Jammer's Review

Battlestar Galactica

"Sine Qua Non"

***

Air date: 5/30/2008
Written by Michael Taylor
Directed by Rod Hardy

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

The reason Battlestar's fourth season has worked so well thus far is because there's a larger purpose driving it — an unapologetic, fully committed serialized format that assumes you watch every week. In past seasons, the show occasionally tried to deliver somewhat more stand-alone stories (and one could argue that led to some of the series' weaker outings, like "Black Market," "Hero," "The Passage," or "A Day in the Life"), but with the series' end date etched in stone, all pretense for increased audience accessibility has been jettisoned, and the show has committed to telling the stories that advance its larger purpose.

Now, having said that, it's worth noting that although the larger overarching story is driving this series, there's still plenty of room for episodes that more prominently feature certain characters and themes over others. For example, "The Road Less Traveled" emphasized military protocol, "Faith" emphasized religion, "Guess What's Coming to Dinner?" emphasized the characters' roles in a cosmic mythology, and now "Sine Qua Non's" emphasis is government and leadership.

This episode takes the fallout from "Dinner" and turns the focus primarily into a story about the operations of the Colonial government in the absence of President Roslin, and how it functions alongside the military (which is to say, dysfunctionally). Completely absent are any scenes that feature Roslin or the other characters on board the Cylon basestar that jumped away; their fate is a mystery left for next week. I admire the strategy of this season, which is that being away from some characters' stories simply means spending more time on the equally compelling affairs of others — in this case, for the entire episode. (There's been a sense of unrelenting momentum this season, where the story moves along and the writers ask us to fill in the blanks of what was off-screen and implied. I'm of the opinion that the approach has worked.)

Renegade Six is rushed to sickbay where she dies on the operating table — an ominous sign for any hopes of the tenuous alliance that had existed. Meanwhile, there's chaos aboard Colonial One, where the Quorum tries to separate facts from rumors about Roslin's disappearance; the frenzy has real-world disaster recognizability as a situation where emotion awaits further news and in the meantime feeds upon itself.

Also made clear in the early scenes is the sense that business must and will go on, both in the government and on Galactica. Adama and Tigh start planning contingencies (with almost too much calm) for what to do if indeed all those Vipers are now gone. And if Roslin is missing and perhaps dead, the government must continue to function, and Vice President Tom Zarek intends to step up and do the job — that is until it's made clear (and this happens very quickly) that Admiral Adama has absolutely no intention of recognizing a Zarek Administration.

Zarek is frankly pissed that he may have to step aside simply because Adama doesn't trust him. But he has no choice. Lee has an apt military phrase for the situation: "Facts on the ground." The civilian government cannot function without Adama's approval, and Adama does not approve of Tom Zarek. Period. It makes you wonder where this fleet would be if Roslin and Adama were not able to coexist as a (usually) unified front.

So Lee convinces Zarek to step aside while Lee chairs a search committee to replace him. I'm honestly not sure whether this is prudent or patently absurd. The president is gone, the government is about to grind to a halt, Adama is rejecting the legitimate administration — and Lee turns to the sort of deliberate bureaucracy that typifies a real government, as opposed to the contrived one that actually exists. Hey, I don't have a better idea, and Lee's plan seems about as level-headed as any. But given how dire the situation is, it just seems so ... calm. Calm to the point of madness.

Lee recruits a reluctant Romo Lampkin (Mark Sheppard, reprising his popular character from last season) to aid in the search. Lampkin sees the case as a high-risk, low-reward endeavor that won't get him much of anything in return. What did he get in return for defending Baltar, you ask? He got a "room with a view"; his quarters feature a hilariously tiny 6-by-6-inch window, apparently much coveted. He also gets plenty of headaches from people who hate him for getting Baltar acquitted.

