NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Three: “The Son Also Rises”

For the fame. The glory.

Air Date: 11/03/2007

Director: Robert Young

Writer: Michael Angeli

Synopsis: In the aftermath of Starbuck’s death, the Adama’s clash over their mutual grief. Violent responses to Baltar’s imminent trial lead to the appointment of a new defence attorney, who sets his sights on turning Apollo to his side.

Review

It seems like everything in “The Son Also Rises” is about Starbuck in some ways. The episode opens with another of BSG’s famous confluences, only this time it is a confluence of pain: among other things we have the elder Adama looking over Thrace’s old records and weeping, while the younger Adama has to coax a drunken Sam off of a Viper, before having to confirm to him that, yes, Starbuck is dead and not coming back. In an episode largely about a growing divide between Lee and his father, the first sticking point is this grotesque competition between the two, over whose grief is greater, and over what it propels them to do in their own lies and to each other. The ghost of Starbuck, and the events of “Maelstrom”, are looking down on everything, as an emotional storm brews onboard Galactica.

Apollo cuts a haunted figure in “The Son Also Rises”, second-guessing himself at every turn, allowing that sense of inadequacy to mix with his bereavement, and taking the noxious result and throwing something that is a cross between a teenage tantrum and a righteous stand against naked hypocrisy. The problem seems to be that Apollo can’t properly process his grief in a healthy way, and isn’t aided in that quest by the actions of others, most notably his father. Adama thinks that his son needs a break essentially, grounding him and then saddling him with the security detail for Lampkin. He seems to have forgotten the conversation that the two just had in “Maelstrom”, that a persons identity in the military is tied to their role: grounding Apollo at this time simply gives him more time to stew, and more time for resentment to build.

Lee is screaming out, non-literally of course, for a figure to take him by the hand and allow for a catharsis: his father should be that person, but spectacularly abandons the responsibility without even realising he is doing so. In so doing, he hands his son’s grieving process into the hands of a person who is looking for any kind of angle to assist in Baltar’s upcoming trial, and finds the ace of all aces in the son who wants to step out of his fathers shadow.

Apollo has always suffered a bit in the shadow of Adama, as evidenced in the Miniseries, “The Hand Of God”, “Kobol’s Last Gleaming (Part Two)”, “Home (Part Two)” and “Exodus (Part One)”. As much as they have been in tune, they have been far apart: “The Son Also Rises” is just the apex of the divide. I liked how the episode slowly parses this out, opening with Apollo still in uniform, still performing his role as CAG, still willing to report for duty, but slowly switching sides as he is grounded, as he is lectured by his father, as he is manipulated by Lampkin, as he observes the lack of impartiality in the trial system. At the end of the day Apollo is just fed up with a lot of things, with Starbuck’s death and the aftermath of it just the thing to push him over the edge. His idealism, as evidenced in episodes like “Bastille Day” and “Black Market”, is taken to a new extreme here, and the person who should be helping him stay onside is instead standing directly in his path.

Adama just doesn’t know what to do. He’s never very good when it comes to dealing with loss, or personal relationships: we’ve just recently had an episode, in “A Day In The Life”, where his inability to deal with his failed marriage was front and centre. But here he really goes into overdrive. His approach to Apollo seems to come from a mixture of anger and fear: anger at Lee’s role in Starbuck’s death, though this might not be a conscious thing, and fear that he might possibly share the same fate. Both pulls compel him to ground Lee, misunderstanding the insult that this exemplifies, and to put his son into the orbit of Lampkin: something the Admiral might view as a suitable punishment and as a nice safe job at the same time.

