NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Four: “Sine Qua Non”

Keep a light on. I’ll be back.

Air Date: 27/05/2008

Director: Rod Hardy

Writer: Michael Taylor

Synopsis: In the aftermath of the Cylons’ sudden departure, Adama goes to extreme lengths to discover where Roslin has been taken. With the political system of the Fleet in turmoil, Apollo asks Romo Lampkin for help in finding an interim President acceptable to his father.

Review

All is chaos in “Sine Qua Non”. The conclusion of “Guess What’s Coming To Dinner?” is the perfect action to speed up what I have previously called “the collapse” sub-plot of Season Four. The sudden disappearance of Roslin, Baltar and a fair proportion of the Fleet military creates multiple crises, not least a sudden political vacuum and a large degree of illogic in the thinking of the person commanding the military. It’s brave of the writers to split up the plots like this, with the fate of the basestar side of things left mostly to our imagined efforts to make sense of the Raptor with a dead pilot inside, the destroyed Resurrection Hub and then the Cylon battlefield. But it really does work to set the scene within the Fleet: no President, an Admiral who isn’t acting as he should and no one knowing what is going to happen. The structures have been slipping for a while now, but “Sine Qua Non” showcases the ease with which the Fleet can fall into a collapsed state. It’s been a few years since the Fleet schism that saw Roslin depart with a third of it in “The Farm”, and we’ve never been closer to a repeat.

It is Adama who sums up the meaning of the episodes title. “Without which none” indeed: the “which” in this case is Roslin. Adama’s increasing affection for her has been obvious for a while now, but here the fact that it is outright love is plain long before the Admiral tells his son that he can’t live without her. And while this all sounds very nice and romantic, the practical effect on Adama puts him in a position where he is too happy to gamble with the future of humanity.

We’ve been here with Adama before of course. He risked the Fleet to a dangerous extent in “You Can’t Go Home Again” when searching for another loved one (only to relent, ironically, when Roslin called him out). He took the gamble of going back to New Caprica when the safer course was probably leaving it behind in “Exodus (Part One)”. Now, we’re here again, only this time Adama seems even more willing to leave the Fleet to its own devices in pursuit of what has to be acknowledged as a very selfish aim. It goes beyond ignoring the legally constituted President, it goes beyond his terse manner with subordinates and ends up in a place where Adama literally abandons the Fleet for a time. Starting with the perceived betrayal that he suffers from Athena’s actions – and what a scene that is between the two right at the beginning – Adama leaves behind his duty as an Admiral. But it’s all worth it to Adama, because without Roslin, there’s nothing for him. We saw as recently as “Faith” that his hopes for the future are tied up with Roslin, and it perhaps takes this crisis to make him fully realise it. This is one instance where it is genuinely difficult to judge Adama too harshly. He’s been through a lot, and will be through more still. He can’t just let Roslin go.

Olmos is again superb as Adama here. We’ve gotten examples of the negative side of his personality before, in episodes like “Home (Part One)”, “A Day In The Life” or “Six Of One”. Often such episodes are marked by examples of his single-mindedness being taken to extremes. Olmos portrays this to the furthest extreme yet perfectly here, in his disregard of logic, in the way he ignores the political side of things but also in the way that he portrays the character allowing himself to be brought back to sanity. Numerous characters try that but I liked that it was Romo Lampkin – who could be described as the closest analogy to Adama’s father – who manages to get Adama to step back from the brink, in that brilliant scene on the flight deck.

There are a lot of “without which none” situations in the Fleet, and it takes the intervention of a lawyer to make Adama see the light: that without the right people at the helm of the political side and the military side, the Fleet is lost. Adama might have a lot of negative traits, but he also tends to come good in the end. Realising how far he has gone, he lays aside his command and agrees to a new President, as he decides to take his single-mindedness and apply it alone.

Next to him is Colonel Tigh. He spends the first half of the episode in very unfamiliar surroundings, trying to get through to Adama. I think only in “You Can’t Go Home Again” has Tigh been in such a position, with he and Adama usually bang right in the same page. The closeness of their relationship helps to emphasise how far gone Adama is: not even Tigh can dissuade him from the course of action he is taking.

