Show: Battlestar Galactica (reimagined)
Character: Laura Roslin
Spoilers: from miniseries to finale
A/N: Thanks to eowyn_315 for the edit, and everyone who gave their thoughts on the first incarnation of this post. Also, I like to think Laura wouldn't mind being found in our own Scripture, as well as hers. Framework quotes are from Proverbs 31-10.
A woman of noble character who can find? For she is far more precious than jewels: Introduction & Character Background
Laura Roslin is my favorite character. I admire her, I relate to her, I just like her. I love Laura’s dry sense of humor and her decisive, selfless pragmatism. I’m challenged by her political mind. I’m moved by her relationships, whether they are romantic, familial, or adversarial. As far as the BSG story goes, Laura Roslin is my sine qua non.
Until the series finale, we find out frustratingly little of Roslin’s back-story. We know she adored her father, and that she cared for her mother as her mother died of cancer. In Daybreak, we see that Laura also had two younger sisters to whom she was extremely close. While Laura was still working as a teacher, her father and sisters were killed by a drunk driver. Though she will later claim to have entered politics because her predecessor Adar had been “a very persuasive man,” she was offered a position on Adar’s first national campaign by a friend who hoped to provide her a distraction from her grief. She had a years-long affair with Adar, who seemed to adore her romantically and respect her as a teacher, but sorely underestimated her political skills and dedication to the preservation of life. Her relationship with Adar seemed neither serious nor getting serious, but a source of comfort and companionship in the moment.
Roslin never claims to miss being a teacher, because in many ways she never gives it up. On New Caprica, she becomes a teacher again and surrogate mother to baby Hera. She uses her teaching skills to good effect in her political career as well, with her ability to get through to people and manage them, no matter how far out of their world she is. She takes protégés under her wing and helps them grow. While she is undoubtedly a brilliant political mind, being a teacher is always a central piece of Roslin’s identity.
Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all: Laura Roslin and Gender on the Galactica
Laura Roslin stands out, even among the complex, diverse female characters of BSG, because it is so rare to have middle-aged women, in particular, constructed as protagonists, agents of progress, successful and feminine professionals, and love interests. She is nearly, perhaps completely, unique. All too frequently, female characters see their femininity diminished in order to be heroic – seeing Starbuck in a dress is a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”; Athena’s motherhood serves to make her the baddest gunslinger in town; even Six’s sultriness is usually in direct service of her military mission. These are all wonderful, brilliantly-acted characters, but Roslin stands out from them.
Roslin becomes a gender-bent character in a particularly interesting way. She is an exceptionally strong leader, able to step back and see the big picture; the non-violent patron of the warriors in a society under siege. Her title is “Madam President,” (rather than the customary “sir” used by the military for male or female officers) and she both accepts and ensures the respect it garners. Roslin softens her orders with giggles, she cherishes the scant opportunities she has to be a caretaker of young children, and is almost never seen without her power suits and pumps, but she has discovered and built her own power partially using these tools; their association with her femininity is a help to her, not a hindrance. Roslin challenges the assumption that power is masculine.
Laura Roslin is a feminist. She refers pointedly but as a matter of course to “the men and women” of the Colonial military. Though she falters and makes her first major mistake in The Captain’s Hand by criminalizing abortion, she makes a moral argument for the right to choose, a value shared by many but rarely given voice in popular culture. She does not need to state a desire to have her own children to trust her abilities to care for and protect them. She doesn’t need a marital commitment to validate her relationships. She never apologizes for success. Laura Roslin is important not solely because she is a Strong Female Character ™ but because she is a woman who finds and embraces her own strength.
She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness – The Swearing-In of President Laura Roslin
Within one day, Roslin receives news that both her body and her world have fallen apart, and she, the 43rd in the line of succession, is now the President. She takes charge right away, readily and sensibly. She inspires the captain to “see what we can do to help,” does a quick and thoughtful press conference, has living quarters set up, both proving and defending her authority. It’s worth noting that the one character to openly question her authority is Doral, a Cylon. He should be keeping his head down, but Roslin’s leadership is more of a threat to the Cylons’ plan than him taking the risk of blowing his cover.
