Mar 7 2011 2:40pm

Nobody Told Me Battlestar Galactica Was a Romance

Lee Adama and Kara ThraceI love love stories. My favorite part of any book, TV, movie, musical, play or other form of media, is always the romance. I swoon for soulmates; I rejoice at happy endings. That being said, you’d probably think my favorite fictional couple of all time would be iconic lovers from an epic romance. Perhaps Rhett and Scarlett, or Romeo and Juliet, right?

Wrong. My OTP* is a couple of space pilots at the end of the world: Kara Thrace and Lee Adama. (Or as you probably know them: Starbuck and Apollo.)

The weird thing is that I’m not a science fiction fan. At all. Star Wars, Star Trek, pretty much anything with “Star” in the title had heretofore put me to sleep. But then in early 2008, I found the exception to my rule: Battlestar Galactica (BSG). Craving more of the incredible Katee Sackhoff who stole every scene in the not-very-good remake of Bionic Woman, I added the BSG miniseries (which serves as a precursor to the show) to my Netflix queue and started watching. I met snarky, swaggering Kara (Sackhoff), then prissy, intelligent Lee (played by British actor Jamie Bamber), and I saw the fireworks they made and the rest, as they say, was history. I devoured the first three seasons on DVD and waited impatiently for the fourth to begin, satiating my newfound fixation with countless hours of consuming fan fic and fan vids* about the couple.

Much ink has been spilled about the show’s relevant political allegories to 9/11 and Iraq or its chutzpah in genderbending the classic hero role of Starbuck (played by the increasingly bitter Dirk Benedict in the original 1970s version of the show). But the thing that gets less acclaim, and the thing that kept me tuning in disc after disc and then extended hiatus after extended hiatus, was the network of complicated relationships between the complex and fascinating characters. And the most complicated and fascinating of all was the relationship between Starbuck and Apollo.

Here’s their story: Boy meets girl (while girl is engaged to boy’s younger brother!). Boy’s brother dies tragically. Girl drowns in guilt (she was partially responsible). Boy and girl do not see each other for two years.  THE WORLD ENDS. Boy and girl angstily, then later joyously, reunite . . . but not before they both nearly die multiple times and angsty confessions are made and she has to pull an insane retina-detaching move to save his tail.

That’s a lot, right? And we haven’t even gotten to the actual weekly episodes yet. But I’ll spare you the play-by-play (because you should really watch it for yourselves!) and just tell you a few reasons why I ship* them like burning:

  1. They have a connection that is unparalleled. The word soulmate is bandied around a lot these days, so much so that it’s often mocked. But I can’t think of a better word to describe Kara and Lee. They seem bonded at an elemental level. It’s something that’s there in the first moment they meet each other (which you don’t actually get to see until the show’s final episode) and they fight it like the dickens, but it’s irrepressible, incontrovertible . . . even a little co-dependent. Over the course of the show, they’re split apart again and again by conflicts internal (crushing guilt!) and external (other spouses!), but they’re pulled back together again and again, because they need each other.
  2. They complement each other.  On the surface, they’re nothing alike. Kara is brash and bold, self-destructive and spontaneous. Lee is introspective and hesitant, overachieving and cautious. But together they just work. He grounds her wilder side, she enlivens his uptight demeanor. The show frequently depicts them as a unit:they go on patrol together, they play good cop/bad cop, they synchronize their gunshots, and they even finish each other’s sentences when presenting plans in military tactical meetings.
  3. They almost never talk about their relationship. Subtext is text in this relationship. Kara is a doer, Lee is a thinker, neither one is a talker. Instead of long discussions about what things mean or where they stand, the real emotion and currency of their relationship is often expressed through their complete disregard of personal space boundaries when they get near each other. Or the way their voices break sometimes when they say each other’s names (and oh, lords, do they love to say each other’s names!). Accidental touches, meaningful eye contact—these are the telltale signs of their simmering, repressed love. The actors have an insane amount of chemistry—it’s like you can almost see the air crackling between them when they lean into each other—and the UST* is sky-high all the time.
  4. They subvert traditional gender roles in non-stereotypical ways. Kara’s a badass babe who smokes, drinks, enjoys sex for sex’s sake, and likes to kick a little ass every now and then. If you only focused on these aspects, it would be easy to say—and many of her critics do—that she’s just a man in a woman’s body. But she’s also vulnerable and in need of comfort and a nurturer at various points in the show. Likewise, Lee is often in need of rescuing, or is the pining one in the relationship , so he’s sometimes decried as weak or too “emo,” but he can also be a strong leader and quite forceful when facing an enemy.  It’s an interesting subversion of the usual stereotypes presented in fictional media. They’re not defined by their gender, but are layered and complex blends of feminine and masculine both . . . you know, like real people.
  5. They are everything to each other. Family, friends, enemies, coworkers, lovers—Kara and Lee are every romantic trope all wrapped up in one relationship. There’s the I’m-almost-like-your-sister thing. There’s the I’m-your-boss-and-it’s-inappropriate thing. There’s the you’re-my-best -friend-and-I-can’t-mess-that-up thing. There’s an I-love-you-so-much-it-scares-the-crap-out-of-me thing. There’s an I’m-gonna-leave-you-because-I’m-afraid-I’ll-hurt-you thing. There’s an our-timing-is-always-starcrossed (literally!) thing.  There’s . . . well, I could go on and on, but that’s a lot of things! All of which offer chewy emotional drama to savor.

