Battlestar Galactica Revisited: 1.04 Act of Contrition
Ronald D Moore's re imagining of the 1970's sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica set a gold standard, both for sci-fi and TV reboots. The darker, grittier re imagining, that saw a fleet of human ships fleeing the dreaded Cylons in search of Earth, won a whole host of awards and critical acclaims over its seven-year run. With the series looking to go through another quasi-reboot under show runner Michael Lesslie, we look back at the first reboot that defined the early days of twenty-first century television. Now we continue the journey with the the first season one two-parter, starting with Act of Contrition...
Perhaps the most significant breakout characters of Battlestar Galactica was Captain Kara 'Starbuck' Thrace. A re imagining of the Viper pilot from the 70s version, played by Dirk Benedict, Starbuck on the 21st century show is certainly one of TV's greatest modern female characters, brought to life with passion and grit by Katee Sackhoff. Battlestar Galactica was the show that made her a star, and deservedly so.
While on the surface level, Starbuck is an arrogant, aggressive pilot who drinks too much, isn't afraid to break the rules and a little too much fun of the job, there is a lot of depth to her too. Starbuck isn't just strong because she can compete in a man's world; she is strong because she has intelligence, skill and passion. She might be good in a fight, but that's because she is highly intuitive. She loves just as deeply too, something that is reflected in her early season one arc concerning the death of Zack Adama. Starbuck, quite simply, is one of the greatest TV characters of recent years, so much so, that we including her in our previous Greatest TV characters pieces on the site).
Still, as fun as she has been, it isn't until season one's Act of Contrition, that she gets the focus she has richly deserved. After a tragic, senseless explosion as a result of faulty storage kills off a group of the Galactica's pilots, Starbuck is charged with training up new recruits. Naturally, her role in Zack's death comes to the fore; he wasn't cut out to be a pilot but, as his fiancé, she passed him because she knew how much it would mean to him. Serving largely as a central character piece, the episode flits between Starbuck's role in training recruits in the present, flashbacks to her past with Zack and the aftermath of his death and thrilling snippets of Starbucks crashing into a planet from the episode's climax.
Those brief moments of Starbuck struggling to take control and ejecting herself from the viper offer moments of rising tension. But where Act of Contrition works best is in exploring her relationship with William Adama. The fiancé of his dead son, she has become a surrogate daughter to the commander, arguably closer to him than Apollo is to his father. The resulting scene where she reveals she passed Zack, leading to his death, is heart-breaking in so many ways; Sackhoff conveys a deep vulnerability not seen before, while Edward James Olmos coveys a quiet a rage as his love for his surrogate daughter is ripped away from him by her betrayal. It's a powerful character drama amid all the struggles of the fleet as they continue to evade the Cylons.
When the Cylons do eventually turn up, Act of Contrition delivers a tense action sequence - her inexperienced trainees coming face to face with a number of Cylon raiders, while Starbuck's guilt channels into taking the enemy on alone. The 'to be continued...' appearing on the screen comes of something as a welcome surprise, turning Starbuck's story into a two-parter and developing the richness of her relationship with Adama, with the time and space it deserves.
Act of Contrition sees the debut of a number of recurring characters to the show; Donnelly Rhodes' chain-smoking Doctor Cottle, who has a less than endearing bedside manner when Roslin comes to him for cancer treatment options, plus Bodie Olmos (son of Edward James Olmos) as Brendan 'Hot Dog' Constanza and Luciana Carro Louanne 'Kat' Katraine. But the focus on Starbuck's past and her guilt over Zack, is what really drives this episode, offering something of an introspective story from the most part, until the appearance of the Cylons. An absorbing character piece, from beginning to end...