The Chief comes in second as my favorite character in Battlestar Galactica, and it was actually a pretty close race. A good portion of my love for Galen Tyrol comes from my adoration of his actor, Aaron Douglas, who has such a natural approach to acting, but honestly, the character is just so wonderful and complex. He’s a reluctant yet effective leader, proving it time and time again as the deck chief aboard the Galactica, as the head of a union* on New Caprica, and then as a high ranking member of the resistance during the Cylon occupation of the planet. His compassion for his crewmates is seen as early as the miniseries, where he is distraught over the deaths of 85 of his men, and he is bothered by then-Commander Adama’s support of Colonel Tigh’s decision that resulted in those deaths. This difficulty in detaching from those under his command continues throughout the rest of the series, and honestly, I identify with that more than I’d like to admit. It’s hard enough deciding which food to get the cats that I can’t imagine what it would be like making choices that affect an entire mass of people.
His character arc – from knuckle-dragger boss to father to being one of the Final Five – is probably one of my favorites. It’s so dynamic, but despite this, the core of who Tyrol is doesn’t change. He knows who he is, no matter what he happens to be at the moment. His involvement with the Death Jury in Season Three bothered me, although it made sense, what with his prominence within the resistance, and I was immensely thankful when he ended the witch hunt after Gaeta was almost airlocked.
His relationships with the rest of the crew is also another major part of his appeal. The admiration he has for Commander Adama in the miniseries is played so perfectly against the barely-masked, long-standing hatred that Lee has for his father. He even shows signs of modeling his tough-love-combined-with-understanding approach he takes with his subordinates after the commander, like when he pretends to chastise Socinus, Jammer, and Cally for rigging a distillery in secret. He works well with Starbuck and even helps her after she injures her leg in “Act of Contrition,” letting her work on the Cylon Raider she commandeered to return to the colonial fleet. Granted, he was having trouble getting the damn thing to function, but this gave Starbuck a practical form of physical and mental rehabilitation in addition to solving the riddle of the Raider.
Which brings us to Sharon “Boomer” Valerii. Sigh. There is just so much here that I could write a dissertation on it, but I won’t because, well, this is a supplemental post and I have things I have to do today. I love seeing them together in the first season; the tenderness that Tyrol displays when they’re alone is just so sweet, which only makes the demise of their relationship that much harder to witness. Watching the storm of emotion when Caprica-Sharon, pregnant with Helo’s child, arrives on the Galactica nearly killed me. And it’s not like he ever forgets the love he had for Boomer. It clouds so many more of his decisions, particularly when Boom uses Tyrol’s feelings for her to escape after kidnapping Hera.
As far as his relationship with Cally goes, I see that as one of the more tragic stories, and that’s saying a lot. Even from the beginning, it was obvious he viewed her more as a little sister than a possible romantic partner, but Cally continued to moon over him like a lovesick puppy, even after he accidentally assaulted her. Not necessarily an auspicious beginning to a romance, if I do say so myself, but I don’t think it’s as problematic as it’s often been made out to be. He didn’t consciously decide to violently beat Cally but was woken by her from a nightmare, and then he sought out religious counsel afterward. Granted, Cally’s decision to marry him later on was definitely a poor decision**, but it fits with her character as someone who is blinded by her emotions. But what makes the whole thing even more depressing is that their entire relationship is built upon lies. Cally repeatedly tells herself that her love for Tyrol is strong enough to sustain them, which is patently not true, and only after Tory sends Cally out of the airlock does Galen finally admit that he settled for Cally once Boomer, his true love, was revealed to be a Cylon (oh, the irony). The only thing that kept them together was their son, Nicholas, and even that is a lie, since Hot Dog (probably my favorite Viper pilot, by the way) was the child’s biological father. Galen did love Cally in his own way, even if it was more of a platonic love, and the anguish he felt at her death was genuine. Also, one of the more gratifying sequences was in the finale, where Tyrol discovers it was Tory who killed Cally, and he strangles her in a fit of righteous anger.
Despite knowing who he is as a person, Tyrol still has the most difficulty adjusting into his role as a Final Five Cylon. As such, at the very end of the series, he makes the decision to depart from the rest of the colonials and Cylons, which sadly makes sense. He had nothing keeping him there: everything he loved had been taken from him (Cally, Boomer, his son, his position as Chief, etc.). Even Anders, who was essentially a zombie before piloting the colonial fleet into our sun, had Starbuck, for god’s sake, and she had once threatened that she would shoot Anders between the eyes if she found out he was a Cylon. Considering how much of an anchor he was to everyone else, it’s a depressing notion that the man was left alone, by his own choice or not.
Much like most (if not all) of Battlestar Galactica‘s characters, Galen Tyrol’s story is bittersweet. I have to credit Aaron Douglas here again because he convinced the showrunners to keep him on the series with his portrayal***, leading them to develop a very complicated person who was just trying to figure out his role in this new society. He saw his world go from safe to exceptionally dangerous to somewhat familiar and then to brand new territory, both in a personal perspective and an objective one. This kind of characterization is something I hope I can achieve with my own writing, and I’ve got some great examples to go by, with the Chief being one of the best.
* Because I’m a nerd – although I don’t think I need to tell any of you that – I watch all the behind-the-scenes stuff and listen to all the podcast extras on the DVDs, and apparently, the speech given by Tyrol was pretty much Mario Savio’s speech from the late 1960s, and Douglas watched video of Savio giving his “gears of the machine” speech, choosing to model a lot of his gestures on Savio.
** Cristina from Grey’s Anatomy dealt with this a little more realistically in her relationship with Owen, who began choking her while in one of his PTSD episodes. She was understandably afraid of him and only agrees to get back together once he makes progress in therapy. But then again, Cristina isn’t Cally, so I guess the comparison is kind of moot.
*** He originally had, like, fifteen lines in the miniseries, but Moore liked how Douglas could just ad lib lines perfectly within the character, so he expanded Tyrol’s role.
Art Credit: Wikipedia