The question becomes, who exudes all the qualities of a real leader and will be acceptable to the Quorum and to Admiral Adama? Lee and Romo spend a good deal of time debating the merits of leadership (with Romo offering up little tidbits of wisdom like the fact that those who show no apparent ambition actually have more of it than anyone else; it's just hidden from view), while crossing names of a dry-erase board. The details of this process are enjoyable, but at the same time there's a certain telegraphed inevitability to it. When Romo starts writing down names that will work rather than crossing off those that won't, he only comes up with one name, and it's not a groundbreaking shock when the camera reveals that it's — gasp — Lee Adama! I will admit that it is, however, an interesting wrinkle to the larger plot. It's also proof that BSG is not afraid of moving the plot ahead at lightning speed; Lee is sworn in as president before the episode ends.

But I'm not quite sure what to make of the scene where Lampkin reveals this epiphany to Lee. He points a gun at Lee and seems prepared to pull the trigger, which is so downright unexpected and played for suspense value that I'm inclined to say it simply comes out of left field. Lee has some good speechmaking in this scene, but I couldn't help but be distracted by how forced it felt for Lampkin to suddenly become so unhinged. What causes this? We learn that his enemies killed his cat weeks ago, and apparently that's his final straw. But, wait — we had seen the cat jumping around in earlier scenes. Oh, that was just subjective-POV, Romo-imagined narrative trickery. Personally, I don't think this story needed Romo's cat playing Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense.

It also feels forced because Romo has always been the coolest of all customers — a dry and cynical con man who knows human nature better than anybody. Watching him melt down here doesn't play to the strengths of the character or the actor; it seems at odds with Lampkin's persona, and I didn't quite buy it. It's too much platitude and not enough truthful characterization.

Significantly more truthful characterization takes place in the Adama/Tigh stories aboard Galactica. There are some great scenes here. Take, for example, the one where Adama calls Sharon in to answer for killing Renegade Six. He wants an explanation. She supplies one. To call it insufficient is an understatement. Adama is pissed — and I mean pissed — over Sharon's reckless act. You can always count on an angry Adama being worth some meaty drama, and it doesn't disappoint here. Sharon has essentially destroyed her relationship with Adama — and her standing on the ship — because of fears inspired by her visions, and it lands her back in the brig.

Meanwhile, this episode finally turns back to the relationship between Tigh and Caprica Six. A lot has transpired off-screen since "Escape Velocity"; you can see in their body language that their relationship has greatly evolved. She calls him "Saul." Their relationship is obviously complicated, with a dose of both codependence and distrust, and Tigh still sees Ellen when he looks at her. I love how this scene invites us to fill in blanks and imagine how things between them have changed gradually over time; there's an economy to the narrative that makes it seem like so much more has happened than we've actually witnessed.

The real heart of the story, though, is Adama's. Roslin is missing, and Adama is determined to find her. When the president's Raptor is discovered along with a dead pilot, and Galactica investigates and subsequently finds a destroyed Cylon basestar, there's every reason to believe the president and Galactica's Viper detachment are dead. But Adama can't accept it. He goes into personal-feelings-indulged mode, very much like the search for Kara in first season's "You Can't Go Home Again." He begins to lose objectivity. He sends resources out on fruitless missions. He delays preparations for getting the fleet under way. At one point, even Lampkin makes a point about it: "I always imagined you a realist, admiral, not one to indulge a vain hope at the cost of lives. But then, everyone has his limits."

Then there's the revelation that Caprica Six is pregnant by Tigh's doing. I didn't see that one coming. Let's completely set aside for now the whole issue of this potentially being the first fully Cylon child; the Adama/Tigh scene where this is revealed is terrific. Once again, a pissed Adama is an endlessly watchable Adama, and the result is a dramatically charged stand-off that gets you pumped up for the intensity of the drama even while it makes you wince about seeing these two old friends cursing and finally coming to blows with each other. I especially recoiled when Adama brought Ellen's name into it; if only he knew what Tigh literally sees in Six. The brawl gives way to the perfect bit of levity after Adama's model ship is destroyed: "You know how many times I've had to repair this thing?"

