Saturday, 2 June 2007

Putting the family back together: the archetypal family in Battlestar Galactica

In Christopher Booker's work The Seven Basic Plots, he discusses the idea of an archetypal family unit at the centre of all stories. This family unit comprises the hero or heroine, a father-figure, a mother-figure and an other half, and shows the cycle of human life and regeneration. Each child is born into a family unit with a mother and father, and as they grow up they negotiate the expectations and conflicts that these primary bonds produce, so that one day they can find their own other half and eventually have a child of their own to start the next generation and continue the cycle. These are essentially familial versions of the Jungian archetypes known as the Wise Old Man and the Great Mother, along with the Hero/Self and the anima/animus. It struck me while reading this that the core 'family unit' in the new version of Battlestar Galactica (Bill Adama, Laura Roslin, Lee Adama and Kara Thrace) epitomises this archetypal structure perfectly, and that the stresses and strains of adhering to or diverging from the drive towards the archetypal aim shapes much of the action throughout the series as a whole. In this essay I would like to analyse each of the four main characters who make up Battlestar Galactica's core family unit, and their relationships to one another, to show the effect of their internal, familial, archetypal struggle on the wider family of the Fleet as a whole.

Bill Adama is the father-figure, the Wise Old Man of the Fleet. He is left as military leader by default after the Cylon destruction of the Colonies, as his Battlestar (which was on the verge of being decommissioned) is the only one to survive. He functions as a symbolic father to the Battlestar crew (who refer to him as 'the Old Man') and the fleet as a whole. He is also a literal father to his son, Lee 'Apollo' Adama, and a pseudo-father to Kara 'Starbuck' Thrace, who was engaged to his other son, Zak, before he was killed in a flying accident. Lee and Kara both function interchangeably as Hero and Other Half in this analysis, or rather they could more usefully be described as Son-Hero and Daughter-Heroine. They are both clearly heroic characters, gifted Viper pilots and natural leaders. In addition, Kara is repeatedly shown to have a special destiny, revealed at the end of season three to be to lead the fleet to Earth, and Lee himself has carved out a particular role as the voice of moral conscience, as shown most clearly with his speech at the trial of Gaius Baltar (both Crossroads Part II). The final member of the core family unit is Laura Roslin, sworn in as President after the destruction of the Colonies and the civilian counterpart to Bill. Her role is less explicitly defined in terms of a 'mother' than Bill's as 'father', but she has a strong spiritual aspect which has often traditionally been equated with mother figures (Mother Earth, for example), and it could be argued that with her former roles as first a teacher, then as Secretary for Education, she is often defined in terms of her nuturing relationship with children. She believes her role is to guide the Fleet to the legendary home of the Thirteenth Colony of Kobol, Earth, and as such she is fulfilling the role of the Dying Leader from the religious Book of Pythia.

Bill's relationship with his son begins coldly, as at the point of the mini-series they have been estranged for two years following Zak's death. It is shown quite clearly that this is mainly because of Lee's feelings towards his father, not the other way around, and it is notable that Kara (who was actually partially responsible for Zak's death, not Bill as Lee thinks) has a good relationship with Bill from the start. She almost luxuriates in this in fact, like an indulged daughter who can misbehave all she likes because she knows her father will forgive her, as witness her run-in with Colonel Tigh in the mini-series. This makes it all the more powerful when she confesses what really happened with Zak to Bill, after having previously told Lee in an attempt to heal his rift with his father (Act of Contrition). It appears Bill is not going to forgive Kara, and it hits her extremely hard. She subsequently gets stranded on a moon after her Viper crashes, and the strength of Bill's real feelings for her are displayed in the way he risks the entire Fleet and uses up valuable resources desperately trying to find her (You can't go home again). It's notable that this is also what brings home to Lee quite how much his father does love him and heals their initial rift, with Bill telling him 'If it was you down there, we'd never leave.' (You can't go home again). However the relationship between the Adamas is still the more tempestuous, characterised throughout the series with periodic estrangements and reconciliations, more so than Bill and Kara's relationship. This reflects how a key part of the 'archetypal family drama' (Booker, p.289) is the struggle of the Hero to step out of the shadow of his Father and eventually supplant him* (Booker also comments on how often this drama is couched in terms of royalty, with the ultimate aim for the Prince being to become a King in his own right like his father**). But Kara too needs to grow up and become her own person, free of dependence on the indulgence of her 'father', and this results in her conflicts with Bill. Confessing her part in Zak's death is an important step in this, as is her decision go against Bill's orders and jump back to Caprica with the captured Cylon Raider to retrieve the Arrow of Apollo (Kobol's Last Gleaming). Overall, both Lee and Kara mature significantly throughout the series from their personas as first introduced in the mini-series, where both come across as a bit arrogant and not entirely likeable, and this can be seen as the portrayal of their personal journeys to adulthood within the context of the archetypal family. By the end of season three both have become strong, mature characters in their own right, capable of making difficult decisions and standing up for what they believe in (Maelstrom, Crossroads).

