NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Three: “Torn”

Now o­ne of you, and I don’t care who, pick that weapon up and shoot me.

Air Date: 03/11/2006

Director: Jean de Segonzac

Writer: Anne Cofell Saunders

Synopsis: With the Cylons, Baltar struggles to prove his worth when he discovers their larger plan. In the Fleet, Tigh and Starbuck cause rancour when they spend their time criticising those who did not serve on New Caprica.

Review

“Torn” is an episode that has some problems, and one of them is right there in the title. It’s been ripped down the middle, and what we have are two very different plot-lines that are not connected enough. Either of them could be spun-off to be their own thing, their own separate episode, but instead they are mashed into around 20 minutes each and stuck together. It makes “Torn” feel like an ill-fit anthology of a thing: too much going on, too separately, as BSG stumbles leaving New Caprica behind.

The episode delights in disorientating the viewer, and does this in spades for the Cylon part of proceedings. It’s one of the more well-rounded aspects of “Torn”, the way that de Segonzac works overtime to put you in Baltar’s shoes, unclear on the amount of time passing, unclear about where he is on the basestar at any given time, struggling to adapt to his place in this alien world where he is very much the outsider. The cinematography department is working overtime here, in one of the largest departures from the cinema verite style that usually marks BSG. That’s the baseline for “Torn” really: presenting Baltar as a man fundamentally out of his depth, and struggling to not lose himself.

Gaeta has a line here that sums up much of what we know about Baltar already, which is that the former President has “an extraordinary ability for self-preservation”. We talked about that a bit in “Exodus (Part Two)” but it’s been a present aspect of his character for a long time. Baltar is all about #1, and just about every action he takes, from the moment we first saw him in the Miniseries right up to his pleading with Caprica Six in “Collaborators”, has had some element of self-aggrandisement or self-survival too it. In “Torn”, this instinct sees Baltar claiming to know where Earth is, volunteering to check out a plague-infested Cylon ship and trying endlessly to ingratiate himself into a collective he has no real place in. But then the instinct runs smack dab into the possibility of striking an enormous, maybe even a fatal blow, against the Cylons, where Baltar is very much the man on the spot.

The plague left behind by the Thirteenth Tribe, at least allegedly, is an interesting plot point for BSG to cover. For the Cylons the event lies at an intersection of perfidious humanity and divine retribution for their sins, and the confusion about how they should view it is at the heart of the terrific squabbling scene late-on when the seven – minus Cavil, who is nowhere to be seen interestingly – can’t figure out what to do. It’s as good a narrative twist as any to give the Cylons some direction post-New Caprica, and also allows Baltar the chance to prove his quality.

But to who is the question? Baltar “selflessly” volunteers to check out the ailing basestar, but his behavior there is very much in question. The horrific sight of the dying Cylons leads him to an encounter with a Six, and as she babbles about Baltar betraying them the good Doctor is driven to murder. It’s difficult to know what to make of this: is it the specific horror of the surrounds that makes something crack in Baltar, is it that self-preservation instinct kicking into gear at the thought of being denounced, or is this the inevitable outcome of a constant level of violent hysteria within himself? And what is the significance of it being Six that he kills? We know all about his self-loathing, but it seems this may manifest itself, at least partly, in this display of aggression towards the woman he claims to love.

More importantly, Baltar seems to take his shot at wiping out the Cylons here, pretending as if he didn’t see the likely origin of the sickness (despite the fact that pictures were taken, and Baltar should be a smart enough man to have accounted for that). The only way I can look at this act is to tie it to Baltar’s unease at the idea of the Cylons actively looking for Earth, with his attempt to play ignorant of what happened on the basestar an effort to trick the Cylons into letting the plague spread. That’s an unusually pro-human move for Baltar, and one that flies in the face of his stated trait for self-preservation – what’s he going to do, wait for them all to die and then jump back to the Fleet himself? – but I suppose might make more sense with his general disorientation among the Cylons and his recognisable tendency to go for the jugular when it suits him (like, say, in “Fragged” or “The Captain’s Hand”).

This is all good stuff, but “Torn” dilutes itself by dipping its beak firmly into the pool of “Who is a Cylon?” I thought that we had pretty much dispensed with this with the opening to “Downloaded” in Baltar’s case, and it would be a little strange for him to be a Cylon at this point after everything that happened on New Caprica. But BSG dangles this thread again, and will be dangling it for the next little while as I recall. Perhaps it is just a case of hindsight playing a factor, but I find this sort of narrative guessing game much less interesting on a re-watch, and seeing Baltar stumble around panic-stricken at the thought of being a Cylon seems more like filler than a genuinely interesting plot point. We get more of that than we do on the, named for the first time, “Final Five” and isn’t it a little silly that Baltar only now decides it’s worth asking about the Cylon models that we haven’t seen yet?

