Battlestar Galactica #38: Act of Contrition

"Do your job... and walk out of this cabin... while you still can."
SO SAY WE ALL: The death of 13 pilots forces Starbuck to train new ones, and reopens old wounds about Zak Adama's death.

REVIEW: Act of Contrition is all about the Adama-Starbuck relationship, showing through a combination of present-day and flashback scenes how close they actually became in the wake of Zak Adama's death. The commander essentially took Kara in as a daughter, as if she HAD married him. In the wake of a terrible accident in the hangar that costs the lives of 13 pilots, showing that 1) you can't drop your guard for even a minute, and 2) Galactica is full of old and potentially faulty equipment, Starbuck must train new ones ("nuggets"), and Zak's death, the result of her giving him an unmerited passing grade, is an unignorable open wound. Only Lee and Kara know the truth, so Adama is there will all the fatherly speeches, but Lee sort of spills the beans. The acting is ambiguous. He seems sincere enough when he says he thought his father knew, but at the same time, the secret is eating at him. Either way, it all comes to a head when Adama forces a confession out of Kara and in the moment, he's unable to forgive her. Both actors give an amazing performance. When Starbuck is in trouble later, fighting eight Cylons by herself, her death wish informed by self-loathing, no doubt, Adama's total confidence in her comes out. We know then he will forgive her.

The "nugget" story is pretty much what you'd expect in those circumstances. Starbuck doesn't really want to do it, considering her painful foul-up two years before, and with no simulator available, even training sorties are dangerous. The nuggets make mistakes, she washes them out prematurely, but has to take them back after it's made clear she's overreacting. You know, Top Gun type stuff. It even ends on the old cliché of the rookie trying to get into the action after he's told to head back to base, though it's Kara's Viper that crashes to the planet below (with a Cylon, to be continued). Hot Dog lives to fight another day, and that's really the function of this subplot - introduce supporting characters, make them memorable (the call signs help), and use them as potential cannon fodder in later episodes. Flat Top was already established when he was suddenly and surprisingly killed at the top of this one, and I think we might just care what happens to Hot Dog, Kat and Chuckles in the coming future.

I'm somewhat ambivalent about the structure of the episode. Almost everything is a flashback as Starbuck falls to the planet below, a flashback containing flashbacks to two years prior. There's a mystery as to how she got there, but the Zak stuff isn't really a part of it. She told this story in a short exchange earlier, so on a plot level, we're just going through the motions. What's important, however, is that STYLISTICALLY, Galactica opens this particular can of worms. Achronological storytelling is now established as part of its vocabulary, and the way it presents flashbacks is more Proustian than clip show. It's a more mature and intelligent way to tell stories.

Though Act of Contrition focuses on a few specific characters, it still finds a way to give the others a scene. Baltar has a rematch with Starbuck. President Roslin opens up to Dr. Cottle about her mother's illness and how treatment made her sicker (it's his first appearance, memorably smoking through the exam, and seriously advising prayer). And back on Caprica, Helo and Sharon find a stocked-up shelter thanks to a beacon signal. Really lucky, or part of the Cylon plan? Stay tuned.

CAPRICANADA: Of the new characters, several are played by Canadian talent. Dr. Cottle by Winnipeg's Donnelly Rhodes, a regular on the long-running Canadian crime series Da Vinci's Inquest. The Toronto-born Luciana Carro plays Kat. And Edmonton's Terry Chen is Chuckles.

ALL THIS HAS HAPPENED BEFORE AND IT WILL HAPPEN AGAIN: Starbuck crashing down on planets is a trope from the old show. As a Cylon falls with her this time, the closest equivalent is The Return of Starbuck. For lack of pilots, the original series also had Starbuck train new recruits who ALSO had to prove their mettle in actual combat during a training sortie.

HUMAN DEATH TOLL: 13 pilots are killed in a hanger deck accident, including "Flat Top", introduced in the previous episode. Unless others have died in the last two days, the fleet's population should be 47,946. (Note that these counts never include Helo on Caprica.)

VERSIONS: Deleted scenes include Lee trying to make Kara express her grief over the dead pilots, and master at arms Hadrian acting suspicious about Tyrol and Boomer's relationship, setting up her investigation of them in Litmus.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Brilliantly acted, and edited with flair, but the content's not exactly original.

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