Strong Female Character: Admiral Cain
by GeekGirlCon Staff Copy Writer Erin Doherty
“When you can be this for as long as you have to be, then you’re a razor. This war is forcing us all to become razors, because if we don’t, we don’t survive. And then we don’t have the luxury of becoming simply human again.” Admiral Cain in Razor
Not all strong female characters are role models—sometimes they’re villains. And sometimes they’re both. Though she appears in only a few episodes and the made-for-television movie Razor in the Battlestar Galactica series, Admiral Helena Cain has a lasting impact and is one of my favorite characters in the series.
The Battlestar Galactica reboot certainly didn’t lack for strong female characters, and it’s one of the reasons the show earned a lasting place in my heart. From the swoon-worthy swagger of Starbuck to Cat, Boomer, Dualla, and President Roslin, the series gave women a chance to portray strong, intelligent, flawed, complicated characters.
Admiral Cain certainly has all of those qualities: strong, intelligent, flawed, complicated—but especially flawed. She’s well-suited to military command as a confident, fearless, tough leader whose first loyalty, always, is to her crew. That loyalty is proved in a twisted way when she orders the takeover of civilian ships in order to get parts and supplies, ordering her soldiers to use lethal force if necessary. In her view, she must have those supplies at all costs, and the civilians must comply or their families will die. It’s a harsh necessity and she entertains no other options. She may feel some sorrow over the loss, but she won’t feel a speck of guilt for her decisions that result in the deaths of thousands of the last human survivors. Regaining the home planet and ensuring the elimination of the Cylons are worth paying any price.
At the same time, she proves herself to be nurturing, in her own way. With both Kendra Shaw and Starbuck, we see her taking younger women under her wing. She recognizes the smarts and potential behind the sometimes surly attitudes of both young women and encourages them to step up and grow into bigger responsibilities.
It’s safe to say that she is blinded by her unyielding hatred of Cylons, and that hatred is given more fuel when she discovers that her lover Gina is actually a Cylon (Six). She gives one of her officers free rein to torture and rape the Six, ostensibly in order to learn more about the Cylon plans and also about these humanoid Cylons themselves. But it’s pretty easy to see that the vitriol and disgust she feels toward Gina is also about her own betrayal and hurt feelings. On the one hand, she claims that Cylons aren’t people, don’t feel emotions like people. On the other hand, why would she order such brutal actions that are designed to hurt and humiliate if she doesn’t believe in Gina’s ability to feel hurt and humiliated?
When she is finally killed by Gina, it’s hard to feel much empathy for her, given some of the horrific things she’s done or has ordered others to do. Still, her unwavering bravery coupled with a hard-to-deny vulnerability as she stares down the barrel of a gun make me admire her and feel for her, even if it’s just sadness and frustration at her decisions that led to this inevitable end.
And no discussion of Admiral Cain would be complete without talking about Michelle Forbes, the actor who plays her. Forbes has a history of playing formidable, strong-willed, whip-smart characters in sci-fi and fantasy, including True Blood and Star Trek: The Next Generation. She has that quality of being able to seem like she’s looking right through you and all your b.s., a trait that is both terrifying and extremely sexy (or maybe that’s just me). She’s able to bring a steely depth to Cain that lessor actors would not.
All in all, Helena Cain is a total BAMF, worthy of the title of Strong Female Character. You may not like her or agree with her actions, but you can’t deny her strength and her appeal.
What flawed or villainous female characters do you love?