Skip to content

The TV show that had ALL the complex and strong female characters: Battlestar Galactica

This week Lindsay Miller wrote about Doctor Who (and if you’ve seen the comments, you’ll notice my endless love for the many incarnations of the Doctor) and s.e. smith wrote about the portrayal of strong female characters on TV. Since I am a big sci-fi nerd (all it takes for me to watch a TV show is the promise of aliens and/ or space ships; my habit is so bad and uncritical that I am currently suffering through Falling Skies and have previously endured The Event and even the remake of V), that I thought this was as good a time as any to revisit one of my all time favorite shows: Battlestar Galactica. Because: Battlestar Galactica has an entire gamut of strong female characters. Probably more than most contemporary TV productions.

Now, let me preface this by saying a couple of things: for a start, I won’t be really original. Lots have been written about this show. However, its awesomeness deserves that every now and then we go back to it and reminiscence in its complexity and amazing story telling. Second, as much as I love the series, it was not perfect. In fact, it was far from it.

To begin with how it was not perfect (or in fairness, how it was screwed up), we need to point to the staggering absence of queerness. The entire remaining human population of a dead planet was straight and cis. Oh yeah, with one exception that might escape everyone but the most hardcore fans: Felix Gaeta. If you blinked, you would have missed his queerness, though. Because it was only mentioned in one of the webisodes. And then he died. And he was a traitor. So, poor Felix was gay and suffered horribly in his last hours.

Back when the show was still airing, part of the criticism of its portrayal of women was that the only strong female characters were not human but in fact, Cylons. Juliet Lapidos wrote in Slate:

The main female characters are all dying, dead, or not human. Ellen, Sharon, D’Anna, and Tory Foster—all strong female characters, have all turned out to be Cylons, and Starbuck was recently revealed as a half-Cylon hybrid. Adm. Cain, for a time the highest ranking officer in the military, was assassinated; Cally was murdered; Dee, Capt. Lee Adama’s neglected wife, committed suicide; and Starbuck’s rival, Capt. Louanne Katraine, pretty much did, too—she sacrificed herself while guiding civilian ships through a dangerous star cluster. The president, perhaps the most-talked-about example of Battlestar’s great female leads, is dying of breast cancer. In isolation, none of these cases has much significance. But taken together they suggest a troubling, if unintentional message: Women—the human ones, anyway—just can’t hack it when the going gets rough.

But. But. But. More often than not, I identified with the Cylons. Their war against the humans wasn’t uncalled for. It wasn’t the result of a mindless need for destruction or extermination. It was the result of years of oppression. To me, that the Cylons had the more interesting female characters spoke of the overall complexity of wars and social struggles. If anything, it was humans, with their inability to see the reasons that led them to their own demise who were, if not deserving of their ill fate, at least complicit in the injustices inflicted on the Cylons.

And then, there is another trope of Cylon characters that are almost always overlooked: the hybrids. With their quasi religious utterances (one could say that they eerily resembled the streams of consciousness of psychedelic drug users; or in a more profane association, the hybrids seemed to be reading an unfiltered Twitter feed compiled from the totality of humans using the service at any given time). But the hybrids were not just passive, hypersexualized creatures, as it’s been suggested in the Slate article referenced above. They are also the givers of life. They are guides. They were thought to be prophetic, they seem to “run the house” (i.e. the central computer of the Cylon baseship). All of these, attributes often associated with femininity and womanhood.

I’ve written before about pop culture portrayals of addiction in women. One of the things I loved about Battlestar Galactica was how its narrative departed from the classic media depictions of women and substance use. At least two of the women in the show dealt with alcohol related issues. Kara Trace (Starbuck) often used alcohol as a way to deal with her emotions and the pressures of her job. Ellen Tigh, for me, one of the richest characters in the show, at some point dealt with what was hinted as an alcohol abuse problem. Also, both characters were much more than the casual references to the substances they used. Both were pivotal to understanding the motivations of Cylons and humans alike. Their roles were not “good” or “bad”, but instead, a complicated combination of traits and behaviors that represented the experience of being… human (see? the non human characters again speaking of our humanity?).

How could I forget President Roslin? Raise your hand if you watched Battlestar Galactica and got fuzzy inside thinking that maybe, the show reflected Hillary Clinton’s chances at the Presidency. Raise your hand if you thought that, perhaps, pop culture was anticipating an overall shift in how women are allowed to enter the highest political spaces. I know I did. And I was happy to see leadership, specifically female leadership, portrayed as something complex; something informed by our politics, yes, but also by gender and by the expectations that gender creates. In a time when women are expected to abandon womanhood in order to be taken seriously in politics (to become “one of the guys”), President Roslin was afflicted by a disease that is almost always associated with womanhood: breast cancer. And still, she led. With failures, with successes, with nuance.