Laura's relationships with Lee and Kara differ from Bill's with their lack of emotional baggage from the past. Laura has no relationship with either of them prior to the mini-series and the events of the Destruction of the Twelve Colonies so these characters are starting afresh within the context of the new world the survivors find themselves in. Laura's relationship with Lee develops quickly as the two are thrown together in the immediate aftermath of the attack - Lee is with Laura as she is sworn in as the new President and the two embark together on a programme of locating and rounding up surviving Colonial ships (Mini-Series). She quickly offers him a position as an advisor (Water) and affectionately refers to him as Captain Apollo. He therefore becomes one of her inner circle, and she relies on his knowledge and judgement. It could be argued therefore that Laura's relationship with Lee is very much a nurturing one, as she builds his self-confidence (which his own doubts from his difficult relationship with his father have marred) and helps him mature into his own leadership role later in the series. She trusts him completely from the start, as is shown time and time again, for example, him being in charge of her security on Cloud Nine (Colonial Day), and after their escape from Galactica's brig following Adama's military coup (which Lee opposed, again displaying the strength of his moral compass) (Kobol's Last Gleaming through to Home, part II). Laura's acting as a mother-figure in this way is very positive for the younger Adama in the early part of the series, but, in keeping with the terms of the archetypal family drama, would become unhealthy if allowed to continue unchecked, and so later on in the series Lee starts to break away from Laura, becoming less closely involved with her faction. Nonetheless, she still trusts him enough to want him to oversee Baltar's trial, and is shocked and disappointed when he seemingly betrays her in his subsequent actions, defending Baltar and revealing the return of her cancer publicly. We do not yet know how this will affect their relationship long-term, but in this reading is a clear indication of Lee's breaking away from the maternal relationship just as he has done from his father, asserting himself as a vital part of the hero's journey within the archetypal family.

The relationship betwen Laura and Kara is the least firmly established among this quartet at first glance, however from early on Laura displays a great deal of trust in Kara. This is first shown when Laura chooses Kara to go and interrogate a copy of the Cylon model known as Leoben Conoy when he is found on another ship within the Fleet (Flesh and Bone), however, other than this, they have little to do with each other until Kara's injured knee (sustained when she crashed on the moon in Act of Contrition) throws them together in observing the Battle for the Tylium Asteroid from Galactica (The Hand of God). When Lee successfully pulls the mission off, Kara impulsively hugs Laura, a surprising gesture but one which clearly impresses itself on the President. But the significant development in their relationship comes at the end of season one, when Laura convinces Kara to steal the captured Cylon Raider and jump back to Caprica to retrieve the Arrow of Apollo, which according to the Book of Pythia will show them the way to Earth if it is brought to the Tomb of Athena on Kobol (Kobol's Last Gleaming, Home). Laura achieves this by appealing to Kara's religious side and convincing her of her role as foretold in scripture, and Kara is sufficiently religious (although she keeps this a private matter) to defy her father-figure and do so. This is the only time Kara explicitly chooses the Mother over the Father, but it is not the only time she chooses the spiritual option, which of course is an aspect strongly associated with Laura and the Mother, for example the events of Maelstrom, which lead to Kara's 'death'. The points of identification between these two characters (Mother and Daughter-Hero) therefore run deeper than the explicit terms of their relationship would suggest - they are perhaps the two most spiritual of the main human (at least, so far!) characters. Both have a 'special destiny' in terms of the Fleet's survival and quest for Earth - by the end of season three both have explicitly referred to themselves as responsible for leading the survivors there, Laura repeatedly in her identification with the 'Dying Leader' of the Book of Pythia, and Kara when she reappears at the very end of the season, telling Lee 'I've been to Earth. I know the way. I'm going to take us there.' (Crossroads, part II). If Laura does die of her cancer before they get to Earth, as the Book of Pythia prophesises, then Kara has already been set up as her successor in this way, Daughter-Hero succeeding Mother, Princess becoming Queen. In addition, Laura's actions with regard to Kara can be seen as nurturing her also towards her destiny - Laura picks Kara of all people to interrogate Leoben Conoy, exposing her for the first time to her 'special destiny' (Flesh and Bone).

