Lee Adama: A Manifesto
Before I do this, I would like to briefly recap his character identity and trajectory:
Young attractive male lead of good, strange sci-fi TV show. Initially heroic. makes tough calls. Assumes leadership positions that he does not necessarily want to occupy, but steps up to the plate due to extreme, tragic circumstances that call for his expertise. From the beginning of the show, his tense, strained relationship with his father is the most intriguing thing about his character, and the aspect of his life most obviously responsible for an f-upped psychology. He does not like or respect his father (in fact, sort of hates/disrespects him), but ironically follows in his footsteps, professionally. He seems to be, initially, a serious, unhappy, and dissatisfied person. At the same time, he is a great leader, with a stringent set of morals and an obvious desire to do the right thing. He is loyal and hardworking. Some characters think of him as having a stick up his ass.
A defining aspect of his psychological makeup is revealed, over the course of the show, to be tied up in the death of a family member. There is a certain amount of guilt associated with this event, which is repressed. This guilt fascinatingly dictates his relationship trajectories with several other main characters.
Of course, there’s the girl. The girl he *~*~EpIcAlLy LoVeS~*~* from the first instant they meet. They have *~*~EpIc AdVeNtUrEs~*~* because they are both badass, her moreso than him. She’s a complex person, not amenable to opening her heart and admitting she loves him back. Not that he would ever admit that he feels that way about her, because of psychology/history/character traits that stand in the way of that type of honesty. His love for said girl is tragically, convultedly complicated by a wonderful triangulation. When said girl sleeps with someone else, he reacts with very extreme jealousy. The triangulation eventually pushes him into the arms of another girl whom he does not really like. They have ZERO chemistry together. When they share screen time, the universe vomits.
At some point during the series, he tries and fails to commit suicide. Midway through the series, he stars in an episode in which his character has an illicit relationship with a woman of dubious profession. This relationship is the result of a failed past relationship that ran its course before the timeframe of the show. He ends up getting his ass handed to him by the bad crowd that this sketchy woman is involved with. The episode that chronicles all of this is, generally, considered to be the worst episode of the entire series.
He briefly obtains the girl of his dreams, and for an ephemeral instant believes they will share a long and epically happy life of perfection together. She proceeds to break his heart (the aforementioned triangulating factor comes into play, bigtime). He proceeds to undergo an immense downward spiral. His character becomes unrecognizable, emotionally and physically. He loses his attractiveness, his purpose. He becomes addicted to artificial happiness as found through the addictive consumption of substances.
The horrifying end result of this downward spiral is relayed during a mind-fucking, game-changing, season finale of epicness in which a OMG WTF JUST HAPPENED TO MY LIFE narrative time-jump results in the total distortion of everything the viewer thought they knew about the show. Interestingly, this two-parter season finale juxtaposes extremes of being for the character of this young, attractive male lead. We see him at his LEADERSHIP BEST, being awesome, being super-super-super-angsty about his girl who has at this point semi-sort-of-but-not-really chosen the other male member of the <3 triangle. We also see “future” him at his absolute worst, ugly-fied and obviously emotionally wrecked. This episode leaves the viewer with questions of, OMG, what happened to make him be this way?! The answer (basically, he lost the love of his life) is relayed in a heartbreaking episode in the subsequent season.
He eventually gets back his physical attractiveness, and seems to be headed towards the re-attainment of awesomeness. He even hooks up with his *~*~EpIC LoVe~*~* again, although the encounter is fraught with angst on both sides. But shortly after, his character identity undergoes a shift that is not understood by some viewers. The thematic occupation of his character within the universe of the show is totally translocated. He latches onto A MISSION that is not understood by other main characters. He fights hardheadedly for said mission; fights against other main characters. His relationship with his epic lover remains frustratingly nebulous and complicated. He had her lost her has her loses her again. At the end of the day, the entirety of his motivations boils down to his personal feelings for this woman.
In case you didn’t get it, every single word I just wrote is equally applicable to the characters of Lee adama and jack shepherd. JUST SAYING.