Roslin’s decisive action saves the fleet, granting the civilians the chance to band together to become a civilization, and convinces Adama to turn from a surely-doomed offense against the Cylons to the stalwart defense of humanity. Bill prioritizes attacking the enemy while Roslin insists on the search for survivors. Her voice shakes as she takes the oath of office, but she calmly and clearly swears to protect and defend the Colonies with every fiber of her being. It is a promise she will keep for the rest of her life.
She selects wool and flax, and works with eager hands: The Decisions of Laura Roslin
Roslin is often characterized as a ruthless Iron Lady who tends to err toward the authoritarian and overly hard-handed when she makes decisions. And it’s quite true, Laura makes decisions at which most of us, often including Roslin herself, would shudder. Roslin has the terrible job of life or death decisions, and with her survivor count whiteboard, the consequences of her decisions are immediate and personal. Roslin makes the hardest of her calls because she is genuinely convinced that she must do so, not because she rationalizes them or out of selfish desire. She is acutely aware of the pain her choices may inflict on others.
During her first few months in office, her job is political and nearly always non-violent, with most of the uglier protective acts delegated to Adama’s military authority. Recruiting the convicts aboard the Astral Queen to melt the caps, beating back Zarek’s challenge through political maneuvering, initiating a search for Earth by sending Starbuck to Caprica, even breaking out of jail and challenging the coup, she does by avoiding violence herself or even ordering others to avoid violence.
With the arrival of Cain, a leader who rolls legal authority into military might, Roslin shows her own lines between those two types of authority to be blurry indeed, and Cain’s quick stint on the show will be pivotal to Roslin’s political development. Roslin can tell even before Fisk’s revelation that Cain is a mortal danger to the civilian fleet and Adama himself. Indeed, Roslin appears to be the only one who, upon observing Cain’s denial of supplies for the civilian fleet and willingness to execute officers and attack the Galactica, recognizes the extent of the threat posed by Cain, .
Bill, and especially Lee, having put Laura on different sorts of pedestals, are shocked at Laura’s “bloody-mindedness.” Bill’s surprise gives way to a new respect for her authority and decision-making abilities, partly out of admiration for the “sterner stuff” he initially failed to perceive, and partly out of relief that the buck for the worst moral and ethical decisions stops with someone else. After this, Bill accepts Roslin’s decisions on security matters (Epiphanies) and even goes so far as to expect orders for some military actions (AMoS). During the occupation less than a half-season later, the insurgents accept her as a leader of the resistance without her taking part in a single attack.
Despite the calm with which she raised the possibility of the assassination, she honestly faces both her horror at the idea and its necessity. When they’re let off the hook by Gina’s killing of Cain, Roslin pointedly does not regret having issued the order, though she is grateful that their consciences have been spared this burden. As Cain herself advised Starbuck, Roslin didn’t flinch. This underlines Roslin’s commitment to even the darkest paths of action, but it also reminds us that she does not minimize or excuse her decisions. Roslin considers both action and inaction to be choices with equal ethical weight, and she is well enough aware of the consequences of inaction to weigh them fairly with any distress over the safer course of action.
Another of Roslin’s most controversial choices is the removal of Hera. We’re closest to Sharon’s and Helo’s trauma at the loss of their child, and it’s easy not to look any further. But I’d argue we should consider not just the security interest of the fleet, but Hera’s best interests, and Roslin is the only character to mention Hera’s well-being as a motive for her actions here. Roslin has every reason to believe that Hera is in danger from the crew, from Cylon abduction, from Cylon attacks on the Galactica, and even from Sharon herself. Roslin makes judgments based on an intellectually honest appraisal of the facts available to her, and she does so using the paramount factor in custody issues, which is to protect as reliably as possible the best interests of the child. Roslin’s risk-management here is completely responsible. She does not just remove Hera, but acts as a responsible civic servant would, screening candidates to see if they are suitable parents. Once her first term is over and she could have washed her hands of all her presidential obligations, she co-parents Hera, showing a deep and genuine personal care for her charges. She did not make the decision capriciously, unethically, or impersonally.
One of her most awful actions is the near-theft of the election. Nobody, not Adama, not Roslin herself, not even Baltar seems able to believe she could do such a thing, but as ever, Laura doesn’t rationalize. Tory provides Roslin with plausible deniability, but she admits frankly that she’d known something along the lines of Tory’s eventual action. Her goal, as ever, is to protect humanity. She has every reason to believe Baltar is actively colluding at the time, and doesn’t even have reason to believe that the election wasn’t rigged or swung by Cylons and Cylon agents for their man Baltar. She doesn’t rationalize her actions based on this possibility, taking full responsibility for her actions; that said, I doubt the possibility has escaped her. In the end, she decides that respect for the (probable) democratic election results is more important to humanity’s long-term well-being, and agrees that Adama should reinstate the Zephyr’s original ballots.
