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Revisiting ‘Battlestar Galactica’: ‘Act of Contrition’ And ‘You Can’t Go Home Again’


This is the fourth in a series of “Battlestar Galactica” recaps. This year marks the 15th anniversary of the franchise. Read the last piece, “Revising Battlestar Galactica: ‘Water’ And ‘Bastille Day,’” here

Spoilers ahead.

“Battlestar Galactica” often draws upon history; the crisis in these episodes is set in motion by a fluke tragedy similar to the 1967 fire aboard the USS Forrestal (future Sen. John McCain being one of the survivors).

But what most distinguishes these episodes is the acting. Katee Sackhoff, relatively unknown at the time, more than holds her own against the multiple award-winning Edward James Olmos. And Olmos gets his own showcase as a man whose emotional turmoil seems even more dangerous when it is contained than when it boils over.

There are also two gut-punching reaction shots — from Mary McDonnell when Roslin consults a new doctor, and Jamie Bamber when Adama levels with Apollo. Michael Hogan even gets a subtly effective moment as Tigh when he plays the climax without the joy shown by the rest of the crew.

‘Act Of Contrition’

The new crisis is a simple one, told through flashbacks. Each segment begins with Starbuck in her Viper, crash diving through an atmosphere that seems like a sandstorm, ultimately using her ejector seat to escape. Between these snippets, we learn how she got there.

Starbuck and Apollo help prepare for a party on the hangar deck to celebrate a pilot’s 1,000th landing. Before they reach the deck, a missile accidently breaks loose from a storage rack, shoots across the hangar and explodes, killing thirteen people and injuring seven.

During the funeral, Apollo, Starbuck and Cdr. Adama flash back to the death and funeral of Zak Adama. Starbuck recalls her first meeting with Cdr. Adama, who surmised she and Zak were a couple. She is also haunted by memories of being in bed with Zak, assuring him he barely earned his passing grades in flight training (though she confessed to Apollo in the mini-series that she should have flunked Zak).

After the memorial service, Adama asks Starbuck to train replacement pilots. She resists, but Adama — intuiting the root of her reluctance — wrongly assures her that she was blameless in Zak’s death. Starbuck, unwilling to come clean to Adama, accepts the assignment.

However, Starbuck is ruthless with the new recruits (“nuggets”), before and during their first training flight. She washes out the entire class, even after Apollo objects and suggests her emotions are overriding her judgment.

Apollo takes the matter to his father. Adama says that he discussed Zak’s death with Starbuck, which causes Apollo to say a bit too much regarding Starbuck’s guilty feelings — but he refuses to discuss the matter further.

Adama then confronts Starbuck about the entire situation. A tearful Starbuck eventually confesses that she should have had Zak washed out of flight school. Adama, barely containing himself, orders her to do her job and to “walk out of his cabin while [she] still can.”

Starbuck reinstates the nuggets and takes them on a second training flight. Listening in from the CIC, even Col. Tigh notices her professionalism, while Apollo gauges Adama’s reaction.

Cylon Raiders jump into space near the fleet. Starbuck orders the nuggets back to Galactica and engages the eight enemy ships herself.

The dogfight ends when she shoots the last Cylon in its “head,” but the Raider collides with her Viper. Both ships tumble into the atmosphere of a nearby moon, leading to Starbuck’s current state of emergency.

Outside the main plot, Pres. Roslin meets Dr. Sherman Cottle (Donnelly Rhodes), who not only smokes, but refuses to extinguish his cigarette while discussing Roslin’s breast cancer. She states that she would like to forego the usual (presumably chemotherapeutic) treatment in favor of chamalla extract. Cottle is skeptical, but agrees — and recommends prayer.

And on Cylon-occupied Caprica, Helo and the Boomer copy locate the colonial signal they have been tracking. They find a fully-stocked fallout shelter in a restaurant’s basement. When Helo wonders at their luck, Boomer changes the subject, as a Six lurks outside the diner.

‘You Can’t Go Home Again’

Adama, Apollo and the Galactica crew launch a search and rescue operation for Starbuck. They have roughly 26 hours before Starbuck’s oxygen supply is consumed.

Starbuck is jolted awake as her parachute drags her across the moon’s rocky terrain. In the course of freeing herself, she injures her knee and repairs the leg of her space suit with duct tape (the usefulness of which spans time and space).

Roslin offers civilian aid. When Adama says “Frak the odds, we’re going to find her,” both she and Baltar (and Six, in Baltar’s mind) wonder how far Adama will go, given the Cylons will eventually realize realize their scouting party did not return.

Starbuck, limping her way to higher ground in hopes of being seen, finds the Cylon Raider she downed. She discovers the Raider is not merely a ship, but another type of Cylon, with an organic interior. Starbuck cuts her way inside, removes the Raider’s “brain,” and begins figuring out its oxygen supply and flight controls.

Adama and Apollo commit more resources to the search, including the combat patrol ships. Adama explodes at Tigh’s suggestion to scale back the effort and ultimately relieves him from duty. Apollo fends off questioning in a radio call from Roslin.

Roslin arrives on Galactica to confront Adama and Apollo; Tigh informs her that the backstory of Zak’s death may be clouding their judgment. Roslin scolds them, recognizing that saving a pilot is a military decision, but reminding them that their decisions are endangering the rest of the human race.

Adama reluctantly orders the end of the search and reinstates Tigh. When Apollo asks whether the same effort would have been made for him, Adama replies, “If it were you, we would never leave.”

As Galactica prepares for its FTL jump, Starbuck’s Cylon Raider appears on the ship’s radar (DRADIS). Apollo intercepts the supposed enemy, who outflies him and reveals “STAR BUCK” marked on the ship’s undercarriage with duct tape.

Back aboard Galactica, Adama and Starbuck have a happy reunion in the sick bay, where he gives her his last cigar.

Meanwhile, on Caprica, Helo and “Boomer” are discovered in the diner by Cylon Centurions. In the ensuing gunfight, Helo is knocked unconscious. When he awakens, Boomer is missing.