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Author's Note: Having grown tired of what's currently available on TV I've decided to rewatch some of my all time favorite shows. I'm limiting myself to one episode per week in order to experience the storytelling as it was originally intended, which hopefully will preserve the thrill of having to wait a week to see what happens next. This article covers the Battlestar Galactica episode "Litmus", which originally aired on February 11th of 2005.
Previously on Battlestar Galactica: Helo and Cylon Sharon get separated on Capria. Fleet leadership learns that the Cylons have evolved to be indistinguishable from humans, a revelation they keep to themselves. Chief Tyrol and Boomer continue their secret relationship, despite being ordered to cease by Colonel Tigh.
With the two-part Starbuck-centric story wrapped up Battlestar Galactica delivers a more bite-sized story in “Litmus”. The episode opens with a fantastic sequence following an unrevealed character throughout the corridors of the Galactica, twisting and weaving his way to an unknown destination. It turns out to be another Cylon, this time a version of the Doral model we last saw in the two-part miniseries. Tigh is able to identify him and call security, but before he can be dealt with Doral triggers a bomb strapped to his chest that kills three and injures another thirteen. The Cylons are not above employing such despicable war tactics, having the advantage of countless resurrections. They can be suicide bombers without truly committing suicide, reinforcing just how dangerous humanity’s foe is.
The attack inspires Commander Adama to launch an internal investigation into the incident, headed up by his master-at-arms Sergeant Hadrian. This forces him to reveal the fact that the fleet’s leaders have known that the Cylons can perfectly mimic human beings, and this revelation sews a seed of mistrust that will pay off later in the episode. Hadrian agrees to conduct the investigation as long as she gets full authority, working with an independent tribunal instead of answering to the military chain of command.
Hadrian begins to dig for information, and quickly finds the actions of Chief Tyrol and Boomer to be of a suspicious nature. She questions three of Tyrol’s subordinates and each one gives a different answer to where the Chief was the night of the bombing, which quickly becomes the focus of her investigation. The night of the attack the Chief and Boomer had secretly met with the help of Tyrol’s deckhands, and it isn’t long before the mismatched testimonies have everyone involved panicking.
The investigation intensifies as the unlimited power Hadrian requested begins to corrupt her, and soon Adama himself is being interrogated. His decision to not share all the information he has on the Cylons has been questionable from the start, although his motivations for doing so make sense. From the beginning Battlestar Galactica has put its characters in positions where difficult choices must be made, what makes the show special is its shunning of black and white issues. The story is so memorable because it prefers a palette of grays, and once again this is a situation where both sides have a valid argument. Adama chose to stay quiet regarding the true nature of the Cylons to avoid a fleetwide panic, and now he must answer for that decision.
Adama ultimately decides to dissolve the tribunal, which proves to be the latest example of Battlestar’s moral ambiguity. The Commander makes some excellent point in the moving speech he delivers that focuses on the dangers of witch hunts and the misuse of power, but as the tribunal members themselves point out he has no real authority to end the investigation. Battlestar is an ensemble cast but Adama is the closest thing to a main character the show has to offer so we tend to side with him in these situations, but to see him bend the rules whenever it suits him does deliver discomfort to the viewer. The scene ends with a tense standoff as Hadrian orders security to detain Adama while the Commander tells them to arrest her, and while the outcome is in doubt it ends up being another victory for Adama.
The best scene of “Litmus” comes when Tyrol visits Adama in his quarters, confessing to the secret relationship due to his guilt over Socinus, who is one of his deckhands, being imprisoned. This is, of course, something Adama is already aware of, but instead of granting Tyrol’s request that he take the place of his deckhand in the brig Adama knows that the best way for Chief to learn his lesson is to let him drown in a lake of guilt. Adama understands Tyrol because the two men are similar: both inspire loyalty in those that look up to them, and the Fleet’s Commander knows how much Socinus’ punishment is ripping the Chief up inside. And the strategy works as the episode ends with Tyrol going to Boomer and ending their secret relationship.
Like the previous episode the Caprica storyline gets a fair amount of screen time, but outside of a brief action scene the content is forgettable. What we get hinges on the Cylons’ observation of Helo as they try to gain a better understanding of their human adversaries, and while the science experiment nature is interesting the events on Caprica continue to be the weakest part of Battlestar Galactica. Although it was interesting to see Six’s overly-enthusiastic beatdown of Robo Sharon which introduces the possibility that there’s some inner-family drama within Cylon management.
“Litmus” is the weakest episode of Battlestar Galactica up to this point, and while the cloak and dagger nature of the inquisition had some interesting twists it ultimately delivered little more than a chance for another epic Adama speech. It’s not a bad episode just a bit unremarkable, although it does add some new seeds to the story that will blossom over the rest of season one.