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THE MAN WITH NINE LIVES

Written by Glen A. Larson

Original Airdate: January 28, 1979

Review by Matthew Wharmby

PREMISE:

A conman on the run from three very shifty and very merciless characters tricks his way onto the Galactica and into the heart of Starbuck. Could Chameleon be Starbuck's father? All the figures add up...

THE PLOT:

Starbuck and Apollo are on a rare warrior furlon to the Rising Star. It's lock up your daughters time for some of them, but Starbuck's got a new gambling system he's just itching to unleash on the tables, and one he's convinced can't lose. Apollo laughs. The last system that Starbuck hatched cost him a secton's pay!

Hard behind the Galactica shuttle is the Canaris, an intership shuttle that trundles civilians back and forth on a regular circuit of the 220 ships in the fleet. Aboard, an old fella and his lady companion of a similar vintage are settled in, watching the telly. Specifically, the IFB (Inter-Fleet Broadcast), a network set up just for the fleet, but so far veering more to the Hard Copy angle. Remember the viper pilot recruitment commercial that comes on, as it'll become important later. Recruiting for men and women between 16 and 46 yahrens of age, its final tagline is 'We need... you,' declaims an unusually animated Omega, Lord Kitchener style. And then it's back to 'The Warrior of the Centar', a magazine show presented by frosted-haired anchors Zed and Zara.

As it happens, the subject of today's profile is none other than our very own Lieutenant Starbuck. Appearing unusually shy but still able to turn on the old charm for Zara, his answer to how old he is is a bemused negative. He explains that he was orphaned in a Cylon raid on the agricultural community of Umbra when he was little, and was never able to find his parents again. Sure, the show's interesting, but it looks like the old boy, Chameleon by name, is going to use it to bullshit his way out of paying his fare. When the conductor comes round extending a bucket on a stick (hmm - interesting juxtaposition of ultra- modern shuttle cabin with individual seat-back televisions and old-fashioned crew operation!), Chameleon discusses the failings of the IFB program with him, making out that he's the colonial equivalent of a network executive. The rather sweet and naive Siress Blassie sat beside him is suitably impressed, and the conductor is even more awed when Chameleon suggests they should interview him next. The Unsung Heroes of the Centar, perhaps they should call it. Almost too late he remembers he hasn't taken Chameleon's fare, and proffers the container. "I gave you my ducat, remember?" replies the old trickster.

Chameleon's dishonesty becomes even more dislikeable when they reach the Rising Star and he claims he left his wallet on the ship. You'd think he'd have saved enough from dodging his fare for the entry to the casino, but no. What could be mortifying for any normal man becomes farcical when Siress Blassie proves gullible enough to spring for the both of them. He promises to repay her, of course, and we'll believe that when we see it, won't we.

Inside the chancery, the warriors get down to business - Starbuck ready to rinse the tables in spite of all Apollo's admonishments, and Jolly bent on stuffing his face. They have a good leer at the dancers in between, but their momentum is rattled when the music stops all of a sudden and all eyes turn to the doorway. Sihouetted like three giants are three robed, bearded giants known as the Borellian Nomen. Bigger and stronger than any human, they wear criss- cross bandoliers packing four pairs of laser bolas. Boomer's certainly fascinated, saying he didn't think any mixed with the other colonists. 'They don't,' says a deadly serious Jolly, all thoughts of food forgotten. 'Unless they're on a blood trail.' Bravely, Boomer wanders over to the nomen and greets them. They're just here to enjoy themselves, like anyone else - fair enough. The music resumes and everyone goes about the business of having fun, but the nomen don't drink or carouse - they just sit there. One man has spotted them and felt the bottom drop out of his world, and that's Chameleon. Anxious to get away as fast as he can, he manufactures an excuse to Siress Blassie and leaves. But the nomen are right across his path and spot him. In fact they do worse than that - the youngest of the three leaps to his feet and tears a pair of laser bolas off his chest. They flare brightly and an ominous whine begins! Cue adverts.

Everyone runs like hell as the nomen prepares to throw his bolas. Boomer confronts the eldest, Maga, who states simply 'He is young. He activated them by accident.' Not buying this at all, Boomer orders that the only thing he can do is throw them at an isolated pillar as they're going to blow anyway in fifty microns.

