Battlestar Galactica Revisited: 1.06 Litmus

Galactica faces a witch hunt as news of the human Cylons gets out.

Ronald D Moore’s re imagining of the 1970’s sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica set a gold standard, both for sci-fi and TV reboots. The darker, grittier re imagining, that saw a fleet of human ships fleeing the dreaded Cylons in search of Earth, won a whole host of awards and critical acclaims over its seven-year run. With the series looking to go through another quasi-reboot under show-runner Michael Lesslie, we look back at the first reboot that defined the early days of twenty-first century television. We continue with season one’s Litmus…

We all love a good courtroom drama, and across its run, Battlestar Galactica has several. This season one entry sees the interrogation of several Galactica officers as knowledge that Cylons now look human goes public. With a returning Doral setting off a suicide bomb on the ship, the secret is out, and with the knowledge that the fleet has been infiltrated with the enemy.

While not the most dramatic of episodes, Litmus does an excellent job of progressing several plot elements as the paranoia over the human Cylons escalates. Jill Teed makes her second and final appearance as Sergeant Hadrian, recruited to lead the investigation into possible Cylon collaborators, backed by a civilian jury created at the behest of President Roslin. Naturally, long-running secrets, namely the forbidden relationship between Tyrol and Boomer, comes to light and a search for the truth soon descends into a witch hunt. If there’s one fault with the episode, it’s how quickly Hadrian overreaches her mandate, leading to her tirade at Adama himself as she questions his actions in keeping the human Cylons secret from the fleet. She makes a definite impact in her two episodes, but her role here ends up as something of a stock villain, fuelled by her puritanical search for the truth.

After the events of Waterthis episode continues to plot Boomer’s downfall; it’s not explicitly stated that she is aware of her actions as a sleeper agent, but it is clear that she is the one who – perhaps unwittingly – leaves the route clear for Doral to steal explosives and causes the explosion that kills several officers. At this stage however, it’s hard not to feel sympathy for her, as her life falls apart. Her complicit role in the attacks on Galactica are becoming undeniable and now she looses her relationship with Tyrol. Talking of which, the stalwart by the rules approach to no fraternisation between officers and subordinates seems questionable, given that humanity is a stake and needs to start making babies to survive. Still, there is still clearly a divide between Roslin’s hope’s for humanity’s survival and Adama’s determination to keep to military protocol.

Litmus also sees the development of other key characters. Nicki Clyne continues to evolve as the Crewman Specialist Cally Henderson, a confident of the chief and Dominic Zamprogna makes his first appearance as Crewman Specialist Jammer. There’s also a great moment this episode in the twisted mind games between Baltar and Six, leading to a hilarious ‘fight’ in the corridor, where he is threatened and passionately kissed, watched by members of the crew. It’s certainly one of the show’s best elements, which will be explored further next episode, following Baltar’s suggestion that he might ignore her demands.

And finally, it is made explicitly clear that Boomer on Cylon-occupied Caprica is fully aware of her true identity, as she observes Helo from above, Doral and Six at her side. Their insightful discussions into Helo’s love for Boomer adds another fascinating element to the Cylon’s ‘plan (which will become more apparent in the season one finale), making his emotional manipulation all the more horrible to watch. While the scenes are generally fleeting at this point, Helo’s journey on Caprica is another interesting element to the first season, given that Tahmoh Penikett was originally only cast to be in the mini-series.

Litmus progresses the stories of the two Boomers and Helo, while upping the ante of the human Cylons and the threat to the fleet. It offers the show’s first foray into courtroom drama – and while the eventual witch hunt feels a little extreme, it certainly adds to the tension and paranoia running through the show. It’s not the most memorable episode of the first season, but it maintains the high standard running through the series since 33.


Updated: Oct 16, 2020

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