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305[BSG] Jammer's Review: "The Son Also Rises"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Mar 21, 2007
      Note: This review contains significant spoilers.

      Battlestar Galactica: "The Son Also Rises"

      When Baltar's legal representative is murdered with his trial rapidly
      approaching, Lee is assigned to provide security for the dead lawyer's
      enigmatic replacement.

      Air date: 3/11/2007 (USA)
      Written by Michael Angeli
      Directed by Robert Young

      Rating out of 4: ***1/2

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

      "The Son Also Rises" is that rare BSG episode where a guest star can come in
      and virtually steal the show away from the regulars -- building a character
      from scratch who is compelling, charismatic, and endlessly watchable. The
      writing and directing are also a big part of why the character works so
      well, but once you've seen "The Son Also Rises," it's hard to imagine
      anybody but Mark Sheppard in the role of Romo Lampkin.

      It's also interesting to note how, since "Rapture," we have not seen the
      Cylons at all, and what that has meant for the structure of the show. In
      place of what has often been a war- or mythology-based series is, in the
      second half of the third season, a show almost exclusively about the
      characters and internal fleet dynamics. The result has been a much more
      introspective "Battlestar Galactica." Whether that's better or worse is a
      matter of personal taste, but I've enjoyed many of these human-based
      stories, which have put the people under the microscope at a time when
      there's no enemy to fight.

      In the opening minutes of "The Son Also Rises," Baltar's lawyer is murdered
      in an explosion. With Baltar's trial fast approaching (for which,
      coincidentally, Adama has been randomly selected to serve as one of the five
      judges on the tribunal), Roslin scrambles to find a replacement. The man who
      accepts the task is one Romo Lampkin (Mark Sheppard), a former Caprican
      attorney who is willing to represent a hated man for the sheer fame and
      glory. Or perhaps infamy, as the case may be.

      What drives a man to represent someone so reviled, and, more specifically,
      at the risk of his own life? The thing about Romo Lampkin is that before we
      even get dialog that lets us in on the way he thinks, there's so much
      presence in the way he holds himself. His demeanor is edgy, but also
      cerebrally inquisitive. He has a raspy voice and an Irish accent (although
      "Irish" is a term that does not apply in the BSG universe) and a few days'
      worth of an unshaven beard. And those damn sunglasses. He always wears
      sunglasses. But it's not because he's hiding something. He's too
      accomplished a liar to need them for that. (Perhaps the sunglasses are a nod
      to Ron Moore's former boss, DS9 head writer Ira Steven Behr.) Lampkin is
      your classic maverick.

      The other story of "The Son Also Rises" is its focus on Lee, Adama, and the
      impact of Kara's death. In the opening scene, Adama pages through Kara's
      file (with page after page of written disciplinary reprimands). Ultimately,
      he comes across a birthday card from her saying, "You were always like a
      father to me." It's a heartfelt scene, with more sentiment than typically
      allowed on this series. The show has earned this scene, and it's affecting;
      it's not every day that one of the main characters dies.

      Kara is gone, but not forgotten. Notes Tigh, of Viper chatter: "Never
      thought I'd miss old Starbuck's yakking." Anders is a drunken wreck on the
      flight deck, in a scene of loud but forgivable public display. It's sad to
      watch, and we're in sympathy with him. In the pilot ready room, Racetrack
      makes a smart-ass comment, and Lee slips and calls her Starbuck. It's not
      the sort of mistake to be making as a leader in front of the troops.

      Sensing a possible meltdown, Adama pulls his son off CAG duty and puts him
      on security detail to protect Lampkin from assassination attempts while
      keeping Lee closer and safer. (I wasn't sure, however, why protecting a man
      targeted for assassination would be viewed as "safer" than being a pilot
      with the war idled.) Lee: "Dad, I'm fine." Adama: "No, you're not. Because
      I'm not." When there's another bombing attempt and Lee and Lampkin are
      nearly killed, Adama is furious that Lee put himself in the situation so

      The performances here of Edward James Olmos and Jamie Bamber are much more
      raw and emotional than you typically see, and when they discuss their loss,
      the pain is palpable. While it's too early to say whether Kara's death will
      pay off in the long run, this scene demonstrates how the death of a
      character can be a dramatic catalyst in the short run. (By the episode's
      end, Lee keeps his promise and posts Kara's picture next to Kat's, and we
      also sense a shared bond between him and Anders. Of course, the question
      becomes whether Kara's removal from the series is worth the short-term
      benefit of this type of characterization.)

