There was a moment on "Battlestar Galactica" earlier this season where Laura Roslin, who as president of the colonies has almost unfailingly projected an air of calm, just kind of loses it.
It happens in the episode called "Taking a Break from All Your Worries," when she's confronting the traitorous Gaius Baltar (James Callis). Given all the suffering Baltar has contributed to - including but not limited to the extermination of most of humanity - it's maybe not a surprise that Roslin would fly off the handle.
What it was, though, was "fun," says Mary McDonnell, who plays the usually unflappable Roslin.
"I found it really quite wonderful to play because it was easy to play," McDonnell says. "There was an emotional ball of fire inside her regarding this man and his - duplicity. I was grateful to the writers and to Eddie (co-star Edward James Olmos, who also directed the episode) that they allowed her to cut loose like that. To me it just made her more human. And you know what? I don't think it's over."
That is probably good news for fans of the critically lauded Sci Fi Channel series, which is entering the final month of its third season (and was recently picked up for a fourth). Recent episodes have dealt chiefly with issues within the fleet, while the threat from the Cylons has receded for the moment. But it hasn't gone away.
"I think it's about rounding out the picture and allowing other stories to be told," McDonnell says. That said, though, she adds that "I think the complexity of our relationship with the Cylons can only get worse, or harder, or more complex. There's really no way out of that. We either have to fight each other to the death or recognize each other as not enemies."
That question is something Roslin has been trying to answer for herself for much of the show's run. McDonnell notes that Roslin was a "much more liberal thinker" before the Cylon genocide elevated her to the presidency - as secretary of education, she was 43rd in line to take the office - but the circumstances of her presidency have forced her to a more hawkish position.
Playing the role has also caused McDonnell to re-examine what she calls "the pacifist in me" to understand the sorts of decisions her character has to make.
"I tried to understand how someone could make the choice to kill. It's not something I really wanted to understand or support," she says. "I had to really go into myself very deeply and find out under what circumstances would I feel threatened enough to make that choice. And the truth is, if you're trying to save a civilization, you make that choice because to not make that choice, you feel like you're not doing your job."
McDonnell is unsurprisingly tight-lipped about the final episodes of this season, although she does offer that the two-part season finale, airing March 18 and 25, "are really maybe the best (episodes) we've ever shot. . . . We end up in a place that positions us for season four that I never could have imagined, ever."
The trial of Baltar will be part of the final episodes, she says. She also hints that there may be more to come in the deepening relationship between Roslin and Adm. Adama (Olmos).
"Well, something's going on," McDonnell says, laughing heartily. "It seems to be developing in spite of itself, or in spite of the situation. I think there's an attachment that's happened between these two people because they've been together in a position of parenting, basically, a small civilization. They've been through so much that there's an appreciation of each other, and you kind of grow close, right? Even if you don't intend to.
"That's the dilemma we find ourselves in - I think we're close and didn't mean to be. And I don't know what we're going to do with it."