For someone who was initially dismissed as a crude attempt to sex up the show, Tricia Helfer has emerged as one of the best members of the cast. She's taken on half a dozen different Cylon characters, from Baltar's muse and comic foil, to the traumatized Gina on the Pegasus, to Caprica Six - whose change of heart about blowing up the human race in "Downloaded" is one of the series' greatest moments.

But has she gone soft? In season one, the Six models were tough bordering on terrifying. They threw punches and barked orders. Kudos to the writers for making Six sensitive without turning her into a sop or a victim, but still, once we sympathize with the villains, they stop creeping us out. Hey, it happens to the best of 'em; by the end of Deadwood, Al Swearengen was practically the kooky old barkeep just loaded with yarns from the old days.

Tonight we meet a new version of Six: Natalie (they have names? Why not just GUIDs?), who joins the show to start a civil war. It turns out that the human-like Cylons - the "skinjobs" - are keeping the more machine-y Cylons down. Dean Stockwell's Cylon, Cavil, has decided to lobotomize the Raiders because they're showing independence; Natalie opposes it. (Of course, we know the Raiders are acting quirky because they came face to face with a member of the Final Five - which may be the knowledge that Cavil's trying to slice out of their heads.) This leads to a full-blown civil war, as three of the skinjob models - backed by Centurions - turn on the other three and start wiping them out in a blaze of bullets.

The Cylon civil war reminds me of one of those creation myths where the world is new, and the wolf, the baboon and the caribou all live in harmony, until the trickster crow decides to steal some berries and screws the whole thing up. Or to flip to the Bible, there's plenty of original sin and Cain and Abel here. But on a more basic note, it shows how young they are in their relationships: unlike the humans, they think they can solve their fights by getting rid of each other.

While the Cylons started an outright war, over in the human fleet, everyone just simmered. More ugly things were said tonight than in any episode I can remember. Starbuck - stewing in the brig after she decided to pull a gun on the President - keeps insisting she's the only one who knows the way to Earth, and that's making everyone else uncomfortable. President Roslin and Admiral Adama argue over what to do about her; but soon they're attacking each other's motives, and then cutting each other down to nothing. Roslin may be too close to death for bullshit, but Adama hits the hardest: "You're afraid that you may not be the dying leader you thought you were. … Or that your death may be as meaningless as everyone else's." Adama and Roslin are stubborn old humans, and watching them tear each other apart is excruciating.

And that's not even Mary McDonnell's scariest scene. When the show starts, Starbuck is pointing a gun in her face and demanding that she turn this ship around and correct course for Earth. Starbuck has a point: why was her goofy mystical experience less valid than Roslin's? "I trusted you on a vision. That's it - a vision," shouts Starbuck, and then, by way of going all in, hands over her gun and dares Roslin to shoot her. And she does!

The look on Roslin's face when she pulls the trigger is startling, even though she missed. Roslin's struggling with cancer and weakened by drugs. Her expression is dazed - and callous. After years of steeling her resolve killing the few for the greater good, Roslin has become someone who immediately falls back on violence. And while her feelings about Starbuck are more nuanced than that, in the moment, the easiest call was to kill.

In the end, of course, Adama gives us a high note by deciding to trust Starbuck just a little bit: he gives her an old sewage ship and a crew, and tells her to scout off on her own for Earth. I don't know what she's supposed to do if she finds it - send them a text message or something? From across the galaxy? But it gets Starbuck out of the brig and back in the action, and it isn't even the biggest "Okay, you were right all along" cop-out to date; certainly Helo's redemption in "The Woman King" was worse. But why complain? This whole hour was a bummer, a reminder that the only good thing about us humans is that we're too stubborn and loyal to stop hurting each other. And at least Starbuck scored her own poop deck.

Grade: A-

Stray Observations:

- Didn't even get into the Final Five storyline, where grizzled old Tigh goads young, attractive Tory Foster into sleeping with Baltar. They never developed Tory's character, and it looks like they're taking her straight from "cipher" to "damaged goods." Or as Baltar puts it, in one of tonight's many misogynist quips: "Handle with care - oh, I'd love to."

- I blew off Apollo, too - again - but suffice to say that he left the armed forces with grace, and his scene with Starbuck was definitely one of their five best "I guess this is goodbye" scenes.

- When is Ron Moore coming back with that podcast? I know it's sad, but I listen to that every week.

- A friend of mine is serving in Iraq. He's a big Battlestar fan, and he's caught up through season three by watching the DVDs. But right now, he can't watch this season. Al Jazeera doesn't carry the show. It streams on and, but the sites block his access because he's not in the United States - he's in Iraq. Serving his country. It's totally unfair - so naturally, I can't stop ripping on him, and sending him fake spoilers about how Starbuck and Apollo are hooking up and the Twelfth Cylon is Hot Dog. He's gonna be totally pissed off when he catches up.