Two Problems and One Solution for Friday's Battlestar Episode

Illustration for article titled Two Problems and One Solution for Friday's Battlestar Episode

I like a fast-moving plot, but the breakneck speed at which events unfolded and characters did about-faces on Friday's Battlestar Galactica episode was frankly untenable. The human vs. robot drama reached a fever pitch in last week's kickass episode, but this week's story, called "Sine Qua Non," made several obvious mistakes. Familiar characters veered so far outside their usual behavior patterns that the episode felt forced at several points. But it didn't have to be that way. This week I'm going to veer away from our usual recap pattern to go over some of the episode's problem points, and offer a narrative solution that I think would have worked better (and probably pleased audiences more too). Spoilers ahead!


Despite the fact that this episode was full of plot twists that were pretty surprising, the plot itself was fairly straightforward. Last week, if you'll recall, President Roslin and Baltar were whisked away on the wounded cylon Base Star to who knows where. And Sharon/Athena shot the rebel leader Six because she'd had visions that Six would steal her daughter Hera. As this week's episode opened, the wounded Six is being taken to the hospital and Athena is shipped kicking and screaming to the brig. After some gooey medicine scenes, Six dies while seeing visions of green fields that look vaguely heaven-like. And Adama is screaming at Sharon for totally fucking up the alliance with the cylons.

Meanwhile, Lee is dealing with what will happen to the Quorum, the Congress/Parliament of the fleet, now that Roslin has disappeared. Obviously, Vice President Zarek should step up. He was, after all, lawfully elected. And his behind-the-scenes deal-cutting with Lee and the president have shown him to be a canny politician. But here is where the episode encountered its first big problem.

The President Problem

Everybody is worried that Adama "won't accept Zarek" as president, even though it's completely corrupt for the admiral to be able to meddle with the chain of command. And after Lee has a phone conversation with daddy Adama, he's certain that the old man won't work with Zarek. He won't even take Zarek's phone calls. Instead doing what Roslin did, which was step up to the presidency and smack Adama down when he protested, Zarek goes along with Lee's plan to find somebody that Adama will actually work with.

For help, Lee turns to his old frenemy Romo Lampkin, who encouraged him to pursue law and politics but also showed him the dark side of both. Lampkin is the guy who defended Baltar at his trial in exchange for a cabin with a view. So Lee and Lampkin get together for a series of talks about who should basically be crowned president (there's never any talk of an election at all, which is creepy). They make a bunch of lists, and Lampkin keeps saying things about how Lee is very driven and ambitious, which Lee keeps denying. There are a whole series of WTF moments, where you know for sure Lee is going to get the crown but somehow Lee acts like he doesn't know it. C'mon — Lee isn't that stupid. The reason why he's become a politician is that he does have a kind of political savvy and it rings false that he wouldn't discuss the possibility of his candidacy right away with Lampkin.

Let's not even go into the weird crap with Lampkin, who is seeing the ghost of his dead cat and freaking out, and later holds Lee at gunpoint after he realizes that Lee is the only person who can become president. This whole plot arc with Lee's disingenuous "who me? president?" act, and Lampkin's murderous freakout, reek of writerly desperation. Show creators Ron Moore and David Eick have some reason they want Lee to be president, which will probably be really cool later in the show, and they took a clumsy route to get there.


Speaking of clumsy routes to getting places, we must now consider the second major problem with this episode.

The Admiral Problem

So for most of the episode Adama is screaming at Athena and keeping her away from her daughter Hera (remember, baby-daddy Helo is on board the missing Base Ship with Baltar and Roslin). And then he gets even more screamy because he discovers, after the doctor examines the imprisoned Six cylon, that the cylon is pregnant. Based on the fact that Tigh has been visiting her every day and sending the guards away, it's pretty obvious who the daddy is. Understandably, Adama is insanely fucking angry. Tigh has been acting unprofessionally, and in a way that potentially endangers the ship. (Though there is one interesting detail here: Tigh, a cylon, was able to get another cylon pregnant. That's not supposed to be able to happen. So maybe the final five can actually make babies with the other cylons? Hmmm, interesting.)


Adama and Tigh wind up getting into a tough-old-man fist-fight over the whole thing, after which Adama pretty much admits to Tigh that he's in love with Roslin and can't imagine going on without her. A few scenes later, after Lee has been crowned president and the fleet has discovered a battered book that belonged to Roslin in a volume of space filled with smashed-up Vipers, Adama takes off his Admiral pins and hands them over to Tigh. He's going off by himself to find the Base Ship that contains Roslin, and leaving Tigh charge of the fleet. Say what? He's just discovered that Tigh is so off the deep end that he's making it with the imprisoned Six (and isn't it kind of ookily near being rape?). And then he gives command to Tigh?

Well, I guess that fits in with Adama's other completely uncharacteristic behaviors too, such as letting Starbuck take command of the fighter pilots again without so much as a "what the hell." And then as his last act as Admiral, he tells Tigh (now Admiral Tigh) to let Sharon be with her daughter Hera. Let's face it: this is not the Adama we know. Our Adama puts the fleet ahead of his personal feelings, and more importantly he knows Tigh's limits. He wouldn't endanger the whole fleet just to go after Roslin, especially when "somebody he can work with" has become president.


Like the Lee-crowned-president subplot, this subplot feels forced. There's some reason why Moore and Eick want Tigh to be Admiral — or they need Adama to hang out with the rebel cylons when they cream the Resurrection Hub and permanently destroy the cylons' ability to download. Either way, they pushed this plot through in a way that wasn't believable.

But it could have been. I really think this episode was a great idea wrapped in bad execution. Here's one possible way these problems could have been solved, made for a much meatier and more interesting plot, and left us pretty much in the same place in terms of character development.


The Zarek Solution

So the main problem with this episode was believing that the main characters made choices that were believable in the context of their established personalities. One way to fix that would have been to have Zarek — always unafraid to face down those in power in the past — refuse to step down as President. The episode could have been devoted to a power struggle between Zarek and Adama, with Lampkin and Lee working with Zarek. This would dovetail nicely with the already-existing tension between Lee and his father. And it would make sense for the ambitious Zarek.

Also, having the power struggle between Zarek and Adama would also have created a new, and more believable, incentive for Adama to step down as Admiral. In the face of widespread public outcry over Adama trying to cockblock Zarek's lawful ascension to Preisdent, and further betrayal from his son Lee, he might hand over his Admiralty in disgust. Giving the fleet over to Tigh, whom he knows to be unpredictable and violent, would be his way of punishing Zarek. And it would show how unbalanced he'd become in the wake of Zarek's triumph.


Feeling driven from the fleet, Adama would go on a search for Roslin — not just because he wuvs her (which, I'm sorry, is just not a good enough reason) but also to restore a government he can believe in. See how that works? It makes his mission less personal, more about the fleet, and thus fits with his character more believably.

I'm just going to pretend that's what happened in the episode, because it makes so much more sense. Plus, I am also going to pretend that Lampkin's insanely cute gray-and-white cat is still alive. You can't just replace a kitty with a puppy. It's apples and oranges, people.



Annalee Newitz

@vanthuenu: Sorry, but if a character is going to do something contradictory it still has to make sense in the context of what they've done before.