Air Date: 03/02/2006
Director: Michael Nankin
Writers: David Weddle & Bradley Thompson
Synopsis: Haunted the memory of Anders and dealing with a hot-shot pilot gunning for her spot, Starbuck struggles to stay afloat as Galactica’s Vipers are picked off one-by-one by a deadly Cylon Raider.
BSG continues its run of more singularly focused episodes in “Scar”, with Starbuck being front-and-centre on this occasion. Like Apollo in “Black Market”, she’s coming to terms with some very negative emotions and some demons from her past: haunted by the memory of Sam Anders and the promise she is unable to keep, Thrace vacillates from destructive behavior to destructive behavior, to the point of demonstrating a death wish on a par with Lee’s.
We haven’t really, bar scenes in the extended version of “Pegasus” had a chance to see Starbuck basically mourn for Anders. It’s a difficult transition here, as her turn to drinking, violence and a bit of substitution with Apollo in a painful-to-watch attempted coupling all comes with that baseline of mooning over “a dead guy”. Kara only knew Anders for a few days, but their connection was very powerful: powerful enough to explain the way she is acting here, having been capable of burying her feelings until they come exploding out of her. Remember as we saw in “Act Of Contrition” that Thrace has been through this once before with Zak Adama, so the misery is compounded. The result is a sort of warped-nostalgia for yesteryear, and a time when she wasn’t part of the thin red line between humanity, in the form of her pilots, and the Cylons: a time when she was undisputedly a brilliant fighter pilot.
The self-destruction builds and builds. It’s more than the booze, it’s more than the dramatically ill-thought hook-up, it’s more than the sniping back-and-forth with Kat. It’s worst in the feeling that Starbuck is losing herself in a sea of hopelessness. When she drinks she thinks of Anders, when she is with Apollo she thinks of Anders, when she fights with Kat she thinks of Anders. It’s an emotional cancer eating away at her, a feeling so gnawing that she decides, essentially, to risk ending it all by going one-on-one with the titular Cylon death machine. Kara needs hope to live, and having decided, on some level, that Anders is dead, she has nothing to live for. Cain briefly gave her something approximating that in “Resurrection Ship (Part Two)”, but then Cain was taken away too. She needs to find a reason to accept that Anders is alive, in order to have value in her own life. That acceptance is a little illogical, especially with the Fleet only getting further and further away from the Colonies, but letting that hope into her heart is enough, for now. She also needs the maturity to deal with other pilots muscling in on her position, and to recognise them for what they can achieve, not just as a threat.
Which brings us to Kat, the other side of this equation. Our last look at her (aside from a cameo in “Resurrection Ship (Part One)” was off her head on stims in “Flight Of The Phoenix”, despairing at the lack of reinforcements (offset somewhat by the arrival of Pegasus, which apparently has the ability to train pilots through simulators) and the officer we see here is one seemingly desperate to move past that low point, and manifesting that desperation in a belligerent attitude towards what she sees as sub-standard leadership. Like a sullen teenager who wants to prove herself, Kat proves rebellious to the chafing direction of Starbuck, becoming flat-out seditious by the end of this conflict. Helo dismisses Kat as just another pilot out to “make her bones”, but we can see exactly why Starbuck doesn’t like her behaviour: because it’s her, or at least a younger version of her. Starbuck and Kat really do have a bit of a warped mother/daughter thing going on in “Scar”, with both trying to figure out how much they can push the other, and both being wrong in different measures (also good to see the kind of dynamic presented in “Scar” involving two female characters).
Focusing more personally on Kat, I do love the slow build to the final revelation. For all of her acting out with Starbuck, for all of her outward efforts to be the kind of leader she wants to be with the rookies, for all of her bravado in declaring that she will be the one to take down Scar, she is deeply scared. The fear of being just another forgotten face on the wall of remembrance is a really deep, meaningful and impactful one, that the episode shines a light on early in the way that the new pilots are treated. It’s an apocalypse, and life seems cheap, but the thought of having no one to remember you, to literally have your companions struggle to bring up the image of your face a few weeks after you die, is one that you can understand any young woman running from. Just as Starbuck embraces the possibility of hope, Kat does embrace courage, at least in the way that she stares down and defeats Scar. She comes out of the whole experience a more well-rounded character than just the rebellious teen she was throughout the episode, and Luciano Caro deserves a lot of praise for making Kat more than just “the stim-junkie”.