But of course Tigh has his own problems, as we get the rather stunning reveal that he has somehow managed to impregnate Caprica Six. The actual ramifications of this plot point will come in a later episode, and to be honest I am not looking forward to it: I recall the material dedicated to the continuing Tig/Caprica relationship as some of my least favourite aspects of Season Four. But for now that’s not important: what is, is the breakdown that occurs between Adama and Tigh as a result of the revelation. The two first have an absolute blistering exchange of words, with Adama questioning Tigh’s objectivity and competence, and Tigh snapping back that Adama’s methods of going after Roslin are hardly any better. Adama brings up Ellen as a finger wagging tool, and that’s all she wrote for Tigh. It’s catty, but brutal stuff, and of course it quickly devolves into a brief, but wonderfully childish fist fight. It all happens very quickly and of course lacks the emotional power of something like Adama’s schism with Apollo from “Crossroads (Part One)”, but it’s still an astonishing highlight of the episode.

At the end of the day, Adama and Tigh are far more alike than either one of them fully realises. They are guilty of some of the same sins, and many of the same problems. Both of them have messed up relationships with the women in their lives, with Tigh equating Caprica Six with Ellen and Adama contemplating a declaration of love for the President of the Colonies. In such things, the two can find an unspoken reconciliation. Adama, as he prepares to leave Galactica, maybe forever, decides to place his trust in Tigh as the commander of the ship. That really is no small thing after what occurred from “Scattered” to “Resistance” and even if the promotion is tempered with the knowledge that Galactica is severely lacking in officers at the moment, it still means a hell of a lot when Adama tells Tigh that he has fundamentally changed since that stint in command. It’s hard to know how true that is, with Tigh still, in my estimation, carrying many of the weaknesses that blighted that tenure, not least his fondness for the bottle. But in giving Tigh that praise, and handing him the Admiral’s pips, Adama re-affirms his friendship with Tigh, and the trust inherent within.

The political drama is the other half of the episode, and it is a major one. The Colonial Presidency has at times been a tawdry thing in the way it has been bandied about – in the course of the series only Baltar has actually been elected to office in “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part Two)”, every other time it has been an appointment – but what occurs here takes the cake. Zarek is the legally mandated President in this situation, and at least has a claim to being elected to the VP position with Baltar. But that doesn’t seem to matter with the “facts on he ground” as Apollo puts it. The facts on the ground is that Admiral Adama is essentially some manner of uncrowned monarch, and no one gets to be President unless he says it is OK. The alliance of the civil with the military has always been predicated on the relationship between Adama and Roslin, and when one of those two elements is absent, it all falls down. It’s disgusting, anti-democratic and absurd, but it isn’t as if it’s that surprising: Adama would never really be comfortable with someone like Zarek in that position, even as multiple characters attempt to convince him it wouldn’t be the worst.

Instead, we need an interim President, and this “Sine Qua Non” becomes about Lee’s unlikely journey to the top office. The question must be asked about Apollo’s intentions throughout this process, whether he really has no higher ambitions or if he is going through this selection process in the knowledge that his time is coming. He seems idealistic enough – I mean, even here he attempts to execute constitutional provisions to find a new President – that I would plump for the first option, but only just: while he does it with a gun in his face, he doesn’t back down from the presentation when the position is offered to him on a plate. Lampkin is undecided about things, and neatly outlines how Apollo’s path has always seemed an unwilling one: as a member of the military, as a CAG, as a ship commander, as a defence counsellor, he always seems to be thrust (and then excel) into positions that he nominally didn’t want. After a while it does start to seem a little strange.

But then again, Apollo is the man, at least when Lampkin lays out the kind of person they are looking for. Someone who openly wants the office – cough, Zarek, cough – is out. The President needs to be “honest”, and Apollo has been that, to a fault sometimes, in episodes like “Kobol’s Last Gleaming (Part Two)”, “Black Market” and “Precipice”, though he’s also demonstrated deception in parts of his personal life, such as in “Unfinished Business” and “The Eye Of Jupiter”. The President needs to have “the wisdom to recognise the correct from popular choice, and the courage to see it through”: we can see in episodes like “33”, “Kobol’s Last Gleaming (Part Two)”, “The Captain’s Hand” and “Crossroads (Part Two)” that Apollo has demonstrated these qualities. The President needs experience, and there are few in the Fleet who can claim more than Apollo at this point.