Slowly but surely, this story becomes the tale of these two old guys and their situations involving women: Quite simply, what are they gonna do? For Adama, the situation grows in poignancy as we realize, if we hadn't always realized, that he loves Roslin. And amid his loss of objectivity over trying to deal with this fact, he realizes he must turn command of Galactica over to Tigh, with orders to continue the search for Earth. Adama intends to wait alone in a Raptor for Roslin to make an improbable rendezvous.

The Adama/Tigh friendship, with all its history, is so poignant that you dread the day when the other shoe drops and Adama finds out he's a Cylon. At this point, this question is more about Adama than about Tigh. It isn't even an issue in the story's mind that Tigh, a secret Cylon, is given command of the fleet. Tigh is simply Tigh, working through his many issues, and that's all there is to it. He intends to carry out Adama's orders.

"Why are you doing this?" Lee asks Adama. "Because I can't live without her," Adama responds. Boom — the emotional truth of the episode right there. And Adama waits, by himself, in empty space, alone. Hope springs eternal. When it comes to Laura Roslin, Adama can't afford to be objective. Sine qua non: Without which there is nothing.

Footnote: The number 47 once again shows up in the dialog here, in reference to names being crossed off a list. The whole insertion-of-47-into-scripts phenomenon, dating back to TNG, has persisted throughout BSG's run. Rumor has it Joe Menosky was the one responsible for encouraging this behavior. I felt compelled to ask Menosky about it, and he confirmed his complicity in this conspiracy, and pointed me to this page and this page to demonstrate the uncanny significance of 47.

Previous episode: Guess What's Coming to Dinner?
Next episode: The Hub

Season Index

23 comments on this review

Occuprice - Fri, Jan 16, 2009 - 7:55pm (USA Central)
Mmmm..

Methinks your reviews are one my own Sine Qua Nons.
misterd - Fri, Jan 16, 2009 - 8:29pm (USA Central)
Good review of an ambitious but flawed ep, but what I reall want to know is why we have to wait so long between reviews! When are we going to get the next one? All this waiting, weeks and weeks between.... what's that? It is? The one after that too? Oh. Um. Okay. Thanks.
Brendan - Fri, Jan 16, 2009 - 10:26pm (USA Central)
"but I couldn't help but be distracted by how forced it felt for Lampkin to suddenly become so unhinged. What causes this? We learn that his enemies killed his cat weeks ago, and apparently that's his final straw. But, wait -- we had seen the cat jumping around in earlier scenes. Oh, that was just subjective-POV, Romo-imagined narrative trickery. Personally, I don't think this story needed Romo's cat playing Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense."

I understand this view, but I couldn't disagree more. To me, this fully realizes the character of Romo in a way that his cool guy sunglasses swagger image never could. It's revealed that Romo abandoned his family in the attacks to save his own life. Since then, the bravado, the swagger, it's all been an illusion. He's trying not to care, he defends Gaius Baltar of all people... why? Is he defending Baltar for his selfish actions or is he defending his own? That cat was the last link he had to his family, so when it was killed he lost it. I became disgusted with the idea of hope because for him there isn't any. Lee represents that and that is why he forced him at gun point to prove that he won't be a false hope, because one more let down is something Romo could not allow.
Occuprice - Sat, Jan 17, 2009 - 2:29am (USA Central)
I agree with most of what you say, I just think the execution and the writing for that plot was.... not done very well.

