Review By Matthew Wharmby

PREMISE: Apollo is stranded on a backward planet terrorised by a local gangster and his powerful bodyguard, but refuses to be drawn into their conflict.

Apollo charges through the Hatari sector, hotly pursued by four Cylon fighters. He manages to destroy one of them and shake the other three, but is dismayed to discover that his high-speed escape has come at a cost. 'Full turbos, run out of fuel,' Apollo chides himself. 'First lesson I learned as a cadet.' The Cylons are equally unenthused, the commander berating his pilot for letting the enemy viper lead them away from the true objective - the Delta-9 heading assumed to be that of the Galactica. In actuality, these are false coordinates which Adama has planted. We discover this when we cut to the Galactica's bridge, on which Starbuck and Boomer are straining at the leash to be allowed to take off after Apollo. The urgency is acute when they hear repeated distress calls from Apollo's viper. 'He's not expecting any help,' Adama advises. 'Those transmissions are for Cylon ears.'

Apollo drifts towards a planet and makes a safe landing, just about, by night. In a farmstead nearby, a young boy hears the sound of the viper coming in and makes to investigate. His mother tries to dissuade him, owing to the presence of a wild lupus in the neighbourhood, but he still goes. On horseback, he heads for the site and is amazed to see the intact viper and its confused pilot, who draws his laser on him unthinking. Puppis, the boy, identifies the planet as Equellus. Covering up the viper with foliage, they proceed to the farm. Here they meet Vella, a widow who has been raising her son single-handedly since her husband Martin died. However, they have had barely enough time to get acquainted when a horseman approaches. Apollo peeks out of the window and is stunned to see a Cylon centurion dismount.

The Cylon, whose head is characterised by a colossal dent and whose sensor echo is distinctly halting, is Red-Eye, who comes on behalf of La Certa. The centurion demands to know what the sound heard earlier was, to a defiant Puppis, who scornfully kicks him in the shins. Just then, another man rides up, Vella's brother Bootes. Red-Eye whips out a sidearm - a Colonial laser pistol - but Bootes professes not to know anything either. Not entirely satisfied, Red-Eye mounts his horse and rides away, with one final warning. 'It would not go well for you to lie to me. You are both behind on tribute as it is.'

A shaken Apollo, weapon still aloft, demands to know what the Cylon is doing on Equellus, and moreover, why it didn't destroy them. Vella doesn't seem to know what the Cylon is or where this particular centurion came from, only that it serves La Certa, who has detailed the indestructible machine to seize local herdsmens' ovine stocks in progressively greater quantities as his greed grows. It transpires that her late husband Martin was a colonial warrior, who crash-landed here after a fight and could not get home. After Vella nursed him back to health, they fell in love, married and had Puppis, who is now ten or thereabouts. But as soon as Martin clapped eyes on Red-Eye, he charged out after the Cylon only to meet his death, upon which Red-Eye appropriated his laser. The locals' own weaponry (a compressed-air weapon known as a numo) is no match for the Cylon's speed and firepower. Bootes is gleeful. Seeing Apollo's own identical weapon, he fairly orders Apollo should take the centurion on himself. An unsettled Apollo flatly refuses, knowing what became of Martin, and this angers the impatient Bootes. Instead he offers to go into town, unarmed, and disguised as a local, to take the lie of the land, and try and figure out in what way La Certa could be connected with the Cylon Empire.

Dressed in homespun (with steel cowboy hat), Apollo rides to town and enters the saloon, where La Certa holds sway. He is a fat crime lord in a white Boss Hogg suit, seated at at a fur-covered table absolutely covered with gaming chips and money. He is cheerfully stinging his associate Marco at cards, raising the stakes to totally unmatchable levels. Their ears prick up when they see the stranger come in, and La Certa dispatches Marco to investigate (with a supremely arrogant, and deadly significant, snap of his fingers). Apollo orders a pint of the local, but Marco barges in and deliberately spills it. When he moves down the bar, Marco gets in his face again. Refusing to respond to the coarse attempt to wind him up, Apollo offers to go and sit with his 'friend'. 'Oviners have no friends,' Marco scoffs. 'That one,' Apollo says, pointing to the centurion, who sits in a chair far too small for him at the opposite end of the saloon, a location studiously avoided by the other patrons (including Marco). The Cylon appears to be emitting music, much like a jukebox.

'I've never seen anyone like you before,' Apollo greets Red-Eye. 'You are lying,' replies the Cylon. 'I sense you want to destroy me. You would not be the first.... Nine have died trying.' We then see a closeup of his head, which is pitted with unsuccessful numo shots. Finally, perhaps sensing that Apollo is getting in too deep for even La Certa's own amusement, the boss snaps his fingers again and orders another subordinate to bring Apollo over to his table. This is Macy, a teenage moll of little clothing and a nervous, cowed disposition.

