When most people hear that Kara “Starbuck” Thrace is my favorite BSG character, they aren’t surprised. I see so much of myself in her that it’s difficult to truly feel any anger at her when she does something that isn’t exactly constructive, and that empathy I have for her has only deepened as I have gotten older. I’m not nearly as self-destructive, but boy howdy, can I sabotage myself better than anybody else. Her sincere belief that she is irrevocably fucked up perfectly summarizes the last few years of my life: I deserved all the shit that was piled onto me because I can’t do anything else, right? Like me, she’s an idealist and is harder on herself than even Adama could be, but honestly, we just can’t help ourselves sometimes.
She’s a complicated woman with Destructo Girl tendencies, sewing chaos pretty much wherever she goes, relationship-wise. If she isn’t passing Zak Adama in flight school (and subsequently causing his death prior to the beginning of the show), she’s sleeping with Baltar or cheating on Anders with Lee, lying to her father-figure, Commander Adama, failing an entire class of pilot recruits because of her own issues, constantly belittling Tigh, or murdering Leoben time after time. And that’s only off the top of my head. I’m sure if I went deeper, I could rattle off a hundred more from all four seasons, and you’d think this would make me dislike her. And under normal circumstances, you’d be right.
But I suppose I have a blind eye like Commander Adama has, where no matter what she does, I see her as a flawed yet lovable person who wants to be the best pilot she can be and enjoy a life away from the abuse she suffered at her mother’s hand. Even after she reveals that her decision to pass Adama’s son led to him crashing his fighter, they reconcile, in what is possibly one of the sweetest scenes in the entire series (or even on television itself, honestly). Granted, this is after she nearly dies foolishly pursuing Cylon Raiders in a suicidal attack run, but still. That would have left Adama with only one child left, the marathon man of grudges himself, Lee Adama.
And speaking of Lee, I never thought he and Starbuck were a good pairing. They made the most sense when they had a much more sibling style relationship, and when they coupled, it only seemed like a) Starbuck was just transferring her romantic feelings for his deceased brother onto Lee and b) she wasn’t quite ready to commit to Anders or her feelings for him, although he was much better suited to her. Neither of these are necessarily Lee’s fault (although I blame him for things because it makes me feel better), and it does hold true with Starbuck’s character, but it still gives me the ick factor, like how I couldn’t continue to watch Game of Thrones after I saw Cersei and Jaime Lannister banging. It also doesn’t help that both Lee and Kara then emotionally abuse their significant others (Dee and Anders, respectively) in the aftermath.
Which then brings me to her third most important relationship (technically fourth, since her relationship with her mother, Socrata, shaped what was to come, but we only saw that in flashback … kinda?): Leoben. Despite his stalker style obsession with her, he is the only person that Kara actually really connects to. He’s just as abusive as her mother ever was, only much more psychological. Their relationship started out manipulative in “Flesh and Bone,” where he used his extensive (and mostly unexplained until The Plan) knowledge of her history to break through her walls and then continued as such throughout much of the series, such as when he convinced her she had a daughter while he held her captive on New Caprica.
Theirs is such a deep, painful connection, and it seems to affect her much more than it does him. In “Maelstrom,” probably one of the best episodes of the series, he is her guide through various old memories of her mother, and he even provides her a sense of closure as she is able to reconcile with her mother as Socrata dies from terminal cancer, an act that she was not able to do in real life. Only when she can accept who and what she is can Kara accept her fate, such as it is: to become the harbinger of the human race. I find it interesting that, during her captivity on New Caprica, she resists her attraction (and dare I say, affection, as was apparent in “Flesh and Bone”) to Leoben and kills him six times, only to dream of a sexual encounter with him later on in “Maelstrom.” I’ve had sex dreams about people that I have mild feelings of attraction for but never about people that I loathe as much as she appears to despise Leoben, but, considering her nature, she sees this as a just punishment: the only person she with whom can truly connect isn’t human and is everything she is supposed to hate and destroy.
However, despite all of the above, he’s also just as abusive as her mother was, although it’s definitely more psychological than anything else. He’s manipulative and rather stalker-like, despite his assertions that he is in love with her. When she’s captured by the Cylons and forced to live a very strange “married” life with Leoben on New Caprica, in and of itself awful, he fucks with her brain by introducing Kacey***, a toddler that was supposedly created using her eggs from her ovary that was removed while she was incarcerated on the Farm (“The Farm”) in the previous season. Of course, the little girl turns out to be the daughter of another woman, but it messes with her head enough that it takes a few episodes to examine how Starbuck reacts toward both the real mother of Kacey and to Kacey herself. It’s this kind of torture that undermines any type of romance or even friendship that Leoben and Thrace can have.
The final season of Starbuck kind of has me torn, particularly since I kind of wish that Starbuck had been a member of the Final Five. Of course, it would have been hard to explain, oh, the fact that she had a mother (except that nobody really seems to know of the woman’s existence, other than Starbuck and Leoben), but it would make sense, given her connection to grander story of humanity’s redemption and evolution. I mean, come on, she knows the song that the Final Five started hearing throughout the ship at the end of the third season.
Before the show came to a close, one of my theories was that Starbuck was the destroyed Daniel model, but the other Cylons had forgotten that she was actually female (Danielle, I guess?); and Ellen, who favored the model, had located the last copies (possibly just two, the functioning Starbuck and the copy that is resurrected to bring the humans and Cylons to Earth) that hadn’t been tainted by Cavil. It would ensure that the entire race of Cylons would have been incorporated into society, something I think that the Final Five version of Ellen would have wanted to see: all of her children reunited. Then we also wouldn’t have Starbuck simply vanishing into the ether, which I found to be particularly disappointing in the finale (uh, sorry, spoiler alert?). In addition, we would have seen another human-to-Cylon story arc, where Starbuck would have to come to terms with herself. Perhaps her self-destruction came from deep-seated abandonment issues – Cavil murdered her model out of jealousy – which would explain her dwelling on her “mother’s” disapproval and constant harping that she had a destiny. Socrata was her subconscious, albeit a highly abusive one. You know, I think this is going to be head-canon for me now.
To be honest, it’s because she has this flawed personality who makes Bad Decisions that she’s my favorite character. Like I said above, I feel a kinship and admiration for Kara that goes beyond my love of any other people in the show. She’s not beyond reproach and even acts in ways that I find deplorable (joining the Death Panel at the beginning of Season Three, for example), but she’s still so incredibly approachable and complex, someone that deserves an in-depth character study. Kara isn’t perfect, but in that imperfection, you can explore the highs and lows of your own identity without having to leave your couch. I did, at least.
* I specifically have trained myself not to gamble. Believe me, I would already be broker than I already am.
** Recently quit smoker … well, cigarettes. My vape – as of this moment filled with the sweet taste of mango – has been instrumental in curbing my need of cigarettes. Now, all I have to do is wean myself off of nicotine, and we’ll be good to go.
*** My only qualm with this story line is that Starbuck, being a Viper pilot and all around badass, has not shown any signs that she would ever want to be a mother. While I do eventually want to have a kid, I understand that is not for everyone, and women are often questioned or downright harassed if they have made the choice to be child-free. It’s just that type of thinking – that despite her lack of desire to be a parent, Starbuck is still assumed to be biologically predisposed to want to procreate but is only hesitant because of childhood abuse – that irritates me because it’s placing certain cultural norms in a story that’s at least partly about leaving behind a former way of life.
Runners Up: Sharon Agathon, Galen Tyrol