NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Four: “The Ties That Bind”

You’re not getting your hands on my son.

Air Date: 18/04/2008

Director: Michael Nankin

Writer: Michael Taylor

Synopsis: Cally spirals mentally as her marriage falls apart, with paranoia driving her to dark places. Apollo takes his place in the Colonial government, immediately clashing with Roslin. Starbuck’s mission engenders distrust among her crew. The Cylons step back from the brink of total civil war, but one faction has secret plans.

Review

In appraising the decision to kill off Cally Tyrol, we need to take a brief aside to discuss Nicki Clyne in the real world. The actress is a member of NXIVM, a cult run by a man named Keith Raniere that masqueraded as some sort of self-help/marketing company. In 2019 Raniere was found guilty of sex trafficking, racketeering and other nasty crimes, and Clyne has remained a cheerleader for the man as he begins what will hopefully be a lengthy stint in prison. It has become something of an accepted factoid among the BSG fanbase that Clyne voluntarily left the show in order to dedicate more time to the cult, but Clyne has herself denied this, claiming that Cally’s death was a writer decision. In this specific case I’m inclined to believe the actress, as Cally’s death, while somewhat sudden, does serve an important plot purpose for multiple other characters and doesn’t strike me as something that was come with on the fly. We may never know: Ronald D. Moore and others don’t appear to have ever made a public pronouncement on the matter.

That said, let’s talk about the character in this episode. Cally has always been a little fragile mentally when you look back on things: I mean, how else can you describe the person who was almost raped in “Bastille Day”, murdered Boomer in “Resistance”, or who married the man who gave her a savage beating in “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part One)”? Now she is trapped in an unrelenting vortex, one where she is propelled by the toxic combination of a crumbing marriage, drugs and a child who never seems to stop screaming. The episode, and Clyne, do a good job with the character and this story, allowing us plenty of time to see Cally as someone who is in a very negative place, something accomplished primarily through some unreal cinematography to portray Cally’s collapsing mental state. She isn’t just sad, she’s losing her grip on reality, and what we see reflects that.

It really isn’t going to take all that much to set Cally on a path to self-harm – after all, she practically fantasises about Tyrol beating her again in the scene with Doc Cottle – and the last shattering blow to her psyche is the revelation that her husband is a Cylon. When that happens, and only gets made worse when an oblivious Tyrol suggests they have another child, Cally’s suicidal ideation kicks in hard. There’s no way out of this miserable hole for her, and we might remember that it was Cally who first put into words the idea of people being stuck in their lives in the Fleet, back in “A Day In The Life”. Despite the somewhat positive ending of that episode, events since have only confirmed this reality, not least the obvious inequalities of Colonial society that she spoke about in “Dirty Hands”. Cally’s desire to end her life is understandable from that viewpoint. Her decision to take her son with her is less so, but this reflects her unhinged mental state.

I said that Cally’s death made sense as a means of forwarding things for others, and the main other is undoubtedly Tory. We saw little signs of it in “Six Of One”, but here is where her turn from a character we can class among the protagonists into something else becomes alarmingly clear. It is a sudden change, but no more sudden then her going from being a human to a Cylon. And it means that the character gets a whole lot more to do going forward.

Sometimes it is as simple as Tory being the person who see’s things that other don’t. She’s done that for Roslin of course, but here she’s letting this aspect of her character grow, in a very self-interested kind of way. She’s able to get Baltar talking to her, she’s able to do the same with Tyrol. She’s the one who notices the missing hatch plating, and knows what it means. She’s observant, which is nothing new, but now she has a very self-interested edge that is losing any kind of moral compunction in terms of using that skill at observation to get what she wants.

Hence her showdown with Cally. Tory exhibits a fairly masterful ability to manipulate Cally into doing what she wants her to do, namely drop the kid and let Tory knock her out. This is all spur of the moment, but there’s a deeper meaning behind every action: in killing Cally so that Tory and the other Cylons don’t get exposed, and in saving Nicky so as to not break Tyrol completely. At the end of it all we have a picture of a woman who has lost her ethical compass somewhere in the wake of the Ionian Nebula: unrestrained by laws, dismissive of morality, and open to new experiences, up to and including the taking of life. In other words, BSG has a new antagonist. Putting her in the midst of the Five seems like a pretty good stroke to me from this point, so that entity doesn’t become a homogenous lump of people all having the same plotline. It’s happened fast, but the immediate payoff and the future possibilities are fascinating. Tyrol started the episode by telling Tory that he doesn’t like change, but Tory is the complete opposite, embracing the change and the chance of a whole new persona that comes with it.

