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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 "Water", which originally aired on January 14th of 2005.
Previously on Battlestar Galactica: What remains of humanity finds itself on the run from the Cylons, mechanical creations that rose up against their masters decades ago before finally wiping out most of mankind with a massive nuclear attack. The Cylons have evolved to the point where they’re virtually indistinguishable from their creators, which has allowed them to walk amongst humans without detection. Some of these Cylon agents are not even aware that they’re robots, making them even more of a threat to mankind’s survival.
What makes Battlestar Galactica so special is how relatable its unique brand of science fiction is. In the previous episode “33” we witnessed the fleet break down from both mental and physical exhaustion, a situation every one of us has gone through at some point. The show runners followed that outstanding episode up with another strong entry in the franchise in “Water”, which reminds us that even though these characters exist in a more technologically advanced world they still possess the same basic needs as we do. Just like us they require food, shelter, and as the episode’s title indicates, hydration. BSG’s willingness to explore these truths builds a strong bridge of trust with its viewers, making it easy for them to suspend their disbelief and embrace the reality the show is selling.
The episode opens in a confusing manner as we see Boomer, still unaware that she is a Cylon, sitting alone and looking bewildered. Her clothes are soaked and at her feet is a bag filled with explosive charges that she doesn’t remember having. When told that it’s early in the morning she appears shocked, which lets the audience know that she has lost track of a large chunk of time. We assume the worst as we’re privy to information that the characters of Battlestar Galactica are not, as we know that she’s not what she appears to be. It’s a timeless storytelling device that works beautifully given the situation, painting the scenes in vivid strokes of tension. Actress Grace Park does a fantastic job of conveying Boomer’s confusion and fear, lending an almost Alzheimer’s quality to the character’s disorientation. What this woman fears most is the possibility that she might be a Cylon, and seeing that tear her apart is heartbreaking to watch. Boomer doesn’t want to be bad, but even as we observe her pain and sympathize with her we know deep down that she is almost certainly responsible for whatever is about to happen.
After checking the ship’s armory Boomer discovers that several detonators are missing, but at this point the audience is as unaware of where the bombs are planted as she is. We quickly see where the show is going with this plot as the Battlestar is about to share some of its water supply with another ship, a routine process that Commander Adama has made into a bit of a ceremony to make the newly-appointed President Roslin feel more presidential. One of the few things the fleet has going for it is the fact that the Galactica is blessed with a water recycling system that can provide the entire fleet with hydration, as long as nothing happens to said system.
It wouldn’t be a Battlestar Galactica episode without the worst possible situation happening, and midway through the water transfer process we learn where the missing bombs were planted as the tanks blow, leaking all that precious water into space where it's lost forever. Losing the one resource they had a good supply of drives Adama and Roslin to have Gaius Baltar do an assessment on what the fleet needs to survive, and the numbers he comes up with are troublesome. The fleet will need to locate a planet with water as soon as possible, which Executive Officer Tigh accurately describes as “finding a grain of salt on the beach”. The fleet has once again found itself facing overwhelming odds that threaten the survival of the entire human race.
Boomer continues to panic and tells her lover Chief Tyrol about the detonators she found, and his decision to stay quiet about the situation effectively makes him an accomplice to her crimes. When his crew is ordered to inspect the tanks to try and determine what caused the damage, his love for Boomer blinds him as tries to steer the conversation away from sabotage. The choices he makes in this episode will come back to haunt him before the season is over, and both his superiors and himself will question his motivation in these scenes.
The Galactica dispatches several ships to search all the planets within reach for water, and as one after another offers a negative report we once again see the crew fall into despair. The last remaining Raptor is of course piloted by Boomer, and even though we see her display report success the Cylon can’t bring herself to let the rest of the fleet know. It’s a beautifully tense scene made even more thrilling by the fact that she’s planted a bomb aboard her own vessel, and we’re relieved when she’s able to overcome her programming and not only report the found water, but also that didn’t blow herself and her shipmate up. While she’s momentarily the hero the episode will go on to close with a stoic Boomer marching through the corridors of the Galactica, a robotic expression on her face that contradicts the love she had expressed to Tyrol just moments before.
While the Boomer plot consumes most of “Water”, there’s a handful of other relevant story threads that make brief appearances throughout the episode. We spend a little time with Lee Adama who is still struggling with the fact that he had to shoot down a civilian ship in the previous episode. Even though he was following orders that allowed the fleet to escape being tracked by the Cylons, Lee struggles to reconcile the fact that he might have the blood of 1,300 souls on his hands. The younger Adama will prove to be a complicated character during the show’s run, we’ve only scratched the surface as to what makes him tick.
We also visit Caprica again as robo-Boomer has joined Helo in an attempt to get off the ravaged planet. Not a lot happens here story-wise, although the potential for romance is introduced with a hug that implies more than just friendship exists between the Raptor crew members. The most interesting thing about this subplot is the stark contrast between the conflicted Boomer we see on Galactica and this one on Caprica, while the former struggles with her identity the latter exhibits the confidence of someone who knows who they are. Unfortunately for Helo, the version of Boomer that he’s falling in love with is all Cylon.
Water is symbolic of life itself, and to see the precious resource bleeding into space is an effective way to remind the audience just how dire the situation is for humanity in Battlestar Galactica. But the fact that they continue to find the will to fight is a testament to their collective character, and serves as an inspiration to the audience watching the story unfold on their TV screens.