The other part of this trifecta is Scar of course, the Cylons’ own Red Baron. The Raider is a physical embodiment of rage and hate, driven onwards, perhaps psychotically, by the repeated experience of being destroyed and coming back to life over and over. The idea that the Cylon fighter craft undergo the same resurrection as the humanoid models is a stroke of genius, as it allows for this frightening spectre to become apparent: a Raider “ace”, that has a very bad attitude to go with the acquired skill. Scar is set-up as a mirror to Starbuck and Kat in different ways, the sort of dread machine whose anger at its circumstances and PTSD from its repeated trauma (and probably fear to some degree) have combined to make this thing which, we feel, gets pleasure from killing (the mirror effect is more pronounced with Starbuck, who has literal scars from Cylon encounters in “The Farm”). But the mirror only goes so far: Starbuck veers away from her trauma, literally, and Kat rejects her fear. Scar is incapable of doing either it seems, and this gets the best of it in the end. The idea of Cylon trauma at repeated resurrection is something that BSG will explore again before the end.
“Scar” is pretty well structured, in comparison to the last episode. For a story that revolves around fighter combat, the choice to have just a single dogfight on-screen was really clever, and the constant interjections of the flashbacks/flashforwards works really well for me, building things up and up and up for Starbuck, Kat and even Scar as we go towards their final confrontation. Even the choice to basically replay the whole dogfight at the conclusion works for me, weirdly enough, though I acknowledge the voices of those who think that’s a bit of filler. The marriage of character growth and conflict to that recurring action scene – not unlike “Act Of Contrition” actually – is excellent. The CGI work for the dogfight is also some of the better examples of that which BSG has been able to pull off, giving a new dimension to the Viper/Raider conflict.
All of this builds to a very powerful last scene, where Starbuck and Kat gain some manner of reconciliation, with Thrace recognising Kat less as a rival and more as a worthy successor. But after that the scene takes on an additional significance as Starbuck dedicates the victory to the multitude of pilots who have lost their lives since the war started. Starbuck gives us 14 names in total here, and it isn’t even all of them: but the manner in which the room goes quiet, and the magnitude of what everyone has lost becoming clear, is pitch perfect for what the episode was trying to get across. Starbuck needs to properly mourn the dead and cling to the living, Kat needs re-assurance that the sacrifices of her and her comrades have meaning. Starbuck’s final speech, and the ringing endorsement it is given by all present, achieves both ends. This is a catharsis like that we saw in “Flight Of The Phoenix”, an episode with similar themes, but done in a much more measured, respectful way. It’s a very striking moment, that sets things up for Starbuck nicely ahead of her later impact on the narrative in the season finale.
-Nankin back again after “Flight Of The Phoenix”. I think this is a better effort overall.
-Weddle and Thompson as a writing duo can be credited with a lot of the work on “minor” characters like Kat, having written most of the other episodes – “Act Of Contrition”, “The Hand Of God”, “Scattered”, “Valley Of Darkness”, “Flight Of The Phoenix” – where she appears.
-I note that the “Previously on…” segments are now over-exposed, ala the flashback scenes of the last two episodes.
-This particular “Previously on…” also features footage that can only be seen in the extended version of “Pegasus”. Oops.
-The asteroid field is a cool set-piece area, even if it is a well-worn one in science-fiction. I hear the odds of successfully navigating one are approximately 3,720 to 1.
-Another XXX hours earlier opening, this would be the third in four episodes. BSG is getting a bit over-reliant on this trope.
-The pilots’ reaction to their new comrades mirrors real-world reaction to replacements in actual combat scenarios: there’s a sense of dismissal, borne from a desire to avoid getting too close to the likely dead.