Where “The Ties That Bid” really excels though is in the way that it manages to balance three other pretty significant plotlines with the one talked about above, with a general theme of stability about to be undermined and collapsed. The first one that we will look at is the politics of the Fleet, where Apollo is now a big player, and set very much against Roslin in fundamental ways. Regards Roslin, we get two very distinctive views of her in “The Ties That Bind”, that couldn’t be more different: the woman getting treatments for her cancer and getting more than a little pally with Adama, and then, well, a tyrant.

I don’t know what other word is really appropriate at this point. The signs of demagoguery have been there for a long time of course, how else could you describe someone who mixed being the head of the executive branch with being a literal prophet? But ever since she took up the Presidency again in “Collaborators”, she’s been slipping from a democratic mindset. The mass pardon in that episode was the start of it I suppose, then there was the unilateral decision to proceed with genocide as a course of action against the Cylons in “A Measure Of Salvation”, the torture of Baltar in “Taking A Break From All Your Worries” and his later degradation as a prisoner, the arrest of striking workers and Baltar sympathisers in “Dirty Hands” and then the entire farce that was Baltar’s trial.

Now, in this episode, we see Roslin actually being the President, at least in the form of being the head of the Quorum of Twelve, and the picture is not a very good one. She looks tired, and annoyed at the manner in which the Quorum actually conducts its business, as if it is a bothersome thing to her that she still feels the need to tolerate. Zarek appears to be doing most of the work in corralling it, and it’s strange to see him privately with Apollo warning against Roslin’s growing threat, and seeming like the reasonable voice. She’s snotty with delegates, and holds an obvious grudge against Apollo: understandably perhaps, but the manner in which she attempts a verbal smackdown on Lee here is unbecoming of the woman Roslin was in Seasons One and Two, who would have handled such a situation with far more tact. I mean, remember the subtle politicker who got Baltar elected VP in “Colonial Day”?

Where we are going seems worse though. “Executive Order 112” outlines Roslin’s plans to basically gut the Fleet’s judicial system of any independence, essentially putting her in charge of it. It’s not hard to join the dots back to her anger at the outcome of Baltar’s trial in “Crossroads (Part Two)”, an entire circumstance where her sense of right and wrong seemed to fly out the window (or the airlock if you prefer). What we see here is a very flimsy democratic system, more prone to people shouting over each other than working together, and it really is not that difficult to see it collapsing entirely if Roslin decided she wanted to do away with the noise. All it would need is for Adama to back her up. Would he take the same stand he did in “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part Two)”? Or would he now, getting as close as he ever has to Roslin, facilitate this turn to dictatorship?

Now a Quorum delegate, it seemingly falls to Apollo to become the opposition, with a little Machiavellian push from Zarek. “The Ties That Bind” is our first look at this new Apollo, the culmination of everything we have seen in him as a political idealist since “Bastille Day” and the episode does a good job with limited time in terms of the depiction of him having to choose a side. After all, we open with what seems to be a rapprochement between him and Roslin, and then at the Quorum scene he throws Roslin an olive branch by defending her on the Demetrius matter. In so doing, he displays a not inconsiderable ability to play the game, and pick the side of the President.

But that doesn’t mean that Apollo isn’t a democrat, and isn’t placing democratic ideals at the forefront of his thinking. His efforts to make good with Roslin might be a test of a kind, to see if she really is the petty tyrant-in-waiting that Zarek is worried she is turning into. When Roslin decides to repay his conciliatory efforts with a barely-veiled snarling putdown, Apollo isn’t going to take it. You instantly go back to their confrontation in “Crossroads (Part One)”, when the final trigger for Apollo’s decisive stroke was Roslin talking down to him. It’s practically a re-run here. You might put it down to a certain childishness in Apollo’s character, but Roslin’s lack of tact in the same instance can’t go unremarked upon by the same standard. Perhaps feeling that Roslin’s open display of contempt for him is sign enough that she needs to be pushed back on a little, Apollo presents his evidence of Roslin’s plan to hamstring the judiciary, and I think we can chalk this early exchange off as a win for him. The political life of the Fleet has been on the backburner for much of the last year, save “Dirty Hands”, but now it seems we have a plot that set-up to be one of the most interesting of BSG’s last act.

