NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season One: “Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down”

Colonel Tigh, allow me to present your wife.

Air Date: 13/12/2004

Director: Edward James Olmos

Writer: Jeff Vlaming

Synopsis: Fear and suspicion abound when Baltar’s Cylon detector begins its first tests, with Roslin worried about Adama’s recent behavior. Things reach a head when Colonel Tigh’s wife, Ellen, is suddenly found alive and well in the Fleet, with her presence onboard Galactica immediately disruptive.

Review

Well, here things most definitely take a swerve. BSG has done a comedy episode in “Six Degrees Of Separation”, but “Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down”, from the title to the last shot, is a different animal entirely. It’s BSG as something that we could actually call “wacky”: full of something approaching slapstick comedy, rapid-fire dialogue yucks and a series of misunderstandings done for humorous effect. And all throughout, it attempts to maintain a serious tone. It’s just that where “Six Degrees Of Separation” succeeded wonderfully with the balancing act, “Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down” just doesn’t.

There’s a very odd energy to this right from the opening conversation between Adama and Roslin. They are trying to play up the tension created by Leoben’s secret message to Roslin, but the way that Olmos and McDonnell go back-and-forth feels oddly stilted, and not at all in character for them. The major issue of determining if Adama actually is a Cylon or not gets turned into this bizarre verbal dance around the issue where Roslin is almost trying to trick Adama into getting tested first.

This is a panicked Roslin, as seen in a moment with Billy early on where she appears almost speechless from fear. She’s trying to trick Adama, she’s getting Billy to try and get information off of his girlfriend, she summons Colonel Tigh to a private interrogation, and she just generally looks frazzled. It’s a big change from the events of “Flesh And Bone”, which I think are only meant to have taken place the previous day. It’s striking since it seemed the whole point of that episode was Roslin determining not to be this fearful woman being directed by her drug-induced dreams, and to instead take firm, decisive action to solve a problem. Now she’s reverted. Perhaps it is not as bad as I imagine, since the very end of “Flesh And Bone” did feature a moment where her dreams were confirmed as a quasi-prophecy, but it’s still jarring to me to see Roslin portrayed this way. Perhaps if the episode had less of comedic tone it might be more palatable: as it is, we see Roslin trying to verbally smackdown Colonel Tigh on Adama’s recent strange behavior in a very tense scene, and then suddenly he tells her it was all about his wife and Roslin is left with metaphorical egg on her face, scrambling to cover for herself. All it’s missing is the laugh track, which does not mesh with an episode where the key question is “Is Adama a Cylon?”

But of course this episode should not really be about Roslin, or Adama, going by the title, it should be about Colonel Tigh. Indeed, the fact that the episode largely isn’t is one of its problems. We start with a look at some of his strong and weak moments: he throws away the very last of his alcohol undrunk (a minor act against his obvious alcoholism, but it’s something at least) but when forced to take command of the Galactica briefly without prior warning, he seems unsure about both himself and his capability to lead without Adama around.

All of this is set-up for the big surprise twist of the episode: his wife Ellen Tigh, last seen getting a cigarette put through a picture of her head, turning up alive and well in the Fleet. Her sudden appearance obviously screams “suspicious”, it being an extremely convenient event when over 99.99% of the human race is dead back on the Colonies. Ellen is a bit of a conundrum for me at this point. I remember how critical she becomes to the plot in the fourth season of course, but so much of that season was so messy that it is hard to tell just how much was intended with Ellen at this early stage. Head Six certainly seems to think that there is something special about her, but that’s as far as it goes. It will take a while – not until Season Three as a recall – for Ellen to become someone a bit more three-dimensional than the drunken shrew she is here.

More important for this episode is the obvious fact that, as Adama puts it, Ellen “brings out the worst” in Tigh. It’s your classic toxic relationship: he a grumpy curmudgeon with functioning alcoholism who probably suffers from a silent loneliness, and she an emotionally manipulative enabler, who seems to get off on creating drama where there is none. Their scenes together portray that common pattern, with Ellen encouraging Tigh to drink, and then using sex, or the promise of sex, as a way of getting inside his head. Ellen isn’t a Cylon – yet – but in many ways she’s worse: a human who, whether it is because of boredom or a genuinely mean nature, is happy to set her fellow humans against each other for her amusement. Other couples are shown throughout the episode in varying stages of relationships that work in some way: Billy and Dee, Helo and Sharon, even Baltar and Six. But Saul and Ellen doesn’t work at all, and most of that is down to her and her flat-out malevolence. Maybe that’s another reason why I just can’t get behind “Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down”: Ellen is just too much of a soap opera character to fit into space opera.

But we can’t really move on without discussing two of the big set-piece sequences of the episode, which are among the reasons that it is difficult to judge “Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down” too highly. The first is the universe’s worst dinner party, with the Tigh’s very drunk and disorderly, Roslin out of her mind with fear that Adama is a Cylon and Apollo trying to not have his genitalia felt up by Ellen’s shoe. It’s a remarkable set-piece for a lot of reasons, but mostly for just how out of place it is: the candles, the wine, the entendres, and then the crazy script. It’s like a completely different TV show.