And of course, there is the issue of racial representation. Whereas the show is clear in the fact that racial tensions are of a different nature to those we are accustomed to (i.e. it’s a matter of Human vs. Cylon for the most part), I found the diversity of actors and actresses who played the roles to be refreshing. There was Grace Park, playing Boomer; Kandyse McClure playing Anastasia Dualla; Lorena Gale, as the Priestess and Rekha Sharma as Tory Foster. All of them diverse women playing regular roles, as opposed to the usual TV “token” minority. All of them part of the story telling instead of a “concession” that writers usually make to appease potential critics.

It’s been almost two and a half years since the last episode of Battlestar Galactica aired. It’s been two and a half years since we’ve had a show where a diverse group of women played a central role in a major sci-fi production. Am I the only one who misses not only the show but the possibilities that the show presented? I just hope that in the not so distant future, there is another series that gives me the same joyful anticipation for each new episode.

41 Comments

  1. s.e. smith wrote:

    One thing I adored about the racial politics on BSG was that because the focus was on human/Cylon conflict, people of colour on the show were allowed to just be, without having to Make Statements About Race. It felt like a more natural integration instead of this forced ‘look at how diverse we are! We have a Latino commanding a battleship!’

    The Hybrids troubled me—I actually read that as a disability narrative (you know me, I have to drag disability into everything), what with the immobilisation and being imbued with mystical powers and brave self-sacrifice for the good of humanity stuff.

    Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 9:34 am | Permalink
  2. I hadn’t thought of that, which you are right, is troubling, because I never thought of them as human. I thought they were cyborgs that embodied female qualities. But you are right, the disability narrative is HIGHLY problematic then.

    Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 9:41 am | Permalink
  3. s.e. smith wrote:

    And there really are multiple interpretations there, it’s not that one is necessary right/wrong. I think it’s interesting to explore the different ways you can read the Hybrids, and to talk about the different narratives you can read into them (and to look at who reads what, culturally).

    Of course, the real reason I love BSG is the classwar.

    Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 10:09 am | Permalink
  4. Amanda (not Hess) wrote:

    Yes! BSG is probably my all-time favourite sci-fi series (perhaps even beating Doctor Who and Torchwood…) for exactly this reason. It dealt with gender, race and class better than any series I can think of, and in a way that seemed completely natural. Apart from the dearth of queer characters, the writers did a really good job of making people that actually seemed real instead of just a mish-mash of played out tropes. The humanity portrayed by all of the major and supporting characters was phenomenal; the fact that you could root for a character one season and be completely reviled by them the next was perfect. I’m also a Cylon sympathiser :)

    I definitely have other issues with the show (specifically the ending) but on the whole it was probably the most diverse, well-written and worthwhile sci-fi series on television at the time, and since.

    Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 11:05 am | Permalink
  5. Abigail wrote:

    I’m pretty much on the other side of the fence where BSG is concerned. To my mind it started very well and then collapsed into an unholy, incoherent mess completely undone by poorly thought-through political allegory (the Cylons, for example, do not commit genocide as a response to oppression – there were forty years following that oppression during which they lived perfectly free and unmolested; then they decided to destroy humanity). But I do agree that the show does a good line in female characters who are complex, recognizably human, and no more or less screwed up than the men. Starbuck, for example, for all that I grew incredibly weary of the show’s infatuation with her and the interminable on-off romance with Lee, is, in her collapse into alcoholism and nihilism, a very fine deconstruction of the Action Girl trope.

    That said, one of the things that most troubled me about the show, especially towards its end, was the way it distinguished between the “special” women – Starbuck, Sharon, Roslin, Ellen, Caprica – who were allowed to be as screwed up as they wanted with barely any consequences, and the regular ones – Dualla, Callie, Tori, Boomer – who spent the last two seasons being shat on from great height. They were deceived, abused, reviled, humiliated, and murdered, and the narrative kept telling us that they deserved it. Part of my unease is rooted in fan reaction – if you want to be horrified, look for BSG fans’ attitude towards Callie during her marriage to Tyrol – but a lot of the time the writers seemed to be in on it as well.

    Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Permalink
  6. Jane O wrote:

    Oh yes yes yes – I LOVED BSG and miss it sorely. As you say, there were misses, but I always read it as the human fear of the ‘other’ and what was particularly great for me was that the humans and the Cylons took turns in being the ‘other’. I read it at the time as a portrayal of the war in Iraq and the Muslim peoples being portrayed as the ‘other/Cylons’ and, as I say, I was on one side and then the other throughout the series. It really was the only programme on TV that attempted to deal with politics – (often the way with SciFi – witness Babylon 5, another great politics in space/dealing with the ‘other’ narrative). With regard to gender ins BSG, I loved the fact that the women were just part of the narrative – not unequal, not dominant, just part of the narrative. As it actually would be in real life. All the characters were strong and weak, and good and bad and complex and human. Fabulous.

    Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 1:06 pm | Permalink
  7. Re: queer characters…wasn’t it strongly implied that Admiral Cain was in a relationship with the model Six known as Gina Inviere?

    Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Permalink
  8. Sady wrote:

    Oh, man! I love that Lindsay’s article has inspired all of us to be the best geeks we can be. She did a 100% great job with it, that is for sure.

    @S.E., that’s an interesting read on the Hybrids! And you are a way better critic of disability images and narratives than I am, so I can’t say you’re wrong. I will say that, since BSG was never shy with its mythical allusions, and especially not with the Greek ones, I thought of them as straight-up Greek oracles. You know: The Greek oracles were confined, couldn’t leave their sacred caves or world-navels, and had to inhale the drugged smoke before they could tap into a greater consciousness and share their visions and riddles. I thought their connection to the ship, specifically the jump drives, was supposed to be a very literal way of showing that they were at the world-navel and tapped into a greater consciousness, and that the water was just standard mystical stuff. (The Cylons always tapped into each others’ minds and their own computers with water, didn’t they? Which is like THE FLUIDITY OF CONSCIOUSNESS or a very old metaphor for the Collective Unconsciousness or whatever). But then you could argue that the Greek oracles had disability narratives of their own. Specifically, Cassandra.

    Speaking of disability narratives: GAETA. Who is also the second, maybe third Evil Queer on the series, after Admiral Cain and (more sympathetically, but still very explosively) Gina. I never loved how they handled that.

    Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Permalink
  9. Sady wrote:

    @Dorothyinengland: Not just strongly implied, but eventually stated.

    Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Permalink
  10. addy wrote:

    Admiral Cain was queer! She got it on with the 6 who had infiltrated the Pegasus.

    Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Permalink
  11. Aliaras wrote:

    I too liked BSG! And am excited about all the scifi posts in general.

    One of the things that I really liked about the show is the way it depicted male and female friendships and co-worker-ships. Both genders are shown sleeping in the same quarters on the Galactica, and it’s not sexual until, well, actual sex comes into it. Which very quietly flies in the face of the whole icky, rape-culture-y thing where if men and women are naked in the same room, stuff will happen because uncontrollable lust or something like that.

    The only things that gave me trouble on BSG were: 1) Leoben needs “TRIGGER WARNING” stapled to his face and 2) I was disappointed by how the Cylon’s one-god creepy christian allegory religion won out over the humans’ more interesting Greek religion. Seriously, there’s enough christianity in our culture, a little diversity was nice.

    Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Permalink
  12. Nora wrote:

    I never read Gaeta as evil, just as sort of… scapegoated, I guess? Not that it really messes with the point about none of the queer people really meeting good ends. (I’m pretty sure Hoshi lives, though!)

    Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Permalink
  13. SarcasticFringehead wrote:

    @Nora
    Yeah, he certainly didn’t end well, but he was not so much evil as demonstrating the dilemma between working with the enemy to bring them down covertly vs. fighting against them openly.

    Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Permalink
  14. @Sady, indeed Lindsay inspired us to geek out! This post is a product of my joking to s.e. that OMG she didn’t include the women of Battlestar Galactica in her post about strong female characters. So, you know, I HAD to come in their defense!

    As for the oracle/ fluidity of consciousness metaphors, that, I believe is what the Hybrids are. And you are right, the Greek Eleusinian mysteries were thought to be generated by psychedelic drugs. Also, since they are the hybrids are running the Cylon spaceship and keeping everything together, would they make the Cylons a matriarchy? (Don’t know, just wondering here).

    I had forgotten that Admiral Cain was also queer. I think it’s because her story line was short(ish) and after all this time, I have to sort of revisit many of those characters because, eh, I no longer remember all the details. But yeah, another one that, sadly, didn’t end well.

    Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Permalink
  15. Also, I purposefully left him out of this post because I wanted to focus on female characters but can we discuss Gaius Baltar as well? He was one of my favorite characters, if anything because he seemed to be driven purely by personal ambition. Unlike most of the other characters who seemed to be driven by either passion or belief, Baltar seemed focused entirely in advancing the cause of Gaius Baltar.

    Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 6:03 pm | Permalink
  16. B. wrote:

    I last watched the show a couple of years ago, and I admit I probably wasn’t looking very hard at the characters like everyone else seems to have done. I think it’s time to watch it all again and maybe enjoy it even more after reading this.