-A good few deleted scenes for this episode, one of which portrays the pilots having an “auction” over one of their deceased comrades’ possessions, mirroring real world traditions in certain military cultures.
-“One Tigh on the ship’s enough”. The first of many cutting remarks from Kat, there are few better ways of getting at Starbuck than comparing her to Tigh.
-Thrace’s trip off the table, which gets a profoundly disgusted wince from Apollo, is painful in so many ways, someone trying to be the same kind of party animal they were years before.
-As we see this alcohol-fuelled bacchanal in the pilots mess, we cut back and forth to Starbuck’s memories of her time with Anders, backed by “A Promise To Return”. Like Starbuck’s merging of lust and grief in “Act Of Contrition”, it’s a powerful and heady mix of conflicting emotions.
-I love the design of Scar, this banged up Raider that exudes a sense of menace every time that we look at the thing.
-The count is down four, reflecting the three deaths of Fisk, his killer and Phelan in “Black Market”, and one more unseen. I guess a pilot?
-Not for the first time, we see Raiders attacking their targets “out of the sun”, using the blinding glare as cover. It’s a well-worn dog-fighting technique.
-Pegasus has the means to construct its own Vipers, which seems both a little plot convenient and hard to swallow. But they have to come up with replacement machines from somewhere.
-Tigh gives voice to one of the other themes of the episodes when he wonders out loud if Vipers are more important than the people who fly them. Are the seemingly emotionless Raiders a better military machine then the pilots and their Vipers, with all of their flaws?
-Oh, the look that Roslin gives Tigh in this moment. There’s a warning in it, for the XO to check himself rapidly.
-Kat humiliates Starbuck in a briefing, and seems to take a bit of pleasure in the process. That’s what I mean when I say teenage rebellion: there’s a veneer of logic in the pointing out of issues, but Kat isn’t doing this to be logical.
-Sharon describes the usefulness of resurrection in suitably creepy terms by saying it allows for death to become “a learning experience”. That sort of cold-blooded rational look at it probably contributes to the emotional maelstrom of something like Scar.
-A common fan theory arising from Sharon’s explanation is that Scar is the same Raider that Starbuck kills and then joyrides in “Act Of Contrition” and “You Can’t Go Home Again”, but there has never been any confirmation of this.
-Starbuck waxes a bit about nostalgia for a bygone time when Sharon was still just another Raptor pilot, and we do really feel in that moment her regret for an era that will never return.
-Heartbreaking moment where, just as Sharon is looking to make a connection with Starbuck, the Marine guards point guns at her. The reality is never too far away.
-The spinning chair training device – I guess Galatica has to make do – is a really cool touch to the world of being a Viper pilot. Not sure it’s a very well-regulated training exercise though, what with the guns being handed to dizzy rookies.
-Oof, the look on Starbuck’s face when Kat outdoes her score on the whirly-go-round. There’s always a bigger fish.
-Helo serves as a bit of a confidente for Starbuck here, the two perhaps having a bond forged on Caprica, and from before. He might be the only one who truly understands what she went through back there, but also serves as just a more obvious support, in comparison to the slightly more enabling Apollo.
-“He’s dead” Starbuck says to Helo about Anders, and it’s a crushing surrender to the sense of hopelessness that is obviously at the core of her being.
-Starbuck’s advice to the nugget is all cold analytics, stuff straight out of the playbook. She has no passion to give to the words, and this is a Starbuck supremely jaded since briefly flirting with becoming a defined leader in “Resurrection Ship (Part Two)”.
-Kat’s advice is much more in the line of bucking up the young pilot and giving reassurance, and is probably more what he needs to hear at that moment. It’s one of the few moments when she appears like a proper officer, and not just a malcontent with ambition.
-Love the dogfight that we experience only over the wireless, with Apollo’s horrified commentary as the only addition. Very well put-together as a set-piece.
-“I can’t remember any of their faces after they’re killed. No matter how hard I try, they just fade.” Apollo describes a not uncommon aspect of grief, but it means more in the situation the pilots find themselves in.