The tidbit about how he left his family and such was interesting, but it didn't feel like an organic growth of the dialog. It felt more like a writer trying to fit it in for the sake of the information, rather than because it actually fits. Handled differently, this could have been a better plot thread.
Occuprice - Sat, Jan 17, 2009 - 2:30am (USA Central)
*that's addressed to Brendan, btw.
Nolan - Sat, Jan 17, 2009 - 3:35am (USA Central)
Well, perhaps Romo's Cat is like Baltar's Head Six, not really there, but influencial to the respective person. I guess in the BSG Universe, halluinating someone means that you had a deep relationship...or something. It sorta happens with Laura in the next episode as well.
Brendan - Sat, Jan 17, 2009 - 6:54pm (USA Central)
I will grant that it could have been written in a less confusing way, I had to think about that scene for a while and go over it in my head before I understood what it was really about. At it's core it was a good character moment for me.
skippitymonster - Mon, Feb 9, 2009 - 9:04pm (USA Central)
Yeah maybe I'm stupid, but can't really figure out why Romo pulled the gun on Lee. I think this episode sold his character short compared to his previous appearances, here he seemed to me like a pithy comment generator with a Tyler Durden cat. (Which might have been an incredibly wry Schrodinger's Cat joke- look it up in your Funk and Wagnells)
Still, as you've said before: a bad ep in the BSG universe is still a pretty damn good one in relation most others.
Plus - huge thanks Jammer for the great reviews. You rock. Don't go a-changin'!

Ryan UK - Sun, Feb 22, 2009 - 7:09am (USA Central)
Given that we know Romo's extremely adept at psychological manipulation, I was under the assumption that the gun-pointing and the story of Romo's family were just an elaborate trick to force the reluctant Lee into realising his own leadership skills.

That's how I interpreted it anyway.
bread - Sat, Apr 17, 2010 - 6:54pm (USA Central)
Best moment: Tigh's face when Adama remarks, "You're not the same man you were on New Caprica," or something of the sort.
corrie - Thu, Apr 29, 2010 - 12:12am (USA Central)
@bread, i totally agree. i rewatched that moment a few times. totally cracked me up. such good acting on michael hogan's part, especially considering he only has one eye to work with.
DeanGrr - Sat, Jun 12, 2010 - 9:31am (USA Central)
I've re-watched parts of BSG, and wanted to comment on the actions of Lee and Romo in this episode. It seems out of character for Romo to go unhinged, but it seems to me that Romo, being an expert on human nature and a master at tricking others, could easily trick himself. His defense of Baltar could affirm his own cynicism towards human nature, as in he could manipulate the system to get (a partly guilty) Baltar acquitted.

However, that's not the whole story, as Lee so eloquently stated in Baltar's trial, that many in the fleet want to flush their own guilt and shame at surrendering to the Cylons by flushing Baltar out an airlock and justice is not entirely served by either Baltar's guilt or acquittal: it's a messy situation, the kind BSG revels in.

Romo felt guilty about abandoning his family on Caprica, to save himself, and doesn't feel he has much to live for, that humanity isn't worth saving. Killing Lee would be killing hope in a sense, and Romo's own cynicism would make it hard to believe Lee did not have another motive. Lee's commitment to make a difference, despite his own and his culture's past failings, re-affirms hope and the best part of human nature: Romo wants to live, but you need something to live for, a future you can live with. This is one of the best moments for me in the series.
mesa - Tue, Jan 25, 2011 - 11:16pm (USA Central)
"Given that we know Romo's extremely adept at psychological manipulation, I was under the assumption that the gun-pointing and the story of Romo's family were just an elaborate trick to force the reluctant Lee into realising his own leadership skills.

That's how I interpreted it anyway."

I agree completely. The cat was alive right before he left the room. It's much more in character for Romo to use that gun toting test to make sure Lee would run the "gang" well. I'm only up to this episode so I don't know how everything turns out or if we even see Romo again, but I never, for one second, doubted that Romo wasn't using his emotional manipulation.
Nick P. - Fri, Jul 29, 2011 - 8:57am (USA Central)
I completely agree with Ryan and Mesa on Romo using manipulation. I think he as much as telegraphed it at the end of the scene. Plus, if he was genuinely trying to kill Lee, why wasn't he in jail at the end of the episode as opposed to shaking Lee's hand. That being said, I also think the cat thing and the story of his family is genuine. he is just using it to ellicit a response from Lee. And Lee figured that out also.