Somewhere between the Fleet and Earth (maybe) is the Demetrius, where Kara Thrace’s motley crew of loyalists, ex-lovers and malcontents stew unhappily. A line is drawn fairly clearly between Starbuck and Cally in a narrative sense here I thought, with Thrace spiralling in her own way, getting lost in an intangible feeling of what Earth is or looks like, and disassociating from the people around her more and more. She’s becoming distant, argumentative, unstable: put her in the Tyrols’ quarters and she wouldn’t look out of place. I’m mystified as to why Gaeta was picked to be among her crew given the antagonism there, and the potential for a mutiny of some kind sees the groundwork laid well enough.

While Helo struggles with his now repetitive role as the guy trying to get people to not turn on Starbuck, the woman herself continues to do her cause little favours with her demeanour. With Sam we see, once again after “Act Of Contrition”, the way in which sexual longing mixes itself, sometimes poisonously, with other emotions and even as she is literally pushing him away, she’s drawing him back in, and into her bed. One has to feel a bit of pity for Sam at this point, who seems incapable of letting Starbuck as a wife go, even after she is repeatedly physically and emotionally abusive towards him. Here, he appears to be just a set of genitalia, and very little besides. He could be anybody. This further disintegration of Starbuck’s psyche is only a small part of the episode, but continues with it what I still find to be an unpalatable collapse for her. I’m hoping as this plot intersects with the Cylon rebels I might have more time for it. We’ll see.

Which leaves us with the Cylons. If Natalie’s slaughter of the Cavil-led faction in “Six Of One” wasn’t an open declaration of Civil War – after all, she knew they would all come back – then Cavil isn’t in the mood to be so even-handed. Watching Cavil at work in the first two scenes of this sub-plot here I was struck, perhaps because of my recent reading up on the topic, of Franco: paying lip-service to the idea of democracy when presented with a government that he doesn’t especially like, just long enough to stab it in the back.

The peace talk scenes are fun to watch: it always will be so, with Dean Stockwell delivering “nihilistic punch lines” to everything that is said to him. He’s barely holding it together really, and certainly will never be able to let go of that sense of superiority. But he’s also able to use that sense very effectively, making himself appear like a wearied elder lowering himself to going along with the crowd, even though he knows that what they want to do is a bad idea. It’s still a little shocking when the rebels are caught out as badly as they are, but Natalie and her allies do not appear to have the guile or gumption of Cavil, or his ruthlessness.

After all, this is a man who embraces the ideas of not having a soul gladly, ecstatically, as he watches a more permanent slaughter of his fellow Cylons. It’s only a brief action beat, but I did enjoy it: Cavil doesn’t take half measures, with the rebel fleet largely annihilated in seconds, and there is more to come as I recall. As a viewer you can cheer along for this as humanity’s enemies are put at each others throats, but a moments pause will create some concern: going forward the dominant, maybe only, Cylon faction is one that has no time for prophecies, restraints or subtleties. Now, it’ll be out to complete the genocide. Unless there are any Cylons left who can stop it…

 Because that’s what I’m really counting on, that you’re not the kind of man who can ignore the truth when it stares you in the face.

Notes

-The title is an idiom from a 18th century hymn originally: “Blest be the tie that binds / Our hearts in Christian love,”. Here it seems to have more of an ironic meaning, as ties sever dramatically.

-Cavil’s resurrection after the conclusion in “Six Of One” is brutal, Stockwell tumbling out of the pod in shock. He noted before, in “Exodus (Part One)”, that the act gets more painful each time.

-The kiss between Cavil and Boomer certainly has a romantic element to it. It’s a strange road to take, and we’ll see where we end up.

-Cally’s mindset is laid out well in this opening sequence. The sense of time slipping away and her psyche becoming affected by unreality is very potent.

