I loved this episode. I do think it was very brave of Moore & Co. to go the whole way with major character death (even if it was also very sadistic of them!).
Kara's connection to Leoben, whatever it turns out to be, is fascinating. And yes, kristiinthedark hot, as those first few minutes of Maelstrom showed. But my first emotion on seeing the opening sequence, where Kara awakes from a dream about Leoben (and about painting over/out her destiny), was actually relief, because it cleared up something that's been niggling at me.
Since the start of Season 3, when we saw Kara trapped by Leoben, I've been waiting for the fallout. Yes, we saw her lash out in violence and anger in Collaborators. But after being confronted by Adama she supposedly got back on track. I was never completely satisfied by that, because I think Leoben exposed Kara's wounds in such a way that meant that her usual coping mechanism (denial) was no longer so easily available to her. He stripped her bare—-someone knew her secrets, knew them intimately. So without denial, what coping mechanism has Kara been using? But while things certainly haven't gone perfectly for her, she hasn't been shown to be losing it in, say, the way she did in Scar. So for me, there was a question mark hanging over Kara's inner world and where she was emotionally. Something didn't quite fit. Something had to give somewhere.
The opening of Maelstrom, therefore, made a lot of emotional sense to me. Although I do wish some of this had been hinted at throughout the series, that has not been the BSG way. Given the show's predilection for confining character plots to individual episodes, I'm going to suggest that in reality she's been having these nightmares for some time. Earlier this season, I argued that Leoben had, in some ways, returned Kara to her child self by forcing her to confront her past. And so having her see her child self in this episode really worked for me.
Leoben is a link between Kara's past and her future. He appears to be preparing her for something more than death, for an epic destiny. The sexual aspect of that relationship is peculiar in some regards, but makes sense in others. It symbolises Leoben's intimacy with Kara, the way he gets under her skin.
It's also possible that we need to separate the inidividual Leoben on New Caprica who insisted on their relationship together, with the Leoben who serves as a sort of spirit guide in Maelstrom. Both are crucial, and obviously connected. But I'm not sure that we're meant to think that Kara is being visited by a 'true' version of Leoben, any more than Head!Six or Head!Gaius are accurate representations of Caprica or Gaius.
I was also genuinely confused by what Kara was experiencing. I believe there was a raider. But the hit that Kara thought she took was imaginary. She hallucinated her child self. And she had an out-of-body experience in which she revisited her mother's death. Other characters have had visions, it's true, but these took things to a whole new level.
And then there's the whole question of her 'death'. Was it really what we saw? Did she find a portal to Earth? Did she eject? Did she ascend to some higher plain? And why was she so happy?!
Ready for death
One of the strangest things about this episode for me was that way that Kara seemed ready for death. Even when she hallucinates her child-self and Helo asks her if she's ok, she replies 'I don't know' in such an edgy way that it hints that she really doesn't know. It's not just that Leoben was preparing her for something which superficially seems like death but actually isn't. Kara herself is prepared for death. The oracle tells Kara that she'll know what to do with the statue of Aurora 'when the time is right'. She gives it to Adama in a spontaneous gesture. She's driven by something inside her. She's drawn towards her death, compelled. And she fears it, refusing to fly.
Ending the episode with Adama smashing the ship that Aurora was meant to lead, in a blind rage at Kara's death, was incredibly moving. That exchange was heavy with portent.
One of the things I liked best about this episode was the way it gave all the significant players in Kara's life a place. And their places felt, for me at least, balanced in terms of their emotional significance to Kara.
- Leoben functioned as prophet and a sort of spirit guide
- Helo offered a sympathetic ear and gave friendly advice.
- Sam offered time out, with no strings attached. And she trusted him enough to discuss her past abuse.
- The Chief makes a brief appearance when she can't face getting in the viper.
- Adama trades pilot banter with her, superficially light, but heavy with portent, and his rage at her death closes this episode.
- Roslin is present when she gives the Aurora model to Adama.
- Tigh stood on the sidelines judging ('she should be afraid').
And then there's Lee...
Lee, oh, Lee. Where to start? I'm so glad he was in this episode to the extent that he was. When I realised the nature of the ep, I feared he might make only a brief appearance, which would actually have broken my heart more than the outcome we saw. I loved that he was with her at the end, and I love that he made the call to put her in the air, that she accepted and trusted in him at the end. That was the most incredibly poignant 'end' for them. (Please not the final final end!) That, in the last moments, they were returned to CAG and hotshot pilot was perfect. And also that Lee flew her wing. He's comfortable with that role. His own ego and self-esteem are invested elsewhere. This, he can give her. And for me, who fell in love with the pilots in the air in the mini-series, it was oh so perfect that their last interaction would also be in the air.
Though what a mindfrak: in the mini-series Kara was able to pull out a 'beyond insane' move to bring Lee 'home' to Galactica; here, Lee couldn't bring Kara home. They've charted so much territory together (and apart) since that day, but some things haven't changed and I love that.