Maga offers what could almost be construed as an apology, but Boomer says that if they intend on staying on the Rising Star, they're going to have to take their bandoliers off. However, going unarmed is against the Borellians' Code. 'You should have thought of that before you got excited!' scolds Boomer. Dryly, Maga replies 'And we should have known better than to mix with other warriors'. The three of them decide to leave, their first stop being the docking lounge where the regular shuttle will return them to the freighter Borella.

In the docking lounge is where young Taba takes a proper bollocking. 'This fool is of your blood,' Maga spits to compatriot Bora, who accepts responsibility and vows to still bring their prey down. Now visibly nervous, Taba protests that he saw 'that jackal, Captain Dimitri', mentioning their target by an unfamiliar name, but this won't wash. Any apology he can muster up will have to come after his due punishment for transgression against the Code - 'if you survive'. The Canaris shuttle duly returns, but the Nomen don't board. They simply stay put in the docking lounge, waiting.

Starbuck's giving the house a good battering, cheerfully raising his stakes as he puffs away on his old familiar cigar. As he calculates just how much dough he's going to rake in, a small voice at his side begs to apologise and points out a flaw in Starbuck's system. In spite of himself, Starbuck takes the old guy's advice and twists where he otherwise might not have, beating the bank. Thanks are in order, and the two get to talking over drinks. Immediately, despite the forty-year age difference, Starbuck and Chameleon find they have loads in common, especially when it comes to gambling. Turns out though that he's not a professional wagerer, as Starbuck wonders, but a genetic tracer. Chameleon spins a yarn that he's in the business of reuniting orphans with their families based on genetic links, and with post-Destruction families in a mess, this is big business. Especially since, he continues with an earnest look at Starbuck, that he is in it because his own family was torn apart by this - specifically by a Cylon raid in which he lost his baby son. Fascinated, Starbuck asks where this was, and when Chameleon oh-so-casually reveals that it was in Starbuck's home town of Umbra, he's got him. Apollo is a bit concerned that Starbuck's so enthralled, especially since the odds are so long that they could be related, but Starbuck is surprisingly hostile. Whatever the odds, they're going to take him to the Galactica for some preliminary tests. And anywhere off the Rising Star and away from the nomen is just fine by Chameleon.

When Boomer and Jolly are tipped off by Apollo that the nomen didn't leave when the Canaris came, they grow ever more suspicious and go to confront them. Maga questions the warriors' apparent prejudice against Borellians. When Apollo asks for a better explanation than the obvious lie they told Boomer earlier, Taba flips again and goes for his weapon - but is beaten to it by the quickest draw I've ever seen. In a millisecond, Boomer and Apollo have him at gunpoint. This is the end for the disgraced Taba. Maga formally strips him of his weapons and robes, excommunicates him from the ranks of the Nomen and turns him over to security, who take him away. Maga then states that they didn't board the Canaris because it was full - simple as that - and they're not on a blood trail. At that point Starbuck comes past with Chameleon, and the two nomen are forced to do nothing. After they are left alone again, Maga urges patience. Since the prey has come under the protection of Starbuck and taken him aboard the Galactica, they too must get onto the Galactica. How? As they speak, Omega's viper pilot recruitment commercial rolls again.

In the Life Center, Starbuck and Chameleon are put through some tests by Cassiopeia, and already it's looking promising - they're related to each other within at least ten generations. But elsewhere things aren't looking as rosy when Apollo makes some enquiries of his own and finds out that Chameleon's CV is a little hazy to say the least. Could he be using Starbuck for some reason? Here's somewhere where he has to tread exceptionally lightly, and it's not comfortable for him.

In the Galactica landing bay, a shuttle disembarks the latest batch of cannon fodder - excuse me, new recruits for the viper pilot complement, all drawn by Omega's ad. They are read their boot camp welcome by Colonel Tigh and then turned over to Corporal Lomas to get settled into billets. Is he surprised when he sees two hulking Borellian nomen take their places in the line for uniform fitting.

As the second and final set of genetic tests are performed, Starbuck finds himself telling things to Chameleon that he wouldn't think of telling anyone else - specifically about Cassiopeia. He reckons that she's the only woman he ever seriously considered getting sealed to. But once Chameleon is away from Starbuck, Boomer collars him and outlines his suspicions. Chameleon explains that he performed a trace on a child the Borellians thought might have been one of theirs, and turned against him when it came up negative. Surely not reasons good enough for a blood trail, but who can tell with these nomen and their Code.