The parent-child relationships within this 'family' are therefore consistent with those described by Booker, with the child characters striving to become adults in the image but independent of their parents. Booker makes much of the psychological reasoning for this, with the archetypal family drama reflecting every child's own maturing process, learning from the example of their parents to become a full adult, find their 'other half' and continue the process by becoming the parents for the next generation. I will examine this last stage (finding the 'other half') later with regard to Lee and Kara, but it seems appropriate to first examine the relationship between the parent-figures, Bill and Laura.

As with Lee and Kara, Laura's relationship with Bill starts off as a clean slate. They have no prior relationship and are merely thrown together by the events of the Destruction of the Colonies. At first, it is safe to say, they do not see eye-to-eye. Their interests and background are completely at odds with one another and they begin with a substantial disagreement - Bill wants to stay and continue to fight the Cylons, Laura wants to gather the survivors and flee, in order to try and ensure the survival of the human race. They therefore begin with a fairly conventional male-female conflict. Bill's attitude is conventionally masculine, wanting to fight, kill, get revenge. Laura is more interested with the more feminine idea of preserving life, even to the point of telling Bill flatly that they need to 'start having babies' (Mini-series). Bill is initially contemptuous of this idea, but her words had an effect and by the end of the mini-series she has swayed him to her point of view. It is at this point that Bill takes on the role of Father to the fleet as a whole, rather than just to his son, pseudo-daughter, and crew. This is consistent with one of the functions of the ideal 'other half', to 'tame' the excessive masculine and help the Hero realise his inner feminine, so as to become a balanced individual. Likewise Laura herself has to learn to accommodate her inner masculine as she grows into her leadership role as President of the Colonies, and it is shown that Bill's support helps her with this as they establish the boundaries of their authority as civilian and military leaders respectively. Both Bill and Laura therefore have to reach a state of equilibrium, both within themselves and with each other (and do so fairly quickly) in order to assume the roles and function effectively as Father and Mother to the microcosm of their archetypal family and the macrocosm of the Fleet. Once they have achieved their equilibrium, their personal relationship can begin to develop, adding an emotional bond which strengthens their parental relationship. Conflict leads to a respectful balance, which leads to friendship and eventually something deeper - Bill and Laura begin to rely on each other emotionally (most clearly shown in the episodes surrounding Laura's degeneration and cure from her cancer in season two) and the possibility of a romantic relationship is clearly hinted at but not (as yet) fully explored.

