I’ve been procrastinating a post on Battlestar Galactica’s Starbuck for a few weeks now, but given the most recent episode (the shock of which I will attempt to leave unspoiled in this post), it seems that this is the time to actually write it.
Scarlett wrote some great posts a while ago about the women of Battlestar Galactica, including one on this very controversial character. At the time, the most controversial aspect of her personality was the simple fact that they made this much-loved character from the original series and made her a woman. As people have gotten used to that, I’ve read a lot of criticism of the character itself based around the way the people around her are constantly working to protect her above all others, despite the apocalyptic situation in which they find themselves, despite her self-destructive tendencies, and despite the way she treats them in return, which ranges from obliviousness of their emotions to outright hostility and aggression. Nonetheless, I love Starbuck, in all her complicated glory.
Now, Starbuck obviously doesn’t deserve the kind of affection that the men around her show toward her–Adama, in a fatherly way, or Apollo and Anders in a romantic way, or even her friends and colleagues. But both her attitude and their reaction are entirely realistic for a woman raised in an extremely abusive environment. She’s constantly trying to prove herself, but refusing to believe the praise she receives. She has to put to the test the affection and commitment of anyone in her life, both because she has no idea how to relate and love outside of an abusive context and because she’s never going to accept that she deserves real love. So why do they all take it? Because she was abused, and the fact that she is vulnerable and scared and broken underneath it all is unbelievably transparent. And as Apollo made abundantly clear in the latest episode, they know exactly what she’s doing. Apollo tells his father that he’s pretty sure the only thing holding her together at all is her status as a rough, gruff, edgy pilot who gets to kill things and walk as one of the boys. They all wish they could save her, for real, deep down.
It troubles me to say this, but I think this portrayal reflects the real world. A woman who’s been abused, especially one who comes out of it with an attitude of strength (however thinly it veils her true feelings), tends to inspire a desire to protect her, as well as a tendency to forgive her a lot of crap. It’s not really my favourite real-world dynamic–I’m not a fan of the way a girl who has “been through something” can be placed on a pedestal and separated out from others because of it–but I’ve seen it play out. Starbuck is destructive and oblivious, the father and son Adama team place others at risk to save her, and everyone just keeps playing the game that no one can ever win, and continuing the cycle.
To sum: she’s not a pretty sight, our Starbuck. Nor does she really deserve all the slack she gets. But for better or for worse, she’s real (well, okay, realistic. I know she’s not actually real), and so is the reaction she inspires.