BSG Rewatch: 1.3-1.5

9 Oct


A rioting prison-ship led by a convicted terrorist. A rogue missile in the hangar bay. A dust-bound planet with a toxic atmosphere. Not to mention their own demons. As BSG Season 1 hits its stride, there’s a hell of a lot more for our heroes to worry about than just killer robots. In three excellent episodes, Bastille Day and the two-parter, Act of Contrition and You Can’t Go Home Again, the show maintains the thrilling mix of tight plotting and character work that made its opening installments so engaging.

Bastille Day


In this post-Homeland world, it’s hard to remember that few TV shows (or movies, for that matter) back in 2005 were even touching on 9/11 and the Iraq war. BSG, however, is saturated with relevant themes, and although we saw glimpses of this before (most notably in the Mini, with its focus on the necessity of hope after a devastating attack), in Bastille Day we get the most explicit references yet.

To refresh your memory, the episode picks up on the water crisis caused by sleeper-agent Boomer in Water. With the fleet running dangerously low on supplies, the only solution is to mine ice from a frozen planet. This will require manpower, so it is suggested that the prisoners on board the Astral Queen transporter should be asked to help. However, the offer is rejected under the orders of the most prominent and influential convict: Tom Zarek, a Sagittaron freedom fighter to some, and dangerous terrorist to others. Zarek leads a take-over of the ship and demands that President Roslin step down, allowing for a fair election across the fleet.

The inclusion of the prisoners in the fleet is a stroke of genius, prompting a whole host of ethical questions from the outset of the episode. Roslin is careful to insist that the prisoners must volunteer for their duties, as they are not slaves; nevertheless, they are put forward for this dangerous task precisely because they broke the laws of planets and governments that are now wiped out. Conditions on the Astral Queen look primitive and the men have been living in cells made for temporary transit for weeks. But the show doesn’t present these men as only objects for sympathy – when one tries to attack Cally, it reminds us that there are true criminals amongst them.

This refusal to present an easy distinction between good and bad is epitomised by Zarek. Whilst his crime, bombing a government building, is reprehensible, some characters admire his politics – such as Lee, who here begins his four-season love affair with democracy. As an audience, we are therefore torn. Lee’s faith in the continuity of Colonial law seems noble-hearted, and it’s hard to disagree with the notion that there should be some sort of fair election. On the other hand, we’ve spent the last few episodes rooting for Roslin to succeed, and it’s unsettling to think she may lose power just as she’s starting to get a handle on it. When Roslin declares she does not ‘negotiate with terrorists’, the real-world echo lends her strength. And yet, it is Lee who makes the final decision, giving Zarek a legitimacy he would never have had pre-attack. The political sands of the new era are ever-shifting, and the writing team do a good job of suggesting how fragile control really is.

Rewatching this episode made me ponder how likely it is that someone would cling so doggedly to their anarchist politics in an apocalyptic situation – Zarek really does go all out in an attempt to destabilise the government, which is pretty foolhardy considering there are only a handful of humans left to influence. But then again, perhaps that is the perfect opportunity for a megalomaniac. Richard Hatch, previously known as Apollo in the original series, plays Zarek brilliantly – he’s got quiet strength and a bucket-load of charisma that make him a plausible revolutionary.

Bonus: Jodie, Visaly and I all cheered at the references to Zeus and Apollo. It’s the series’ first real link between Colonial (Kobolian?) and Greek mythology, which warmed our Classicist hearts.

Act of Contrition/YCGHA


Kara has a small role to play in Bastille Day, busting into the Astral Queen to save Lee’s backside with her sharp-shooting skills. But in this two-parter, she comes to the fore, and her relationship with the Adamas is put to the test.

In the Mini, we learned that Kara was in a relationship with Adama’s son (and Lee’s brother), Zak, and was ultimately responsible for his death because she allowed him to pass flight school before he was ready. We knew that Zak’s death had caused serious tension between Lee and his father, with Lee blaming Bill for his insistence on both sons become Viper pilots. Kara, in an attempt to cleanse her soul, confessed her secret to Lee just before she went into battle.

In Act of Contrition, this is dredged up again by the death of a large number of Viper pilots in a freak accident. With a desperate need for more trained fighters, Kara (an experienced instructor) is nominated to lead the classes. However, due to her past with Zak, she treats the ‘nuggets’ too harshly. In discussion with Bill, Lee lets slip that she may be letting her guilt control her. This leads Adam to confront the woman he considers a surrogate daughter. Kara admits the truth. Overcome, she acts recklessly in battle and ends up stranded on a barren planet. With only a short time before her oxygen runs out, Bill must decide whether to put the fleet in danger to save her…

Act of Contrition is told in a disjointed way. It opens with Kara’s panicked descent to the planet, then jumps back to the happy morning before the accident in the hangar bay. This technique would come to be used again in future seasons, and it could be seen as a lazy way of building suspense. However, here it works fairly well in symbolising Kara’s fairly swift downward spiral. The narrative is also peppered with important flashbacks to the past on Caprica, both before and after Zak’s death. The familial relationship between Bill and Kara is one of the show’s most complex and interesting ones, and the scenes of their first meeting and Zak’s funeral flesh out what we’ve already observed between them. Like Lee’s democracy arc, this is a storyline with a gratifyingly long payoff.


Something else I really like about this two-parter is the way Kara steps up to the plate. It is easy to be told that a character is a hotshot and a badass, but here we see her grit and talent pull her through. Although the Adamas are ready to sacrifice everything for her, ultimately she saves herself. Starbuck has many flaws, but she is also allowed to be a hero.

Both of these episodes, and Bastille Day to some extent, share a theme – a conflict Tigh brings up when Kara attempts to rebuild their relationship: ‘My flaws are personal. Yours are professional’. The Adamas are willing to risk the security of the fleet to save the woman they love (or their last link to Zak, which is what Lee is telling himself to avoid the obvious). Kara allows her role as instructor to suffer because of her love for Zak and, later, because of her inability to get over that. Then we have the Helo subplot, in which Caprica!Sharon continues to lure Karl out of his sensible soldier-mode – nicely contrasted with her counterpart, Boomer, who is ordered to stop her affair with the Chief. Again, the complexities of the post-apocalyptic situation are explored as the lines of the old civilisation are blurred.

Act of Contrition features one of the show’s best pieces of music, ‘Two Funerals‘, which was actually used as the opening theme in the US for the duration of Season One. I’ve also heard it in a couple of movie trailers, so keep an ear out for it!

By the way, I’m pretty sure Boxey’s last appearance was in these episodes. He was a completely redundant character, but anyway – alas, poor Boxey! Consigned to the reboot dustbin.

See you soon for more BSG Rewatching! With thanks to Jodie, Visaly and



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