    Also, @Flavia, I’m with you on Gaius Baltar there. Even though I felt I was supposed to hate him sometimes, I couldn’t help but love to watch such an interesting character.

    Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Permalink
  17. SarcasticFringehead wrote:

    I…it feels weird to say I love Baltar, what with the Cylon collusion and general terrible-person-ness, but he’s just so much fun to watch, what with the unapologetic selfishness and all. I kept kind of expecting him to get a redemption arc, but he never really did. Also, his interactions with the, like, angel or whatever that was manifesting as him were AMAZING. Possibly my favorite part of the entire show.

    Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 7:37 pm | Permalink
  18. Emily Manuel wrote:

    I think I like Baltar *because* he’s a terrible person, Sarcasticfringehead. He’s such a fascinating model of evil for me – someone who does horrible evil out of selfishness, greed, vanity, etc… and all the while maintaining a good opinion of himself. A lot of Evil (especially in SFF) is metaphysical and pretty unmotivated, but Baltar’s is endlessly compelling.

    Friday, August 12, 2011 at 12:26 am | Permalink
  19. Sady wrote:

    @Emily: YAY BALTAR TALK. Baltar might be my favorite character on that show. I think the reason I like him (other than the whole Pete Campbell dynamic, wherein the comic relief is also the villain, so you kind of have to hate/love him) is that ultimately, he seems like a very realistic model of evil. He starts with recognizable, human, almost minor flaws — being deeply insecure (mostly about his class background) and needing to construct and maintain this image of Super-Cool Charismatic Lady-Bangin’ Baltar so that he can like himself, or at least believe that other people like him — and gradually progresses from there into this catastrophic self-involvement that makes him capable of horrible things.

    It’s important to remember that his big, original “sin” — BLOWING UP ALL HUMANS — is something that he didn’t even do himself. There was no way for him to know that his hot blonde genius-programmer girlfriend was secretly a genocidal robot. There was no way for him to know that giving her access to his work, and letting her “help” with it, wasn’t just a means of bolstering his own image and doing her an unethical professional favor. And after he found out, in the worst possible way, he was just horrified. He was afraid for his life. I mean, honestly, if you did something that completely inadvertently caused a tragedy that devastated every single person you met, and you knew that most of those people would willingly tear you apart with their bare hands if they found out, would you be the person who stands up and says “I did it,” just on principle? It’s nice to think so, but I don’t think most people would. He’s trying to save his own life, at first, and as monstrous as that seems to us: It is his life. It’s the only life he’s personally got. And from there, he just goes deeper and deeper, doing more and more things to cover his own ass, and every cover requires yet another, more compromising cover, until he’s become actively malignant. (It’s worth remembering that for a lot of this, he’s being essentially blackmailed by a lady who lives in his head.) So many of the terrible things he does, on a grand scale, just come down to the fact that he thought those terrible things were the only way to save his own life.

    But he is a bad person, and is capable of doing bad things on his own, too. Which is where his narcissism comes into play; when Cool Hot Genius Lady-Bangin’ Baltar doesn’t sell to people or isn’t “appreciated” or “loved” enough, he becomes capable of this terrible petulance that is just wrenching to watch, because you know he’s doing things that will hurt and kill people, but all he can think of is whether those people like Baltar enough, and how he’s going to take his ball and go home if they don’t. He’s capable of good things, too, but they aren’t ever done for the purpose of doing good; they’re done to make people like him. That’s all he wants, out of life: To see a good image of himself reflected in the faces of the people around him. He’s so fucking desperate for acceptance and status and respect that he will do literally anything to get it, and he’s completely oblivious to the consequences his actions have for anyone else. I don’t think Baltar has a good opinion of himself. I think Baltar hates himself. He hates himself so much so he needs everyone else to love him, basically, and GOD HELP THEM if they don’t. Again: My litmus test for characters is whether I can believe in their thought processes. And I can believe Baltar’s, every step of the way. I have known people like this. And it’s way more compelling to watch than any sort of moustache-twirling villain.

    I have to say, though, that after his little breakdown in “Dirty Hands,” where we see the nothing little farmer guy with an accent that he’s been hiding from all these years, I do think he gets his redemption. And it’s believable redemption. He becomes a little braver, a little more self-sacrificing, a little more capable of thinking in terms of issues that are not (a) Baltar’s immediate survival, or (b) Baltar’s reputation. But he’s never a big shiny hero, he’s never completely un-obnoxious, and most people never completely love him, and they shouldn’t. That’s fine. That’s a part of what Baltar has to deal with, now that he’s a human adult.

