By Erik McClanahan for Indiewire.com
Katee Sackhoff in 'Battlestar Galactica'SYFY
Editor's Note: The TV landscape is filled with male antiheroes, from Nicholas Brody to Walter White, but what about the women? This is part two of a series of five articles exploring flawed female protagonists and how their bad behavior makes them so interesting to watch. It's presented in partnership with Netflix and its new original series "Orange is the New Black" (all episodes available July 11th, only on Netflix).
Before it ever aired on TV, Syfy's reimagining of "Battlestar Galactica" had an uphill battle to fight. Many fans of the original, 1978 version -- a rote and admittedly cheesy "Star Wars" knockoff -- were not happy when it was announced that one of the show's most popular characters would go from a womanizing, anti-authoritarian, cocky, cigar-chomping gambler, drinker and all around badass fighter pilot dude to a (wait for it)... anti-authoritarian, cocky, cigar-chomping gambler, drinker and all around badass fighter pilot woman who digs sex with no strings attached. How dare they!
Series developer Ronald D. Moore explained why the convention was turned on its head in a piece in Wired: "Making Starbuck a woman was a way of avoiding what I felt would be 'rogue pilot with a heart of gold' cliche." He was right. By keeping the two characters pretty much the same except for their gender, the newer, smarter, better version of "BSG" gracefully paid respect to the original while boldly moving into a more modern, subversive sphere of television. As exciting as the grand mythology, narrative and world-building was in "BSG" 2.0, it was the characters that made it work, and this new Starbuck, despite the initial fan outcry, proved to be its most complex and flat-out cool figure.
In a recent piece on Slate titled "Why We'll Never Have A Female Tony Soprano," writer Alyssa Rosenberg states that "[women] get penalized rather than rewarded for displaying masculine traits like aggression, physical force, ambition or selfishness. Efforts to create female antiheroes with masculine qualities... have failed because those characters are initially seen as evil rather than admirable." Funny thing is, that's pretty much exactly what actress Katee Sackhoff, Moore and his writing team succeeded in doing with their version of Starbuck.
Sackhoff took what was so well written on the page and brought it to life, playing Kara Thrace, callsign "Starbuck," as the toughest, most macho, self-destructive person on the show. She acts like a man, is flawed in the way most male antiheroes are, she does stupid, misguided things, almost proves to be the harbinger of death to the sole remaining humans in the galaxy -- and yet, we love her. I'd even argue as a cherry-on-top bonus that this Starbuck also gets to be sexy as hell -- and in control of her own sexual agency -- even though she rarely was made up or dressed as a traditional pretty woman on TV. How many of the popular modern male antihero characters can claim all that?