As everyone turns in, Maga and Bora approach Corporal Lomas at his desk and ask for a private room to pray in, according to the tenets of their Code. 'Are you denying us our religious freedom?' Maga questions the Security man's bemusement, before they are shown to a thoroughly impractical supply compartment. 'I don't know how you guys are ever gonna make warriors,' Lomas quips, his back turned, before Maga fells him with a blow to the back of the neck. 'We are warriors,' Maga declares defiantly.

Colonel Tigh informs Apollo and Boomer in the corridor that the security check on Chameleon is complete, but Starbuck appears and grows angry when he realises what they've been doing. Their suspicions don't satisfy him and he stalks off - it's the end of a friendship. 'I'll be with my father', he glares. Not far away, two warriors chatting in the corridor are interrupted by a pair of hangar crewmen - but with dreadlocks and beards spilling out of their too- small orange uniforms, it's an odd sight. When they ask for Lieutenant Starbuck, the warriors say that they saw him taking a civilian down to Alpha Landing Bay.

Starbuck has taken Chameleon down to the launch bay where he's showing the old man his viper. He runs through the buttons and what they do. Chameleon, sat in the pilot's seat, is duly impressed, telling Starbuck how wonderful it must feel to streak through the stars. It does, Starbuck says wanly, which is why he'll miss it. To Chameleon's shock, Starbuck discloses that as soon as the final test results come back (positive of course) he plans to resign from the service and go into the business of reuniting children with their parents. Chameleon now belatedly realises that he's gone too far, and finally attempts to tell Starbuck the truth - but it is at this point that the hangar elevator sounds and two men step out, their faces in shadow but their silhouettes those of hangar crew. Chameleon cringes back in the cockpit as he recognises the nomen come to get him. 'The jackal, Captain Dimitri,' states Maga. 'Where is he?' Unfamiliar with that name, Starbuck can only ask the pair what's going on before they tell him. 'A blood hunt, Lieutenant.' Ducking behind the walls, they throw bolas after bolas at Starbuck until one explodes too close and knocks him down, his pistol clattering out of reach. He tries to escape into the launch tube and hide, but the nomen are right behind. Chameleon spies the plight of Starbuck and tries to remember what his 'son' showed him a few minutes earlier. 'Laser... laser,' he mutters, trying to find the right button. Right then Starbuck makes a break for it, running back down the tube and jumping out, leaving the nomen in there. Chameleon hits the red button and blasts a volley of laser fire straight into Maga and Bora. Smoke fills the bay.

'Don't ask me how, but these two are still alive,' marvels Apollo as he checks the prone nomen - any other life form would have been mincemeat for sure after being shot at from an aircraft! 'They're on a blood trail for some Captain Dimitri,' a weary Starbuck tells his friends. 'I don't know any Dimitri on the Galactica. Do you?' All eyes on Chameleon as he grudgingly and shame-facedly admits 'I'm Captain Dimitri...'

If Taba thought he'd been dressed down earlier in the episode, it's nothing to what a chastened and contrite Chameleon receives from Adama in the Commander's quarters as the show comes to a close. Turns out the nomen had been illegally hoarding various items pinched from throughout the fleet. Chameleon had been counter-conning them all along, in the person of Captain Dimitri. Specifically, Chameleon had cut a deal with the nomen to supply livestock but stiffed them, which is why they declared a blood trail on him. Interestingly, Starbuck is also having to eat a bit of crow - not for being wrong, but for turning on his friends when their suspicions were genuine. They all do a bit of apologising to each other, in fact, and they're nothing if not sympathetic. 'I wish he had been your father,' Apollo tells him. 'We all do,' agrees Sheba. But there's a surprising and very poignant twist to this otherwise fairly sluggish story as a delighted Cassiopeia collars Chameleon in the corridor, brandishing a set of test results. Positive results! His heart breaking, Chameleon pleads with Cassiopeia that 'it has to be negative', because if Starbuck were to find this out, he'd give up absolutely everything he ever loved - including Cassiopeia - to 'recapture something with an old fool who's never done an honest thing in his life.'

'Will you ever tell him?' Cassie finally asks, sworn to secrecy. 'Maybe someday. Maybe the day he gets sealed.' Cassiopeia is laughing, but you never know...

