LadyGhosts of TV Past

Ladyghosts: Battlestar Galactica 1.05 “Act of Contrition”

Previously on BSG: Starbuck confesses to Apollo that Zac had failed basic flight, Helo and Boomer detect a signal on Caprica, and President Roslin has cancer. Hang on to your hats!

In the present, Starbuck, strapped into her Viper, is falling through an atmosphere in a dead spin.

In another time and place, a swarm of happy pilots are celebrating one of their own’s 1000th landing on the Galactica flight deck, dizzy, laughing, unknowing.

As Starbuck, Apollo, and Adama bond happily in the gangway on their way to join the party, the score moves from festive to ominous, and the camera lingers on a crate of weapons being loaded onto a ship. Sure enough, a drone accidentally fires and wipes out the cavorting pilots.

The theme music swells, and the anticipation tightens in my chest. I love this show.

In the present, Starbuck’s Viper falls, and falls, and the altitude meter spins madly.

Thirteen pilots were killed in the drone accident, which rattles the Chief, who has never lost a man on his deck before. He’ll never be able to feel that surety, that safety, again. Apollo debriefs the remaining pilots but has no words to make things better. Adama arrives, and Starbuck has a flashback to the first time they met – after Zac Adama’s death. Adama’s son, Starbuck’s love. This new tragedy is not the first time they have had to steel each other to overcome their grief.

If it hasn’t already become evident by season one, episode four, Adama is a master of the understated rousing speech. He tells the remaining pilots that the rest of the civilian fleet is counting on them (but imagine it conveyed more eloquently than the typed word can convey, and with Edward James Olmos’s trademark stone face). At the death services for the pilots lost, Apollo and Starbuck both recall Zac’s funeral, the heartbreak of losing a brother, a partner, a friend in his prime. The hatch closes quietly on the rows upon rows of coffins.

Later, Adama presses Starbuck to begin training new pilots. She tries to decline, her heart crying out against the very idea, her secret writhing inside her like a nest of snakes. She trained Zac, he trusted her, she had his life and his safety and the safety of others in her hands, and she let it slip through her fingers. She remembers telling his brother what she did, her eyes begging for forgiveness, her face betraying that none will be expected or deserved.

Adama guesses that her turmoil has something to do with Zac, but he has the sense of it wrong, and his impressing on her of her “professionalism” only salts the wound. She acquiesces and then flees.

In the present, Starbuck cries out as the Viper falls, and falls, and falls.

A tense card game unfolds as the crew tries to enjoy their down time, tries to pretend for a moment that the world outside their quarters isn’t real and this is all normal. Baltar and Gaeta are working on a Cylon detector; Boomer listens with interest. Starbuck, trying to lose herself in the game, is instead lost in memories of Zac, his touch, his face, his hands. In her memories, she tells him she won’t pass him unless he has the chops. She runs over that moment again and again in her mind. Why wasn’t she strong enough to tell him the truth? She flees again, but the memories follow her down the corridors.

On miserable Caprica, Helo and Boomer follow the signal they detected, that beacon of hope, a sign of life, to a diner, and within discover a concealed flight of stairs down to an underground radiation shelter. They whoop with delight as they find food and medical supplies. Upstairs, a Six walks down the street and pauses, hand on the glass, outside the restaurant. She turns her perfect face away and continues on her way, unemotionally surveying the destruction they have wrought.

Roslin is getting berated by Dr. Cottle for leaving it too late to be checked for breast cancer. Roslin, who watched her mother die after so many painful treatments, understands the scolding but could not have brought herself to discover the truth any earlier. She refuses the standard medical regimen and instead requests an alternative treatment – chamalla extract. Cottle grumps and grouses but agrees to source some, if it can be found.

Starbuck is unhappy with her new clutch of potential pilots, some of whom will become familiar faces as the show unfolds. One is already somewhat familiar – Hotdog, the Colonial Fleet washout given a second chance, is played by Bodie Olmos, the son of our very own Edward James Olmos. The similarity in their faces can certainly be seen if you look for it. Starbuck tells her “nuggets” that since they have no simulators, they’ll be in the cockpits as of today.

The first training session goes about as well as can be expected. Starbuck, terrified, seeing it all happen again before her eyes, flunks them all before they can hurt themselves, kill themselves, or worse. She can’t accept anything less. Apollo attempts to reason with her and realises that the source of her anxiety is Zac. He is always between them, through the good times and the bad, filling the space. They couldn’t forget him, even if they wanted to.

In the present, Starbuck pulls the eject lever and disappears out of the roof of her Viper before plummeting after it. She falls and falls.

Apollo appeals to Adama. The son who disappointed him, arguing against the daughter who never could. Adama backs Starbuck, even though he knows he has put her in a painful position. He doesn’t know the full truth about Zac, about what she did. Through various miscommunications and misunderstandings, Apollo finally says too much, and Adama realises that he might be missing the key to the unfolding disaster.

Starbuck is still lost in her memories of Zac. He tells her again and again that he doesn’t want special treatment. She smiles brightly and tells him he passed, while part of her screams and struggles and hides in her eyes. She doesn’t want to be the one who crushes his dreams.

Adama confronts Starbuck, who is close to breaking point anyway. The tears finally reach the surface, and she confesses. The secret worms its way out of her and she is free of it – but not free of the trademark stone face. Adama gives her no quarter, no relief. He tells her to reinstate the trainees and to leave his room.

In the present, Starbuck, in her flight suit, tumbles through an atmosphere of fire.

Starbuck walks stiffly into the nuggets’ quarters, and gives them their second chance. They’re ecstatic. They know nothing. Training goes much more promisingly the second time. The writers misstep for the first time this episode and quickly try to work in a message about sticking with your leader and never wanting to be out in the black alone. I wonder if that will become relevant in the last five minutes of the episode?


Cylons attack! Eight Raiders suddenly appear, bearing down on Starbuck and the novice pilots. She immediately starts herding them back to Galactica, like a mother duck and her ducklings. Eventually, like any mother would, she turns around to face the eight on her own and cover their retreat. She won’t let it happen again. No one else will die because they weren’t ready to fly.

Suddenly, Hotdog turns back. Never leave your leader, and you never want to be out here alone. Between them, they cull the Raiders down to a lone enemy before Hotdog is hit. Starbuck wheels him out of the fight and takes the last one down on her own, and at the same time disappears from the radar. The crew on Galactica try to understand what that means, the winking out of that little light.

The last Raider, out of control, hurtles into Starbuck and sends her Viper into a fiery dead spin above the planet lurking below. It spins and falls, and she cries out, ejects, and falls and falls and falls through the burning atmosphere.

You never want to be out here alone.

Join us later this week for part two of this episode, “You Can’t Go Home Again,” and watch this space next week for CherriSpryte’s take on “Litmus.”

One reply on “Ladyghosts: Battlestar Galactica 1.05 “Act of Contrition””

I fell head over heels for her in the miniseries, but this episode is what turned it into lifelong, eternal love – the deconstruction of the persona of Starbuck, and the roiling mass of pain and other feelings that is Kara Thrace behind that facade.

Oh, and that screencap with Lee. I just LOVE how they continually invade each other’s personal space, often unconsciously. And I love them. *sigh*

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