Lee and Kara's relationship is yet more complex, in fitting with their roles as Son-Hero and Daughter-Heroine - both roles demanding the eventual discovery of the Other Half as part of their succession to the roles of Father and Mother for the next generation. They begin very much as friends, as pseudo-siblings (again fitting with the concept of the archetypal family) - they were nearly brother and sister by marriage at least due to Kara's engagement to Zak before his death, but quickly move on to the possibility of something more. The 'will they, won't they' nature of their relationship has been clearly portrayed and developed throughout the series, with plenty of sexual tension, jealousy, flirting, and abortive attempts at coming together (Home, part I when Lee kisses Kara, their drunken almost-liaison in Scar, the one-night stand on New Caprica (Unfinished Business), the doomed affair subsequent to their cathartic boxing match (The Eye of Jupiter). While undoubtedly dramatic, this relationship seemingly forever on the brink of actually happening is perfectly appropriate to their roles in the archetypal family. The union with the Other Half is climactic, it is the ultimate reward for the Hero once he has completed his journey and has matured into a complete human being. Lee and Kara are not quite there yet, therefore they cannot yet fully realise their relationship. Both are on personal journeys of self-discovery, as discussed above, both need to break free of the influence of their parent figures and also, like Bill and Laura, achieve the balance within themselves of their masculine and feminine sides. Interestingly, however, for each of them the side they need to develop seems to be the reverse of what would be expected. Lee starts off in conflict with the masculine, in the shape of his issues with his father, blaming the very masculine ideal ('A man isn't a man until he wears the wings of a Viper pilot', Lee quoting Bill in the Mini-series) for all his problems in life. He has to learn how to balance the masculine role he is forced to assume with his internal more feminine instincts (his strong moral sense and regard for the civilian Fleet applies here), and as he does so he grows into his role as a leader, eventually being rewarded with the command of the Battlestar Pegasus (The Captain's Hand). Kara, on the other hand, is too masculine and has to learn to accept her feminine side throughout the series, particularly as this relates to her spiritual destiny. At first she is portrayed in an aggressively masculine way, with her smoking and drinking and swearing and fighting, although this is clearly shown as being a defensive persona, hiding her hurt and vulnerability away from the world (she was an abused child, and of course suffered the death of her fiance, Zak, just two years before the events of the mini-series). Gradually more and more of the 'inner Kara' is revealed, her love of poetry (Final Cut) and artistic leanings (Valley of Darkness), and she also has two very significant confrontations with her feminine, life-bearing potential (The Farm, and the episodes with Kacey, her supposed daughter, at the beginning of season three). By the beginning of season three therefore she has reconciled with her feminine aspect to the point of marrying Sam Anders and setting up home on New Caprica, and then coming to love and care for her 'daughter' Kacey when she is held hostage by Leoben Conoy after the Cylon invasion. Of course, the feminine is strongly associated with the spiritual throughout Battlestar Galactica (as with Laura), and Kara reconciles with this aspect of herself climactically in Maelstrom, when she allows herself to be taken on a spiritual journey to confront her demons over her mother and dies to fulfill her destiny as the one who will lead the Fleet to Earth (Crossroads, part II). It remains to be seen whether, now that both Lee and Kara have made significant progress on their personal journeys and achieved their inner balances, they will be able to form the functional relationship which is necessary for them to be able to realise their potential of eventually taking on the roles of Father and Mother, King and Queen, for the future generation.

The relationships within this core family unit are therefore in a constant state of flux and development. Periods of estrangement are followed by reconciliations, then further disagreements and conflicts as the stresses of the extraordinary situation they find themselves in takes its toll. This too reflects the theory described by Booker of how stories are shaped and experienced as alternating 'phases of constriction and release, a kind of systole-diastole rhythm which provides one of the greatest pleasures we get from stories' (p.49). When the members of the core family unit are estranged or in conflict with one another, we as viewers feel 'tense and apprehensive', we sense that the threat is greatest at these points when the family and the Fleet are disunited, following the old adage, 'united we stand, divided we fall'. We need our family to be together in order to feel they have a chance of combatting the Cylons and surviving to reach their goal, a future life on Earth when they, having undergone their personal journeys of development and having played out the drama of their relationships to a satisfactory conclusion with the two pairs in balanced relationships, Son-Hero and Daughter-Heroine ready to take up the mantle of King and Queen from the Father and Mother, themselves providing a positive example. When therefore the 'family' reconciles once more, we enjoy a period of release, where we can relax knowing all is well. A perfect example of this is the beginning of season two. The events of the season one finale separate the core family dramatically - Laura persuades Kara to disobey Bill and jump back to Caprica to fetch the Arrow of Apollo, an act which provokes him into arresting her and carrying out a military coup. Lee initially seems to side with his father, but balks at actually carrying out his father's orders, and instead turns his gun on Colonel Tigh and gets himself arrested along with Laura for mutiny. Bill is subsequently shot by the Cylon sleeper agent, Sharon Valerii, and spends the first few episodes of season two in a critical condition in the infirmary. The fleet is therefore left leaderless and in the hands of Tigh, who is dismissive of the needs of the civilians (much like Bill Adama himself was in the mini-series before Laura helped him see his role as protector rather than combatant), and of the authority of the Vice-President, Gaius Baltar. Furthermore, his military decisions are erratic, influenced by his power-hungry wife and his drinking, and result in the Galactica losing the rest of the fleet and being boarded by Cylons, with near-disastrous consequences. It is only the actions of Lee, taking on the leadership of the panicked marines when the Cylons are running riot inside the ship despite technically being supposed to be back in the brig, that avert total catastrophe. It is not until the seventh episode of the season (Home, part two) that the family finally reconciles, with a recovered Bill returning to Kobol to follow Laura, Kara and Lee to the Tomb of Athena, a decision he himself describes as 'putting our family back together', and portrayed touchingly and emotionally. Of course, unconsciously understanding the dynamic of the archetypal processes, we know that this is a pattern that must repeat many times before the final resolution.

