Two weeks ago, Battlestar Galactica ended with two mid-size cliffhangers when a Cylon hybrid ordered a jump, effectively abducting Laura Roslin, the president of the 12 Colonies.
Gaius Baltar, Karl Agathon and a significant number of pilots disappeared with her.
Simultaneously, we saw Athena shoot Natalie, the leader of the Cylon rebels, after having yet another vision of Six taking her daughter.
Neither of these two storylines get a resolution in the new episode. The crew on the base ship is absent throughout and Athena’s crime is addressed in a single excellent scene with Bill Adama and in the fact that she gets thrown in the brig.
Sine Qua Non, however, does a brilliant job of tying these two and a couple of other threads into an amazing whole nonetheless. The episode is probably the most sublime exercise in thematic resonance that television has seen in recent years, as well as in pushing the story miles forward through character moments alone.
An awful lot happens in the 40 minutes we are given – the Colonials look for the Base Ship, Roslin is replaced by an interim president in her absence, the fleet changes hands, and there are a couple of character confrontations that have been in the making for at least the last few episodes.
Beyond that, Sine Qua Non also finds the time to explore and challenge political ideals, different shades of ambition, manipulation, grief, hope and, most importantly, as Romo Lampkin (Mark Sheppard) puts it, “things without which we cannot bear living” (a loose translation of the episode’s title).
In spite of delivering several huge story leaps – new president, new fleet commander, new pregnancy – the episode very much feels like a character piece first and foremost, as it is almost entirely built on personal and political confrontations: Athena and Bill Adama, Adama and Zarek, Tigh and Six, Tigh and Bill Adama and finally Lampkin and Lee Adama.
None of the major characters are pampered: Bill Adama puts the fleet at risk to find Roslin, we see Lee talking Zarek into stepping down as president for practical reasons when he knows there’s no good candidate to replace him, Lampkin takes extreme measures to test Lee and, even in her absence, Roslin gets tagged as a “study in hidden ambition,” who had kept Zarek as her vice-president for no other reason than to “legitimize her coup.”
The sine qua non theme is quietly present throughout the episode: Athena shooting Six to stop her from taking her child, Adama sending all the remaining pilots on a hopeless search mission to find Laura, Tigh going back to Six because she reminds him of his dead wife and, in a surprise twist, Lampkin conversing with the ghost of his cat because that’s all he has left from his wife. The structure of the episode and the way it entwines some of the central issues and character arcs of Galactica isn’t just good storytelling: it’s poetry.
Not only does all this happen in the space of 40 minutes, but it also leaves enough time to pick up the pieces and restore the characters to their proper place: for Bill Adama, it’s making the only right choice; for Lee, it’s assuming his proper place in the fleet; for Lampkin, it’s rediscovering hope; for Athena, it’s being reunited with her daughter; for Zarek, it’s choosing the welfare of the Colonials over his principles.
To conclude, Sine Qua Non is probably the most subtly gripping episode of Galactica to date, even if it has had some serious competition in the “gripping” department this season (Faith comes to mind). It is television at its very best.
The episode airs on Friday at 10 on Sci Fi, but you can catch the premiere earlier in the day on SciFi.com.
Here is the preview: