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[BSG] Jammer's Review: "Sine Qua Non"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Note: This review contains significant spoilers. ... Battlestar Galactica: Sine Qua Non The fleet faces turmoil and uncertainty when President Roslin goes
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 17, 2009
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      Note: This review contains significant spoilers.

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      Battlestar Galactica: "Sine Qua Non"

      The fleet faces turmoil and uncertainty when President Roslin goes
      missing and is presumed dead and Adama refuses to acknowledge the
      legitimacy of Vice President Zarek as her successor.

      Air date: 5/30/2008 (USA)
      Written by Michael Taylor
      Directed by Rod Hardy

      Rating out of 4: ***

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      -----

      The reason "Battlestar's" fourth season has worked so well thus far
      is because there's a larger purpose driving it -- an unapologetic,
      fully committed serialized format that assumes you watch every week.
      In past seasons, the show occasionally tried to deliver somewhat more
      stand-alone stories (and one could argue that led to some of the
      series' weaker outings, like "Black Market," "Hero," "The Passage,"
      or "A Day in the Life"), but with the series' end date etched in
      stone, all pretense for increased audience accessibility has been
      jettisoned, and the show has committed to telling the stories that
      advance its larger purpose.

      Now, having said that, it's worth noting that although the larger
      overarching story is driving this series, there's still plenty of
      room for episodes that more prominently feature certain characters
      and themes over others. For example, "The Road Less Traveled"
      emphasized military protocol, "Faith" emphasized religion, "Guess
      What's Coming to Dinner?" emphasized the characters' roles in a
      cosmic mythology, and now "Sine Qua Non's" emphasis is government and
      leadership.

      This episode takes the fallout from "Dinner" and turns the focus
      primarily into a story about the operations of the Colonial
      government in the absence of President Roslin, and how it functions
      alongside the military (which is to say, dysfunctionally). Completely
      absent are any scenes that feature Roslin or the other characters on
      board the Cylon basestar that jumped away; their fate is a mystery
      left for next week. I admire the strategy of this season, which is
      that being away from some characters' stories simply means spending
      more time on the equally compelling affairs of others -- in this
      case, for the entire episode. (There's been a sense of unrelenting
      momentum this season, where the story moves along and the writers ask
      us to fill in the blanks of what was off-screen and implied. I'm of
      the opinion that the approach has worked.)

      Renegade Six is rushed to sickbay where she dies on the operating
      table -- an ominous sign for any hopes of the tenuous alliance that
      had existed. Meanwhile, there's chaos aboard Colonial One, where the
      Quorum tries to separate facts from rumors about Roslin's
      disappearance; the frenzy has real-world disaster recognizability as
      a situation where emotion awaits further news and in the meantime
      feeds upon itself.

      Also made clear in the early scenes is the sense that business must
      and will go on, both in the government and on Galactica. Adama and
      Tigh start planning contingencies (with almost too much calm) for
      what to do if indeed all those Vipers are now gone. And if Roslin is
      missing and perhaps dead, the government must continue to function,
      and Vice President Tom Zarek intends to step up and do the job --
      that is until it's made clear (and this happens very quickly) that
      Admiral Adama has absolutely no intention of recognizing a Zarek
      Administration.

      Zarek is frankly pissed that he may have to step aside simply because
      Adama doesn't trust him. But he has no choice. Lee has an apt
      military phrase for the situation: "Facts on the ground." The
      civilian government cannot function without Adama's approval, and
      Adama does not approve of Tom Zarek. Period. It makes you wonder
      where this fleet would be if Roslin and Adama were not able to
      coexist as a (usually) unified front.

      So Lee convinces Zarek to step aside while Lee chairs a search
      committee to replace him. I'm honestly not sure whether this is
      prudent or patently absurd. The president is gone, the government is
      about to grind to a halt, Adama is rejecting the legitimate
      administration -- and Lee turns to the sort of deliberate bureaucracy
      that typifies a real government, as opposed to the contrived one that
      actually exists. Hey, I don't have a better idea, and Lee's plan
      seems about as level-headed as any. But given how dire the situation
      is, it just seems so ... calm. Calm to the point of madness.

      Lee recruits a reluctant Romo Lampkin (Mark Sheppard, reprising his
      popular character from last season) to aid in the search. Lampkin
      sees the case as a high-risk, low-reward endeavor that won't get him
      much of anything in return. What did he get in return for defending
      Baltar, you ask? He got a "room with a view"; his quarters feature a
      hilariously tiny 6-by-6-inch window, apparently much coveted. He also
      gets plenty of headaches from people who hate him for getting Baltar
      acquitted.

      The question becomes, who exudes all the qualities of a real leader
      and will be acceptable to the Quorum and to Admiral Adama? Lee and
      Romo spend a good deal of time debating the merits of leadership
      (with Romo offering up little tidbits of wisdom like the fact that
      those who show no apparent ambition actually have more of it than
      anyone else; it's just hidden from view), while crossing names of a
      dry-erase board. The details of this process are enjoyable, but at
      the same time there's a certain telegraphed inevitability to it. When
      Romo starts writing down names that will work rather than crossing
      off those that won't, he only comes up with one name, and it's not a
      groundbreaking shock when the camera reveals that it's -- *gasp* --
      Lee Adama! I will admit that it is, however, an interesting wrinkle
      to the larger plot. It's also proof that BSG is not afraid of moving
      the plot ahead at lightning speed; Lee is sworn in as president
      before the episode ends.