Roslin spends most of her time on New Caprica back in a classroom. Because she is no longer in a position to fight, and in particular because of her somewhat-substantiated opinion that Baltar will hand them over to the Cylons, she accepts a brutal end to humanity as inevitable and imminent. Though she expects the children never to grow to adulthood, she teaches them to participate in what little society there is left at the end of their cold, hard world. When the Cylons come, Roslin returns to duty. We see her importance to all the insurgents most powerfully during Exodus. She, not Tigh or Anders, coordinates the escape and plans for Hera’s safety as best as possible.
Perhaps the most notable instance of her ethical decision-making comes during her second administration when she insists on giving Gaius Baltar his trial, even over Adama’s offer to have him disappear. The trial isn’t just a theoretical commitment to justice for Baltar, but a political opportunity to remind the fleet that they live under the rule of law, as well as to air out the resentments from New Caprica. The trial is of both pragmatic benefit and moral good, and those two things, in that order, are always Roslin's priorities, far over and above her (completely justified) rage at Baltar.
Moreover, contrary to certain specious, overwrought allegations, Roslin goes to quite a bit of effort to ensure that The People vs. Gaius Baltar isn’t a sham trial. She makes a good-faith effort to have Baltar properly charged for his participation in the genocide. She initiates and supports Lee’s nascent legal career, not in spite of the fact that Lee will bullheadedly pursue his idea of justice regardless of pressure, but because of it. She also refuses to lie at the trial, even though it is dangerous to the prosecution and brutal for Roslin herself when Lee outs her as a cancer patient. She has learned that truth is powerful and does not shame her. And yes, she is under oath as a witness for the Colonial people; even if no other character respects that, Roslin does. She says time and again that she wants not only to preserve humanity, but to give human beings a reason for survival, and though the stability of her government and her own privacy are on the line, she reaches for truth, civilization, and justice.
A woman who fears the LORD is to be praised: Roslin as Visionary
Stretching between Roslin’s public trials and private conflicts is her journey of faith. Roslin isn’t much of a believer in the beginning of the series; we’ll find out later that she spent most of her adult life considering the gods to be metaphors rather than literal truth. Not until she has the Pythian vision of snakes does she turn to religion. Through her newfound faith, Roslin finds companionship and guidance with the priestess Elosha, one of Roslin’s few friends throughout the series.
Roslin’s belief is always a bit self-conscious, utilitarian, but she gains a bit of reverence and faith. When Roslin claims her place as the dying leader to the Quorum, she’s not lying; she’s saying something she thinks could very well be true. But she is telling a potential metaphysical truth for the very real political goal of wresting the fleet back from Tigh’s catastrophic dictatorship. She realizes that people will believe her, but on some level thinks it’s because people will want to believe her statement as much as she does. But then people ask her to pray with them and bless them, and she realizes that she has to some extent chosen her prophethood.
Her faith becomes more of a private issue once the fleet reunites and the conflict between secular might and spiritual leadership falls away, but she continues to find hope and strength in Scripture until almost the very end of the series. Perhaps the most poignant scene showing Roslin’s faith is the moment she loses it, after Earth has failed her, as she sits alone and burns the words of Pythia in bitter disappointment. Though Roslin’s gods have let her down, she keeps the power and sureness her few years as a true believer brought her.
She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue: The Ethics of President Laura Roslin
What fascinates me so much are not the decisions President Roslin makes, but the thought process by which she arrives at those decisions. Roslin’s constant is that she does what needs doing. Human beings tend to confuse “need” with “want,” and we don’t hurt for comparisons to Roslin on this front. Adama claims to have “had” to arrest Roslin; Tigh claims to have “had” to murder Ellen; Cain claims to have “had” to do any number of things. Roslin does not claim to “have” to do anything unless it is in direct service of her one imperative, which is to save humanity. From there, she makes decisions which are nearly uniformly rationally (if imperfectly so) and cautiously tailored towards that goal. Whatever the course of or abstention from action is, Laura Roslin has rigorously thought it through.
