Battlestar Galactica Revisited: 1.09 Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down
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, continuing with the debut of Ellen Tigh on the show...
While Battlestar Galactica took itself very seriously at times, there are moments of humour throughout, mostly - up to this point - centred around Gaius Baltar. Buy the ninth episode of the season one brings in a wild card in Kate Vernon's Ellen Tigh, in what is surely the comic highlight of that first season. In an episode packed with paranoia centred around Roslin's suspicions that Adama might be a Cylon, the return of Saul Tigh's wife from the dead makes for a melting pot of paranoia, Machiavellian plots and awkward humour.
Leoben's whisper in Roslin's ear last episode really sets off the episode, Roslin watching Adama suspiciously, using Billy to try and pry secrets from Dualla on their first date. Roslin soon traps Tigh into her plot to uncover the truth. With Adama discovered to be conducting secret flights off Galactica and the appearance of a Cylon raider acting strangely, the episode builds to a perfect storm in the arrival of Ellen; with her strange story of being rescued during the Cylon attack on the colonies and lying unconscious for weeks in the fleet, suspicion is rampant.
It's all so ridiculous that the idea that Ellen might be a Cylon is blindly obvious. Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down cleverly plays the long game; she is dangerous whether she is a Cylon or not and there's something rather mischievous in Baltar telling Six at the end that he'll never tell whether her Cylon test past was real or not. At this stage it doesn't really matter [major season three spoilers] and there is nothing here to contradict what unfolds in the season three finale Crossroads. What the episode does do is set up this great, darkly-twisted love affair between Saul and Ellen.
Kate Vernon is a breath of fresh air; wildly over the top but with a smart streak that will develop her into the show's Lady Macbeth. She has no qualms about setting her husband off against Adama, or trying to seduce Lee at the dinner table. She flirts with Baltar in front of Saul - much to the indignation of Six - and dismisses 'Kindergarten teacher' President Roslin utterly brazenly. Her relationship with Saul is a whirlwind; we've followed his battle with the bottle over the last few episodes and Adama's concerns over her destructive nature are made apparently clear the moment she steps on board Galactica. Their marriage is broken by booze and affairs and yet they clearly love each other - or at least in her case, she loves the power Saul brings. It's a great foundation for some brilliant storytelling to come.
The dinner table scene is superb. Mary McDonnell's teeth-clenched frustration as Roslin and Jamie Bamber's deer in headlights alarm at Ellen's advances make every look, every sentence an awkward, comic highlight of the first season. Vernon is outrageous as Ellen, but there's something loveable about the character too; there are hints at an innate sadness between the braze exterior that make her far more than just a trashy, drunken wife. Michael Hogan, another one of Battlestar Galactica's best performers, really has fun as he lets loose in a drunken celebration with Ellen. Equally as funny is the scene in Baltar's lab where the test results are revealed. The various secrets and lies fall like dominoes. The double head spin from Tigh and Adama in Roslin's direction as her suspicions are revealed is rather silly but it absolutely works in the context of the episode, which isn't afraid to indulge in the more slapstick moments the storyline affords.
Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down isn't subtle but then Ellen Tigh is not a subtle character. In the context of other season one episodes it might seem a little silly at times, but it has plenty of charm and lays the foundation for Saul and Ellen's relationship that will become another cornerstone of the series.