My Love Affair with the Almost Love Affair Between Starbuck and Apollo
The most liberating TV moment for me in recent memory was in Season One of Battlestar Gallactica when Lee/Apollo punches Kara/Starbuck right in the jaw. She punched him, it hurt, he punched her back. There was no grabbing her wrists or holding her back, he decked her. And, for just a moment, gender equality rang through the flight deck and through my living room.
Battlestar Gallactica doesn't condescend to its women fighters. Even the sickeningly sex kittenish blonde Cylon kicks ass, boney limbs no object. Her clash with Starbuck was no hair-pulling, shrieking, slapping catfight, but a full-on, fisted, grunting, groaning, gorey deathmatch. There was no playful eroticism, red-laquered nails razing moist pink skin, just unmitigated survival instinct and brute strength. And it was not over a man, it was war. I was in awe.
But what grabbed me about the scene between Apollo and Starbuck was that it trounced taboo, by never noting the taboo ("Never hit a woman") at all. The audience may be shocked - He HIT her! - but Apollo and Starbuck are not. He doesn't run to her in apology, or flee only to return with ice and gauze and tears and shock at his own monstrous capacities - "My mama taught me never to hit a woman and I swore to myself I never would ..." - nor does she shame him - "Pick on someone your own size!" He's mad, she's mad, they're in love, and they're totally (despite the small matter of rank) peers and equals. Equals enough that his punching her is equivalent to her punching him. It's not "violence against women" which indicates that violence against any woman, in particular, is worse, because she, in particular, is naturally unable to fight back. Instead, it was portrayed as the violence that happens between two people (who happen to be military-trained) who are negotiating a complicated relationship. He was not expected to grip his jaw, wince a bit, and take it, out of some pedestalizing "respect for women". He respected her enough to dish out what he took, in unbracing justice.
Commenter galveston says, on Television Without Pity's Satellite of Love: Relationships on BSG:
I heard [show's creator Ron D.] Moore say on a podcast that the sexual tension with Lee was a big reason he made Starbuck a woman. If that's the reason why, it's the wrong reason IMO. Why couldn't RDM make the character a woman solely for the purpose of having a strong female character who's a good friend in the tradition of the old Starbuck and who's a kick ass pilot? What's wrong with that? What's wrong with her and Apollo being the dearest of friends, friends who would die for each other, without the contrived "sexual tension"? Why must there be sexual tension between the male and female lead?
I would usually side with galveston. I'm sick of knee-jerk heteronormativity that results in the two attractive young people hooking up simply because one's male and the other's female. For years, I watched all-men and all-women movies almost in exclusivity in order to avoid another chemistry-less, clumsy, banter-filled, cutesy hook-up between two people who'd never have been attracted to each other offscreen. (Caveat: they do it in queer stuff too, it's just less grating most of the time.) But that scene between Apollo and Starbuck paid off their relationship in full, with no lingering sense that I was being toyed with.
That scene didn't happen in a vacuum though. The show is intent on making Kara macho, while also not feeling forced (unlike, say, Rescue Me) to make her a lesbian. While BSG is in dire need of queer content, Starbuck's sexual appetite toward men (not just Apollo), paired with her toughness and competence, makes her a particularly unusual character. She doesn't need monogamy, though she clearly has strong feelings for Lee. And she doesn't take shaming around it; that's why she punched him.
Lee, however, is no shrinking violet himself. The old-school mythical-feminist ideal of the quiet, sensitive, ever-yielding man bears little resemblance to the fighter pilot who put a gun to the head of his own commanding officer, embedded with terrorists, and, need I say it, socked the object of his affection in the face.
Both Lee and Kara are tough and sensitive, smart but emotional, with strong beliefs, and strong defenses. In other words, they're a good match.
There's all that and as CaptTightPants says on Satellite of Love:
Personally, every time I see Lee and Kara onscreen, I am afraid my TV set might explode from the pure scorchy hotness of it.