Fandom: Battlestar Galactica 2003 series
Pairing: Lee Adama and Kara Thrace
Spoilers: Everything aired, and some speculation on the upcoming Season 4
Word Count: ~5200
Kara ‘Starbuck’ Thrace and Lee ‘Apollo’ Adama have one of the most complicated relationships in the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica canon. Right from the beginning we can see the connection between them that continues to smolder and intensify with each season. The thing is, they can never quite make things work. Whether it’s their own emotional baggage, other romantic entanglements, or a combination of both, they always fail to come to terms with what’s between them. But they’re equally unable to run away from it – no matter what else happens, neither of them can cut the other out of their life.
The Best Shot In Or Out of the Cockpit – Kara Thrace
Kara ‘Starbuck’ Thrace is one of BSG’s most memorable characters. In her own words she is ‘the best shot in or out of the cockpit’ and is known for her skill as a Viper pilot. Bill Adama himself considers her the best he’s ever seen. At her best she is brave, innovative, and loyal. On the flip side she can be irresponsible, arrogant, and dangerously self-destructive.
Let’s start with the good. Kara is one of the best at what she does, both as a Viper pilot and as a tactician. Her skill in the cockpit is made apparent right from the miniseries, and she is the Top Gun of the fleet for a large part of the aired episodes. Even when she’s not in her Viper she’s still a valuable asset, as is displayed by her role in planning particularly risky missions. She is instrumental in the success of the capture of the cylon tillium operation in Season 1 and the destruction of the Resurrection Ship in Season 2, both times showing a talent for “thinking outside of the box” and coming up with strategies that are sufficiently unexpected to allow them to slip beneath the cylon radar. This talent for seeing past the obvious and taking advantage of what the situation has to offer also serves her well when she crash-lands during ‘Act of Contrition.’ Instead of giving up or just staying put hoping for rescue from Galactica, she pulls herself together enough to explore her surroundings, and when she finds the downed cylon raider she immediately sets to work figuring out how she can use it to get back to the fleet. Kara’s a quick thinker and innovative; valuable traits in a fleet on the run.
On a personal level Kara is loyal and capable of being a strong leader. She is willing to put her life on the line for the people she cares about, shown when she flies her Viper into Lee’s to save him from the cylons, and her willingness to support the relationship between Helo and Sharon. It’s also safe to assume that she is well liked by her fellow pilots – when we see her giving a briefing in Season 1 she’s able to use a mixture of humor and firmness that goes over well with her group. In Act of Contrition once she sets her mind to it she also comes across as a very effective flight instructor. She is firm but not overly harsh, encouraging the nuggets without bolstering them too much. Even Tigh comments that she might make them into a bunch of worthy Viper pilots, no small praise given the rather thorny relationship between those two.
Unfortunately, Kara has a lot of negative traits as well. There are times when she acts rashly without regard for the consequences, such as when she punches Tigh in the face in the miniseries, or when she takes up drinking in Season Two. She can also be on the arrogant side, which is especially prominent in Scar when she tells Kat that she’ll never touch the Top Gun mug – and as much as I love Kara even I have to admit that this is maybe a bit overconfident considering how out of it she is at this point in the series. However, a lot of Kara’s more unsympathetic behavior stems from the fact that she’s carrying a lot of emotional baggage. A lot. She was abused by her mother (Socrata Thrace’s reasons for doing this are somewhat irrelevant considering that as a child Kara didn’t understand why she was being treated this way), lost her fiancée, and then to top it all off the Cylons attacked and destroyed her home. All of that is bound to create some trauma.