The archetypal roles and relationships described by Booker are a fundamental part of the way stories work and, more importantly, the way we expect stories to work. Diana Wynne Jones has described how part of the function of a hero is to be a scapegoat, there to do the suffering for us. They act as a kind of concentrated reflection of experience, a microcosm. The core family unit of Battlestar Galactica fulfills this role, playing out the archetypal family drama within the wider world of the Fleet, who as survivors are of course representative of humanity as a whole. They haven't quite completed their journeys, both personal and between themselves, but as we watch them struggle with themselves and each other, all the while in the midst of humanity's struggle for survival, they provide a multiple hero for us to follow. 'Nothing is more remarkable about the way stories naturally form in the human imagination than the way, beneath the surface, they unconsciously centre round this most fundamental of all dramas in human life, involving just four basic figures' (Booker, p.292), and Battlestar Galactica provides a perfect example of the truth of this.

*A fact which is explicitly articulated by Romo Lampkin, Gaius Baltar's lawyer, with reference to the role Lee will play in Baltar's trial and the effect this will have on his relationship with his father: "There's no greater ally, no force more powerful, no enemy more resolved than a son who chooses to step from his father's shadow."
**This matter of social status is addressed within the show, most notably in Dirty Hands, when Baltar says: "Do you think this Fleet will ever be commanded by someone whose last name is not Adama?"

Baltar and Six: a Jungian interpretation

One of the most intriguing subplots in the ‘reimagined’ Battlestar Galactica (2003-) is the relationship between perhaps the most ambiguous characters, Gaius Baltar and his Cylon lover, Number Six. In a narrative full of complicated motivations and moralities, the tale of Baltar and Six has continued to surprise, both in the development of the characters individually and their relationship and effect on each other. In many ways their interdependence reveals them to be an expression of Jung’s theory of the animus/anima, and this is what I would like to explore here.

Some explanation of the story of Battlestar Galactica and the characters of Baltar and Six is necessary before I move on to analysing the characters and their relationship in the light of Jung’s theory. Battlestar Galactica tells the story of the human survivors of a mass genocide by artificially created robots, Cylons. The Cylons were created by the humans of the Twelve Colonies (twelve different planets) as robot slaves, but, in a cautionary tale of the dangers of technology, the Cylons intelligence led to them rebelling against their creators. They then disappeared, and the humans heard nothing from them for fifty years. The 2003 miniseries shows what happened when the Cylons, now counting among their number twelve ‘human’ models (who are indistinguishable from humans and thus the perfect sleeper agents), each of which has multiple copies. A copy of model number six was living on the planet Caprica, involved in a relationship with Dr Gaius Baltar, an eminent scientist and respected member of the establishment. She manipulated him into gaining access to the defence mainframe, thus enabling the Cylons to mount a surprise attack which virtually wiped out all of humanity across the Twelve Colonies. The TV series which follows covers the flight of the survivors, their struggle to rebuild their society and attempt to find the legendary planet Earth, home to the thirteenth colony of man. Gaius Baltar is one of the few to escape from Caprica after the attack, and he gradually rises to greater prominence in the fleet (as a scientific advisor, then Vice-President, and eventually President), all the while trying both to conceal and come to terms with his guilt for being the one the Cylons took advantage of to successfully carry out their attack.