Roslin’s leadership appears characterized by her certitude, and the clear strength of her convictions. Yet we see that it’s not so much about certainty as it is conviction that public confidence is necessary. Roslin is sure about nothing but the rightness of her one goal, which is that humanity is worth saving. She holds herself out to the public as a prophet, but privately, she confesses to disbelief in the gods. She pays no heed to Adama’s lie about Earth until she sees Pythia’s snakes crawl across her platform. She acknowledges the difference between her ideals and her actions. Her decision to turn the search for Earth from the official story to an actual good-faith quest isn’t unreasonable; they have to be going somewhere, and they have enough clues to suspect that Scripture is, if nothing else, legend based in ancient history. Sometimes, you gotta roll the hard six, go for broke relying on nothing but luck and slight probability. They have nothing else going for them, and so it's the right thing to do to follow this one lead with everything they have.
BSG frequently presents extreme moral dilemmas. Roslin shows a rare exploration of intellectual, rational ethics, rather than emotion-driven moral impulses. Roslin’s ethos, nearly her sole determinant of right and wrong, is the preservation of humanity. Saving as many people as possible is right, failing to do so is wrong. Those have always been the stakes. Morals in BSG, by contrast, are shown as individual, emotional, and just so incontrovertibly right that they require no explanation. The idea of moral clarity is tempting; however, it can and often does lead to a self-centered tunnel view of the world, where one individual’s emotional comfort ends up being prioritized over the lives of other individuals. Roslin’s survivor count forces her to consider all individuals of equal importance, including herself. That is radical. In this light, Roslin’s determined thoroughness is rigorously ethical.
This commitment both sets Roslin up as a ruthless means-justifying force of will and constrains her morally in a way no other character is restrained. Roslin learns from the past, but acts only in the name of the future. It’s about preservation, not vengeance. Politically, one need look no further than the blanket amnesty she gives in the wake of the occupation as she sets up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in order to let people move on peacefully. For Roslin personally, the epitome of this is Gaius Baltar. He's responsible for the holocaust, the figurehead of the occupation, the man who signed Roslin’s own death warrant. If any human being has ever had it coming, it’s him. But given a clear opportunity to let him die, she cannot bring herself to take it, because of her conviction that every life is worthwhile. Even Gaius Baltar.
Until almost the very end of the series, Roslin upholds a strict binary between Colonials and Cylons. She considers the Cylons nothing but a threat, with neither their existing consciousness nor their potential for change as a mitigating factor. Her duty is to humanity; the Cylons struck first and proved they were a mortal threat, and so she considers everything she can do to them to be not only justified, but an ethical imperative, up to and including total extinction. Humans under Roslin’s jurisdiction get a trial; Cylons are thrown out the airlock. Airlocking is depersonalized in the extreme. There’s no blood after airlocking, no body, no need for the executioner to even be in the room with the condemned. The Cylons are the enemy, and Roslin never lets herself or others forget this. Whether the viewer finds her stance on Cylons to be commendable, understanding, or horrifying, it’s clearly and consistently in line with her goal of the preservation of humanity. As far as she knows, every single Cylon is an entity that helped perpetrate holocaust and threatens the lives of every single person in the fleet. She doesn’t flinch from the logical implications of the military’s unquestioned willingness to blow the Cylons out of the sky, or her own willingness to airlock individual Cylon offenders. To Roslin, necessity is necessity, killing is killing, and justified defense of self and others is not just acceptable but right.
Roslin’s thought processes are fascinating and, on the whole, commendable. She accepts power without allowing herself to be poisoned by it, and knows when to hold on for dear life and when to let it go. She chooses worthy goals and pursues them to the fullest extent of her ability, without passion or prejudice, with every fiber of her being. She wields her authority without ever abusing it. She considers situations critically and rationally. She is painstakingly conscious of the effects both her actions and inactions have on others, without being frozen by fear or guilt. She remains brave and confident when she faces her peers, or cancer, or the barrel of a gun. She always, always remembers why she fights. Destined or not, Roslin has the mind and soul of a true leader.