In short, they banter like ’30s film stars and punch each other bloody, they go into battle together and have each other’s backs, they love each other and they hurt each other, they even defy death (sci-fi, remember?), and through it all, no matter what, they always come back to each other. That’s why they’re my most romantic couple of all time.


OTP= One True Pairing (the couple you love above all others)

Ship  (v.) = To root for, follow, and squee over a specific relationship (also referred to as a ship (n.)). If you ship a couple, you are a shipper (n.).

Fic/vids= Short (or sometimes long) fiction and videos made by fans, often shippy in nature

UST= Unresolved Sexual Tension

For more BSG and/or Starbuck & Apollo, check out Galactica Sitrep, No Takebacks, S.A.S.A., and Battlestar Blog.

This post originally appeared on our romance sister site Heroes & Heartbreakers.

Tara Gelsomino is a reader, writer, pop culture junkie, and internet addict. You can tweet her at @taragel.

Caleigh Minshall
1. caleighm
Personally I always thought Lee should get out of the way because *I* wanted Starbuck ... ;)
Rikka Cordin
2. Rikka
@1. I just wanted to join them.... :D

I adore Jamie Bamber and Sackhoff is smokin' in a, I like 'em blond and crazy, kind of way. Together it's not enough to say that sparks fly. I think I actually got a tan from their glow, unless it was just from the TV as I watched the first three seasons in less than a week. Whichever.
3. Innbranna
The only reason why I dared put someone as high-maintenance as Lee on top of my list of fictional characters that I've fallen in love with, is that I knew there was no risk that I would ever have to actually take him on. Kara has hurt him far more than I could ever be capable of, so there's no doubt that he would always choose her. Meanwhile, I have the DVDs.
David Goldfarb
4. David_Goldfarb
Boy’s brother dies tragically. Girl drowns in guilt (she was partially responsible).
Yeah, I'm sorry, that was just dumb. They take pains to show us that the military has rules against an officer and an enlisted man fraternizing (Boomer and Chief Tyrol), but the same military has no problem with a flight instructor fraternizing with one of her students? I mean, gee, there's no way that one could go wrong.

Other than the way that actually happened, plus about three dozen others...
Ed Carnoali
5. bunnycatch3r
But, but...Lee Adama is, well ... gay. And Kara married is boring.
James Callis (as Baltar) could have easily seduced Adama but only Helo could have won his heart. Be honest~ that's the relationship we were hoping for.
6. Krytella
@5, I'm a huge slasher, and I couldn't even sell myself Apollo/Helo, no matter how pretty it would be.

Maybe because Starbuck was originally a male character, I still think the Lee/Kara relationship is pretty darn slashy. It has a lot of the elements I most like in m/m romance. But to each their own.
7. foundling
Yay! I am ridiculously happy to see more Kara/Lee fans around. I think what I love most about their story arc is that it's not just a romance. It's trust and friendship and fights and betrayal and working together.

For me, I got the most satisfaction out of BSG during Blood on the Scales, when Kara and Lee were fighting their way through the ship together. All their past history and they still clicked straight back into the old habits.
Michael Grosberg
8. Michael_GR
Look, I like romance as much as the next guy... no, let me rephrase that. I've read the entire ouvre of Jane Austen - and liked it. So I have romance cred, OK? Now, Lee and Kara, whatever it is they have between them, romance it ain't. They certainly have feelings. But they are very complicated feelings, and it's not all love. It's animal attraction, and comaraderie, and at times scorn and disgust. Are they everything to each other? Well, judging by the fact that THEY WERE BOTH MARRIED TO OTHER PEOPLE, probably not!
9. omega_n

But they are very complicated feelings, and it's not all love. It's animal attraction, and comaraderie, and at times scorn and disgust.

Sounds like a lot of married couples I know...

You're confusing "love" with "constantly displaying affection." Love does not override human nature and everyday emotions. Just because two people are deeply in love does not mean they spend all their time together making goo-goo eyes at each other and never having arguments. When two characters with very strong personalities are in a relationship--especially one under stressful situations and conflicts--I'd argue that constant contentment and zero interpersonal problems would be incredbily unrealistic. Passion isn't pretty.

Are they everything to each other? Well, judging by the fact that THEY WERE BOTH MARRIED TO OTHER PEOPLE, probably not!

Divorce is legal now, you know. And common. Also, look up polyamory.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
10. tnh
Michael GR, they may be married to other people, but the air between them still ionizes when they look at each other.

More than romance is about love or sex, it's about connection. You could probably demonstrate that just by going to one of the big fanfic archives and checking out which movie and TV characters get masses of fanfic written about them. They're always characters who strongly connect with one another.