Ellen’s ridiculous game – wherein she secretly comes on to Apollo, drunkenly tries to butter up Roslin, attempts to get the location of Earth out of Adama and then makes an effort to convince her husband that Adama molested her (while taking the time to shamelessly flirt with Baltar) – comes to a head in the second set-piece, the crazy lab scene. All that the back and forth is really missing is an actual pratfall, it’s got everything else: Roslin having to come clean that she’s been re-ordering the priority of tests, and giving out to Baltar about it; Baltar having to remind people that they are in a room with lots of valuable stuff, so please avoid a brawl; Tigh walking in at just the right moment to misinterpret Adama’s “I wanted her close to me” and a general succession of comedic revelations. Some of it is quite funny, but it is not BSG.

Anyway, this is still the Tigh show, to an extent, and the episode swings back that way for the conclusion. The manner in which Tigh is deemed to have “saved the ship” is a bit much – he makes what I would call a pretty normal decision given the situation, and people act like it was a stroke of genius – but it ties into a rehabilitation of the Adama/Tigh relationship: for all of Tigh’s faults, and for all that his wife is a problem, Adama can still trust Tigh when it counts. He proved that in the Miniseries, and he proved it again here. In a way Adama clearly feels bad about his actions more because of this, it being a reminder that while Tigh might still have “the cup in his hand” too many times, he’s still a friend, and dependable.

“Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down” is also a Baltar/Six episodes in some ways, starting with an extremely sexual scene in the lab – there was something so, well, dirty about seeing Six in the position she was in, especially in comparison to the more, shall we say, artistic depictions of her body in Baltar’s dreamland – and continues on with Baltar spinning his wheels in frustration with the testing. His interaction with Ellen is interesting, and they would make a good pair: both manipulators, both playing their own selfish games. Baltar’s own goals seems a little obtuse in this episode: how does it aid him to have a Cylon detector that only ever passes people? Perhaps he thinks it is to his long-term benefit to know who is a Cylon but not anybody else? But having Cylon agents onboard is also a threat to his physical safety surely? The fridge logic builds up.

Meanwhile, we also get a few sojourns to Cylon-occupied Caprica. Helo is starting to be pushed a little too far by everything that is happening, exemplified well by the long pan-out shot as he and Sharon stumble down a very long, dark tunnel: a physical problem for him, but also a representation of his ignorance. That’s not going to last too much longer. We also get another intriguing moment with the Six that has been running Sharon down, expressing something we might call regret when confronted with the idea of someone truly alive in their own pain. What exactly is behind the thinking of this Six, and what has caused her to feel this way? I don’t know if BSG will answer that question, but it will be intriguing to see anything else that comes from the character. A podcast with Tricia Helfer – Battlestar Galacticast, hard recommend – I listened to recently had an intriguing answer, that Six’s are designed to infiltrate humanity, but Sharon’s are designed to be human; the difference can be a cause of some despair for Six’s. Anyway, as it is, the Cylons who aren’t attached to humans all seem rather miserable in different ways. After all, the only Cylon/Cylon relationship in the show is pretty bad.

Now, boys, don’t fight over little ol’ me

Notes

-Oof, that title. A play on the name of a somewhat infamous 1990 film, it’s as silly as BSG episode titles get. The draft title was the blander “Secrets And Lies”.

-Olmos behind the camera for this one, and not for the last time. He does a good job from a visual standpoint, as I will outline, but one wonders if perhaps he was the wrong choice for a comedy episode.

-Ronald D. Moore has stated the original idea for the episode was “a riff on Crimson Tide“, with Adama and Tigh placed against each other, each thinking the other is a Cylon. That’s a big concept for just one episode, but I think I would have preferred to see that over this.

-As Roslin walks around the CIC, the crew stand for her. I think that’s worth noting, in an episode where the civil/military divide becomes temporarily wider.

-“Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down” really does start as it means to go on, with a serious framing of Roslin looking down on Adama full of suspicion, with tense music, and then suddenly the two of them are waving awkwardly at each other, like one of them has mistaken the other waving at them when they are actually waving at someone behind them.

-“If I’m a Cylon, you’re really screwed”. I love Olmos’ delivery here, trying to deflect the surprise of Roslin’s request by making a joke of it.

-I think this is the only time that we see the observation deck/room in the entire show, which is a shame. It’s a neat part of the ship, and I like the idea that it has become make-out central for denizens of the Fleet tired of having no windows.

-Billy and Dee are the cutest couple on BSG – I suppose the only competition is Baltar/Head Six, Sharon/Helo and Tigh/Ellen, so it isn’t hard – and don’t think I didn’t notice the lip gloss. The underlying tension in their scene wasn’t so good, with Billy the absolute worst man to try and get information out of Dee subtlety.

-The montage preview for this episode was unintentionally hilarious, picking out every scene that could even slightly be described as either “action” or “sexy” and putting them altogether, with that tense backing track. It reminded me of the Vandrew TNG edit “A Fistful Of Explosions“.

-Great visual in Baltar’s lab, his own personal hell: a slow pan out to see him surrounded by hundreds of blood vials, as he waves lyrical about how long it would take to test them all (over sixty years).

