We know how this all turns out. No, seriously, we do. Think about it, Battlestar Galactica is how it all turns out – so it’s a bit difficult for SyFy’s Caprica to create any sort of over-arching mystery with regards to how Cylons came to be and what they wound up doing. Boom. That’s how this chapter ends, at least far into the future of Caprica’s present – not far in a galactic sense.
The concept of a prequel was a bit befuddling to me at first. Then I imagined the possibilities: a young William “Husker” Adama and his fellow colonials battling the emerging Cylon empire, all played out over a serialized civil-war inspired skein. When it was announced that Caprica would go back to the origin of the Cylons and the skin jobs, I became a bit skeptical. A very appropriate comparison would be when I learned that the Star Wars prequels would begin with Darth Vader as a child, rather than beginning in the heyday of the Jedi Knights – an era I still feel cheated that I never got to see. (Don’t even mention the words ‘Expanded Universe’ to me.)
The skepticism relaxed a bit with the Caprica pilot/movie. I’m a fan. Eric Stoltz, as Cylon creator Daniel Greystone, is great as a pre-Frankenstein mad scientist, driven by the painful loss of his daughter in a terrorist bomb train attack to breach the already delicate membrane between science and ethical responsibilities. Esai Morales provides an excellent contrast as Joseph Adama, who has himself lost a daughter and wife in the same attack, but offers a more compressed human portrayal of grief – not one of flirting with the forbidden fruit of resurrection but struggling to let go. Where, oh, where, did these characters go?
Here is the bottom line: Battlestar Galactica fans – who themselves had a little trouble letting go – will watch Caprica in droves, just to get a taste of that universe. The BSG zealotry will no doubt make Caprica a success, and there will be ample amounts of blind devotion to the brand to keep the notion that Caprica is a worthy successor to Battlestar’s intellectually riveting story-telling afloat. That’s the good news for the network. The bad news for fans is that the Caprica series proper is not only an inferior follow up to the series, but to its own pilot.
The series is awash with poor choices both big and small. For instance, having the lovely Alessandra Torresani (Zoe Greystone) – who is now inhabiting the chassis of a primitive Cylon – occasionally stand in for said robot is not only awkward at times, it sort of misses the point. This Zoe IS a machine, a highly sophisticated computer program that wants to be human – this is an iteration of Pinocchio, and part of how that works is the puppet never achieving until the end of the third act. Aside from just looking ridiculous, seeing Zoe in the flesh robs the story of the existential shock that would surely accompany realizing you are made of metal, when you should be flesh – or so you think. In short, the higher philosophical debate of what makes consciousness ‘alive’ is sorely missing – so far – when it seems as though it would be front and center.
Aside from that is, perhaps, the show’s most prominent sin: there is no Caprican culture. What I looked forward to the most in this series was experiencing a multi-planet society. There are strokes of this for sure, but if you are looking to get a sense of the politics of Caprica you merely need to look around you. Caprica is Earth, just slightly more advanced. Kids sit in eternal disconnect over hand held gaming consoles that look suspiciously like Playstation Portables. There are Olympics, stock markets, people have “home pages,” and if you don’t pay your protection money to the mob you get a trash can through your window. I’m sure there is some contrite Dues Ex Machina – in the least flattering sense – to explain this (God’s will, we inherited our desire for Playstations from the BSG folks who bonked our primitive ancestors, you get the point), but none of them make up for the lack of what could have been Caprica’s most striking feature: Caprican society.
In terms of drama, the story moves in clumsy leaps with character actions and motivations that made me scratch my head. It’s impossible to give examples without spoiling major plot points, but I – for one – came out of each turn with a feeling of incredulity. Caprica the pilot featured characters driven by the deepest and darkest pains a human could explore, Caprica the series seems to feature characters motivated by… the script.
Do I think you should watch Caprica? Yes, I do. I second-guessed my disappointment with the two episodes SyFy was gracious enough to lend me at every beat. Maybe it’s because I wanted to love this series so much because, like so many others, I felt Battlestar ended before its prime. Then again, maybe it’s because I had a bad burrito for lunch the day I sat down to watch it. I can’t shake the feeling that I missed the point, so I for one will be tuning in. However, regardless of how much I hoped Caprica would rock to begin with, it will be with the hope of seeing this Battlestar pull itself out of a nosedive.
Caprica Premieres tomorrow, January 22nd, at 9/8c on SyFy