Fascinated, the oily La Certa asks Apollo his business. 'I wanted to work for you,' Apollo says, as obsequiously as he can manage. Then why the charade with Red-Eye? 'I had to impress you.' La Certa bursts out in yips of laughter, prompting the whole bar to follow suit. Neither Marco nor Red-Eye look too impressed with the situation.

Aboard the Galactica, a period of downtime sees Boxey and Muffey wander onto the bridge and greet Commander Adama. Starbuck and Boomer are present, pondering the star chart and the possible location Apollo could have gone down. Trouble is, the Hatari sector is simply crowded with habitable planets. Adama has to think quickly when Boxey asks worriedly where his dad is, but Starbuck sees his chance and steps in. 'How would you like to spend a night with the pilots?' he offers. 'With Blue Squadron?' Boxey yelps in utter delight. They whisk the happy little lad away, at which Adama puts his hand on Starbuck's arm. 'Thank you,' he says simply.

Down on Equellus, another little boy is having problems of his own. The lupus has appeared again to go after the herd, and Puppis has managed to track it down. It tenses and then charges him, but with microns to spare, Puppis zeroes in as calmly as he can and shoots it dead. Elated, he crows proudly to Apollo and comes back with the wolf's carcass slung across the back of his horse, but Vella is as furious with the boy as she is relieved that he is safe.

Boxey is having a right old time of it in Blue Squadron's billet. Coached by Starbuck at pyramid, he is ruining Jolly for a massive pile of sweets. The other pilots are chuckling at Jolly's losing streak, but it all comes to an end when Cassiopeia bursts in and orders the little lad to his bedtime, plucking the cigar from Starbuck's grinning gob as she does so. In his quarters, Adama is pensive. He wonders to Colonel Tigh of the efficiency of the search mission - 'all this, for the Commander's son.' Tigh absolutely blows his top, storming 'That's utter felgercarb and you know it. If it were Boomer or Starbuck or any other pilot you'd do it'. A little fazed (as much as the normally cool Adama can be) by his executive officer's uncharacteristic outburst, Adama does concede to suggesting a patrol take off to look for Apollo. Tigh orders it from Adama's desk, and instantaneously Boomer and Starbuck steam away. 'There must have been a patrol standing by ready to launch,' Tigh says as if surprised.

Turmoil erupts the next night as Red-Eye swoops on Bootes' farm and takes half his herd. Another oviner, Jason, rides to Vella's and informs Apollo. Bootes has gone crazy with anger and ridden to town to confront La Certa himself, and the only thing that can avert tragedy is Apollo's gun. Again, Apollo refuses. 'I'll go to town... but no gun.' In the saloon, a furious Bootes is upending pints down himself and spitting abuse. Finally, he rounds on La Certa. 'Pay tribute.... Give up half your ovines... perform like a trained daggit! Well, not this oviner! You've had your last tribute from me!' 'I think I have,' says La Certa chillingly. With a casual snap of his fingers, he summons Red-Eye into life. The patrons run for cover behind upturned tables as Red-Eye and Bootes face off. The result is predictable - Red-Eye's scanner eye stops dead in 'kill' mode, he draws and slays Bootes with a single round. Just then, Apollo bursts in with Vella's farm. Still armed with the numo, Puppis takes a shot of his own at Red-Eye but only succeeds in putting another knot into the centurion's steel cranium. La Certa appears quite willing to have his servant slaughter the boy in turn, were it not for Apollo seizing his weapon and smashing it. Appalled, Puppis screams at Apollo 'I hate you!'

Boomer and Starbuck cross the Hatari sector in their vipers, but can come up with no answer to Apollo's location with all these planets clustered around. Starbuck begs for just a few more centons, suggesting they cut their power and drift along. If they don't find him in forty centons, they'll have no choice but to give up. Boomer sighs and agrees, and thw two vipers chop their power.

Vella and Puppis prepare to depart, with Bootes's dead body slung in the back of their horsecart. Puppis refuses to look Apollo in the eye, and all Vella can say is 'There wasn't anything you could have done'. As they inch away, suddenly Apollo is cornered by La Certa's moll Macy. She pulls him out of sight to warn him that a jealous Marco is after his blood. Here's where we get the backstory on Red-Eye, as he replaced Marco as La Certa's chief henchman, something about which Marco had never been too thrilled. One night they were out riding when a crippled Cylon fighter crashed to the ground (presumably from the same battle that saw Martin crash-land). The only surviving centurion, the malfunctioning Red-Eye, looked straight at La Certa, the first person he sighted, and uttered the magic words 'By your command' - obeying his every instruction ever since.

