As a former Sunday School attendee, I’ve memorized one Act of Contrition over the course of my life, if not more. These all dealt with making amends with God, but in my own life, I’ve found that personally, I’ve had to ask forgiveness from friends and family more so than from a higher power. Maybe that’s just me, but it’s something Starbuck wrestles with in the fourth episode of the first season of Battlestar Galactica, “Act of Contrition.”
1. Flashbacks on Flashbacks on Flashbacks
We begin this episode in media res, yet again. Starbuck is struggling in the cockpit of her Viper, surrounded by flames. Our first flashback is to Starbuck and Apollo goofing off in the pilots’ locker room. They’re acting like kids – joking around and laughing; not something we’ve seen much of after the Cylon attack. A pilot has made his 1,000 landing and everyone is celebrating on deck. As Starbuck, Apollo, and Adama are making their way to the celebration, a bomb’s strap breaks, the bomb ignites, and the bomb takes out the celebrating pilots. All when we see our characters at their happiest. This leads us to our second flashback, within the first; during the pilots’ funeral services, we see Zak Adama’s funeral. Fast forward within the flashback, and we see Starbuck meeting Adama for the first time. Does all of this sound confusing? Well, in reality, it’s not. I love the way in which Battlestar tackles backstory. All of it is intertwined with present events, which moves the story along quickly and effectively.
Starbuck revealed her secret to Lee Adama, the fact that she passed his brother, Zak, in basic flight because she loved him, but Starbuck hasn’t told anyone else, including Zak’s father, Commander Adama. When Lee accidently reveals Starbuck’s guilt to his father, Adama questions Starbuck directly. She won’t tell him the reason for her feelings, and he utters the worst line possible; he reminds Starbuck that he loves her like a daughter, and that he doesn’t deserve to be ignored. So she owns up to her actions, “Zak failed basic flight. The bottom line is that your son didn’t have the chops to fly a Viper and it killed him.” Adama realizes she did it because they were engaged, and she tells him, she cries to him, “I was so in love with him. And I let that get in the way of doing my job.” Adama’s response is all business, in the dadest dad tone to ever dad, ““Reinstate the trainees to flight status. Do your job.” His tone says it all. “Walk out of this cabin while you still can.” Starbuck is finally free of her secret. It’s been her “damned spot”. But by the end of this episode, it’s clear she’s not free of her guilt. Which takes us to…
3. Freaking Edward James Olmos
I have to say, Olmos carries the acting in this episode, as he does in many prior ones as well. What I’ve noticed through this rewatch is his ability to evoke emotions within the viewer. We don’t just understand how his character feels, we feel for his character. I want to give him a hug and tell him everything is going to be ok after he finds out about Zak from Starbuck. I also want to do whatever he asks of me; I guess both of these reactions are what make Adama a highly effective commander, and are what make Olmos a highly effective actor. I’ve always loved Starbuck, but Katee Sackhoff cannot match the level that is Olmos. He is gold.
After the inciting moment of this episode, the Galactica needs more pilots; 13 were killed in the accident on deck. Starbuck tries to get out of training them, but Adama refuses to let her, as she’s the best combat pilot the fleet has. The trainees are inexperienced, and there is no simulator for them to practice, so it’s real Vipers for them. We meet three new trainees, Kat, Chuckles, and Hot Dog. I’m pretty sure Chuckles is played by, a much younger, Terry Chen, who also has a role in SyFy’s The Expanse. Are you watching The Expanse? If not, you should be. [Editor’s Note: did you know we are reviewing that this summer as well? – Brian]Continued below
But back to Battlestar. Starbuck washes the three trainees out right away. She refuses to train pilots that are not ready; is it connect to Zak? Of course it is, and Apollo recognizes it. She won’t back down, and the CAG is forced to speak to his father about the situation. This is when her confession is made, to the Commander, her father figure. After, she’s ordered to continue pilot training. We’re quickly approaching the end of the episode, which means the beginning with finally catch up to the end. Starbuck has the nuggets out on their training mission, and suddenly, 8 Cylon Raiders appear. Starbuck and her trainees run home to Galactica, but of course, she turns around to face them, alone. Tigh insists she’s going to get herself killed, and maybe that’s just what Starbuck wants; living with the guilt of sending Zak to his death, and alienating Adama, a man she loves as a father, has sent her to this place. Starbuck’s Viper is disabled, it’s spinning out of control, and we’ve made it back to the beginning. She ejects, she’s falling down to the planet below, and it’s to be continued. The first episode to be so.
5. Human resilience
There is virtually no Cylon interference in this episode. We get an episode where human beings are fighting themselves – internal fights and external fights. They struggle with their conscience, they struggle with guilt, and living with both. The picture of Starbuck, Apollo, and Zak in Starbuck’s locker is featured prominently throughout this episode; a picture of happier times, a time Starbuck seems desperate to remember. The parent/child relationship is one that is fraught with arguments, but ultimately one that can be repaired over and over again. We see it through Adama and Apollo, and we hope to see it through Adama and Starbuck.
Side note: I totally forgot about the doctor in this series…and I LOVE HIM. He’s the exact opposite of what you would expect from a doctor. He’s blunt, he’s straight, and to the point; he also smokes, in the exam room. What a bedside manner. I guess he wasn’t planning on going into solo private practice, but then the Cylons attacked. He basically tells President Roslin to prepare for the worst, but she still holds a glimmer of hope, she wants to try an alternative treatment.
By the end of the episode, we’ve come full circle, and it appears Starbuck has sacrificed herself to save the Galactica. Is this her act of contrition after admitting the part she played in Zak Adama’s death to the man she loves and respects most, above all others? Starbuck covers her insecurities with a certain type of swagger, and her apparent sacrifice here is a perfect example. But there’s more to come.