-The make-up crew have done a great job with Aaron Douglas in this episode. He looks absolutely wrecked in the opening scene, not unlike what we saw with various people in “33”.

-I’m not sure what to make of Tory’s hand on Tyrol’s arm. Is she making a pass, or just being a bit physical in her attempted connection?

-The count remains as it was, so a good day for the Fleet after the last few episodes.

-I do love Edward James Olmos’ narration of this gumshoe novel. That voice is so perfect for it, it’s a wonder he isn’t asked to do it more.

-But more than that you have to be struck by the intimacy of this moment, with Adama reading and Roslin arched back. This is not something that mere friends do.

-I love the opening line of this novel: “It started like it always did, with a body.” You could say BSG started like that too, in a way, with that Colonial Officer killed on Armistice Station.

-“Caprica City had been my teacher, my mistress. From the moment I open my eyes, she’s in my blood, like cheap wine. Bitter and sweet, tinged with regret. I’ll never be free of her, nor do I want to be. For she is what I am. All that is, should always be.” Could I get a copy of that book?

-Apollo really is playing a bit of politics with his opening speech, saying this about the woman who he tore into in “Crossroads (Part One)”: I am grateful and consistently inspired by the compassionate and forthright leadership of President Roslin”.

-I’m struck again here that there really is a lot of journalists in the Fleet, enough for a whole press corps. Do all these people really have a job doing this?

-There is still evidently a divide between Adama and Roslin over Starbuck. It still strikes me as strange that the President can’t understand Adama’s position, and it points to her growing self-importance.

-Some blunt screen titles as we go to the Demetrius: “Mission: Find Earth”.

-We get some more cool sounding exotic chords along the same lines as “the Music” here as Starbuck pores over charts, but I don’t think it was ever released as a defined track.

-The Demetrius, befitting a sewage processor, looks like a truly miserable place to be, dank, dimly lit and just generally unpleasant.

-Love that shot where Sam and Starbuck briefly converse between levels, she partially hidden by grating and a blaring light, looking like an ill-defined and hard to grasp figure.

-Cally’s silent treatment of Tyrol is fairly brutal. She seems dead behind the eyes, but it might be a calculated thing to hurt him. It certainly does that.

-Cally asks Tyrol to tell the daycare to stop feeding Nicky “algae mash”. Presumably this from the foodstuffs taken from the algae planet in “The Eye Of Jupiter”, but wasn’t that meant to be the only thing the Colonials had left?

-I like the dynamic between Cavil and Natalie at this truce meeting. He makes a glib comment, she criticises him for turning everything into a joke, he deflects. The hostility is palpable before they even get started.

-“Escort him off the ship” says Natalie to a Centurion. It does nothing. “…Please” she adds. It follows the request. Cavil’s amusement follows the audience’s raised eyebrows: “It’s a good thing you remembered the magic word.”

-Zarek paraphrase’s a bit of Lincoln as he greets Apollo: “A government of the people, for the people, and answerable to the people.” I assume that’s a deliberate choice, maybe a nod to the way Lincoln suspended some important rights during a time of crisis.

-Apollo suggests the Fleet could use “a benevolent tyrant”. Zarek doesn’t think that’s what Roslin is, but appears to suggest she might turn into a tyrant easily enough, with a single minded focus on saving humanity blinding her.

-Cottle is an MD, not a shrink, but you get the feeling he has to do a lot of that based on his interaction with Cally. He knows there’s only so much anti-depressants can do for her.

-Cally remarks here that Cottle is just “pretending to be a bastard” most of the time, which I like. The curmudgeonly Doctor is a bit of a stereotype sure, but it fits here.

-Cally takes a cigarette from Cottle and has a drag, which is something we’ve never seen her do before. It’s another sign of collapse, albeit not a subtle one.

-At first we think that Starbuck is bleeding in her quarters, but it’s actually paint. Again, the subtlety isn’t enormous.

-The painting itself makes you think of Jupiter of course, but the streak of blue is obviously something else. A ship of some kind?

-Starbuck goes for the jugular with Sam by proclaiming that she married him “because it was safe and because it was easy”. She’s trying to hurt him, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. We twigged that as far back as “Unfinished Business”.

-Thrace goes as far as to actually push and hit Sam here, which is new. At least the descent is consistent.