And now, for the concise manifesto of an epic semi-irrational love for a not-all-that-loveable fictional character.
Why I love Lee Adama
It was obviously a slow process. I didn’t always love him. I was ambivalent and then dubious. Sometimes I hated him. At first I loved him only through the lenses of Adama and Kara. Eventually I realized that his character fills my soul with helpless epic love of a possibly irrational nature.
So, why do I love him. There’s many reasons. I’ll keep it concise.
I love him for how flawed he is. I love him because instead of jumping out of bamboo and saving people left-and-right from burning incendiary wreckage, he gets out of his viper and starts bitching about how the Galactica doesn’t have automatic landing systems. I love how much of a douchebag he is in the miniseries. A douchebag who hates his awesome dad and can’t talk about his brother and wants to talk to Kara but doesn’t really know how. A douchebag who’s semi-redeemed through mad military skillz and the fact that he respects the hell out of Laura Roslin/believes in political authority. A doucehbag who’s so full of hatred because deep down he blames himself for Zak’s death. He’s too weak to shoulder that blame and so he hates his dad, hates him a lot.
I love the repressed self-hatred. I love that he never wanted to be in the military. I love that he felt abandoned by his dad and was raised by an alcoholic mom and must have considered his brother his only real family, and maybe his only real friend, too. I love the implications of his and Zak’s childhood and young life. Zak probably idolized him. Lee probably felt protective and responsible. Which explains so much of his character—serious, anal, by-the-book. With his father gone and his mom psycho, Lee was all Zak had, probably. So he followed his older brother into military training. I would guess Lee quietly hated that. I would guess that this upset him and he couldn’t pinpoint why, because it would involve conscious self-blame (ie, blaming himself for hypocritically following in their dad’s footsteps and setting that example for Zak). Lee’s too self-righteous for that honest train-of-thought. And I love that about him. I love that again and again, he is incapable of consciously accepting culpability. I love that he is too weak to tell himself, Lee, this was partly your fault. I love that this coalesces into a quiet, repressed self-loathing,
I love his naivete. I love that he has this grand, romantic, overarching love of humanity that’s juxtaposed with his inability to connect with people on an individual meaningful level. I love that he puts ideals over individuals. That to him, there are eternal truths that supersede relationships and personal feelings (**there’s an exception to this which we’ll get to in a bit) (interestingly, he’s the opposite of his father in this character trait). For example, I love that he loved Roslin and hated Baltar, and fought for Baltar’s human rights despite loving her and hating him.
So, I love him for how flawed he is. I also love him for his strengths. I love that he sucked it up after the miniseries and became a great CAG. I love that despite never wanting to have that life, he never once complained or gave any indication of dissatisfaction. I love that (according to Jamie Bamber) all Lee really wanted was to be a cook. I love that he was a great pilot, and a great leader. I love that he blew up a cylon base all by himself. I love that when he’s not CAG, things tend to go to shit (unless Starbuck steps into the position). I love that when they catch the assassin, he was the bad cop and Starbuck was the good cop. I also love their bar-fight. I love that he was brave, and smart, and fiercely dedicated to what he believed in (see: Bastille Day). I love his belief in not taking sides. I love his willingness to stand up for what he thinks is right, even if it costs him everything (end of season 1). I love his ability to grow and forgive (his relationship with his dad). I love his oratorical prowess and his ability to hold his liquor. I love that he hates Gaius Baltar so much. I love that he can be, when needed, the worlds’ greatest friend.
I love pretty much every single badass thing he does in season 2. When the cylons invade the ship and Lee, blood all over his face (…on Caprica, Starbuck’s face is also covered with blood as she smokes a cigar and listens to piano), leads the defense. Says something like, “We’re going towards the bullets.” When he and Starbuck are Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid having gunfights on Kobol. When Tigh instates martial law and he escapes from Galactica with Roslin. When he hilariously saves the people on Kobol and says “You’re welcome.” When he’s in the hostage crisis and does some cool shit with dry ice. When he goes up against the commander of the Pegasus and then assumes command after kicking ass in a space fight. When everyone’s prepping to go back to Caprica to get Anders and co. and Starbuck’s briefing them and Apollo walks in and Helo says, “Commander on deck,” and Lee says “You’ll be making history be even making the attempt. Bring these people back, and you’ll be making part of the future.”……despite doubtless having mixed feeling about said “future.” When he’s transferred to the Pegasus and demoted b/c Cain’s a bitch and he gives Starbuck a camera, tells her to go take some pretty pictures of our bird. When he flies the Blackbird and ejects and almost kills himself because he’s so disillusioned (remember his naïve love and belief in the goodness of humanity). Ok so maybs not so badass, but I still love him for this moment.