She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks – Roslin’s Formidable Strength
Laura Roslin is a badass. Roslin’s arsenal is intellectual – her conviction, her ability to observe the interests and predilections of others and persuade them, her strong and clear understanding of a situation. One need look no further than her Churchill moment during Blood on the Scales, when she has convinced the Cylons to use the base star to fight the mutineers, and Zarek tries to convince her to surrender. No. Not now. Not ever! Do you hear me!? I will use every cannon, every bomb, every bullet, every weapon I have down to my own eye teeth to end you! I swear it. I'm coming for all of you! All of our main characters are necessary to suppression of the mutiny, but Roslin is the keystone of the effort. She pries a critical mass of the fleet away from Gaeta with a radio address, coordinates the military strategy of the base star, convinces the rebel Cylons to stay and fight for humanity, and she will never surrender.
She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come: Laura and Cancer
Roslin’s experience as a sometime cancer patient and sometime survivor helps to shape every part of her story. She learns to live for the day as she embraces her destined role as a dying leader. She trusts and disdains her gods all at once. Cancer will kill her, and it will also change her life.
The first time Laura Roslin dies of cancer, she refuses morpha, so that she can work through her pain. During her illness, the newly-reunited fleet begins to crumble. The Cylon sympathizers begin terrorizing the Galactica eventually getting through to Baltar. Though we spend all of Epiphanies seeing her wrap up her business within the fleet, we see nothing of Roslin getting her own affairs in order, because she has no personal affairs. She is entirely selfless.
The second time Laura Roslin dies of cancer, it’s after the loss of Earth and the discovery of the new Earth. The second time, after she’s lost the conviction that her death is humanity’s destiny, she accepts death and decides to stop her treatment. This might be throwing in the towel, or it might be one last seizure of agency in the face of so many impossible decisions. She stops fighting for length of life for the sake of others, and begins seeking quality of life and peace with death for herself. Though the loss of Earth is the emotional blow that leads her to bow out of the presidency and life, she also waits until Lee has proven himself to her several times over before she relinquishes the burden of protection of the fleet to him - she has someone to pass the torch to rather than letting it blow out. Through her guardianship of humanity, Laura finds herself, and she’s not willing to lose that along with the dream that she can lead the people to safety.
Laura dies on Earth after having enjoyed her last few months, after having found genuine love. Her last words are not of regret or fear, but wonder at the beauty of their new corner of the universe. So much life. And though her breath rattles in her lungs, she could be talking about herself and the vital, powerful way she’s lived every moment she’s had.
Her husband is respected at the city gate, he takes his seat among the elders of the land: Laura Roslin and Bill Adama
What is perhaps most beautiful about the relationship between Laura Roslin and Bill Adama is that it is a genuine partnership, even from the very beginning when they are not particularly fond of each other. Laura and Bill clash, they defy and betray each other, they disagree and sometimes fight unreservedly. And they respect and love each other deeply. Laura is pragmatic while Bill is romantic; Laura considers the community at large while Bill regards the people closest to him as paramount; Laura is ruled by her head and Bill by his heart. But they share a fierce patriotism, dedication to their goals, ability to snap in and out of their work personas, and a fine, powerful romance.
The work/romance relationships between the two characters are deeply intertwined. Often, they’ll discuss the most pressing issues of the fleet in the most comfortable and domestic of settings, with Laura reclined on her couch or Bill’s bed with him seated comfortably right beside her. Their first on-screen kiss comes after she promotes him to Admiral. Though they’d be compatible without their close work relationship under normal circumstances, for these two characters to be able to be together at this point in time under these circumstances, they need to compress work and romance in order to connect at all.
Time and again, we’ll see the two characters balance each other and affect each other’s decision-making, almost always for the better. Bill’s esteem is a marker of Roslin’s progress as a leader; Roslin’s trust in Bill emphasizes the distance between the Bill of the miniseries who would have wasted the Galactica in a suicide mission and the dedicated protector of the fleet he becomes. They have a touching penchant to give each other credit for their kinder instincts – each claims the other is responsible for the continuation of Athena’s pregnancy. They owe each other their lives, time and again, and they will never forget it. Every day is a gift. From you.
When they take a breather together, they share a comfortable, sensual closeness. Unfinished Business shows us Laura and Bill, decidedly not the President and the Admiral, sneaking away from the groundbreaking ceremony to smoke up, serenade each other, and talk about their desire to live in the moment. And probably other things, but the camera respects their privacy.