-Once again we get this idea of sexual longing matched with revelations, as Starbuck tells Sam she “just wants to frak”, because she is no longer the person she used to be.

-In the aftermath of another emotionless session of sex, Starbuck outlines her disassociation with herself: “Like my body’s just this alien thing that I’m still attached to.” Sam says nothing, but we can see in his eyes the connection he is making. But Kara is not a Cylon.

-I love Cavil’s “hearts and minds” comment to the Eight, presumably an allusion to their failed experiment on New Caprica. Even here, playing penitent, he’s securely smug and superior.

-Colonial politics looks more like Ireland in this depiction of the Quorum, shouting over each other and getting very little done. No wonder Roslin looks a little sick of it all.

-Roslin’s retort to Apollo is needlessly insulting. You can tell she’s been waiting to put her boot in. She’ll regret it though.

-The smile that plays out on Apollo’s face in this moment is very nice. He’s getting the hang of this.

-Love that look at the swooping basestars, taking up position around their enemies. They often seem so bulky, it’s cool to see them move like this.

-Look closely and you’ll see the constellation Orion in the backdrop here. If not just a flub, it means the Cylons have to be relatively close to Earth.

-It suddenly clicks with Natalie that this is worse than just betrayal, as there is no resurrection ship nearby: “They’re really trying to kill us”. Her coup at least carried with it an understanding that no victim would be permanently killed.

-Cavil dismisses any religious scruples about what he is doing: “We don’t have souls”. It’s a remarkably blunt statement of what he thinks of himself.

-Oh boy that is an unfortunately vague note left for Tyrol in his quarters. It’s tailor made to set a paranoid Cally off.

-The meeting place is in a storage space marked as “1701D”. I geddit.

-I like this look at the catacombs of Galactica, this space between rooms and hallways. The ship has some joints that look a little rusty.

-Tigh’s use of the term “skinjob” is just very odd at this point. Does he think that what he is is something very different?

-In something that we can describe as a form of “life flashing before your eyes”, Cally has visions of her experiences with Tyrol, and we can well believe this is a prelude to the end.

-The disassociation becomes very manifest in these moments, as Tyrol appears behind Cally in a blurry, distorted way, just a fuzzy form with an odd voice. Cally has lost it big time.

-What is Tyrol on by suggesting that he and Cally have another baby? If serious he’s seriously deluded, and if this is his effort, as Tigh suggested, to placate her, it’s remarkably ill-thought.

-It’s well choreographed, that it takes two blows to send Tyrol down. Cally isn’t that strong.

-Now this is dark, maybe as dark as BSG has gotten since Six killed that baby in the Miniseries: a mother preparing to kill herself and her child.

-Tory’s motivation is a little obtuse, but the primary one is sheer, simple survival. She needs Cally gone, but not Nicky. One must also remember that at this point Nicky must be considered a human/Cylon hybrid, so maybe Tory has some desire to save him for that reason.

-Also noticeable here is the strange way that Tory is speaking, very slow and methodical, and not like her. She’s changing in a lot of ways.

-Given the way that Tory flings Cally back with a standing swing, we have to assume that she has some of that Cylon strength we’ve seen plenty of times before. But did it just develop since “Crossroads (Part Two)”? I suppose it must have.

-One has to think that an investigation should reveal the airlock was blown from the control room, not inside the tube? Or is there really no way to record that on Galactica?

-Not sure we really needed to see this glimpse of a frozen Cally out in space. What did that add to the episode?

-We close on a silent scene of Adama speaking to a distraught Tyrol. As far as endings go for BSG, this really has to be seen as bleak as it gets.

Overall Verdict: I have to give “The Ties That Bind” a good bit of credit. There are four very important plotlines being balanced here, and all four get an adequate amount of time to shine and make an impact, with good performances and a sense that important things are actually happening, whether it is Starbuck’s demented search for Earth, Apollo becoming a major political player in the Fleet or the Cylons being at each others throats. It is in the Cally plotline that the episode finds its biggest impact of course, setting the Five on a darker path than we might otherwise have been expecting. Season Four is off to a more solid start than I remember, and I’m hoping for that to continue.

To read more entries in this series, click here to go the index.

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4 Responses to NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Four: “The Ties That Bind”

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