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Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome

I want Blood & Chrome to be successful. It's a bad time for science fiction on TV. We had over two decades of successful space opera on television, from Star Trek: The Next Generation until the cancellations of Stargate Universe and Caprica, with all the Babylon 5s and Farscapes and Fireflys and Battlestar Galacticas in-between, but now, now there's nothing. So I can't help but get excited when Blood & Chrome opens with young Bill Adama fighting off two Cylon raiders in a tense dogfight. Even though the action-packed dogfights aren't necessarily the reason I like space operas, it's just good to see that kind of thing again.

Blood & Chrome is certainly competent. Slick, even. That dogfight? It takes place against a colorful backdrop, with special effects well in advance of Battlestar Galactica's. All the actors are good, with Young Adama also easy on the eyes if you're into such things. The narrative has momentum, with very little downtime. Compared to the magnificent Battlestar Galactica pilot, B&C suffers, but compared to virtually any other science fiction pilot, it's quite good as a self-contained story.

But “slickness” isn't necessarily a compliment. It also means that Blood & Chrome is thoroughly unchallenging. Our hero, Young Adama, is a cocky flyboy just out of the academy, going out on his first mission. Can you predict almost everything that happens just from that point on. Does Adama get orders that he doesn't expect, preventing him from immediately becoming the best Viper pilot in the fleet? Is there a grumpy but still helpful veteran who delivers a pile of exposition to Adama? Does Adama meet a cynical, depressed, but ultimately wise co-pilot whose grudging respect he earns over the episode's course? Are there a hell of a lot of explosions along the way? Does the mysterious woman who controls Adama's mission have a secret, multiple secrets, even sexy secrets? And is there a nonsensical twist at the end, that also includes an opening for an open-ended TV series? If you answered “yes” to all of these questions, you've either seen Blood & Chrome, or you've ever in your life seen a TV show, movie, or video game.

This is Battlestar Galactica reimagined as the badass action movie it pretended to be at times. The ratio of CGI-to-live-action in this pilot is higher than probably any single episode of BSG. There are no moral, religious, or philosophical questions raised here. It's just go go go, boom boom boom, lens flare lens flare lens flare. I worry that the reaction to the reputedly quite slow Caprica has been to go too far the other way. BSG succeeded by combining its philosophical debates with the practical, potentially violent results of those debates. That tension is missing.

In addition to having to deal with the specters of the two previous Battlestar Galactica shows in the past decade, Blood & Chrome also has issues dealing with the in-universe chronology of being set between BSG and Caprica. We know that those shows had an overarching narrative about the creation and nature of the Cylons. So moments that should be really surprising and cool, like the characters discovering that Cylon “spare part” storage means human-looking limbs in a freezer, are as expected as the going-through-the-motions story of Adama maturing on his first mission.

And then there's the baggage of simply being a Battlestar Galactica show, after that ending. I thought I was ready for more BSG, I really did. It's been four years since I saw “Daybreak” and felt that wonderful intense feeling of betrayal that only serialized stories going completely off the rails can give. It took a couple of years for me to want more Battlestar of any kind, years that meant I skipped Caprica.

But Blood & Chrome revels in the symbolic visuals of BSG. It's not just the machines—the Vipers and Raptors and Galactica itself—but it's also the way the shots are framed, and the characters are introduced (or not introduced). The characters on Galactica who aren't Adama and his co-pilot are painted in the broadest of strokes, as if they're inherently interesting just because they're occupying the same physical spaces and uniforms as Chief Tyrol and Apollo and Starbuck and Helo and Tigh and the rest. Five or six characters have a few lines and seem to fill necessarily roles, but as people they barely register, despite the ending giving the impression that if this goes to series, these pilots and officers are going to be the new series regulars.

These symbolic introductions may work really well, if you're one of the people who has an uncomplicated relationship with the symbols of Battlestar Galactica. But I'm not one of those people, as much as I may wish that I was. I wanted Blood & Chrome to convince me that it was worth going back to this setting. Instead it merely assumes that it's a good idea to do so, and that it can kick a lot of ass along the way. I'm skeptical, but I would really like for Blood & Chrome to have the chance to become something more.

Stray Observations:

  • I was a bit worried about the YouTube episodic structure, but the breaks are simply where commercials would have gone had it initially aired, instead of dividing 10 different mini-episodes. Had I watched on a weekly release basis it might have been more frustrating.
  • Becca's husband being the Colonial Fleet's Pat Tillman is a nice nod to the original BSG's occasionally excessive metaphors for the American War On Terror.
  • But far nicer was getting Tricia Helfer to do the “Are you alive?” voice at the end. Not surprising, but still fun.
  • How perfect is it that a pilot for a new BSG series has a ending twist that makes absolutely no sense? If the military brass knew that the mission Adama was on was a fraud, what possible good did it do for them to go on the mission? How is that not a total waste of resources and crew?