      What this episode is about is Lee's gradual seduction by the idea of being a
      part of the legal process. He's also in no small part seduced by the power
      of Lampkin's charisma. Lampkin knew Lee's defense-lawyer grandfather on
      Caprica, who taught him everything he knew, and that intrigues Lee. Lee was
      always mystified by why his grandfather would take the abuse that came with
      representing the scum of humanity. Now, in Lampkin he begins to see clues
      into that mindset.

      There are fascinating scenes of dialog and behavior, where Lee (who is our
      entry point as observers into Lampkin's legal strategy) watches Lampkin lay
      the groundwork of his case by asking the right questions and then responding
      with exactly what needs to be said. In the scene where Lampkin first meets
      Baltar to take over the case, we realize that Baltar -- no stranger to
      manipulation -- is easily manipulated by Lampkin, who quotes from Baltar's
      manifesto, encourages him to write more, then steals his pen without his
      knowledge. Why does Lampkin steal the pen? Because, he tells Lee, the
      perception that Baltar has been silenced by the authorities may engender
      more support for him.

      Lampkin also meets with Caprica Six, who has already agreed to testify for
      the prosecution. Knowing the bond between her and Baltar, he exploits those
      feelings masterfully. He gives her the pen as a token of Baltar's love.
      Lampkin is a brilliant tale spinner and student of human nature. He tells
      Six exactly what she needs to hear to make her question her cooperation with
      the prosecution. Lampkin even cites his own personal lost love as a way of
      reaching out to Six with empathy.

      All the while, we wonder what motivates this man. He cites his love for the
      capacity of verbal deceit, but we sense it's more complex than that. He
      believes in ... something. The system, or perhaps the futility of the
      system. Either he's a complete cynic or an idealist pretending to be a
      cynic. Perhaps he's just good at something at wants to use his skills. He
      has an ability to take the truth (Baltar's love for Six, for example) and
      readjust it into just the right message to get the right reactions to make
      his case better. It's all about the case. He is simply doing his job as well
      as he can because he wants to win. With Baltar, the deceit was always
      self-serving. With Lampkin, the deceit always serves the case.

      Ultimately, I think that's why Lampkin becomes so likable. It's about the
      case, plain and simple, and his manipulations always start with what's
      already there. He doesn't try to rig the game; he simply uses the rules of
      the game to his best advantage. When it's clear that Lee is becoming
      somewhat seduced by the legal games, Lampkin tries to warn him off (calling
      him a sudden "serial contrarian"), even as he seems to know exactly what
      he's doing to further suck Lee in. And then he utters colorful lines like,
      "Now if this cross-examination is over, I'd like to take a crap."

      The story reveals still more to Lampkin when he's injured in a second
      attempt on his life. Lee visits him in sickbay, where the story lets us
      further into Lampkin's mind (at least so far as what Lampkin is willing to
      tell Lee about himself, assuming it's true). I liked the character touches
      here: He's a pathological pickpocket ("I borrow things") whose parents were
      murdered when he was nine. It's something that explains his desire to
      understand the criminal mind.

      The would-be assassin turns out to be Captain Kelly (Ty Olsson), and his
      confession provides another solemn example of how life aboard Galactica has
      taken its slow mental toll. When people like Baltar are allowed to live when
      military officers are sent to die, people like Kelly take matters into their
      own hands.

      Honestly, the plot involving the assassin is an afterthought merely to give
      the story structure. The reason I like this episode so much, even though
      it's light on plot, is it's complete investment in its characters and
      dialog. Lampkin is easily one of the best guest characters this series has
      had. Meanwhile, we get a new look at Lee that we might not have expected.
      With Lampkin injured, he wants to assist on Baltar's defense team. Suddenly,
      we have Lee shaking up his career to pursue a lost dream. His father is
      understandably against it. It's madness. Is Lee hopelessly naïve? Are we
      seeing a new rift opening between father and son? Is this a new direction
      for Lee?

      "The Son Also Rises" asks intriguing questions. It does not have all the
      answers. Lee's behavior is ill-advised and perhaps difficult to justify.
      Lampkin is a mystery wrapped in an enigma obscured behind sunglasses.
      Behavior has reasons, but not full-blown explanations. The truth is in the
      characters' gut feelings, and not necessarily in plain view. What does it
      mean that Lee wants to defend Baltar? Is he trying to say that individuals
      must stand up in favor of the constructs of society, no matter how
      distasteful it may be? Does he simply no longer want to be his father's son?

      The episode's conclusion is ominous: Lampkin, through Lee, returns Baltar
      his pen, along with a note: "There's no greater ally, no force more
      powerful, no enemy more resolved, than a son who chooses to step from his
      father's shadow."

      That's a statement worth absorbing. Coming from Lampkin, you wonder if he's
      actually a chess master, or simply passing himself off as one.

      Copyright 2007, Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
      Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.

      Jammer's Reviews - http://www.jammersreviews.com
      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...