Angeline Herron
April 23, 2012 at 05:00 AM EDT

Tonight’s episode of Army Wives featured a game-changing revelation about Army Captain Nicole Galassini, played by Emmy-nominated actress Kellie Martin. If you haven’t seen the episode yet, stop now — there will be SPOILERS. Otherwise, click through to learn why Martin was drawn to her character, what she’s up to off screen, and why it was a good thing that she was “crying all day” during her third time playing Patti LuPone’s onscreen daughter.

Though it was hinted at last week, Nicole’s army colleagues found out officially that she is a lesbian and happily partnered with a woman named Charlie (Ryan Michelle Bathe). The significance of playing one of the first gay military characters in primetime is not lost on Martin. “I’m an actor. I kind of go where the wind blows me,” she says, “and I’ve loved so many of the characters I’ve played, but they don’t necessarily have this gravitas of this character.” In fact, that’s exactly what drew her to the role. “Nobody’s ever seen me do a part like this,” she says. “I think it was a bit of a surprise for the viewers.”

But at the same time, “There’s nothing in your face about it. Army Wives is not getting up on a soap box,” she says. “Nicole’s situation is so common, and it’s actually something that people are talking about right now,” since the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in December. “I like the way [the show] deals with the storyline. The writers were really willing to make her an important character and explore.”

Tonight’s coming home was momentous for Nicole, whose near-death experience on deployment in Africa has changed her perspective about going public as a lesbian. “Nicole is a soldier,” says Martin. “A soldier is a soldier — that’s how she’s always viewed the world. Buts she also has a partner, and they want to be a family.” Now, “Nicole is willing to… have everybody else see that [she and Charlie are] together. In her mind, [coming out] makes her job more difficult… but she’s gotten to a place where it’s important enough to be with her partner and doesn’t care what others think anymore.” Martin teases that this will play out both personally and professionally as the season goes on.

NEXT: A Life Goes On reunion

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