Which brings me to something that I’ll get to at the end. First let’s stay focused on the positive.
(the towel pictures were supposed to be here but I messed them up…Lynn)
At the end of the day, it’s totally possible that I love him mainly for his towels.
And his arms. And back. And shouldersOMG. And the one time he wore a black t-shirt sometime in season 3. And his profile and his smile. AGV$%VCG%$D GROJER AOGHJ
Which brings me to the next reason I love Lee Adama. This may come as a surprise, but I love him for his relationship with Kara. (That was sarcasm). What may actually be surprising is that I love the conditional imperfection of his love for her. I think that Anders loves Kara unconditionally, completely, an all-encompassing totality that is equal parts reverence, acceptance, and resignation. Maybe his love for her is blind. It’s probably perfect. Lee’s isn’t. His love is messy and ugly and fluctuating. Sometimes it looks like hate. He hurts her. Repeatedly. He’s aloof and unfair and judgmental. At one point, he says this to Starbuck: “I don’t care what you do. You want to die? I will gladly open up an airlock for you.” Yowza
There’s the other extreme, though. Obviously, I love Lee for how he loves Kara at this end of the spectrum. Totally, helplessly, eternally. It’s not unconditional, but it’s forever, whether he likes it or not (mostly, he doesn’t). This is the innocently pure declaration of love: “Kara, I’m your friend, etcetc ILOVEYOU!!!!!! I’m your friend, etcetc, nice chat.” This is using 40% of the reserve fuel. This is “Do I have to smack you in the mouth, lieutenant?” This is every time he looks at her like he wants to throw her up against the wall and make that whole “Lee, Lee, oh Lee” thing a legit occurrence. This is shouting it to the stars. This is Kara asking, “Are we ok?” and his answering “Forever” into her hair. This is his brokenness when he loses her. This is the “not a chance” of it happening again. This is “I believe you.”
I love Lee because he only ever really smiles because of Kara. If you can think of a genuine smile that’s not Starbuck-related, in 4 seasons, let me know. Because I can’t. I love that she’s his religion. That he’s an atheist who believes in her with the totality of religious faith in the miraculous or divine. I love that he assumes she’s a cylon when she comes back but defends her against everyone else anyway.
I love that, generally speaking, she’s the sole exception to every one of his personal rules. She takes the Rule Book of Lee’s Life, as it were, leafs through it, and proceeds to douse it with vodka before setting it on fire. He’s an atheist, except where she’s concerned. He adheres to a strict moral code that she dissipates as easily and effectively as she kills cylons. He puts ideals over individuals, except when that individual happens to be Kara. “Marriage”? “Justice”? even “Survival?” second place, only to her.
I love that he never blames her for his brother’s death. That she’s mainly responsible, and he blames himself and his dad without ever really turning that on her. That was the very beginning of the show—it set the stage for everything that came after, for the irrationality and helplessness and complexity of his feelings for her. I love how much he loves her. I love how repressed it is, so that it’s almost a subconscious thing. I love that deep down in that subconscious, he believes that they will one day be together. I love the naivete, the innocence of this belief. I love his incredulousness when she asks him post-sex “What are we going to do.” I love how he looks at her in confusion, shocked as to why she’s asking. “We accept it,” he says, as if it were the most obvious fact in the universe. As if he were patiently explaining 2+2 to a child.