Baltar is a fascinating character in himself, both inherently and because of his unwitting role in the Cylon attack. He is, undoubtedly, highly intelligent and very charming, but he is also weak, manipulative, selfish, vain, desperate for validation as a worthwhile human being yet horribly aware of his own inadequacies. The most interesting aspect to Baltar’s role in the series however is the internal hallucinatory version of Number Six which accompanies him throughout, popping up at every turn to comment on what he is doing or saying, or bullying, threatening, advising or seducing him depending on the situation. No-one else ever sees or is aware of her presence, leading to some very amusing scenes as Baltar interacts physically and verbally with her as if she were corporeal yet from the point of view of other characters no-one else is there. No definitive explanation has yet been provided for her existence, and quite what she is, as well as why she is there, is open to interpretation. She herself gives differing explanations to Baltar when he questions her presence (understandably!). At first she tells him she is a chip in his head, but later refutes this (and a brain scan provides no evidence), then later she says she is ‘an angel of God sent here to protect you, to guide you and to love you’. Baltar himself veers between believing she is a paranoid manifestation of his own guilt and the chip theory, before slowly beginning to be won over by her declarations of God’s love and purpose for him.

In season two, the situation is further complicated by the introduction of the reincarnated (Cylon consciousnesses ‘download’ into a new body when they are killed) version of the original Number Six who was Baltar’s lover on Caprica. She too is shown as wrestling with her guilt at her part in the genocide, and, shockingly, has her own internal Baltar, taunting her and questioning her about why it was ‘right’ to kill so many humans. The existence of this new ‘Caprica Six’ allows comparisons to be drawn between the internal and external versions of both Six and Baltar. As pointed out on the discussion of this phenomenon on the Battlestar Wiki (, ‘both visions differ in personality from the people they represent; in both cases, the visions are confident and scoff at the failings of their subject; the real people remain guilt-ridden and indecisive’. This psychological mutuality seems to me to reflect Jung’s theory of the animus/anima, the ‘contrasexual archetype’ which, ‘as the feminine aspect of man and the masculine aspect of woman, … function as a pair of opposites in the unconscious of both’. (Stevens, 1994, p.71). Stevens’s description of the role of the animus/anima offers some striking parallels to the depiction of Baltar and Six:

Jung … found that in practice both anima and animus act in dreams and in the
imagination as mediators of the unconscious to the ego, so providing a means for
inner as well as outer adaptation. He described them as
‘soul-images’ and the ‘not-I’, for they are experienced as something mysterious
and numinous, possessing great power.

Stevens, 1994, p.71

The internal versions of both Baltar and Six are idealised, powerful and act as ‘mediators of the unconscious to the ego’, confronting the corporeal versions with the realities of their feelings and driving them on towards their destinies, whether internally or externally determined. Internal Six convinces Baltar he has a great role to play as the mediator between Cylon and human – a destiny which rings hollow after the events of the end of season two and start of season three – while Internal Baltar pushes Caprica Six into her assumed role of leader of a new Cylon ideology – to find a way to live in harmony with humans. The actions of the internal versions therefore complement each other, and reflect the unease which both characters feel at the hostility and conflict between their races. Six continually expresses her love for Baltar, and he, while less effusive in his declarations, is clearly infatuated – he develops a relationship with another version of Six who had been imprisoned and abused by humans (which again led to a massacre of humans with a nuclear bomb on one of the ships of the fleet), and resumes his relationship with Caprica Six when she arrives on New Caprica, where the humans have settled.

What light this sheds on the different theories of the internal versions of Baltar and Six is difficult to say. The internally-generated, psychological theory obviously fits the Jungian interpretation well, however if it is a case of implanted chips (problematic in the case of Internal Baltar), then it could still be interpreted narratively as a metaphorical expression of the theory of the animus/anima. The various theories are set out in the Battlestar Wiki at, and while ‘the answers remain unknown’, I feel that the strongly Jungian nature of the Baltar-Six relationship is a strong argument for the psychological theory and is a fascinating take on the motivations of two of the series’ most ambiguous characters.