably looked the worst. What more startling way to experience alienation than to not recognize the face that stares back at you in the mirror? The muffled sound and disorienting visuals surrounding Cally as she prowled the ship looking for her husband went a long way toward making us feel how out of sync she was with her world.
In yet another military decision I don't understand, I was surprised to find both Helo and Gaeta among the crew of the Demetrius. They both hold fairly critical positions on board Galactica, perhaps more so now that Lee is a civilian. Is it wise to have sent them both on this mission? Will this decision come back to bite Admiral Adama in the ass at some point in the future?
So where did this episode lead? Well, we're now faced with more uncertainty regarding the true nature of the Secret Cylons. Was Tory's ability to flush Cally out the airlock an indication that she was never a very nice person to begin with, or is this a preview of things to come as the quartet's "Cylon natures" begin to seek expression? If it's the latter, can we expect that Tigh's unsettling vision of himself shooting Adama will come to pass? What price will there be to pay if and when Chief finds out that it was Tory who flushed his wife off the ship? What does all of the internal conflict among the Cylons mean for their future relationship to the Colonial fleet? Will unlikely alliances be formed? Will Kara's physical and emotional separation from her crew endanger her mission? And perhaps most interestingly, what can we expect from sentient Centurions and rational Raiders? It's a good show indeed that raises more questions than it answers with every episode.
Was there any light in the darkness at all this time around? Well, in a big shout-out to
geeks Star Trek fans everywhere, Cally discovers Chief's Cylon identity by intercepting a note left for him instructing him to meet the others in weapons locker 1701D. (It is, of course, no secret to fans that BSG executive producer Ronald G. Moore was a writer and co-producer on Star Trek: The Next Generation.)