Now assured that there is no tie-up with the Cylon Empire, and with his own life under threat, only now can Apollo feel justified in defending himself. He goes to his horse and buckles on his laser, which frightens Marco off instantly. The henchman runs to La Certa, who orders Red-Eye into action. Again the townspeople run for their lives as Apollo and the Cylon square off. Red-Eye is fast, but Apollo is faster, blasting the killing shot right into the centurion's chest. Down he goes, destroyed forever. With their muscle out of action, La Certa and Marco sneak away.

Back at home, Puppis is more excited about the victory than either Apollo or Vella. Pantomiming a laser pistol, he whoops to Apollo 'Red-Eye was fast - but you were faster. Zap! Zap!' Finally exasperated with the boy, Apollo grabs him, but calls him 'Boxey' by accident, recalling how much he misses his son and knocking some of the steam out of his own frustration. It takes some convincing the boy that Apollo was not being brave at all, but reacting out of simple fear - nothing more. Just like when Puppis confronted the lupus. Apollo tells the boy how much he hates having to kill, no matter what the circumstances, and each time he hopes to God he'll never have to do it again. Finally, Vella comes up with the solution. 'I know where Martin's ship crashed. It may not be able to fly, but it may have the fuel you need.'

Out in space, a dejected Starbuck and Apollo are forced to give up the search. They have just turned around for home when suddenly a burst of static comes from the radio. It's Apollo! 'We'd just about given up on you, buddy,' Starbuck chides as the three of them head away.

Vella and Puppis lie on their backs, looking up at the stars, from whence Apollo came, and to which he has now returned. Earlier in the episode, she had spoken to Apollo about how Martin used to lie out in the fields himself, with an infant Puppis on his stomach, dreaming of the stars. 'He'll come back, Mother,' Puppis insists to a hopeful Vella. 'He promised.'

RATING: 4 stars out of 5 (Good). I liked this one, no complaints.


* It's said that this episode is based on the movie 'Shane', but I haven't seen it, so I can comment without making comparisons. I see no objection to today's Wild West theme - no law says you can't have a breather from the heavy Von Daniken stuff from time to time, and everybody likes Westerns. The steel ten-gallon hats (ten-lexon hats, perhaps?) are a nice touch.

* It doesn't half show where pacifism can get you! Seeing episodes like 'Experiment in Terra' and then coming back to this one can be a shock. Apollo's repeated refusal to go into town armed is brave indeed, and can be read as both in keeping with Apollo's cautious character, and also something necessary in order not to wind up innocent people and cause harm to happen to them inadvertently. It certainly doesn't work for Bootes. However, remember the Galactica is hunted, and everywhere its crew show themselves risks Cylon incursion to those places. Undoubtedly Apollo is influenced by his feelings for Vella, whose pacifism is taken to excess.

* Claude Earl Jones is excellent as La Certa. Oily, peculiarly effeminate, and deeply unpleasant. Red-Eye, like all Cylons, is very, very cool.

* All the Equellan characters' names are taken from stars in the Milky Way.

* Eric Paddon (of course) has written a splendid fanfic about the planet Equellus. It's called 'A Promise Kept', and it deals with a visit by the Battlestar Pegasus to the Hatari sector to recover ammunition they left behind some yahrens earlier, during a great battle in which Captain Martin of Silver Spar Squadron was lost in action. Circumstances divert them to Equellus, where the Pegasus's warriors must contend with the subsequent rise to power of Marco...

* Keep in your mind the attitude of the commander to the recovery of missing pilots. This is reused numerous times, as 'lost warriors' are a recurring theme throughout Battlestar Galactica. Then think of the pivotal 'The Return of Starbuck' episode, where the results are tragic.

* Lance Le Gault (Bootes) also played the Borellian nomen elder Maga in several subsequent Battlestar Galactica episodes. He's a firm favourite in Universal television, and is perhaps best known as the A-Team's ruthless US Army pursuer Colonel Decker.

* Kathy Cannon (Vella) played Donna's social-climbing mother in a couple of seasons of Beverly Hills 90210, and, I have to say, was every bit as annoying!

* Aren't kids (especially boys) violent?

* The bit where Starbuck is thanked by Adama for diverting Boxey's attention from his missing father is very moving.

* We never see Equellus by daylight. Or Serenity on Sectar in 'The Magnificent Warriors', come to think of it. No wonder the budget kept going over if they kept doing night shoots!

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