A Giant Bag of "What the Hell" on Battlestar Galactica

Illustration for article titled A Giant Bag of "What the Hell" on Battlestar Galactica

I like watching sexy ladies torture sweaty men as much as the next person, but Friday night's Battlestar Galactica took that scenario way too far. Called "Escape Velocity," the episode delved deeply into Baltar's religious beliefs and Tyrol's post-Cally bitterness, but was also packed with enough randomly-generated sadomasochism to fill a bag of holding. Is there a way to wash your eyes out with soap? You'll want to know after enduring several scenes with lines like, "Pain is pleasure," and "I want the pain." Spoilers ahead, if you can bear it.


Right away, you could tell this was going to be an episode about getting religion because we begin with a fairly long religious ritual from Cally's funeral, complete with Tyrol speechifying in a stripey shirt I think he got at Banana Republic. There are statues of gods and goddesses, talk about death, and a priestess being all mystical. Roslin is in the audience looking totally blissed out, and she tells Adama it's the kind of funeral she likes. Adama isn't so crazy about it, which is reason number one why I wish this episode had been about him or the atheist Cavils instead of the god-addled of the fleet.

After the funeral, Tyrol immediately starts getting the crazy eye. He stares freakishly at Foster during the funeral, and later starts bugging out in a meeting with Foster and Tigh. He has no clue that Foster actually killed Cally, and keeps pointing out that she killed herself because she thought Foster was having an affair with him. Foster gives him a whole trip about how they are Cylons and therefore can just shut their guilt off, and embrace their strength. "Think of all we can do," she says. "We're not human — we're stronger."

Meanwhile, Tigh is having "I killed my wife" flashbacks and keeps unhelpfully explaining to Tyrol that it's "natural for a man to feel this way," and that it's ultra-mega-manly to go batshit over your dead wife. Oh, and just to make Tyrol feel extra-better, he adds that Tyrol will be seeing Cally "every day" for the rest of his life. Thanks for helping, pops. Seems like both the "kill your guilt" Cylon solution and the "embrace your pain" human solution pretty much suck ass.

No surprise that Tyrol finally loses it completely. But before we go there, let's talk about all the what-the-hell action going down between Foster and Baltar, and Tigh and Caprica Six.

Foster goes to visit Baltar with her new Creepy Cylon Powers in full effect, finding him lying in his silky bed among the folk rock lady ninjas. (Roslin later refers to them as the "girly groupie sex whatever they are," bless her cancer-ridden heart.) Foster snuggles up next to the freaked-out Baltar and proceeds to give a whole bizarro speech about how good is evil, evil is good, and everybody is perfect. To demonstrate, she starts yanking hairs out of Baltar's head while stroking his nether regions. She babbles something about how pain and pleasure can intermingle, making the two things indistinguishable. Somehow this all adds up to more hair-pulling, and more nether-region-stroking, and Baltar stammering something about sure he's kind of horny but that doesn't mean everybody is perfect.

Are you getting all that? Pain-plus-pleasure adds up to "we're all perfect" and that's supposed to mean something bad — or good? Luckily you won't have to think about it for very long because just when things are getting too nauseating for words there's a raid on the folk rock ninja ladies' palace. A bunch of militia guys throw tear gas into the hold, then beat the shit out of the nice ladies and rape them while Baltar hides in the rafters and Foster stares accusingly at him. Kinda weird that the militia guys keep attacking when they realize the President's closest adviser is hanging out right there, but whatever.


And now things go to serious yuck. In the aftermath of the militia attack, the Six in Baltar's head eggs him on with delusions of grandeur, telling him it's time to "take a stand." By take a stand, apparently she means that Baltar should take a bunch of his followers, run inside the churchy place where the militia guys are taking in a religious ritual, and start screaming about how they are all serial rapists and dickwads. He throws around a bunch of incense and pretty much immediately gets dragged away by some handy guards.

While he's in prison, Roslin takes away the right of assembly. As she tells the Quorum, she thinks Baltar's people are just provoking attacks by getting together in that cargo hold with all the silky blankets and crystals and the hippie-Buddhist-pagan shrine to Baltar which I think is covered in hot pepper lights and photographs from Rush album covers but probably really isn't. Lee and everybody else push back against Roslin, demanding right of assembly back again.


