Battlestar Galactica – “Sine Qua Non”

“Sine Qua Non”

May 30th, 2008

Yes, you’re not seeing things: that date above is in the future, which means that I have perfected the art of time travel. Or, more accurately, I’ve perfected the art of hijacking a British satellite feed in order to watch this week’s episode of Battlestar Galactica three days before it airs on this continent.

Yes, SkyOne is now three days ahead due to the Memorial Day holiday break on Sci-Fi, which is good news for those of us able to see it early. Now, I was trying to decide whether to write a review now or later for this one, and know that my decision to focus on the former is largely due to a desire to discuss it while it is still fresh in my mind; I know how hard it will be for those of you on feeds to resist the temptation to read before you watch, and I apologize for the trouble.

However, there’s a lot to talk about here, some of which I found interesting and some which, well, I didn’t. Plus, the return of a much-loved character that, although engaging, ultimately falls in the latter category…I think.

So, head below the jump for thoughts and spoilers…and, if you’re not coming back until Saturday, see you then!

“Sine Qua Non” is an episode about losing control, or losing some element which is integral to existence. The latin meaning of the phrase, at least according to my extensive knowledge of using Wikipedia, is “without which (there is) nothing.” For various characters in our universe, this phrase has distinct meaning, and the episode does a strong job of emphasizing this fact in both subtle and broad fashions.

It centers most on Adama, who finally steps back into the role of protagonist in this episode. He’s been sidelined by Kara in terms of major fleet movements since the season began, focused rather on interacting with Roslin and helping her through her ordeal. Suddenly, with Roslin jumped off with the Baseship (Which we never actually see in this episode, something I’ll discuss later), Adama doesn’t know what to do with himself. And, unfortunately, the rest of his world is falling apart at the same time: he goes from a stable existence to Roslin potentially being dead, Sharon breaking his trust by killing Natalie, and Tigh impregnating Caprica Six.

We’ll discuss the last one first: yes, Tigh appears to have knocked up Caprica as part of their weird sexually charge fight sessions that we (thankfully, to be honest) haven’t seen for a while. I honestly don’t get this storyline, and never have: as a piece of plotting in Jane Espenson’s Escape Velocity, it was awkward and unexplained, and its sudden disappearance complicated things further. However, now the storyline actually did have a purpose: it drives a wedge in the relationship between Tigh and Adama (for a moment, anyways), and also helps to shed further light on Tigh’s journey as a Cylon.

Because there’s something wrong with this scenario, which again implies that there is something different about the Final Five: according to the Cylon storylines in the first and second seasons, particularly “The Farm,” this should be impossible. The inability for the existing seven Cylons to procreate was one of the central conceits that led to Sharon falling in love with Helo. Now, in that instance, the claim was that love was what allowed for Sharon to carry Hera, and that it also helped that a human was involved in the process. The same argument, at least in my mind, explains how Tyrol and Cally were able to have Nicky – with one human in the mix, you could argue that the system works.

But here, we have two Cylons procreating – now, perhaps the pregnancy is doomed, and those complications will kill Caprica and raise suspicion of Tigh (Although chances are that the fleet won’t be as quick to presume the truth). However, it is also a potential red flag for Caprica – considering she knew that the Five were in her presence, that they were nearby, I would have to think that even in her strange lovestruck state (I found Tricia Helfer’s performance really weird in her brief scenes, like a complete character shift had taken place in a deleted scene from the weeks previous) that she would have an acute sense of what this could mean. Either way, I’m excited to see that what appeared as an odd character beat in perhaps the season’s weakest hour has developed into a return to an idea that always fascinated the Cylons, and that fits in so nicely with the episode’s recurring theme.

The impact of this on Adama’s psyche is far simpler: Tigh spending time with the Cylon is one thing, but frakking her is quite another. His fight with Tigh is one of the episode’s finer moments, a visceral battle that smartly ties the episode to Adama’s past frustration with his favourite wooden model. Both actors perform more than admirably in the setting, and it’s a nice relationship to return to. I also like that, while Adama eventually comes to his senses regarding the way the loss of Roslin is skewing his perceptions, that his choice to give Tigh command is still a fascinating development for us as viewers: that a Cylon is now in charge of the journey to Earth, and that he is so frakkin’ scared of it, should prove yet another fantastically disastrous and entertaining turn at the helm for Tigh.

