Thu
Mar 3 2011 10:00am

Nobody Told Me Battlestar Galactica Was a Romance

Kara Thrace and Lee AdamaI 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.)

BSG Season 1 DVDThe 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.

Starbuck and ApolloHere’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.

 

Glossary

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.


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

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37 comments
ninjamonkey73
1. ninjamonkey73
You definitely hit all the points I ship them for! Between the complex gender roles and electrifying chemistry, what's not to love?

In short, they banter like ’30s film stars

They DO have a very Hepburn/Tracy vibe. :)
Megan Frampton
2. MFrampton
I've never seen this. People in the office have strongly suggested that I start. And if there's a hot, smoking romance?

Okay, I'm in.
Stephanie Treanor
3. Streanor
Starbuck is one of my all time favorite characters but her
relationship with Lee really made me sick. Mostly because i cannot stand Lee's personality.

They remind me of Joey and Dawson from Dawson's creek. Dawson aka Lee was the whinny cry baby, by episode two you were screaming at your television "MAN UP ALREADY STOP ACTING LIKE A WHIMPY
GIRL".

Joey was the cool smart girl with a "dark past" who always kept people at a distance.. very similar to Kara.

Now enters my favorite character, Pacie Aka Sam.. He was so much sexier than Dawson (lee) and more rebelious which only added to his charm.

As you can tell now i'm a HUGE Kara and Sam shipper all the way. I just think their personalities mesh well together and Sam didnt make me want to bash my head against the wall everytime i saw him on screen.. i'd rather rip his clothes off.

BTW.. Joey chose Pacey in the end.. thats all i'm sayin ;)
Heather Waters (redline_)
4. redline_
@ninjamonkey73 -- Woo-hoo, first commenter! You rock. Question for you: What was your first impression of Kara/Lee and when did you realize their true epicness? I was seriously digging them by midpoint of the mini, but I think it wasn't until Colonial Day/beginning of KLG1 (that opener! still the hottest scene EVAR, y/y?) that I became obsessed.

@MFrampton -- YOU MUST WATCH! That is all.
ninjamonkey73
5. queenofthorns
Tara, what a lovely summation of all the things that appealed to me about Kara and Lee as individuals and as a couple. There's this inevitability to them that I would normally find annoying (as in, when tv shows or books shove a couple at me and TELL me that they're soulmates/OTPs, I usually resist) but in their case, their chemistry is so compelling that it overrides my contrariness!
Heather Waters (redline_)
6. redline_
@ Streanor -- Them's fightin' words and I haven't even made it to the third paragraph! You're seriously comparing Lee Adama to DAWSON LEERY?!!!!
Liz Maverick
7. lizmaverick
Holy crap. I cannot BELIEVE Stephanie just compared Lee to Dawson. I feel ill.
Heather Waters (redline_)
8. redline_
@Streanor -- I just think their personalities mesh well together and Sam didnt make me want to bash my head against the wall everytime i saw him on screen.. i'd rather rip his clothes off.

Well, OF COURSE Sam and Kara meshed together--he was her doormat! (And Lee is way hotter -- he's not called Apollo for nothin'.)

@lizmaverick -- Word.
Susan T
9. aurora_0811
Great job Tara! Perfect descriptions of the best OTP of all time...OF ALL TIME.

The best part about Lee and Kara is that they were never perfect. They were real people with real issues and flaws. Most of all they were equals in every sense of the word. This is what I love best about romance stories. I love the angst and struggle that goes into two people working out their feelings for each other.

Maybe the ending wasn't exactly what we would have hoped or wished for but their journey spoke volumes about their feelings for each other. It was never easy, easy would have been walking away from each other and never looking back. They NEVER did that. They always came back to each other in some way. Regardless of how much they argued, who they married or followed whatever destiny that called to them individually at the end of all things he was Lee and she was Kara and the rest of it wasn't worth a damn.

This is why my OTP will always hold a special place in my heart.
Stephanie Treanor
10. Streanor
@redline NO WAY! Sam truly loved Kara.. the only thing Lee was in love with is his pudgy face everytime he looked in the mirror.

I still vote for the fat Lee.. i felt that was his true character :)
ninjamonkey73
11. Shaynaneedsmorecoffee
Kara and Joey are so alike... they both have crappy fathers and... hair?