Meanwhile, Tigh keeps unhingedly visiting Caprica Six in prison. Every day, he comes and yells something angry at her and hallucinates that she's turning into his wife. Six acts all holy and forgiving and keeps asking if she can do something for him or if he needs something. Finally they have the Ultra Meaningful Confrontation, where Six says, "Hey, I'm just like you — I feel things, I have veins in my arms," and he says, "No you're not like me," even though IRONY OF IRONIES we know that he is.

And that's when things get seriously fucking twisted. Tigh tells the guards to leave so he can be with Six alone, and asks her the question that's really on his mind. Can she help him get rid of the pain he feels? This is actually a great moment in an episode of what the hell, because we're watching Tigh struggle with a pain that transcends human vs. Cylon. Plus, we're not sure if Six knows he's a fellow Cylon or not, and it's kind of like he's asking her whether she can give him a lesson in having a Cylon brain.


At that moment Six reveals some interesting stuff, such as the fact that Cylon brains are based on human ones and that by reverse-engineering human brains Cylons have learned a few things about human psychology that humans don't know. For instance, she claims that pain is what teaches people who they are, as well as teaching them about morality. She tells the story of how falling in love with Baltar and realizing that she could lose him is what made her realize that what the Cylons had done to the humans was wrong — and that she won't turn off her pain or guilt because she wants to remember that lesson.

It's a fairly interesting, moving scene until Six touches Tigh's face sort of mind-meld-style, and says, "I can give you clarity again." Then she punches him in the face. Over and over again. While saying stuff like, "Pain gives you clarity. It tells you who you are. Do you feel the clarity?" I mean, she wearing this sexy dress and frakkin straddling Tigh, pounding his bloody face, and asking about clarity. And then Tigh moans, "More."


"Oh," says Six, "I was wrong. I know what you need." And then she starts making out with Tigh. WHAT THE HELL.

This would all have been moderately more bearable if it weren't for the fact that at the very same time, we are treated to a parallel scene where the Six in Baltar's head is getting him beaten to a bloody pulp too. It's like a sadomasochism sundae with two flavors of Six and two flavors of fucked-up sweaty dudes. When Baltar gets out of prison, a bunch of guards refuse to let him return to folk rock ninja central because right of assembly has been revoked. So the Six in his head urges him to try to get in, promising he won't be hurt. Of course he is hurt, and is being beaten with rifle butts when Lee arrives in the nick of time to say that right of assembly has been restored.


So you've got bloody Tigh lying there sucking face with Six, and you've got bloody Baltar stumbling into his sex cult cave after the police brutality orgy. I know it's supposed to be this meaningful moment of parallel experience and transcendence-through-pain, but it just comes across as clumsy and wrong and gross.

The episode was partly rescued by one disturbing scene towards the end where Tyrol gets drunk off his ass and tells Adama — loudly, in the middle of the bar — that he never loved Cally. It's a raw and truthful moment in an episode that's mostly a bloody mess of overwrought symbolism. Adama is trying to comfort Tyrol over his loss, and Tyrol just busts out with a whole screaming speech about how Cally wasn't an angel, and he didn't love her — he just settled for her. And then he raises his voice more, so everyone can hear, and yells, "How many of us settled because the people we really loved were dead or dying or Cylons!" At that moment, when those of us who have been tuning in for four seasons remember Tyrol's intense affair with the original Sharon Cylon, the scene is genuinely moving. Because the humans have been so reduced that even their love lives are impoverished.


While it makes for good drama, Tyrol's outburst doesn't improve the poor guy's life. In fact, it gets him fired after he challenges Adama to send him off the ship. Probably a good idea to fire Tyrol anyway, since he's been so tripped out that he is making a bunch of mistakes when he fixes the Vipers in the engineering bay.

As the episode concludes, we're in an incredibly awful, bleak place. Tyrol has just flushed his career down the toilet, and Tigh has just had something way more intense than sex with Six. And Baltar is giving yet another religious-maniac speech to the folk rock ninja ladies, while Lee and the cops and Foster watch. Covered in blood, leaking his usual tears, he declares that his true belief is that we are all perfect. It's the same speech Foster gave him earlier, and which he resisted.


I'm still unclear on why the "we're all perfect" thing is supposed to be bad, but clearly it is. So of course Baltar is all over it.


Annalee Newitz

@moff: Yes, the miniseries comes first. Watch it first! That is all.