Maybe I am giving the writers more credit than they deserve, in which case the scene was stupid. Very good episode, but "dinner" was far better.
Nic - Sun, Nov 6, 2011 - 9:41pm (USA Central)
First let me say that I relly dig the overall structure. We (the audience) are in the same situation as the fleet in that we don't know what happened to the basestar. So we're much more in their shoes than if the events had been shown chronologically.

Six being pregnant and Tigh and Adama coming to blows seemed way too soap-operaish and over-the-top. It's such a cliché, and I can't imagine two real friends ever acting like that.
Michael - Thu, Dec 1, 2011 - 8:54am (USA Central)
A very good--I'd give it more than 3.5 stars--but very frustrating show.

So, Adama comes down hard on Athena. Funny, because some other people's "visions," which he seemed to accept without any argument, were just as preposterous and costly as Athena's.

I have two major complaints about this episode--

(1) Giving so much airtime to Lampkin. Who is that guy? He came out of nowhere, stuck around for the two episodes depicting Baltar's trial, and then vanished. Why was he resurrected now, other than the fact that he is dark and weird (which, I guess, is in line with B.S.G's overall direction as of late: Weird and surreal).

(2) Now Junior bags the presidency!? And that's supposed to be a choice preferable to keeping Zarek, who DID--in a way--actually get elected? Even Roslin, who tried to steal an election, actually garnered some votes; no-one EVER cast a SINGLE vote for Adama Jr. nor is there any legal basis for his acceding to the office. My problem is that Adama Sr. is perfectly fine with that!! Not only that but then he goes on to personally anoint his successor! (I'm surprised he didn't pick Starbuck instead of Tigh.) He's been hitting Kool Aid a bit too much, I reckon. Forget losing respect and deference for him, the guy's a total asshole. The Fleet is obviously little more than a military junta. It reminds me of present-day Bahrain: A totalitarian monarchy with meaningless elections for limp institutions to give the head honcho's regime a semblance of democracy.

The delicious irony though: Now a cylon is in charge of the Colonial military :D

En passant, I noticed the Six in the slammer being perfectly dolled up with impeccable makeup. I guess prisons ain't what they to be!!
Ryan - Sun, Mar 18, 2012 - 6:30am (USA Central)
This episode finalizes the infuriating character assassination of Adama that's been representative of one of my main gripes with the series since season 3; all my favorite characters being arbitrarily turned into dickheads.

His stepping down was long overdue at this point; he'd become a tyrant, indulging the will of the people when it suited him, and ignoring it otherwise. The worst part is, the same can be said of Roslin. I never especially liked her, but, in the past, I at least respected her for keeping faith in the civilian government and fighting to maintain its integrity. Those days are long gone. Zarek's comments about her and the Admiral ruling by fiat are spot on.

All that aside this was a decent episode. Good but certainly not great, much like all of season 4 up to this point.
Sarah - Tue, May 8, 2012 - 2:33pm (USA Central)
It's a bit late to be jumping into the conversation, but I just saw the series and have been enjoying these reviews as a way to relive it and assimilate it.

I also had the notion, given the calm, "then swear it," that Lampkin said after Lee's speech, that Lampkin was playing him. Both testing him and shaping him--finding out if he would be the right leader and then pushing him into accepting it if he was.

But his emotions seemed genuine, too. In the end I decided that perhaps it was both. I do think that his cat was killed, I do think that he was still talking to its memory. And I do think that he was coming unglued. And I think that he was suspicious of Lee and felt manipulated. As soon as their quest started, everyone in the room I was in said, "Well there's really only one person this can be." It was concluded from the start. Lampkin saw that. And I think he felt used. He felt that he was led, by Lee (consciously or not), down a path where he had no choice but to legitimize Lee's ultimate grab for power and his hidden ambitions. I don't think that Lee has secret unconscious ambitions. But Lampkin did. And I think he was pissed.

If he did crack, it was along those lines. And I think he did. But I also think that at the same time, that cynical, analytical observer of human beings was sitting in the back of his mind and watching it happen. And that part said, "Is what I fear true? Let's find out."

