Oh Captain: William Adama

Posted by CB Droege

Ship’s captains have been an important part of genre fiction for a long time. Thusly, in our first genre feature series, we’re looking at ship’s captains. Today’s captain is William Adama of the Galactica.

Although Adama is not technically a Captain by the ranking system used in the fictional universe (it seems to be a mostly Marine Corp based system with a few navy titles, like Executive Officer thrown in), as Commander of the Battlestar Galactica, he fulfills all of the roles, technically and literarily, of the classic ship’s captain, so we’re going to roll with it.

Part of the great irony of Adama’s story is that he’s essentially intended to be retired. The old Battlestar was never intended to see combat again. It was a time of peace, and even if war broke out, the Galactica was an old ship with little of the new technology needed to fight the Cylons, the androidal enemies of the Twelve Colonies. When the Cylons surprise attack the Colonies’ planets, while simultaneously disabling every ship, the Galactica, and its sister ship the Phoenix, are only saved because of their low-tech, obsolete design.

Adama’s road to the Galactica is only partly detailed in the canon, but we know that he was a decorated fighter pilot for the Colonial Fleet with the callsign "Husker."

In the little seen web-series "Razor," we see that Adama was, on the very last day of the first Cylon war, the first person to find evidence that the Cylons were attempting to create cybernetic versions of themselves. Yet, he didn’t truly understand what he was seeing, and the significance did not become clear until many years later.

The thrusting into leadership of the unprepared is a theme all through the BSG television series. Because of the nature of the Cylon attack, no one expected to be in charge of the last remaining humans until it happened. The Galactica was full of retirees and misfits, and most other survivors were laborers or low-level business people. The highest ranking government official to survive the initial attack, for example, was the secretary of education, who was then thrust into the sudden role of President of the Twelve Colonies, as small as that constituency had become.

Adama is no different, and he frequently laments that this assignment was intended to be his retirement. The effects of age are wearing on him, but he recognizes that he’s the most capable man to lead the remaining military of the human fleet. As the character develops this begins to present itself as a near arrogance, almost culminating in a god-complex before the events of the war begin to bring him back down.

This unprepared leadership becomes especially challenging for Adama with his first officer whom he chose for the role because of their friendship, rather than his qualifications. They were to spend the twilight of their careers sipping hard liquor and laughing about old times.

The conflict and challenge created by his friend’s incompetence and alcoholism becomes central to Adama’s development, and has an effect on his relationship with the crew, and his ability to lead. Simultaneously, we see that without this old friend to rely on for emotional support, he likely would not have survived the events of the series emotionally intact.

Like most ship’s captains, Adama serves as a literary father figure for his crew, but it goes deeper than that for him, and the father-son/father-daughter relationship dynamics are explored.

This is accomplished through more incidence of crew assignment. Both Adama’s oldest son, and his late, younger son’s fiancé are aboard the ship as fighter pilots, and while much of the show does focus on the conflict and developing relationship between the two of them, Adama himself has to deal with a son who blames him for the other son’s death, and the constant presence of a woman whom he sees as the daughter he never had, but who is also a constant reminder of the son he lost.

The dynamics odf these three relationships are a large part of the day-to-day drama in the show, and add a level to the father-figure themes of the story that most tales of Ship’s Captains are unable to quite reach.

Come back tomorrow when we will feature Captain Jonathan Archer. If there is a Ship’s captain which you would like to see featured in this series, let us know in the comments.