Battlestar Galactica season 1 episode 4 review: Act Of Contrition

The stunning first season of Battlestar Galactica delivers another gem, as Simon checks out Act Of Contrition...

4. Act Of Contrition

33 remains for me the best episode of the show thus far, appreciating that I’ve only watched, er, four of them plus a miniseries thus far. But Act Of Contrition isn’t far behind. It’s an episode that picks up Starbuck’s confession to Apollo, when she thought that they were at the end of the world, that she was effectively responsible for the death of Zak Adama. It was she who passed him, even though she knew he was a lousy pilot, and it’s clear from this episode that all concerned have still far from dealt with the aftermath of that.

The episode actually opens in quite an upbeat way, with the pilots celebrating the 1000th deck landing of ‘Flat Top’ Saunders. Before you can say ‘redshirt’, though, an accident on the hangar deck has taken him out, as well as 12 other pilots. That leaves 40 vipers, and only 21 pilots to fly them.

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Thus, it’s time to train up new pilots, and Commander Adama gives Starbuck the job. She’s reluctant to take it, with her experience with Zak clearly at the forefront of her mind. And, inevitably, she turns out to be the flight instructor from hell. Thus, she’s reluctant to pass anyone else, less she have their lives on her conscience too, and it’s her harshness that provokes the finest scene in the episode. In the process, the fleshing out of the character of Kara Thrace continues impressively.

Apollo and Commander Adama discuss Starbuck’s ultimate dismissal of the eight rookie pilots she’s just flunked, and as part of the conversation, Apollo reveals to his father Starbuck’s got a secret about Zak’s death. He assumes he knew already, of course, which is a small and easy plot contrivance that you can’t help but let pass.

This is where Edward James Olmos comes into his own. His steady and still performance as Adama is measured beautifully here, and in the scene where he and Starbuck confront what happened with Zack, he’s quite superb. When he growls at Starbuck and sends her back off to try again with the rookies, you can feel the pent up emotions flying off the screen. It’s an exceptional piece of acting.

Starbuck, thus, takes the rookies out in vipers, when our old chums the Cylons turn up. It’s just a patrol, but Starbuck sends the rookies back, and takes on eight fighters alone. She very nearly manages it too, with the help of one of the rookies, Hot Dog, who disobeys her order, but she’s ultimately sent hurtling down to the planet below. Cue the first ‘To Be Continued’ of the series. Sadly, I’d seen Katee Sackhoff’s picture on the packaging of one of the boxsets I’d bought though, so I figure she might just get through this.

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A few other things were happening, the most tantalising being Helo and the Caprica Boomer finding the signal that they picked up in an earlier episode down on the surface of the planet. Turns out it leads to a shelter packed with all the supplies they need. Yet there’s nobody there. Could it be a trap? It’s unlikely, although we never meet the original occupant of the shelter. I’d wager we might in the coming episodes, though.

This was, at times, a flat-out brilliant episode, that came into its own when it focused hard on the emotional connection between Apollo, Adama and Starbuck. My overriding impression of it? Edward James Olmos rocks.

But what happens to Starbuck next? We’ll find that out in You Can’t Go Home Again