Thursday, May 29, 2008

Indispensable Thoughts on Sine Qua Non

Thanks to a combination of our neighbors to the north and the Internet, I have had a chance to watch the latest episode of Battlestar Galactica early. It made for an uneven but enjoyable ride which shook things up on Galactica quite thoroughly.

The title "Sine Qua Non" is essentially legalese for "indispensable" and this episode hammered that theme home from start to finish. We start with Natalie, the Cylon leader, dying after Athena shoots her. Like everyone else aboard Galactica these days, Athena is having visions and hers tell her that a Six model like Natalie will take away her child. Athena reacts as most mothers would and terminates the perceived threat with extreme prejudice. Adama, not being aware that the theme of the episode is how we react to the loss of the one indispensable person in our lives, throws Athena in the brig.

With half of Galactica's pilots and their Vipers having already been onboard the damaged Cylon Basestar when it jumped away, Starbuck earns a reprieve from the "is she a Cylon?" doghouse because she is probably the only experienced Viper pilot that Galactica has left. While this is clear on a second viewing, less obsessive-compulsive viewers can be forgiven if they are a little confused.

Now that the president has been whisked away by the Cylons, the government needs a new leader (again with the "indispensable" theme). From the moment that we are told that Adama will not accept Tom Zarek as president, it's pretty clear that Lee Adama is the most likely candidate for the job. He's a new member of the Quorum, has no political enemies other than the MIA president Roslin, and is Admiral Adama's son. But the episode tries to milk some drama out of this by bringing in Baltar's ex-lawyer Romo Lampkin as an advisor to help find a new candidate for Colonial president.

But Romo Lampkin is a huge mess. Lee trips over his cat's food bowl and growls, "[Do] you ever feed that animal? Where is he anyway?" On repeated viewing this is should be the first clue that Romo has a problem because he can see the cat just fine even though Lee can't. That's right, while Adama sometimes sees his dead wife, Roslin and Athena have visions of baby Hera, and Tigh anguishes over his own dead wife, Romo Lampkin is seeing visions of what we are later told is a dead cat. The cool, manipulative lawyer is actually a sad, pathetic shell of a man who misses his cat.

But Adama has bigger fish to fry. It's been pretty obvious that Adama and Roslin have had unspoken love since at least New Caprica and now that Roslin is sick and missing, Adama's judgment is being compromised. When Galactica finds evidence that the Basestar which jumped has been destroyed by the Cylons, Adama refuses to acknowledge the possibility and pushes his depleted pilots to continue to search Roslin and her Basestar. It's Sine Qua Non all over again.

Speaking of indispensable people, Tigh still misses his wife so badly that he's still seeing her face when he looks at Caprica Six. And he's not just looking at her. Doc Cottle tells Adama that Caprica is pregnant. This leads to a confrontation between Adama and Tigh. The confrontation turns into a fist fight and long story, short Adama is now 2-0 against skinjob Cylons. The resolution of the fight where Tigh falls on Adama's boat and smashes it is a welcome moment of levity in an otherwise very serious episode.

Lampkin approaches Adama to explain the title of the episode to him and try to get Adama to accept Zarek as president. While the latter doesn't happen, the Sine Qua Non speech convinces Adama that his need to find Roslin has destroyed his objectivity and made him unfit for command.

Lampkin finally decides to drop the pretense and tells Lee that he needs to be president. And then he pulls a gun on him. It seems that Lampkin had abandoned his family to hop on a shuttle when the Cylons attacked. The death of the cat has pushed Lampkin over the edge, it was one thing for him to quietly move through the fleet with his cowardly shame, stealing things and playing the happily cynical lawyer. But when somebody kills his cat, Lampkin decides that everyone else in the fleet is just as cowardly and corrupt as he feels.

This is ostensibly his reason for pulling a gun on Lee. He's a perfect candidate for the presidency in his eyes. (Young, idealistic, with a vision of a better future -- does this remind you of anyone in real life?) And the fleet just doesn't deserve him. But in the end it's all just a weird form of psychotherapy for Lampkin as he really wants Lee to give him a reason to keep on living by promising to be the great leader that the fleet needs. It's all very overwrought and dramatic but it does fit into the "West Wing in Space" theme that BSG likes to wade into. And it also fits with the Sine Qua Non theme, Lee is supposed be clean, uncorrupted leader that the fleet needs. I don't quite think that this episode pulled the theme off but it was a fairly difficult role which required a lot of over the top acting and it worked well enough for what it was meant to do, which was to paint a portrait of a society on the verge of extinction reaching out to one great hope.

The episode has one final twist. Adama is stepping down as commander to go look for Roslin and he wants Tigh to take command. Tigh reminds him that his last turn in charge was a disaster but Adama tries to soothe his worries. The sight of secret Cylon Saul Tigh's bulging eyes as Adama tell him that he's not the same man that he used to be is unintentionally (or perhaps even intentionally) hilarious. The episode ends with Adama saying goodbye to his son and spiritual daughter, Lee and Kara and getting into a Raptor to wait for Roslin at a rendezvous point. As Adama sits alone in his Raptor, all the other ships jump away.

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