RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Battlestar Galactica (1978): “Murder on the Rising Star” (Story 12)

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A lot of people decry this episode as one of the weaker ones, but it’s also the one I’ve probably seen least from the series. In fact, I never saw it in its uncut entirety until I got the DVD set. Weak it may be, but it’s a whole lot better than “The Long Patrol” or “The Magnificent Warriors.” I’m up in the air about “The Young Lords.” That was pretty terrible all around, but the eye-popping production values make up for it.

Anyway:

PLAY BY PLAY:

Adama talks to his journal about how they’re still following the course set by “Our mysterious super-race” and that they’re coming across more and more signs that Earth must be near, though he deigns to list examples. They don’t know when they’ll find it, but they think it’ll be soon. He mentions that when they find earth, they’ll sit tight and watch it for a while, figure out a way to approach them without sending ‘em into culture shock (There’s your Galactica 1980 premise right there) and wonders if earth will be superior to the colonies, or in savagery.

Meanwhile, over on the Rising Star, Starbuck and Apollo have put on their battle-action brassieres and manly combat panties, and are jumping around sweating a lot with a similarly homoerotic duo. They’re playing a game of Triad, and it’s pretty heated (if you’re a chick, or gay), pretty humiliating (If you’re one of the actors. All of ‘em had horrible things to say about these scenes). Starbuck and some guy named “Ortega” get into it, rolling around on the ground, straddling each other, getting into a catfight. I wish I was joking about that, but I’m really not. There’s not a clean punch thrown here, it’s all Disco-Roman wrestling.

Both Starbuck and Ortega are thrown out of the game, and Starbuck publicly says “I’m gonna’ kill him!” before storming off. Of course the two of them nearly get into another fight in the hall, getting all up in each other’s grills, talking smack, trying to look tough. Of course the granny panties and training bras undercut some of the menace, but, you know, the hate is there, so that’s what counts, I guess. Cassiopeia (Who’s not at all masculine) is far and away the butchest one around, so she breaks up the fight, and tells Starbuck she’ll be waiting for him in the departure lounge. He goes to change.

A guy named “Chella” bumps into Starbuck running down the hallway, then turns a corner and finds Ortega dead. In the departure lounge, Starubuck seems pretty frazzled and hurried when he finds out the shuttle is delayed.

Security investigates the murder, and quickly arrests Starbuck as the prime suspect. He insists on his innocence. Apollo, rather randomly, agrees to defend Starbuck in court, since he took that open university law course that one time…Starbuck is understandably not thrilled, but agrees to it if Apollo will put on some damn pants. He’s still wandering around the ship in his sister’s underwear, just ‘cuz he likes it, I guess.

Apollo and Boomer sleuth their way around the fleet looking for clues. Ortega’s wingman/Triad partner mentioned that Ortega said there was only one person in the fleet to kill him, “Karibdis” (Spelled just like that). Adama mentions that Karibdis was the code name for “Proteus,” who was one of Baltar’s technical officers back in the day. Proteus shut off the defense systems over Caprica the night of the invasion, causing the death of at least a million people personally. He was thought dead, but apparently he’s hiding out in the fleet.

Starbuck breaks out of the brig and makes a run for it, but Apollo talks him down. He goes back to his cell.

Baltar offers to help in exchange for his freedom, but Apollo refuses. They go to talk to Chella on the Rising Star, where it quickly turns out he was a dishonest dealer at the card tables, making sure Ortega won. In a flashback, he reveals how he’s really the mayor of Rifkis, who got panicked and ran the night of the attack. Ortega wouldn’t let him on the Rising Star when it was taking survivors, but he bribed his way past. Two other people did likewise. Starbuck and Boomer pick up all three of these guys, convinced one of them is the killer.

Of course time is running out , both for the trial and the episode (And the series, really) so rather than do things in logical fashion, Apollo decides to do things in a convoluted, dangerous manner. He tells all three suspects about Karibdis, saying Baltar’s going to ID the guy, then claims arresting them was a mistake. He lets them off on the Galactica, claiming he’s going to pick up Baltar for the trial, but knowing the real killer will sneak back aboard and try to kill them both. He tells Boomer to go stall the court.

Predictably, Karibdis is on board, and does exactly as planned once Baltar is also on the shuttle. Baltar is forces to act to save Apollo’s life, and his own. Meanwhile, Boomer has the court listen to the kerfluffle on the radio. Starbuck is cleared, and better yet: Ortega is still dead. Nobody liked that guy. To celebrate, Starbuck and Apollo again don their gaily-colored battle panties and combat-training bras and march into the triad court, just as out and proud as you like. They get a standing ovation. They exchange meaningful glances. They cuddle, and cut. Print. Now let’s never speak of this again.

