There's a lot going on in "The Ties That Bind," and if there's a unifying theme, it's that friction and dissent in all the storylines seems ready to explode. In some cases the ticking bombs keep ticking for another day. And in other cases they do, indeed, blow up.
In Plot A, we have the Secret Four (actually three, since one is currently off the ship) still trying to come to grips with their discovery. There's a fork in the road, and that fork is whether to resist the road to Cylon-town and continue as a human, or to embrace new discoveries as an opportunity to start from scratch and do what you feel. The seeds of the episode's dark climax are sown right up front with Tyrol and Tory sitting in Joe's Bar and discussing their grappling with this new problem.
Tyrol's marriage is on the rocks (and thrashing upon massive shards of broken glass, for that matter) and he's approaching his Cylon problem like a man who has learned he has a secret illness about which he can discuss only with members of a support group sharing that illness. Tory, meanwhile, seems to approach Cylon-hood as a newfound gift: Hey, now I can throw away all the crap that used to be my life and start again as something else. Tyrol's take on the matter is just the opposite, and very honest and simple in its Tyrol-ness: "I don't do well with change." Some of us don't.
What I love about the fact that these people are Cylons is that it's treated in terms of the human condition. It's not simply a plot element; it's a personal crisis and the story is about how to live with it. Like I said in my "Six of One" review that I posted last week (har, har), it's like a psychological condition because it has no other (known, as of yet) symptom other than the fact that some people might be willing to kill you for having it.
Cally sees Tory and Tyrol together and assumes they're having an affair, which has a cascading effect of suspicions and accusations, climaxing with her finding a note (left by Tigh, about where the Secret Three are to meet), which she follows to Weapons Locker 1701D (a cute touch worth a grin) and hears the conversation that confirms not her worst fear, but something far worse — that her husband is a Cylon, and her child is thus ... something.
In Plot B we have the Demetrius, a ship helmed by Kara and supplied the oh-so-simple mission of "Find Earth." Kara's role as commander seems to consist mostly of locking herself in her quarters and painting dreamlike images on the walls in a desperate attempt to remember where Earth might be, if in fact she actually was there. The ship (whose crew includes such notables as Helo, Anders, Gaeta, and Seelix) is brewing with tension, as multiple malcontents grumble aloud their doubts concerning this dubious mission and its even more dubious commander. This is gonna be a problem.
And you thought Kara and Anders had a dysfunctional, volatile relationship before she died. Kara pretty much tells him that their marriage is a joke (which was never exactly a secret), before then telling him that "I just want to frak," which they do, angrily. So to recap: He's a Cylon, which she doesn't know. And she's back from the dead and now experiences life like a disconnected, out-of-body dream. Sex must sure be interesting, though perhaps not very fun. Their feelings, whatever they may be, are helplessly confused and complicated by not only their present situations, but their messy history.
In plot C, we have governmental politics brought back to the forefront in a way not seen for quite some time, and perhaps not with quite this overall feeling/tone since the first season. It begins with Roslin forced to field questions about the Demetrius, which she has to downplay; the whole situation has put her and Adama at slight odds, even though Adama still reads to Roslin as she lies in her hospital bed. (What a great, complex relationship these two have.)
I like that the series is gearing the political machinations back up, and thrusting Lee right into the middle of it feels like the right choice. Lee is installed to the Quorum, and we've got VP Zarek back in the mix giving advice to Lee that may be motivated by Zarek's own agenda. This should prove to be an interesting dynamic. Right off the bat, Zarek is sounding the alarm about Roslin and her increasing secrecy in conducting government under the label "classified," and he urges Lee to push back against it where appropriate.
Push back Lee does, but perhaps not in the way Zarek expected: In the list of curious secret executive orders, Lee brings up "Executive Order 112," which I believe is the order Zarek gave (and Roslin did not know about, and vehemently disagreed with when she found out) in "Collaborators" to enact secret tribunals to dispatch with the New Caprica traitors. Lee could be a thorn in everyone's side here, which might not be what Zarek had in mind. Interesting how this particular instance backfires on Zarek.
In plot D, we have the Cylons and their divisions. Dissent among the Cylons is still split down the middle following Six's violently bold statement at the end of "Six of One." Cavil reluctantly agrees to negotiate, saying violence is not the answer. Meanwhile, the Centurions want to hear the word "please" when they're ordered around. Cavil warns of the can of worms Six has opened, and Six says she wants the D'Annas unboxed to make the deciding vote over whether to seek out the Final Five. As a footnote in all this, Boomer is the lone Eight to stand apart from her model.
This aspect of the episode gets perhaps the shortest shrift, but that's okay. It does what it needs to, culminating in the reveal of a ruthless deception by Cavil as he initially seems to acquiesce to Six and unite the splintered Cylon fleet, only to lure them into a trap with no resurrection ships and open fire on them. Six seems blindsided: "They're really trying to kill us!" This move constitutes a game-changer in the series' factional makeup. Here we see a Cylon civil war with the Colonials relegated (temporarily, at least) to the sidelines.
It's perhaps a blessing that Plot E, Baltar's Religious Cult, is kept off-screen for the hour. In a story so jam-packed with goings-on, I doubt another storyline could've been sustained.
What will be remembered most about "The Ties That Bind" is how Cally's story ends with dark, tragic consequences. As I said, the opening scene sets the stage, and the closing passage writes the inevitable (in retrospect) conclusion. Cally is aghast at learning the truth about Tyrol, and it leads her to the brink of flushing herself and her half-Cylon baby out an airlock. The one who steps in and stops her is Tory, and what happens between them is interesting because of how telling it really is.
The story approaches this problem from the personalities and psychologies of the characters: Cally as a hopelessly distraught woman who had already reached the end of her rope; Tory as a born-again opportunist who now feels she can write herself a license to do whatever she can get away with. Cally can't see beyond her own invectives of Cylon skin-jobs who are the enemy, even if her husband is one of them. And Tory talks Cally down from suicide just long enough to get her hands on Cally's son and then flush Cally out the airlock anyway.
The episode's most intriguing line is Tory's, when she assures Cally, "We're not evil." Perhaps not. But Tory does commit a clearly evil act. The point here, is that it's not "a Cylon" that murders Cally. It's Tory, a woman with free will, who turns a corner and makes a decision because she has this new knowledge that she is a Cylon, and that knowledge itself allows her to commit evil. It's a fascinating turn of events. Would Tory have done what she did if she didn't know she was a Cylon? No. But I suspect she would've been just as capable of it. It may be that the knowledge of being a Cylon will simply reveal to the Secret Four what their true colors always were.
Footnote: I stopped watching Sci Fi's ridiculously spoiler-prone trailers after the one for "The Ties That Bind," which basically showed Tory airlocking Cally. I understand the need to market your show, but if you give away the shock ending to your upcoming episode, you've clearly crossed the line.