252[BSG] Jammer's Review: "Litmus"
- Jun 4 1:37 PMNote: This review contains significant spoilers.
Battlestar Galactica: "Litmus"
A suicide bombing by a Cylon agent forces Roslin and Adama to publicly
acknowledge that Cylons look like humans, and to open a tribunal to
investigate the breakdown that allowed the agent to gain access to a secured
area of the Galactica.
Air date: 2/11/2005 (USA)
Written by Jeff Vlaming
Directed by Rod Hardy
Rating out of 4: ***
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
Perhaps the lesson to be learned in "Litmus" is that now is an especially
bad time to be breaking military protocol. Sort of like saying "it's tha
bomb" audibly at an airport. What might seem innocuous can get you into big
trouble. I speak from experience: One time, I got caught making out at
Sharon and Tyrol are still sleeping together. She's his superior officer,
and that's against protocol. Tigh ordered her to stop in "Bastille Day," but
they haven't, and now it's going to bite them -- and more than just them --
in the ass.
A Cylon agent -- a copy of Doral (Matthew Bennett, himself a copy of Kevin
Spacey, but I jest), who was put off the ship in the miniseries -- blows
himself up in a suicide bombing that kills three people and does some damage
to the Galactica but was intended to do a whole lot more. An independent
investigation (i.e., tribunal) into how Doral breached security is
immediately opened, and Adama, Tigh, and Roslin reluctantly decide that now
is the time to make known to the fleet that Cylons look like humans (thus
uncorking the paranoia bottle).
Roslin makes this announcement from Colonial One in a room full of
reporters, who are abuzz over this new revelation. Once again I found myself
amused at the fact that roughly 1/1,000 of all civilization is made up of
news reporters. Outside of military personnel and pilots, they might be the
luckiest profession to have survived the fall of civilization.
Roslin's announcement brings us to the other lesson for the characters to
learn in this episode: that of the dangers of the witch hunt -- a more
obvious and frequently dramatized cautionary tale to be found in TV and film
stories. "Litmus" employs this tale reasonably well, in what is an
appropriate storyline for this series' subject matter, but does not
represent thrilling originality.
Adama appoints Sgt. Hadrian (Jill Teed) to head up the tribunal. Meanwhile,
Roslin warns Adama that tribunals have a weird way of running off the rails
of what they were originally intended for and searching not simply for true
accountability, but for scapegoats. Her prediction is nothing short of
Hadrian's investigation centers on someone's failure to close a crucial
security hatch just before the bombing occurred (the bomber slipped through
the opened hatch to gain access he should not have had). Hadrian quickly
zeroes in on Chief Tyrol, simply because (1) he lies and (2) his lie is not
ironclad enough to bear real scrutiny. Her follow-up interviews with Tyrol's
staff reveals a number of young crewmen loyal to their chief, but who have
conflicting stories that make Hadrian's job of uncovering lies that much
easier. These scenes employ a quick-moving "Law & Order" style of progress
that makes the show an efficiently entertaining story about fact finding.
Before long Hadrian detects the scent of Tyrol's counter-protocol affair
with Lt. Valerii, and has hauled them before the tribunal board for
trial-like questioning (providing the scenes for the indispensable
"courtroom episode"), where neither one is willing to admit to the affair.
It's at this point we begin wondering what this tribunal is really about --
finding the security leak or embarrassing the military for other
indiscretions. (Sort of reminds me of the Kenneth Starr investigation.) The
painfully wry irony of this situation is that Sharon is a Cylon (which even
she, of course, does not know) and that in her process of a sexual
rendezvous with Tyrol, might have gone through the very hatch in question
and left it open deliberately but -- again ironically -- unaware that what
she did was a deliberate act. Ultimately, one of Tyrol's young deck crewmen
takes the fall to protect the chief out of an arguably misguided sense of
For Tyrol, this mess again raises an interesting question of responsibility.
What is his responsibility in carrying on this affair? Certainly he's not
responsible for the security breach, since that would require him to suspect
any and all of his fellow shipmates, not to mention his lover, of being
possible Cylon agents. But he is responsible for the lie that ultimately
leads his crewman to fall on his own sword, and I liked the scene where
Adama tells Tyrol that. Edward James Olmos is masterful at conveying quiet
yet forceful sternness.
What the episode perhaps fails to consider is that Sharon, as a commissioned
officer, might be the one who should be asking these questions. It might
have made for a more interesting dynamic had the Cylon -- who already has
the unknown internal conflict -- had to face a known conflict in making the
tough decision. As it plays out, Tyrol breaks off the relationship --
explaining that its cost is too great and compromises too many people --
which leads to an icy scene that makes one wonder if it could push Sharon's
subconscious further into the clutches of her Cylon self.
Meanwhile, with Hadrian asking questions that do no good but to embarrass
the military, Adama must shut down the very tribunal he gave power to. The
concept of the witch hunt is always worth a look (I was reminded of TNG's
"The Drumhead"), but given the state of society and the fleet, Hadrian's
attempts to forge ahead seem somewhat petty and ill-motivated, and her
attempt to arrest Adama when he shuts down the tribunal strikes me as
unlikely. Fortunately, she's taken none too seriously by anyone else in the
room. But one has to wonder what Hadrian honestly hoped to accomplish, other
than holding onto the power she had been granted.
Caprica update: Boomer talks with her fellow Cylons about the plan involving
Helo as a guinea pig. After vanishing at the end of last week's episode, the
Cylons want to see if Helo will move on without her or go back to find her.
When he elects to go back to find her, the Cylons beat Boomer up to enhance
the illusion of her "capture." Boomer then allows herself to be "rescued" by
Helo. It's at this point I begin to see the Caprica arc as a lot of effort
for some very slow progress.
And, once again, I ask: Where are all the people? Like Helo, somewhere on a
Cylon chessboard, I suppose.
Copyright 2005, Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.
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Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...