Obviously, I love the general relationship dynamic that exists between these characters. You probably have a firm grasp of this already (in case you forgot/have become too pigenoned: the chemistry/intensity, the frak/fight, the soulmate-ness of pushing one another to transcend the limits of their individual beings, the epic Dostoevskian thematic message about redemptive love that paradoxically justifies a bleak and cruel human existence). What is notable here is the fact that this is the only fictional relationship of its kind that the three of us have unanimously supported. So even if you’re not a huge Lee fan (or at least a bigger Sam fan), you leaned towards the Lee/Kara side of things. That indicates that their relationship was really fucking awesome. Moreover, I think that it indicates a recognition that A) Kara really loved and wanted Lee and/or B) Lee’s love for her was epic in nature, even if the rest of his character was not (**an opinion that I do not share).
I love Lee because he loves my *~*~*FaVoRiTe FiCtIoNaL ChArAcTeR EvEr*~*~*. I love him because he loves her more than anyone, even if it’s not always “better” than anyone. I love him because he loves her like I think she should be loved: hugely, hopelessly, angrily, epically, forever. I love that he doesn’t let her get away with shit. I love that he hits back. I love him because she needs him. I love him because he needs her.
My favorite aspect of all of this is actually the friendship. I love Lee because he is there, always, no matter what. Even at the shittiest part of their relationship, when he’s fat and threatens to airlock her, he 100,000% would have died for her in a heartbeat, without thinking twice. Even after she twists his heart during Scar, he’s there when she’s faltering and needs him, needs her friend, her support. He’s there to ask if she’s ok. To help her finish her toast to their dead friends. And then, there’s the sister moment in season 3—my favorite scene of the entire series, the under the wing scene in Maelstrom. I love the gorgeous deconstruction of their relationship here. I love the two of them sitting side-by-side, shit-tons of history and heartache between them. I love that Lee says “Trust me.” I love that he’s going to fly her wing. I love that he is there for her, always, Whatever It Takes. And even now, he’s being weak. He’s refused Kara’s pleas that he leave his wife. He’s unable to transcend the barriers of his own being in order to meet her halfway. He’s being, in other words, himself. His flawed, flawed self. The man who, regardless, loves Kara Thrace irrevocably and always. Who will not ever be able to love her in the way that he wants, the way that he once thought he would. Who is resigned to spending his life in quiet, aching, longing, in repressed dreams and memories that seem more like dreams than reality. But he’s her friend. He’s her friend who would do anything for her. The romance aspect is futile, by this point. The drama is done. Decisions are made and the past is the past and now all that’s left is this pure, tragic, eternal “there-ness,” this deep love that is support and trust and forcing her back into that cockpit, flying her wing, flying her number 2, whatever it takes.
This segues nicely into the last reason that I love Lee Adama. I love him because he’s tragic. Because he breaks my heart. Because there is pain and sadness and loneliness and I’m an emotional masochist.
I love him because he wanted to be a good person, to know right-from-wrong and live by that distinction. I love him because he failed. I love him because he (generally) failed in every meaningful role his life gave him—brother, son, boyfriend, husband. I love the thematic tension there. I think it’s fascinating.
I love him because he makes my heart hurt. I love him because his fiancée left him because he told her to get an abortion and his wife shot herself in the head right after making out with him. I love him because the love of his life took his heart, stuck it in a blender, and pressed On. I love him because without his idealistic faith in the goodness of humanity, he saw little point in living. I love him because he wakes up on New Caprica and smiles before realizing he’s alone. I love him because his dad says “Kara got married” and he forgets how to breathe. I love him because I watch his heart break into pieces and it physically hurts me. I love him because his and Kara’s love was doomed before it started. I love him because he fell in love at first sight and his world turned upside down and he stopped breathing and it was perfect and always, always wrong.
So I love him because he had the worst love life of any fictional character I can think of. Except for maybe Starbuck. But he gives her a run for her money as far as epic failure is concerned. I love him because he had such a tortured relationship with his dad. Because he was such a little boy when it came to Adama. A little boy who missed his daddy and hated him and wanted his approval. I love their slow, cautious growing into family. I love how much he loves Roslin. I love that he idolizes, respects, and challenges her. I love that he tempers her sometimes single-minded autocratic tendencies.