-The operatic music playing as Baltar gets intimate with Six is Bear McCreary’s “Battlestar Operatica”. Sung in Italian, among its lyrics are “Woe upon your Cylon heart, there’s a toaster in your head”

-I have to ask, is Six just actively screwing with Baltar’s head in this episode? She initiates a sexual encounter in the lab, and seems non-plussed when Starbuck walks in, like she was totally expecting it. What does she get out of humiliating Baltar?

-I also have to ask, what is the point of this Baltar/Starbuck sub-plot? Here she walks in on him essentially masturbating for a cheap visual joke, as the writers seem to want us to remember an apparent “thing” the two have. But do they really?

-Again, with the subpar Centurion effects, the problem is only increased when there are loads of them on-screen in one shot.

-Love Baltar’s description of his lab as the “Department of Cylon Detection” when answering a phone call. Alas, it’s the President on the other end, and Baltar continues his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

-Love Adama asking his son if he has any dinner plans, and Apollo answering “What?” in genuine befuddlement. Given the larger situation, it’s the last thing you would expect the Commander to ask.

-Tigh and Roslin’s showdown on Colonial One makes you think of the tete-a-tete that the two had in “You Can’t Go Home Again”, and foreshadows the moments when Colonel Tigh is going to be standing in the same spot a few episodes from now. It has, again, an odd energy, as it seems strange a man like Tigh would stand for such duplicity.

-Poor Baltar can’t catch a break, asked by different people to jump between tests, and with a look on his face when it happens like he wants to end it all. It’s like something out of Fawlty Towers.

-I do think that Kate Vernon does a decent job as Ellen. She makes her hateable, and that’s exactly what the character needs to be.

-I’ll tell you one thing that might mark Ellen out as a Cylon; the way she uses sex to try and get what she wants. With Tigh, with Apollo, with Adama, with Baltar, she tries it all on in different ways. But unlike Six, she’s not very good at it.

-Case in point, she also, charmingly, refers to Roslin as a “Kindergarten teacher” while trying to play nice. She really isn’t quite as good at this game as she thinks she is.

-Case in point #2, feeling Apollo up. What is she trying to accomplish there? Or is it anything at all, other than a drunken moment of stupidity? Poor Jamie Bamber has had little to do recently, but I do like the way he responds to Ellen’s unwanted advances.

-Ellen trying to ferret information about Earth out of Adama does shine a light on that whole topic, which hasn’t actually been brought up all that much so far since the Miniseries. Where is Earth, and, more importantly, when is the Fleet going to get there? It’s a reasonable question, and I’m surprised more people aren’t asking.

-“Boo!” Ellen says, trying, and failing to kill the tension over humanoid Cylons. Not doing herself many favours.

-I do love Apollo’s “Used to?” response to Adama’s claim that Ellen “used to encourage the worst instincts” in Tigh, it was perfectly timed.

-Helo is finally starting to wise up a little bit. When he tells Sharon “You never get tired” it isn’t a statement of admiration, it’s an expression of befuddlement. The truth is coming.

-Head Six’s line in meeting Ellen is very interesting: “Something here, isn’t there?” Head Six isn’t really a Cylon of course, so she knows more about the larger situation. When she tells Baltar “You should be watching her” she doesn’t mean because of her looks.

-Ellen’s lies are all over the place towards the end of the episode, and seem to have no clear motive other than to drive a wedge between Adama and Tigh. What, is she trying to ferment a mutiny? Get Tigh in command? If so, it’s a stupid plan.

-Adama’s answer to Tigh’s query as to if he has been secretly visiting his wife is a perfect summation of the episode: “No…yes…it’s complicated!”

-The crisis of the finale feels very wrong to me. It’s just not on that the Galactica would be happy to let the Raider get that close without any additional precautions, and that none of the ship’s own defences would be able to do anything about it.

-“Even in his anguish he seemed so alive”: a great line from Doral that sums up Cylon jealously of humanity, but it’s Tricia Helfer’s performance in response that really impressed me, her bitter words about Helo being “pathetic” before she turns and hides tears.

-“You don’t want to frak with me Bill”. “You don’t want to frak with me either Ellen”. Despite the set-up for further conflict, I don’t recall Adama and Ellen ever having many more scenes together.

-“Everyone passes these days”. Baltar revenge for being placed in charge of Cylon detection is just to forgo the task entirely, and there’s something so eerie about how blase he is about it.

-I do like the final image of the episode, a repeat of the pan-out while various characters talk and Baltar dreamily spins in his chair, eyes only for someone no-one else can see. It’s a nice cap on the craziness of the episode.

Overall Verdict: This is a weak episode it has to be said, the weakest of BSG’s run so far, and certainly one of the weakest of the entire run. It tries to be a comedy episode in a way that simply doesn’t work, that meshes so poorly with the serious drama at the heart of the episode, whether it is a frankly tired game of “Who’s a Cylon?” (no-one as it turns out) or everything with the Raider (also largely meaningless: there are no stakes to this episode). “Six Degrees Of Separation” was enough comedy for one season: “Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down” is a major step in the wrong direction.

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8 Responses to NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season One: “Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down”

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