Only it all backfires. Apollo is nearly killed in another bombing, prompting an angry response from Adama, probably more at himself than anything. The big break is delayed until the end of the episode, when Adama belatedly tries to make amends, apologising and promoting Apollo back to flight status, but his manner in doing so is clumsy and transparent: the truth is that the Admiral sees Apollo now, horror of horrors, rowing in behind Baltar, and is trying to correct that terrifying possibility before it is too late. But it is too late. Apollo demands to know if his restoration to CAG constitutes an order from his commanding officer – in effect, asking if he is being treated as a soldier first, or as a son – and Adama, tired, angry and at sea emotionally, can only say that he’s done giving orders. The relationship is left in an awful limbo, but it can’t stay that way forever.

Also in a bit of a limbo is the Fleet in general, which in line with Zarek’s warning from “Taking A Break From All Your Worries” is starting to react in a very non-rational way to Baltar’s imminent trial. Someone points out that its been so long since they have had sight or sound of the Cylons that they are just naturally starting to look inward for threats, and targets, and I think that is very true to human nature. It’s something the show has commented on before of course, so this is hardly new territory, but all the same it strikes accurately that absent a unifying “other” we’ll all start noticing how much we dislike the person sitting next to us. We just need the right hot button topic, and there is no better hot button topic than one Gaius Baltar.

So we have Cally suddenly deciding she doesn’t like Athena, a vicious deleted scene where Athena basically threatens to kill Cally, the Adama’s at each others throats, the President playing fast and loose with due process and someone planting bombs on Colonial aircraft in order to off Baltar’s succession of lawyers. We haven’t seen Captain Kelly in so long it would be easy for this episode to stumble on the revelation that he is responsible, but I think “The Son Also Rises” does a good job in giving him the required time and space at the conclusion to outline years worth of trauma, in being the gatekeeper for so many pilots who never made it home. He’s suffering not just because of Starbuck, but because of everyone else who went out on of one of those ejection tunnels and died. That trauma needs an outlet, and Kelly finds his in the idea of the people willing to defend Baltar, who just have to die. It’s not all that far removed from the themes of “Collaborators” I suppose, though Kelly is more far gone: all he can do at the end is ask that he be locked up, because he’s past rehabilitation.

More generally this aspect of “The Son Also Rises” showcases again how things are starting to break down on Galactica. Discipline is fracturing, and divides are forming, and while it will be just under 20 or so episodes and lots of other fracture points before we hit the inevitable end-point, I feel that BSG is doing a good job in building all of this up now. The military can’t keep the uniformity up forever, and Baltar’s trial is just another wedge to tear apart unit cohesion, morale or whatever you want to call it. The man himself is only a small part of the episode, cutting a very frightened nervous figure that is at odds with the Atlas-esque persona he has adopted for the unseen masses reading his book: he can barely keep his thoughts straight between dialogues on the nature of obsession and his relationship with Caprica Six.

And into the middle of all of this strolls one Romo Lampkin, the last recurring character of major significance that the show introduces. And he’s a humdinger right from the start, a compelling, charismatic enigma whose presence is so magnetic, whose motivations are so cloudy and who drops new idiosyncrasies in every scene (not least a kleptomaniac street tied to analysis of his opponents), that new viewers will of course wonder if he might be a Cylon. We’ve gotten so used to the majority of the cast that when someone new is introduced who seemingly has the ability to see through everyone in their path, it comes as a bit of a shock. But that’s who Lampkin is: he can see that Apollo needs just the right push to fall into a rebellion, he sees that the President and Adama are not going to play fair on the trial, he sees the weakness in Baltar and he sees the need for a love story in Caprica Six, whom he seduces in spectacular fashion by giving her one of his own.

