Spoilers for "Battlestar Galactica" coming up just as soon as I paint my bunk...
Wow. You know an episode has effectively cast a spell of dread when it ends with the death of Cally -- easily the most annoying character on the show, and one whose death I and many fans have been rooting for for years -- and all I could feel was sick to my stomach.
Enormous kudos to the episode's two Michaels, writer Michael Taylor and director Michael Nankin, for doing such a wonderful job of placing us in the atmosphere and emotional state of each scene. Throughout "The Ties That Bind," I felt like I was in those rooms, feeling overtired while Nicky cried, feeling nauseous while the chemo came through the IV, feeling claustrophobic and impatient on the Demetrius, hostile and impatient in the Quorum and, especially, horrified and yet spellbound by the idea that Cally was going to airlock herself and her baby just to escape the nightmare of having a Cylon husband/daddy. There was never a false moment, or even a moment where I felt the ability to take a step back, catch my breath and say, "It's okay, it's just a TV show." I was frakking there.
I would have thought that watching the episode on my laptop during one of SciFi.com's streaming broadcasts during the day might have diminished the intensity, but it didn't. If anything, it helped that the image quality wasn't as good as it might have been on my TV. Any pixellation added to the hazy, dream-like quality of all those jump cuts in the Cally and Kara scenes (both featuring women waiting for something, but not understanding how to make it get there sooner), and the poorer image quality meant I couldn't read that the weapons locker where Tyrol, Tigh and Tory met was designated NCC-1701-D, the sort of inside joke that would have been more appropriate in a less nightmarish episode.
What I especially admired was how Taylor trusted Nankin to let the visuals tell so much of the story, to not overwrite and spoonfeed the dialogue the way, oh, I don't know, Michael Angeli would have. Aside from the aforementioned visual style of the Cally and Kara up all night sequences, consider the beautiful scene where Adama helps Roslin get through her chemo by reading her a sampling of Colonial Noir. Yes, Taylor got to exercise his inner Raymond Chandler with the snippets we heard of "Love and Bullets," but note how much emotion and information is conveyed by Mary McDonnell -- how miserable she is, how grateful she is that Bill is doing this for her, how surprised she is to see him there, how much she loves a man who enjoys a good potboiler -- without her saying a single word. (I think, but can't be sure due to the streaming image quality, that she wasn't even in focus for a good chunk of that scene, ala her memorable smiling-daggers moment during Baltar's trial.)
And where the other episodes this season have been a bit longer on emotion than on plot, this one felt like it moved all the stories (save the absent Baltar, cult leader) along much quicker, even as it was cutting so deeply into each character.
We know now, for instance, that the Final Four aren't all quite as pure of heart as we might have hoped (and that they, like the other Seven, have super-strength), though it's not clear whether Tory is being overrun by her programming, or whether she's just using her new self-knowledge as an excuse to indulge her id a little. Compare Cylon Tory (hair down and wild, enjoying life and simple pleasures, capable of cold-blooded murder) to apparent human Tory (impeccably made up and dressed, reserved, professional).
After his endless farewell last week, Lee gets thrown smack into the middle of fleet politics, and what looks like the early stages of a palace coup by Tom Zarek. While Lee looks naive, and even petty in the way he attacks Laura with the tribunal memo (immediately after she belittles him as a junior representative not worth her time), there's the usual "Galactica" moral ambiguity. We know, for instance, that Laura had nothing to do with the Demetrius mission, and is reluctantly covering for Adama, but I can see from Zarek's perspective how that might be the tipping point for her recent high-handedness. (At the same time, Zarek is written, and played by Richard Hatch, with enough shades of grey that he could just be after the head job, any way he can get it.)
As for the Demetrius itself, where Kara is being aided by Gaeta and virtually every surviving pilot character (is Hot Dog guarding the fleet all by his lonesome?), we see that getting to Earth isn't quite the cakewalk Kara made it sound like. More importantly, we're reminded that Kara (if this is, in fact, Kara) didn't come back from her death quite whole. In another episode, Kara's line about how "my body is just this alien thing that I'm still attached to" might be a big neon "She's a Cylon!" arrow, but in comparison with all of Tory's talk about how her Cylon knowledge has made her feel more alive than ever, it suggests she's something quite different from the last of the Final Five.
(I also thought it was a nice touch that, in their mania to find peace/answers, both Kara and Cally focus on trying to add some human touches to their dingy quarters, Cally with the star mural and mobile, Kara with her latest painting.)
The Cylon civil war gets bloodier than ever, with Cavil moving well past boxing and into apparent genocide of his own kind. How many models are going to be left soon? Just the Cavils and Boomer as the lone Number Eight? Or is Natalie not as gullible as she -- and, really, all the Number Sixes -- seems?
But oh my gods, that final sequence with Cally, Nicky and Tory in the launch tube. As Cally began carrying her crying baby in there, I began to feel nauseous, even as, scary as it may seem, I could understand why she was doing it. She's always been an avowed Cylon hater, had to deal with the guy she had a longstanding crush on turn out to be doing it with a toaster and then, after she finally gets him (in a truly desperate fashion, as she admits to Cottle) and has his child, she finds out that her husband's a toaster, too, and her baby might be. Hell, I could see a woman in Cally's situation -- still Stop-loss'ed into a military she wants no part of, sharing a tiny room with a distant husband and a cranky baby, not getting any sleep, Post-Partum Depression, etc., etc. -- contemplating the sweet release of death. (See the women who drove her kids into a lake, the kids who were drowned in the tub, and all the other horrible stories CNN gives us every couple of weeks.) But on top of all that, to get the toaster news? I didn't doubt for a minute that Cally's response, sickening as it was, was true to her character, nor did I doubt that this show, of any show, would have the guts to let her go through with it. When Tory showed up, I felt relieved, let myself get suckered into believing that everything would be okay for Cally and for poor Nicky, who never asked to be caught up in the middle of any of this -- and then Tory had to go and sucker-punch Cally across the room and toss her out the launch tube. That just shredded me to the core and, like I said, I've never been able to stand Cally.
Hell of an episode. What did everybody else think?