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(21 May 2006)


Blade: The Series

Regular airtime: Wednesdays 10pm ET (Spike)
Cast: Kirk “Sticky” Jones, Jill Wagner, Nelson Lee, Neil Jackson
by Cynthia Fuchs
PopMatters Film and TV Editor

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Mad Squad


Why does everybody know my name?
—Krista (Jill Wagner), “Pilot”


Blade is always mad. Not that he doesn’t have cause, being afflicted with a vampire’s thirst, living a desperately lonely life, and giving up human routines like high school and cookouts for vampire slayage. But, as anyone acquainted with the Amen Ra film franchise knows, the tradeoff was occasionally attractive, at least from our moviegoers’ distance: he gets to ride a cool bike, wear awesome ink on fabulous musculature, and shoot some fairly spectacular weapons at those grim bloodsucking nasties who deserve to be obliterated.


For Spike TV’s first original series, all these things remain more or less true. This version of the Marvel superhero is played by Kirk “Sticky” Jones (formerly Sticky Fingaz, formerly of Onyx, and just last year, excellent on Over There), possessed of an appealingly growly expressiveness. Though he’s still got the signature dark glasses and the black leather, not to mention the silver sword he carries on his back, this Blade has a few affiliations of the sort ordained by the weekly Television Gods. For one thing, he’s got a young, smart-alecky gadget guy, Shen (Nelson Lee), who also provides the electric blue serum that allows Blade to avoid feeding on humans.


The shot still looks painful (Blade grimaces and groans when he self-injects), but the pairing with Shen as opposed to the movies’ Whistler (Kris Kristofferson) suggests a decision to seek a younger audience, likely male and video-gamey (scenes in the two-hour pilot episode frequently adopt first person shooter aesthetics), and maybe even fond of ultimate fighting and/or Star Trek (indeed, Chuck Liddell plays a tattoo artist in the pilot). Clever by stereotypical definition, Shen provides Blade with high-tech gear, like transponders, high decibel sound bombs, Alias-like communications devices, a hulking Charger.


Shen is also mad, also for good reason. Not only do he and Blade barely survive in a world where race and racism are complicated by the whole human/not dimension, but he’s also deeply aware that cops and other authority types tend to be ignorant or corrupt, and media tend to see only surfaces, willfully unaware of the seething “underworld.” (By way of illustration, the pilot offers smarmy Homicide Detective Boone [Bill Mondy], a familiar who provides vampires with fresh meat each night, in the form of “cheap whores” he lures into his car and then drops at a designated nesting spot.)


But as much fun as Shen is (on recovering Blade after an especially debilitating vampire encounter, he goes so far as to call him “big guy”), the series adds another mod-squaddish element in the form of Krista (a stiff-seeming Jill Wagner). An Iraq war vet, she comes home to find her twin brother Zack (David Kopp) murdered by vampires, and immediately takes up the trained warrior’s response. She wants payback. Which officially means that she’s mad too.


It so happens that Blade and Shen land in Detroit at the very same moment as Krista. The guys are working on a tip that the very pale, wealthy, and creepily named Marcus van Sciver (Neil Jackson) is shipping bodies from Russia for nefarious purposes (it’s a harvesting thing), while Krista learns her brother was working for Marcus. She doesn’t know at first that she’s dealing with vampires, and her learning curve takes up the bulk of the pilot (which garnered some 2.5 million viewers, the highest number for a premiere in the newbie network’s history).


For one thing, Krista has to be convinced that vampires even exist; it only takes one, very ugly encounter to be so convinced (“holy shit,” she gasps, “Those are vampires!” Blade, ever the stickler, corrects her: “were”). She has help in this department from a holed-up academic (Randy Quaid), who explains not only basic “hominus nocturni” lore and methods, but also Blade’s personal history. It’s good to know that he’s carrying that grudge for his mom’s death, which corresponds with hers about her brother’s, but really, this explication has more to do with listing vampire rules, like, garlic is good, and “vampire ash,” carried in vials and ingested like a drug, lets wannabes think they have undead powers for a few hours at a time. That is, consumption and addiction are the primary metaphors here, and vampires egregiously embody both these .


The fact that Krista’s a vet not only motivates her considerable weapons skills, but also gives her a grounding in rage and distrust, not to mention institutional codes and expectations. She’s also not exactly alarmed when she has her first fight with vampires (“bottom-feeders,” as Blade terms them), whom she shoots repeatedly with her service revolver, only to watch them come back at her, roaring, fangs out, faces half-missing because of her expert aim. She also comes equipped with a sniper’s rifle, which, though she doesn’t precisely get to use it, does suggest she’s trained to inflict serious damage on long-range targets.


Krista’s expert aggression, along with her stubbornness, only gets her into trouble in the pilot, trouble that further blurs the lines between vampires and humans, beyond the blurring that Blade embodies. Discovering her identity, Marcus decides the best vengeance he might wreak is to turn her into a vampire, because, once made, no vampire ever looks back, or so the story goes. Such turning involves minor lesbian action, as Marcus orders his girl minion Chase (Jessica Gower) to show her around, an order that apparently means caress her face and make like she’s about to kiss her whenever they’re in the vicinity of blood.


It also appears that that becoming a vampire means no more flannel shirts, as the veteran initially prefers, just clingy black dresses to convey Krista’s new appreciation for “the true layers of life,” as described by Marcus: “The so-called living, the ones growing obese and passive, oblivious to the true layers of life, they are the ones who are dead. Their dulled senses have no ability to unlock the true beauty of this world.” And yadda yadda.


Like any villain worth his salt, Marcus likes to hear himself talk but he’s also got his own lingering pain, partly glimpsed when Krista, in the midst of “turning throes,” envisions his change at the hands of scary “native” and war-painted vampires; this primitive group recalls the original slayer in Buffy, and Blade, like that series, doesn’t think through the possibilities of aligning all that dangerous, powerful firstness with such racially marked figures.


Race has been the most compelling narrative and political theme in previous Blade iterations, and it appears to be the case again. While Blade is ornery for all kinds of reasons, his blackness stands out compared to most everyone else in sight in this Detroit (a couple of black vampires turn to ash early on, underscoring a primary reason for his hostility, his sense of alienation and singular sense of identity. When Marcus and a batch of vampire lab technicians come up with their own serum, allowing the Aryan and shinily bald vampire Fritz (David Palffy) to share in Blade’s imperviousness to garlic, silver, and sunshine. Their first match-up—in a meat locker, of all places—leaves Blade wounded and confused: his ash-making weapons don’t work on this big bruiser of a vampire.


Still, Blade’s nothing if not an odds-beater. He right away enlists the newly turned Krista as an insider fighter, providing her with her own case of electric blue serum and the news that her brother was a “good man” who was also working for Blade. Talk about conflicted loyalties. On one hand, she’s back in a war zone: she’s “in country” in ways she couldn’t have imagined previously. On another hand, she’s now granted incredible and brutal powers, stemming from the fact that she can’t be killed because she already is. And so, war just goes on and on.



Blade: The Series - Trailer

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Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


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