We’ve talked about manipulation plenty in the course of BSG, but we’ve never quite seen it as good as this. Lampkin is a man who not only excels at pulling strings, he’s able to get people to practically pull them themselves. His courting of Apollo is a breath-taking exercise in taking advantage of circumstances: he knows that in order to win the trial he has to do more than present a good argument, he needs to pull down all who oppose him, and he’ll do that to Adama by getting his son onside. In every moment that they interact Romo is outstanding at this job, between dallying the family connection in the form of Joseph Adama being a (disliked) mentor, a more casual approach over drinks and all the way down to a sickbed plea. It appeals to everything that we recognise in Apollo at this moment: his idealism, his desire to do something to manage his grief after Starbuck’s death and most importantly of all, his growing need to no longer be under the heel of his father. And Lampkin is more than happy to play the devil on his shoulder. Which is not to say that Romo is wrong in much of what he says – we’ll get to the slanted trial set-up in a second – but as the last words make clear, he knows a bullet when he sees one and is not afraid to load it into the chamber.

On the character more specifically, we get an explanation for his behaviour in terms of him seemingly just wanting to know “why we do what we do”, perhaps influenced by the murder of his parents in a mugging when he was nine (we’ll leave the Bruce Wayne comparisons to the side). Lampkin is less a lawyer and more of an observer of human nature who wants to win this case because he wants to show he can, or maybe just because it amuses him to try. Amid the detritus of the apocalypse he has nothing more to fill his days than to watch how people dance around each other (and looking after his wife’s cat). This makes him a very curious outside force for the show to suddenly put into the narrative, at once a central part of that narrative but also a little bit outside of it: it’s going to be absolutely fascinating seeing where things go with him for the rest of the season.

Oh, but this trial. The people at the top of the Fleet are not exactly covering themselves in glory here, with the uglier aspect of the Colonials out and proud. If BSG can be summed up as a long-running discussion on whether humanity is worthy of survival, then “The Son Also Rises” can be added to the “Against” column fairly easily. Adama and Roslin are wishing for a guilty verdict and are happy to do whatever they can to speed us along to the outcome: they withhold documents for the defence, they monitor interviews between lawyer and client and the whole set-up of the trial seems remarkably blinkered. Instead of a jury of his peers Baltar will be tried by five ship captains, and one of them is Adama, the same guy who insists upon his right to be present for Caprica Six’ interviews. There’s a great line from the press pool that sums up the farce this has become, when Roslin outlines they are actively looking for a new defence lawyer: “Will that be done by lottery as well?”.

The bias is clear, and after the torture that Baltar underwent in “Taking A Break From All Your Worries” and the demeaning treatment in “Dirty Hands”, not to mention Roslin’s tyrannical tendencies from that same episode, it’s less and less forgivable. Roslin wants her pound of flesh and only the façade of due process will be allowed in her quest to get it: Adama has his mind elsewhere, but isn’t all that far behind the President. And the unspoken thing, the aspect of the entire affair that “The Son Also Rises” does a great job in setting up through the character and actions of Lampkin and others, is the hidden fear at the heart of all of their posturing and deceit: Baltar can win. And isn’t it something to consider, without the benefit of hindsight, as to how BSG will handle that plot point when and if it comes?

You wanna see some real blood? Keep going.

Notes

-The title is a reference to the Ernest Hemingway novel The Sun Also Rises, though I think that’s as far as the connection goes.

-It’s a nice touch I feel, that the “Previously on…” section lacks any reference to Starbuck’s revelation in “Maelstrom”, emphasising only what the characters we are going to be watching know.

-Starbuck’s documents are an interesting read in themselves, including plenty of disciplinary rap sheets. It’s perhaps a mark of Adama’s favour towards her that her career was not derailed totally over such things.

-Love that picture of Starbuck with the fake moustache. Perfectly pitched.

-The choosing of judges for the trial is a solemn enough occasion, and one cannot help but be struck by the inclusion of military personnel. Are they witnesses? Security? It adds an unwholesome air to the whole thing.

-A great way to tie Anders’ reckless grief to Starbuck visually, by having him caper on top of a Viper. I presume it’s hers too.

-Apollo hesitates in following Starbuck’s request from “Maelstrom” in putting her photo up next to Kat. One can understand the reluctance in a world of resurrection and prophecy, but it’s just the bargaining stage of the five.

