Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Battlestar Galactica: Season 4, Episode 8, "Sine Qua Non"

After three straight adrenaline-fueled episodes, Battlestar Galactica returned from its Memorial Day hiatus with “Sine Qua Non”, a frustratingly uneven character study probing into the collective consciousness of those left behind in the wake of the events in “Guess What’s Coming to Dinner?” It’s tempting to think of “Sine Qua Non” as a regression of sorts, a callback to the meandering character sketches of the first few episodes of BSG’s fourth and final season. But whereas those earlier revelations often felt frivolous, exploring the remaining fleet’s reaction to the disappearance of their President, to say nothing of half the fleet’s military strength, was of the utmost importance.

“Sine Qua Non” opens up promisingly enough, with a blizzard of washed-out hallucinatory sequences imagined by Natalie, the gutshot cylon leader, superimposed against a flurry of medical activity, as Galactica’s medics rush to resuscitate their new ally. They fail through no fault of their own, and with her last act Natalie, true to the sensuous nature of her model, grasps blindly for one last physical touch, here provided by the good Doc Cottle. Apparently I was wrong in my speculation that she might be the dying leader. Ah well.

Elsewhere, Vice President Tom Zarek, the former terrorist and master politician, attempts to assume control of the Presidency, as stipulated in the constitution. In a strange turn, the normally expedient Admiral Adama—the man who accepted the presidency of Gaius Baltar, for goodness’ sake—outright refuses to acknowledge Zarek’s legitimacy, and so the youngest member of the quorum, the Admiral’s son Lee, is tasked to find a suitable replacement for Zarek, while the Admiral is forced to look within for the first time in a great while. Thus are the two main thrusts of this episode launched.

It was always apparent to anyone paying attention that Lee’s foray into politics was going to result in him becoming President. And that’s okay—inevitability is a perfectly acceptable narrative choice, provided the journey in question is handled deftly. Unfortunately it hasn’t been. Lee has always been the least defined character on the show, and his dealings with the quorum this season have totally compounded this. Jamie Bamber is a great actor, but his recent scenes, apart from negotiating the safety of Gaius Baltar, have always seemed perfunctory at best, superfluous at worst. That dynamic continues here, as the writers had to bring in Romo Lampkin, erstwhile public defender, just to get Lee sped along.

Lampkin is a bit like Anton Chigur—he’s a force of nature, more a collection of tics than anything recognizably human. I always liked him, but he was totally unnecessary in “Sine Qua Non”. The entire point to his presence was to reiterate and reilluminate the survivor’s guilt, which of course brings up a problem. The logistics of Galactica ensure that we’re never far away from any of the survivor’s guilt, so focusing on Romo’s anguish didn’t add anything to this equation. Indeed, it was mostly mimicry, as Romo Sixth-Sensing his wife’s cat echoed the guilt of both Saul Tigh, who sees his dead wife in the face of his current lover, and Admiral Adama, who has conversations with his dead ex-wife each anniversary. Lampkin is a secondary character in the midst of the show’s final season, and having him complete a totally unbelievable arc (in the span of a single episode, no less) was a colossal waste of time.

As Galactica moves more and more towards character-specific episodes, it often leaves us some crucial character in the lurch. Take Saul Tigh, who has been largely relegated to the periphery for much of this season. Because we haven’t seen much of him, two starting developments—Saul impregnating Caprica-Six (what’s Baltar gonna think?), and Saul assuming command of the Galactica, didn’t strike home with nearly as much force as intended. But hey, at least we got to see Romo get a new dog.

Lampkin also pops up in Bill Adama’s narrative, as he once again tells someone something they should already know, namely, Bill hearts Laura: “Sine qua non … those things we deem essential, without which we cannot bear living. Without which life in general loses its specific value, becomes abstract.” From Galactica’s outset, there has been romantic tension between Adama and Roslin. But they’ve always danced around it, which, come to think of it, is probably a good thing. When BSG’s other two leads, Starbuck and Apollo, finally decided to explore their oft-ignored personal feelings, it erupted in an angsty, completely forgettable mess that was painful for both viewer and character to watch.

But Adama’s intentions here are much more pure. Starbuck and Apollo hooked up because they could; Adama, thanks to Roslin’s abduction, has his hand forced. He might not ever unite with his love—this is Battlestar Galactica, after all—but as the camera pulls back on his lone raptor framed against the oblivion of space, it's clear that he’s damned sure going to try.

1 comment:

Sofistafunk said...

I am tired of the real life scrambling for a democratic presidential candidate, so politics is the last thing I want to trudge through in a BSG episode. Especially when it's the quorum screaming at each other—which is always (seriously, do these people ever have civil discussions?). I agree that once Apollo gave up his wings for a suit and tie, he was destined for the presidency; aside from the fact that he's a born leader from a family of leaders, he's apparently the only member of the quorum who isn't Tom Zarek that ever knows what the hell is going on. So please BSG writer folk, spare us the Apollo as the reluctant leader drafted into power story.

Another thought, how cruel to not give us any hint as to what is happening on the disappeared basestar! Also, I thought that cylons couldn't/had difficulty conceiving (because they aren't programmed to love?), so how come they're popping out babies all over the place?