I love Sam and am not seeing anything remotely Pacey like. The comparison really doesn't work. (It's not the worse I have ever seen, that honor goes to comparing Friends to BSG).

Love K/S. Hate teen dramas.

Can't Sam and Lee BOTH be really hot? Cuz they are. So is Kara.
Tara Gelsomino
12. Taragel
@ninjamonkey73 I loved their banter soooo much. It's one of my favorite things about them. Sad that it gets overlooked so often, in light of the angst pit the show devolved into in later seasons. But in 33, when they're both dogtired from jumping incessantly away from the cylons and their still bantering in the bathroom about transfer forms and "i'll get a pen". Oh yeah, loved that!

@meganf You need to get on it! Seriously! But make sure you have time, because once you watch the first season, you will positively eat up the rest of them

@streanor Woah, that's some Lee hate there! Ironically my only other fictional couple I loved this much was Pacey/Joey. Ha! I don't see Sam having much in common with Pacey. Pacey and Lee are both the ones with the daddy issues, who've felt like the underdog to another relationship in Joey or Kara's life, etc. etc. Plus Pacey's support of Joey ("I remember everything") is a lot like Lee's declaration right before finale to Kara ("We've seen a lot of crazy things... I don't care. I don't. I'm Lee and You're Kara, the rest of it isn't worth a damn!")

@lizmaverick And this is why I love you. MWAH! Who knew our breakfast chat at BEA last year would lead to this? ;)

@redline_ Way to defend the OTP girlfriend! (And an even bigger, Who knew... to you. ;) Still tickled that now I can call you my official editor.

@aurora_0811 SO SAY WE ALL! They never could walk away.
Tara Gelsomino
13. Taragel
Oops I exceeded comment limits and got cut off!

@shaynaneedsmorecoffee Hee. A Friends/BSG comparison? God, would that make Kara... Jennifer Aniston? That pains me. :(
Liz Maverick
14. lizmaverick
@Streanor , @Shaynaneedsmorecoffee I don't even understand where the Sam-love comes in. I mean, who the hell is Sam?

Oh, right. He's the guy that didn't get enough character development. Samsssnnooooozzzzee. *thunk*
Heather Waters (redline_)
15. redline_
@redline_ Way to defend the OTP girlfriend! (And an even bigger, Who knew... to you. ;) Still tickled that now I can call you my official editor.

Why thank you! I can't BELIEVE Steph went there with Lee. You know I love me some Lee Adama (because we're a lot alike, it's true) AND Pacey.

Right?! Liz was like, "So...you pretty much get to spend half your work today fangirling." Ha.

Plus Pacey's support of Joey ("I remember everything") is a lot like Lee's declaration right before finale to Kara ("We've seen a lot of crazy things... I don't care. I don't. I'm Lee and You're Kara, the rest of it isn't worth a damn!")

Melts. SSWA!

But in 33, when they're both dogtired from jumping incessantly away from the cylons and they're still bantering in the bathroom about transfer forms and "i'll get a pen."

I always forget to watch that deleted scene even though it's adorable. When I FINALLY get my BSG DVDs (they're still in FL with most of my possessions *sob*), I need to rewatch. I really, really love that point in the series, before things go so very dark for pilots (even though...the world had JUST ended, heh).
ninjamonkey73
16. kag523
Fantastic summary of all of those "best" parts of Kara and Lee's relationship. I think you best described it when you noted:
"Family, friends, enemies, coworkers, lovers—Kara and Lee are every romantic trope all wrapped up in one relationship."

Just beautifully describes why I love them... even when I hate what they are doing to themselves and those around them. Bravo!
ninjamonkey73
17. Stuart Conover
First time on the blog, mainly here as BSG was brought up! I'm a huge fan of the show and saw your post on it on twitter and I have to say... I 110% agree with you. The character interaction in this show is just quite simply amazing.

While I am also a scifi junkie this show could be set in nearly any era with a few changes. The actors and writing are just top notch and, yes, Lee and Kara do tend to be the center of it all (though "The Old Man" and Laura's relationship is also quite well put together.) At any rate I;m rambling: yes with Lee and Kara's connection to one another, tossing in Sam even though Kara clearly was still and always would be in love with Lee was perfectly executed. It was love that felt real to watch instead of forced as in so many novels, movies, and shows.