After New Caprica, their relationship changes, becoming slightly more textual and awkward all at once, but it will only grow stronger with time. At the beginning of S4, Roslin is semi-openly living with Bill as she receives her cancer treatments from Cottle. When Roslin is on the vanished base star, Bill admits that he cannot live without Laura, and Laura is thrilled to be able to tell Bill she loves him. Their partnership only grows tighter after this experience, and the fleet thinks of the two of them as the sole centralized Colonial authority.
As Laura faces cancer, she and Bill become emotional caretakers for each other. At Cally’s funeral, Laura gives Bill instructions for her own, a most final gesture of trust and inclusion, which is both a gift and a terrible burden. They meet over mysteries, craving the closure and catharsis that comes after a protagonist sleuths out and eliminates a containable adversary. It’s something they both enjoyed before everything, a nod to the maturity of the relationship between these people who have loved and lost, and then lost everything, and still stood up to come together. Roslin lives the last few months of her life at home with Bill.
Her children arise, and call her blessed: Laura and Billy, Lee, and Kara
Roslin, though she seems never to have had or planned to have her own children, is the series’ mother figure, more so even than the biological mothers we meet. She is the mother-protector to all of humanity, and they beg for her blessing time and again, whether treating her as an anointed savior or through a political show of legitimacy. On a personal level, Laura has relationships that in many ways appear maternal with Billy, Lee, and Kara.
Billy is Laura’s assistant before the fall, and becomes something of a chief of staff for her after she becomes the president. For the first few seasons, Billy is Laura’s only family and last connection to the old world. It appears that they had a positive, professional relationship before the attacks, which quickly became closer and more important. Billy is the person Laura trusts, in front of whom she’ll snap in frustration at Bill, and close enough to tease her about the beginning stages of her flirtation with Adama within the first few episodes.
Roslin considers Billy something of a son and protégé. During Sacrifice, Laura claims Billy as the closest thing she has to family. When she is expecting to die, she ensures that Billy is in on her meetings with Baltar, implying that she trusts him with the future of the fleet. In Home, Bill claims that Laura has suggested that Billy reminds her of Adar, and believes that he will be president someday.
Billy cares for, respects, and likes Laura. He feels respected and safe enough to challenge her judgment from time to time, but he almost always ends up aligned with her, and never stands in her way. Billy looks honestly torn up when he decides not to leave with Roslin after the jailbreak and overjoyed to be reunited with her without recriminations in Home. Because Billy isn’t military and therefore doesn’t have to be privy to the decisions Roslin makes with Adama, it’s possible that he somewhat keeps the picture of her the main cast has shattered during the second season as, fundamentally, the competent, peaceable Secretary of Education. Even if it’s some level of self-deluding idealization, both Billy and Laura seem to appreciate that connection to the old world and Roslin’s old self.
Like all relationships on the show, and more than most, the mentorship/friendship/enmity/partnership between Laura and Lee has its ups, downs, and beautiful payoff. Lee is Roslin’s sole line of defense during the attack, the first to recognize Roslin’s authority, and key to incorporating the military into Roslin’s Colonial government. This leads to the collegial relationship they’ll have in the first season when Lee becomes the liaison between the military and the civilian government. Lee – “Captain Apollo,” as Roslin takes to calling him – is the first person besides Billy she tells about her cancer. They’ll come full-circle by the end. Lee will be by her side as she gives the order to make the jump to Earth, and she will choose him as her successor.
The analogy to a familial relationship is perhaps the strongest between these two characters. Due to Roslin’s relationship with Bill Adama, she’s in some ways an effective stepmother to Lee, and this seems to be recognized by all three characters. Laura knows Lee particularly well, and trusts and respects his judgment. Bill and Laura talk about Lee with familiarity, with Bill even allowing Laura to criticize Lee to him. Lee looks up to Laura even when he is disillusioned with her, speaks to her more familiarly and directly than any other member of the Quorum, and seems to truly want to earn her esteem and approval.
Lee defies his father in a futile attempt to prevent the coup in KLG. After their arrest, Laura moves to comfort Lee, as he sits, shaking, covered in his father’s blood. Laura: You took a stand. Lee: And now look at us. He shrugs it off because he’s in shock, but the exchange gives him external validation of his conviction that a stand is worth taking. He’ll eventually do so at Laura’s expense more than once, but Laura never seems to regret it. She is in jail, fighting for her office, her civilization, and her very life, but Roslin is first and foremost a teacher, even to this traumatized, bitter young man. He learns her lesson almost immediately, taking an even bolder stance against his father (and break from everything he’s ever worked for) to help her break out of jail and retain leadership over the fleet.