More than that, as Apollo outlines to Romo in their confrontation, he does represent hope. His youth, his idealism, his respect for the popular will, they are qualities that the Fleet needs right now. Because the collapse is occurring, and it is only going to get worse. Getting to Earth is the goal, but that isn’t going to happen if the Fleet doesn’t have the hope they need to get through the trials between it and that goal. Maybe Lee worked a little bit undercover to get the appointment, but he is that fresh start that the Fleet needs: away from the petty battle between Roslin and Baltar, beyond the compromise that is Zarek. Of course this leaves both parts of the Fleet in the hands of an Adama, and we might well remember Baltar’s words in “Dirty Hands” on that score.

All of this provides the right opportunity for Mark Shepard to return to the fold as Romo Lampkin, and if he was one of the stand-out characters of late Season Three, he just keeps that trend going here. It would be easy for Lampkin to remain the cool, collected customer that he was in “The Son Also Rises”, “Crossroads (Part One)” and “Crossroads (Part Two)” but “Sine Qua Non” decides to take the opportunity have him grow a bit. We are first introduced to an unusually apathetic Lampkin who, in Apollo’s eyes, needs “a reason to leave the room”. In appearance he is still the man we know, but the signs of a malaise are evident: the untidy room for one thing, but also the strange focus on Lance the cat.

It takes a while to get there, but in time we come to realise that Lampkin has fallen prey to a strong case of nihilism, one provoked by the killing of the cat that he now, essentially, is hallucinating. Tying into an obvious issue of survivors guilt from what occurred during the attack on the Colonies – which radically changes what we knew of Lampkin’s backstory from noir-ish romantic to outwardly tragic – the effect is to give us a portrait of a man secretly in a serious decline, becoming ever more manic and pushed to the breaking point by the task that Apollo has roped him into. I loved the reasoning behind Lampkin’s final confrontation with Apollo, that the man needs some convincing to believe that the human race deserves a new leader and new hope: because it’s the same human race that killed his cat, and the same human race he, the man who left his wife and daughters to their fate, counts himself part of.

Apollo offers Lampkin a form of possible redemption for all of that, outlining that the human race in general needs to be willing to give itself a clean slate. It’s a microchasm of the speech he gave on the dock in “Crossroads (Part Two)”, one heavily influenced by his own experiencer as far back as “33”, and it seems to be just about the only thing that will get through to Lampkin at this moment. Of course one could argue this is all one big set-up from Lampkin, another manipulation, to push Lee into becoming President, but I don’t think so myself. Like everyone else in the Fleet Lampkin is a wounded soul, and Apollo, for the time being anyway, is the best medicine. I don’t know, from this point, if Lampkin is saveable, he strikes me as a character who might well fall more into the abyss. Maybe that’s why he seemed to have a bit of sympathy for Tigh. But Apollo has at least given him a chance.

In a nice touch, the two pillars of the episode come together at the conclusion. Adama admits to his son that he has lost his perspective, and will hereafter seek for Roslin on his own. Apollo embarks on his Presidential role with the blessing of his father. The two share a moment of reconciliation before the Fleet moves on, and Adama is left sitting alone in that Raptor, waiting for something that may not come. Not that the two plots have been separated from the other through the course of the episode or anything like that, but bringing them together in this fashion for the last few minutes, with both Adama’s getting a degree of relationship reconciliation with others – Tigh in one case, Lampkin in the other – gives “Sine Qua Non” a feeling of completeness that occasionally episodes in Season Four have lacked. Splitting the plots between the Fleet and the rebel basestar was risky, but in the first half of the experiment it has worked out quite well.

I, Leland Joseph Adama, do now avow and affirm that I take the office of president of the Twelve Colonies of Kobol without any moral reservation or mental evasion.

Notes

-As outlined in the episode, the title is a Latin phrase meaning “without which none”. It originates with Aristotle.

-Rod Hardy back as director after “A Day In The Life”, and this is a much better effort.

-The prayer that Natalie mumbles in the opening is the same as several infected Cylons could be heard reciting in “A Measure Of Salvation”. Similar in wording to the “Serenity Prayer”, it appears to be something said when a Cylon feels a permanent death is near.

-Love this opening look at the Quorum in complete panic mood. These people are ready to collapse.

-The central problem of the political drama is made very effectively when Adama ignores Dee’s efforts to get him to answer Zarek’s phonecall.