Her destructive tendencies are at the forefront during a large part of Season 3. During the Cylon Occupation of New Caprica she’s locked up by a Leoben model and fed a continuous line of how he is there to help her accept her destiny, and he finally presents her with a child he claims is their daughter. When she returns to Galactica she’s understandably in a very difficult position. She’s been through hell, the child she thought was hers is shown to be another Cylon ploy, and now she has to find her place in the Fleet again. At first she turns to hiding behind a mask of anger and hate, agreeing to be part of the Circle, a group that executes the people believed to be traitors using methods that aren’t exactly just, she pushes away her husband when he tries to show kindness to her, and she becomes reckless to the point of Lee grounding her and the Admiral telling her to clean up her act or he’ll kick her off his ship. Even after she puts herself back on track in that sense, she becomes increasingly distracted and eventually allows her Viper to implode with her inside it. Before entering her Viper that last time she tells Lee that she no longer trusts herself, indicating that she’s slipped quite a long way from the confident pilot we meet at the start of the miniseries.
One of Kara’s most significant character traits is that she wants to be loved, but has the fear that she doesn’t deserve it. Take a look at her relationship with Zak Adama. She passes him in basic flight because as she puts it, she loved him too much to be the one to crush his dreams. On another level, she might have been afraid that if he failed Zak would feel some degree of resentment toward her and their relationship would become strained. After Zak’s death she falls into a pattern of pushing away the people she loves most, which I’m going to discuss in greater detail later on in this essay. Furthermore, this insecurity is probably part of the reason that she can come across as so abrasive at times – she’s afraid that if she lets anyone get too close it’ll only result in pain and disappointment, and so she uses the persona of a brash, overconfident pilot to preemptively protect herself.
I want to finish of the Kara part of this essay with my thoughts on her special destiny that’s been referenced since Season 1. When she returns from the (apparent) dead at the Season 3 finale, she tells Lee that she has seen Earth and will take the Fleet there. This seems to indicate that she is meant to lead the Fleet to Earth, possibly as an avatar for the goddess Aurora, whose statue she received from an oracle who told her that it was hers in the episode Maelstrom. On the other hand, in Razor the Hybrid tells Major Kendra Shaw that Kara will lead the human race to their end and that they must not follow her. So maybe her destiny is something more sinister?
Hard to tell. I don’t think we can take the Hybrid’s words at face value. His interpretation of the end of the human race could mean something completely different than extermination; it could mean the end of humanity as they have known it up until that point. I’m inclined to believe that his words are a metaphor that we aren’t meant to understand just yet, but that will become clear in Season 4. I also don’t believe that her resurrection is a sign that she’s one of the Final Five cylons. I think that that’s too obvious, too easy. I don’t believe that we would get such a neat solution for Kara, and that she’s something different. We’ll find out in March, hopefully.
Son of Zeus – Lee Adama
I’ll admit that I didn’t really like Lee all that much when he was first introduced in the miniseries. He came across as too uptight, arrogant, and holier-than-thou for my tastes. However, as his character is developed his reasons for behaving as he does come clear.
One of the central conflicts in Lee’s life is his relationship with his father Commander (later Admiral) Adama. In the miniseries the two of them are clearly at odds, mainly due to the fact that Lee believes his father’s admiration and love of the life of a Viper pilot is what drove his brother Zak to push himself so hard that he died in a flying accident. Another aspect of their often thorny relationship is that to some extent Lee feels overshadowed by his father. Commander Adama is a well-respected and admired figure in the Fleet, and as his son there is a lot of expectation on him. Right at the beginning of the miniseries when Lee arrives on Galactica people are viewing him in light of his last name, commenting on how much they admire the Commander and how he must be so proud of him. Lee is visibly irritated at these comments. At this point it’s safe to assume that a large part of this is because he hasn’t dealt with his anger over his brother’s death, I also believe that on some level Lee is very much aware of whose son he is and the resulting pressure to excel at what he does.
Maybe as a result of being in a high-profile position and the son of the Commander, Lee is initially very by-the-book and follows the rules. This is made very apparent in The Hand of God, when Kara points out that the plan he proposes to capture the tyllium site is a perfect textbook plan (exactly why it won’t work) and she frequently comments that she’s afraid that Lee will overthink the mission and end up making a mistake because of it. However, this episode also reveals something very important about Lee – while he might appear to be a strict believer in the idea that there is a proper way for doing things and the rules shouldn’t be circumvented, when circumstances call for it he knows how to improvise. He takes his Viper into the tunnel without knowing if it’ll bring him to where he wants to go, but he decides to trust his instincts and goes with the moment. This trait in which Lee can see beyond doing things the way he’s been taught to becomes increasingly important in the next two seasons.