    Friday, August 12, 2011 at 2:18 am | Permalink
  20. @Aliaras, it’s interesting the point you make about humans abandoning their complex and richer religion in favor of the Cylon’s simplistic monotheism. That is part of what Baltar did to advance himself. When he saw that there was an opportunity to get people to see him as a “charismatic leader”, he had no reservations in manipulating them into a belief system that had HIM as the central figure. Which you know, if we are going to talk about pop culture metaphors, is the same criticism many have for organized religion.

    Also Number Six/ Caprica Six: I LOVE HER CHARACTER! You know why? Because of how it played the stereotype of the bombshell. Not only is Tricia Helfer drop dead gorgeous, but they gave her a part with depth, which you know, women like her are usually not allowed to have. You cannot, on most TV shows, wear that killer red dress and, at the same time, have an amazing intelligence and complexity. It’s either one or the other. But in her case, she is so pivotal to the entire show, and, at times, super vulnerable and hurt, and at others, manipulating and treacherous, and also capable of love and hate, etc, etc.

    Friday, August 12, 2011 at 5:01 am | Permalink
  21. I have to say I agree. The female characters in BSG were strong and also had a lot of depth too. That was one thing that I was seriously disappointed in with Falling Skies.

    Friday, August 12, 2011 at 8:00 am | Permalink
  22. Ali wrote:

    BSG discussion! Ah one of my favourite things ^_^

    Your opinion of Ellen is about the polar opposite of mine so now I’m interested – have you written anywhere about why you think she’s such a rich character? You kind of mentioned it and then moved on so now I’m curious – if you’ve talked about this in more detail I’d love to read it!

    I might be missing something here, but I’ve watched the whole show through fairly recently and had no idea Starbuck was a ‘half-Cylon hybrid’. As far as I could tell she was 100% human, then she died and came back as we have no idea what, but going by the show’s massive amounts of religion I was thinking she was supposed to be an angel or something. Where did ‘half-Cylon hybrid’ come from? Was it mentioned by the producers outside of the show?

    Friday, August 12, 2011 at 10:21 am | Permalink
  23. @Ali, this is actually the first time I write about a TV show at all! (save for the occasional short rant on different social media sites). This is not for a particular reason, it’s just that yeah, it’s probably not the first subject that comes to mind when I compose a piece/ blog post.

    About Starbuck being a half Cylon, it was never spelled out, but it was heavily hinted at: that her father was Daniel, the Cylon that brother Cavil destroyed. This came to the narrative when Starbuck remembers her father playing the Bob Dylan song, Someone to watch over me, which is the song used to activate the Final Five Cylons.

    As for why I liked Ellen? Because of the disparate character traits they gave her. She was at times slutty (flirting and bedding men! for personal gains! or for pleasure!), she dealt with alcohol (ab)use issues, she was a Lady Macbeth type, plotting to advance her and Coronel Tigh’s positions and (and this is something super interesting for me in the context of all these previous traits), she was one of the designers of the resurrection technology (which would make her a badass scientist as well). And don’t forget that after all the “bad stuff” she did, she was instrumental in bringing peace between Cylons and humans.

    Friday, August 12, 2011 at 11:09 am | Permalink
  24. SarcasticFringehead wrote:

    Once again, Sady says what I would have said if I could figure out what I meant – that it’s so fascinating to watch how terribly wrong that kind of narcissism can go, but at the same time he’s still a person, to the point where I can’t help but sympathize with him.

    I think that’s the most compelling aspect of the show – that with the exception of the number ones, there’s nobody I can call a villain all the time.

    Friday, August 12, 2011 at 11:53 am | Permalink
  25. zoetropic wrote:

    I LOVED BSG – I didn’t start watching until the gap between Seasons 3 and 4, but watched everything that had come already in the space of about two weeks.

    I never read Gaeta as being portrayed as ‘evil’ though – I think the show was at least somewhat aware that the rebelling side had at least some rational grievances – they had stuff dealing with the freedom fighter/terrorist divide from quite early on (though I may have read into that more, being Irish) but I do always think he’s unfairly left out of discussions of the major characters – if you look at it, almost all of the big dramatic turning points (after the first one, obviously) are all tied into him, and particularly his relationship with Baltar.

    Friday, August 12, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Permalink
  26. Copcher wrote:

    Yes, so much love for BSG. One little thing I really appreciated was that the flight uniforms (or whatever they’re called) were boob-friendly but didn’t sexualize the women. I feel like most shows either try to stuff cis women’s bodies into cis men’s uniforms, somehow forgetting that they are usually quite differently shaped, or give women different uniforms that have a plunging neck line or short skirt or something like that (do shows still do that? I’m not sure). It was nice to see a uniform that managed to flatter more than one body type.