-“I have taken over as President” says Zarek, and this is greeted with a general acclaim by the Quorum. Is it a case of them just wanting someone at the tiller, or are they happy to see someone other than Roslin in that seat?

-Apollo asks Adama to re-assure the Fleet as the military commander. Adama isn’t interested: “That’s your job now” he says.

-Adama opens his conversation with Athena in a brutal fashion: “Do your hate your people so much?” He’s referring to more than just the Cylons you feel.

-I’m not sure it was made very clear in “Guess What’s Coming To Dinner?”, but Helo is apparently on the basestar.

-“Admiral Atheist” is back strong in this scene, with Adama having no time for talk of visions. His tolerance for that appears to be related to his proximity to Roslin.

-Athena asks for just one thing, a predictable plea, but Adama is unforgiving and unmoving: “The brig is no place for a little girl”.

-The count is up by one, presumably a birth.

-There’s an awkward start to the Adama/Tigh conversation after the main titles, as they spend a few sentences summing up the plot. I get the necessity, but I always hate that “As you know, your father, the King” style of exposition.

-Zarek is furious at the apparent reality that Adama will not accept him as President, and it is hard to argue with him really. The political system of the Fleet is all sorts of messed up, but claims that Zarek isn’t a legitimate head of state don’t hold up.

-The Colonies apparently have a method of an interim President being selected by the Quorum. This makes little sense to me as a standing rule considering that a line of succession is in existence, as we saw in the Miniseries, but I guess they might all be unacceptable to Adama.

-Our first glimpse at a returning Lampkin, and he’s wearing those sunglasses again. As cool as ever.

-Zarek has apparently asked the Quorum to authorise the creation of a “civil defence force” in the event of a flat-out military coup. What this would look like is difficult to guess, and might just be posturing.

-Lampkin tries to convince Apollo to walk away from the problem: “When an irresistible force meets an immovable object, stand aside and wait for the class action suit.”

-It’s subtle, looking back, how the camera focuses in on Lance the cat in a few moments of this episode. Just enough to make him stick out. Hallucinating dead characters puts Lampkin in the same category as Adama (with his ex-wife in “A Day In The Life”) and Tigh (with Ellen, a lot).

-I did ask back in “The Son Also Rises” what payment Lampkin was getting for his service as Baltar’s DA. The answer is “a room with a view”, which in the drudgery of the Fleet might be a fairly valuable acquisition.

-Tigh actually is giving stuff away in his meetings with Caprica Six: here he basically lets on about Adama’s more-than-professional feelings for Roslin. It’s a stupid thing to do, and Adama is right later to suspect Tigh is being stupid with her.

-It’s Racetrack and Skulls again when it comes to a Raptor team needing to investigate something. Are they the only ones capable of doing this job?

-Interestingly, when Racetrack investigates this Raptor she mentions that the “grav field” is off, which I think is the only time BSG mentions anything related to artificial gravity.

-Lampkin’s cynicism when it comes to politics is clear as he sums up the paradoxical dichotomy of power and ambition: “…one doesn’t generally get the chance to wield political power without the ambition to actively seek it. That same ambition often compromises the unselfish motives that begat the quest.”

-Does Lampkin get it right, in calling Roslin “a case study in repressed ambition”? And could we apply the same to Apollo?

-Given how FTL is meant to work, why does Galactica turn away from the Fleet before jumping?

-Adama’s best case scenario after discovering the battlefield is, I think, meant to echo previous statements given in episodes like “The Hand Of God”, but there’s a reek of desperation.

-Lampkin’s disdain for those who seek power is summed up when told about one candidate who wouldn’t be interested in the job: “Sadly now she really impresses me”.

-It’s throwaway, but Apollo’s “Where is he anyway?” regards Lance seems more obvious a bit of foreshadowing in retrospect.

-Cottle’s analysis of Roslin’s health is grim. She’ll paradoxically feel better when her treatments stop, but her diagnosis will plummet pretty quick without them.

-Adama is back on the bottle in his scene with Tigh. Happening a lot lately.

-“She’s pregnant”. Oh boy, here we go with this sub-plot. For now we might avoid any concern of where the story is going by wondering how two Cylons were able to conceive.