I break from that to talk briefly about the introduction of the “hybrids”, who will form a recurring part of the Cylon experience going forward. They are a strange mix of roles all in one package: physically a person (albeit with wires sticking in them), at the same time the most advanced form of Cylon computer and then seers or prophets, the Cylon version of the oracle that we briefly encountered in “Exodus (Part One)”. Even the Cylons themselves don’t really seem to now what to make of them, divided between considering their many ramblings total nonsense or the literal voice of God.

That isn’t even the end of it, as it’s made clear that the hybrids basically are the basestar, controlling their function right down to the FTL jumps. We’ve seen the marriage of the biological with the technical in Cylon equipment before, but that was the sort of organic mass behind the Raiders in “You Can’t Go Home Again” that exhibited a more visceral consciousness in “Scar”. This is something different: a very human face to put on one of the least human construct in the show. And they are certainly more than machines, showing concern for another basestar here, and indicating the capacity for dissent. Dissent within the Cylon ranks is something that we’ve seen growing as a theme since “Downloaded”, and even before really, and the hybrid provides another avenue for it. There are a lot of things that can be done with the idea, and it’s one of the true stand-out inclusions in “Torn”: it makes the episode an instance of BSG leaning into “hard” sci-fi for one of the first times, and is part-and-parcel with a shift in tone in how the Cylons are portrayed that could certainly be perceived as jarring.

Onto the Fleet then, where the focus is very much on Starbuck on Tigh, with “Torn” basically forming a sort of second part to the story of post-New Caprica trauma begun in “Collaborators”. Both of them are flaming out in different ways. Starbuck has ended her marriage it seems, is falling to pieces in the cockpit and rejects even the slightest bit of emotional intimacy offered to her by Kacey’s mother: something originally meant to be the main plot of the episode, but which was abandoned in favour of this more singularly self-destructive arc. Tigh is back on the bottle and imagining that he sees Ellen in the hallways of Galactica. Both are disassociating hugely from the rest of humanity and both sees little in the way of avenues out of the morass they have found themselves in. The Circle was meant to provide that avenue, but Gaeta’s absolution poisoned that already rancid endevour.

So, what to do? Well, find new targets. The people who helped the Cylons on New Caprica are dealt with or out of reach, so Thrace and Tigh turn their sights on the next best thing: the military who weren’t left behind. “Torn” does a great job of showcasing the sheer bitterness that has taken up root inside both of them, that means they only see the other as worthy of their time. The pilots of Galactica, the officers who were on the battlestars when the Cylons arrived, even the people who came from the Fleet to fight in the Battle of New Caprica, these are second-class citizens in their eyes. They weren’t there, so they don’t get to talk.

It’s unfortunate that “Torn” doesn’t have the time to really parse this out, the sub-plot going from genesis to resolution in a few short scenes, but it does as much as it can. We get a good eye-view of how Tigh and Thrace send the morale of the crew plummeting through their ill-thought comments and criticisms, and how easily such poison can spread. Those crew members who try and stand up to them get beaten back down – verbally – and there’s a sense of helplessness in the mess hall that is very palpable in the face of this “holding court”. Helo, one of the victims of this assault, is the one to bring it to Adama’s attention, and from there it’s time to bring the hammer down.

Adama’s intervention is the undoubted highlight of the episode. He comes into this crisis late, and knows that he has to make a spectacular point to these two. It isn’t enough to just talk to them, he’s seen Tigh’s behavior for himself and the revelation of the Circle is presumably eating at him too. The end result is incredible, after he suggests that the two should consider putting a bullet in his head: Starbuck, the woman he has openly called a surrogate daughter and was willing to risk the entire Fleet over in “You Can’t Go Home Again” is disowned and then dismissed, and his relationship with Tigh, the kind of thing whose strength has been touched on repeatedly in the Miniseries, “Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down”, “Scattered” or “The Farm”, seems virtually sundered.

It’s the reactions that are especially fascinating. For Starbuck it seems to be the cold, hard shock that she really needs: like Adama with his mustache, she symbolically cuts her hair and becomes the person she was before, or at least close enough. She re-connects with Kacey, and shows us that there hope for her. Anders tried to reach out to her with affection, Tigh with a partnership in bitterness, but what she needed, like a rebellious teenager, was an admonition from an authority figure. We shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that Starbuck is fixed, but she’s taken a positive step.