    Friday, August 12, 2011 at 9:20 pm | Permalink
  27. jpg wrote:

    a few things:

    - i very much appreciate the multiple readings of the hybrids happening in this thread – readings which i refuse to choose between. somehow i managed to love this show for 2 years without ever thinking much about the disability narratives in it, and now i’m going to fix that. there’s so much there: tigh’s eye; gaeta’s leg; sam’s second life as a quasi-hybrid; even brother cavil’s long speech about the limits of the human form and how he wants to see gamma rays and smell dark matter is sort of relevant, i think.

    - i disagree as well with characterizing gaeta as evil. honestly, gaeta breaks my heart. he’s the one who believes in working on a flawed system from within – and this applies both when he’s on galactica and as baltar’s top guy in new caprica – and who doesn’t get to be flighty and tempestuous and put everyone else in danger. and as he sees things getting worse, he has this terrible anger inside him which, mixed with his naivete, brings him into the coup with zarek. when he’s leaving new caprica totally broken and comes to shoot baltar, and curses him up and down, and baltar says that gaeta turned out to be an idealist, and there’s no sin in that? seriously kills me dead.
    that said, it’s not that awesome that his leg seems, to me, to be used purely to represent what he has lost. but i think it’s also partially a nagging reminder to him that the system he’s been so invested in has gone seriously off the rails – he’s sent out on a ridiculous mission with starbuck which is basically only authorized because of her special relationship with adama, he sees how reckless she is with all of their lives but still has to serve under her, and then loses the leg and is plagued with that itch that he can’t soothe until the mutiny. so. idk.

    - i loved baltar largely because, to me, he represented the most snivelling, short-sighted, flawed version of humanity, and i sort of thought that the whole point of the humans’ arc in the series, in which they are trying to survive but also to not lose themselves in the process, is that if humanity is going to make it, they have to make it there with baltar. he has to make it too. they have to be able to take care of the worst parts of themselves, and the weakest parts, because that’s part of humanity, and if humanity is worth saving, then that part gets saved too.

    is this comment totally useless? probably. well, at least it’s long!

    Friday, August 12, 2011 at 10:15 pm | Permalink
  28. kiturak wrote:

    So I know this is my own fault, and maybe it doesn’t make sense anymore anyway, but maybe you want to put a HUGE spoiler alert over this?
    I finally couldn’t resist reading the first couple paragraphs even though I’m still missing the final two BSG episodes, but gave in because I hoped against reason it wouldn’t make a difference (what’s two episodes out of five seasons?), and I SO wanted to read this!
    … As I said, my own fault, but maybe others can still be saved.

    Saturday, August 13, 2011 at 10:23 am | Permalink
  29. Aliaras wrote:

    @Flavia: I hadn’t thought of that! It still doesn’t sit well with me, though — I don’t like that organized religion/Christianity wins out in the end, turns out to be “right”. Although it fits in, I guess, with the whole Book of Exodus IN SPACE! theme of the series. But yeah, no beef with christianity, there are just a lot of stories and a lot of ways in which it gets privileged, and I was excited about some diversity there.

    Saturday, August 13, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Permalink
  30. Raemon wrote:

    I WANTED to like Baltar for all the reasons people have described, and I couldn’t, because he was just *so* pathetically incompetent. I’m not sure whether he’s supposed to be a great manipulator or not. People seem to buy his stories way more often than they should, given how incredibly flimsy his lies are and how pathetically he sweats during them.

    I can accept that that’s supposed to be part of his character, however painful it was to watch. But he’s definitely supposed to be a brilliant scientist, and is exactly one scene in the entire series I can think of where he actually DEMONSTRATES that, with confidence.

    This is a problem partly because I just wanted to see a brilliant scientist in action from time to time, but mainly because almost all of his lies are contingent (in the first season anyway) on people BELIEVING him to be a brilliant.

    The one scene I remember is some water tank exploded, and people are trying to figure out how it was done, and he steps in and says something science-y sounding about water, and people say “oh!” and then continue the conversation with that fact in mind.

    I think he needed a few more moments in the early episodes before I could accept that Adama and Roslin would have any use for him.

    Saturday, August 13, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Permalink
  31. Amanda wrote:

    Can we also talk about how the lawyer has an imaginary pet at some point, and how his delusions? in no way impact his professional ability, because that is pretty damn awesome?

    Saturday, August 13, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Permalink
  32. Cate wrote:

    @Abigail – I felt the exact same way. I marathoned the whole series for the first time recently, and I was surprised at how much I disliked it by the finale. It just seemed to get worse and worse, the writing was inconsistent, the storylines I found interesting were never explored, and DEAR SWEET BABY JESUS I was so tired of Starbuck and Lee Adama by the end of it all.

    That said, the sheer number of women characters who were allowed to MATTER was pretty exhilarating.