After their escape and return, things get rocky. Lee takes the planned assassination of Cain particularly hard, Laura having until this point been the embodiment of his idealization of civilian authority and his Mommy Issues all wrapped into one stylish package, and at the time he’s unable to see things through to their logical end the way Roslin can. Roslin is Lee’s last illusion of a just and peaceful world.
They won’t share many scenes until Crossroads. Lee chooses Roslin’s testimony as the time to step forward as more than second chair during the Baltar trial. The two characters have a long enough history that he can recognize the side effects of Roslin’s cancer treatment going on very thin clues indeed. He sees her as a safe person on whom to test his readiness for the difficulties of being a trial attorney, both as someone who has earned the suffering he inflicts on her and as the one person who might forgive him for doing this thing he knows is impulsive and cruel. At this culmination of such a huge and eventful season, Laura’s and Lee’s big moments are inextricably bound together.
Roslin is crucial to Lee’s eventual development. She’s the one who encourages his interest in politics; starts him in law; adopts him as her advisor for the second time and straightforwardly but kindly grooms him as a successor in the final episodes. Lee grows into a political and intellectual counterpart to Roslin, checking her instincts toward control and secrecy, and providing her the support, protection, and insight she needs to retain leadership over a fragmented fleet during the dark, chaotic days of the last half-season.
Laura and Starbuck share sadly few conversations; however, their relationship is layered and worth exploration. Perhaps underscoring their importance to each other is that, though in most ways they don’t speak the same language, their interactions are emotional and frequently casually physical. They hug, impulsively and then emotionally, in celebration at the end of Hand of God. During Roslin’s vision of her death as she’s held hostage on the base star, her mind includes Kara along with Bill and Lee as family. When Laura leaves her hospital bed to be present at the Galactica’s last stand, she leans neither on her paramour Bill nor her protégé Lee, but in Kara’s arms.
Like Lee, Starbuck takes her first open stand against Bill in KLG in support of Laura’s worldview. Roslin shakes Starbuck’s trust in Adama within the space of a single short scene, enough to convince her to get in the Commander’s face about his lie of Earth. As Roslin’s search for Earth picks up in S4, she’s comfortable calling Kara to her hospital bed for a straightforward talk.
In this heavily religious show, the six leads splinter into three religious philosophies. Bill and Lee espouse secularism, Gaius and Six are angels of their single deity, and Kara and Laura are the destined emissaries of the lords of Kobol. They begin their journeys as hopeful skeptics – Laura, as she tells us in Faith, wants to believe in the gods but considers them metaphors; Kara believes in the lords but until her resurrection insists that she writes her own destiny. Kara and Laura, in the end, have faith in themselves and their experiences, and time and again this leads them to solid faith in each other. Because they are the representatives of the faiths of the dead worlds, they themselves pass across the river Styx in the finale, giving the new world the blessing of the old. The two women become the crucial transitional players in their stage of the cycle of time in which they both so deeply believe.
When it snows, she has no fear for her household: The Enemies of Laura Roslin
Though she’d hate to admit it, Gaius Baltar is a huge piece of Roslin’s story. She initially trusts Baltar because she very much has to in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, but her suspicion of him awakens when Shelley Godfrey accuses him of his part in the genocide with fabricated evidence. We know Roslin is right, but neither Roslin nor the audience knows why she thinks this until the second season, when she has a conscious memory of having seen Baltar with Six. She isn’t happy when it looks as though she’ll leave the fleet to him when she dies, but she believes that he can keep himself in check and be maneuvered by Billy into continuing the most important of her policies. Baltar saves Roslin’s life, but he does it to save Hera; Roslin similarly considers Hera to have saved her life, not Baltar. Baltar turns against Roslin and teams up with Zarek to defeat Roslin in the election.
Baltar seems to crave Roslin’s approval and almost never gets it. Head Six convinces him to hand over a nuclear bomb to Gina in part because he’s hurt by Roslin’s uncomplimentary assessment of him in what she intended to be her final letter. When the Cylons imprison her during the occupation, Baltar swings by for a chat about the morality of suicide bombings, trying desperately to convince her to stand with the administration, and then uses his small shred of pull to have her released even after she refuses. He confesses all as he’s lying at her mercy on the base star, attempting to convince her that though he was involved in the holocaust, he is blameless. It isn’t about wanting Laura to like him; he’s as harsh and tactless in his assessment of her as she is toward him, and it leads to some truly fantastic conflict between the two of them.
