Pervasive grief permeates every frame of Battlestar Galactica’s latest, “The Son Also Rises.” In the wake of the death of Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff, glimpsed only in the previously ons and still photographs), characters’ relationships frayed, the major members of the cast all mourned in their own ways, and preparations continued apace for the trial of Baltar (James Callis). “Son” was a good example of Battlestar blending what it does well (examining the human costs of prolonged war) while advancing the plot forward by tiny increments (in preparation for a season finale reported to change everything—as these things tend to do—by those who’ve seen it). It also introduced a mesmerizing new character, attorney Romo Lampkin, played by Mark A. Sheppard. Lampkin was something of a sleazy lawyer stereotype (down to the dark glasses obscuring his eyes), but Sheppard made his ability to play everyone in the fleet and turn Apollo (Jamie Bamber) against his father, Admiral Adama (Edward James Olmos)—thanks to the two grieving in different manners—fascinating to watch (right down to the petty thievery).
The episode proper, written by Michael Angeli and directed by Robert Young, mostly dealt with the build-up to Baltar’s trial, a storyline introduced early in the second half of Galactica’s third season and then mostly played in the background. It would turn up in a few scenes in each episode, and nothing would really happen to advance the storyline, leaving fans frustrated. Baltar also found the time to write a book and become a folk hero (the former was inspired; the latter dubious) while the preparations continued. Finally, though, the trial seems imminent, as a five-member tribunal is being chosen to judge the ultimate fate of Baltar—and it appears Adama will sit on it. The opening sequence gracefully cut between Adama weeping for Starbuck (and going through his files on her) and the selection of the judges for the tribunal. Adama was involved in both, and the editing (and the score, which quoted several of the themes linked with Starbuck) linked the life-and-death situations in both storylines—Starbuck’s untimely end tied to what seems to be (right now) a likely death sentence for Baltar, fate taking its course.
The episode mostly focused on Apollo, who followed his only recently established interest in the law (based on his grandfather, a famous defense lawyer, known for taking the side of accused murderers) into providing security for Lampkin, then halfheartedly helping him defend Baltar, then diving fully into trial preparation. It was easy to worry that the show would suddenly make Apollo a legal expert to let regulars play prominent roles in the trial, but it seems he’ll only be a glorified paralegal, which makes a little more sense (though one can’t imagine him not having some sort of impassioned speech during the trial itself). Apollo and his father have always had a strained relationship (Adama preferred Apollo’s long-dead brother—and Starbuck’s once fiance—Zack), but the course of the series has healed a lot of old wounds, and when the show tries to play them as at each other’s throats, it can feel forced. “Son” managed to make the old anger seething up again seem natural, simply because the death of Starbuck had so destroyed both men (she had been a surrogate daughter to Adama and Apollo’s onetime lover).
Apollo’s evolution from disinterested security personnel to active participant in Baltar’s defense also made sense because it didn’t try to play Apollo having a sudden revelation that Baltar was innocent or something. His curiosity about legal proceedings in combination with his desire to push his father’s buttons and his wishes for a fair trial (to better serve justice and the law itself) all made his decision one that wasn’t hard to believe. One could make the argument that it was a bit preposterous (the law love having come on late in the character’s development), but Bamber and the script and direction made it work.
It helped that Lampkin was such an appealingly slimy character. In just one episode, Lampkin played scenes with nearly every series regular (missing only Grace Park’s Athena), convincing Adama and Roslin (Mary McDonnell) he was the right man for the job, using a stolen pen and his words to talk Caprica Six (Tricia Helfer) into loving Baltar again and colluding with Baltar and Apollo. The slimy lawyer who has a heart of gold is an old TV writers’ tic (without it, David E. Kelley wouldn’t have a career), but Galactica and Sheppard weren’t afraid to make Lampkin a bastard who does whatever is necessary to get what he wants. Even with a humanizing character quirk (borderline kleptomania) he’s practically a jackass. Glaring over his dark sunglasses and toting his cat around, Lampkin is an appealing figure in the Galactica universe—an opportunist who only wants what will bring fortune and glory to himself (a role previously occupied at times by Richard Hatch’s Tom Zarek).
Lampkin needed all of his wits because someone was trying to kill him. The other major plot of the episode dealt with trying to find a terrorist/assassin bent on killing Baltar’s defender. The fleet’s hatred of Baltar has been well-portrayed and is completely understandable after the New Caprica debacle. The sudden love of Baltar based entirely on his writings has been less believable, but that particular plot thread seems to have been toned down (although we didn’t get to see much among the working classes in this episode). Nonetheless, the attempts to kill Baltar’s lawyers (successful on the first attorney, necessitating Lampkin) made sense in the context of the show (unless the killer was gunning for the fleet’s one integrated Cylon—Athena). What made less sense was the rationale given by the killer when he was caught (hangar staffer Kelly, played by Ty Olsson). He described his actions as a psychological reaction to sending ships and pilots out to imminent death every day, then almost blithely said he would continue to kill unless he was locked up. Certainly battle can destroy psychologies, but these actions and this rationale came out of nowhere. Better (and more believable in the show’s universe) to just say that he had been taking aim at Baltar’s lawyers, perhaps.
But the episode was grounded in the grief felt by all of the characters over the death of Starbuck (and the episode seemed designed to drive home that she really, actually was gone—Internet theories and wishes aside—though all of that reinforcement could be crafty misdirection). The whiteboard on Roslin’s ship (the one that keeps a running tally of the number of survivors) was down by one in its count, and Adama’s weeping felt completely of a piece with the tone. Starbuck’s widower, Anders (Michael Trucco), drank himself into a stupor, eventually breaking his leg in a fall from a ship that could have gone much, much worse. And Apollo, the heart of the show and now, in many ways with Starbuck’s death, the series, pinned a photo of his deceased friend to the wall of the dead. Lots of shows that kill off regular characters devote an episode to grieving time for the characters and fans, but Galactica mixed that in with a tale of life among an increasingly raw and emotional collection of individuals. Even when it seems like it shouldn’t, life continues, and we have to funnel our passions into something, as everyone on board the Galactica is finding out.