Act of Contrition is the fourth episode of the TV series, Battlestar Galactica, and aired during the show's first season.
- "After a flight deck accident kills thirteen of their best pilots, Adama orders Kara to train a new squad, forcing her to confront painful memories of the death of the commander's son."
- —Battlestar Galactica: The Complete Series DVD cover
Raptor pilot Lt. Dwight Saunders has just completed his 1000th landing, which invokes a celebratory tradition among the pilots. Caught off-guard, Deck Chief Galen Tyrol brings out the traditional wagon late. Meanwhile, Cpt. Leland Adama and Lt. Kara Thrace make their own preparations for the party, and are met by Commander William Adama. A former pilot himself who also went through his 1000th landing party, the Commander wants to experience the party as well. During the celebration, which involves the pilots spinning Lt. Saunders around in the wagon to make him dizzy, a device falls off its stack. Activated, it shoots through the deck and collides with the wagon, killing thirteen pilots and leaving seven more seriously injured. Sgt. Hadrian assesses the damage, and determines it to be a recon drone which fell off as a result of metal fatigue; an accident waiting to happen. She tells Chief Tyrol it was lucky it was only a recon drone.
Cpt. Apollo plans the memorial service for their dead friends, presided over by Elosha. Lt. Thrace is discomforted by the ceremony, knowing that as a former flight instructor it will be her job to train the new pilots, dubbed "nuggets". Following the service, she is called to the Commander's quarters, where she is made the offer. Lt. Thrace insists he hire someone else for the job, but he has already done the checking - there are only two other flight instructors in the fleet and they are civilian instructors who would have no experience in Vipers or combat training. The responsibility falls entirely on Lt. Thrace. The Commander knows this is about the death of his son, Zak Adama, who died in a flight accident not long after passing his exam, where Lt. Thrace was his instructor. He is unaware, however, that he should have failed the exam, which only Lee knows. Off-duty, Lt. Thrace continues to be bothered while playing cards with the other pilots, which Dr. Gaius Baltar and Lt. Felix Gaeta are joining, to the delight of Lt. Alex Quartararo who tries to get answers on the rumoured Cylon Detector. Lt. Thrace is distracted by her memories of being with Zak, where she lied to him about passing as well. Reminded she is supposed to be playing cards, she decides to just give up and leave.
On Caprica, Lt. Karl Agathon and the Number Eight have tracked down a military transponder into a city restaurant. They find a hidden staircase leading to a fallout shelter, which the occupant appears to have failed to reach, to the confusion of Lt. Agathon. Inside they find food and medical supplies. A Number Six peers into the restaurant to see if they made it inside.
In Galactica's sickbay, President Laura Roslin arrives for her checkup, which has been held-off for days due to Major Sherman Cottle's busy schedule elsewhere in the fleet. Major Cottle concurs with her diagnosis on Caprica - the breast tumour is too far advanced to surgically remove, and all they can do is shrink the mass with radiation treatment followed by Doloxan, which causes hair loss; nausea and muscle degeneration. President Roslin is well aware of the drug's side-effects, having seen her mother go through Doloxan treatment for two years before her death. Unwilling to go through that pain, she insists on an alternate therapy such as Chamalla. Major Cottle is disappointed with the request, as all information supporting Chamalla's medicinal properties are anecdotal, with nothing scientifically observed. Nonetheless, he respects her wish, and begins searching for people in the fleet who were carrying Chamalla in their luggage at the time of the attack.
Lt. Thrace is handed the details on her new class of eight, and is immediately disappointed. One is a fleet academy washout, while the others are "boonie jumpers" and "shuttle jockies". As Galactica was not equipped with training simulations, all eight are to be trained on real Viper Mark IIs, and are to go through take-off and landing manoeuvres on their first day; anyone who fails will immediately wash out if they are not killed. Brendan Costanza, the washout, jokes to the others that Lt. Thrace is exaggerating. This earns him the callsign "Hot Dog" from Lt. Thrace, who implies he washed out due to failing landing manoeuvres. In the training session, Luanne Katraine, callsign "Kat", performs badly in her landing when she focuses on the landing strip rather than the numbers on the deck to determine speed, and is forced to take-off again just to avoid an accident. Lt. Thrace washes out the entire class when they return to the ready room.
Cpt. Adama arrives, having heard of the recent washouts, and berates Lt. Thrace. Galactica has 40 Vipers, but only 21 Viper pilots. It is already difficult arranging a Combat Air Patrol, and washing out the most qualified pilots on the first day won't help anything; the next group of pilots won't even have flight experience at all, which will make them worse candidates. Cpt. Adama realises this is all about Zak. Protesting her decision to the Commander, his father takes Lt. Thrace's side - she is a Viper flight instructor, and if she thinks candidates shouldn't make the cut then it is her call. Commander Adama is aware of her personal issues regarding flight training after the death of Zak, which convinces his son he already knows and has come to terms with Lt. Thrace's role in it. When he brings up the guilt over Zak, the Commander is confused, and Cpt. Adama leaves rather than explain it.
Lt. Thrace is called in to Commander Adama's quarters. When she hears that Cpt. Adama was in previously, she has an idea of what was talked about, but is shocked when he mentions the guilt. The Commander insists on knowing exactly what that is, but when she tries to deflect answering on to Cpt. Adama, he gets more assertive. She finally confesses that Zak failed basic flight after he "bunked" three test manoeuvres. She insists he wasn't a bad pilot, but just didn't have a feel for it (contradicting her earlier claim during the Fall of the Twelve Colonies, when she said his flight was sloppy). Her actions were because they were engaged, and failing him would have ruined their relationship. Hurt and angered by her actions, he orders her to return the nuggets to flight status and complete their training.
Lt. Thrace catches up with the nuggets and orders them back into their Vipers for training, and orders "Kat"; "Chuckes" and "Hot-Dog" to launch as the first training class. During the exercise, they are able to go beyond just take-off and landing and begin combat training. A squadron of Cylon Raiders jump into the area, ending the session. Lt. Thrace asks for the Alert Vipers to be launched, and for the nuggets to return, as they are not qualified to fight. The Alert Vipers launch but are two minutes away from the Raiders, which are gaining on the nuggets. Lt. Thrace is forced to turn around and fight the Raiders on her own. "Hot Dog" decides to help her, taking one Raider out. A Cylon clips his left wing and soon loses power to all three mains, but Lt. Thrace is able to take out the Cylons pursuing him, leaving only one left. The Raider collides with her Viper, sending both crashing to a nearby planet, forcing her to bail out. The transponder is damaged in the collision, making her exact position unknown.
- Tobias Mehler as Zak Adama
- Colby Johannson as Flat Top
- Bill Meilen as Caprica Cleric
- Bodie Olmos as Constanaza/Hot Dog
- Lucianna Carro as Katrine/Kat
- Terry Chen as Perry/Chuckles
Act of Conrtrition was directed by Rod Hardy.
This episode was written by Bradley Thompson and David Weddle. During a writer's meeting, it was brought up that Galactica could reactivate retired servicemen and women to replace its pilots. Executive Producer Ron D. Moore would rule out this idea to avoid there being too many supply problems that could be solved in the fleet.