Omega, I suspect that thinking about it in terms of primary sexual bonds is a red herring.
Eva Malc
11. EvaM
I liked it too at the beginning but I ended up prefering them as friensd. All their attempts at the romantic relationship crashed and burned and were frankly painful to watch. The fact that I loved Kara and Sam Anders's love story made the transition easier.
12. Taragel
@caleigh and @rikka, I can totally understand that. ;)

@innbranna Your logic is...interesting!

@David_Goldfarb I assumed Zak and Kara's relationship was mostly a secret, except to his family. But canon never really specified...

@bunnycatch3r and @krytella I'm with Kry, I really couldn't see that either and I think the gender-bending to their relationship (that Kara is the one afraid of commitment/basically a player and Lee is the one that invests emotionally) was what part of what made it captivating.

@findmeastorm Oh, there's lots of us. ;) It is all those things, indeed. That's why I love it too. The Oath and Blood were fantastic. A real harkening back to their partnershp in the early seasons. Her saving his tail, him waiting patiently while she knocked that guy out in the bathroom to get him ammo, Lee pulling a fast one on her with the grenade, all fantastic. But mostly the way they didn't even need to communicate out loud to fight perfectly in synch. One of my all-time favorite BSG arcs!

@Michael_GR Of course it's not all love, it's love and hate and friendship and lust, too. That was my point, they are ALL THESE THINGS. And I do think the creators were trying to tell a romance--albeit a tragic one--with their relationship. The marriages were clearly ones of convenience, entered into for the wrong reasons. Canon could not be more blatant about that fact, acknowledging it many times. Ron Moore was in love with the idea of them being doomed. He mentions it several times in podcasts and interviews. But that doesn't mean they don't have romance or love for each other too. Watch the extended brig scene in Six of One (s4) and tell me that's not romantic! I dare ya. ;)

@omega_n Word! The fact that they aren't lovey dovey all the time just makes them more real and relatable.

@tnh Love the way you put that. The air indeed ionizes/crackles between them.

@EvaM It was a shame the creators saw their relationship as doomed. I could never really buy into the Kara/Sam relationship as Kara had little regard for him through the majority of their marriage.
Michael Burke
13. Ludon
Their's was a truely complicated romance. That it was doomed to never lead to a union was foretold the first time we saw them together in the Miniseries. You knew immediately they had a history and you also knew that this was not the first time bars had been between them.
"What's the charge this time?"
"Striking a superior asshole."
"I bet you've been waiting all day to say that one."

As you suggested, they helped each other stay sane. They served as a benchmark for the other's course. And, at the end of the series, she was able to step back and let Lee do what he wanted. And, what he wanted was to be able to live as his own person, not being the son of the great William Adama. Not being in the military because that was what had been expected of him. Not being a leader in battle or politics. Yet, even then, you knew that somehow they would be together again on the next level. (Science fiction is wonderful!) Kara, Lee, Samuel and Duella - in a starcrossed relationship with even greater degrees of obsticles and hardships and I don't think they'd want it any other way.
14. Taragel
@luden Hmm, see I have to disagree that it had to be doomed. Certainly that was what Ron Moore saw in it, but I thought the way their relationship built over the course of the series contained growth. They evolved from being hotheaded, button-pushers with each other to really supporting each other and accepting each other, especially in 4.0/4.5. To me, the end was a bit of a football-snatcher (as in Lucy snatching the football out from under Charlie Brown's foot right as he gets a chance to kick it). It seemed like they had finally gotten into a place where they loved each other in a mature and unconditional way. I was sad to see that not only did that not get paid off, but they didn't even get any kind of meaningful goodbye to each other. Highly disappointing.

As far as their jobs and plot stuff went, yeah, I would've liked to have seen non-dead Admiral Kara and President Lee as the natural evolution of their careers. Would've been interesting.
15. ImagineThat
Very satisfying posting--I quite agree, especially about the UST. The way the Lee-Starbuck relationship ended was the biggest of the (many) reasons why I hated the show's ending. Also, Anders was annoying.
16. Taragel
@ImagineThat Thanks! The finale failed for me on so many different levels too, but Kara & Lee's totally distant and unemotional final scene was the worst. It was so counter-indicative of everything they had been in every scene since the mini. Disappointing indeed.
18. Eddie333
I was about to go get the DVDs. Im a huge fan of sci-fi and action, still I´ve always thought the romance side of stories is one of great relevance, not only famous romance novels but every meaningful novel writen/filmed/performed has romance if not at its core, at its center, sometimes its the backdrop, sometimes its the main theme but its always there: Dostoievsky, Tolstoi, Goethe, Novalis, Kierkergard, Kundera... all new and old classic authors (I purposely chose darker writers to further ilustrate my point) all gave romance and love and sexuality the place it deservers in the human experience. So although Im not what many would call a romantic its an aspect of a show I regard heavily, I dont "need" to have romance but any story that has a good one can be double as good as without it.

So I was going to purchase the BSG DVDs up untill you talked about them ending up stranged, see the one thing I really cant take is writers who throw away something they themselves have built up just to go for the shock and awe effect, even if it doesnt make sense given all the backstory. I can picture them thinking "We´r soooo original cause we´r not going to give the couple a happy ending, we´r very brave cause we wont pander to the Kara/Lee shippers" I dont think I´ll be buying it.

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