"The Son Also Rises" is that rare BSG episode where a guest star can come in and virtually steal the show away from the regulars — building a character from scratch who is compelling, charismatic, and endlessly watchable. The writing and directing are also a big part of why the character works so well, but once you've seen "The Son Also Rises," it's hard to imagine anybody but Mark Sheppard in the role of Romo Lampkin.
It's also interesting to note how, since "Rapture," we have not seen the Cylons at all, and what that has meant for the structure of the show. In place of what has often been a war- or mythology-based series is, in the second half of the third season, a show almost exclusively about the characters and internal fleet dynamics. The result has been a much more introspective Battlestar Galactica. Whether that's better or worse is a matter of personal taste, but I've enjoyed many of these human-based stories, which have put the people under the microscope at a time when there's no enemy to fight.
In the opening minutes of "The Son Also Rises," Baltar's lawyer is murdered in an explosion. With Baltar's trial fast approaching (for which, coincidentally, Adama has been randomly selected to serve as one of the five judges on the tribunal), Roslin scrambles to find a replacement. The man who accepts the task is one Romo Lampkin (Mark Sheppard), a former Caprican attorney who is willing to represent a hated man for the sheer fame and glory. Or perhaps infamy, as the case may be.
What drives a man to represent someone so reviled, and, more specifically, at the risk of his own life? The thing about Romo Lampkin is that before we even get dialog that lets us in on the way he thinks, there's so much presence in the way he holds himself. His demeanor is edgy, but also cerebrally inquisitive. He has a raspy voice and an Irish accent (although "Irish" is a term that does not apply in the BSG universe) and a few days' worth of an unshaven beard. And those damn sunglasses. He always wears sunglasses. But it's not because he's hiding something. He's too accomplished a liar to need them for that. (Perhaps the sunglasses are a nod to Ron Moore's former boss, DS9 head writer Ira Steven Behr.) Lampkin is your classic maverick.
The other story of "The Son Also Rises" is its focus on Lee, Adama, and the impact of Kara's death. In the opening scene, Adama pages through Kara's file (with page after page of written disciplinary reprimands). Ultimately, he comes across a birthday card from her saying, "You were always like a father to me." It's a heartfelt scene, with more sentiment than typically allowed on this series. The show has earned this scene, and it's affecting; it's not every day that one of the main characters dies.
Kara is gone, but not forgotten. Notes Tigh, of Viper chatter: "Never thought I'd miss old Starbuck's yakking." Anders is a drunken wreck on the flight deck, in a scene of loud but forgivable public display. It's sad to watch, and we're in sympathy with him. In the pilot ready room, Racetrack makes a smart-ass comment, and Lee slips and calls her Starbuck. It's not the sort of mistake to be making as a leader in front of the troops.
Sensing a possible meltdown, Adama pulls his son off CAG duty and puts him on security detail to protect Lampkin from assassination attempts while keeping Lee closer and safer. (I wasn't sure, however, why protecting a man targeted for assassination would be viewed as "safer" than being a pilot with the war idled.) Lee: "Dad, I'm fine." Adama: "No, you're not. Because I'm not." When there's another bombing attempt and Lee and Lampkin are nearly killed, Adama is furious that Lee put himself in the situation so carelessly.
The performances here of Edward James Olmos and Jamie Bamber are much more raw and emotional than you typically see, and when they discuss their loss, the pain is palpable. While it's too early to say whether Kara's death will pay off in the long run, this scene demonstrates how the death of a character can be a dramatic catalyst in the short run. (By the episode's end, Lee keeps his promise and posts Kara's picture next to Kat's, and we also sense a shared bond between him and Anders. Of course, the question becomes whether Kara's removal from the series is worth the short-term benefit of this type of characterization.)
What this episode is about is Lee's gradual seduction by the idea of being a part of the legal process. He's also in no small part seduced by the power of Lampkin's charisma. Lampkin knew Lee's defense-lawyer grandfather on Caprica, who taught him everything he knew, and that intrigues Lee. Lee was always mystified by why his grandfather would take the abuse that came with representing the scum of humanity. Now, in Lampkin he begins to see clues into that mindset.
