Monday, January 25, 2010

Series Review: "Caprica"

**Spoilers Included** Human emotions are double edged swords at the best of times. Love can drive a man beyond his normal limits to provide for and protect his family; but it can also be twisted into a possessiveness that can lead to unreasoning violence. And then there's grief. Grief is an emotion that most of us would forgo because it's what we feel after a loss. It might be the loss of a relationship or the death of a loved one. It's an emotion so often suffered alone and mad with grief is an expression just about everyone can understand because we all know there are certain losses we're not sure we could survive. Trust the creators of "Battlestar Galactica" to choose such a heavy emotion on which to base their new series. Caprica is the prequel to "Battlestar Galactica and like its predecessor it's complicated and absorbing. Taking place 58 years before the original series "Caprica" follows the story of two families torn apart by a terrorist bombing. Daniel Graystone (Eric Stolz) is the owner of a large corporation and a technological genius. Still reeling over the death of his daughter he discovers that his daughter had managed, before her death, to create an avatar that exists in a holographic world that is more than just bits of data. The avatar has her memories, personality and a desire to exist beyond the world she lives in. But Daniel only has part of the technology he would need to download his daughter's avatar into a cybernetic body. So Graystone turns to the only other man who knows his grief, Joseph Adama (Esai Morales)--who lost his daughter and wife in the same attack-- and asks him to steal the technology needed to complete his newest obsession. Adama is tempted by the dream of being reunited with his family and agrees to help Graystone. But once the deed is done and he is confronted by the avatar of his own daughter, he turns away from the experiment convinced that the results will be an abomination. But Graystone is now in the grip of his overriding grief and the conviction that he can bring his daughter back to life; even as her own avatar begins to voice doubts about the plan. "Caprica" has many of the same themes that ran through "Battlestar Galactica" and questions about God and religion jump to the forefront right away. This may turn some viewers off as some have complained that the topic was dealt with in too heavy-handed a fashion in the original series. But given the Cylon fixation on a monotheistic God versus the pantheon of gods the Capricans worship it would be a glaring omission if "Caprica" didn't at least try to address a plot device that was so integral to the personalities of the Cylons. The way they work this in is by showing Graystone's daughter growing increasingly involved with a cult-like religion that sows the seeds of her own death and that dogma has been included in the personality of her avatar. The casting of "Caprica" is top tier, much like "Battlestar Galactica," and Eric Stoltz is very believable as a father teetering on the edge of sanity as he chases the dream of resurrecting his daughter. He's clearly a man who isn't thinking about moral considerations in the face of his grief. Esai Morales, as the father of a young William Adama, is a man torn between two worlds and often crosses ethical lines he'd rather avoid but is drawn to time and again by his familial ties. "Caprica" doesn't explode on the screen the way "BSG" did. It's no less intense, but it has a quieter vibe. Rather than the bleak world of need presented in "BSG," "Caprica" is a world riding high on prosperity and the excesses that brings. It's a perfect breeding ground for extremist religions as overly-pampered kids look for meaning in a world that has never required much of them. And it promises to explore these themes in depth. The good thing about the premier episode of "Caprica" is that you'll likely know right away whether or not you'll like the new series based on the religious themes included in the plot. If you were turned off by that aspect of "BSG" then "Caprica" may not be your thing. But if you don't mind following that thread and seeing where it goes, you might really enjoy "Caprica." It's not as flashy as "BSG," at least so far, but it has some decidedly eerie moments and promises to have the same dark genius as its sister series. There's also something really satisfying about seeing the inception of the Cylon race. For me, the show worked. And I'm very interested to see how the series, and the Cylons, evolve.


Charles Gramlich said...

I'm thinking I would be interested in this. I like a lot of those themes.

S.M.D. said...

Problem: The show's focus on the "one God" plotline doesn't enhance the conflict between pantheism and theism in the original show. It cheapens it. And here's why:

1. Ellen Tigh tells us that SHE and the other four from Earth gave Cylons one God. It's in season four. I believe she says it to Caval in the episode when she wakes up (or it might be in one of the episodes with Anders and Ellen).

2. The ORIGINAL cylons (i.e. the ones everyone went to war with) didn't have a singular God. It's ONLY the humanoid models. Why is this a cheapening? Because if theism is already such a problem in human society, then it should not even be a feature or concern in BSG. BSG makes it seem like theism is a revolutionary step in a different direction. Caprica makes it seem like it was always there, and, thus, not as important as the original show made it to be.

But that's me. Throw out the one God stuff and Caprica is definitely worthwhile.

SQT said...


I don't recall that line from Ellen, but I'll take your word for it. They did go on at times.

It's not unusual for shows to in circular directions regarding certain plot points and it seems like the fans keep better track of the discussion than the writers.

But I'm not sure that they could leave the issue of God out of the show. It seemed like Six brought it up in every episode. I think they're trying to explain why it was such a fixation for some of they cylons and perhaps they'll address why it wasn't an issue for original ones. I liked the show, so I'm going to see how it plays out.

S.M.D. said...

SQT: Yes, she did, but that's because in BSG it was the Cylon religion. It's even called the Cylon religion in BSG. This is why season 4 is so politically oriented: because the rise of Baltar's cult of monotheistic followers is precisely the moment when the human population (what's left of it) can no longer ignore the reality that human and Cylon have merged.

It seems like a really big point to screw up as a writer...Earth Cylons give 12 Colonies Cylons God, there's no mention of monotheism at all in the entire series, except in reference to the Cylons, and the religion is referred to as the Cylon religion or Cylon God, and never referred to as "that cult religion from the 12 colonies" or what have you. They're filling a gap that doesn't exist, and, thus, doesn't need to be filled.

But, once you learn how to ignore all of that, it really is an intriguing show.

SQT said...

I guess the point I'm making is that if the cylon religion is totally ignored as part of the new show it would seem strange since it's such a huge part of their storyline. I think they're backpedaling a bit in trying to come up with a reason it would be such an integral part of their programming--so to speak.

I think what they'll try to suggest is that monotheism isn't purely a cylon invention, but that the cylons think it is. You might see a short circuit in the cylon memories as they progress in their development and they leave their human memories behind and become purely cylon in their identity and the whole "one God" thing becomes part of that. I don't know, I'm just thinking out loud.

I think they can't forgo the religious angle. It's too embedded in the cylon mythology. But what they can do is explain it's origin and move on from there. The problem is that they probably won't and it'll be overused like before.