Tigh though, Tigh is different. His symbolic act is a form of suicide, as he informs Adama that the man he used to know is dead, and presumably buried back on New Caprica with Ellen. All that’s left is this bile-filled old man filled with regrets, and he doesn’t feel like changing on Adama’s say-so. We don’t know yet what it is going to take to get him to step back from this vortex, but this intervention by Adama is only enough to stop his former XO from dragging the rest of the crew down with him. “Torn” is an episode that leaves many dangling threads, too many maybe, but this is one of the most intriguing.

I’m an angel of God sent here to help you. Just as I always have been.

Notes

-The title of this one speaks to divides, between Baltar and his captors, between Tigh/Starbuck and Adama, between the two plot-lines.

-The director is a long-standing TV guy, perhaps best known for his work on Law & Order. This is his only BSG episode.

-For the first time in a while we are back in Baltar and Head Six’s mind palace, only it’s a high exposure beach this time and not a lakeside home. I presume budget cuts might be responsible.

-The dubbing here is pretty obvious, a result of re-writes. It’s why the light is emphasised to make their mouths hard to see.

-Head Six brings up Cylon projection here as an innate part of their being, and that might be reflected in the way they “project” thoughts and feelings on to Baltar.

-The music heard here is “Battlestar Sonatica”, McCreary’s take on Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”. It’s a nice piece to emphasise the familiar with the unfamiliar we get on the basestar.

-A nice contrast between Biers all-too-casual declaration that the Cylons are looking to make Earth their new home and the look on Baltar’s face as he realises the implications. It’s a huge moment in the show, and Callis’ performance reflects this.

-The count is down 13 from “Collaborators”, reflecting the people executed by the Circle.

-As the opening scene makes clear, Helo is still acting as Galactica’s XO, with newly Majored Apollo back to CAG.

-The episode calls attention to it later, but Apollo is now back to normal weight-wise, which is impressive given it’s apparently only been a month since the Battle of New Caprica.

BSG goes back to the well of training exercise disasters in “Torn”, having presented similar in “Act Of Contrition”, “Home (Part One)” and “Occupation”.

-Apollo lays into Starbuck, with a line that presumably nods to the activities of the Circle: “If you want to die I will open up an airlock for you”.

-It’s a bit of a trope for someone who has just lost a significant other to hear their voices and go chasing down a phantom of that person. But at least here it segways nicely into Tigh’s rancour, which starts partly as annoyance at the number of civilians on the ship.

-First mention here of “Camp Oilslick”, the civilian shanty town that will form a not-insignificant part of the Galactica’s geography going forward. It makes sense, given the number of ships lost in “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part Two)”, that space is at a bigger premium than ever in the Fleet.

-Kacey remembers Starbuck anyway, shouting out “Kara, Kara” in an adorable manner. But Kara was the person on New Caprica, not Captain Starbuck.

-Interesting that it is Helo helping Apollo to lose the weight, and he gets it done fast enough. That’s a role he’s played before, a training room confidante, as we saw with Starbuck in “Scar”.

-Apollo’s weight loss was apparently meant to be part of a longer narrative, where he would join Galactica’s Marines for a time, but it was dropped.

-Love Gaeta catching himself as he goes over Baltar’s work on Earth’s location “Presiden…Doctor Baltar”.

-The script unnecessarily recaps Pythia here, as if they are worried we will have forgotten the importance of the sacred scrolls. Not so good info dumping.

-“Let’s go lion hunting”. Cool line.

-Not sure why we have to see an (inferred) naked Eight doing some form of meditation exercise just for a cheap joke at the expense of Baltar’s sheepishness.

-Caprica Six shuts down Baltar’s suggestion that she is projecting a memory of a place they enjoyed together in brutal fashion: “Aesthetics give me pleasure, not the memories”.

-The situation with the newly combined crews of Galactica and Pegasus is put bluntly by Kat: “Too many pilots, not enough birds”. What to do with the spares?

-It seems the pilots have come to accept Sharon, as evidenced by the playfully intended callsigns they suggest for her, which include “chromedome”.

-The winner is “Athena” though, and that’s how I’ll be referring to this character from now on. It’s also the name of Adama’s daughter in The Original Series.

-Tigh notes that Starbuck is playing “Dead Man’s Chest”, a more “cut-throat” card game than Thrace is usually seen playing. This is an invention for the show I believe, I can’t find any reference to a real-world card game that would match the description.