But back to the sadness. All of these relationships—Lee’s defined by them, in large part. He’s defined by these tenuous, difficult, painful links he has and forges with these characters. By the navigation of these separate, interlocking bonds. So much time, so much loss, so much despair and joy and growth and at the end, Lee ends up alone. He ends up totally alone. And I cannot think of a sadder ending for a man whose greatest battles and challenges were the building and maintaining of these interpersonal relationships. He loved so strongly and was loved so much and all of that was important, and beautiful, and sometimes horribly sad and sometimes triumphant.
So I love Lee because even if he didn’t end up alone in a field, there’s this solitude inherent in his character. A loneliness that’s always there. And a melancholy. In some way, he’s always alone. Partly because he has such difficulty with personal individual relationships (as previously discussed, he’s more comfortable with the overarching ideals, and “humanity”) and partly because he’s dealt a pretty horrible lot by the Powers That Be.
I don’t think that this trait doomed him to an existence of aloneness. On the contrary, I think it set him up for a compelling character journey/growth that paralleled the show itself on a thematic level. The whole “learning to live together is how we really find our home” thing. So correspondingly, Lee had potential.
Here’s what I mean by potential: I mean that Lee could have A) attained personal fulfillment and/or B) had an epic ending of a self-sacrificial nature. A) would have made sense because BSG was a character-driven drama, and the thematic-whateverness would have nicely paralleled Lee ending up happy-ish. This probably would involve being with Kara, so it was an extremely unlikely thing. B) would have made sense because it would be in character if he died in order to save “humanity” OR it would have demonstrated a level of character growth if he had died in order to save somebody he loved.
Yes, death would have satisfied me the most out of any ending. But I think Lee had the potential of happiness or heroism. What he was given, in season 4.5, was jack-shit. It’s not unreasonable on my part to bitch about “writing” in this case. They relegated a main character to a secondary—or even tertiary—position. Gave him absolutely nothing to do, besides stand there with big hair. And the writing deserves full blame. For all we know, Lee was continuing to act like his old self (the self I have described in the preceding pages) for this last season. We saw none of him, though. He didn’t even have a centric episode! Dee and Boomer and Ellen Tigh and Gaius and not Lee Adama?! Ha.
All we do know is that Lee ended up alone in a field and that he recommended destroying technology. Lee would never, ever, ever have done the latter. But I’m not here to complain. I’m here to talk about why I love Lee Adama, and right now I am talking about how I love him because he breaks my heart.
And he breaks my heart because he deserved so much better. He doesn’t fit the Aristotelian definition of a tragic hero because he doesn’t have a single tragic flaw (a la Jack’s compulsion to fix) and he didn’t have a long hard fall. What he did have was a variety of flaws that were sometimes strengths and an ending that was more a whimper than a bang. But Lee was a complex, maddening, fascinating, principled, impetuous, obstinate, self-righteous, brave, weak, and loyal man who deserved an ending that reflected that richness, that recognized his struggle, his pain, his growth. He had such potential and he ended up standing alone in a field and if that is not tragedy, then I don’t know what is.
It’s tragic that Lee fought so hard for nothing. It’s tragic that there is nothing to be found in his culmination but sadness. Bitterness. Remorse. Loneliness of the most profound variety.
I love Lee because he could have had everything and ended up with nothing. That’s tragedy. It makes me hurt for him. For the fact that he lost everyone he loved.
I love Lee because he dies in his sleep one night and wakes up on cold ground on some nowhere mud-planet galaxies away, with stars and yellow flowers and a hand on his face, turning his head, “About time, Apollo.” I love him because his eternity is words screamed to the sky and laughter and a perfect future, bright and shiny before him because he never falls asleep and never wakes up and she never leaves him.
In conclusion, I love him. I love him epically and helplessly and obsessively. Maybe irrationally, but I think I’ve laid out some good reasons. I think he is a phenomenal character, grossly underrated (as is the actor who plays him) and criminally ignored by show-runners.
This actually was concise, believe it or not.
Hope it was illuminative.
So say we all.