Early in Season 2 Lee breaks away from military disciple to help the imprisoned President Roslin escape from Galactica’s brig. This is one of the most important moments in the series for Lee, as it illustrates his strong conviction for upholding rightness and justice. He knows that overthrowing the President of the Colonies is not the correct way to deal with the situation, and even though he knows that his father has been shot and is in a coma and probably won’t approve of his actions – he does it anyway. This refusal to compromise his own value system for the sake of following orders becomes one of his defining traits for the rest of the series, as we will see.
After the Fleet reunites Lee seems to retreat back to his role as CAG, but here and there he lets himself break free from his role. When the Battlestar Pegasus appears and Lee is reassigned and demoted to lieutenant, he has no problem conspiring with Kara to implement their own plan for investigating the unknown ship in the Cylon Fleet. This further emphasizes that he knows when to follow the rules and when to break them.
In his role as the Commander of the Pegasus, Lee shows a mixture of character traits. In Season Three itself, he comes across as being pragmatic to the point of ruthlessness. He tries to persuade his father that they should abandon New Caprica after the Cylon invasion, arguing that the remnants of the Fleet in space is humanity’s sure bet for survival while the settlers are essentially a lost cause. The TV special Razor also revealed that at the beginning of his command he came close to following in the footsteps of Admiral Cain, a woman reviled for her ruthless decision to strip civilian vessels for supplies and draft anyone with valuable skills – and shooting people until they complied. While Lee never goes quite that far, he is willing to make some extreme tactical decisions such as launching shipside nukes when it appears that the mission to recover human hostages has been compromised and before considering the launch of a rescue team. On the other hand, he is still very much in touch with his more emotional side. During the rescue mission to New Caprica Lee disobeys orders and returns to help his father and sacrifices his own ship in the process.
Lee really comes into his own toward the end of Season Three when he becomes involved in Baltar’s trial. At this point he really starts to break away from doing what is expected of him and starts to pursue his own path, namely law. This is driven by his conviction that although Baltar is widely reviled for his actions, Lee believes that he still deserves a trial free of preconceptions – and more than that, he is aware that the trial is essentially a way for everyone to assuage their collective guilt by choosing a scapegoat. As he says in his testimony, it was an impossible situation. What else could he have done? Lee doesn’t like Baltar, but he isn’t willing to take the easy way out and let the mob have its way. He sticks to his guns even though it costs him practically everything – his marriage, his military commission, and the relationship with his father once again becomes impossibly strained.
Apparently he isn’t returned to flight status in Season Four, so perhaps we’ll see more of this new civilian Lee. He’d make one great lawyer.
Lee and Kara in Canon
So now we can finally examine the relationship between these two characters. That they care for each other deeply is apparent right from the beginning of the series. After the initial attack wave when Lee is believed dead, Kara makes a specific request to the gods to look after his soul. Later, when Lee arrives back on Galactica and we see shots of everyone reuniting Lee is paired with Kara. Their expressions in this scene say a lot about what they feel for each other. When Kara’s under her Viper Lee is looking down at her with this really soft, affectionate smile and when Kara sees him she’s initially afraid to trust what she’s seeing, probably because she’s too afraid that it’s not real. She covers the intensity of her feelings by saying, “I thought you were dead,” but she can’t hide the pure joy in her smile when he pulls her up and they’re looking at each other.
