BsG: Kane is Able

When I watched the season two episode of Battlestar: Galactica, Pegusus, my first reaction was that they’d finally jumped the shark. A year and a half of excellent storylines for women, and they blew it with Admiral Kane, who perfectly fit the stereotype of the female leader who is completely heartless. She abandoned her civilian fleet to human-hating androids because they slowed her military down, but before she did that, she took whatever civilians – doctors, engineers, etc – she thought valuable, often by force. She’s a tyrant, and soon sets about usurping both the Galactica fleet’s military and civilians leaders (William Adama and Laura Roslin respectively).

In short, I thought they’d abandoned good characterisation for an obvious enemy, at the expense of a female character. But in Kane’s three-episode arc. I became impressed with her. She was a damn competent leader, and while she could be cold, she got incredible results – more then Adama and Roslin had. Yes, she condoned the rape of a Cylon, but I saw the incredible bitterness they held towards Cylons. She didn’t see this woman as someone who felt pain and humiliation, rather, a machine who’s kind had destroyed their way of life.

And yes, she was a tyrant, but as she points out, as leader of the armed forces, the war Acts give her broad powers, and she has to keep a firm hand to get the results they’ve gotten. Occasionally, we get to see a hint of regret on Kane’s part that things have come to this, but the understanding that desperate times call for desperate measures.

When she dies, she faces down death with a defiant “frack you”; no cowering for her. And as Starbuck/Kera said at her funeral, “˜we were a hell of a lot safer with her then without her’.

Yes, Kane was a tyrant. Yes, in some regard, she fitted the stereotype of female leaders being either incompetent or, in this case, heartless. But they also took the time to show the heart she might have had, in different circumstances. They took the time to show us her achievements as a military leader. They took the time to show us her bravery and courage.

Bravo, Battlestar.

Comments

  1. LindaH says

    Actually, I always saw Kane as what Adama would have become if Roslyn hadn’t been there. She was in a war situation, with no real hope of winning, but being military all she could focus on was trying to win and maybe go down fighting. Adama’s first reaction was to behave exactly as Kane did and the only thing that changed the course of his intention was Rosalyn telling him “the war IS over, we lost.”

    I agree that Kane was wonderfully complex and managed to survive under extraordinary circumstances. I also felt that she turned into a tyrant, not because she was a woman, but because she had no one to remind her that there was another course.

    One of my great loves for BSG is that Rosalyn is such a pivot point for the story. A woman, who was initially in a position of little powerm willing to go up against a strong man who was used to command, and she actually sets the terms for how the war will be handled and wins her arguments. In my mind BSG is one of the shows that is stellar in showing gender issues.

  2. Ide Cyan says

    , who perfectly fit the stereotype of the female leader who is completely heartless.

    Admiral Helena Cain also falls into the dead/evil lesbian cliché. (Have you seen BSG: Razor? The TV movie?)

  3. scarlett says

    Ah, Roslin. I could wax lyrical about Roslin until I get kicked off this site for acting like a fangirl :p Rewatching the arc, I like Roslin and Kane were great foils for each other; the tyrant who could demonstrate regret but still be convinced of the necesity of her actions; the civillian leader who believes in democracy and pacifism but is capable of overriding civil liberties for the greater good of the population. I actually should watch it again, see if Kane’s nuances are because of good writing or the actress’s abilities because so many times I found myself able to understand where she was coming from even while I whemently disagreed with her decisions.

    Ide Cyan, I haven’t seen Razor; how to they portray her as the dead/evil lesbian character?

  4. SunlessNick says

    Kane used threat against Galactica, but in the end, she was reluctant to use force: she was unwilling to give the order to her vipers to open fire first, and she held off from ordering her troops to take Adama down.

    So there was some sense that she didn’t want things with the other humans to “be this way.”

    I wonder too how Kane’s treatment of Gina was meant to relate to Adama’s and Roslin’s treatment of Sharon. Was it just meant to be much worse, so as to give them a moral pass (which is the view some take)? Was it meant to be a parallel, to highlight the direction that was being taken on Galactica; or possibly the branching point Adama and Roslin had reached about choosing that direction? Was it meant to seem like the first at first glance, and become the second on a closer look?