OBSERVATIONS

This is really only the third episode to really tell us a bit about life in the fleet. We get a bit of world-building and trace amounts of backstory as well.

Colonial justice moves quickly. The law states very clearly that a trial must be held within ten hours of a murder. Evidently the colonies don’t have a death penalty, since they mention Starbuck is looking at life in the prison barge. Baltar is also a prison barge lifer, and if there was ever someone who’d qualify for the death penalty, it’s him.

The court system is a tribunal, as per the French revolution: no jury, three judges. “It cuts through the deadwood” as Patrick McGoohan once said. Prosecution and Defense are pretty much what you’d expect in a normal lawyer show. Curiously, all three of the tribunes are wearing military uniforms. This raises the question of whether or not this is a civil court or a military one. I’m thinking it’s military, since both involved were active duty warriors. If so, that’d make sense of the choice of judges. If that’s *not* the case, then it says distressing things about the state of Colonial justice.

Here’s an interesting observations: One of the Tribunes is “Commander Kronos” (Paul Fix), who won’t actually be introduced until “Take the Celestra,” four episodes from now! He doesn’t get any lines, of course, but it’s unquestionably him. I have a theory as to why they threw him in here, but I won’t bore you with that now. So who’s the third Commader? We’ve got Adama, Kronos, and some third guy. Who is he? There’s another senior military officer in the fleet that we’ve never heard from before or since.

Paul Fix, of course, played Dr. Piper in the second Star Trek pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” Prosecutor Solon is played by Brock Peters, who played Admiral Cartwright in Star Trek 4 and 6. Solon is oddly willing to let Starbuck off easy: He basically says “Say this was self-defense, and I’ll look the other way.” Starbuck refuses virtuously. Later, Solon openly questions Adama’s impartiality. He may have good reason. While Adama is clearly going to follow the law meticulously, he covers up Starbucks’ escape attempt.

Dr. Wilker turns up, his third appearance. He’s running a sort of ballistics check on Starbuck’s weapon which proves it’s the one who killed Ortega. It’s kind of clever: Each weapon drains a slightly different amount of energy each time it’s fired. By measuring the amount of energy used to kill Ortega, and the amount missing from Starbuck’s battery, he can tell it was the gun that killed him. Also: Laser Pistols have some kind of gauge on ‘em that tells if they’ve been fired recently.

The flashbacks to the Cylon attack on the colonies are a little confusing. They show ships like the Gemini Freighter and the Rising Star were evacuating people *during* the attack, when in fact the evacuation didn’t start until the Galactica showed up and organized it, possibly as much as several days later. I suppose it’s possible that a couple ships might have slipped away early on their own, then met up with the fleet as it formed, but Serina - Jane Seymour - was on the Rising Star in the fleet, and yet she’s in the crowd talking to Apollo when he first lands right after the attack. Clearly we need to write this one up to a continuity error. Another less critical one is when Cassie mentions that Ortega and Starbuck have been rivals all the way back to the academy. She says it like she’s known them that long, though of course she didn’t. This one’s not irreconcilable, of course - she’s hanging out with the pilots and sleeping with Starbuck, so she could have heard the story - but it’s delivered oddly.

Speaking of sex:

Cassie: “After a game like this, Starbuck’s whole body ends up black and blue.”
Athena: “Really?”
Cassie: [Slightly embarrassed] “Well…as a med tech I’m usually the one who ends up patching him up again.”
Sheba: [Tauntingly] “Oh, reallllly?”
Cassie: [Embarased/amused] “Shee-bah!”

Evidently the whole Athena/Starbuck/Cassie triangle has been resolved, and Athena appears to hold no hard feelings. I dunno. For some reason I don’t like that. The girl in the first four episodes had a bit more fire in her, you know? Character erosion. Just the same, she’s in a *lot* more episodes than I remembered. I thought she just kind of disappeared halfway through the season, made a pointless appearance in “Message from Terra,” and then disappeared again forever. Nope.

In the brig, Cassie tells Starbuck she loves him. He pauses a moment, looks uneasy, then says it too. I think we’re supposed to believe this is the first time he’s told her that, possibly the first time he’s told anyone that, but the performance and the direction don’t really convey it. Good moment, badly done. It tracks with the ongoing ‘Starbuck is growing up’ thing that started in the previous episode. Interestingly, he calls her “Cass” in this scene, never before or after insofar as I can remember. Well, ok, that’s really not very interesting. Sorry to bother you with it.

