I sat down earlier this week with Kate Vernon, the willowy actress that plays Ellen Tigh on "Battlestar Galactica" and she let me in on a secret that she has kept for longer than you think — and one that was revealed tonight on the show. The cosmic cougar is the 12th Cylon. Here’s the story that is running tomorrow on the cover of the Calendar section of the Los Angeles Times…
Like a veteran of the witness protection program, actress Kate Vernon picked a secluded corner table of a very public restaurant for the meeting. She studied the tape recorder sitting next to her tea cup on the table and then glanced around the Studio City bistro to see if anyone was eavesdropping.
"Forgive me if I’m a little awkward talking about it," Vernon said during an interview earlier this week. "It’s been two years that I’ve been sitting on this secret, and after that long it’s kind of hard to just start talking … "
Vernon, you see, is the final Cylon, a fact revealed Friday night on the acclaimed Sci Fi television series "Battlestar Galactica." That makes her the solution to a mystery that has played out like some latter-day science fiction version of the "Who shot J.R.?" saga, but, unlike that old "Dallas" plotline, this one unfolded in an Internet Age and with a rabid-fan audience clawing for clues.
"People have been asking me and accusing me for months and months, but I played it off pretty good," said Vernon, who portrays the shrewish Ellen Tigh, a sort of Lady Macbeth in deep space whom some fans have dubbed a “cosmic cougar.” Now her character has abruptly gained new dimensions as a riddle redefined, not unlike Keyser Söze in the final jolting moments of "The Usual Suspects."
For the uninitiated, despite its clunky name, "Galactica" is revered by its loyal viewers as a television landmark in sophisticated sci-fi storytelling, and is now in its fourth and final season. This is no Buck Rogers serial — nuanced and wrenching, it’s a bleak opera about politics, religion and war in what may be the final days of the human race, which is being exterminated by sentient machines called Cylons.
The show’s themes of identity, faith, duty and betrayal are all made slippery by the fact that the humans have been living with 12 secret Cylons who all look, act and think like humans, a dozen synthetic "Manchurian Candidate" moles waiting for activation. Their identities have been slowly revealed, and, Friday night, to the shock of viewers, the last sleeper turned out to be Vernon’s Ellen, the wife of the Col. Saul Tigh, the raging, one-eyed career soldier who is still coming to grips with the fact that he is a Cylon. It’s a complicated universe.
All of this was a tremendous surprise considering Ellen was poisoned to death in Season 3, but with the Cylons the usual rules of mortality don’t apply. Vernon is thrilled to be back. Her character was originally written for a four-episode arc, but she endured and became a key character — until she was murdered by her on-screen husband.
"I wasn’t done with the character," Vernon moaned. "They killed me off. I was devastated. Why me? What did I do wrong?"
A small reprieve came when executive producer Ron Moore told her she would return as a dark vision of her husband’s tortured mind, but Vernon said she had resigned herself to the fact that her role in "one of the greatest shows ever made" was pretty much over. Then, on an especially wrenching afternoon many months ago, she got a phone call.
"I was crawling down Sepulveda and I had just come from a therapy session and I was crying, my eyes were swollen like clam eyes, and I was hanging on my steering wheel wondering what was going on in my life and my career. The phone rang. It was Ron’s assistant."
For the next 45 minutes (traffic was bad) Moore explained that Ellen would return as a centerpiece presence. "Now I’m in seven of the last nine, and they are just absolutely brilliant. I can’t tell you how good they are…"
– Geoff Boucher
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CREDITS: Portrait of Kate Vernon by Randee St. Nicholas. “Battlestar Galactica” image courtesy of Sci Fi/NBC Universal