Season One is full of ups and downs for the couple. From the start the two of them are clearly comfortable with each other as close friends and comrades, but their romantic feelings really come to the fore during the episodes Act of Contrition and You Can’t Go Home Again. When Kara crash-lands on the moon Lee is determined to find her no matter what and even goes so far as to pull the CAP to continue the search. Given the Lee is military personnel, he knows that throwing so many resources into the search for one lost pilot is not the wisest decision. But with Kara he doesn’t have any objectivity. When Helo told Boomer to leave him on Caprica she mourned him, but knew better than to demand that valuable resources be used to launch a rescue mission. Lee, however, is too close to Kara on a very deep level to maintain this kind of professional distance – with her it’s too emotional and personal for him to accept the possibility that he might never see her again.
The next realty significant action between them occurs at the end of the first season. In the episode day Colonial Day we see Kara in a dress for the first time – and is Lee ever surprised. In fact, all he can do is stare at her in awe and say possibly the worst pick up line ever – “You’re knee is looking pretty good.” He does manage to get it together enough to dance with her, but then things take an unfortunate turn. At some point during the night Kara ends up leaving with Gaius Baltar, which results in a horrible misunderstanding between the two. What’s important to remember here is that Kara wanted to be with Lee. When we first see the scene of her in bed with someone, the man looks like Lee and we can hear her gasping his name. Then we realize it was really Baltar. Lee is clearly jealous and hurt by this. When he encounters her in the hangar deck the next day he is angry and spiteful toward her, calling her a pilot who can’t keep her pants on and then asking her why she did it. His reaction to realizing she’s slept with Baltar is significant in that he takes it very personally. I doubt that he would have felt so betrayed if it were a different pilot who slept with the vice president. But this is Kara, who on some level he sees as his, and he doesn’t like the thought of her sleeping with another man.
After Kara jumps to Caprica to retrieve the Arrow of Apollo they don’t see each other again until their reunion on the Astral Queen. This is the event of their first kiss. When they see each other they immediately pull each other into a hug, and when they start to pull apart Lee leans forward and kisses her. It is a spontaneous, unplanned moment; an expression of emotion that can’t be contained. His expression immediately afterward is one of surprise and a little bit of consternation, like he hadn’t meant to be so open about it. And indeed, they don’t follow up on those feelings. When they have their conversation in the gym area and Lee says that he loves her, Kara’s expression is one of wistful happiness, but when she confronts him about his declaration of his feelings they take a teasing tone with each other instead of admitting to it. The connection between them is there, but at this point neither of them are in a comfortable enough position to confront and accept it. Instead, they push it aside and retreat back to their best friends relationship.
Things come to a head in the episode Scar when Kara makes a drunken attempt to sleep with Lee. He is willing, but she is caught up in confusion regarding her feelings for Sam, her Pyramid player back on Caprica. When he tries to slow down the pace of their encounter she pushes him away, and denies any romantic relationship between them. Lee takes it in stride (or appears to, anyway), and tells her that regardless of anything else he’s still her friend and he wants to be there for her if she needs him. She leaves him, but not before giving him one last kiss – which to me indicates that maybe she isn’t quite so sure that there’s nothing between them.
Their relationship for the rest of the second season is functional, even if there aren’t so many romantic overtones. Lee becomes involved with Petty Officer Dee while Kara eventually returns to Caprica and rescues Sam. Then comes the one year jump, with Kara living on New Caprica married to Sam and Lee still on the Pegasus married to Dee. They are not on good terms. The reason for this is explained in Season Three. The night of the new settlement’s groundbreaking ceremony Kara and Lee went off by themselves, declared their love for each other, and slept together – but the next morning Kara panicked, snuck away before Lee woke up, and married Sam in a shotgun ceremony. Lee felt understandably betrayed by this 180 and the two parted on bad terms. The relationship between them remains strained through the first half of Season Three, with Lee grounding her and telling her that he’ll put her out of an airlock himself if she wants to die. Things between them only start to get repaired after Galactica’s boxing tournament where the two of them have a very intense, emotional bout that culminates with both of them admitting that they have missed each other.