I adored their interactions in this episode, though every moment tore at my heart. Even on rewatch, I teared up. I loved Kara's expression when she learns that Adama's left the decision to Lee. She's fearful but determined to face being grounded by her best friend. And when he instead says he believes something could have been there, she's so happy/grateful. Lee responds with banter, but they're both choking on emotion. A 'raving lunatic' and a 'bastard'. Yes, that does sum them up when viewed from their worst angles. I'm not quite deluded enough not to see that. But I love them despite it—-and they love each other despite it.
daybreak777 discussed with me the way that Lee stares and stares at Kara before saying 'whatever it takes'. Kara turns away first, she can't bear it. On first watch, I was 'in' Lee to such an extent that I didn't pick up that her next line (a question about Dee) was a distraction, an attempt to put some distance between them. So Kara understood the message in Lee's eyes: that she still means the world to him, that he'll put her first, that their connection is incredibly real and strong, even if fate's twisted them away from each other.
So perhaps Kara's next words are not so surprising: 'It's funny, after all that we've been through, we are right back where we started.' I don't think Lee sees what's coming next because it's unlike Kara to talk even this obliquely about their relationship. He laughs in relief at the joke (CAG and his hotshot problem pilot) that eases the tension momentarily, but then she throws out the speculation--'I guess that's all we'll ever be now'—and a silence yawns between them. Lee doesn't know what to say, doesn't know why she's bringing this up now, is somewhat surprised at the regret he thinks he hears in her voice.
What can he say? In one sense, yes, that's 'all' they are. But in another sense, that is nothing to dismiss. Again, I come back to how much I love them as pilots, as colleagues, as two halves of one team, as co-dependent in the best of senses—-together they are greater that the sum of their parts. There is so much tenderness in Lee's voice when he asks how she's doing in the air. They may be 'co-pathetic' but they're also the greatest flying team ever.
We've heard Lee call for Starbuck in despair before-—begging her to report when she's missing. And we've heard him break into calling her Kara when he's really scared for her. This time, we heard her answer him, using Lee rather than Apollo. I can't express how happy I was that Kara's final words were to Lee. That she said she'd see him on the other side. For so long, I felt their relationship was one-sided, that Lee didn't mean as much to Kara as she meant to Lee. Well, this ep proved me wrong, and I'm glad of it.
I loved that Adama's instant reaction to Kara's crash was to scream for his son to get out of there—-he couldn't lose him too. Later of course we see how deep his grief for Kara was, but it was also comforting to see him so concerned for his son too. And Lee answered that call. That worked for me on so many levels. Lee has evolved to the point where he could pull out, even while watching Kara's viper explode. That took unbelievable strength, because part of Lee would be oh so willing to follow Kara into death. He told Sam as much only a few episodes ago, when his actions or inactions may have led to Kara's death. And part of him is dying with Kara, of that I'm sure.
But why is he able to pull out? Death was once attractive to Lee as a way out. But this time he resists, even with his best friend/co-pilot/sister/lover/twinned half leading the way. Why? I think there's a lot of reasons.
Partly because Lee's already faced death before and come out the other side, lived on despite his depression. It doesn't hold the significance for him that it does for Kara. It wasn't frightening for him to sink into death. Facing fear of death may be Kara's journey but it's not Lee's: his battle is to live. That's harder for him. And he has built a life for himself. It's not been easy, but he's done it. He has, I believe, things he is quietly proud of now. His promotion to major, sacrificing the Pegasus, reconnecting with his father, his relationship with Dee and taking responsibility for his marriage. It shows in the way he carries himself. He still underestimates himself and is surprised at the regard he is held in by others, but he has proved himself a good leader time and time again.
I always thought, if death came, it would be Lee who died to let Kara have one last moment of pilot glory. She's always symbolised the drive to survive at all cost, whereas his strength is usually demonstrated in selflessness, the ability to annihilate the self for the greater good. Now I'm left feeling it's Kara's death that is selfless. That's taking some adjustment. But I'm also glad because it represents evolution on both their parts.
I've seen a few people mention them finding it odd that Lee wants his photo placed next to Duck and Nora. But it worked for me. I think that Kara is really thinking about it, when she says she wants to be beside Kat. But I don't think Lee thought it out so deeply. However, his instincts reveal an interesting connection. Duck martyred himself to be with Nora—-his final words were to her. And that's so very Lee. When he faced his own death, his final words were addressed to Kara—-an apology for not being there. (Lee, sweetheart, if only you'd known then that you wouldn't have to apologise for not being there. You were there when it mattered—at the end.) So who they placed themselves beside in death says a lot about who they identify with.
But at the same time, I think they're moving beyond these roles. Kara is not just a hotshot problem pilot--certainly not after this episode, though the true extent of her significance may not be known for some time--next season even. And Lee has learnt to live, to fight through things and to take joy in life despite not attaining the heights he sets himself to scale. A photo pinned to a wall won't encapsulate either of them. Though I'm sure Lee will keep his promise.