    Saturday, August 13, 2011 at 9:16 pm | Permalink
  33. Li wrote:

    On hybrids, I didn’t generally read them as a disability narrative, but I most definitely did see that in Sam’s characterisation in the final series. Which, you know, undermined what I thought were interesting themes implicit in the hybrids and how their link to the ships and post-human nature gave necessitated substantially different cognitive processes to the other cylons. Sam’s storyline changed that up for me into kind of a dull magical robot crip thingy. Which, you know, annoying.

    Sunday, August 14, 2011 at 5:39 am | Permalink
  34. GallingGalla wrote:

    I just got done watching BSG on Netflix, having never watched it on TV (because the horribleness that was Star Trek TOS and the Star Trek movies turned me off of space operas like forever) – and let me tell you, the show *blew me away*. Not that the show was perfect, but that it was intense, with so many conflicted, richly complex characters.

    I identified strongly with the Cylons. I pretty much see the whole show as a metaphor of cis (human) and trans* (Cylons) communities. All of the cissupremacist tropes about trans folk, and especially trans women, are metaphorically represented: Cylons as untrustworthy, as deceivers, as agents of oppression, as invaders of safe spaces. Even Athena, who twisted herself in knots to maintain her loyalty to the humans, was never loyal enough. She had to look over her shoulder constantly, and was never safe from being belittled and attacked. The thing I loved about the show is that those narratives, while pushed very hard, were in the end pretty much blown apart and subverted – almost everything that the humans claimed about the Cylons was more true of themselves than of the Cylons.

    The characters I loved the most were (in no particular order), Starbuck, Athena, Caprica Six / virtual Six, Saul Tigh, and William Adama. Ha! Only one of them – Adama – is certainly human. Starbuck’s character is one of the most complex, conflicted, and evolving characters I’ve ever come across, with Laura Roslin and Caprica Six being also unusually complex and conflicted. William Adama I got to like because he was a softy underneath that “roll the hard six” exterior, and because he had an unexpected capacity for forgiveness. He forgave Kara how many times for the shit she pulled? He forgave his best friend, Tigh, for being a Cylon, and indeed I think their friendship grew even closer as a result, and Sharon Agathon went from being a shacked prisoner to a lieutenant and Viper pilot. Also: his initial reaction to Saul’s revelation was the most imaginative portrayal of the Break The Cutie trope I’ve ever seen. (I love that trope, and I love shows and stories that break cuties. And I love that Break the Cutie was run on the audience in the Earth arc.)

    As far as Starbuck’s nature is concerned, I think that the idea of Daniel being her father was thoroughly debunked – Cavil hated that model so much that he killed the one Daniel that was extant and poisoned the entire line. But, consider this: The so-called Final Five were actually the few surviving *original* Cylons. Given their uniqueness (they aren’t “models” and don’t have copies) and the fact that Cylons on Earth (the first Earth, the one that was nuked) had developed reproduction, it’s clear that Cylons were originally as unique as humans. They only developed “models” when it became clear that their Centurians were about to nuke Earth. Hence: Starbuck could very well have been a Cylon. And honestly I don’t see how she could have known about The Music if she was human, because that music originated from first Earth, which was populated only by Cylons.

    And I agree that Baltar portrays the selfish, banal, venal nature of evil so well, especially how evil can stem from self-hatred (he is the most self-hating character on the show, and I think that Virtual Six wanted more than anything for him to get a grip on himself).

    Ok, weaknesses: I was uncomfortable with Elosha. I’m not the best to judge, but I feel like she was a Magical Negro. I mean, it helps that there were white oracles (and the Hybrids were oracles in my mind), but still. And the heteronormativity. Yes, there were a few possibly gay / lesbian characters, but they all bought it in the end: Admiral Cain was shot, Gina Inviere blew herself up, Gaeta was executed. And I agree with s.e. smith about the ableism in the show. I was troubled by the Hybrids, but even more by the treatment of Sam Anders, like after he was shot, his only value was in destroying himself in the sun.

    I also was underwhelmed by the series finale, with its “civilizing the natives” theme. Yuck. And 35,000 humans deciding to a person, and without any dissent or debate, to follow Lee Adama’s diktat about giving up technology, was totally bizarre. I could have done without the scenes in New York City, too – they were just cheesy. They could have simply displayed the title of a scientific paper on the discovery of Mitochondrial Eve and left it at that.

    Sunday, August 14, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Permalink
  35. orlando wrote:

    Didn’t it bother anyone that, from the very first series, Baltar was showing such obvious signs of trauma/breakdown that any trained security personnel (of whom Roslin had a few) wouldn’t have let him within a grenade’s distance of any sensitive information, let alone the president?