In an attempt to recoup their CONSIDERABLE losses on Galactica the previous year, Universal edited most of the one-hour episodes together into TV movies, which they syndicated. This one ended up in the telemovie “Murder in Space.” In essence it’s exactly like the play-by-play I gave above up to the point where Starbuck attempts to steal a viper and run away. In this episode, of course, Apollo talks him down. In “Murder in space” he actually flies off, and then we’re in “The Young Lords,” with the Baltar scenes cut out (I hope. It’s been a while since I saw it). When Apollo and Boomer rescue him, he goes back to the fleet to stand trial, and - bang - we’re back in “Murder on the Rising Star.” It’s every bit as clunky as it sounds.

Corporal Komma (Jeff McKay), the computer tech shows up again in this episode.

More proof that the colonials aren’t afraid of AIs: The Personnel computer is a voice-activated AI with a not-quite-annoying-but-close personality. Think C.O.R.A. minus the sexy. And the K.I.T.T. lights.

It is *finally* confirmed that Baltar was military: Karibdis calls him “Commander.” It’s also interesting that Baltar had “Inside men” on the colonies who must’ve been in on the plan to some extent. How did this work, logically? Did they all sabotage stuff, then fly to Orion, only to be slaughtered by the Cylons? I mean, what were they expecting? In any case, Baltar clearly assumed he was dead prior to this ep.

“There are many people on the prison barge who would love to see Starbuck dead. He won’t live long enough to reach his cell.” Really? Who? Croft was pardoned, and really the Borellian Nomen from last week are the only other criminals we’ve really seen.

So why *IS* colonial justice so fast? Ten hours? That’s really just silly. It’s an artificial method to add tension to a plot that really doesn’t need it.

Boomer does *not* make a good showing for himself in this episode. That’s irritating. My favorite part about rediscovering this series is how good Herbert Jefferson, Jr. is in the part. He brings a lot of charm to what should be a one-note role, and in “Fire in Space” and a couple other places where he’s set out on his own, he’s really, really good. I’d hoped the character would continue to grow, but in this ep he’s basically just there so Apollo has someone to exposit to. Worse: Someone not very bright to exposit to. Boomer’s just badly written in this episode: From not being able to figure out how a voice-activated computer works to his corn-pone courtroom case, it’s just grating. And it didn’t need to be: Apollo should have just explained the shuttle/Baltar/conjob thing to Boomer and then let him fly the mission while he (Apollo) went to the court case. It’s more logical that way.

Boomer: “We’ve been in tougher spots.”
Starbuck: “We have?”

Ronald D. Moore has said that he really only watched this show when it first ran, then only re-watched “Saga of a Star World” before starting his own Galactica reboot. He said he didn’t want to end up just doing a remake, so he didn’t want to do too much research. If he says that, I believe him, of course, but it makes me wonder how good his memory is: I mean, he can’t remember Pyramid is a card game, but he *can* remember Apollo took law classes back at the academy? He remembers that Colonial Justice uses a tribunal made up of ship captains? And Baltar’s incarceration? Ok, I’ll give him that last one: It did run through seven episodes. Still…

Cute scene of Adama kind of goading Tigh during the opening Triad game. The Canaris shuttle gets a name-check. One of the decorations hanging in the triad set is the huge mod-looking cross that’s hanging in the council chamber in a cut-scene from “Saga of a Star World,” in the sequence where Adama breaks into song.

Apollo, Starbuck, and Boomer to a neat three-handed handshake in this. I didn’t remember it at all, but evidently the actors invented it themselves.

We visit the Triad court,. We also see the Rising Star disco, the casino, and the departure lounge, all of which we saw for the first time last week. We also visit the rarely-seen computer lab and Dr. Wilkers’ lab, both of which are considerably different every time we see ‘em. The courtroom set appears to be a redress of the council chamber, though I’m not entirely sure of that.

COLONIALISMS:

“Officiator” = Referee
“Opposer” = Prosecuting Attorney
“Protector” = Defense attorney
“Premeditated human termination” = murder.
“Turbo Wash” = Shower
“Centon” = This week it means “Minute.”
“Centar” = This week it means “Hour.”
“Sectar” = Week. This is one of the rarer colonialisms, but they always manage to use it consistently.

DELETED SCENES:

Nothing. Just endless B-roll footage of sweaty men in women’s underwear and knee pads jumping about.

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE?

Apart from the entirely gratuitous homoeroticism and disco haircuts? I think yes.

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