After this they begin their affair. Lee asks her to leave Sam, but Kara maintains that divorce is a sin and refuses to do so, while Lee says he can’t keep cheating on Dee. After the incident on the algae planet Lee decides to make his own marriage work, even after Kara asks him if he would still be willing to be with her if she leaves Sam. By the time that Kara makes her presumed exit they seem to have settled into a comfortable working friendship, although Kara remarks a bit sadly that now she’ll only ever be his crazy pilot, to which Lee makes no response. Then they go up, Kara dies, and Lee falls apart.
In the aftermath of Kara’s departure, Lee is a wreck. He can’t bring himself to put her picture on the memorial wall, he accidentally calls a different pilot by her call sign, and his father eventually pulls him off the CAG position and puts him in charge of security for Baltar’s lawyer. Lee’s relationship to Romo Lampkin is important to his character in many ways, but one of the most interesting scenes between the two occurs when Lampkin is interviewing the Caprica Six. Lampkin tells her the story of a woman he once loved, so deeply that when the relationship fell apart he kept telling himself that if he “could get over her, he could get over anything.” But the loss made him realize just how much he loved her because, “If I needed all that strength what was the point? I needed to be with her.” He might as well be talking about Lee at that point. His face during this speech is one of pain and regret and desperation, and afterward he asks Lampkin if it was true. He wants to know if he can get over Kara – but even if he can, where does it leave him? Hurting forever?
Season Three ends with Kara’s return from the (presumed) dead. It’s significant that the first person to see her is Lee, which further underscores the connection between the two. On Kara’s side, it’s an indication that she values her relationship with Lee above any others. She wants him to see her return before anyone and chooses to appear to him instead of going straight to Galactica. It’s a significant moment between the two; Starbuck and Apollo reuniting after what seems like permanent separation.
I do want to address Kara and Lee’s marriages. I’ll start with Kara. She meets Sam while she is on Caprica looking for the Arrow, and the two of them hit it off quite well. I think that one of the main reasons that their relationship advanced so quickly is that it was initially uncomplicated, which is exactly what she wanted. Sam didn’t know anything about her past and he wasn’t part of the Galactica “in group.” There was no baggage between them, which let them become involved without the underlying guilt that characterizes her relationship with Lee. This isn’t to say that she doesn’t love him at all, because I believe she does. They are very well matched – both of them are athletic, brave, and strong-willed people who know how to improvise and make the most out of difficult situations. She obviously cares for him enough that she can never quite bring herself to let him go even when their relationship becomes increasingly troubled. The real problem is that she and Lee never reached any kind of closure regarding their feelings for each other, so she and Sam never really had a clean slate to work with. She married him at a moment when she was very emotionally confused due to what she had just shared with Lee, and she probably felt that if she didn’t marry Sam she would be somehow disloyal to him, abandoning him after she had spent so much time and energy finding a way to rescue him from Caprica. For Kara and Sam, the timing just wasn’t right. There were too many unresolved issues coming from her side to have a truly fulfilling marriage, and that’s what hurt them.
On to Lee and Dee. I think that Dee is a nice enough character (albeit maybe a bit bland), but she and Lee are together for the wrong reasons. If Lee has been sure of his feelings for her from the get-go he wouldn’t have slept with Kara that night on New Caprica, and when he goes to Dee the following morning it seems that his actions are driven more by the desire to get back at Kara than any particular desire to make Dee happy. When we see the two of them interacting they also never seem to be particularly well matched. They are comfortable together, and have a good working relationship, but there never seems to be any real depth of emotion. But the thing that really dooms them is that they have different views of the world. Before the rescue mission to New Caprica Dee says that one of the reasons she married Lee is that he is similar to his father – a soldier. For her, the military is a way of life that she admires and is at home in. Lee, on the other hand, does not really feel that the military is his ultimate vocation, which becomes painfully clear in Season Three when he spends quite a bit of time distinguishing himself from his father and forging his own path. She cannot understand why Lee believes in Baltar’s trial and ultimately leaves him. I have my doubts that they will reconcile in Season Four. It seems that those bridges are pretty well burnt.
So Why Ship Them?