On the other subtler beat, but along the same lines, we have Athena, who last week killed Natalie and (in Adama’s eyes) caused the Cylon Baseship to jump away with their people on board. Of course, we know that this isn’t true: we know that Natalie and the other Cylons had organized a betrayal long before she did so. The big questions about this storyline (Did Natalie resurrect? And are we going to get to see her wake up in the Hub and have to fight her way out?) are largely unanswered here, but we do get to see Athena’s reasoning. For the record, it’s not very good, and Adama throws her in the Brig for breaking his trust (Their own tenuous truce started in “Occupation/Precipice”) fairly quickly. However, the newly aware Adama reunites her, at least, with her daughter, knowing that she is her meaning of sine qua non – without her, she is nothing, which was her reasoning for killing the Six despite it not being the one in her dream. I’m fine with this in the short term, as it helps to add to Adama’s trauma in this episode.

As for Roslin being dead, this is clearly what bothers Adama most: the show will have to deal with their relationship, so clearly not just friendship since New Caprica, by the time the series ends, and this is really the first step in this development. Just as Roslin not finishing Searider Falcon wouldn’t be a fitting end to her life, Adama knows that their relationship ending before he tells her how much she matters to him (If you prefer less sappy terms, how much of a raving lunatic he turned into when she was thought dead) would be a tragedy of sorts.

Faced with that scenario, his reactions to Athena and Tigh’s betrayal are particularly song, and him sending the fleet off on a recon mission to find a warzone of sorts where the Hub was supposed to be displays his desire, and yet also his willingness to leave the fleet (and the new Interim government) defenseless and in the dark. Eddie Olmos does a great job with the transition, however, from risking the fleet in order to solve his own “sine qua non” to deciding to sit by himself in a Raptor waiting to see if the Baseship returns (which seems unlikely considering the shape of the Raptor that returned with a dead pilot). As noted above, his character has been decentralized as of late, and this is a great return to the Adama who we REALLY care about.

Which, of course, leads us to the one we do not: I don’t mean to deride Lee all that much, to be fair, but by comparison Lee’s exploits in government have yet to prove very rewarding from a dramatic standpoint. Now, however, we finally get to why this was all necessary: with no President, and with Adama clearly unwilling to let Zarek come to power, there is a need to find an interim president. If you’ve been watching the show for a while, you should have been able to figure this one out in two seconds flat: obviously, by episode’s end, Lee was going to be sworn in as interim president.

First and foremost, help me out here: other than his love for Roslin clouding his judgment, why would Adama be so against Zarek that (as Lee notes) he would never allow him to be President? In this moment, sure, but I’m not convinced that Adama’s past actions were nearly this derisive towards Zarek for anyone to make this presumption. Admittedly, while the Quorum has been an attempt to get at this, our internal view of the government structure tends for us to presume it is slightly more democratic than it probably is, or definitely more than it appears to be for the rest of the fleet. However, the Quorum has really only just been a point of annoyance, shrill people yelling over each other, and hasn’t actually provided much lucid observation.

But, lest we complain too greatly, let’s remember that this search for an interim president returns the delightful Romo Lampkin (returning guest star Mark Shepphard) to our narrative. I really like the implication that Lee has been interacting with him on a semi-regular basis since he got Baltar off the hook, and the character remains just as disarming as before. There’s something about Lampkin that can cut right into an issue, so here he is certainly a strong influence on this process and on Lee’s character. Now, for some, his appearance sends off alarm bells that perhaps he could be the final Cylon (possible considering his strange qualities), but his introduction is, for my two cents, purely human.

His storyline was actually sort of odd, to the point where I wondered if those people could be correct: little clues and a final reveal see that Lampkin’s wife’s cat has died, and that his guilt over not dying with her has him seeing the cat alive even while its corpse sits in his duffel bag. Now, for my money, the “Head Cat” doesn’t indicate that he is (like Baltar) closely related to the Cylons, as it is a manifestation of a very human flaw in his past. How it manifests itself, however, is a problem for me: Lampkin’s scenes with both Adamas are fabulous little pieces of acting from Shepphard, and I love having the character back, but that he actually holds Lee at gunpoint because he’s disgusted by the idea of how hopeful a President he’d be is just weird. Maybe I need another viewing, but it seemed an illogical and overdramatic note to hit, and made his character seem too desperate, too dependent on Lee’s wisdom to even survive.