  5. says

    I didn’t know that there was a dead/evil lesbian cliche–I guess the only time I stumble upon lesbian characters in mainstream media is when they’re OMG hawt femme women making out for the male gaze, which BSG didn’t do, and I was glad for it.

  6. scarlett says

    Nick,

    I think Kane’s treatment of Gina was symbolic of her hatred and military thinking – us versus them, and ‘them’ can rot in hell. While Roslin might hate the Cylons as much as Kane, she’s human enough that she doesn’t enjoy torturing someone she hates.

    I think Kane was what Adama would have been without Roslin. I think at the begining of s2 when Adama realises that he and Roslin have to work together to keep the fleet from detsroying itself in civil war is the point where Adama’s military thinking branches off from Kane’s.

  7. thisisendless says

    If you see Razor, you will understand Kane’s vitriol for Gina even more clearly.

    I don’t want to talk too much about Razor lest I leak any spoilers for those who haven’t seen it.

    But I was even thinking about submitting a piece to Hathor Legacy for its consideration about Razor. :) I liked it a lot and I enjoyed its primary focus on the female characters. Good, strong and complex female characters. At least in my opinion.

  8. SunlessNick says

    While Roslin might hate the Cylons as much as Kane, she’s human enough that she doesn’t enjoy torturing someone she hates.

    I think Kane was what Adama would have been without Roslin. - Scarlett

    Torture no, but in a lot of ways she does treat Sharon – and the one Starbuck interrogates, whose name escapes me – more cold-bloodedly than Adama does. I wonder how dark she might have become without Adama around: perhaps they influenced each other, him as a signpost to her of what comes of going too far one way, her as a demonstration to him that there’s another way to go. They also shared a drive to make sure humanity survived as a species – maybe they helped each other manitain it – something that Kane had I felt subconsciously given up on.

  9. Melpomene says

    The other thing I ADORE about Pegasus is that it offered an alternate view of the military as possibly not always acting in the best interest of a civilian population. While the coup story arc in S1 touched on that, I think Kane really highlighted what could happen if a military is allowed free reign…. also, I really appreciated that Razor offered an example of a soldier ACTING as a soldier, and not going the “maybe I’m not fit to wear the uniform, maybe I got forced into the uniform, and that’s why this story arc is filled with angst” route. I mean, I love Starbuck, Apollo, and all the rest, but I really adored Kendra.

  10. scarlett says

    Torture no, but in a lot of ways she does treat Sharon – and the one Starbuck interrogates, whose name escapes me – more cold-bloodedly than Adama does.

    I think the difference is that Roslin was prepared to manipulate Sharon emotionally to get the information she wanted – using her love for Helo against her (I actually wrote an article about this a while ago, btw) whereas Kane just – for lack of a better word – enjoyed knowing Gina was in pain because of Kane’s actions.

  11. thisisendless says

    BetaCandy – I just have to find the motivation to write something while I am on school break, which is proving to be difficult. :)

  12. pairodox says

    I saw Razor last night, right after a horror movie. I just woke up from nightmares – not from the horror movie, but of Admirial Kane’s character.

    Trying desperately not to give too many spoilers, while still conveying what woke me will be difficult, but I’ll try. As mentioned earlier by Ide Cyan, you find out in Razor that Kane is a lesbian. As far I know, she is the only ‘outed’ character on BSG, and while a lot of you seem to have sympathy for decisions she made, I’m an honorably discharged Marine Corps vet, and I’ve got no sympathy for the decisions she made. She’s simply a megalomaniac! The point of a military is to protect those that cannot protect themselves. So as I see it, the only lesbian character is the megalomaniac of the series. I wouldn’t mind her being a lesbian megalomaniac if there was another representation of lesbians, but this hearkens back to themes from “The Celluloid Closet” where it’s okay to have a gay or lesbian character, they just have to be ill, evil, conniving, or the jester.