Baltar, not any of the Cylons, is the character that forces Roslin to confront the deepest of her inner darkness; he also somehow gets her to pull back from it time and again. She initially steals the election from Baltar, but even as her terror of Baltar’s New Caprica grows, she cannot go through with it. As rigidly as she draws the line of personhood between human and Cylon, she considers Baltar to be the gray area between them. She readily allows Baltar to be tortured, but acknowledges that her motives are mixed between the need for information and rage. She gives him his trial, no matter what it costs her, however little she feels he deserves it. She craves the closure of his death, but she cannot allow it to happen. Baltar pushes in on every one of Roslin’s moral boundaries. He’s a slippery, selfish, deliberately thoughtless traitor, who accidentally becomes the voice of Roslin’s conscience.
Though Cain is important to Roslin’s story, they only share a few scenes. Cain is effectively the most frightening aspects of both Roslin and Adama, unchecked by either their better natures or each other. She has Bill’s tendency to prioritize offensive military tactics above all other goals and Roslin’s cool, calculated determination to pursue her goals to their logical ends.
Cain doesn’t respect civilian authority, she doesn’t respect civilian life beyond its value to attack tactics, and there’s a tense hostility between the two; however, Cain does seem to have some grudging respect for Roslin. Cain, not Adama, proposes a “neutral ground” meeting aboard Colonial One, and listens to and accepts Roslin’s reasoning concerning temporary peace. Cain isn’t so impressed with Roslin that she’s threatened by the president, but neither is she completely dismissive of Roslin.
Cain’s mistake is underestimating Roslin, tipping her hand with her insistence on exercising her authority under martial law and openly threatening Adama. Given this look into Cain’s guiding philosophy, and seeing her own thoroughness and ruthlessness in Cain, Roslin decides that Cain has to die. Though her order doesn’t end up resulting in Cain’s death, Roslin’s decision and explanation for it show her willingness to take preemptive and fatal action, raising the stakes for all of her future acts.
Tom Zarek is perhaps the biggest (maybe only) human political threat to Roslin. Though he loses his S1 bid for the vice-presidency, he establishes himself as a respectable political player rather than a terrorist and forces Roslin to accept Baltar as her vice-president. Zarek is then crucial to Baltar’s election, and spends a year as Baltar’s vice-president, the very position Roslin started Baltar in politics to keep from him.
During the occupation, Zarek is almost as important a symbol to the resistance as Roslin. The enemy of Roslin’s enemy is her friend, but now the enemy is Baltar and the Cylons, and so they chat companionably during what they are both sure is the last hour of their lives. During the excitement of the firing squad and escape, they protect each other with their very bodies, and then split off to lead their respective groups to their ships. They share a moment of mutual affection and good cheer like nothing so much as the pilots after an air battle. Roslin and Zarek are politicians and this is a victory for the people, but they show camaraderie of equals in the trenches nonetheless.
When they’re back in the air, they are the unquestioned leaders of the political class, and Zarek steps aside for Roslin to resume her office, with Roslin keeping Zarek on as vice-president where they can keep an eye on each other. Zarek’s approval of the post-exodus secret execution tribunal spurs Roslin to one of her best political moments, the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Though Zarek supports her goals, he’s on constant lookout for ways to destabilize her. First he recruits Lee in the hopes that Lee’s innate orneriness will lead him to become something of an opposition party where Zarek can build support. When that doesn’t pan out and Zarek steps out of line, he’s hauled into Galactica’s brig, where he and Gaeta plan the mutiny. Only once Zarek and his dangerous ideas are out of the picture does Roslin pass power over to Lee. Roslin had every reason to despise and fear Zarek, but throughout the series he’s a catalyst for her political growth.
Honor her for all that her hands have done; let her works bring her praise at the city gate.
Laura Roslin is: a president. A teacher. A formidable protector. A loving mother figure. Beloved. A hedonist. A statist. A visionary. A savior. She is the reluctant warrior, the self-sacrificing politician. She is the general who carries no weapon but her mind. She is the childless woman who is mother to all of humanity. She is the martyr who fights for her life. She is the frail and dying hero. She is a woman of noble character, and her worth is far above jewels.
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