-Tigh derisively refers to Helo’s wife as “your Cylon girlfriend”. It hasn’t taken him long to forget Athena’s part in the evacuation of New Caprica.

-Interesting to note that Six exhibits something close to fear when she briefly lands on the topic of the “Final Five”. What is there to be afraid of?

-We’ve talked about the Cylon marriage of the biological and the technological before, at length, but it is interesting to see them various models activating the basestar’s interface together here, another sort of unknowable communion.

-The Cylons all have interesting reactions to the growing crisis: Doral’s expresses credulousness, Simon reacts with logic, Leoben with religion.

-Callis captures the right sense of being just a little bit unhinged as he volunteers to go onto the infected basestar. Baltar likes to think he’s suave, but he’s really not.

-I’ll tell you another problem that the Galactica has: too much alcohol for too many pilots. The number of them displaying some manner of inebriation here is eye-raising, and points to a breakdown in cohesion.

-Kat is one of the crewmembers who attempts to stand up to Tigh and Starbuck in the mess, which is worth pointing out: she was the CAG during the occupation after all.

-The firmest sign yet of how far Tigh has fallen into a pool of bitterness is his lack of reaction when Kat suggests he tell his insults “to the pilots that died getting you off that rock”. He doesn’t care about even this.

-Helo hits the nail on the head regards Tigh and Starbuck’s behavior by remarking “I don’t think they care”. The two are past that point, with the pain of New Caprica drowning out any empathy for anyone else.

-The Hybrid presumably has a range of influences, not least the “precogs” of Minority Report and the Navigators of Dune.

-The Hybrid’s words here are just an introduction and I don’t think they serve any higher prophetic purpose.

-The Hybrid seems to have some kind of pleasurable reaction to the FLT jump, that borders on the orgasmic. This seems a natural extension of Cylon sexuality I suppose.

-The dead basestar is covered well enough with the floating Raiders and sickly appearance. It’s better set-up than whats to come.

-We return here to themes of body horror that we last saw in “The Farm”. In truth it’s a basic enough make-up job, augmented by dim lighting.

-The probe with a disease is an interesting plot point, and points again to the idea that the Thirteenth Tribe’s journey was not all sweetness and light, something Athena alluded to in “Home (Part One)”.

-A quick note here to say that the standard Cylon ship is a “basestar” but the terms “baseship” or “bayship” seem to be used interchangeably.

-I do love the squabbling Cylons who can’t decide what to do next. The groundwork is being laid there for major developments later on.

-For all the importance of the Hybrid, Biers is clear about her status in the Cylon society: “She doesn’t get a vote”.

-Baltar is caught easily in his lies, too easily really. He’ll pay for it shortly.

-I’m always impressed by the way BSG goes about showcasing Adama’s authority in comparison to others. Here he says quietly “Give me the room” and the place empties in a moment.

-The way he tosses the gun on the table, with a mix of disgust and anger, is pitch perfect.

-“Pick that weapon up and shoot me” is enough to draw anyone’s attention really.

-Holy crap, the way that Adama dresses down Starbuck, with a lack of sympathy that is necessary: “You’re a malcontent and a cancer”.

-Then he rapidly turns to Tigh, and he doesn’t mince words there either, referring to his former XO as “a one eyed drunk”.

-Tigh grabs the gun after one more challenge from Adama, and for a split second you might actually think he’s going to indulge the Admiral.

-An end montage lays out the contrasting futures for Kara and Tigh, and there are as different as you can imagine. The director does a good job in this moment.

-I understand Sackhoff is actually cutting her hair here, which for an actor is far from some minor thing.

-The lions head nebulae would appear to be a fictional star formation, unlike the Lagoon nebulae mentioned in “Home (Part Two)”.

-The episode ends with Athena quoting scripture: “When God’s anger awakens, even the mighty shall fall.” This has no basis in real scripture, so can be taken as part of the Colonial religion.

Overall Verdict: “Torn” is a a bit of a difficult one really. There’s two separate half-hours worth of plot that have been sewn together here, and neither is fully fleshed out enough and doesn’t do enough to complement the other. There are some stand-out moments of course – the finale with Adama for example – but there is too much about the episode that seems a little rushed and an effort to place square pegs in round holes. We’re in this transition period between the opening arc and the next major one around the halfway point of Season Three, and where the same period in Season Two gave us some bangers, Season Three is already struggling.

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12 Responses to NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Three: “Torn”

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