    As a female vet, I despised what Kane’s character stood for before I saw Razor. As a lesbian, I’m very disappointed with the entire BSG writing crew that they felt the need to go down the ‘the megalomaniac is a lesbian’ road. So you may still be wondering what it was exactly that I was having a nightmare about, it was the combination of (a) a culture where it is acceptable to make the only lesbian character the megalomaniac character and (b) Tricia’s (aka Gina/Seven) great facial expression as she is staring down the firearm at Kane in the CIC after Kane finds out she’s a cylon. Frankly, Tricia’s acting skills always impress me, and in this instance, Gina comes off as having notably more humanity than Kane.

    And for those wondering, from my position as a vet, I really appreciated the Lt. Shaw character and her development.

  13. says

    Pairodox, thanks for that rundown and analysis. That’s… incredibly shitty.

    I stopped watching the show midway through S2 because I felt Kane, the only female admiral, was a megalomaniac. Also, was hearing about the rape rape rape and then some more rape “plots” of the latter part of the season and really didn’t want to think too much about the implications of a woman being behind those.

    Sounds like it actually got even worse than I thought. Bleah.

  14. Seb says

    The real “reason” for the rape/torture thing in season 2, I always felt, is that they wanted their Guantanamo parallel, and all of Kanes character is fixed by that decision to use Pegasus for that purpose. Here is this character who is being used to explain events in two or three episodes that in the real world follow from many low level decisions rather than the single decision of an individual monster. Unsurprisingly, it’s too much for a single character to bare and it shows, though I think not in terms of the writers resorting to cheap stereotypes so much as just inconsistency in her character.

    The lesbian aspect to Kane in Razor is more trying to justify her actions in season two through personal motivations, rather than characterisation based on negative associations with an archetype. She’s a megalomaniac and a psychopath, but she isn’t cast as a lesbian to explain why she is a megalomaniac, and it seems unfair to the writers to accuse them of making the only megalomaniac a lesbian as some obvious stereotyping. It still seems trite and simplistic frankly, as I do not buy the idea that the events in season two would flow from the reactions of a sane person to the events in razor. We never, in the end, get to really understand why she suddenly turns from a workaholic careerist into a psychopathic megalomaniac.

    Razor ought to have been Kane’s story told as a Greek Tragedy. It would be an interesting story whether Kane was male of female, and one that, given the “rigorously realistic” approach BSG seems to aim for, really needed to be told properly, rather than shoehorned into a teaser trailer for season 4.

    What a waste, overall, of a potentially very interesting character.

  15. says

    Seb,

    You’ve isolated the issue to the point where your explanation makes good sense. The problem is it doesn’t exist in isolation. There’s a larger context, which is:

    There are quite a few “evil/crazy lesbians” in film, TV and literature, and very few characterizations of lesbians as just folks like everyone else. It doesn’t matter whether the writers meant to invoke a nasty stereotype or did it accidentally; they invoked it, and that sucks. If it was through ignorance, that’s still too bad: when you work in the public eye and receive all the perks that come with it, you must also be accountable for your blunders of ignorance.

    I say this as someone who’s inadvertently invoked a few nasty stereotypes in her time both on this site and elsewhere, and who accepts being called on it (and educated for future reference) as the natural consequence of writing for the masses.

  16. Seb says

    Hm…can you invoke a stereotype accidentally?

    Generally, I think BSG characterisation is some of the best in sci-fi, so to some extent I feel they have earned the right to develop characters in a way that they feel makes sense, rather than deliberately do the opposite of whatever they feel the stereotype for such and such a character is in order to give us patronising “good role models”. Cards on the table, I have to say I think BSG largely has superb writers and characterisation, despite it’s weaker moments (which any long running series has), so perhaps I’m cheerleading here, but I must say the particular mess they made of Kane doesn’t so much mark an ongoing bout of screw-ups so far, so I wouldn’t stop watching it on that account.

