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6 of the most brutal betrayals in sci-fi movies and TV: From 'BSG's Cylons to 'The Matrix'

With The Traitors hitting Peacock, we remember some of the biggest betrayals in sci-fi history.

By Brian Silliman
Lando Calrissian in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

Betrayal most foul! Sci-fi movies and television shows are full of twists, and sometimes a character showing their true colors can be the worst kind of turn. We may see it coming, we may even be in on it, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less. When these characters prove that they are not on the side of the protagonists (or prove that their agendas are not entirely heroic) then we’ve got trouble my friends, right here in Cloud City.

Why explore this now? The Traitors, a reality series based on the popular Dutch series of the same name, is coming to Peacock. In it, 20 reality contestants and gamesters will gather in a castle and play a real-life spin on Among Us for a big cash prize. Alan Cumming will host people like Arie Luyendyk Jr. (The Bachelorette) trying to betray media managers and influencers… if he’s the “traitor” of course, he might not be. What a treacherous good time!

The Traitors is streaming on Peacock, but before you dig into what promises to be some incredible reality TV backstabbing, let's remember some of sci-fi's best betrayals. Here's our list of 6 of the most heartbreaking turns in TV and film.

Dr. Yued (Chang Chen) in Dune (2021)

6. Dr. Yueh (Dune)

So much for imperial conditioning! House Atreides never expected betrayal to come from the seemingly good Dr. Wellington Yueh, yet it is his turn that sparks their downfall. In the original book, in David Lynch’s film adaptation, and in the most recent film… when it comes to Dune, a curse on Dr. Yueh.

It hurts because we like him. He’s good to Paul, and he seems like a valuable and decent part of the Atriedes Family Trust. It’s not that he doesn’t have love for House Atreides, it’s that he has a chance to save his beloved wife. The Harkonnens are the ones keeping her, and Yueh definitely hates them more than he cares for the Atreides. They’ve got him in a vice, though, so he lowers the shields of Arrakeen and allows the Harkonnen plot to proceed.

This spells certain death for Duke Leto, but Yueh slips in a double-betrayal that makes the turn slightly better: he gives Leto a chance to kill Baron Harkonnen with a false tooth. Leto dies and the Baron survives, but it’s nice that Yueh tried.

It all hurts, but without Yueh’s actions, Dune would be a very short tale about a happy family in the desert.

Boomer (Grace Park) in Battlestar Galactica

5. Boomer (Battlestar Galactica)

The miniseries that begins the masterful reboot of Battlestar Galactica reveals that Sharon “Boomer” Valerii (Grace Park) is a Cylon. They look like humans now, and they have a plan! Boomer is a Number 8 sleeper agent, and Season 1 finds her discovering this and trying to deal with it.

We see other Number 8s in Season 1 (and follow another prominent model) but Boomer is the most fascinating because she’s in the fleet, and she has a romance with Chief Tyrol that really revs our Raptor. Not only does Park pull off the brilliant trick of playing multiple versions of the same model, she invests Boomer’s crisis with such emotion that we never know what she’s going to do next.

There’s every possibility that Boomer will not act on whatever Cylon programming is within her. The show makes us think that she can fight it, and we believe that because it’s Boomer. The miniseries made us love her. Season 1 made us love her even more. Grace Park is a treasure.

Then comes the end of Season 1, when Boomer whipped out a pistol and plugged Commander Adama (Edward James Olmos) in the chest. It is horrific and violent. The father of the entire show ends the season bleeding on a command table, and yeah… it’s safe to say that the secret was out after that.

Boomer has a tough time for the rest of the series. She herself gets popped in Season 2 (for breaking Tyrol’s heart, not for shooting Adama) and then gets downloaded far away from the fleet. She’s much more of a transparent antagonist after that. We grow to love and trust the “Athena” version of Sharon, but we never really trust Boomer again.

For more betrayals and backstabbings in this series, look at… almost every character? You expect it from Cylons (sleepers, final fives, etc), but we could be here all day discussing Dr. Gaius Baltar. As for Felix Gaeta and Tom Zarek, the less said the better. You broke our hearts, Racetrack.

Cypher in The Matrix (1999)

4. Cypher (The Matrix)

“How can he be the ONE, if he’s DEAD?” The great Joe Pantoliano provided some incredible second-act drama for the first of the groundbreaking Matrix movies, giving us a slimy toad for the sci-fi ages. We only trusted him because he was on Team Morpheus... he didn't look or sound particularly trustworthy. These doubts proved to be well-founded.

“Surprise, a**hole!” Cypher is sick of eating bowls of snot and living in squalor. He’s tired of having a creepy and unreciprocated crush on Trinity. He wants ignorance, because ignorance tastes like steak. It’s juicy and delicious, and so is the life of a rich actor. Cypher gives up Morpheus in return for all of that, and then he proceeds to kill most of the team in a horrifying fashion. Pulling plugs and watching lifeless team members fall is chilling. “Not like this… not like this.”

It’s almost a perfect betrayal, except for the fact that he didn’t make sure that Tank was all the way dead, so Cypher gets blasted and Neo lives on. The prophecy of “the one” lives on as well. The stage is now set for Neo and Trinity to rescue Morpheus.

We may have seen it coming, but it’s the how of it all that hurts here. Pantoliano’s playful glee twists that knife even further.