-Starbuck’s insistence that she and Lee will never get to Earth lends an additional Exodus-like sheen to affairs, already seen in Roslin, of leaders who will take their people to the promised land but never set foot there.
-Starbuck’s over-exuberance, Apollo’s pained trying to slow things down, there is little more cringe-worthy than bad sex on-screen.
-Feeling humiliated, Thrace tries to put a full stop on whatever burgeoning relationship she has with Apollo: “There’s nothing here”. It’s a childish response to sexual frustration, and sounds like it.
-Starbuck struggles to enunciate what is at the heart of her issues, and the best she can eventually do is “I am hung up on a dead guy”, which is a very Starbuck way of saying it.
-Even better is Apollo’s rejoinder, which is both cutting and mean: “The dead guys are fine, it’s the living ones you can’t handle”.
-Alcohol really is at the root of many of the ills in this episode. It seems to always be a factor when Starbuck has problems, and even the larger pilot group seems to have access to booze at a rate that seems, well, very unhealthy.
-Oh, that scene where Starbuck downs another bottle while watching guncam footage of another pilot buying it. A perfect blend of self-hate, loss and despair.
-The strange metallic guitar track that plays during the dogfight sections is “Scar”, a variation on Season One’s “Helo Chase”, and I like how it demonstrates Bear McCreary’s ability to marry well-worn military drums with something different.
-Not a huge fan of Starbuck explaining the nature of the game of chicken she is playing with Scar, basically talking to no one.
-Like a washed-up comedian, Starbuck keeps going back to the same thing with Kat, over and over: her “stim” use. The third time it comes out as an put-down its lost all effect, and only serves to make Thrace look worse.
-Kat’s been saving up her final put down to Thrace, and delivers it with practiced aplomb: “Starbuck, you’re an embarrassment”.
-I love that Kat’s biggest fear is summed simply as “Riley’s girlfriend”: being this nameless face in a photo.
-Our first look at the hall of remembrance in a while here. It’s a great part of the universe, to set-up this part of the ship as a place for people to mourn and remember.
-The style of shooting changes briefly as Starbuck makes a choice, the camera locked, portrait style, on her helmet as the flashes of battle illuminate it. It was a little jarring, but served to emphasise the importance of that moment.
-Scar flames out, outsmarted by Starbuck and Kat and left as just a smear and some wreckage on an asteroid. There but for the grace of (the) God(s) I guess.
-The celebration that takes place in the mess is a big cathartic moment, very much on the level of the turkey shoot at the end of “Flight Of The Phoenix”. Victories are expensive in this universe, so they have to be savoured.
-The names Starbuck lists, and their deaths, are BB, Jo-Jo, Beano (all here), Riley (sometime previous) Ripper, Jolly (both in the Miniseries, among many others), Flattop (“Act Of Contrition” among many others), Chuckles, Stepchild, Fireball (all in “The Hand Of God”), Crashdown (“Fragged”), Sheppard (unknown), Dash (unknown, last seen in “Resistance”), Flyboy (“Valley Of Darkness”) and Puppet (unknown).
-As Starbuck lists off the names of the dead pilots, I was struck on this occasion by the look on Tigh’s face, that is particularly overwrought. It’s good to be reminded that the upper levels of command can be effected by the deaths as well.
-The music that plays at the end of the episode is “Cavatina” by Stanley Myers, best known for being the main theme of The Deer Hunter.
-Helo perhaps ties too neat of a bow on the episode by saying that, in accepting Anders is still alive, Starbuck “has something to live for, not just die for”.
-Followed by a nice, and badly needed, moment of levity, as Starbuck and Helo playfight on the floor of the gym.
Overall Verdict: “Scar” may not be the five star knockout episode that some think it is in my opinion, but it is a very welcome return to form for a show that lost its way a little in the last two episodes. It’s a great character study of Starbuck, and Kat to a lesser extent, and wraps it all around an impressive set-piece in the drawn out dogfight. There are a great moments aplenty throughout, and the penultimate scene is one of the best in the series. Hopefully the rest of the season is more like this.
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