Great post!
ninjamonkey73
18. wand3rlust
Very nice! I have to agree that it's the characters and their relationships with each other that pulled me in with each episode too. Kara and Lee especially! I don't think I've ever seen an on-screen couple with the dynamic they have and you're 100% bang on about the chemistry. I love how dialogue is almost stripped from scenes simply because it is not needed for them to get across the mood or feeling. Great article!

-Melissa
ninjamonkey73
19. bellaaurora
Congrats on the article Tara! Pilots forever!
ninjamonkey73
20. Alie
ITA with everything you said about Lee/Kara. It's such an up and down tumultous relationship. I always found it refreshing that Kara played the more masculine, no committment role whereas Lee was more feminine.
Tara Gelsomino
21. Taragel
@kag523 That's the thing that really gets me the most I think. They fit EVERY romance trope that I enjoy! (And ok, even some I don't!) They are so very, many things to each other -- it's so dramatically rich and complex.

@stuart conover Hey! Thanks for coming over and commenting! It's such a wonderful relationship. The complex characterization definitely made their bond seem very genuine and real and multi-layered. I enjoy Bill and Laura's romance as well, it was nice to see an older couple getting that kind of storyline to play. The way their romance built slowly (and involved giving each other books as gifts!) was lovely.

@wand3rlust Yes! They both do so much phenomenal acting with just their eyes and facial expressions and body language, that the text is so unnecessary! I've never seen a romance play out in TV or movies or books that is so undeniably present with such little acknowledgment in the dialogue of it by the canon. Really intriguing and wonderful. (And Katee Sackhoff and Jamie Bamber just sizzle together, completely. They're mesmerizing!)

@bellaaurora Thanks for reading! Pilots forever. ;)

@alie I agree. It was a really interesting change that made their dynamic that much more unique and captivating.
Reshma Dave
22. ReshmaDave81
Very nice, Tara! This pretty much sums up the different reasons why I love Lee and Kara. I was a bit stunned when I finished because I didn’t know what to say. I have a friend who recently started watching and I have been trying to explain to her why I love pilots but she is going to get this link because it says it all. You have done an exceptional job in showing why we all consider Lee and Kara’s relationship to be EPIC!

Fantastic job again, Tara!
ninjamonkey73
23. scifishipper
Kara Thrace and Lee Adama are soulmates. I didn't make it that way--they just are. Hell, I might even prefer it if they were not, it'd make it a whole lot simpler. Even they tried simple - they married other people - but in the end they came back to each other because they had to. They are drawn together, beautifully, destructively, desperately because that is what happens when you find your other half. You're scared out of your frakking mind and you dance around it and deny it and wish like hell you could have a normal relationship because it's easier. But it doesn't work that way. Not for them.

Gah. Just thinking about pilots gets my heart pounding. For all of the arguing about who is better for Kara because of this or that or other things, the OTP all boils down to the reader/viewer. They rock my world, these two, because they're crackling with energy and fire. It's violent, destructive, hot, and sexy, but it's also supportive and loving at the ends of the worlds. Boring and staid romances are not the thing of EPIC pairings - those requires energy and life and some hard circumstances that get in the way. These two have all of those things and more. PILOTS FOREVER
ninjamonkey73
24. Cosette
Such a lovely essay! You have perfectly encapsulated why Lee
and Kara is my favorite fictional couple ever. Their chemistry was
mesmerizing, and their dynamics were challenging and captivating on so many levels (as you say, they are everything to each other. Talk about complexity! ).

I think what appealed me the most about Kara and Lee’s story was that their relationship went beyond the surface of all the typical TV romance conventions –to the point that it was actually quite difficult to watch at some moments— and, probably because of this, always felt so true and real. There was obsession and codependency, loss of control and plenty of fear and hurt, but all this was redeemed, over and over, by the depth of their friendship and the intense, pure nature of their love. What can I say? They were beautiful and bittersweet, touching and epic in every way, and I just adore them
ninjamonkey73
25. ninjamonkey73
@redline_ - Same as you, I was into them from halfway through the mini, but it was SEALED by the dress scene in Colonial Day. And I'll sidestep spoilers by adding that the beginning of KLGI and then in the hangar... Yeeeah... That's when I had a more LJ savvy friend hook me up with no_takebacks... :)
Tara Gelsomino
26. Taragel
@ReshmaDave81 Aw thank you! I'm so glad you enjoyed. Hope your friend sees the light. ;)

@scifishipper Absolutely. It's undeniable: they complete each other. No one brings it like these two. They are, in the words of one Mr. Logan Echolls, "lives ruined, blood shed, EPIC."