There are fascinating scenes of dialog and behavior, where Lee (who is our entry point as observers into Lampkin's legal strategy) watches Lampkin lay the groundwork of his case by asking the right questions and then responding with exactly what needs to be said. In the scene where Lampkin first meets Baltar to take over the case, we realize that Baltar — no stranger to manipulation — is easily manipulated by Lampkin, who quotes from Baltar's manifesto, encourages him to write more, then steals his pen without his knowledge. Why does Lampkin steal the pen? Because, he tells Lee, the perception that Baltar has been silenced by the authorities may engender more support for him.
Lampkin also meets with Caprica Six, who has already agreed to testify for the prosecution. Knowing the bond between her and Baltar, he exploits those feelings masterfully. He gives her the pen as a token of Baltar's love. Lampkin is a brilliant tale spinner and student of human nature. He tells Six exactly what she needs to hear to make her question her cooperation with the prosecution. Lampkin even cites his own personal lost love as a way of reaching out to Six with empathy.
All the while, we wonder what motivates this man. He cites his love for the capacity of verbal deceit, but we sense it's more complex than that. He believes in ... something. The system, or perhaps the futility of the system. Either he's a complete cynic or an idealist pretending to be a cynic. Perhaps he's just good at something at wants to use his skills. He has an ability to take the truth (Baltar's love for Six, for example) and readjust it into just the right message to get the right reactions to make his case better. It's all about the case. He is simply doing his job as well as he can because he wants to win. With Baltar, the deceit was always self-serving. With Lampkin, the deceit always serves the case.
Ultimately, I think that's why Lampkin becomes so likable. It's about the case, plain and simple, and his manipulations always start with what's already there. He doesn't try to rig the game; he simply uses the rules of the game to his best advantage. When it's clear that Lee is becoming somewhat seduced by the legal games, Lampkin tries to warn him off (calling him a sudden "serial contrarian"), even as he seems to know exactly what he's doing to further suck Lee in. And then he utters colorful lines like, "Now if this cross-examination is over, I'd like to take a crap."
The story reveals still more to Lampkin when he's injured in a second attempt on his life. Lee visits him in sickbay, where the story lets us further into Lampkin's mind (at least so far as what Lampkin is willing to tell Lee about himself, assuming it's true). I liked the character touches here: He's a pathological pickpocket ("I borrow things") whose parents were murdered when he was nine. It's something that explains his desire to understand the criminal mind.
The would-be assassin turns out to be Captain Kelly (Ty Olsson), and his confession provides another solemn example of how life aboard Galactica has taken its slow mental toll. When people like Baltar are allowed to live when military officers are sent to die, people like Kelly take matters into their own hands.
Honestly, the plot involving the assassin is an afterthought merely to give the story structure. The reason I like this episode so much, even though it's light on plot, is it's complete investment in its characters and dialog. Lampkin is easily one of the best guest characters this series has had. Meanwhile, we get a new look at Lee that we might not have expected. With Lampkin injured, he wants to assist on Baltar's defense team. Suddenly, we have Lee shaking up his career to pursue a lost dream. His father is understandably against it. It's madness. Is Lee hopelessly naïve? Are we seeing a new rift opening between father and son? Is this a new direction for Lee?
"The Son Also Rises" asks intriguing questions. It does not have all the answers. Lee's behavior is ill-advised and perhaps difficult to justify. Lampkin is a mystery wrapped in an enigma obscured behind sunglasses. Behavior has reasons, but not full-blown explanations. The truth is in the characters' gut feelings, and not necessarily in plain view. What does it mean that Lee wants to defend Baltar? Is he trying to say that individuals must stand up in favor of the constructs of society, no matter how distasteful it may be? Does he simply no longer want to be his father's son?
The episode's conclusion is ominous: Lampkin, through Lee, returns Baltar his pen, along with a note: "There's no greater ally, no force more powerful, no enemy more resolved, than a son who chooses to step from his father's shadow."
That's a statement worth absorbing. Coming from Lampkin, you wonder if he's actually a chess master, or simply passing himself off as one.