Yes, I do think Kara will be back in some way. I think others have covered the reasons very well—-in particular, asta77 makes a persuasive argument, which wisteria_ expands on with bonus illustrations. I think there are a number of conceivable options for the circumstances of Kara's survival.
For my part, I hope she's not a Cylon for many reasons. Firstly I don't like the gender implications. (Both female pilots turn out to be Cylons, the one instance of male Cylon manipulating female human (rather than vice versa) is lost.) Secondly it would irk me on Katee Sackhoff's behalf, because they promised her she wasn't. Thirdly, it's too straightforward: Leoben tells Kara she's got a special destiny and she turns out to be a Cylon? I'd like something a little more subtle, something with a bit more twist. But also it's way too big a retcon for me--it's too far away from the Kara Thrace and the Starbuck we've known. And finally, I really don't want Kara to be a Cylon because it would kill me to see her turn on Lee and Adama and her friends. And because I just do not want to even think about the possibility of Lee having to kill a Cylon!Kara.
However, it's hard to deny the significance of Kara saying 'they're waiting for me' as she dies. Perhaps the nature of the final five will be original enough that if she is one of them, it's still interesting. *crosses fingers* If she does have to be a Cylon, then I'm hoping that the final five are quite different from what we've seen of the Cylons so far, and perhaps that they have a bearing on the destiny of humanity, not just the Cylons. Perhaps they even existed before the other Cylons or are a connection between Cylons and humans.
What I think very likely is that Kara will be the link leading the humans, and probably the Cylons too—-hopefully not intentionally--to Earth. Logically, that's where the show is headed. Kara giving the Aurora model to Adama was heavily symbolic—-she's offering them a 'fresh start'. If the temple was a roadsign pointing the way, then Kara just took the first exit after it—and I think we'll be following her at some stage.
Who really knows where the show will lead us? Even the spoiler-addicted don't seem to know right now. (Though I gather some big spoilers just got leaked.) But right this moment, I just want Kara back.
I've seen some speculation along the lines of 'Starbuck dies, but Kara returns', and while I have some ambivalent feelings about the validity of that argument, I think I could live with that. What I really hope/want is that if/when she comes back, the change she has undergone will be constructive rather than destructive. While I love this show's tragic bent, I do feel that Kara Thrace has had more thrown her way than anyone deserves to have to deal with. And all that's happened is that she's got more and more broken. This has not, so far, been a journey of overcoming adversity. It's been a story of battling to keep one's head above water, to live one more day at a time. Yes, Kara's had her moments of elation (with Sam, with Lee one night, most of all in flying), but the rest of the time she's been battered and bruised, and she's trapped in a cycle of abuse and denial and pain in her relationships. If she comes back, please let her be healed, in part at least. Please let her have grown.
For Lee, likewise, I hope that eventually this will provide him with some space to be himself, to put himself first and to find strength in facing what is surely one of the hardest griefs to bear. I don't think that will come quickly, but it's possible that the show will do a jump forward in time again at some point—-if so, we might get a chance to see things in perspective on a bigger scale.
In the shorter term, I'm quietly confident that Lee will 'cope', on the surface at least. He'll drive himself to live, for Kara's sake as well as his own. I do hope we get to see some immediate grief--although knowing this show they are just as likely to leap forward a few months and deny us that. But I also think that any attempt to memorialise Kara or to grieve for her formally or in private will have limited effectiveness in the short term for Lee. He's going to bear this scar until he dies. Period. It will forever shape the way he thinks of her: the woman he loved, the woman he put in the sky to die. That she was happy in those last moments will be lost on Lee. It was too strange an experience for him, though I do think that her final words helped at a subconscious level to confirm that this really was The End, that she really was gone.
I meant to say above that I also felt that once upon a time, Lee would have grounded Kara. And I think he's got two main reasons for not doing so here (both of which are articulated well in the episode):
1. She's the best pilot he's got and he trusts her skill, her eyes. Genuinely.
2. He knows that she's 'falling' and needs someone there to catch her. Lee does emotional support so well, and he's ALWAYS wanted to be Kara's crutch. I'm so glad she finally let him be. But that that led to death leaves me shaking.
Their 'deaths' could not have been more different or more similar. Atheist Lee wanted to sink into a calm dark pool of water. His death came suddenly, unannounced, with no markers or fanfare. Kara-the-believer explodes in flashes of light. Her death is heralded by omens and prophecies and portents. Kara believes in a life after death. Lee doesn't. But in both instances they welcomed it when the final moment came. For both it was relief and release. That's both incredibly moving and incredibly tragic.
Finally, if Kara's 'death' does have greater significance and does help determine the fate of humanity, as I strongly suspect it will, then I'm glad Lee was part of it. They've been paired since the start, and that link is unbroken. I'll borrow Lee's words to close: 'Kara, listen to me, please, come back! Gods, damn it, Kara, you come back! COME BACK!'.
ETA: I also wanted to talk about Kara's 'reconciliation' with her mother and some more about the whole preparing-to-face-death thing. But that will have to wait. This post is too long already! (Anyone who read all of it deserves a medal!)
ETA2: Part 2