If there's a common theme in the intriguing and psychologically layered "Escape Velocity" (and I'm not sure that there is), it's that certain characters need to pay some sort of penance in order to move on to the next stage in their lives (or perhaps the next stage they will inhabit in the BSG master plot). Last week was all about building to an inevitable tragedy; now that there has been a victim, this week is somewhat more meditative.
Cally's funeral is a traditional religious service, which the dying Roslin finds comfort in while it makes Adama squirm. "It's not for me, I can tell you that," Adama notes. "I'm telling you what I like," Roslin replies. The way Roslin trusts Adama to honor what will be her final wish is both a reminder of their closeness and of how dire her situation is. Meanwhile, I find it intriguing how the BSG universe borrows things from our own world and then twists them just so for its own: The structured chanting seems to have its roots in a Catholic Mass, while the hasty timing of the service itself ("Why do they have to do these things at sunrise?") seems to hint at Judaism. (Inquiring minds: Was Cally's body recovered from space? For that matter, how did anyone discover she was blown out the airlock, which everyone apparently assumes she did to herself?)
In the midst of his grief, Tyrol makes a gesture in the direction of Tigh that I honestly am not sure whether speaks more about Tyrol, or about Tigh and Tory. For Tyrol it's a moment of weakness as he reaches out for those suffering a similar fate as his own (living in secrecy); regarding Tigh and Tory, it reveals the depths of their own paranoia: "Is he trying to get us killed?" As a neutral observer, I'd argue that what Tyrol does wouldn't raise any flags to anyone who witnessed it.
Tigh and Tyrol have something in common, though: They've both lost their wives, and Tigh minces few words when telling the chief that he'll have to live with that hole in his life forever. But when Tigh talks, there's a subtext to it that applies uniquely to himself; he has a special well of guilt because his wife's death was of his own doing. It's a well that his mind can't stop tapping.
And should it? That's the compelling tragedy that has become Saul Tigh, and Michael Hogan is endlessly watchable as this guy who has been through some of the toughest things among all the characters on the show (although Kara gives him a run for his money). Here, we get scenes between Tigh and the jailed Caprica Six that explore this guilt. He wants to know: As a Cylon, can she simply "switch off" her guilt over having committed genocide? Tigh wants to be able to turn off his own guilt, but it doesn't work that way for him or for the Cylons. (Oh, but that's right — he is a Cylon himself.) In a particularly interesting choice by the writers, sometimes Tigh sees Ellen when Six talks to him. Kate Vernon appears in scenes that are intriguing and creepy. It creates a strange budding relationship between Tigh and Six, which is made all the more curious by the fact that Kate Vernon and Tricia Helfer share some physical similarities (at least the way they're photographed here).
Tigh needs to pay some sort of penance in his own mind for what he did to Ellen. He doesn't reveal to Six what he did, but Six talks about her own pain and how that contributes to her learning process as a sentient being. I must admit that these scenes at times seemed a little too aware of their high-minded intentions and lacked a certain juice. When Six beats the hell out of Tigh and he willingly takes it, there's a self-flagellation vibe to it. But "this isn't what you need," she tells him. What does he need? Hell, what do any of us need?
The main plot here is centered on Baltar, unseen in last week's "Ties That Bind" but given a major role here, as he pushes his monotheistic religious movement onto center stage and consequently pisses everyone off. Violent mobs from the fundamentalist polytheistic establishment coming looking for Baltar. (Just how many civilians are living on Galactica?) "Old gods die hard, even among your people," Head Six notes. Baltar just wants to be a man, not supplant the religious status quo, but Head Six, always the provocateur within Baltar, convinces him to go on the offensive, which he does, picking a fight with the religious establishment, which puts him in danger and in the lawmakers' crosshairs.
Also working away inside Baltar's mind is Tory, who, unbeknownst to him, has embraced being a Cylon in order to reinvent herself. Before when they had sex, she cried. Now she has graduated to mild sadism. Baltar preferred the tears. Having his ear, Tory muses over her newfound sense of perfection, and thinks of it as a license to live free of guilt: She can do what she wants because she believes she was made to be perfect — a philosophy even Baltar, in all his egoism, has never subscribed to. But given the ideas he invokes at the end, there's a delicious (or tragic) irony in seeing how Baltar has a tendency to have sex with Cylons only to be manipulated by them.
Meanwhile, Roslin has had enough. I mean, how many times does she have to deal with the disruptive drama of Gaius Baltar? After a disturbance brought on by his religious run-ins, she reveals to him that she's dying in order to supply a veiled threat: "I'm not in the mood any longer to indulge you." This I believe. When your days are numbered, you don't want to be wasting them on the problems of and caused by Gaius Baltar.
This mess spills over into the political arena when Roslin tries to clamp down on religious assembly in order to quell the fighting. Her roadblock: Lee Adama, who sees Roslin's move as a larger threat to freedom of speech. Lee is looking at the bigger picture and the legal slippery slope; Roslin vents to Adama how Lee has an almost willful inability to be pragmatic: How can you run a society on its old rules when there's barely a society left? I wondered myself if Lee struggled with this question, seeing as he famously argued "We are a gang" in "Crossroads, Part 2."
The legal showdown over Baltar's rights goes down while Baltar himself tries to take his own stand. He confronts the guards that have barricaded his cult's temple in a bizarre scene that suggests the will of God — or whatever Head Six represents — props him up again and again after he gets repeatedly knocked down by the security guards. He takes a brutal beating for the greater good of his cult. Played as near slapstick, I'm not entirely sure if this was funny or serious.
It ultimately for me felt a little muddled in terms of motivation. Why does Baltar see a need to do this? What drives him? Is it the will of Head Six? Because he's crazy? Because he needs to assert his Self on the world? What? In the end, Baltar makes a speech announcing to his followers that "God loves you because you are perfect. Just as you are." I didn't find that this had the power or clarity of purpose that the story clearly wanted it to. (I also, for some reason, couldn't help but be reminded of James Callis saying "Just as you are" as a toast to Bridget Jones.)
More interesting, strongly motivated, and visceral to me was Tyrol's plight of desolation. He makes a mistake on the job that almost gets a Raptor crew killed. His attitude takes a public turn for the worse. It all leads up to the episode's most powerful scene, which starts as a friendly talk where Adama tries to set Tyrol back on the right track, before spiraling downward into an ugly, jaw-dropping tirade that Tyrol unleashes. It's a raw scene that lays bare Tyrol's unfiltered (and, let it be said, unwisely disclosed) honesty as he sees his and everyone's predicament in this crappy hand life has dealt. He lashes out about his dead wife in full public view, and it's not pretty.
The thing is, Adama gives him every opportunity to avoid crossing the line, and Tyrol blatantly refuses to take the life line. The end result is Tyrol losing the only thing that's probably holding him together right now: his job. Adama pulls him off the flight deck. The music makes its own commentary on the scene by playing the Cylon version of "Watchtower" during a slow tracking-out shot of a dazed Tyrol. Just like that, he did himself in. Being a Cylon has led him here. And now where will he go? I only wish the rest of "Escape Velocity" was as strong and focused as this scene.
Just as Baltar went missing in last week's episode, MIA this week are both the Demetrius and Cylon civil war plot lines, which suggests that this season, if so jammed-packed full of material, will have to pick its priorities from week to week and relegate the rest to the sidelines. I'm fine with that, provided the balance ultimately services everything. So, while one is left wondering what's going on with the Cylons after the Cavils launched their attack last week, time will tell.