Overview of survival: mini-series through Season 3
One of the main reasons I found 'Crossroads' so exciting a finale was the way it reconnected Lee's destiny with Kara's, and beyond that to the survival of the fleet as a whole. I'm a Lee fan first and foremost, so I appreciated him playing such a key role, but more than that, I appreciated that the show returned once again to the idea that Lee and Kara together effect not only each others' survival but the whole of humanity's. Keeping the idea of 'survival' as central, it seems to me that we've seen several distinctly different phases in their journeys, with another opening up with Kara's resurrection.
Stage One: initial escape
Having established the Cylon threat in the mini-series, the show then went on to show our 'heroes' overcoming the obstacles set in their way. In the mini and Season One, Kara and Lee were established as a team who working together were greater than the sum of their parts. In this phase, Kara and Lee prove themselves not only able to save each other from death, but also to save themselves (and others):
- in the mini-series, Kara believes Lee is dead, while Lee saves Colonial One. Once reunited, Kara saves Lee's life when his viper loses power.
- when Kara goes missing in 'You Can't Go Home Again', Lee's willing to put the survival of the fleet in danger to find her, but she saves herself by flying a Cylon raptor back to reunite in the sky with Lee
- in 'The Hand of God', with the fleet running out of tylium, Kara comes up with a plan to successfully attack a Cylon refinery, but she's injured so Lee takes over the flying duties and successfully executes a Starbuck-like flight to destroy the Cylon base.
Stage Two: heightened connection
The first half of Season two raised the idea that Kara and Lee were linked to a greater destiny. However, this begins with their first lengthy separation from each other. It at first appears as if their journeys are leading them in different directions; Kara retrieves the 'Arrow of Apollo' (which supposedly will point the way to Earth) while Lee helps Roslin escape to form a breakaway fleet that got to Kobol. In fact, these two events lead to Lee and Kara being among the five people who see the map to Earth in the Temple of Athena.
This period seems to me to be a 'peak' in the idea that these two are fated to help Roslin lead the fleet forward to Earth. (Of course, the nature of Roslin's visions can be questioned, but that's a matter for a different essay.) Shortly after Kobol, we saw the show affirm again that Lee and Kara owe each other their lives in 'Flight of the Phoenix'. This time, the threat is simultaneously to both of them and they assist one another to avoid suffocation. It's a new 'height' in the pattern of them combining powers to ensure survival.
Stage Three: faltering
In the second half of Season 2, things take a bleaker turn. In 'Resurrection ship', Kara is given the task of planning the destruction of a Cylon resurrection ship and seeks Lee's help. This seems like a classic set-up to have them combine their skills to aid the fleet's survival, but Kara is also co-opted to assassinate Pegasus Commander Cain once the Cylon ship's been taken out. Lee promises to back her up though they're both tortured by the prospect of the action. While the ship is successfully destroyed, things fall apart when Lee is forced to eject into space. He finds a leak in his spacesuit and 'gives up' on life, an apology to Kara his last words. Lee is brought back to life, but Kara, this time, has no part in ensuring his survival. So we have a failure on multiple levels: of Lee to back up Kara, of Kara to be the force that saves Lee.
This is the beginning of a real 'low' for the pilots professionally: Lee struggles with depression, Kara sacrifices her 'top-gun' status in 'Scar'. But things fall even further apart, when Lee's among the bar patrons taken hostage on Cloud Nine in 'Sacrifice', Kara is sent to storm the bar. The set-up seems like it will result in Lee working from within and Kara from without to combine their powers and resolve the crisis. Instead, Kara ends up shooting Lee accidentally herself. Their 'heroic' qualities of being able to overcome all obstacles and save each other's lives are nowhere in evidence in this dark phase.
Stage Four: separation
At this point, it felt to me that the show had set up the connection between Lee, Kara and Destiny, only to knock it down again and show all the ways in which this was not true. While painful to watch, it's in keeping with the way Battlestar Galactica explores the conflict between belief in predestiny versus the primacy of personal agency and self-determination.
A long period of separation follows, during which the two pilot's fates seem to take different courses. Kara settles on New Caprica, while Lee remains in orbit around the planet as Commander of the Pegasus. When the Cylon fleet appears, Lee convinces the Admiral that the fleet should jump away to survive. When Adama connects with the resistance and organises a rescue, Lee initially argues against taking this risk. Such a move would not only have split the remaining human population in two, but would also have separated Lee and Kara permanently. The phase of 'separation' reaches its peak. But Lee struggles with his decision to let Adama return alone to rescue the New Capricans, and he ends up returning and sacrificing the Pegasus to bring about the rescue and reunite the human population (including Kara, though it's telling that there's still no real reconnection between Lee and Kara at this stage).
Stage five: entanglement/stagnation
Emotional entanglement characterises the next phase, in Season 3, but since I'm leaving the relationship analysis until later, I won't go into that too deeply. However, in 'The Eye of Jupiter', Kara's Raptor gets shot down as nukes are pointed at the algae planet. This time, the connection between Lee, Kara and mutual survival comes via their spouses: Sam insists on Lee sending a rescue party, and Lee sends Dee. All of them narrowly escape as the algae planet breaks apart. It's an acknowledgment that at the moment, their separate lives are all-powerful: even when survival is at stake, they're at one remove from one another.
Individually, both Kara and Lee have much to rebuild. Lee has his weight issue (pause for inevitable *snerk*) to overcome, and he also starts to question his career (will he be stuck as CAG until his father dies?). Kara returns from New Caprica emotionally scarred. She's challenged by Adama to pull herself back together, and she rises to the challenge, but underneath she's still tormented by memories of being held by Leoben during the Cylon occupation. Both of them demonstrate some 'natural' capacity for growth, but it is limited. A shake-up is necessary and imminent.
