"Scattered" is a down-and-dirty, nitty-gritty, good old-fashioned war story. As a follow-up to what is one of the best season cliffhangers I've seen, it does exactly what it must: It continues the story from the big mess we were in the middle of at the end of "Kobol's Last Gleaming" and it doesn't make the mistake of answering too many questions too soon. At the beginning of "Scattered," everyone is in limbo. By the end of "Scattered," everyone is still in limbo. Think DS9's "A Time to Stand."
In terms of characters, this is Colonel Tigh's episode, focusing on some of his backstory and the question of whether he can step up to the plate with Adama out of action. Even after all the cliffhanger elements set up in the previous episodes, "Scattered" is not satisfied and feels the need to add yet another crisis: A Cylon base star appears (destroying one turns out to be kind of pointless, because there's always another right behind) and the fleet is forced to make an emergency FTL jump. When the Galactica arrives on the other side, the fleet is completely gone. Where are they? We've gone from the frying pan to the fire and now to an empty void.
It turns out to be a tactical mishap: In the midst of the carnage and mayhem, Gaeta failed to transmit the adjusted calculated coordinates to the fleet, so they jumped to the unadjusted coordinates while Galactica jumped to the correct coordinates. The stand-alone plot for "Scattered" is to solve the problem of finding the fleet. To do so, the Galactica must jump back to the original position and run calculations to un-adjust for the adjustment. The problem is that the calculation will take 12 hours to run, there's a base star waiting for them, and holding off a base star for 12 hours is not an option.
I wasn't quite sure of a couple things here. First, if the Galactica had jumped to the correct location based on adjusted calculations to compensate for error variables, wouldn't they already have the results for the "wrong" location stored somewhere? Why would they have to jump back to the original location in order to crunch the numbers? They know where they are and they know where they were, and they know what calculations were made, so wouldn't they be able to plot a course without returning to the original location? Perhaps it can't all be done using just maps and simulations, and perhaps I just don't know enough about FTL course-plotting.
Meanwhile, Adama lies dying on an operating table. Time in finding the fleet is of the essence, because the Galactica's surgeon is on the Rising Star. Tigh is in the hot seat because he must find a way to find the fleet before Adama dies. In the meantime, a less qualified medic will have to step it up herself and become a surgeon for today.
Lee is put in a cell. Sharon is put in a cell. Roslin is already in a cell. What does it say when three of the series' seven top-billed regular characters are in jail? It can't mean that things are going well for the Colonial fleet.
Much of what comes out of "Scattered" does little to shed light on where this is all going (which is not a negative). With Sharon revealed as a Cylon, there's a viscerally energized scene where Tigh questions and beats on her. She has little to say, mainly because she doesn't know anything. At one point she provokes Tigh ("Just get it over with, you frakking coward") because (1) she doesn't much like him anyway and (2) she doesn't much care about living anymore. She doesn't prove useful as a prisoner here (perhaps Tigh's heavy-handed tactics are the problem), and the scene leaves us puzzling over what in the world they're going to do with this character now that she's been exposed.
There's also the question of the people stranded on Kobol, who must take cover from an unseen enemy (presumably Cylon), that have landed nearby. One character follow-up in this storyline is the question of the Cylon/human hybrid child that Six told Baltar about. I'd assumed she was talking about the Helo/Sharon pregnancy, but here she says the baby is hers and Baltar's. How is that possible? What does that mean? I guess the thing with Six is that you never know if what she says is to be taken literally or metaphorically (or as truth or lie), or whether it's Baltar's mind and paranoia playing tricks on him.
The scenes on Kobol are conventional, well-executed dramatizations of military ground tactics — transporting wounded, finding cover, evading the enemy. There's continued exploration of Crashdown's inexperience, Tyrol's experience, and the fact that Crashdown is in command and Tyrol is not. After retreating into the forest, half the unit (three soldiers) has to go back to the crash site to retrieve a missing medkit, or their wounded man will die. Leaving the medkit behind is on Crashdown, because he gave the order to bypass the equipment check. Tyrol and his team retrieve the medkit but the unseen enemy opens fire on them, and a man is shot and killed. This sequence has a visceral impact but, above all, demonstrates how soldiers in war sometimes don't die heroically but instead pointlessly, and without warning.
The Galactica scenes also deal with war strategy, but more high-tech and involving the use of ships and war machines. Gaeta comes up with a plan to network four major computer systems together in a way that will allow Galactica to plot the course in 10 minutes instead of 12 hours, but this goes against one of Adama's core standing rules: no networks on the ship. It leaves the computer systems vulnerable to Cylon viruses, with only software firewalls to provide temporary protection. It's Tigh's big decision to take this risk, and he does so standing on his own.
I was a little unsure about the software points here. First, how could Gaeta implement a plan so quickly that goes against the primary standing rules of execution? Would the Galactica technology even support it? Second, how is it the Cylons can hack an internal network from wireless remote just because four computers have been connected to each other with cables? Isn't that sort of like saying you could hack an internal LAN from the Internet even if the LAN itself wasn't connected to the Internet? Perhaps there's an explanation involving software security and the way the Galactica and Cylon technology works that could explain this, but it's not in the episode. Which, by the way, is the right choice, because people don't watch this show to learn about computer networks.
Besides, as a plot device, this race against the clock of software firewalls being penetrated works fairly well when put alongside a battle sequence involving a base star, hundreds of Raiders, and lots of battlestar artillery exploding. My one question is how the Viper pilots can repel a superior force, even for a few minutes, that seems to outnumber them — oh, I dunno — 20 to one.
The story's character arc is clearly Tigh's, and it makes for an interesting, if not yet conclusive, one. It's about this guy, the no-nonsense XO, taking the reins of command and making the life-or-death decisions he never wanted to make. There's a moment where he's standing over an unconscious Adama in the operating room and says, "I don't want a command. I never did." The flashback narrative reveals some intriguing nuggets but doesn't give away all the backstory. It would seem that both Adama and Tigh at one point had been out of the Colonial Fleet for years, before Adama somehow got back in, exploited his political connections, and finally pulled Tigh back in at a point where Tigh, washed-up and drunk, could not have gotten back in any other way.
Getting the short end of the stick, as usual (although one hopes the trend will change this season), is Cylon-occupied Caprica, which is given just one scene in the episode. Starbuck basically wants to kill Sharon, but Helo stops her, and while they're arguing, Sharon steals Starbuck's Raider. This leads to the show's best line, which you gotta admit when said by Starbuck is funny and true to character: "Bitch took my ride."
I really wanted to see more of this storyline, but that's sort of the point of "Scattered" — it bides its time and leaves you thirsting for more. The episode knows what the main storyline is about (Tigh taking command) and keeps its focus where it is needed, while reminding us that all the other characters are still in play. As the season heats up, the other storylines likely will, too.