-Sam is flipping a coin on the Viper and getting the same result every time, which I think is a reference to the opening scene of the play/film Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead. As there, it might be a commentary on destiny and pre-destination.

-I appreciated that Apollo is in tune enough with Sam to seek to defuse the situation on the flight deck, rather than apply a more blunt force approach. A drunken guy stumbling around a military site might not usually get such a coddling.

-Sam hits the ground hard, and gives us a great line for it: “I think I fell”.

-We aren’t gong to see too much of Baltar’s creepy lawyer, but what we see is enough: the way he whispers in Racetrack’s ear is spine-tingly.

-It’s a sudden and shocking explosion that kills him, and helps to enliven what has been an otherwise subdued opening to the episode.

-The count is down one which presumably refers to Starbuck, and does not include Baltar’s just deceased lawyer.

-Gotta love the press pool, seen here for the first time in a while, who declare that the explosion was “Obviously not an accident”. They are past the point of buying anything else.

-Oh boy, the awkwardness, sadness and general heartbreak when Apollo tells Racetrack “You got lucky Starbuck”. It’s an awful moment.

-Introducing Romo Lambkin, who gets a full-on portrait shot in his sunglasses for his very first look. You couldn’t get much more distinctive.

-Lampkin’s accent is interesting. It’s certainly Irish-esque, and strikes me as Dublin care of London, which would be close to Mark Shepperd’s background.

-It’s almost as much of a shock as the earlier explosion when Lampkin’s cat jumps onto Roslin’s table. This has to be one of, if not the, last in existence, right?

-The first sign of Apollo’s discontent for me is the way this conversation with his father ends, without salute or any kind of respectful acknowledgement.

-Romo has so many great lines, but one I always liked from this episode was his deadpan explanation for why he doesn’t want to meet Baltar in the first suggested place: “Interrogation rooms give me stage fright.”

-Joseph Adama was the name of Lee’s grandfather. Should we read anything into the fact that “Joseph” is Hebrew in origin?

-Classic Hitchcockian use of the bomb here, that the audience sees but which no one else knows about. The tension is in not knowing when it will go off.

-Baltar’s lines on obsession are short, so we won’t be getting any more elongations from My Triumphs, My Mistakes. It certainly seems like a bit of a philosophy-heavy essay compendium.

-He also demonstrates a bit of desperation over Caprica Six, but it’s motivated by what she can do to damage him primarily. He remains a fundamentally selfish man, even if he has some affection for her.

-Lampkin encourages Baltar to write as it will help his case, then steals his pen as it’ll help the case to portray Baltar as silenced. This guy is a spider in a web.

-Romo really leans on the Irish accent as he brilliantly describes Apollo’s current existence as “the parade float for the bereaved” whom everyone is looking at as if he is “bleeding out of yer side”. Lee’s anger shows how close it lands.

-Captain Kelly returns here, I think seen for the first time since “Exodus (Part Two)”? He’s probably the most senior officer onboard that we barely see.

-I love Olmos’ performance as he admonishes his son for nearly getting blown up while travelling to Colonial One. It’s such a great mix of anger and fear.

-They veer away from the topic, but there’s a moment when it seems as if Adama and son are really going to get into a pissing contest over whose grief is greater, with the Admiral scornful of the idea Lee’s is because, though left unsaid, he and Starbuck were romantically involved.

-Cally as the voice of reason is a bit strange, but that’s what she is in this group scene discussing the bombings. A deleted scene, as mentioned, paints her in a very different light.

-“I think you’re wrong” says Athena in response to Cally’s barely veiled accusation, and it’s all in the delivery from Park.

-I like nervy Baltar in his cell, suddenly realising that he doesn’t have a pen anymore, and still hung up on that opening line anyway.

-Roslin and Tory assure Lee that Lampkin will get the documents he needs, and we know they’ve been purposefully delayed the moment they say so.

-I have to ask, why is Caprica Six still wearing the dress? You’d think that wouldn’t be permitted in the brig.

