Battlestar Galactica 1-4/5: The Fall & Redemption of Kara Thrace

July 17, 2011


Act of Contrition and You Can’t Go Home Again are two halves of a story, so we’ll knock them both off here.

Why would anyone think making Starbuck a teacher is a good idea? Yes, she’s the best fighter pilot in the universe, but she’s also undisciplined, insubordinate, and possibly crazy. While there’s no question she knows how to fly a Viper, her true awesomeness lies in her instincts and reflexes. Having Kara Thrace teach pilots how to fly is a bit like the Billy Bishop Flying School.  Surely there’s another pilot – Apollo or Boomer, if you need a main cast member – who could handle at basic training.

But let’s overlook that plot point, as we have overlooked several plot points and will need to overlook even bigger ones to come. We can even explain it by suggesting that Adama wanted to teach Starbuck some responsibility, that he needed her to be more than just an awesome pilot/sniper/interrogator/strategist. We can even overlook Starbuck’s occasionally excessive awesomeness, since she’s such a fuckup whenever she’s not blowing shit up or punching people in the face.

Case in point: Once upon a time, she was in love with a boy. He wanted to be a fighter pilot, but he wasn’t very good at it. Because it was important to him, she let him pass his basic test. Then he crashed, because he wasn’t a very good pilot and shouldn’t have been flying.

That should be enough guilt, but the further complication is that her boyfriend was Commander Adama’s son. So telling the truth to Adama is doubly painful for Starbuck: I got your son killed, but if I hadn’t he never would have been a pilot, since he kind of sucked.

Katee Sackhoff’s performance as Starbuck is one of my favourite things about Battlestar Galactica. I can only imagine the grief she took initially – a girl, playing Starbuck? – but she was perfect for the role. On a show where almost everyone was very serious and discussing very serious things, Starbuck usually looked like she was having fun. When your most notable skill is flying a fighter, being in a non-stop war probably has its benefits.

In Act of Contrition, the fun train comes to a stop. While it seems that seeing the father and brother of your dead ex-lover every day isn’t quite enough to cause emotional trauma, having to teach new pilots is, and Starbuck realizes she can’t run from her mistake any more. Her fallout with Adama is heartbreaking, as her past failure causes her to be rejected by her father figure. Her resulting near-suicidal charge at a pack of Cylon raiders is epic, emotional stuff. Dirk Benedict wishes he could have been this badass.

In Part Two, it’s a guilt festival for the Adama family. They were kind of mean to Starbuck – not without cause, mind you – and now she might be dead. They’re both pretty dumb about it – even with his emotional attachment to Starbuck, you’d think Commander Adama would realize how ridiculous his search-and-rescue operation is. Thankfully, Laura Roslin is there to talk sense.

I’ll get to her in greater detail later on, but Roslin is a much more interesting character than one might have expected from the miniseries. The intended, obvious, contrast is that Commander Adama represents the military with all its rules and aggression, while President Roslin stands up for civilians and human rights. But instead of making Roslin a mushy, sappy politician, Galactica made her one of the most rational, calculating, and even coldest members of the cast. Not unreasonably or implausibly so – she may have been several dozen places down on the chain of succession, but she was still a senior cabinet minister and, one presumes, a fairly experienced politician. Throughout the series, she identifies her goals, and then pursues them.

She even knows how to hit Adama’s weak spots, daring him – in a pleasant, caring manner, without directly challenging his command – to justify his continued search for a pilot who should, by any logical calculation, be dead. And Adama folds, because he knows that she’s right and he’s wrong.

Thankfully, logic does not always apply to Starbuck, who has found the Cylon raider she shot down, and manages to commandeer it and fly it back to Galactica.

As awesome as Starbuck is, is it plausible that she could fly a Cylon raider effectively? While it’s probably true that any flying craft would have the same basic mechanics, the Cylon “pilots” were biologically engineered for the purpose of flying a fighter. Starbuck is lucky she could even fit in the ship, let alone comfortably reach all the controls. Then consider the possibility the raider might lack certain features – like insulation – that could be incorporated into the “pilot”.

(For that matter: The raider crashed, while Starbuck ejected from her fighter, after a fight well above the atmosphere – what are the odds that she would land within a hundred miles of the raider?)

But whatever. It’s a neat idea, and the scene where Apollo realizes the enemy fighter is actually being flown by Starbuck is a great moment. As far as plot holes go, I’m perfectly fine with this one – Act of Contrition and You Can’t Go Home Again manage to completely override logic with an exceptional character arc.

 

Random Observations

  • I know it’s bad that all those pilots died, but maybe we could have gotten to know at least one or two of them before they got blowed up? Kara made fun of Flat Top in a previous episode, but that’s about it. Some of the pilots later got more defined recurring roles, like Hot Dog and (before she got super annoying) Cat.