      But I'm not quite sure what to make of the scene where Lampkin
      reveals this epiphany to Lee. He points a gun at Lee and seems
      prepared to pull the trigger, which is so downright unexpected and
      played for suspense value that I'm inclined to say it simply comes
      out of left field. Lee has some good speechmaking in this scene, but
      I couldn't help but be distracted by how forced it felt for Lampkin
      to suddenly become so unhinged. What causes this? We learn that his
      enemies killed his cat weeks ago, and apparently that's his final
      straw. But, wait -- we had seen the cat jumping around in earlier
      scenes. Oh, that was just subjective-POV, Romo-imagined narrative
      trickery. Personally, I don't think this story needed Romo's cat
      playing Bruce Willis in "The Sixth Sense."

      It also feels forced because Romo has always been the coolest of all
      customers -- a dry and cynical con man who knows human nature better
      than anybody. Watching him melt down here doesn't play to the
      strengths of the character or the actor; it seems at odds with
      Lampkin's persona, and I didn't quite buy it. It's too much platitude
      and not enough truthful characterization.

      Significantly more truthful characterization takes place in the
      Adama/Tigh stories aboard Galactica. There are some great scenes
      here. Take, for example, the one where Adama calls Sharon in to
      answer for killing Renegade Six. He wants an explanation. She
      supplies one. To call it insufficient is an understatement. Adama is
      pissed -- and I mean pissed -- over Sharon's reckless act. You can
      always count on an angry Adama being worth some meaty drama, and it
      doesn't disappoint here. Sharon has essentially destroyed her
      relationship with Adama -- and her standing on the ship -- because of
      fears inspired by her visions, and it lands her back in the brig.

      Meanwhile, this episode finally turns back to the relationship
      between Tigh and Caprica Six. A lot has transpired off-screen
      since "Escape Velocity"; you can see in their body language that
      their relationship has greatly evolved. She calls him "Saul." Their
      relationship is obviously complicated, with a dose of both
      codependence and distrust, and Tigh still sees Ellen when he looks at
      her. I love how this scene invites us to fill in blanks and imagine
      how things between them have changed gradually over time; there's an
      economy to the narrative that makes it seem like so much more has
      happened than we've actually witnessed.

      The real heart of the story, though, is Adama's. Roslin is missing,
      and Adama is determined to find her. When the president's Raptor is
      discovered along with a dead pilot, and Galactica investigates and
      subsequently finds a destroyed Cylon basestar, there's every reason
      to believe the president and Galactica's Viper detachment are dead.
      But Adama can't accept it. He goes into personal-feelings-indulged
      mode, very much like the search for Kara in first season's "You Can't
      Go Home Again." He begins to lose objectivity. He sends resources out
      on fruitless missions. He delays preparations for getting the fleet
      under way. At one point, even Lampkin makes a point about it: "I
      always imagined you a realist, admiral, not one to indulge a vain
      hope at the cost of lives. But then, everyone has his limits."

      Then there's the revelation that Caprica Six is pregnant by Tigh's
      doing. I didn't see that one coming. Let's completely set aside for
      now the whole issue of this potentially being the first fully Cylon
      child; the Adama/Tigh scene where this is revealed is terrific. Once
      again, a pissed Adama is an endlessly watchable Adama, and the result
      is a dramatically charged stand-off that gets you pumped up for the
      intensity of the drama even while it makes you wince about seeing
      these two old friends cursing and finally coming to blows with each
      other. I especially recoiled when Adama brought Ellen's name into it;
      if only he knew what Tigh literally sees in Six. The brawl gives way
      to the perfect bit of levity after Adama's model ship is
      destroyed: "You know how many times I've had to repair this thing?"

      Slowly but surely, this story becomes the tale of these two old guys
      and their situations involving women: Quite simply, what are they
      gonna do? For Adama, the situation grows in poignancy as we realize,
      if we hadn't always realized, that he loves Roslin. And amid his loss
      of objectivity over trying to deal with this fact, he realizes he
      must turn command of Galactica over to Tigh, with orders to continue
      the search for Earth. Adama intends to wait alone in a Raptor for
      Roslin to make an improbable rendezvous.

      The Adama/Tigh friendship, with all its history, is so poignant that
      you dread the day when the other shoe drops and Adama finds out he's
      a Cylon. At this point, this question is more about Adama than about
      Tigh. It isn't even an issue in the story's mind that Tigh, a secret
      Cylon, is given command of the fleet. Tigh is simply Tigh, working
      through his many issues, and that's all there is to it. He intends to
      carry out Adama's orders.

      "Why are you doing this?" Lee asks Adama. "Because I can't live
      without her," Adama responds. Boom -- the emotional truth of the
      episode right there. And Adama waits, by himself, in empty space,
      alone. Hope springs eternal. When it comes to Laura Roslin, Adama
      can't afford to be objective. Sine qua non: Without which there is
      nothing.

      --
      Footnote: The number 47 once again shows up in the dialog here, in
      reference to names being crossed off a list. The whole insertion-of-
      47-into-scripts phenomenon, dating back to TNG, has persisted
      throughout BSG's run. Rumor has it Joe Menosky was the one
      responsible for encouraging this behavior. I felt compelled to ask
      Menosky about it, and he confirmed his complicity in this conspiracy,
      and pointed me to the pages below to demonstrate the uncanny
      significance of 47.

      http://www.pomona.edu/Magazine/PCMsp05/FS47trek.shtml
      http://www.pomona.edu/Pomoniana/47.shtml

      -----
      Copyright 2009, Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
      Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is
      prohibited.

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