-Adama asks Tigh if he can deny impregnating Caprica, and I just love Olmos when the Colonel is silent. “You don’t. You can’t!”

-Tigh isn’t just going to listen to Adama rant at him in the current circumstances, and brings up Roslin quick. The two are very alike in many ways.

-The fight between the two men is quick and awkward, which is an accurate reflection of these two old-timers really. Adama’s been drinking too. I think it’s meant to be a little embarrassing to watch.

-Adama’s ship gets smashed up again, just as it did in “Maelstrom”. “You know how many times I’ve had to repair this thing?”

-Starbuck, who is sidelined as a character here but that’s honestly not the worst thing, suggests that Adama’s plan to widen the search for the basestar is tantamount to asking pilots to go on a “suicide mission”. Adama’s only reply is “I’m not asking”. But the military strong man bit will only go so far.

-Lampkin shows up with “Writs of forfeiture” regards Adama’s use of civilian ships, and that strikes me as a very silly thing Adama shouldn’t really have any time for. The Fleet shouldn’t have this level of legal complexity to its administration.

-“Everyone has his limits” says Lampkin on Adama’s lack of realism, and it’s more of a barbed insult than a mere observation. Romo is trying to get something out of the Admiral here.

-The episode references the title very directly, but it works for this meeting between Adama and Lampkin: “Without which not…Those things we deem essential without which we cannot bear living. Without which life in general loses its specific value. Becomes abstract.”

-Lampkin can only think of one name that reaches his criteria for President and declares that “the outcome is fixed, the verdict inevitable”. We’ll never know if Apollo was steering things in this direction, but Lampkin makes a good case.

-He suggests to Apollo in the hallway that the Presidency is “everything you always wanted” and it really hard to see the situation as anything otherwise.

-Lampkin produces a nice little four barrelled pistol here, which I believe is a COP Derringer. I wonder where he got it?

-“They killed my cat!” It’s a blunt line, but the suddenness of it matched with Shepherd’s delivery makes it work.

-Lampkin’s choice to stay on the shuttle and abandon his family is hard not to judge, but on the other hand what would he have done? Died with them?

-Apollo’s absolution for Lampkin comes in the form of an offered choice, an option to leave the past behind and move on. For all his cool and cynicism, it’s something he can’t pass up.

-Like that turn from “Then swear it” to Apollo’s inauguration. Very clever.

-“Lee” is apparently short for “Leland”? What is up with that?

-Adama hands Tigh the Admiral’s pips, but worth noting he says to put them on only if Adama himself doesn’t come back.

-Adama’s last order is to acknowledge the importance of family, and reach out a forgiving hand to Athena. Without which none: Adama realises that if he needs Roslin, Athena needs her daughter.

-Gotta love the return of Jake, last seen in “Precipice” I think? It’s a neat bow on things, Apollo giving him to Lampkin. Not sure he is the best guardian really.

-Adama outlines his first mission as being one where he had to pilot a Raptor solo. Presumably this was before the events we saw in the Razor Flashbacks.

-“I can’t live without her”. I don’t really know what else Adama could say to get across to his son why he has to do this. It’s simpler than their parting in “Exodus (Part One)” but no less powerful.

-The lullaby Athena hums in the scene with Hera is the same as hummed by Boomer to the Raider in “Flesh And Bone”.

-The score for the end of the episode has a Hanz Zimmer/Christopher Nolan quality with the emphasis on ticking, but I don’t think was separately released on any soundtrack?

-We close on Adama alone, the camera panning out like we have seen in a few instances before, and it’s a morbid ending in many ways. But he won’t be alone forever.

-For the first time in the show’s run, we get a credits splash before the actual end titles, which is strange.

Overall Verdict: I really love this episode. The decision to split the plots is a brave one that works out, and then “Sine Qua Non” does a really good job with what is left, between the political drama that re-introduces the always fascinating Romo Lampkin, and the exploration of an Admiral on the edge. The stuff with Zarek and Tigh is the icing on the cake, and the ending is one the most impactful the show has had in a little while. We go to follow the rebel basestar next, and BSG has set-up that transition in spectacular fashion.

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3 Responses to NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Four: “Sine Qua Non”

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

  2. Pingback: NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Four: “The Hub” | Never Felt Better

  3. Pingback: NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Four: “Revelations” | Never Felt Better

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