On the surface, the show seems to be a feminist coup: the president is female, the best fighter pilot is a tough-talking woman, etc. It’s a show that seems plush with strong, female roles.
But take a closer look at Battlestar Galactica. There is something else at work here.
The most retrograde character is Cally, an air-maintenance specialist on the flight deck. For years, she’s harbored a girlish crush on her boss, Chief Tyrol, to no avail, until, at last, a breakthrough happens thanks to a broken jaw: Cally wakes Tyrol up from a nightmare and in a fit of angry confusion, he beats her to a pulp. Remorseful, he visits her in the hospital, and shortly thereafter, they marry. This sends the implicit message that the way to a man’s heart is through his fist—a heartily un-feminist concept—but the strange circumstances surrounding Cally’s marriage are less offensive than her death scene. On realizing that Tyrol is a Cylon, Cally tries to kill herself along with her child. Then another Cylon comes along, saves the baby, and tosses Cally out of an airlock. Presumably the writing staff is trying to grapple with postpartum depression—Tyrol doesn’t help enough with the baby, pushing Cally over the edge. Yet they do so in a melodramatic, and ultimately nonsensical, fashion. Here we have a society that permits divorce and seems to have plentiful free day care, and yet an otherwise functioning member of that society acts like a Victorian hysteric. The take-away is not that Cally has been driven to desperation by a sexist social order but that she can’t contain her feminine irrationality.
Cally’s death is an example of a worrisome trend: The main female characters are all dying, dead, or not human. Ellen, Sharon, D’Anna, and Tory Foster—all strong female characters, have all turned out to be Cylons, and Starbuck was recently revealed as a half-Cylon hybrid. Adm. Cain, for a time the highest ranking officer in the military, was assassinated; Cally was murdered; Dee, Capt. Lee Adama’s neglected wife, committed suicide; and Starbuck’s rival, Capt. Louanne Katraine, pretty much did, too—she sacrificed herself while guiding civilian ships through a dangerous star cluster. The president, perhaps the most-talked-about example of Battlestar‘s great female leads, is dying of breast cancer. In isolation, none of these cases has much significance. But taken together they suggest a troubling, if unintentional message: Women—the human ones, anyway—just can’t hack it when the going gets rough.