Finally the question of what to do with the old dodger is entertained. 'Chameleon ... is that your real name?' Adama can't help but asks. 'Actually, er... yes, it is,' says the old boy sheepishly, truthful for once. It appears that Siress Blassie has been asking after Chameleon's whereabouts, and it's decided to turn Chameleon into her custody. He groans at this soft but nonetheless binding sentence (especially when we remember he owes her today's bus fare and casino entry!), but is apologetic, especially to Starbuck. With no hard feelings from Our Hero, he can look forward to a friendship, and a potentially fruitful one as the conversation gets round to gambling again, and in particular another surefire strategy Chameleon once pulled. The others clap their hands to their foreheads in exasperation, but Chameleon looks Cassie in the eye when he gets a chance and mouths at her the words 'Thank you'.


John's Comments:

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This episode is the only one that offers a significant look at the people of the fleet. Fred Astaire puts in an enjoyable performance as the rogue con-man Chameleon. The Borellian Nomen are interesting new adversaries for the Colonial Warriors, although they seem to be based on a Hollywood and societal stereotype of American Indians (Unfortunately, we are told very little of their origins). One of the best episodes in terms of characterization.

An earlier name for this episode was The Furlon.

This episode was written for Fred Astaire after the famous actor/dancer told Glen Larson at a Hollywood party how much his grandchildren enjoyed the show.

Don Bellisario was unable to think of a suitable name for the villains. In an after- work bull session, story editor Jim Carlson casually remarked something to the effect of, "It’s too bad they’re not from an ice planet, you could call them Snomen." Bellisario replied, "There’s no snow where these guys are gonna be!" Carlson answered, "Then call then Nomen."

Starbuck reveals he was orphaned twenty years earlier in the Colonial year 7322. This is the only time that a date is mentioned in the series.

Starbuck tells Chameleon that Cassiopea is the only woman he's ever considered getting sealed to, although in the pilot he practically proposed to Athena. Still, the scene reveals that Starbuck's feelings for Cassiopea are stronger than he's ever let on.

Chameleon makes Cassiopea promise not to tell Starbuck that he is his father. In the tremendously written original Berkley novel Die, Chameleon!, Cassiopea finally does tell Starbuck that Chameleon is his father after Chameleon is kidnapped by mutineers.

This is Dirk Benedict's favorite episode of Battlestar Galactica.

Lance LeGault (Maga) played Bootees in the The Lost Warrior.

Pamela Susan Shoop (the IFB interviewer) played Miss Carlyle, Dr. Mortinson's secretary, in the Galactica 1980 pilot Galactica Discovers Earth.

On the Rising Star, the waiter standing in the doorway when the Borellian Nomen first enter is the same waiter who served Starbuck and Cassiopea on the Rising Star in The Long Patrol. It's nice that the effort was made to use the same extras. It's minor, but things like that help add life to a series.

Blooper - Starbuck was orphaned twenty years earlier??? That would put him in his early twenties. Since Dirk Benedict was 33 years old when the series was shot, this qualifies as a flub.


Matt's Comments:

RATING:

3 out of 5 - A little slow going, but you'd hardly expect Fred Astaire in a viper cockpit blowing seven shades of crap out of the Cylons, would you? That's not to say he couldn't do it, after the performance he turned on against poor old Maga and Bora!

THE USUAL STUFF:

I wanted Fred Astaire to dance across the walls and ceiling! Perhaps that would happen anyway if the gravity ever went out, who knows.

The Borellian Nomen are cool. The laser bolas they carry ought to be in any kid's arsenal.

The Borellians, while cool, could be picked from any of several ethnic stereotypes prevailing at the time. Blood vendettas, religious fanaticism and class conflict, indiscriminate use of violence, you name it. But you name me one national bugbear who can take 'millions of voltons' of lasers right in the face and not die. With Iraq part II coming up, might be worth thinking about.

Nice to get some background on Starbuck.

So where was Chameleon going to get any livestock from? They don't exactly wander the corridors, you know. The nomen must have been mighty thick not to see right through that one.

Anyone who's ever seen even one episode of Montel Williams could have sewn this story up inside fifteen minutes. The IFB could have started a new show on the back of it! Imagine, Zed opening that DNA envelope and sparking off a huge brawl between various paternity suspects of a certain age - Chameleon, Commander Adama, Baltar (God forbid!)


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