I think my frustration is that his inevitable decision, to hail Lee as the new president, feels false. Yes, I knew it was coming just as everyone and their mother did, but it still kind of cheapens Lampkin’s return when it exists purely to elevate another character to a position for which he isn’t (as Lampkin’s brainstorming asserted) qualified outside of being a candidate that the Admiral can’t refuse. I think it’s just a bad combination of a development I don’t particularly enjoy, Lee ascending to this role, and a storyline featuring a tragic downfall that lacked purpose outside of manufacturing drama. It seemed too sudden to be a satisfying character development for Lampkin, so I was kind of left underwhelmed by his return overall.

But, I think a large part of that has to do with how much I preferred to see more of the elder Adama: Lampkin’s scene with the Admiral was sharp where his scenes with Lee were one-sided, and I felt like there was greater purpose there. The shift of Lee to President is forced, but Adama’s reconnection with reality was both necessary and a product of a long-gestating relationship or three. The result was that its strength, and the various questions central to it, kind of pushed Lee and Lampkin’s interactions to the sidelines. The episode ends on a powerful image of Adama in flight gear, sitting in a Raptor all alone floating, and reading the book that Roslin will not finish until she is on her deathbed – that’s what I leave the episode with, not Lee’s fancy ceremony. And, well, maybe that’s because Bill Adama’s my “sine qua non” and Lee…well, isn’t.

Cultural Observations

  • I did enjoy returning to Jake, the beloved resistance dog from New Caprica that Lee gave to Romo at episode’s end – mainly just because of my love of dogs, and my belief that there are more pets floating around the fleet that we should see more of.
  • Although a lot of character omissions make a lot of sense in the episode considering that they are either on the baseship or not really necessary to the episode, Starbuck is an intriguing sort: she’s on Galactica, no longer crazy, and we never see her reaction to the Baseship jumping away with her search for Earth. It’s necessary to centralize Adama to the narrative, but this was her obsession and for her to just go off scrambling together a CAG seems too sober a response for someone who was so recently insane.
  • Next week should be an early review as well, as SkyOne stays a few days ahead, but the midseason finale on June 13th will return to an even playing field.

7 Comments

Filed under Battlestar Galactica

7 responses to “Battlestar Galactica – “Sine Qua Non”

  1. Dawn

    excellent summary. I agree some character development seems scrimped on – but when it works it works well.

  2. Being a fan of the Adama/Roslin relationship, this episode was amazing. Although, I also find myself confused by the whole Tigh/Six relationship which is actually Tigh/Ellen because he sees Six as Ellen most of the time.

    “The episode ends on a powerful image of Adama in flight gear, sitting in a Raptor all alone floating, and reading the book that Roslin will not finish until she is on her deathbed – that’s what I leave the episode with, not Lee’s fancy ceremony. And, well, maybe that’s because Bill Adama’s my “sine qua non” and Lee…well, isn’t.”

    YES. MOTHERFRAKKING YES.

    lol excuse my excitement. 😉

  3. Heh, excitement excused, CA. And I would tend to agree that the episode was great for the Adama/Roslin episode, especially when you consider that we only saw one half of the pairing. Olmos is fantastic, and the ability to convey a relationship through only one side is a sign of his (and the writing/directing) abilities.

  4. Pingback: qualities of friendship

  5. I was a bit disappointed to see them carry Latin into the story. The religious history of the show is that of Greek myth, which fit into the idea that they were the precursors to Earth’s civilizations, or possibly originally from Earth.

    How exactly does Latin fit into the story?

  6. Jim, there has always been a bit of fudging in that area – as a recent interview with the show’s composed confirmed, there is a general preception that some part of these people did derive from some sort of Earth-based environment, and they have used that as an excuse to (on occasion) use things we associate with Earth.

    The real point of confusion, of course, is distinguishing between those uses with meaning (The use of “All Along the Watchtower” in the third season finale) and those without (The various adherences to military tradition or culture, or something like the use of a latin phrase in an episode).

    So, only time will find out whether the Latin has any meaning, or whether it was just an example of the show’s producers enjoying the meaning of the phrase.

  7. I really disliked the scene where Lampkin points the gun at Lee. It didn’t add anything to the episode, at least not for me. We never think for a split second that the gun is actually going to go off, so it’s really just a very cheesy way of having Lampkin explain to us how frakking heroic Lee is. (As if Lee’s ego needs that kind of inflation!) But I think it’s like a rule that a gun has to be pointed at someone’s head at least once in every episode.

    The Tigh/Six pregnancy was one of those moments that made me literally shout at my TV. I can never decide whether or not I like that pairing because I can’t tell if there’s actually something interesting going on there, or if the writers just thought it’d be nifty to get them together. But the (possible) appearance of an all-Cylon baby– what a twist! Can’t wait to see where that’s headed.

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