Friday's episode of Battlestar Galactica, "Deadlock," gave us an odd peek inside the soap operatic lives of cylons, and it succeeded brilliantly. Even though you had to wash the creepy out of your neurons after.
After last week's improbably rapid set of reveals about the Final Five and Ellen's role in everything, this week gave us a chance to integrate that information in an unexpected way: dark comedy. Ellen's return to the Galactica could have been played in a lot of different ways - overwrought melodrama comes to mind. But instead, writer Jane Espenson took it in the direction of pitch-black humor right away. As Ellen emerges into the ship bay with Boomer, Hot Dog mutters, "How many dead chicks are out there?"
Ellen starts boozing it up right away, and her inevitable tangles with Tigh's new girlfriend Caprica Six come across as monstrous in a Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? style - monstrous, certainly, but with a campy flare that gave this episode an unexpected depth. Suddenly we're seeing the Final Five and the cylons they created as a family. A psychotic, bickering family full of geniuses and tyrants, whose closets are full of metal skeletons.
I was particularly struck by this dynamic in the scenes at Anders' hospital bed, where Rebel Leader Six announces that the Final Five should come away with her and the other cylons on the Base Ship. She wants them to create a pure cylon society, away from the anti-cylon bigotry and violence of the humans, where they can finally recreate the lost 13th colony (which is a pure cylon colony, remember). Six suggests they put it to a vote where majority rules, which is a cylon custom. As Tory and Tyrol try to debate the merits of the plan, all Ellen and Tigh can do is have a crazed fight about Caprica's pregnancy. (See clip.) All the overlapping dialogue is wacky, tragic, and ultimately very human. There's even a dramatic chipmunk moment from Tigh, as he turns his head in horror as Ellen asks, "Six is pregnant?"
Ellen is so transparently manipulative that there's a sort of brilliance to her performance. Everybody knows she's being a snake, and yet they keep bending themselves to her will. She's been doing this same bitchy martyr routine on them for thousands of years, and they just keep falling for it. Family dysfunction transcends time and species, apparently.
And there are hints that Ellen is more than just an emotional manipulator. Though Tigh and Caprica's baby has been incredibly healthy, it suddenly dies almost directly after Ellen enters the picture. There's even a scene where Ellen places a hand on Caprica's belly after evilly confessing to having skank sex with Tigh upon her arrival. Baby killing from Ellen? Possibly. Certainly she's trying to kill Tigh and Caprica's relationship by voting to leave with the cylon rebels and forcing Tigh to choose whether to go with Caprica or stay on the ship he loves.
The other darkly funny thread that ran through this episode was Baltar's quest to assume power over his hippie sex cult again. In his absence during the mutiny, the women of his cult had to learn to fend for themselves - they stole weapons to defend their territory and keep gangs from stealing their food. It's at this moment that we realize how much Galactica's people are being torn apart by starvation and lawlessness. It isn't just Adama's precious ship that needs patching up, and Baltar is ready to step into the power vacuum with a new plan (aided by Head Six).
With a kind of sarcastic glee, Baltar takes command of his cult again after saying to Head Six that the only thing worse than leading his cult is being a member of it. So he spouts a bunch of nonsense about needing inner strength and feeding the poor and concludes by saying, "And we need guns. Big guns." He also has a rather mysterious meeting with the current powers-that-be on Galactica - Lee, Adama, the president - and offers them what he calls "the only human solution left" to the problems on Galactica. We never hear him say what this solution will be, though it's strongly implied that he'll be turning his love cult into a militia. To which I say: Yes! Galactica totally needs a zealous girl army to defeat the evil gangs.
The overarching issue that unites the disparate subplots in this episode - including an impending meeting between former lovers Boomer and Tyrol - is the melding of human and cylon. Even the Galactica itself is becoming a kind of hybrid baby, knitted together out of human and cylon technologies. Based on the way we've seen the humans and cylons behave when they start getting obsessed with being purebloods, it seems that hybridity is the way to go. Both in terms of survival and in terms of ethics.
What "Deadlock" did best, however, was show us how petty failings like greed and jealousy always return to muck up grand plans for the two races. Ellen votes to segregate human from cylon simply to twist the knife in Tigh's back, not because she really thinks it's what's best for the Fleet. And Baltar offers his "human solution" to the problems of the Galactica simply because he'd rather hog the spotlight than be a follower.
Will the cylons and humans rise above their family bickering to steer their people into a better future? Or will the series end like a certain Greek tragedy where a mother sleeps with her son, just the way the Final Five keep sleeping with the cylons they spawned? We only have four episodes left to find out.