Marc Alaimo as Gul Dukat in the STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE

3. Gul Dukat (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)

We should have known. We really, really should have known. We never liked this piece of s***. Ever since he strutted his smug butt into Sisko’s office in the Deep Space Nine pilot, we knew he was trouble, even if we did love Marc Alaimo's fantastic performance. 

Dukat's horrific past actions had him clash with both Sisko (Avery Brooks) and Major Kira (Nana Visitor), but he was still a grudging ally. The crew had to work with him often, and they had to save his life a couple of times. Even Garak (Andrew Robinson) had to help him, and they hated each other.

When the Dominion War heats up, we assume that Dukat and the Cardassians are going to be on the side of the Alpha Quadrant. We assumed wrong. We forgot that Dukat has a real knack for waiting to see which way the winds are blowing, and then aligning himself accordingly. He has a gift for staying in power, one which he displayed after the fall of the Obsidian Order and the Central Command.

He does it again, only this time he aligns himself (and all of Cardassia) with the damn Dominion. They join the Dominion and turn their phasers on the Alpha Quadrant at large. He simply cannot wait to tell Sisko the news. Dukat gives the Founders a firm foothold with Cardassia, a giant fleet, and a ton of intel. We never trusted Dukat, but we didn’t think he was capable of this! Wow, how wrong we were. Never trust anyone who thinks that they should be loved and adored by a civilization that they once helped to enslave. 

Even though Dukat crawls through Season 6 in defeat, he gets back up again. He’s firmly a villain for the rest of the series, as his murderous actions in the Season 6 finale prove. His turn in Season 5 ended his run of being an untrustworthy bedfellow that proved useful every so often, though. In joining the Dominion, Gul Dukat betrayed his way into becoming the worst (and most fascinating) Star Trek villain there is.

Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

2. Anakin Skywalker (Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith)

Lando Calrissian is the more popular Star Wars betrayal (at least when it comes to pop culture references) but he switches sides again about fifteen minutes after his betrayal happens. Aside from that, what choice did he really have?

Once Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) chooses to ally with Palpatine in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, it takes several movies (and a few television shows) to turn him back to the light. The Skywalker Saga as a whole rests on the fulcrum of Anakin’s fall. We knew that this was going to happen in to the prequel movies; we knew full well that Anakin would become Darth Vader. The Original Trilogy wouldn’t really have a story without his betrayal. Even so, it hurts. It hurts every time.

No matter how often we watch Revenge of the Sith, part of us wonders if this will be the time that Anakin refuses to make his horrible choice. We actively ponder whether the movie itself will magically change, that’s how crazy it gets. For those who watched Star Wars: The Clone Wars and saw Anakin’s character fleshed out to a powerful degree, it makes it hurt so much more.

Once the betrayal comes and Mace Windu goes sailing out the window, Anakin has no choice but to commit to the bit. He murders and betrays every Jedi in sight, and then launches a spree of terror on the galaxy once he gets put in a portable iron lung that would make Dr. Frankenstein blush. Why does he turn? It’s not only because the Jedi Council refuses to worship him, though that doesn’t help. Palpatine has twisted his mind, and Jedi don’t get therapy. His turn has deep roots in his inability to deal with his feelings — he lost his mother, and he dreams that he will soon lose Natalie Portman. That’s a fate that no one could deal with, so we get it.

The only Jedi that he really consults about any of this is Yoda, and given unhelpful advice he is. Yoda tells him to let go, while Palpatine has him pull up a chair and dream of change.

Anakin is the one who ends up making kid kebabs with a lightsaber, but it was Jedi hubris that paved the way. All of it makes us want to scream.

Carter Burke (Paul Reiser) in Aliens (1986)

1. Carter Burke (Aliens)

Never, ever, trust a corporation. This betrayal isn’t heartbreaking so much as it is infuriating. Burke is on Ripley’s side for most of Aliens, especially when no one else is. That endears him to us somewhat, and to Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) herself. Maybe it’s the fact that Paul Reiser plays him. Paul Reiser is quite lovable. At least someone (other than Ripley) on this mission is thinking clearly!

He’s thinking clearly alright, he’s thinking of corporate bulls*** that exists within him on a molecular level. He’s here to nab one of the titular aliens, and if he has to use Ripley’s body as a vessel for transport, then that’s what he’s gonna do, have an A-1 day! He locks her in a room and lets a foul impregnation proceed.

This surely was not Plan A, but it was in his back pocket, even when things on the mission have long since gone to pot. He’s not gonna fail… his... corporation? Therefore he’s gonna use a woman’s body to carry a deadly being home and also kill an orphan along the way. Gotta consider that bottom line.

He’s the worst. He is the absolute worst. He’s not programmed like a Cylon, there’s no switch being flipped here. He doesn’t do this to save Natalie Portman. He doesn’t give Newt a fake tooth full of poison. He’s just a giant piece of s***, plain and simple. He is greed incarnate, a perfect encapsulation with everything that is wrong with the world. Take a stroll through any corporate building and you’ll be lost in a sea of Carter Burkes. We’re all a big family here! It’s important to the culture that you smuggle this deadly alien in your stomach.

Carter Burke’s actions hit so hard because they happen in the real world every second of every day. Even Cypher and Gul Dukat would want to pop Burke right in the balls, and that is saying something. He makes Logan Roy look like Qui-Gon Jinn. 

Will anyone on The Traitors prove as dastardly as the awful Mr. Burke? Stream it on Peacock to find out.