"Battlestar Galactica" is a very smart TV show. Sometimes, though, it might be too smart. The new TV movie, "Battlestar Galactica: Razor," which debuted last night on the Sci-Fi Channel, suffers from this defect: it's too dense and too crafty for its own good.
Which is not to say there's not a lot to like in this two-hour film, which provides a welcome return to the BSG world after so many months away. The movie tells three stories: what happened on the Battlestar Pegasus from the moments after the Cylons annihilated the Colonies to the days leading up to their rendezvous with Battlestar Galactica; what happened on Pegasus after Admiral Cain was killed and Lee Adama took command; and a brief episode revealing what Admiral Bill Adama learned about the evolution of the Cylons during the first Cylon war. The film flits back and forth in time, tying the stories together thematically rather than chronologically. In my opinion, there is simply too much going on here. The stage feels enormously crowded, taking away from the strongest storyline: that belonging to Cain and the moral, ethical and existential struggle faced by the Pegasus crew after the massacre of the human race. I know why they balanced it with the later storyline -- to remind us of the different moral choices that leaders are sometimes forced to make -- but as glad as I was to see familiar faces (hello, Starbuck!), I couldn't help but feel it slowed the story down.
Maybe I'm just biased because of my belief that Michelle Forbes (Admiral Cain) is one of the most under-appreciated actresses out there. Sure, she always plays a hard-ass, but she always paints those portraits in subtle shades. Cain is one of her finest roles, allowing her to make us feel equal measures of empathy and horror at her bloodthirsty actions, from killing civilians to gunning down her second in command to creating a monster in her image in the form of young Kendra Shaw, the character through whom the Pegasus story is told. Somehow you can understand why Shaw admires Cain -- even to the point where she commits a horrible act in her name -- but you can understand, too, the guilt that eats her alive from that day forward.
Did I mention that this is a dark movie? Not too shocking when it comes to BSG. This really, though, is a dark tale, full of ruminations on the aftershocks that even the smallest decisions can create. How do people in the throes of war know who to trust? What happens when people they love betray them? Is it okay to ever let their guard down? Who is expendable and who isn't -- and more importantly, whose decision is that to make? These are big, dramatic issues worthy of all the dark lighting and poundy music that signify the best BSG episodes.
Which is why my cage got rattled every time Lee Adama stood around frowning on my TV screen. That's not "a very special 'Battlestar Galactica' episode." I can get that in pretty much every episode of "Battlestar Galactica." Show me something new. Or at least tie it all together better.
But again, that's pretty much my only complaint. The acting, especially that of Forbes and Stephanie Jacobsen as Kendra, was uniformly fine. And it was nice to see Starbuck back, all sassy and reckless. It was nice to see Mary McDonnell, too, although her lines were nearly all expository and her appearances pretty much felt like those mega-star cameos in all the old "Airport" movies. You barely have time to say, "Oh, hey, there's so-and-so" before they're whisked off to coach.
What "Razor" did accomplish well was whetting my appetite for more "Battlestar." There's an intriguing revelation toward the end that primes the pumps nicely for Season 4. By the end of the movie, the nerd voices in my head were very nearly screaming, "I need my fix NOW!!!" We did the arty, hyper-intelligent movie of the week. Let's get back to the nitty gritty. Let's talk Cylons and Final Fives and sickly presidents and messiah Baltars.
Is that too much to ask?