Then once Lee did assuage his fears and calm him down, that analytical part stepped forward to control the situation and push it towards what he wanted.
Nebula Nox - Thu, Jan 17, 2013 - 5:52am (USA Central)
the characters pull too many guns on each other
Clint - Wed, Jun 26, 2013 - 1:25pm (USA Central)
It's hard to see even one show go by without at least one character pointing a gun at another, for drama's sake.

I think many of the commenters here are overthinking Lampkin. For me, it was easy to take what was shown at face value. A man who has been hurt a lot, finally pushed over the edge by his cat being killed.

And was it really killed by others? Or did he just then kill it to trick Lee? Well, Lee says "this cat's been dead for weeks", so I think that pretty much kills any conspiracy theory you guys have about Lampkin murdering his own cat in order to manipulate Lee.

Unless... Suppose Lampkin had TWO cats? And that was merely the DECOY cat? Maybe he intentionlly killed the decoy cat weeks before, just in case he needed a stinking cat carcass in the future? (Because well, you never know!) Maybe, being a student of human nature, he anticipated what would happen, and got a dead cat out of the freezer just before Lee was to take office.

Or maybe it's not even a real cat at all. Maybe it's a cylon cat!

You see what I mean about the conspiracy theories? Just how far down this rabbit hole does a person want to go?

But seriously, why not Cylon animals? Surely it is easier to replicate a dog or a cat than a fully functional humanoid.

Oh, and I liked Lampkin's pistol with 4 barrels. Nice :)
Tloser - Sat, Nov 2, 2013 - 3:01pm (USA Central)
In reply to Nebula: I don't really mind the pulling guns or threats in BSG, because unlike other shows there are actually consequences to these threats. Boomer shoots Adama, Cally shoots Boomer, Athena shoots Natalie, Helo shoots Gaeta in the leg ... We could argue that the perpetrators never received their full comeuppance, but I don't think there are really cheap resets in BSG. As such, I think the threats work for me, because I never know if those crazy writers will actually wack the character. The only other comparable show in terms of how freely they wack characters is MI-5. Like MI-5, BSG is engrossing because there is real danger, i.e. the threats are not just veiled.
And to disagree with another commenter who thought BSG is too soap operatish... I think it works for me because of the setting and the plot. What's great about the basis of the show is that human civilization is near extinct and yet there is a small remnant and semblances of civilization, a gang in Lee's words. This makes it relatable to me as the viewer because of the similarities with human society, and yet I don't feel it's a soap opera because of the sci-fi and more importantly, the end of civilization as we know it setting. The stakes are so high, and the characters have been stressed for so long, that it would be more surprising if things are not out of proportion with normal life.
Tloser - Sat, Nov 2, 2013 - 3:10pm (USA Central)
I've been reading these reviews every time I finished an episode to help me post-process. I can never watch something and not talk about afterwards, and this site provides the virtual debrief. I never properly thanked Jammer, not just for the reviews but also for the fact that he has maintained the website for a Johnny-come-lately to BSG. So thank you Jammer for voluntarily imparting your skill and wisdom, and sharing your great insights. I hope you still check the comments and realize that fruits are still being born from your labor of love.
D. Albert - Wed, Jul 23, 2014 - 11:46pm (USA Central)
Good episode and good review.

Lampkin: Maybe just another manipulation. Maybe all the cool cynicism just a cover for twisted guilt. Most likely a combo of both. The greatest cynics were once idealists, for if you cannot understand the subjective, you cannot never move beyond it to the objective.

Saul: Looks like the Final Five are very different than the other Cylons.

Submit a comment

Above, type the last name of the captain on Star Trek: TNG
Notify me about new comments on this page
Hide my e-mail on my post

Season Index

Copyright © 1994-2014, Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved. Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of any review or article on this site is prohibited. Star Trek (in all its myriad forms), Battlestar Galactica, and Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda are trademarks of CBS Studios Inc., NBC Universal, and Tribune Entertainment, respectively. This site is in no way affiliated with or authorized by any of those companies. | Copyright & Disclaimer