@cosette Word. I'm not really a huge angst fan in general, but their baggage and flaws just give them a depth that is unparalleled in most stories/TV/movies.
ninjamonkey73
27. alissabobissa
Tara! This is a fantastically fun read and a great reminder of how these two sucked me in to begin with. I didn't get into the show until in had already aired two and a half seasons, so I knew K/L was a big couple in the fandom and watched from the beginning expecting something more typically romantic from these two. The fact that they weren't is what made me fall for them.

Kara is a doer, Lee is a thinker, neither one is a talker.
This is my favorite point you make. Just the fact that we have to rely on everything but words to suss out their feelings made K/L a challenge and so very interesting to watch. Man, I miss them.

Lee Adama loves Kara Thrace, and Kara Thrace loves Lee Adama. Always.
ninjamonkey73
28. MSerrada
Like you said, they communicate so much without ever saying anything. Of course, that WAS part of their problem. No one can truly connect with the non-verbal alone. But, ah...how they tried.
Tara Gelsomino
29. Taragel
@alissabobissa Alissa! Thanks so much! Interesting. I didn't come to it until late, but I knew almost nothing except that Katee was Starbuck, hotshot space pilot! I'd never seen Jamie in anything else and had no real idea about the show at all not being a Sci-fi fan. Couldn't believe (still can't!) how obsessive I got! Ha!

I read that sentiment somewhere once? In a fic or a piece of meta? And I thought it was just so true. Kara loves action, Lee likes thinking, and their whole relationship is just reading between the lines. So intriguing!

@MSerrada True! They were unwilling to confront their feelings for so long. Sigh. They left it too late. :(
ninjamonkey73
30. parttimelurker
Oof. Came across this while (what else?) looking for fic on my OTP on LJ. I mean FOR REALZ, these two had my heart from the very beginning, and who doesn't love how well they play off of each other?

You've named every single reason why I dig these two, and it HURT to watch them sometimes, with all their spit and fire and angst, and their absolute determination not to make it work (ok, that was just Kara, but, ARGH!)...

Maybe it was a timing thing. There was Sam, and there was Dee, but even before those two came along, they had each other, and it kills me that there were always other things, saving-the-world things, that prevented them. And there was the fear, and the feelings (oh KARA!) that kept them apart...ugh. Must go read something schmoopy and happy now.

Anyway, great essay. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Tara Gelsomino
31. Taragel
@parttimelurker Thanks! I know, right? There is so much between them all the time. And gah, you just wish the writers had let them try to give it a shot. Sigh. So heartbreaking but so wonderful too.
ninjamonkey73
32. poppypickle
This is the third time that I have tried to comment on this, so I don't know what the heck if going on. But I love this essay! What a beautiful description of why Kara/Lee works so well for me.

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.

Brilliant and witty. I hope that we get to read more essays from you on this site!
Tara Gelsomino
33. Taragel
@poppypickle Why thank you, lady. :) I'm so glad @redline_ and I were able to convert you to our ship! Now we can squee and lament together! As soon as you finish the series anyway. ;)

I have to say, I rewrote the backstory paragraph a bunch of times. So much happens between them, it was hard to encapsulate it without getting bogged down by details and later events!
Naz Keynejad
34. nazkey
I can't believe I'm finally here and able to read this! Excellent job Tara!

Like @kag523 said above, this, beyond all else encapsulates K/L for me too. "Family, friends, enemies, coworkers, lovers—Kara and Lee are every romantic trope all wrapped up in one relationship."

And what a great way to describe their banter! They really are like Tracy/Hepburn, aren't they?

Great, great job bb! Sorry it took forever to get here, read and comment!
ninjamonkey73
35. Taragel
@nazkey Thanks Naz! I'm glad you think I did them justice! Their banter is one of my favorite things about them. So great in those early seasons. Sad we lost that as things got more and more angsty/doomy.
ninjamonkey73
36. JT
There should have been one more season of BSG, which consisted of nothing but Cara and Lee making babies. Trying to, anyway.
ninjamonkey73
37. Floot
"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 how! I swear I get a contact high just watching.
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