-On Romo’s backstory, it’s hard to know how much of it is true. At the end of the day he’s a manipulator who is always demonstrating some form of angle, and this story seems tailor-made to appeal to Caprica’s romantic side.

-The pen is such a great symbol for Lampkin to use, the perfect thing to really demonstrate to Caprica how much Baltar thinks of her (or how much Lampkin wants Caprica to think Baltar thinks of her). It calls back to the use of symbols in “Downloaded” as “proof of love”.

-Lampkin declares that he couldn’t help Six even if he was paid “ten times what they’re giving me to defend Baltar”. How exactly is he getting paid?

-Romo comes to the point eventually, and gets what he wants by asking Caprica “Does your love hurt as much as mine?” and getting the answer that takes her out of the equation: “Yes”

-We get a curious close-up on Adama’s hands in this scene, him flexing his fingers, and it wasn’t until later that I pegged it’s because of the button Lampkin has stolen.

-Apollo outlines how his grandfather used to tell him “Be a good boy…but don’t be too good”. If Lampkin is a shark, this kind of stuff is chum.

-Lampkin’s monologue on “why we do what we do” is great, a brilliant appeal for Apollo to follow him down the rabbit hole and discover some truths himself. In the end I think Lee will use similar language in his big finale moment.

-It’s been posited that Lampkin’s sunglasses signify whether he is telling the truth or not, he lying when he wears them and not when he isn’t. I’m not sure though: he’s cunning enough to use them as a prop to make people think that very thing.

-A Marine spots a screw on the ground, and it’s enough for him to realise something’s up. For want of a nail, etc.

-Lampkin’s quirk of being a kleptomaniac is great: just weird enough to be eye-catching, but purposeful enough that it makes sense.

-Case in point, he steals the prosecutor’s shoes so he can see what her stance is like. Apollo inspects, and finds she drags her feet. “You’re catching on” replies Romo. In a simple exchange we get to see part of Lampkin’s cleverness, Apollo’s growing line-up behind him and learn something about the prosecutor as well.

-Lampkin’s last pitch-perfect appeal is to ask Apollo “If you dare to help”. What was it Apollo’s grandfather said again?

-Very telling, Kelly’s insistence of “I don’t want a trial”. The circus around Baltar is one of the problems, and he won’t be a party to that.

-Adama’s apology is as empty and calculated as it gets really. He wants Apollo out of the trial, and that’s all this is. And it’s transparent enough that Apollo see’s right through it.

-There’s only one line in the episode as powerful as Apollo’s “Is that an order?” and it’s Adama’s bitter response of “I’m done giving you orders”.

-“I’ll see you around” Lee says to Sam at the remembrance wall, which is like a sign to the audience to expect him to still feature in things.

-Apollo returns the pen to Baltar, so I think we can take it as a given that he is willing to be as daring as Lampkin wants.

-Those last lines are so good, even if they are a blunt elaboration on the theme of the closing arc of Season Three: “There is no greater ally, no force more powerful, no enemy more resolved, than a son who chooses to step from his father’s shadow”.

Overall Verdict: There are a lot of great aspects of “The Son Also Rises”, between the Adama family deterioration, our glimpse at the Fleet beginning to tear itself apart, Roslin’s continuing descent into dictatorial tendencies and the needed set-up for Baltar’s trial. But at the heart of it all is Romo Lampkin, an utterly fascinating figure played with aplomb, and it’s him, not Apollo really, that makes the episode as good as it is. Season Three, especially its second half, has been decidedly iffy, but with the introduction of this character, we seem to be on much surer footing heading into the finale.

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3 Responses to NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Three: “The Son Also Rises”

  1. Pingback: NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica: Index | Never Felt Better

  2. Pingback: NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Three: “Crossroads (Part One)” | Never Felt Better

  3. Pingback: NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Four: “He That Believeth In Me” | Never Felt Better

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