Stage six: renewal/rebirth
It's not until Maelstrom that their destinies are really clearly linked again. When Kara experiences a crisis of faith in her flying, it falls to Lee to decide whether to put her in the air or not. He does so even when she herself refuses, by promising to fly her wing and keep her safe. This results in her death.
This could be read as the final debunking of the myth of their linked fates: not only does Lee not save Kara, he's (partly) responsible for her death. It's an interesting balance to the fear that Kara faced in 'Sacrifice' when she thinks she could have killed her best friend.
But as we now know, Kara's death is actually the start of something new. In 'Crossroads' Lee picks up a bogey on his scanner that turns out to be Kara. She announces she's found Earth and will take them there. This is a return to the idea, first raised by the 'Arrow of Apollo' plot arc, that Kara's destiny is to lead them to Earth. If so, what is Lee's role? The signs indicate that he's a key link between her and the rest of the fleet--he is the last to see her go and the first to see her return. Her last and first words are to him.
At a symbolic level, Kara and Lee represent very different forces.
Kara's energy has always been directed externally. She's a forward-driving influence, someone who thinks outside-the-box. She's a risk taker, with the type of 'fluke' results commonly associated with classic hero figures. Her acts are often showy and individual, her missions solo ones. She provides breakthroughs and forward momentum. She's a maverick, a creative force, and she's also very religious. The 'special destiny' that the oracle reveals for her is connected to her creativity (her painting), her beliefs (she experiences visions in the days before her death), and also to her role within the fleet ('the hotshot pilot').
In contrast, Lee represents an impulse to order and convention. He engages with political and community issues and he defends the established structures of democracy that are a legacy of the Colonies. His strengths lie in leading and motivating others, in astute strategic and tactical decision making, as well as his strong personal loyalty. He's more inward-directed than Kara, and he shows a capacity for self-sacrifice. Where Kara's heroism is solitary and showy, his is undemonstrative (the destruction of the Pegasus was very understated) and community-minded (he 'mutinies' to support democracy). Unlike Kara, he's an atheist, and he bases his decisions on solid analysis and experience, not faith.
Chaos versus order. Religion versus science. Kara and Lee represent opposing energies that ultimately need to be in balance to ensure harmony, and perhaps survival itself.
These are, however, not inflexible or fixed positions. At significant times, we've seen Kara and Lee swap roles. In 'The Hand of God' they traded places professionally, with Kara providing the tactics and leadership and Lee the hotshot piloting. With greater significance, the New Caprican arc had them expressing reverse impulses: Kara opted for settling the planet, building a stable life there in a new community, while Lee expressed determination to drive forward, even to find Earth. Of course, New Caprica proved to be a false destination, its permanence and security illusionary.
I'm a sucker for redemption or rebirth plots, and the end of Season 3 signalled that for both Kara and Lee.
Kara's is a literal rebirth--Ron has clarified that she has been 'resurrected'. But 'Maelstrom' is significant at an emotional level as well. In her visions, Kara revisits her mother--something she needs to do to put the abuse in her past behind her. Leoben has also been a source of unresolved tension for Kara, and he features as a sort of spirit guide in her visions. Before her death, Kara 'touches base' with the significant people in her life, reflecting on their relationships in a way that shows both healing and emotional growth. Approaching her death, she insists that she's not afraid any more and begs Lee to let her go. A flash of white light is followed by the image of a younger Kara smiling (no longer abused or resentful).
Kara has always been a survivor--as hotshot pilot cheating death is her life. So her challenge in this arc is to face and accept death. In contrast, Lee, who has acknowledged that he would find death a release, is given the challenge of living and finding purpose in a seemingly meaningless world.
The trial plot-arc provides Lee with his own rebirth arc and the chance to resolve emotional burdens that he's carrying. In deciding to join Gaius's legal team, Lee's exploring a side of himself that he's had locked away. It renews his attraction to issues of right and wrong, and it provides him with a chance to reconnect with the part of himself that believes passionately that despite everything they have to strive to maintain both compassion and the security of the legal/political structure. In these final episodes of season 3 we see Lee stripped of significant markers of identity: he removes his 'wings' and title, his wife leaves him, he is estranged from his father. This stripping away culminates in his testimony and the truths which pour out of him, the acknowledgment of guilt, a healing process for both Lee and the fleet as a whole (or at least his father!).
In his testimony, Lee acknowledges the compromises that have been made, have had to be made by both himself as an individual and the fleet as a whole. Survival demands compromise, and if Lee, superficially one of the most rigid, 'rule-bound' characters on Galactica, can come to terms with this, then there is hope for the community as a whole. There's a sense of energy and renewal in the final sequence as well, as Lee returns to his role as Viper pilot, having come full circle, to meet Kara in the air.
The set-up into Season 3 sees atheist Lee confronted with the resurrection of his best friend. It sees her claiming to have found a way to Earth and be going to lead them there. This will, you would imagine, give Lee something of a crisis. But despite everything they've gone through, his loyalty to Kara is absolute. 'Maelstrom' reminded us of that, and I think we'll see him return to that again, after some struggle. Ron has clarified that it's Kara's destiny to find Earth. Only the extremely short-sighted would fail to notice Lee's Viper beside hers in that anvilicious final sequence. It's not much of a stretch, surely, to imagine that they will both be instrumental in leading the fleet to Earth. There will also be a need to come into some kind of harmony with the forces/energies that each represents, either internally (within each character) or externally (within the plot of the show). Kara's just given us another big jump forward. Will Lee match that with community-building and leadership? And/or will we see the balance reflected at a character/relationship level? Which leads me to Part Two...