    Monday, August 15, 2011 at 4:06 am | Permalink
  36. Will Wildman wrote:

    I was, until a couple of years ago, really not lacking in awareness about all sorts of issues, so the idea of the hybrids as a variant on Magical Disability and the human/cylon dynamics being readable as commenting on cis/trans stuff is a whole new way of looking at BSG for me. And really cool.

    It is probably worth noting that, according to the writers, Starbuck was totally human (although divinely-guided), and even though it seemed screamingly obvious to many viewers that Daniel was supposed to be her father, this was not at all the writers’ intentions. But by that point the writing had gone off the rails anyway.

    I have never understood why it is that the writers decided to put local humans on the final planet, except as even more proof that God Be Up Ins. And the scene with every single living older white guy on the show lying on a hill watching the dark-skinned natives and talking about whether they can interbreed? What? Why? How did that fit with the themes of the series? Is there any way of reading that scene that isn’t deeply disturbing? Was it supposed to be?

    Monday, August 15, 2011 at 10:46 am | Permalink
  37. Will Wildman wrote:

    Pfah, double negative. First sentence should be ‘really lacking’, without the ‘not’.

    Maybe the thing that impressed me most about BSG was that the cast was compelling even while they were actively infuriating me, which just about everyone did at some point, so it’s hard to pick out any one character as uniquely difficult. I did tend to brush off things like “Why are they giving an obviously unpredictable person enormous responsibility with potentially devastating consqeuences?” (Baltar and Starbuck especially) with the assumption that, after 99.99% of humanity is killed one morning, people are going to have a hard time making consistent sensible decisions. (Even those as amazing as Roslin.)

    Monday, August 15, 2011 at 10:52 am | Permalink
  38. B. wrote:

    @Orlando: I’ve been thinking the same thing while rewatching the show lately, especially in the scenes where he’s trying answer Roslin’s and Six’s questions with the same words.

    @Will Wildman: I’m similiar to what you said in the first paragraph. It’s only in the last year I’ve stopped ignoring everything and started becoming more aware of issues like these in things like TV shows. After this article was posted I started watching BSG again and it is “really cool” to see the show in this whole new way. Actually thinking about these sort of things while watching TV shows and movies has ruined a number of things I used to like, but it has really made BSG a whole lot more enjoyable to watch.

    Monday, August 15, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Permalink
  39. anonymouse wrote:

    I’m one of those who think that the show started out great and went downhill from there, and in fact I gave up watching after the third season. But I agree it has a lot of good female characters. I particularly liked the dynamic between Starbuck and Kat, and was kind of annoyed when the latter was killed off.

    Tuesday, August 16, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Permalink
  40. Elizabeth wrote:

    I’m very late to this party, but I loved BSG – although I could NOT STAND Baltar for all the reasons that Sady, Flavia et al loved him. (Except that I loved him when he was funny. That actor is fantastic.) I was also let down by the ending, and a bit grossed-out by the implications of civilizing the natives.

    I absolutely agree with your point that the consideration of (and fear of) the other lent itself to characters (male, female, Cylon) who were all just human – not entirely good or evil, but just human. And for the most part it didn’t seem to matter whether someone was a man or a woman, in terms of their jobs, roles, personality traits, etc. Strangely enough, this came through the strongest for me not through the women in power (Roslin, Cain, Kara) but through those without it and they way they were treated, and how this treatment is judged. Rape, like torture, was a crime against humanity. I’m sure others feel differently, but with Gina (the Cylon prisoner on Pegasus) and Sharon, in the case of rape/torture and threatened rape because they are both female and Cylon (a double whammy “other”) the question becomes “how could we do that to another person?” That is, another human, and it doesn’t matter if she’s a woman or a Cylon.

    It makes me sad though to think of a show like BSG – where I don’t bat an eye when the president is a woman, the hot shot pilot is a woman, and women are priests, aides, mechanics, parents, basically every role – for “us” to take these things for granted the show has to happen in space (not here) in some other time (not now). That’s the good and bad thing about sci-fi. It can step back or away from “the way things are” to tell the stories, but it *had* to take that step back to tell the stories in this way. It’s a weird sort of backwards escapism, in which some issues by having been removed serve to comment on our problems. Ack, that didn’t come out well. But if we have to be in space to have equally strong (frankly, stronger) female characters, so say we all?

    I’m hoping the tv bosses will human-up and make me another sweeping space opera, because I have this Starbuck shaped hole in my DVR. (Alternately, I would be very happy to re-write Season 4 for them.)

    Tuesday, September 6, 2011 at 12:02 am | Permalink
  41. Raja wrote:

    Starbuck was my favorite female character of the show. she was simply badass

    Thursday, September 8, 2011 at 1:06 am | Permalink