    Can we not expect lesbian (or gay) characters to display the same set of negative emotions associated with love that are the stock motivations for heterosexuals in film? That, I appreciate, is going to be a contentious question to ask here… in the mold of “I’m not a sexist chauvinist pig but…”, please bare with me for a moment.
    I think rather they are more guilty to the charge that they insensitively assumed that having her be lesbian would merely be taken by the audience in an entirely matter of fact way. Much like, say, stonewall is aiming for with “I’m gay, get over it”. I.e. we should simply, when looking at her motivations towards the particular female character in question, either judge kane as though she were a male character, or perhaps, pretend that for those interactions, the object of her affections is male.

    Her sexuality is used not to establish her character as a manic but to do the opposite: ameliorate her maniac tendencies by providing motivations we are meant to sympathise with. Thus, the sci-fi psycho dictator (gender irrelevant) caricature is revealed to be more in the BSG mould of “there for the grace of god go I”.

    It is rather worrying though, that the best the writers can come up with to provide her motive is sexuality though. In terms of gender bias… (another contentious thought experiment, and did I mention some of my best friends are women?) suppose Kane had been cast as a man of the colder ruthless type, they would probably use the same plot point and character development would follow, and we would say it is just bad writing. In that sense, I think the problem is less that they are engaging in gender stereotypes, and more that they are relying on the public acceptance of lesbianism as a realistic, normal character trait that we are not going to bat an eyelid at to try and establish a realistic motivation for what would otherwise be a deeply abnormal caricature they wrote themselves into a corner with.

    Mind you… in Razor, her sexuality (which, when all is said and done, is dealt with very briefly and somewhat indirectly) was among the least weird of her characteristics… she seemed to snap much earlier and for no reason whatsoever. I suppose for that we have to look at her childhood and abducted little sister… (I’ve since seen the DVD version) how many sloppy characterisations can we cram into one and a half hours… I recommend to any BSG fan… skip Razor unless you are a fan of old series cylons chanting by your command.

  17. Caroline says

    I think the difference is that Roslin was prepared to manipulate Sharon emotionally to get the information she wanted – using her love for Helo against her (I actually wrote an article about this a while ago, btw) whereas Kane just – for lack of a better word – enjoyed knowing Gina was in pain because of Kane’s actions.

    I dont think that Roslin’s treatment of Sharon can at all be compared to Kane’s treatment of Gina. Sharon was confined because they couldnt trust her not to turn violent like the other Sharon did and because they found it hard to fully trust a Cylon. The BSG people needed to get information out of her in order to save themselves and the human race. However, Kane’s treatment of Gina was nothing short of brutal revenge for the Cylons’ attack on humanity. It was pure enjoyment to Kane and her men, seeing an enemy suffer so much and undergo such brutal humiliation, and in the case of the men, just getting violent sexual gratification out of the one female on board they WERE allowed to violate. What bothers me most about Kane, is that she- a woman – let a woman be repeatedly gang-raped on her ship. Although she saw Gina as a machine rather than a woman, she does have the same anatomy as a woman ( personally I think I would be just as disturbed if they were simulating rape of a mannequin) and you have to wonder how these men think of women deep down. I would be pretty uncomfortable about the whole thing if I was a female aboard either the Pegasus and BSG and I was working and associating with such men (I think this is how Callie felt as the men were boasting) . It is upsetting to think that in such a seemingly advanced society, these supposed good-guys would take pleasure in rape, even of a human-looking machine (they seem to be in denial of the fact that the Cylons have feelings). It is even more upsetting that it would all take place with the encouragement of a female leader. I think we would all agree that beloved male characters of the show like Ap0llo, Adama, Helo, The Chief, etc would never condone such a thing as rape – of a human, a cylon or anything. And I certainly cant see Roslin, Starbuck or any of the other female characters allowing it to happen if they could help it.

  18. Late to the Discussion says

    They were in there for, like, 2 minutes in a two hour show.

    Besides a large section of the fans of the old series hated Helena Cain and the rape scene so much, it was the final straw and they banned discussion of the new series at several sites (after huge flamewars).

    Incidentally, it might be of some value to consider that Helena was, like Kara, originally a male character.

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