By Sarah Caldwell
April 11, 2013 at 06:39 PM EDT
Carole Segal/SyFy
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As Kurt and Blaine battle it out with the Doctor and Rose in EW’s Greatest TV Couple of All Time championship, we’re unveiling our favorite couples, who didn’t advanced as far as we would have liked. Here’s a case for Starbuck and Apollo from Battlestar Galactica.

Picking my favorite TV couple was a decision I took very seriously! Do I choose the couple who taught me about love (Darrin and Samantha), the couple who I think has the most functional relationship (Howard and Marion), or the couple who I most want to emulate in my own relationships (Jim and Pam before Pam became too much to handle)?  In the end, I had to go with my heart. So I picked the couple who constantly made me feel like someone was grabbing my heart tightly between their fingers and squeezing: Starbuck and Apollo (or Lee and Kara, played by Katee Sackhoff and Jamie Bamber).

Now first things first, in our pitch meeting for couples to include in the bracket,  I argued against Starbuck and Apollo. I said that they were never actually a couple and really just spent one night together professing their love (to which Darren Franich argued passionately, ”that one night lasted forever”). But as I looked through our bracket I knew I wanted to pick a couple where both characters have equal importance on the show. On Battlestar Galactica, both Starbuck and Apollo are heroes. Both get amazing storylines. Both save the day multiple times. So maybe the fact that they don’t end up happily ever after is okay because what is intriguing, and devastating about them as a couple is that these two titans never really get to have a typical relationship. They’re too busy saving humanity. Battlestar Galactica forced its viewers to think about how people would need to adapt to the end of the world — politically, ideologically, spiritually — and maybe in this version of society, couples don’t get the luxury of living happily ever after. All they get is stolen moments on the beach and the profound knowledge that both have trusted each other with their lives. Maybe that’s enough. As Apollo says ”bright shiny futures are overrated anyway.”

Things seem against Starbuck and Apollo from the start.  She used to date his brother, and it’s partially her fault that he’s dead. She has a better relationship with his father than he does. Both of them are Viper pilots charged every day with protecting the death ships that contain the remains of humanity. Any moment of weakness could mean the end of their lives, any wrong decision could get hundreds killed.

Most of the time, their romantic interactions were cut short and tinged with the bleak reality of their existence. The first time they almost have sex, in the episode ”Scar,” they’ve been drinking and talking about how they’re probably going to die soon. They start kissing. It’s too fast, rough, and they stop. Starbuck is still hung up on Anders, whom she thinks has died (SPOILER ALERT: he’s not dead).  Frustrated, Lee scoffs at her, ”You’re fine with the dead guys, it’s the living one’s that you can’t deal with.” She slaps him.

Watching this scene again, I remember how rough these two were with each other. As kind as some of their moments are, there are even more moments where they’re screaming in each other’s faces. Each holds the other to the highest standard. Still, there’s a level of vulnerability that each can have around the other that they can’t around anyone else. In this scene, Apollo can see all of Starbuck’s fears and uncertainties and that at once bonds them and makes her terrified.

Sometimes, their love for each other is a huge weakness. In the episode ”You Can’t Go Home Again,” Apollo and Admiral Adama risk the safety of the entire fleet to try to find Starbuck (whose ship has crashed). Battlestar pulls at your guts as each character has to confront whether the main thing they need to survive (human interaction, human love) could be the one thing that will lead to their death.

The rawest moments between the two characters come in  ”Unfinished Business,” when they fight each other in the boxing ring. We learn that they did actually have ”one night that lasted forever” where they screamed for all to hear how much they loved each other. The scene is followed by them bloodied on the ground, fighting each other until they can barely breathe. The day after this romantic night Starbuck went and married someone else and Apollo doesn’t really forgive her until this episode (a long time later). The episode ends with them covered in blood, whispering that they missed each other. This episode is the perfect example of their relationship, at once deeply passionate and frightening.

In the end, the show didn’t know what to do with these two. I still wanted them to have a happy ending and I think most viewers would agree. Even though the show sets it up that they never really could end up together, hopeless romantics will not be detoured in their desires. Sackhoff has said that Starbuck and Apollo were soul mates, but they weren’t meant to be together. Regardless if you buy that or think that love should conquer all, it’s hard to deny that their relationship was one of the most powerful and daring looks at human interaction ever seen on TV.

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