So we have plenty of canonical evidence for the Lee/Kara pairing, actress Katee Sackhoff has said that she thinks of Lee as Kara’s soulmate, and Jamie Bamber has said that Lee’s never really able to get Kara out of his mind. But that still doesn’t answer the question of what gives this couple its appeal.
One of the reasons they’re so much fun to work with is because of the tension that’s always simmering between them. We know it’s there, they know it’s there, but they have a tendency to make things very difficult for themselves. This gives fans a lot of material to speculate on. In some ways the stormy relationships are more intriguing than the happy ones because there can be more opportunities to really get into the characters’ psyches and figure out just why they act the way they do – it’s obvious that they feel quite a bit for each other, so why can’t they admit to it and be together? And if they can’t be together why don’t they live by that decision? Why do they keep coming back to each other in spite of everything? It’s great dramatic material, very juicy and rewarding to work with.
Another thing that gives them their appeal is that they’re very complementary. Kara is more wild and spontaneous while Lee is steadier and more practical. That said, both of them know that there’s a time and a place for everything. When she needs to be Kara is very professional and businesslike and Lee knows when to leave military regulations behind. Their personalities meet in the middle, allowing them to work very well as a team and giving them great chemistry together. Kara is wild enough to keep their relationship interesting and Lee has the stability that they need to support it. Together they have the best of both worlds – a fun, challenging, engaging relationship that isn’t going to get too boring on them, but that also has the strength to keep going without burning out.
I want to end this essay with my speculation on where the relationship will go in Season Four. In the promos we can tell that Lee is extremely happy to see Kara again – just look at that nice big hug they share! – but to be honest I have my doubts that these two are going to get their bright shiny future. I would really, really love to see them work things out and be happy together, but I just have my doubts. Both of them are very different people than they were earlier. We don’t know exactly what Kara is, but she isn’t the same as she was before flying into the mandala. Lee has also changed dramatically, shifting from pilot to civilian. This could create the potential for them to finally come clean with each other and give themselves a fresh start, but it seems more likely that it's a sign that their paths have diverged, albeit amicably. Kara is here for some purpose – apparently it involves leading the Fleet to Earth, and is also tied to the future of the human race itself. I would guess that after she’s fulfilled her destiny she’s going to vanish. She was given a second chance for a specific reason and once she’s finished she’s gone for good. And Lee? Not sure, but I would guess that he’s going to be some kind of leader for the Fleet.
I do, though, have to admit that the hopeless romantic in me would like to see them go out together. It would be nice to see them have some kind of entwined destiny, where they both need to work together to find Earth. A part of me thinks that Lee wouldn’t just let Kara go off on her own to save humanity and would insist on going with her. They are Apollo and Starbuck: the best team in the Fleet. Where one goes, the other follows.
The interaction between these two characters is complex, shifting from frustrating and hurtful to passionate to cute and friendly at various points throughout the series. They have one of the most interesting relationships in the Battlestar Galactica canon and I hope that we see more of them in Season Four. The good news is in response to a fan’s question regarding the Lee/Kara relationship Ronald D. Moore asked if we’ve ever not been rewarded for investing in this show – let’s hope that that means we’ll see a definite conclusion to their story.
On LJ there are many good BSG communities to check out, bsg2003fics being a great stop for fanfiction of all pairings. beyond_insane and sasa_hq are two communities that focus on Kara and Lee and are good to check out for fanfiction recommendations and interacting with other fans.
As far as individual fanfic recs go, I'm going to list some of my personal favorites for you to peruse.
rheanna27's Twelve is a fantastic Lee Adama as a Cylon story with characterizations that ring absolutely true. Highly recommended - links to the story are found in her memories.
stars_like_dust is a fantastic writer; browse through her memories to find some gorgeous work.
wisteria_is another author definitely worth checking out. I personally love "Remember Me As a Summer Day and the WIP Icarus, but everything there is lovely. Check through her memories to find it all.
Anything by BSGaddict is worth the read, as are Maevenly's stories.